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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Acts 8

 

 

Verse 1

1. ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ, and there arose on that day, &c. The persecution was in immediate succession to the death of Stephen. Having once proceeded to such a length, the rage of the people turned upon the whole Christian body.

ἐπὶ τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, against the Church, i.e. the congregation or community of Christians which had been formed in the city since the day of Pentecost.

πάντες δὲ διεσπάρησαν, and they were all scattered abroad. Thus the rage of their enemies brought about the dispersion which Christ had foretold (Acts 1:8). On this Chrysostom remarks οὐκ ἄρα μάτην ἔλεγον ὄτι οἰκονομίας ὁ διωγμὸς ἦν, εἰ μὴ γὰρ γέγονεν οὐκ ἂν οἱ μαθηταὶ διεσπάρησαν.

By the word πάντες we need not understand every member of the Christian body, but only those who had been most active, and so were in special danger from the persecution. We find (Acts 8:3) that there were many left, both men and women, in the city, whom Saul seized upon as ‘disciples of the Lord’ and carried to prison. Perhaps Ananias who visited Paul at Damascus (Acts 9:19; Acts 9:25) may have been among those now scattered abroad, but see Acts 9:2 note.

τῆς Ἰουδαίας καὶ Σαμαρείας, of Judæa and Samaria, According to the order of extension indicated by Jesus. The teaching of the Apostles must have been with great power to break through the long-standing prejudices of their Jewish converts against the Samaritans. On these prejudices it is enough to refer to John 4.

πλὴν τῶν ἀποστόλων, except the Apostles, Jerusalem would of necessity be looked upon as the headquarters of the Christian band. Thither all the wanderers would refer for guidance and help. The Twelve therefore must remain at their post, in spite of all the persecution.


Verses 1-4

Acts 8:1-4. PERSECUTION AFTER THE DEATH OF STEPHEN


Verse 2

2. συνεκόμισαν, they carried to burial. The verb is found in classical Greek for ‘to help in burying,’ cf. Soph. Ajax, 1048 τόνδε τὸν νεκρὸνμὴ συγκομίζειν; also Thuc. VI. 71 συγκομίσαντες δὲ τοὺς ἐαυτῶν νεκρούς, ‘having carried forth their own dead,’ where the corpses however were to be burned not buried.

The Jews paid great attention to funeral rites. Cp. Midrash Rabbah on Genesis 47:29 (par. 96), ‘Deal kindly and truly with me,’ literally, ‘Do with me kindness and truth.’ “Is there then a kindness of falsehood, that he says, kindness and truth? How is this? There is a common proverb which says, ‘Is the son of thy friend dead?’ Put on the load (i.e. bear the burden with him). Is thy friend himself dead? Put off the load (his survivors will not requite you for your sympathy). Therefore he says to him, ‘If thou wilt do me a kindness after my death, that is a kindness of truth.’ And in all Ashkenazic prayer-books it is said: ‘These are the works of which a man reaps the interest in this world, and the capital endures in the world to come: the honouring of father and mother, the doing of acts of mercy, … the bearing forth the dead, the reconciliation of a man to his neighbour, but the study of the Torah is above them all.’” Cp. Mishna Peah I. 1.

εὐλαβεῖς, devout. See note on Acts 2:5.

καὶ ἐποίησαν κοπετὸν μέγαν, and made great lamentation. κοπετός is not a classical word but is frequent in the LXX., most generally with the cognate verb, as κόπτεσθαι κοπετόν, Genesis 1:10; Zechariah 12:10; 1 Maccabees 2:70, &c. But ποιῆσαι' κοπετόν occurs Jeremiah 6:26; Micah 1:8. The word signifies the beating on the breast which is one of the outward expressions of great sorrow. The Hebrew word for mourning (Genesis 23:2; 2 Samuel 3:31 &c.) has the same sense. It must have needed no little courage at such a time to perform the funeral rites for one who had fallen as Stephen had, by the fury of the whole people.


Verse 3

3. ἐλυμαίνετο, he made havock of. His own words (Acts 22:4) are ‘I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.’ For the verb cf. LXX. Psalms 79:13 ἐλυμήνατο αὐτὴν σῦς ἐκ δρυμοῦ, of the rage and ravages of a wild beast.

κατὰ τοὺς οἴκους εἰσπορευόμενος, entering into every house. Having authority from the high-priests probably (as Acts 9:14), and making search everywhere that none should escape.

γυναῖκας. He had no mercy on sex. See also Acts 9:2.

εἰς φυλακήν, to prison. To be kept till there should be an opportunity of bringing them to judgment, which was a slow process because of the numerous arrests. No persecutor equals in zeal the religious persecutor.


Verse 4

4. διῆλθον, went about. This was the effect on the whole body. The history turns at once to a single instance of the dispersion, and describes its results.


Verse 5

5. Φίλιππος δέ, But Philip. He is the second named in the list of the seven deacons (Acts 6:5). He is only mentioned in this chapter and Acts 21:8, where he is called Philip the Evangelist.

εἰς τὴν πόλιν, into the city, i.e. the capital city of the district of Samaria. It was at this time called Sebaste = Augusta, in honour of Augustus Cæsar (Joseph. Ant. XV. 8. 5).

ἐκήρυσσεν, he proclaimed. This word, connected with κῆρυξ, points out the preachers as the heralds of a king, while εὐαγγελίζεσθαι, in the previous verse, speaks rather of the glad tidings which was the characteristic of their message.

αὐτοῖς, i.e. Σαμαρείταις, to the people of Samaria, understood in the previous Σαμαρείας. Cf. Acts 20:2, where αὐτούς refers to the people of Macedonia, though the country only is named in the verse before.

τὸν Χριστόν, the Christ, the Messiah, the king whose message Philip proclaimed.


Verses 5-13

5–13. PHILIP’S PREACHING IN SAMARIA AND ITS EFFECT


Verse 6

6. προσεῖχον δὲ οἱ ὄχλοι, and the multitudes gave heed. We know from John 4:25; John 4:29; John 4:42, that some among the Samaritans were looking for the advent of the Messiah. The field had been already in some degree prepared for Philip’s labours: hence the abundant fruit.

τὸν νοῦν must be mentally supplied with προσεῖχον as below in Acts 8:10-11, and in Acts 16:14, and, with a slightly different sense, in Acts 20:28.

ἐν τῷ ἀκούειν κ.τ.λ., when they heard and saw the signs which he wrought. Lit. ‘in the hearing.’ They heard what had been done in other places and saw what was done each under his own observation. The miracles are described by that characteristic which they were specially intended to have in this instance. They were to be signs that the message which Philip was bringing was from God. The signs here enumerated are such as could leave no doubt in the minds of those who witnessed the cures.


Verse 7

7. πολλοὶ γὰρ κ.τ.λ., for many of those which had unclean spirits that cried with a loud voice came forth. This reading is confirmed by the Vulg. ‘multi enim eorum qui habebant spiritus immundos clamantes voce magna exibant.’ But accepting the reading we see that the writer has passed in thought from the persons to the spirits by which they were possessed, and has made the verb refer to the latter. Of the many attempts to correct the oldest texts Tischendorf says ‘locus retractando corruptus est.’

On unclean spirits see Acts 5:16, note.


Verse 8

8. ἐγένετο δὲ πολλὴ χαρὰ with אABC. Vulg. has ‘magnum gaudium.’


Verse 9

9. Σίμων. From the verb μαγεύω used in describing the arts of Simon, he is usually spoken of as Simon Magus, i.e. the sorcerer or magician. According to Justin Martyr (Apol. I. 26) he was born at Gitton, a village of Samaria. The history which is given of him after the events mentioned in this chapter describes him as persistently hostile to St Peter and as following that Apostle to Rome to oppose his teaching. But much that is related is of very doubtful authority. He is said to have been deified at Rome, but it seems probable that Justin mistook a tablet, with an inscription ‘Semoni Sanco deo fidio’ which was erected in honour of the Sabine Hercules, for a record of divine honours paid to this Simon Magus. The tablet was discovered at Rome in the sixteenth century.

ἐν τῇ πόλει, in the city. He had made Samaria a sort of headquarters. The sorcery which Simon and men like him used was probably no more than a greater knowledge of some of the facts of chemistry. By this they at first attracted attention and then traded on the credulity of those who came to consult them. From the time of their sojourn in Egypt the Jews had known of such impostors, and in their traditional literature some of the ‘wisdom’ of Moses partakes of this character.

ἐξιστάνων τὸ ἔθνος, amazing the nation. For not only the people of the city, but of the whole district had run after him.

εἶναί τινα ἑαυτὸν μέγαν, that he was some great one (cf. Acts 5:36). The expectation of the Messiah was strong among the Samaritans, and the general expectation that some great person was to arise among the Jews, while it dictated the form in which impostors would proclaim themselves, also aided them in procuring credence for what they said.


Verse 10

10. ἀπὸ μικροῦ ἕως μεγάλου, from the least to the greatest, i.e. one and all. The expression is common in the LXX. Thus God smites the people of Gath (1 Samuel 5:9) ἀπὸ μικροῦ ἕως μεγάλου, ‘both small and great’ (A.V.). So 1 Samuel 30:19; 2 Chronicles 34:30, &c.

ἡ δύναμις τ. θ. ἡ καλουμένη μεγάλη, the power of God that is called great. We can see from the language of the N.T. that ‘power’ was a word current to express angelic or heavenly influences (Romans 8:38; 1 Peter 3:22); and without assuming such a partition of the celestial host as is seen in the later Alexandrine writings we can understand the thought of these Samaritans that in Simon they had an incarnation of divine power, which deserved the title of great preeminently.


Verse 11

11. ἱκανῷ χρόνῳ, for a long time. For the dative similarly used of a space of time, see Acts 13:20. Simon’s birthplace was in Samaria, and it is most probable that he had lived there a great part of his life. Tradition (Clement. Hom. II. 22) makes him to have been educated in Alexandria, but he is also said to have been a pupil of Dositheus, a Gnostic teacher in Samaria, so that he had probably been but a short time away from his native country.

ταῖς μαγείαις, with sorceries. μαγεῖαι are mentioned in the ‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles’ (§ 5) among those works which belong to the ‘way of death’; and οὐ μαγεύσεις is one of the prohibitions (§ 2) contained in the second commandment of the ‘Teaching.’


Verse 12

12. εὐαγγελιζομένῳ περὶ τῆς βασιλείας κ.τ.λ., preaching concerning the kingdom of God. Christ had prepared the Apostles for this work during the forty days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3) by the things which He spake unto them about the kingdom which was to be begun.

καὶ τοῦ ὀνόματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, and concerning the Name of Jesus Christ, i.e. its true meaning and the evidence that to Jesus the name Christ was truly applied.


Verse 13

13. ὁ δὲ Σίμωνἐπίστευσεν, and Simon himself believed also. We can see from the history which follows that the belief here described was of a very imperfect nature. It perhaps amounted to no more than the conviction that in Philip was some power greater than his own. We have an example of a like imperfect belief described in like words in St John’s Gospel (Acts 8:31), ‘then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him,’ and all that follows in the chapter shews that the belief which they professed was not enough to prevent them from plotting for Christ’s death.

καὶ βαπτισθείς, and when he was baptized. Chrysostom (Hom. XVIII. in Act.) asks why it came to pass that such a man was admitted to baptism, and answers the question ὥσπερ καὶ τὸν Ἰούδαν ὁ Χριστὸς ἐξελέξατο. But St Luke’s language here (ἐξίστατο) implies that Simon was possessed with the same feeling towards Philip which the people of Samaria had towards himself.

θεωρῶν τε κ.τ.λ., beholding the signs and great miracles wrought. There is apparently a distinction intended by St Luke between the belief of the Samaritans and that of Simon. When they believed (Acts 8:12) it was the preaching and the glad tidings to which they most gave heed, but the verb used in this verse (θεωρῶν) seems to paint Simon as one who gazed with wonder only on a sight which was beyond him to explain.


Verse 14

14. οἱ ἐν Ἱεροσολύμοις ἀπόστολοι, the Apostles which were at Jerusalem, the whole Twelve still abiding there, as noted in Acts 8:1, and evidently all taking their part in the administration of the affairs of the Church, though it does not fall within St Luke’s purpose to notice what each did or said.

ὅτι δέδεκται κ.τ.λ., that Samaria had received the word of God. There was a communication kept up between the fugitives from Jerusalem and the Twelve even from the first. Samaria here means the district, for although Philip’s preaching was in one city, the newly-baptized would spread abroad in every part, and carry the teaching forth as the woman of Samaria did her ‘new learning’ (John 4:28). They had received the word of God as their countrymen before, so as to ‘know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.’

ἀπεστειλαν, they sent. We gather from this passage that there was no special preeminence assigned to any among the Twelve in these earliest days. Peter and John were sent forth on their mission by the decision of the whole body. These two were probably chosen for such a work, as they had taken the most active part and in concert (Acts 3:1) in establishing the Church in Jerusalem.


Verses 14-25

14–25. PETER AND JOHN SENT DOWN TO SAMARIA. CONDUCT OF SIMON MAGUS


Verse 15

15. καταβάντες, when they were come down. Used often of leaving Jerusalem, the centre of all religious life, to go into other parts. So the contrary verb ἀναβαίνειν is employed (Luke 2:42) to describe the journey to the Holy City.

ὅπως λάβωσι, that they might receive. The subjunctive mood comes after ὅπως even when preceded by a past tense, as here, when the result intended is regarded as something which will surely come to pass. Cf. Acts 25:26, προήγαγον αὐτὸν ἐφ' ὑμῶνὄπως σχῶ τί γράψω.

πνεῦμα ἅγιον, the Holy Ghost, or rather (as the word has no article) ‘a gift of the Holy Ghost.’ It is clear from the whole history that special gifts of the Holy Ghost, bestowed at this period on the Christian converts in various places, were not given except through the Apostles. The case of Ananias, sent by God’s special command to Saul, differs from all others. Peter could promise it (Acts 2:38) to those who should repent and be baptized, but the Samaritan converts whom Philip had made received no share of such powers till the arrival of Peter and John. But the Apostles make it manifest by their prayer that the gift was not theirs either to impart or withhold, but was ‘of God,’ as Peter calls it (Acts 8:20).


Verse 16

16. ὑπῆρχον. This verb seems to be used with somewhat of its original force = ‘to make a beginning.’ These men had taken one step, and had been baptized and thus admitted into the community.

εἰς τὸ ὅνομα, into the name. The preposition, which is the same that is used by Christ (Matthew 28:19) at the institution of the Sacrament, implies the tie by which the new converts are in baptism bound to Christ as His followers, servants, worshippers.


Verse 17

17. τότε ἐπετίθεσαν κ.τ.λ., then they laid their hands on them, that there might be some outward sign of this imparted grace. So Ananias (Acts 9:17) laid his hands on Saul, and he received the Holy Ghost. But on Cornelius and his companions (Acts 10:44) the same gift was bestowed while Peter spake unto them.


Verse 18

18. ἰδὼν δέ, and when Simon saw, &c. Simon’s conduct now makes it clear how limited his faith had been. As he offered to buy the power, so we may be sure he meant to sell it. His faith had only sprung from his amazement.

προσήνεγκεν κ.τ.λ., he offered them money. From Simon’s name all trafficking in sacred things has since been called ‘simony.’


Verse 19

19. δότε κἀμοὶ τὴν ἐξουσίαν ταύτην, give me also this power. The character of the man is shewn by what he asks for. He does not desire the Holy Ghost for himself as a spiritual gift to seal his baptism, but that he may be able to bestow what he looks upon as a higher power than his own magic. On this verse Chrysostom remarks οὐκ ἂν οὕτως εἶπεν εἰ μὴ αἰσθητόν τι ἐγίνετο. The gift of the Holy Ghost had been made apparent by the new powers conferred on those who received it. Their works and words Simon had seen and heard, and hence his application to the Apostles.


Verse 20

20. τὸ ἀργύριονἀπώλειαν, thy silver perish with thee. εἰς ἀπώλειαν is a frequent expression in the LXX. Thus for the king’s threat ‘ye shall be cut to pieces’ (A.V.) we find Daniel 2:5; Daniel 3:29 ἔσεσθε εἰς ἀπώλειαν. The expression also occurs Isaiah 14:23; Esther 7:4; Ezekiel 28:7, &c. It is clear from what follows that the terrible invocation of doom upon this offender is to be qualified by the condition supplied from Acts 8:22, where repentance and prayer are pointed out as means whereby even so great a sinner may find forgiveness. And St Peter may have thus joined Simon in the same destruction as his money, because he foresaw that there was little or no hope that such a man could be brought to repentance unless the consequence of his sin were set before him in all its terror.

ὅτι τὴν δωρεὰν κ.τ.λ., because thou thoughtest to acquire the gift of God for money. Simon had given no heed to the prayer which the Apostles had offered to God that this gift of the Spirit might be sent down. He did not regard it as ‘the gift of God’ but only thought, if he could but once buy it, it would be his own at all times and for ever.


Verse 21

21. μερὶς οὐδὲ κλῆρος. These two words are constantly found together in the LXX. of Deuteronomy where the Levites are spoken of, who had no inheritance or possession in the land of Canaan. Thus Deuteronomy 12:12 ὁ Λευίτης, ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν αὐτῷ μερὶς οὐδὲ κλῆρος μεθ' ὑμῶν. So Deuteronomy 14:27; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 18:1.

ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τούτῳ, in this matter. Or, more literally, ‘in this word’; and if that rendering be taken, the reference will be to the λόγον θεοῦ mentioned in Acts 8:14.

ἡ γὰρ καρδία σου οὐκ ἔστιν εὐθεῖα, for thy heart is not right, &c. This expression or its equivalent (εὐθὺς τῇ καρδίᾳ) is very common in the LXX. of the Psalms, as Psalms 7:10; Psalms 10:2; Psalms 31:11, &c. The passage which most nearly accords with this verse is Psalms 78:37, ἡ δὲ καρδία αὐτῶν οὐκ εὐθεῖα μετ' αὐτοῦ.


Verse 22

22. μετανόησον οὖν ἀπὸ τ. κ., repent therefore, &c. On this condition not only could the stern wish of Peter be averted, but the anger of God also. We see therefore that the words of the Apostle in Acts 8:20 must have been coupled in his mind with such condition, but the further language of this verse seems to imply that to Peter’s mind there was not much hope of such repentance. The phrase μετανοεῖν ἀπό is found in LXX. (Jeremiah 8:6) ἄνθρωπος ὁ μετανοῶν ἀπὸ τῇς κακίας αὐτοῦ.

δεήθητι τοῦ κυρίου, and pray the Lord. This is what one would look for in the sentence, rather than ‘pray God’ (Text. recept.), for the offence was directly against Christ. Simon, with corrupt motives, was seeking to be enrolled among those who were called by Christ’s name.

εἰ ἄρα, if perhaps. The Apostle sees how full the mind of Simon has been of the scheme which he has conceived, and the knowledge of this seems expressed in the εἰ ἄρα with which this clause begins. He will not declare that there is not hope even for such an offender, but the covetousness, which is idolatry, makes repentance almost impossible. See Chrysostom’s words, διὰ τοῦτο καὶ εἶπεν, εἰ ἄρα ἀφεθήσεταί σοι, ὅτι ᾔδει ἀδιόρθωτον ὄντα.

ἡ ἐπίνοια, the thought. ἐπίνοια is found only here in N.T., but is not uncommon in the LXX. It implies a deliberate, well matured plan. Cf. Wisdom of Solomon 14:12, ἀρχὴ γὰρ πορνείας ἐπίνοια εἰδώλων. Also see 2 Maccabees 12:45.


Verse 23

23. εἰς γὰρ χολὴν πικρίας. The preposition εἰς = into is not easy to explain here. Some have thought that εἰς, like ἐν, is used as representing בְּ. By others the construction has been compared with that of the Hebrew preposition ל = for, after the verb ‘to be’ in passages such as Ezekiel 37:22 ‘I will make them one nation,’ literally ‘unto one nation.’ But instances of this construction are not common enough in the O.T. for an imitation of it in the N.T. to be probable. It seems better therefore not to take ‘gall of bitterness’ and ‘bond of iniquity’ as thus in apposition with the subject of the sentence, but rather to regard the preposition as used with the sense of motion towards a place or state and subsequent rest there. So it is found in Luke 11:7, ‘my children are with me in (εἰς) bed,’ where the meaning is, ‘they have come into, and are remaining in, bed.’ So that the sense here would be ‘thou hast advanced towards, and art involved in, the gall of bitterness,’ &c. The expression χολὴ πικρίας is a modification of words which are found more than once in the LXX. Cf. Deuteronomy 29:18 ῥίζα ἄνω φύουσα ἐν χολῇ καὶ πικρίᾳ. Similarly Deuteronomy 32:32 σταφυλὴ χολῆς, βότρυς πικρίας. See also Lament. Acts 3:15.

σύνδεσμον ἀδικίας, the bond of iniquity. The expression is found in the LXX. (Isaiah 58:6). The whole sentence thus implies that Simon had gone from one evil to another till he had reached and was remaining in a stage which deserved the reprobation spoken against idolatry in the O.T., and that he had allowed evil to make him its prisoner.


Verse 24

24. ὅπως μηδὲν ἐπέλθῃ κ.τ.λ., that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me. Simon shews from the character of his petition that he is not moved by a true spirit of repentance. He utters no word of sorrow for the evil of his thought, but only petitions that he may suffer no punishment. Yet we can see that he had not taken the expression of St Peter in Acts 8:20 as a curse invoked upon him by the Apostle, but only as a declaration of the anger of God and of the certainty of a penalty upon the wilful continuance in such sin. His entreaty may be compared with that oft-repeated petition of Pharaoh to Moses (Exodus 8:8; Exodus 8:28; Exodus 9:28; Exodus 10:17), ‘Intreat the Lord for me,’ extorted by fear and followed by no change of conduct.


Verse 25

25. οἱ μὲν οὖνλαλήσαντεςεἰς Ἱεροσόλυμαεὐηγγελίζοντο, they therefore, when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, returned towards Jerusalem, and preached the Gospel to many villages of the Samaritans. Peter and John had not been sent forth to make an extended missionary journey, but only to confirm the work of the Evangelists who had first preached and baptized in Samaria, by laying their hands upon the converts. This done they returned to their place in Jerusalem, but by the way preached in such villages of Samaria as lay in their road.

On this return Chrysostom remarks διατὶ πάλιν ἀπίασιν ἐκεῖ ἔνθα ἡ τυραννὶς ἦν, ἔνθα ἡ ἀρχὴ τῶν κακῶν, ἔνθα οἱ μάλιστα φωνῶντες; καθάπερ έν τοῖς πολέμοις οἱ στρατηγοὶ ποιοῦσι καὶ τὸ πονοῦν τοῦ πολέμου μέρος καταλαμβάνουσι τὸ αὐτὸ καὶ οὗτολι ἐργάζονται.


Verse 26

26. ἄγγελος δέ, and an angel. God does not let His agents languish for want of occupation. Peter and John are sent to complete the work of Philip in Samaria, but Philip meanwhile is divinely directed to another scene of labour.

ἐλάλησεν πρὸς Φίλιππον, spake unto Philip. Most probably in a vision, as to Cornelius (Acts 10:3) and to Peter (Acts 11:5).

κατὰ μεσημβρίαν, toward the south. Gaza was the southernmost of the five great cities which the Philistines had formerly occupied, and was on the route which a traveller from Jerusalem to Egypt would follow. In 96 B.C. the city of Gaza had been destroyed and its inhabitants massacred by Alexander Jannæus (Joseph. Ant. XIII. 13. 3), but it had been rebuilt by Gabinius (Ant. XIV. 5. 3), though it is said that the restored city was nearer the sea than the ancient one. It continued to be a city of importance (see Ant. XV. 7. 3 and XVII. 11. 4), and it cannot therefore be to the city that the word ‘desert’ which follows, must be referred. From Samaria Philip would come directly south, and leaving Jerusalem on the east strike the road at some distance from that city.

ἀπὸ Ἱερουσαλὴμ εἰς Γάζαν, from Jerusalem unto Gaza. There was more than one road from Jerusalem to Gaza; the more northern route went first to Ascalon and then by the coast to Gaza, another road was by Hebron and through the more desert country which lay to the west of it, and this is most likely the road intended in the narrative.

αὔτη ἐστὶν ἔρημος, this is desert. With αὕτη it is best to supply ἡ ὁδὸς. If the words had been inserted as an explanation by the writer in reference to Gaza, they would scarcely have been so curt, whereas if we regard them as a portion of the speech of the angel they contain all that was needed for Philip’s instruction. That road toward Gaza which passed through the desert explains exactly the place to which he was to go.


Verses 26-40

26–40. PHILIP BAPTIZES AN ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH


Verse 27

27. ἀνὴρ Αἰθίοψ. The deletion of the second ὂς in this verse leaves the nominative with a verb to which it may be joined, which was not the case in the Text. recept.

Ethiopia, like Cush in the O.T., is a general name given to the country which is now called Nubia and Abyssinia. Its northern portion was the great kingdom of Meroë, which we know was ruled over by queens for a long period (Plin. H. N. VI. 29), and it is from this kingdom, most probably, that the eunuch had come. Jews were abundant in Egypt, and this man had become a proselyte to their religion.

Κανδάκης, of Candace. We are told by Pliny (l. c.) that this was the name of a series of queens of Meroë, just as Pharaoh at an early period, and Ptolemy subsequently, were general names for the kings of Egypt, and Cæsar for the Roman emperors.

ἐπὶ πάσης τῆς γάζης αὐτῆς, over all her treasure, γάζα is a word of Persian origin, and is found in nearly the same form in the Hebrew text of Ezra 5:17; Ezra 6:1; Ezra 7:20, and Esther 4:7, into which books it has come directly from the Persian.

ἐληλύθει προσκυνήσων, had come to worship, which proselytes did, as well as Jews. This we learn from the enumeration of those who were present at the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:10), among whom proselytes are expressly named. So (John 12:20) we find Greeks coming up to the feasts at Jerusalem.


Verse 28

28. ἦν τε ὑποστρέφων, and was returning, i.e. at the termination of the feast.

ἀνεγίνωσκεν τὸν προφήτην Ἡσαΐαν, read Isaiah the prophet. He was evidently reading aloud (see Acts 8:30), and this was common among orientals, and was specially the practice of the Jews, who accompanied the reading with a good deal of bodily motion and considered this helpful to study. Thus T. B. Erubin 53 b ad fin. ‘Beruriah found a student who was reading, but not aloud; she pushed him and said to him, Is it not written “Only when it is well ordered then it is kept”? If it is put in order by all thy two hundred and forty-eight limbs [thy study] will abide, but if not it will not abide. We have heard of a pupil of Rabbi Eliezer who studied but not aloud, and after three years he had forgotten his learning.’ And a little afterwards we read, ‘Shemuel said to Rab Jehudah, Clever fellow! Open thy mouth when thou readest the Bible, and open thy mouth when thou studiest the Mishna, in order that the reading may abide, and that thy life may be prolonged. For it says (Proverbs 4:22), For life are they to them that find them’ (or as the Rabbis preferred to read it, ‘to them that utter them forth’).


Verse 29

29. εἶπεν δὲ τὸ πνεῦμα τῷ Φιλίππῳ, and the Spirit said unto Philip, i.e. by some inward prompting.

πρόσελθε καὶ κολλήθητι κ.τ.λ., go near and join thyself to this chariot. No doubt this royal treasurer had a numerous retinue, and a single traveller on a desert road would be doing what was natural in attaching himself to a train of people who were journeying in the same direction. Philip would therefore be able to approach and hear what was read without being deemed an intruder.


Verse 30

30. προσδραμὼν δέ, and having run up, i.e. to overtake and get near the chariot.

ἆρά γε γινώσκεις, dost thou understand? i.e. how the words are to be applied, and to whom they relate.


Verse 31

31. ἐάν. For an example of ἐάν with future indicative cf. Luke 11:12, ἐὰν αἰτήσει ὠόν.

ὁδηγήσει με, shall guide me. The eunuch living far away from the received expounders of the Scriptures, feels that in a dark passage like that which he was reading he has need of trained instruction. He uses therefore the word which is employed for the guidance given by teacher to pupil. Our Lord uses it (Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39) reproachfully of the blind guidance which the scribes and Pharisees in His day were giving to the people who came to them for instruction. He uses the same word for the guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). The word is common in LXX. version of the Psalms. Cf. also Ecclesiastes 2:3 and Wisdom of Solomon 9:11, ὁδηγήσει μεσωφρόνως καὶ φυλάξει με ἐν τῇ δοξῇ αὐτῆς, where divine wisdom is the guide spoken of. It was a marked feature in the teaching of the Jews that explanations of Scripture were passed on from generation to generation, and that only was highly valued by them which a man had received from his teachers. Such a system (unhappily not without its parallels in the history of the Christian Church) accounts for the permanence of all their traditions.

παρεκάλεσέν τε, and he besought. The verb implies a very earnest request, and betokens the great desire which the eunuch had for more enlightenment.


Verse 32

32. ἡ δὲ περιοχή, now the place, &c. The word περιοχή is of rare occurrence in this sense, but Cicero uses it in Epist. ad Attic. XIII. 25. It means the section of a book, rather than a particular place. Compare the use of the verb in 1 Peter 2:6, περιέχει ἐν τῇ γραφῇ, ‘it is contained in the Scripture.’ The eunuch was studying the whole description of the sufferer whom the prophet is describing.

αὕτη, this. The verses quoted here are Isaiah 53:7-8, and are given word for word from the LXX., which it is most probable that the eunuch was reading, as, being made in Egypt, that version was most likely to be circulated among those Jews with whom this man would be brought into communication. Philip also belonging to the Grecians (Acts 6:5) would be most familiar with the Greek translation. It will be seen that the translation differs in some points from the original, but yet it is sufficiently close in sense to express the intention of the prophet or rather the ‘mind of the Spirit’ in the prophecy, and on this translation therefore Philip founds his teaching.


Verse 33

33. ἐν τῇ ταπεινώσει, in His humiliation. The Hebrew text signifies ‘through oppression and through judgment (i.e. punishment) he was taken away.’

τὴν γενεὰν κ.τ.λ., who shall declare His generation? i.e. who shall describe His contemporaries, men who under a form of judicial punishment oppressed the sufferer, and put Him to death?

ὅτι αἴρεται ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ἡ ζωὴ αὐτοῦ, for His life is taken from the earth. The Hebrew has ‘for He was cut off out of the land of the living.’ It will be seen from a comparison of the Hebrew and the LXX. that the latter is in some parts rather a paraphrase than a translation.

Some of the Jews interpreted this passage of a suffering prophet, but most generally it was applied to the suffering nation. Although the notion of a suffering Messiah fell very much into the background, yet it is to be found in some Rabbinical interpretations of Isaiah. In the Targum of Jonathan the Messianic and the national application of the words run side by side. On the whole subject, see Perowne, Psalms (5th edition), Appendix.


Verse 34

34. περὶ ἑαυτοῦ, concerning himself. As Isaiah 61. ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, &c.,’ was held by the Jews to refer to Isaiah, so the eunuch enquires whether the words he has been reading may have the same reference.


Verse 35

35. καὶ ἀρξάμενος ἀπὸ τῆς γραφῆς ταύτης κ.τ.λ., and he began at this Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. It can hardly be doubted that during his sojourn in Jerusalem the eunuch had heard the history of the new teachers who had created such an excitement in the city. Thus he would have had some story told him of the founder of the new community, but his informants would have been Jews, and he would only have heard from them a version of what had been done of such a sort as to make him account Jesus one of the many deceivers who abounded in those times.


Verse 36

36. ὡς δὲ ἐπορεύοντο κατὰ τὴν ὁδόν, and as they went on the way. We must suppose that Philip travelled for some time with the eunuch, for not only has he explained that in Jesus was fulfilled all that the prophets had spoken concerning the sufferings of the Messiah, but has taught him that believers in Jesus are to be admitted into the Christian Church by baptism, of which sacrament he desires to be a partaker at once.

On the full teaching which the eunuch had received from Philip, Chrysostom says, ὅρα πῶς τὰ δόγματα ἀπηρτισμένα εἶχε, καὶ γὰρ ὁ προφήτης πάντα περιεῖχε, τὴν σάρκωσιν, τὸ πάθος, τὴν ἀνάστασιν, τὴν ἀνάληψιν, τὴν κρίσιν τὴν ηέλλουσαν. ἅ δὴ καὶ πολλὴν τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν αὐτῷ μάλιστα ἐνεποίησαν. αἰσχύνθητε ὄσοι ἀφώτιστοι τυγχάνετε.


Verse 37

37. εἶπεν δὲ ὁ Φίλιππος, Εἰ πιστεύεις ἐξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας ἔξεστιν. Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ εἶπεν, Πιστεύω τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ εἶναι τὸν Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν. These words stand in the Text. recept. as Acts 8:37, but are omitted in the oldest MSS. They probably found their way into the text, of those MSS. in which they stand, from the margin. Such a margin would be readily formulated by those who thought perhaps that the question in Acts 8:36 required a definite answer, and who, when the Church had become more extended, and formal professions of faith were the rule before baptism, felt that there was a want of completeness in the narrative unless some such confession were supposed to have been made. Thus the margin became a kind of exposition, and in the end found acceptance in the text.

Though found in some MSS. of the Vulgate it is absent from the best, and was not in that which Beda used.


Verse 38

38. ἐκέλευσεν στῆναι τὸ ἅρμα, he commanded the chariot to stand still, i.e. he bade the chariot-driver halt. Of course the whole retinue would be witnesses of what took place, and they may perhaps be regarded as the nucleus of a congregation to be established in Ethiopia. Tradition tells us that the eunuch laboured to evangelize his countrymen, and none were more likely to be influenced by his teaching than those who were present at his baptism and were, with him, witnesses of the way in which Philip was taken from them.

κατέβησαν κ.τ.λ., they went down both into the water, as was the custom among the Jews. Thus John baptized his followers in the Jordan. It is worth notice that in the ‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles’ recently discovered provision is made for baptism by affusion (chap. vii.), ἔκχεον εἰς τὴν κεφαλὴν τρὶς ὕδωρ εἰς ὄνομα πατρὸς καὶ υἱοῦ καὶ ἁγίου πνεύματος.


Verse 39

39. πνεῦμα κυρίου κ.τ.λ., the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip. Just as Obadiah expected that Elijah would be carried away while he himself went on his errand to Ahab (1 Kings 18:12). Compare the language of Ezekiel (Acts 3:12; Acts 3:14, Acts 8:3, &c.), ‘So the spirit lifted me up (ἀνέλαβε) and took me away.

Chrysostom says of this removal of Philip: συμφερόντως οὖν ἤρπασεν αὐτὸν τὸ πνεῦμα, ἐπεὶ ἠξίωσεν ἂν καὶ συνεπανελθεῖν αὐτῷ ὁ εὐνοῦχος, ὃν καὶ ἐλύπησεν ἂν ἐκεῖνος, ἀνανεύσας καὶ ἀρνησάμενος οὐδέπω καιροῦ ὄντος.

καὶ οὐκ εἶδεν αὐτὸν οὐκέτι ὁ εὐνοῦχος, and the eunuch saw him no more. This marvellous removal of Philip would confirm the eunuch and his companions in their faith. They would recognize that he who had been sent unto them was a man of God.

ἐπορεύετο γὰρ τὴν ὁδὸν αὐτοῦ χαίρων, for he went on his way rejoicing. The words explain why Philip was no more seen of the eunuch. He was not like the sons of the prophets at Jericho, who went to seek Elijah when they heard of his being carried away. The eunuch was filled with joy at the new light which God had sent to him, and felt no anxiety for the safety of Philip, being sure that he was cared for by the same hand which had sent him forth.


Verse 40

40. Φίλιππος δὲ εὑρέθη, but Philip was found, i.e. he appeared again and continued the work of his ministry. Εὑρέθη is the exact translation of a Hebrew verb which in the A.V. is often rendered ‘to be present.’ Cf. Esther 1:5 ‘that were present,’ and in the margin ‘Hebrew, found.’

εἰς Ἄζωτον, at Azotus. The preposition εἰς, = into, in such a connexion may be explained as implying ‘he had come into the city and was staying there.’ The LXX. text of the passage from Esther alluded to in the last note is a good illustration of this sentence, ἐποίησεν ὁ βασιλεὺς πότον τοῖς ἔθνεσιν τοῖς εὑρεθεῖσιν εἰς τὴν πόλιν. See above on Acts 8:23 and Winer-Moulton, p. 516.

Azotus is the ancient Ashdod (1 Samuel 5:1-7), one of the five chief cities of the Philistines when the Israelites settled in Canaan.

εἰς Καισάρειαν, to Cæsarea. This was Cæsarea Sebaste, so called in honour of Augustus (Greek, Σεβαστός) Cæsar (Joseph. Ant. XVI. 5. 1). It was the chief city of Palestine under the Roman rule, and lay at the extreme north of the plain of Sharon. It is mentioned in the Acts as the place at which Cornelius was stationed (Acts 10:1), and it seems that Philip subsequently made his home there (Acts 21:8).

 


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Acts 8:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cgt/acts-8.html. 1896.

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