Acts 8:5-25 records the ministry of Philip the evangelist as he preached the Gospel in Samaria. A certain sorcerer named Simon believed the Gospel after he had seen some of the miracles done through Philip (Acts 8:13). This same man traded on sorcery and many thought he was some great one (Acts 8:9-10). The people looked to him, because they believed God was working through this man. However, all he did was through the curious arts or the corrupt spiritual gifts of Adam.
Many people are led into this trade even today, desiring to appear spiritual without having to answer for their moral behavior. Simon led people away from God and into his own camp. He earned his living and was held in high regard through this trade or spiritual gift. Was he possessed by a demon? I believe that he was possessed by his gift or inheritance in Adam. I don’t believe that he was held in the grasp of an unseen, living being, but I do believe that he was held or driven by the reward of trading on his corrupt spiritual gift.
The unclean spirits that were cast out by Philip (Acts 8:7) should be understood in this same manner. It is not recorded here that these spirits had lives of their own, nor is it so recorded in any other part of the Bible. They were cast out and those possessed by them cried out. The voice that the people heard was not the voice of a spiritual entity, but the voice of a human being. The fact of their being cast out was demonstrated in the audible cries of those who suffered because of them.
Later, when Peter arrived on the scene, Simon witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit. The apostles laid their hands on those who believed, and the Spirit’s presence was confirmed in the lives of the people through the spiritual gifts that they received. Simon’s mind was still on his trade. He was fascinated with all that Philip and the apostles were doing, but the only value he perceived in witnessing the Spirit’s power was how he could continue his trade as a Christian (Acts 8:18-23). He was rebuked and told to repent, but Peter did not see a need to cast out any evil spiritual entity that may have possessed Simon. If Simon was possessed, would it not have been the godly thing for Peter to do and cast out this living, unclean spiritual entity? After all, only Christians had specific authority from Jesus to cast out this evil (Mark 16:17; Acts 19:15). Here, Simon is treated as a sinner having the free moral agency to repent from that thing that he was considering. One who is possessed does not have this power. For example, does the one possessed of a deaf and dumb spirit have the power or ability to repent of his/her deafness or inability to speak? One cannot repent or change from these things on one’s own. These would need to be healed, either spiritually or through a physical operation performed by a medical specialist.
The Soothsayer of Philippi
A certain young slave woman had been following Paul as he preached the Gospel in Philippi (Acts 16:12, 16-18). For several days, she told everyone that Paul and those with him brought words of salvation from the Most High God. Never having met Paul, she was attaching her trade with his ministry in the name of Christ. She perceived who they were and realized that she could gain by giving the impression that she was one of them.
Paul patiently endured this for several days. When she didn’t go away, he cast out the spirit, and she could no longer use her unclean or corrupted spiritual gift for the gain of her master. There was no ceremony, just a casting out of a spirit (G4151). This same word for spirit is used in 1Corinthians 14:12 for God’s people being zealous for spiritual gifts (G4151), and again in verse-32 for the spirits of the prophets being under their own control. That is, that the spiritual gift of prophecy was under the control of the prophet himself. He had power to speak or not to speak. It was his gift and he had power over it. This was not so with this young girl. Her gift possessed her, and her spiritual condition made her valuable property to someone else. She was a slave girl (Acts 16:16, 19). Her gift was not under her power. She was under its power, in the same way that one who is addicted to gambling is under power to always take a chance, to risk all whether property or life.