What is the meaning of “Simon himself believed” in Acts 8:13?
In Simon the magician, I believe that we have an example of false conversion. Simon was a sorcerer, who performed tricks and amazed people with the wonders he could work. We are not told explicitly in scripture whether Simon did his magical works through some form of prestidigitation, or whether he was actually in contact with and using occult forces. We do know that he was given to boasting about himself and his great power, had achieved a considerable degree of acclaim, and had amassed a sizable following.
When Simon saw the miracles that were being performed by Philip in connection with the preaching of the Gospel, he was very impressed, and the narrative in Acts tells us, “Simon himself believed and was baptized.” It appears, however, that his belief was no more than a mental assent to the power that was working through Philip (whatever that power might have been). It did not in any way represent an actual commitment to Christ. This first becomes evident through Simon’s actions. Impressed by the fact that the apostles were able to impart the Holy Spirit to others through the laying on of hands, Simon requested that they give him this ability as well. He offered to pay them for doing so. His making such a request shows an entirely wrong motive for wanting the Holy Spirit. Given the course of his life prior to his supposed “conversion,” it is evident that Simon wanted this power only to continue his practice of impressing others so as to add to his own wealth and prestige.
In addition to Simon’s actions, we have the testimony of the apostle Peter, who said to Simon, “You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” Peter could only have known such things under inspiration from God. That Peter would refer to Simon’s heart as “not [being] right before God,” and call Simon a “captive to sin” gives us the understanding that whatever belief Simon might have possessed was not a saving faith. For Peter to make such statements to a true fellow believer would have been unthinkable.