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Bible Commentaries
Acts 8

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1


A general persecution is raised against the Church, 1.

Stephen's burial, 2.

Saul greatly oppresses the followers of Christ, 3, 4.

Philip the deacon goes to Samaria, preaches, works many

miracles, converts many persons, and baptizes Simon the

sorcerer, 5-13.

Peter and John are sent by the apostles to Samaria; they

confirm the disciples, and by prayer and imposition of hands

they confer the Holy Spirit, 14-17.

Simon the sorcerer, seeing this, offers them money, to enable

him to confer the Holy Spirit, 18, 19.

He is sharply reproved by Peter, and exhorted to repent, 20-23.

He appears to be convinced of his sin, and implores an interest

in the apostle's prayers, 24.

Peter and John, having preached the Gospel in the villages of

Samaria, return to Jerusalem, 25.

An angel of the Lord commands Philip to go towards Gaza, to meet

an Ethiopian eunuch, 26.

He goes, meets, and converses with the eunuch, preaches the

Gospel to him, and baptizes him, 27-38.

The Spirit of God carries Philip to Azotus, passing through

which, he preaches in all the cities till he comes to Caesarea,

39, 40.


Verse Acts 8:1. Saul was consenting unto his death. — So inveterate was the hatred that this man bore to Christ and his followers that he delighted in their destruction. So blind was his heart with superstitious zeal that he thought he did God service by offering him the blood of a fellow creature, whose creed he supposed to be erroneous. The word συνευδοκων signifies gladly consenting, being pleased with his murderous work! How dangerous is a party spirit; and how destructive may zeal even for the true worship of God prove, if not inspired and regulated by the spirit of Christ!

It has already been remarked that this clause belongs to the conclusion of the preceding chapter; so it stands in the Vulgate, and so it should stand in every version.

There was a great persecution — The Jews could not bear the doctrine of Christ's resurrection; for this point being proved demonstrated his innocence and their enormous guilt in his crucifixion; as therefore the apostles continued to insist strongly on the resurrection of Christ, the persecution against them became hot and general.

They were all scattered abroad - except the apostles. — Their Lord had commanded them, when persecuted in one city, to flee to another: this they did, but, wherever they went, they proclaimed the same doctrines, though at the risk and hazard of their lives. It is evident, therefore, that they did not flee from persecution, or the death it threatened; but merely in obedience to their Lord's command. Had they fled through the fear of death, they would have taken care not to provoke persecution to follow them, by continuing to proclaim the same truths that provoked it in the first instance.

That the apostles were not also exiled is a very remarkable fact: they continued in Jerusalem, to found and organize the infant Church; and it is marvellous that the hand of persecution was not permitted to touch them. Why this should be we cannot tell; but so it pleased the great Head of the Church. Bp. Pearce justly suspects those accounts, in Eusebius and others, that state that the apostles went very shortly after Christ's ascension into different countries, preaching and founding Churches. He thinks this is inconsistent with the various intimations we have of the continuance of the apostles in Jerusalem; and refers particularly to the following texts: Acts 8:1, Acts 8:14, Acts 8:25; Acts 9:26, Acts 9:27; Acts 11:1, Acts 11:2; Acts 12:1-4; Acts 15:2, Acts 15:4, Acts 15:6, Acts 15:22, Acts 15:23; Acts 21:17, Acts 21:18; Galatians 1:17-19; Galatians 2:1, Galatians 2:9. The Church at Jerusalem was the first CHRISTIAN Church; and consequently, the boast of the Church of Rome is vain and unfounded. From this time a new aera of the Church arose. Hitherto the apostles and disciples confined their labours among their countrymen in Jerusalem. Now persecution drove the latter into different parts of Judea, and through Samaria; and those who had received the doctrine of Christ at the pentecost, who had come up to Jerusalem from different countries to be present at the feast, would naturally return, especially at the commencement of the persecution, to their respective countries, and proclaim to their countrymen the Gospel of the grace of God. To effect this grand purpose, the Spirit was poured out at the day of pentecost; that the multitudes from different quarters, partaking of the word of life, might carry it back to the different nations among whom they had their residence. One of the fathers has well observed, that "these holy fugitives were like so many lamps, lighted by the fire of the Holy Spirit, spreading every where the sacred flame by which they themselves had been illuminated."

Verse 2

Verse Acts 8:2. Devout men carried Stephen to his burial] The Greek word, συνεκομισαν, signifies not only to carry, or rather to gather up, but also to do every thing necessary for the interment of the dead. Among the Jews, and indeed among most nations of the earth, it was esteemed a work of piety, charity, and mercy, to bury the dead. The Jews did not bury those who were condemned by the Sanhedrin in the burying place of the fathers, as they would not bury the guilty with the innocent; and they had a separate place for those who were stoned, and for those that were burnt. According to the Tract Sanh. fol. 45, 46, the stone wherewith any one was stoned, the post on which he was hanged, the sword by which he was beheaded, and the cord by which he was strangled, were buried in the same place with the bodies of the executed persons. As these persons died under the curse of the law, the instruments by which they were put to death were considered as unclean and accursed, and therefore buried with their bodies. Among the ancients, whatever was grateful or useful to a person in life was ordinarily buried with him; thus the sword, spear, shield, c., of the soldier were put in the same grave the faithful dog of the hunter, c., c. And on this principle the wife of a Brahman burns with the body of her deceased husband.

Made great lamentation over him. — This was never done over any condemned by the Sanhedrin-they only bemoaned such privately this great lamentation over Stephen, if the same custom then prevailed as afterwards, is a proof that Stephen was not condemned by the Sanhedrin he probably fell a sacrifice to the fury of the bigoted incensed mob, the Sanhedrin not interfering to prevent the illegal execution.

Verse 3

Verse Acts 8:3. Saul made havoc of the Church — The word ελυμαινετο, from λυμαινω, to destroy, devastate, ravage, signifies the act of ferocious animals, such as bears, wolves, and the like, in seeking and devouring their prey. This shows with what persevering rancour this man pursued the harmless Christians; and thus we see in him what bigotry and false zeal are capable of performing.

Entering into every house — For, however it might be to others, a Christian man's house was not his castle.

Haling men and women — Neither sparing age nor sex in the professors of Christianity. The word συρων signifies dragging them before the magistrates, or dragging them to justice.

Committed them to prison. — For, as the Romans alone had the power of life and death, the Sanhedrin, by whom Saul was employed, Acts 26:10, could do no more than arrest and imprison, in order to inflict any punishment short of death. It is true, St. Paul himself says that some of them were put to death, see Acts 26:10; but this was either done by Roman authority, or by what was called the judgment of zeal, i.e. when the mob took the execution of the laws into their own hands, and massacred those whom they pretended to be blasphemers of God: for these sanctified their murderous outrage under the specious name of zeal for God's glory, and quoted the ensample of Phineas as a precedent. Such persons as these formed a sect among the Jews; and are known in ecclesiastical history by the appellation of Zealots or Sicarii.

Verse 4

Verse Acts 8:4. They that were scattered - went every where preaching — Thus the very means devised by Satan to destroy the Church became the very instruments of its diffusion and establishment. What are counsel, or might, or cunning, or rage, or malice, against the Lord, whether they are excited by men or devils!

Verse 5

Verse Acts 8:5. Then Philip — One of the seven deacons, Acts 6:5, called afterwards, Philip the Evangelist, Acts 21:8.

The city of Samaria — At this time there was no city of Samaria existing: according to Josephus, Ant. lib. xiii. cap. 10, sect. 3, Hyrcanus had so utterly demolished it as to leave no vestige of it remaining. Herod the Great did afterwards build a city on the same spot of ground; but he called it σεβαστη i.e. Augusta, in compliment to the Emperor Augustus, as Josephus tells us, Ant. lib. xv. cap. 8, sect. 5; War, lib. i. cap. 2. sect. 7; and by this name of Sebasté, or Augusta, that city, if meant here, would in all probability have been called, in the same manner as the town called Strato's Tower, (which Herod built on the sea coasts, and to which he gave the name of Caesarea, in compliment to Augustus Caesar,) is always called Caesarea, wherever it is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. Bp. Pearce.

As Sychem was the very heart and seat of the Samaritan religion, and Mount Gerizim the cathedral church of that sect, it is more likely that it should be intended than any other. See Lightfoot. As the Samaritans received the same law with the Jews, as they also expected the Messiah, as Christ had preached to and converted many of that people, John 4:39-42, it was very reasonable that the earliest offers of salvation should be made to them, before any attempt was made to evangelize the Gentiles. The Samaritans, indeed, formed the connecting link between the Jews and the Gentiles; for they were a mongrel people, made up of both sorts, and holding both Jewish and Pagan rites. See the account of them on Matthew 10:5.

Verse 6

Verse Acts 8:6. The people with one accord gave heed — He had fixed their attention, not only with the gravity and importance of the matter of his preaching, but also by the miracles which he did.

Verse 7

Verse Acts 8:7. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed — Hence it is evident that these unclean spirits were not a species of diseases; as they are here distinguished from the paralytic and the lame. There is nothing more certain than that the New Testament writers mean real diabolic possessions by the terms unclean spirits, devils, &c., which they use. It is absolute trifling to deny it. If we, in our superior sagacity can show that they were mistaken, that is quite a different matter!

Verse 8

Verse Acts 8:8. There was great joy in that city. — No wonder, when they heard such glorious truths, and were the subjects of such beneficent miracles.

Verse 9

Verse Acts 8:9. A certain man called Simon — In ancient ecclesiastical writers, we have the strangest account of this man; they say that he pretended to be the Father, who gave the law to Moses; that he came in the reign of Tiberius in the person of the Son; that he descended on the apostles on the day of pentecost, in flames of fire, in quality of the Holy Spirit; that he was the Messiah, the Paraclete, and Jupiter; that the woman who accompanied him, called Helena, was Minerva, or the first intelligence; with many other extravagancies which probably never had an existence. All that we know to be certain on this subject is, that he used sorcery, that he bewitched the people, and that he gave out himself to be some great one.

This might be sufficient, were not men prone to be wise above what is written.

Our word sorcerer, from the French sorcier, which, from the Latin sors, a lot, signifies the using of lots to draw presages concerning the future; a custom that prevailed in all countries, and was practised with a great variety of forms. On the word lot see Clarke's note, "Leviticus 16:8; "Leviticus 16:9"; and Joshua 14:2.

The Greek word, μαγευων, signifies practising the rites or science of the Magi, or [Persic] Mughan, the worshippers of fire among the Persians; the same as [Arabic] Majoos, and [Arabic] Majooseean, from which we have our word magician. Matthew 2:1.

And bewitched the people of Samaria — εξιστων, Astonishing, amazing, or confounding the judgment of the people, from εξιστημι to remove out of a place or state, to be transported beyond one's self, to be out of one's wits; a word that expresses precisely the same effect which the tricks or legerdemain of a juggler produce in the minds of the common people who behold his feats. It is very likely that Simon was a man of this cast, for the east has always abounded in persons of this sort. The Persian, Arabian, Hindoo, and Chinese jugglers are notorious to the present day; and even while I write this, (July, 1813,) three Indian jugglers, lately arrived, are astonishing the people of London; and if such persons can now interest and amaze the people of a city so cultivated and enlightened, what might not such do among the grosser people of Sychem or Sebaste, eighteen hundred years ago?

That himself was some great one. — That the feats which he performed sufficiently proved that he possessed a most powerful supernatural agency, and could do whatsoever he pleased.

Verse 10

Verse Acts 8:10. This man is the great power of God. — That is, he is invested with it, and can command and use it. They certainly did not believe him to be God; but they thought him to be endued with a great supernatural power.

There is a remarkable reading here in several MSS. which should not pass unnoticed. In ABCDE, several others, together with the AEthiopic, Armenian, later Syriac, Vulgate, Itala, Origen, and Irenaeus, the word καλουμενη is added before μεγαλη, and the passage reads thus, This person is that power of God which is CALLED the GREAT. This appears to be the true reading; but what the Samaritans meant by that power of God which they termed the Great, we know not. Simon endeavoured to persuade the people that he was a very great personage, and he succeeded.

Verse 12

Verse Acts 8:12. But when they believed Philip — So it is evident that Philip's word came with greater power then that of Simon; and that his miracles stood the test in such a way as the feats of Simon could not.

Verse 13

Verse Acts 8:13. Simon himself believed also — He was struck with the doctrine and miracles of Philip-he saw that these were real; he knew his own to be fictitious. He believed therefore that Jesus was the Messiah, and was in consequence baptized.

Continued with Philip, and wondered — εξιστατο, He was as much astonished and confounded at the miracles of Philip as the people of Samaria were at his legerdemain. It is worthy of remark that εξιστατο comes from the same root, εξιστημι, as the word εξιστων, in Acts 8:9, and, if our translation bewitched be proper there, it should be retained here; and then we should read, Then Simon himself believed and was baptized, and continued with Philip, being BEWITCHED, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. We may see, from this circumstance, how improper the term bewitched is, in the 9th and 11th verses. Acts 8:9; Acts 8:11

Verse 14

Verse Acts 8:14. The word of God — The doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ.

They sent unto them Peter and John — There was no individual ruler among the apostles-there was not even a president of the council; and Peter, far from being chief of the apostles, is one of those sent, with the same commission and authority as John, to confirm the Samaritans in the faith.

Verse 15

Verse Acts 8:15. When they were come down — The very same mode of speaking, in reference to Jerusalem formerly, obtains now in reference to London. The metropolis in both cases is considered as the centre; and all parts, in every direction, no matter how distant, or how situated, are represented as below the metropolis. Hence we so frequently hear of persons going up to Jerusalem: and going down from the same. So in London the people speak of going down to the country; and, in the country, of going up to London. It is necessary to make this remark, lest any person should be led away with the notion that Jerusalem was situated on the highest ground in Palestine. It is a mode of speech which is used to designate a royal or imperial city.

Prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost. — It seems evident from this case, that even the most holy deacons, though full of the Holy Ghost themselves, could not confer this heavenly gift on others. This was the prerogative of the apostles, and they were only instruments; but they were those alone by which the Lord chose to work. They prayed and laid their hands on the disciples, and God sent down the gift; so, the blessing came from God by the apostles, and not from the apostles to the people. But for what purpose was the Holy Spirit thus given? Certainly not for the sanctification of the souls of the people: this they had on believing in Christ Jesus; and this the apostles never dispensed. It was the miraculous gifts of the Spirit which were thus communicated: the speaking with different tongues, and those extraordinary qualifications which were necessary for the successful preaching of the Gospel; and doubtless many, if not all, of those on whom the apostles laid their hands, were employed more or less in the public work of the Church.

Verse 17

Verse Acts 8:17. Then laid they their hands on them — Probably only on some select persons, who were thought proper for public use in the Church. They did not lay hands on all; for certainly no hands in this way were laid on Simon.

Verse 18

Verse Acts 8:18. When Simon saw, c.] By hearing these speak with different tongues and work miracles.

He offered them money — Supposing that the dispensing this Spirit belonged to them-that they could give it to whomsoever they pleased and imagining that, as he saw them to be poor men, they would not object to take money for their gift; and it is probable that he had gained considerably by his juggling, and therefore could afford to spare some, as he hoped to make it all up by the profit which he expected to derive from this new influence.

Verse 20

Verse Acts 8:20. Thy money perish with thee — This is an awful declaration; and imports thus much, that if he did not repent, he and his ill-gotten goods would perish together; his money should be dissipated, and his soul go into perdition.

That the gift of God may be purchased — Peter takes care to inform not only Simon, but all to whom these presents may come, that the Spirit of God is the gift of God alone, and consequently cannot be purchased with money; for what reward can HE receive from his creatures, to whom the silver and the gold belong, the cattle on a thousand hills, the earth and its fulness!

Verse 21

Verse Acts 8:21. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter — Thou hast no part among the faithful, and no lot in this ministry. That the word κληρος, which we translate lot, is to be understood as implying a spiritual portion, office, c., see proved in the note on Numbers 26:55.

Thy heart is not right — It is not through motives of purity, benevolence, or love to the souls of men, that thou desirest to be enabled to confer the Holy Ghost it is through pride, vain glory, and love of money: thou wouldest now give a little money that thou mightest, by thy new gift, gain much.

Verse 22

Verse Acts 8:22. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness — St. Peter did not suppose his case to be utterly hopeless; though his sin, considered in its motives and objects, was of the most heinous kind.

If perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. — His sin, as yet, only existed in thought and purpose; and therefore it is said, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven.

Verse 23

Verse Acts 8:23. The gall of bitterness — A Hebraism for excessive bitterness: gall, wormwood, and such like, were used to express the dreadful effects of sin in the soul; the bitter repentance, bitter regret, bitter sufferings, bitter death, c., c., which it produces. In Deuteronomy 29:18, idolatry and its consequences are expressed, by having among them a root that beareth GALL and WORMWOOD. And in Hebrews 12:15, some grievous sin is intended, when the apostle warns them, lest any root of BITTERNESS springing up, trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.

Bond of iniquity. — An allusion to the mode in which the Romans secured their prisoners, chaining the right hand of the prisoner to the left hand of the soldier who guarded him as if the apostle had said, Thou art tied and bound by the chain of thy sin justice hath laid hold upon thee, and thou hast only a short respite before thy execution, to see if thou wilt repent.

Verse 24

Verse Acts 8:24. Pray ye to the Lord for me — The words of Peter certainly made a deep impression on Simon's mind; and he must have had a high opinion of the apostle's sanctity and influence with God, when he thus commended himself to their prayers. And we may hope well of his repentance and salvation, if the reading of the Codex Bezae, and the margin of the later Syriac may be relied on: Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none (τουτων των κακων) OF ALL THOSE EVILS which ye have spoken (μοι) TO ME, may come upon me: (ος πολλα κλαιων ου διελιμπανεν) WHO WEPT GREATLY, and DID NOT CEASE. That is, he was an incessant penitent. However favourably this or any other MS. may speak of Simon, he is generally supposed to have "grown worse and worse, opposing the apostles and the Christian doctrine, and deceiving many cities and provinces by magical operations; till being at Rome, in the reign of the Emperor Claudius, he boasted that he could fly, and when exhibiting before the emperor and the senate, St. Peter and St. Paul being present, who knew that his flying was occasioned by magic, prayed to God that the people might be undeceived, and that his power might fail; in consequence of which he came tumbling down, and died soon after of his bruises." This account comes in a most questionable shape, and has no evidence which can challenge our assent. To me, it and the rest of the things spoken of Simon the sorcerer appear utterly unworthy of credit. Calmet makes a general collection of what is to be found in Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian; Eusebius, Theodoret, Augustine, and others, on the subject of Simon Magus; and to him, if the reader think it worth the pains, he may refer. The substance of these accounts is given above, and in Clarke's note on "Acts 8:9"; and to say the least of them they are all very dubious. The tale of his having an altar erected to him at Rome, with the inscription, Simoni sancto deo, "To the holy god Simon," has been founded on an utter mistake, and has been long ago sufficiently confuted. See the inscriptions in Gruter, vol. i. p. 96, inscript. No. 5, 6, 7.

Verse 25

Verse Acts 8:25. And they, when they had - preached - returned to Jerusalem — That is, Peter and John returned, after they had borne testimony to and confirmed the work which Philip had wrought.

Verse 26

Verse Acts 8:26. Arise, and go toward the south — How circumstantially particular are these directions! Every thing is so precisely marked that there is no danger of the apostle missing his way. He is to perform some great duty; but what, he is not informed. The road which he is to take is marked out; but what he is to do in that road, or how far he is to proceed, he is not told! It is GOD who employs him, and requires of him implicit obedience. If he do his will, according to the present direction, he shall know, by the issue, that God hath sent him on an errand worthy of his wisdom and goodness. We have a similar instance of circumstantial direction from God in Acts 9:11: Arise, go into the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one Saul of Tarsus, c. And another instance, still more particular, in Acts 10:5; Acts 10:6: Send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter he lodgeth with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea side. God never sends any man on a message, without giving him such directions as shall prevent all mistakes and miscarriages, if simply and implicitly followed. This is also strictly true of the doctrines contained in his word: no soul ever missed salvation that simply followed the directions given in the word of God. Those who will refine upon every thing, question the Divine testimony, and dispute with their Maker, cannot be saved. And how many of this stamp are found, even among Christians, professing strict godliness!

Gaza, which is desert. — αυτη εστιν ερημος, This it the desert, or this is in the desert. Gaza was a town about two miles and a half from the sea-side; it was the last town which a traveller passed through, when he went from Phoenicia to Egypt, and was at the entrance into a wilderness, according to the account given by Arrian in Exped. Alex. lib. ii. cap. 26, p. 102. [Ed. Gronov.] That it was the last inhabited town, as a man goes from Phoenicia to Egypt, επι τη αρχη της ερημου, on the commencement of the desert. See Bp. Pearce.

Dr. Lightfoot supposes that the word desert is added here, because at that time the ancient Gaza was actually desert, having been destroyed by Alexander, and μενουσα ερημος, remaining desert, as Strabo, lib. xvi. p. 1102, says; and that the angel mentioned this desert Gaza to distinguish it from another city of the same name, in the tribe of Ephraim, not far from the place where Philip now was. On this we may observe that, although Gaza was desolated by Alexander the Great, as were several other cities, yet it was afterwards rebuilt by Gabinius. See Josephus, Ant. lib. xv. cap. 5, sect. 3. And writers of the first century represent it as being flourishing and populous in their times. See Wetstein.

Schoettgen thinks that ερημος, desert, should be referred, not to Gaza, but to οδος, the way; and that it signifies a road that was less frequented. If there were two roads to Gaza from Jerusalem, as some have imagined, (see Rosenmuller,) the eunuch might have chosen that which was desert, or less frequented, for the sake of privacy in his journeying religious exercises.

Verse 27

Verse Acts 8:27. A man of Ethiopia — ανηραιθιοψ should be translated an Ethiopian, for the reasons given on Acts 7:2.

An eunuch — See this word interpreted, on Matthew 19:12. The term eunuch was given to persons in authority at court, to whom its literal meaning did not apply. Potiphar was probably an eunuch only as to his office; for he was a married man. See Acts 37:36; Acts 39:1. And it is likely that this Ethiopian was of the same sort.

Of great authority — δυναστης, A perfect lord chamberlain of the royal household; or, rather, her treasurer, for it is here said, he had charge of all her treasure, ην επι πασης της γαζης αυτης. The apparent Greek word γαζα, Gaza, is generally allowed to be Persian, from the authority of Servius, who, in his comment on AEn. lib. i. ver. 118:-

Apparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto,

Arma virum, tabulaeque, et Troia GAZA per undas.

"And here and there above the waves are seen

Arms, pictures, precious goods, and floating men."


The words of Servius are: "Gaza Persicus sermo est, et significat divitias; unde Gaza urbs in Palaestina dicitur, quod in ea Cambyses rex Persarum cum AEgyptiis bellum inferret divitias suas condidit." GAZA is a Persian word, and signifies RICHES: hence Gaza, a city in Palestine, was so called because Cambyses, king of Persia, laid up his treasures in it, when he waged war with the Egyptians. The nearest Persian word of this signification which I find is [Persian] gunj, or ganz, and [Persian] gunja, which signify a magazine, store, hoard, or hidden treasure. The Arabic [Arabic] kluzaneh, comes as near as the Persian, with the same meaning. Hence [Arabic] makhzen, called magazen by the Spaniards, and magazine by the English; a word which signifies a collection of stores or treasures, or the place where they are laid up. It is scarcely necessary to remark that this name is given also to certain monthly publications, which are, or profess to be, a store of treasures, or repository of precious, or valuable things.

But who was Candace? It is granted that she is not found in the common lists of Ethiopic sovereigns with which we have been favoured. But neither the Abyssinians nor the Jews admitted women in their genealogies. I shall not enter into this controversy, but shall content myself with quoting the words of Mr. Bruce. "It is known," says he, "from credible writers engaged in no controversy, that this Candace reigned upon the Nile in Atbara, near Egypt. Her capital also, was taken in the time of Augustus, a few years before the conversion of the slave by Philip; and we shall have occasion often to mention her successors and her kingdom, as existing in the reign of the Abyssinian kings, long after the Mohammedan conquest: they existed when I passed through Atbara, and do undoubtedly exist there to this day."-Bruce's Travels, vol. ii. p. 431.

It does not appear, as some have imagined, that the Abyssinians were converted to the Christian faith by this eunuch, nor by any of the apostles; as there is strong historic evidence that they continued Jews and Pagans for more than three hundred years after the Christian aera. Their conversion is with great probability attributed to Frumentius, sent to Abyssinia for that purpose by Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, about A.D. 330. See Bruce as above.

The Ethiopians mentioned here are those who inhabited the isle or peninsula of Meroe, above and southward of Egypt. It is the district which Mr. Bruce calls Atbara, and which he proves formerly bore the name of Meroe. This place, according to Diodorus Siculus, had its name from Meroe, daughter of Cambyses, king of Persia, who died there in the expedition which her father undertook against the Ethiopians. Strabo mentions a queen in this very district named Candace: his words are remarkable. Speaking of an insurrection of the Ethiopians against the Romans he says: Τουτων δ' ησαν και οἱ βασιλισσης στρατηγοι της Κανδακης, ἡ καθ' ἡμας ηρξε των Αιθιοπων, ανδρικη τις γυνη, πεπηρωενη τον οφθαλμον, "Among these were the officers of Queen CANDACE, who in our days reigned over the Ethiopians. She was a masculine woman, and blind of one eye." Though this could not have been the Candace mentioned in the text, it being a little before the Christian aera, yet it establishes the fact that a queen of this name did reign in this place; and we learn from others that it was a common name to the queens of Ethiopia. Pliny, giving an account of the report made by Nero's messengers, who were sent to examine this country, says, AEdificia oppidi (Meroes) pauca: regnare faeminam CANDACEN; quod nomen multis jam annis ad reginas transiit. Hist. Nat. lib. vi. cap. 29, ad fin. They reported that "the edifices of the city were few: that a woman reigned there of the name of Candace; which name had passed to their queens, successively, for many years." To one of those queens the eunuch in the text belonged; and the above is sufficient authority to prove that queens of this name reigned over this part of Ethiopia.

Had come to Jerusalem for to worship — Which is a proof that he was a worshipper of the God of Israel; but how came he acquainted with the Jewish religion? Let us, for a little, examine this question. In 1 Kings 10:1, c., we have the account of the visit paid to Solomon by the queen of Sheba, the person to whom our Lord refers, Matthew 12:42, and Luke 11:31. It has been long credited by the Abyssinians that this queen, who by some is called Balkis, by others Maqueda, was not only instructed by Solomon in the Jewish religion, but also established it in her own empire on her return that she had a son by Solomon named Menilek, who succeeded her in the kingdom; and, from that time till the present, they have preserved the Jewish religion. Mr. Bruce throws some light upon this subject: the substance of what he says is the following: "There can be no doubt of the expedition of the queen of Sheba; as Pagan, Moor, Arab, Abyssinian, and all the countries round, vouch for it, nearly in the terms of Scripture. Our Saviour calls her queen of the south; and she is called, in 1 Kings 10:1, c., 2 Chronicles 9:1, c., queen of Sheba or Saba for Saba, Azab, and Azaba, all signify the south: and she is said to have come from the uttermost parts of the earth. In our Saviour's time the boundaries of the known land, southward, were Raptam or Prassum which were the uttermost parts of the known earth, and were with great propriety so styled by our Lord. The gold, myrrh, cassia, and frankincense, which she brought with her, are all products of that country. The annals of the Abyssinians state that she was a pagan when she left Saba or Azab, to visit Solomon; and that she was there converted and had a son by Solomon, who succeeded her in the kingdom, as stated above. All the inhabitants of this country, whether Jews or Christians, believe this; and, farther, that the 45th Psalm Psalms 45:1, c. was a prophecy of her journey to Jerusalem that she was accompanied by a daughter of Hiram from Tyre; and that the latter part of the Psalm is a prophecy of her having a son by Solomon, and of his ruling over the Gentiles." Travels, vol. ii. page 395, c. All this being granted, and especially the Scripture fact of the queen of Sheba's visit, and the great probability, supported by uninterrupted tradition, that she established the Jewish religion in her dominions on her return, we may at once see that the eunuch in question was a descendant of those Jews or that he was a proselyte in his own country to the Jewish faith, and was now come up at the great feast to worship God at Jerusalem. Mr. Bruce may be right; but some think that Saba, in Arabia Felix, is meant: Matthew 12:42.

Verse 28

Verse Acts 8:28. Sitting in his chariot, read Esaias the prophet. — He had gone to Jerusalem to worship: he had profited by his religious exercises: and even in travelling, he is improving his time. God sees his simplicity and earnestness, and provides him an instructer, who should lead him into the great truths of the Gospel, which, without such a one, he could not have understood. Many, after having done their duty, as they call it, in attending a place of worship, forget the errand that brought them thither, and spend their time, on their return, rather in idle conversation than in reading or conversing about the word of God. It is no wonder that such should be always learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Verse 29

Verse 29. Then the Spirit said unto Philip — This holy man having obeyed the first direction he received from God, and gone southward without knowing the reason why, it was requisite that he should now be informed of the object of his mission: the Spirit said unto him, go near, and join thyself, c. The angel who had given him the first direction had departed and the influence of the Holy Spirit now completed the information. It is likely that what the Spirit did in this case was by a strong impression on his mind, which left him no doubt of its being from God.

Verse 30

Verse 30. Heard him read the Prophet Esaias — The eunuch, it seems, was reading aloud, and apparently in Greek, for that was the common language in Egypt; and, indeed, almost in every place it was understood. And it appears that it was the Greek version of the Septuagint that he was reading, as the quotation below is from that version.

Verse 31

Verse 31. How can I, except some man should guide me? — This is no proof that "the Scriptures cannot be understood without an authorized interpreter," as some of the papistical writers assert. How could the eunuch know any thing of the Gospel dispensation, to which this scripture referred? That dispensation had not yet been proclaimed to him; he knew nothing about Jesus. But where that dispensation has been published, where the four Gospels and the apostolic epistles are at hand, every thing relative to the salvation of the soul may be clearly apprehended by any simple, upright person. There are difficulties, it is true, in different parts of the sacred writings, which neither the pope nor his conclave can solve; and several which even the more enlightened Protestant cannot remove; but these difficulties do not refer to matters in which the salvation of the soul is immediately concerned: they refer to such as are common to every ancient author in the universe. These difficulties, being understood, add to the beauty, elegance, and justness of the language, thoughts, and turns of expression; and these, only the few who are capable of understanding are able to relish. As to all the rest, all that relates to faith and practice, all in which the present and eternal interest of the soul is concerned, "the wayfaring man, though a fool, (quite illiterate,) shall not err therein."

That he would come up, and sit with him. — So earnestly desirous was he to receive instruction relative to those things which concerned the welfare of his soul.

Verse 32

Verse 32. The place of the scripture — περιοχη της γραφης, The section, or paragraph.

Verse 33

Verse 33. In his humiliation, his judgment was taken away — He who was the fountain of judgment and justice had no justice shown him (mercy he needed not) in his humiliation; viz. that time in which he emptied himself, and appeared in the form of a servant.

Who shall declare his generation — την γενεαν αυτου: Answering to the Hebrew דורו doro, which Bp. Lowth understands as implying his manner of life. It was the custom among the Jews, when they were taking away any criminal from judgment to execution, to call out and inquire whether there was any person who could appear in behalf of the character of the criminal-whether there was any who, from intimate acquaintance with his manner of life, could say any thing in his favour? This circumstance I have noticed before, and it has been particularly remarked in the case of Stephen: see at Acts 7:60. In our Lord's case, this benevolent inquiry does not appear to have been made; and perhaps to this breach of justice, as well as of custom, the prophet refers; and this shows how minutely the conduct of those bad men was known seven hundred years before it took place. God can foreknow what he pleases, and can do what he pleases; and all the operations of his infinite mind are just and right. Some think that, who shall declare his generation? refers to his eternal Sonship; others, to his miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit, in the womb of the virgin; others, to the multitudinous progeny of spiritual children which should be born unto God, in consequence of his passion and meritorious death. Perhaps the first, which refers to the usual custom in behalf of the criminal, is the best and most natural sense.

Verse 34

Verse 34. Of whom speaketh the prophet this — This was a very natural inquiry: for in the text itself, and in its circumstances, there was nothing that could determine the meaning, so as to ascertain whether the prophet meant himself or some other person; and the very inquiry shows that the eunuch had thought deeply on the subject.

Verse 35

Verse 35. Began at the same scripture — He did not confine himself to this one scripture, but made this his text, and showed, from the general tenor of the sacred writings, that Jesus was the Christ, or Messiah; and that in his person, birth, life, doctrine, miracles, passion, death, and resurrection, the Scriptures of the Old Testament were fulfilled. This preaching had the desired effect, for the eunuch was convinced of the truth of Philip's doctrine, and desired to be baptized in the name of Jesus.

Verse 36

Verse 36. See, here is water — He was not willing to omit the first opportunity that presented itself of his taking upon himself the profession of the Gospel. By this we may see that Philip had explained the whole of the Christian faith to him, and the way by which believers were brought into the Christian Church.

Verse 37

Verse 37. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. — He believed that Jesus, whom Philip preached to him, was THE CHRIST or Messiah, and consequently the Son of God.

This whole verse is omitted by ABCG, several others of the first authority, Erpen's edit. of the Arabic, the Syriac, the Coptic, Sahidic, AEthiopic, and some of the Slavonic: almost all the critics declare against it as spurious. Griesbach has left it out of the text; and Professor White in his Crisews says, "Hic versus certissime delendus," this verse, most assuredly, should be blotted out. It is found in E, several others of minor importance, and in the Vulgate and Arabic. In those MSS. where it is extant it exists in a variety of forms, though the sense is the same.

Verse 38

Verse 38. And they went down — They alighted from the chariot into the water. While Philip was instructing him, and he professed his faith in Christ, he probably plunged himself under the water, as this was the plan which appears to have been generally followed among the Jews in their baptisms; but the person who had received has confession of faith was he to whom the baptism was attributed, as it was administered by his authority.

Verse 39

Verse Acts 8:39. The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip — Perhaps this means no more than that the Holy Spirit suggested to the mind of Philip that he should withdraw abruptly from the eunuch, and thus leave him to pursue his journey, reflecting on the important incidents which had taken place. Some suppose that the angel of the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord, are the same person throughout this chapter. There is a remarkable reading in the Codex Alexandrinus which exists thus in two lines:-


The Spirit of the Lord fell upon the eunuch:


But the angel of the Lord snatched away Philip. This reading is found in several other MSS. and in some versions. Many think that the Spirit or angel of God carried off Philip in some such manner as the Apocrypha represents the transportation of Habakkuk, who was taken up by the hair of the head, and carried from Judea to Babylon! For such an interposition there was no need. When Philip had baptized the eunuch, the Spirit of God showed him that it was not the will of God that he should accompany the eunuch to Meroe, but, on the contrary, that he should hasten away to Ashdod; as God had in that, and the neighbouring places, work sufficient to employ him in.

Verse 40

Verse Acts 8:40. Philip was found at Azotus — Prom the time he left the eunuch, he was not heard of till he got to Azotus, which, according to Dr. Lightfoot, was about 34 miles from Gaza, and probably it was near Gaze that Philip met the eunuch. The Azotus of the New Testament is the Ashdod of the old. It was given by Joshua to the tribe of Judah, Joshua 15:47. It was one of the five lordships which belonged to the Philistines, and is a seaport town on the Mediterranean Sea, between Gaza on the south, and Joppa or Jaffa on the north. Herodotus reports, lib. ii. cap. 157, that Psammeticus, king of Egypt, besieged this city 29 years, which, if true, is the longest siege which any city or fortress ever endured.

Preached in all the cities, till he cams to Caesarea. — This was Caesarea in Palestine, formerly called Strato's Tower, built by Herod the Great in honour of Augustus. There was an excellent harbour here made by Herod; and, after the destruction of Jerusalem, it became the capital of the whole land of Judea. It must be always distinguished from Caesarea Philippi, which was an inland town not far from the springs of Jordan. Whenever the word Caesarea occurs without Philippi, the former is intended. As Philip preached in all the cities of Palestine till he came to Caesarea, he must have preached in the different cities of the Philistine country, Ashdod, Akkaron, and Jamnia, and also in the principal parts of Samaria, as these lay in his way from Gaza to Caesarea. As there was a readier disposition to receive the word in those places, the Spirit of the Lord, under whose guidance he acted, did not suffer him to accompany the eunuch to Abyssinia. It appears, from Acts 21:8, that Philip settled at Caesarea, where he had a house and family, four of his unmarried daughters being prophetesses. It is likely that his itinerant mission ended here; though he continued occasionally to perform the work of an evangelist, and to bring up his family in the knowledge and fear of God, which is the most imperious duty that any master of a family can be called on to perform, and which it is impossible for any man to accomplish by substitute; and which none can neglect without endangering his own salvation.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Acts 8". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/acts-8.html. 1832.
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