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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Acts 8

 

 

Verse 1

Stephen"s execution ignited the first popular persecution of Christian Jews. [Note: See Ernst Bammel, "Jewish Activity against Christians in Palestine according to Acts ," in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting; Vol4: The Book of Acts in Its Palestinian Setting, pp357-64.] Luke showed that the early Jerusalem Christians first received a warning ( Acts 4:21), then flogging ( Acts 5:40), then martyrdom ( Acts 7:58-60), then widespread persecution. Since Stephen was a Hellenistic Jew, the Hellenistic Jewish Christians were probably the main targets of this antagonism. The unbelieving Jews living in Jerusalem turned against the believing Jews. This hostility resulted in many of the believers leaving Jerusalem for more secure places of residence. They took the gospel seed with them and planted churches in all Judea (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:14) as well as in Samaria. The Greek word diesparesen, translated "scattered" here and in Acts 8:4, comes from the verb speiro, used to refer to sowing seed (cf. Matthew 6:26; Matthew 13:3-4; Matthew 13:18; Matthew 25:24; Matthew 25:26; Luke 8:5; Luke 12:24; et al.). The word "diaspora" derives from it. This persecution was hard on the Christians, but it was good for the church since it resulted in widening evangelization. The apostles probably stayed in Jerusalem because they believed their presence there was essential regardless of the danger. Moreover the persecution seems to have been against Hellenistic Jews particularly, and the Twelve were Hebraic Jews.


Verses 1-3

The dispersion of the witnesses8:1-3

This short section sets the stage for Philip"s ministry by giving us its cause.


Verses 1-25

1. The evangelization of Samaria8:1-25

The first part of Philip"s important witness took place in Samaria. Luke recorded the cause of Philip"s ministry there ( Acts 8:1-3), its nature ( Acts 8:4-8), and its effects ( Acts 8:9-24).


Verse 2

The "devout men" who buried Stephen were probably God-fearing Jews like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who buried Jesus ( Luke 23:50-53). There were undoubtedly many Jews in Jerusalem who were still sympathetic with the Christians (cf. Acts 6:7). Some of them evidently gave Stephen a burial suitable to his importance. The Mishnah considered open lamentation for someone who had suffered death by stoning as inappropriate. [Note: Mishnah Sanhedrin6:6.] Luke"s notation that people made loud lamentation for Stephen may, therefore, be evidence that there were many Jews who regarded Stephen"s stoning as extremely unfortunate.


Verse 3

The Greek word translated "ravaging" (lumainomai) occurs only here in the New Testament. The Septuagint translators used it in Psalm 80:13 to describe wild boars destroying a vineyard. In English we use "ravaging" as a synonym for raping. This is how Saul began behaving. The verb is evidently an inceptive imperfect indicating the beginning of the action. Saul was a leader of the persecution in Jerusalem ( Acts 9:1-2; Acts 9:29; Acts 22:4-5; Acts 26:11). Evidently Stephen"s execution fueled Saul"s hatred for the Christians and resulted in his increasing antagonism toward them. He not only went from house to house arresting Christians (cf. Acts 2:46; Acts 5:42) but also carried his purges into the synagogues (cf. Acts 6:9) and tried to force believers to blaspheme there ( Acts 22:19; Acts 26:11).


Verse 4

Whereas persecution resulted in the death of some believers it also dispersed the disciples over a wider area. Luke described what they did as scattered believers as "preaching the word" (Gr. euaggelizomenoi ton logon, lit. "proclaiming good news the word"). The gospel message is in view. Sometimes what appears to be very bad turns out to be very good ( Matthew 16:18).

". . . persecution faced faithfully can have positive results for the church (see also Acts 11:19-30 for more results from this dispersion)." [Note: Bock, Acts , p317.]

". . . the thrust of the church into its mission after the persecution of the Christian community in Jerusalem is parallel with Luke"s portrayal in his Gospel of the spread of Jesus" fame after the devil"s assault in the wilderness." [Note: Longenecker, p355.]

"As the mission begins to move beyond Jerusalem and Judea, it is useful to distinguish two roles within it: the role of the initiator and the role of the verifier. The apostles shift at this point from the former to the latter role. That Isaiah , their function is reduced to recognizing and confirming the work of the evangelists who bring the gospel to new areas and groups, or to working as evangelists in areas already opened for mission (cf. Acts 8:25; Acts 9:32-42)." [Note: Tannehill, 2:102.]


Verses 4-8

Philip"s evangelization of Samaria8:4-8


Verse 5

Philip was apparently a Hellenistic Jew like Stephen. This was Philip the evangelist who was one of the Seven (cf. Acts 6:5), not the Philip who was one of the Twelve. He travelled north from Jerusalem to Samaria and followed Jesus" example of taking the gospel to the Samaritans (cf. John 4). The other Jews did not like the people who lived in this area and had no dealings with them ( John 4:9). They regarded them as racial and religious half-breeds. They did so since their ancestors were Jews who had intermarried with the Gentiles whom the Assyrians had sent to live there following Assyria"s conquest of Israel in722 B.C. Furthermore the Samaritans had opposed the rebuilding of the temple in Ezra"s day and had erected their own temple on Mt. Gerizim in competition with the temple on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. In view of Stephen"s depreciation of the Jerusalem temple ( Acts 7:44-50), it is not incredible to read that Philip took the gospel to Samaritans. The Samaritans accepted only the Pentateuch as authoritative and looked for a personal Messiah who would be like Moses.

We do not know exactly where Philip went because Luke did not identify the place specifically. [Note: See Hengel, pp70-76 , for a full discussion of this enigmatic reference.] It was "down" from Jerusalem topographically, not geographically. Some ancient versions of Acts refer to "a city of Samaria" whereas others have "the city of Samaria." Probably "the city" is correct, though some scholars believe the region of Samaria is in view. [Note: E.g, Witherington, p282.] The capital town stood a few miles west and a little north of Old Testament Shechem and very near New Testament Sychar (cf. John 4:5). The Old Testament city of Samaria-Sebaste was its Greek name-had been the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Philip"s willingness to preach "the Christ" (cf. Acts 8:12) to the Samaritans demonstrates an openness that had not characterized Jesus" disciples formerly (cf. John 4:9). Sometimes God moves us out of our comfort zone because He has a job for us to do elsewhere. A whole new people-group came to faith in Christ.


Verses 6-8

Philip also could perform miracles like Jesus and the apostles. He cast out demons and healed paralyzed and lame people. These signs attracted the attention of multitudes of Samaritans and supported Philip"s profession that God was with him. Perhaps the fact that the Jerusalem Jews had rejected Philp made him appealing to the Samaritans since they too had experienced rejection by those Jews. Again, deliverance brought rejoicing (cf. Acts 2:46-47).

"It is not too difficult to imagine what would have happened had the apostles at Jerusalem first been the missioners [sic] to Samaria. Probably they would have been rebuffed, just as they were rebuffed earlier in their travels with Jesus when the Samaritans associated them with the city of Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:51-56). But God in his providence used as their evangelist the Hellenist Philippians , who shared their fate (though for different reasons) of being rejected at Jerusalem; and the Samaritans received him and accepted his message." [Note: Longenecker, p359.]


Verses 9-11

Another person who was doing miracles in Samaria, but by satanic power, was Simon, whom people have sometimes called Simon Magus. Magus is the transliteration of the Greek word magos meaning magician or sorcerer. The magic that he did was not sleight of hand deception but sorcery: the ability to control people and or nature by demonic power. This ability had made Simon very popular, and he had encouraged people to think that he was a great power whom God had sent. [Note: See ibid, p358 , forthe teaching of the early church fathers concerning Simon.]

"As the counterfeit of the true, these false prophets were among the most dangerous enemies of Christianity; and the distinction between the true and the false, between religion and spiritualism, had to be sharply drawn once for all." [Note: Rackham, p113.]


Verses 9-13

Simon the Sorcerer"s conversion8:9-13


Verse 12

Simon promoted himself, but Philip preached Christ.

"I believe that Simon is the first religious racketeer in the church-but, unfortunately, not the last." [Note: McGee, 4:543]

Luke described Philip"s message as the good news about God"s kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 1:3; Acts 1:6; Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 19:8; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31). Those who trust in Christ become partakers in His spiritual rule over them now and eventually will enter into His future earthly millennial rule. The phrase "name of Jesus Christ" points to the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed Messiah (cf. 1 John 5:1). Note that water baptism followed conversion almost immediately (cf. Acts 2:38). Both men and women believed and were undergoing baptism. This was clearly water baptism since they did not experience Spirit baptism until later ( Acts 8:17).


Verse 13

Even Simon believed. I see no reason to conclude that Simon"s faith was spurious, though many students of this passage have concluded that he was an unbeliever. [Note: E.g, ibid, 4:544 , 545; Toussaint, " Acts ," p373; Wiersbe, 1:435-36; and Witherington, pp288-89.] The text says that he believed just as the others Luke mentioned ( Acts 8:12), and there is no reason to doubt the reality of their faith. Having practiced Satan"s magic Simon could not believe the difference between Philip"s God-given miracles and his own magic.


Verses 14-17

The12apostles were, of course, the divinely appointed leaders of the Christians (ch1). It was natural and proper, therefore, that they should send representative apostles to investigate the Samaritans" response to the gospel. This was especially important in view of the hostility that existed between the Hebrews and the Samaritans. The way the Jews and the Samaritans felt about one another is similar to how most Israelis and Palestinians feel about one another today. It was important that both the Samaritan Christians and the Jewish Christians believe that God had united them in Christ. When Peter and John came down, they observed that these Samaritans also had accepted Jesus as the Messiah. They asked God in prayer to send His Holy Spirit to baptize them as He had baptized the Jews who believed in Jesus (cf. Luke 11:13).

"Being baptized "into" [Gr. eis, cf. Acts 19:5] . . . the name denotes incorporation into the Lord and his community, declaring one"s allegiance and implying the Lord"s ownership . . ." [Note: Bock, Acts , p331.]

"This was a period of transition from the OT dispensation to the NT era, and these believers at Samaria were in a position similar to the believers at Jerusalem prior to Pentecost." [Note: Kent, p79.]

However this baptism of the Spirit occurred somewhat differently than it had in Jerusalem (ch2; cf. Acts 8:38; Acts 10:44). There it happened spontaneously, but here it came in answer to the apostles" prayer and with the laying on of their hands. There the sound of a mighty wind, visible flames of fire, and speaking in tongues accompanied it. Here there is no mention that these phenomena were present. Perhaps tongues were not spoken here, if they were not, because the Jews and the Samaritans spoke the same language. In both places, Jerusalem and Samaria, the Spirit"s reception for permanent indwelling through Spirit baptism is in view, and the Holy Spirit baptized people who were already believers in Jesus Christ.

"But what if the Spirit had come upon them [the Samaritans] at their baptism when administrated by Philip? Undoubtedly what feelings there were against Philip and the Hellenists would have carried over to them, and they would have been doubly under suspicion. But God in his providence withheld the gift of the Holy Spirit till Peter and John laid their hands on the Samaritans-Peter and John , two leading apostles who were highly thought of in the mother church at Jerusalem and who would have been accepted at that time as brothers in Christ by the new converts in Samaria." [Note: Longenecker, p359.]

Does what happened in Jerusalem and Samaria set a precedent for a "second blessing" experience (i.e, the baptism of the Spirit as a separate work of God subsequent to regeneration)? Paul described normative Spirit baptism in 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Romans 8:9. The person who has not experienced Spirit baptism is not a Christian ( Romans 8:9). Therefore the instances of Spirit baptism in Acts when it followed salvation later must have been exceptional occasions. This unusual separation of salvation and Spirit baptism is understandable. People needed to perceive Spirit baptism as such at the beginning of the church"s history. God baptized believers with the Spirit in this way to validate Jesus" promise that He would send the Spirit to indwell believers permanently, something not true previously ( John 14:16; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7). [Note: See Harm, pp30-33.]

In chapter2God identified Spirit baptism-which normally takes place without the believer being aware that it is happening-with wind, fire, and speaking in tongues. These things served as signs to the Jews present of God"s working. Here in chapter8 signs apparently did not announce the baptism of the Spirit but accompanied Philip"s preaching. What would have impressed the Samaritans that the baptism of the Spirit was taking place? And what would have impressed the Jews in Jerusalem that it had taken place in Samaria? The Spirit"s baptizing work taking place in response to the laying on of the apostles" hands would have done so (cf. Acts 9:17; Acts 19:6). This Isaiah , of course, exactly what happened.

"Peter used the keys committed to him ( Matthew 16:18-19) to open the door officially to the Samaritans, just as he did to3 ,000 Jews at Pentecost, and would again a little later to the gentiles at the house of Cornelius (chap10). It would be a great mistake, however, to treat this incident at Samaria as normative for all subsequent believers. A look at the Spirit"s coming upon Saul ( Acts 9:17) and Cornelius ( Acts 10:44) will reveal considerable differences, so that the Samaritan experience was not the regular pattern in the Book of Acts." [Note: Kent, pp79-80.]


Verses 14-24

Compromise in the Samaritan church8:14-24


Verse 18-19

Clearly some external sign accompanied the coming of the Spirit to baptize because the people present perceived it as happening. Simon desired to buy the ability to produce Spirit baptism and its accompanying sign from Peter and John (cf. Acts 19:19). This practice, the attempt to buy spiritual powers and offices, has become identified with Simon"s name (i.e, simony). Simon failed to appreciate the uniqueness of Spirit baptism. He appears to have wanted to produce this in anyone, not just believers. Perhaps Simon"s error was an innocent mistake due to theological ignorance. It was clear to Simon that the laying on of hands communicated Spirit baptism ( Acts 8:19).


Verses 20-23

Peter"s stern response, however, revealed the seriousness of Simon"s error. J. B. Phillips paraphrased Peter"s opening words, "To hell with you and your money!" [Note: The New Testament in Modern English.] Literally Peter said, "Your silver be with you into perdition." By his request Simon had revealed that he hoped he could buy God"s gifts, namely, the Holy Spirit and the ability to impart the Holy Spirit to others. Peter corrected him harshly. God"s gifts are gifts; people cannot purchase them because God gives them freely and sovereignly. Simon had much to learn about the grace of God. Peter told him God would not grant the ability he sought because his heart was not right with God. Simon wanted to be able to bring glory to himself rather than to God. Barclay referred to James Denney, the Scottish preacher, has having said that we cannot at one and the same time show that we are clever and that Christ is wonderful. [Note: Barclay, p68.] Proper motives are essential as we seek to serve Jesus Christ. Simon"s flesh rather than the Holy Spirit still controlled him. Bitterness, bondage, and iniquity still characterized him ( Acts 8:23). Perhaps Peter received insight as a prophet into Simon"s motivation (cf. Acts 5:3). [Note: Witherington, p287.]

"Peter describes Simon"s offer as poison and a chain." [Note: Robertson, 3:108.]

Simon was to the Samaritan church what Ananias and Sapphira were to the Jerusalem church: an early instance of self-seeking (cf. Acts 5:1-11). Peter may have wondered if God would judge Simon as He had Ananias and Sapphira, if Simon was about to fall dead at his feet.


Verse 24

Peter"s rebuke terrified Simon. A man with the spiritual power Simon had seen Peter demonstrate was no one to antagonize. Probably Simon"s request for prayer that God would be merciful to him was sincere.

Many interpreters believe that Simon was not a genuine believer, but he may have been. True Christians can do and have done everything that Simon said and did. His background, fresh out of demonism, makes his conduct easier to understand. I see him as another Ananias except that Ananias knew exactly what he was doing whereas Simon"s error seems to have involved ignorance to some extent. Probably that is why he did not suffer the same fate as Ananias. Both men became examples to the Christians in their respective areas of how important it is to behave under the control of the Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 5:15-21).


Verse 25

Evangelism elsewhere in Samaria8:25

The subjects of this verse are evidently Peter and John. The fact that while they were returning to Jerusalem the apostles preached the gospel in other Samaritan towns shows that they fully accepted the Samaritans as fellow believers. Furthermore they welcomed them into the church. Quite a change had taken place in John"s heart in particular, and in Peter"s, since these disciples had visited Samaria with Jesus. John had wanted to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village (cf. Luke 9:52-54).

This mission into Samaria constituted a further gospel advance to the Gentiles. The Jews regarded the Samaritans as half Jew and half Gentile. In view of Peter"s later reluctance to go to the Gentiles (ch10) this incident was clearly part of God"s plan to broaden his vision. It prepared him to accept Gentiles into the church equally with Jews.


Verse 26

God"s messenger (an angel? cf. Acts 5:19) directed Philip to go south to a road that ran from Jerusalem to Gaza. Philip did not return to Jerusalem with Peter and John. Whenever Luke introduced "an angel of the Lord" (Gr. angelos kyriou) into his narrative he desired to stress God"s special presence and activity ( Luke 1:11; Luke 2:9; Acts 12:7; Acts 12:23; cf. Acts 7:30; Acts 7:35; Acts 7:38; Acts 10:3; Acts 10:7; Acts 10:22; Acts 11:13; Acts 12:11; Acts 27:23). [Note: Longenecker, p362.] The Lord"s direction was evidently strong because Philip had been involved in evangelizing multitudes successfully ( Acts 8:6). Now God definitely told him to leave that fruitful ministry to go elsewhere. Luke did not say exactly where Philip was when he received this direction, but he was probably somewhere in Samaria or in Caesarea, where we find him later ( Acts 8:40; Acts 21:8).

"The church did not simply "stumble upon" the idea of evangelizing the Gentiles; it did so in accordance with God"s deliberate purpose." [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p161.]

Luke added for the benefit of Theophilus ( Acts 1:1), who was evidently not familiar with the geography of Palestine, that this was desert territory. The word "desert" can modify either "road" or "Gaza."

"The old town was referred to as "Desert Gaza", and this is probably meant here rather than a desert road, which properly begins only at Gaza on the way to Egypt." [Note: Neil, p123.]

To get from Jerusalem to Gaza a traveler such as this eunuch would normally route himself west through the hill country of Judah, the Shephelah (foothills), and down to the coastal plain. There he would finally turn south onto the international coastal highway that ran along the Mediterranean Sea connecting Damascus and Egypt. Only as it left Gaza, the southeasternmost city in Palestine, did the road pass through desert. This is in the modern Gaza Strip.

The Ethiopian"s spiritual condition when Philip met him was as arid as the desert. However when the two men parted the eunuch had experienced the refreshing effects of having been washed by the Water of Life.


Verses 26-40

2. Philip"s ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch8:26-40

Luke recorded this incident to show the method and direction of the church"s expansion to God-fearing Gentiles who were attracted to Judaism at this time. The Ethiopian eunuch had visited Jerusalem to worship, was studying the Old Testament, and was open to instruction by a Jew. Therefore he was much more sympathetic to the Christians" gospel than the average Gentile. This man appears to have been the first full-fledged Gentile that Luke recorded being evangelized in Acts , though he could have been a diaspora Jew.

"The admirably-told story of the Ethiopian is probably in Philip"s own words, passed on to the author when he and Paul were entertained in the evangelist"s house at Caesarea, twenty years later (xxi8). As a piece of narrative it ranks with the stories of the Lord"s own personal work (e.g. John iii and iv)." [Note: Blaiklock, pp80-81.]


Verse 27-28

We can see Philip"s yieldedness to the Spirit"s control in his obedience. On the road he met the man who was evidently in charge of the Ethiopian treasury (cf. Isaiah 56:3-8; Psalm 68:31). The name "Ethiopia" at this time described a kingdom located south of modern Egypt in Sudan (i.e, Nubia). It lay between the first Nile cataract at Aswan and the modern city of Khartoum, many hundreds of miles from Jerusalem.

"When told that a man was Ethiopian, people of the ancient Mediterranean world would assume that he was black, for this is the way that Ethiopians are described by Herodotus and others." [Note: Tannehill, 2:109. See Herodotus222 , 3101; and Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius61. See also J. Daniel Hays, "The Cushites: A Black Nation in the Bible," Bibliotheca Sacra153:612 (October-December1996):408.]

There is no evidence that there was prejudice based on skin color in antiquity. [Note: Witherington, p295.]

". . . in ancient Greek historiographical works there was considerable interest in Ethiopia and Ethiopians precisely because of their ethnic and racially distinctive features.... Furthermore, in the mythological geography of the ancient Greek historians and other writers as well, Ethiopia was quite frequently identified with the ends of the earth ... in a way that Rome most definitely was not. We are entitled, then, to suspect that Luke the historian has decided to portray in miniature a foreshadowing of the fulfillment of the rest of Jesus" mandate ( Acts 1:1) in Acts 8 ..." [Note: Ibid, p290.]

Candace was the dynastic title of the queen mother who at this time served as the head of the government in Ethiopia. Her personal name was evidently Amanitare (sometimes spelled Amantitere; A.D25-41). [Note: Piers T. Crocker, "The City of Meroe and the Ethiopian Eunuch," Buried History22:3 (September1986):67.] The king of Ethiopia did not involve himself in the routine operations of his country since his people regarded him as the child of the sun.

It was not uncommon for men in high Near Eastern government positions to be castrated. This prevented them from impregnating royal women and then making claims on the throne. However the word "eunuch" (Gr. eunouchos) appears often in the Septuagint (e.g, of Potiphar, Genesis 39:1) and in other Greek writings describing a high military or political figure. [Note: Longenecker, p363.] This eunuch may, therefore, not have been emasculated but simply a high official. Some scholars believe he was both. [Note: E.g, Barrett, pp425-26; and Witherington, p296.] Luke repeatedly referred to him as a eunuch ( Acts 8:27; Acts 8:34; Acts 8:36; Acts 8:38-39). Emasculated men could not participate fully in Israel"s worship ( Deuteronomy 23:1).

This official had made a pilgrimage to worship Yahweh. Somehow he had heard of Him and had come to reverence Him. He was making the trip home, probably to the capitol city of Meroe, in his "covered wagon." [Note: Bruce, Commentary on . . ., p186.] While traveling, he was reading the Septuagint translation of Isaiah"s prophecy (i.e, Isaiah 53:7-9; cf. Isaiah 56:3-8). Perhaps he had purchased this roll of Isaiah in Jerusalem.

"The chariot would have been in fact an ox-drawn wagon and would not have moved at much more than a walking pace, so that it would cause no difficulty for Philip to run alongside it and call out to the occupant." [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p162.]

It was unusual for a non-Jew to possess a personal copy of the Old Testament. [Note: Longenecker, p363.] Scrolls were expensive in the first century, but this man could afford one. Perhaps he was able to do so because of his high government position, or perhaps he had only a part of Isaiah"s prophecy that he or someone else had copied. In any case his great interest in the Jews" religion is obvious.

"In those days the world was full of people who were weary of the many gods and the loose morals of the nations. They came to Judaism and there they found the one God and the austere moral standards which gave life meaning. If they accepted Judaism and were circumcised and took the Law upon themselves they were called proselytes; if they did not go that length but continued to attend the Jewish synagogues and to read the Jewish scriptures they were called God-fearers. So this Ethiopian must have been one of these searchers who came to rest in Judaism either as a proselyte or a God-fearer." [Note: Barclay, p70.]

"Some of the God-fearers were only one step from becoming converts [to Judaism], while others just added the Jewish God to their pantheon. So long as they showed some kind of sympathy with the Jewish religion they were considered God-fearers." [Note: Levinskaya, p78. See also pp120-26 , "God-fearers in the Book of Acts."]


Verses 29-31

Philip felt compelled by the Holy Spirit"s leading to approach the wagon (cf. Acts 8:26). The Spirit"s leading is essential in evangelism; He sometimes directs us to people whom He has prepared to trust in Jesus Christ.

"An especial stress is placed throughout this narrative on God"s engineering of this conversation, and thus that it is part of God"s plan." [Note: Witherington, p293.]

Possibly this important official was part of a caravan that was heading to Africa, and Philip joined it temporarily. [Note: Blaiklock, p82.] Evidently the eunuch"s vehicle was either standing still or moving slowly down the road. Luke"s comment that Philip ran up to the wagon may reflect the evangelist"s willing compliance or simply the fact that he needed to run to catch up with it. There were probably other people besides Philip who were walking beside the various vehicles in this caravan. As he approached, Philip heard the Ethiopian reading aloud. This was the common method of reading in ancient times due to the difficulty of deciphering sentences with no spaces between words and no punctuation marks. [Note: See Henry J. Cadbury, The Book of Acts in History, p18.] Philip recognized what the Ethiopian was reading and struck up a conversation with him. The official was having difficulty understanding what he read so he invited Philip into his wagon to see if he could get some help.


Verses 32-35

Philip responded to the eunuch"s perplexity by explaining how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah"s prophecy of the Suffering Servant.

". . . there is no evidence that anyone in pre-Christian Judaism ever thought of the Messiah in terms of a Suffering Servant." [Note: Longenecker, p364.]

Most of the Jews regarded Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12 as referring to their nation or to the Gentile nations. Jesus quoted Isaiah 53as finding fulfillment in His passion ( Luke 22:37). Philip followed Jesus" interpretation and from this passage proceeded to preach Jesus to the eunuch.

This is an excellent example of the Spirit of God using the Word of God through a man of God to bring salvation to the elect of God (cf. 1 Peter 1:23-25). Note also the parallels between this story and the one in Luke 24about Jesus walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

"There is evidence that Luke has very carefully structured his narrative [of Philip"s ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch] in the form of a chiasm. Acts 8:32-35, the citation of Isaiah 53:7-8, are at the heart of the passage and serve as its hinge." [Note: Witherington, p292.]


Verses 36-38

The road on which this conversation took place crossed several stream beds that empty water from the higher elevations into the Mediterranean Sea during the wetter months. Even though the land generally was desert, water was not entirely absent at some times of the year. The Ethiopian may have already known about water baptism since he had an interest in Judaism. The Jews required water baptism of Gentile converts. Philip may have instructed him further on the importance of baptism (cf. Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12). In any case the official was eager to submit to it. The Jews did not baptize physical eunuchs and take them in as proselytes of Judaism ( Deuteronomy 23:1). If he was a physical eunuch, perhaps this is why the official asked if there was some reason he could not undergo baptism as a Christian.

Obviously there was enough water for Philip to immerse the Ethiopian, the normal method of baptism in Judaism and early Christianity. Some interpreters have argued, however, that the two men may have stood in the water while Philip poured water over or sprinkled the Ethiopian. This is a possible but, I think, it is improbable. The normal meaning of the Greek word baptizo (to baptize) is to immerse, and this was the common custom. The Ethiopian official testified to his faith in Jesus as the Messiah by submitting to water baptism (cf. Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12).


Verse 39-40

The Holy Spirit directed Philip to the eunuch ( Acts 8:29), and He led him away from him ( Acts 8:39). Luke stressed the Spirit"s leadership in this evangelism of the first Gentile convert in Acts ( Matthew 12:18). God had prepared both Philip ( Acts 8:29) and the eunuch ( Acts 8:30) for their especially important conversation.

Luke described the Lord leading Philip away from the eunuch very dramatically. Perhaps the Spirit jerked Philip out of the wagon physically (cf. 1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16). [Note: Kent, p82.] More likely, I think, this description reflects the Lord"s immediate direction to another place where He wanted Phillip to serve next.

"Philip"s behavior in this incident is reminiscent of that of Elijah, following impulses which he recognizes as divine prompting, appearing in unexpected places, and disappearing equally unexpectedly. It has also often been noted that there are curious correspondences between Zephaniah 2-3and this passage-among other similarities Gaza, Ethiopia and Azotus are mentioned in both." [Note: Neil, p123.]

"There is a contrast between Simon Magus and this Ethiopian treasurer which recalls the contrast between Gehazi and the stranger Naaman who was baptized in the Jordan." [Note: Rackham, p120.]

The eunuch rejoiced in his new faith (cf. Acts 2:46-47; Acts 8:8; Acts 16:34). Presumably he returned home and became one of the earliest Gentile witnesses and missionaries in Africa. This is what happened according to early Christian tradition. [Note: See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:12:8-10.]

Philip proceeded up the coast north, probably along the international highway, to Azotus (Ashdod) and farther on to Caesarea. He preached the gospel in all the intermediate cities. About20 years later we find him living in Caesarea ( Acts 21:8). In the Roman world the average distance that people would travel in one day on land was about20 miles. [Note: Robert Jewett, A Chronology of Paul"s Life, p138.]

Philip was the first Jewish Christian in Acts to evangelize a Gentile who lived at what the first readers of this book regarded as the uttermost part of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8).

"The conviction that the Ethiopians lived at the ends of the earth is well documented in ancient literature." [Note: Tannehill, 2:109. See Homer, The Odyssey123; Herodotus325 , 3114; Strabo, Geography116 , 1224.]

The very first Christians were Jews ( Acts 2:1 to Acts 8:4). Then Samaritans became Christians ( Acts 8:5-25). Now a Gentile who was a Jewish proselyte or near-proselyte entered the church. Probably all these converts thought of themselves now as simply religious Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Only later did they learn that what God was doing was not just creating a group of believers in Jesus within Judaism, a faithful remnant, but a whole new entity, namely, the Christian church (cf. Ephesians 2-3).

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 8:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/acts-8.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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