Simon Magus

First Century A.D.

Simon Magus set the precedent for the misuse of money that has plagued the Church for two millennia. His practice of sorcery in Samaria was upstaged by the miracles accompanying the preaching and baptisms of Philip the Evangelist. When Peter and John arrived, they placed their hands on the new converts, and Simon witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Give me this ability!” Simon pleaded, offering the apostles money.

“To hell with you and your money!” is a literal rendering of Peter’s reply. The biblical account breaks off with Simon’s plea that the curse not be fulfilled; one early Church tradition claims that the unrepentant Simon traveled to Rome and founded Gnosticism. Today we call the purchase of Church offices “simony,” in memory of this greedy magician.

The Passing of Peregrinus

Second Century A.D.

Secular Journalists exposing Christian charlatans: A modern phenomenon? Not really. Lucian wrote satire in the mid-second century, and he loved to pick on Christians—especially when he smelled a fraud. In one of his works, he reports on a huckster named Peregrinus, a murderer and child molester who fled to Palestine and got involved with the Christians.

“In a trice he made them all look like children; for he was prophet, cult leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world.”

Peregrinus was imprisoned for his involvement with the Christians. This, Lucian says, was an “asset ...

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