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Acts 8

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Verses 1-2

Act 8:1-2

DEATH of STEPHEN

Acts 7:54-60 and Acts 8:1-2

1 And Saul was consenting unto his death.—“Saul” is later the apostle Paul; he was present when Stephen was stoned and held the clothes of those who stoned Stephen. He was not only “consenting unto his death,” but the Greek shows that he approved of it and that he took pleasure in the death of Stephen. Later he so confessed (Acts 22:20), and encouraged the killing of the first Christian martyr (Romans 1:32). Saul was willing to be known as really participating in the transaction. The first picture that we have of Saul is that he is engaging in the murder of the first Christian martyr. At that time he is described as “a young man” (Acts 7:58), which may be interpreted as thirty or forty years old; this term and kindred ones were used with greater latitude than we now use them. In Paul’s letter to Philemon (verse 9) he calls himself “the aged”; this letter was written probably in A.D. 62 to 64. The martyrdom of Stephen is generally placed in A.D. 34 or 35. If Paul was between sixty and seventy years of age when he wrote to Philemon, he was between thirty and forty at the death of Stephen.

And there arose on that day a great persecution—This was the first of a number of waves of persecution that swept over the early church. This persecution of Stephen was the first of such violent opposition to the church; the martyrdom of Stephen acted like the first taste of blood to a wild beast. “They were all scattered abroad”; the word “all” is used in a general sense, meaning, in popular language, “very many.” They were scattered “throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria.” Samaria was the middle division of Palestine at that time, and was just north of Judea; it lay between Judea on the south and Galilee on the north. “Except the apostles”; that is, all were scattered except the apostles who remained with the small remnant of the church in Jerusalem. We are not told why the apostles remained in Jerusalem at this time; they were guided by the Holy Spirit, and God had some purpose in their remaining at Jerusalem.

2 And devout men buried Stephen,—“Devout” comes from the Greek “eulabeis,” and is used only four times in the New Testament. (Luke 2:25; Acts 2:5 Acts 8:2 Acts 22:12.) “Devout,” as used in Acts 10:2, comes from the Greek “eusebes.” It is not known whether these “devout men” who buried Stephen were Christians; some think that they were Jews who were kindly disposed toward Christianity. However, others think that they were Christians because they “made great lamentation over him.” “Lamentation” here comes from “kopeton,” and means “to beat the breast.” This is the only place it is used in the New Testament. This was a distinguished honor paid to Stephen; there were those who deeply lamented his death and willingly bore testimony to his worth.

Verses 1-40

Act 8:1-40

THE PROMISE IS FOR ALL:

LESSONS FROM THE BOOK OF ACTS

Notes For Lesson Eight: New Opportunities

(Acts 8:1-40)

In Acts 8, we see persecution and opportunity at the same time. Even as the authorities in Jerusalem begin their first serious attempt to stamp out the church of Jesus, the believers themselves are finding new places to proclaim the good news. The accounts in this chapter show that, in a way, the persecutions even helped create new opportunities.

Persecution Breaks Out (Acts 8:1-8)

The stoning of Stephen was the spark of the first real persecution of the new church. Even as Stephen was being buried, Saul of Tarsus and other fanatics were brutally repressing the message of Jesus, doing harm to many innocent persons. The large, strong body of believers in Jerusalem suddenly split into many small groups trying to evade capture and possible death. Yet even this chaos resulted in new opportunities for the believers to tell the good news about Jesus.

In his narrative, Luke inserts a name to remember (8:1). Saul of Tarsus took an active role in the brutal killing of Stephen, by watching the personal effects of those who actually stoned him, and here we are assured that Saul completely approved this action. In light of how prominently the apostle Paul* figures in Acts, it is important to take note of just how blind, vicious, and hateful he could be before he knew Jesus. When Paul wrote in his epistles about how little he deserved grace, and how bad he had been in his past life, he was not simply aiming for a rhetorical effect.

Saul is a Jewish name, Paul a Roman name. Like many Jews, Saul/Paul had one name he used in the Jewish community and another in his dealings with the Romans (as we learn later in Acts, he was a Roman citizen).

The death of Stephen was by no means an isolated assault, but rather a prelude to a general persecution that saw the believers scattered (Acts 8:2-4). It is interesting that Acts indicates that only the apostles remained behind in Jerusalem. This was surely an act of bravery, given the immediate danger to even non-prominent believers. It is not certain whether they remained behind in order to look after those believers who could not escape the persecution, or to begin a new congregation, or a combination of both reasons. Later in Acts we see that there continued to be a strong church in Jerusalem, and so we know that this short- term persecution was ineffective in eliminating the good news of Christ from the city. Even as Stephen’s memory is being honored, Saul and other agitators are vigorously tracking down believers and persecuting them. So often in Acts we see this contrast between pagans whose jealousy and insecurity leads them to commit barbarous acts of oppression, and the early believers, who maintain a godly focus despite having little control over events, and who live in devotion to God’s love and truth even when it means they must suffer. Later, of course, Saul himself will be on the receiving end of persecution, and will himself be a powerful example of faith.

As the persecution scattered the believers, they did not hide in fear, but rather saw it as an opportunity to proclaim the good news in new areas. Luke tells us specifically about one such opportunity in Samaria (Acts 8:5-8). Philip, whom we met in chapter 6, ends up in a town in Samaria, and like the other scattered believers he preaches the truth about Jesus to his new neighbors. He enjoys good success among the Samaritans, and as he does, he helps to fulfill another step in the plan that Jesus had revealed to the Twelve. Just as God sent the Spirit to act when it was time for them to begin to preach the good news in Jerusalem, so now God used the persecution to initiate the preaching of the gospel in Judea and Samaria. Although the believers in Jerusalem had to suffer for their faith, at the same time God was able to use them to bring joy to a new place.

For Discussion or Study: What general lessons do these events teach us about why God allows persecution of believers to happen? Are there any situations in our own experience that are at all similar? If so, indicate how we can learn from the example of Philip and others in this early persecution.

Another Confrontation: The Value of the Gospel (Acts 8:9-25)

But once again, the very success of Philip’s preaching brings challenges that must be overcome. This time it comes from within, in the form of Simon, who misunderstands the purpose and value of the spiritual gifts that were given to the newly baptized Samaritans. While it is hard to read this passage without taking note of its doctrinal implications, make sure not to overlook that the real point of reading this account is in helping us to keep spiritual blessings in perspective, so that we do not fall into the traps of pride or selfish ambition.

Among the many who responded to Philip’s proclamation of the gospel was an interesting character named Simon (Acts 8:9-13). This man was renowned both for his apparent ability to do magical tricks and also for his self-promotion, the combination of which had acquired for him quite a following, at least locally. When this ’sorcerer’ saw the genuine miracles performed by Philip as he spoke about Jesus, Simon was impressed to the point where he was not only baptized, but started to follow Philip everywhere so that he could see more. The Acts account of the incidents involving Simon deliberately omits telling us exactly what Simon felt or believed at his conversion. Since it says that he "believed and was baptized", there is every reason to think that his conversion itself was probably genuine. There is no way of knowing whether he had any idea at all of the purpose of the miracles, and it is possible that his incessant following of Philip may be a sign of the problem shortly to come, in that he may have valued the exciting miracles more than the actual news of the gospel of grace and salvation. If so, we should not condemn Simon, for we all struggle with the temptation to seek God first for the blessings our flesh desires, whatever they may be.

When the news reached Jerusalem that the gospel had been successfully proclaimed in Samaria, the apostles took the extraordinary step of having Peter and John coming in person to Samaria (Acts 8:14-17). This accomplished two purposes: they were able to demonstrate acceptance of the Samaritans as their brothers in Christ, and they were able to pass along miraculous blessings of the Holy Spirit. They remembered and understood that taking the gospel to Samaria was an important stage in the design that Jesus had revealed to them, and by making a personal visit to the new converts, the two apostles showed their approval and their joy that this had been accomplished. The laying on of their hands, besides being an understood sign of acceptance, in this case also had a practical benefit, in that it conferred some of the miraculous powers of the Holy Spirit*. Giving these gifts to the Samaritans was another emphatic sign of God’s acceptance of them, as well as a help in assisting the further spread of the gospel in Samaria.

Note that, while never said explicitly, Philip was apparently unable to pass along the gifts himself, even though he himself had wide miraculous powers. While numerous believers are seen in Acts to possess miraculous abilities through the Spirit, it is only the apostles who are shown as being able to grant these powers to others. On a different note, observe that since the Samaritans had repented and been baptized, they would have received the ’gift of the Holy Spirit’ because of the promise Peter had already revealed in Acts 2. In the case of the Samaritans, "the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them", and thus they had no miraculous ability.

Into this otherwise encouraging scene, a problem crops up with the former magician Simon, whom Peter must then confront (Acts 8:18-25). Already excited about the miracles the believers have done, so obviously more genuine than his own activities, Simon now sees that the two apostles even have the ability to confer these powers to others. Having now clearly lost the proper focus, Simon craves this same ability so strongly that he attempts to purchase it. Peter’s rebuke is swift and surprisingly harsh, emphasizing at length the sordid nature of what Simon wanted to do, and going so far as to tell Simon that he now has "no part or share in this ministry". Simon appears to be humbled, at least in the short term, but we are never told what ultimately happens to him. The situation holds some similarities with the account of Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5. In both cases, we see seemingly "minor" sins like deception and selfish ambition severely rebuked. These kinds of worldly perspectives are always temptations for believers, and these biblical examples show us how important it is for us to avoid them. Genuine Christianity is never a competition or a contest. Each of us should be content with the blessings and gifts that God has chosen to give us, and should learn how God wants us to use them. When we see what God has given others, and what he has called others to do, we should simply rejoice in knowing that his grace and perfect wisdom has blessed others as well as ourselves.

For Discussion or Study: What might have led Simon into making this mistake? Why was he rebuked so harshly for it? What kinds of mistakes does this incident warn us against? On a broader level, explain some of the reasons why the apostles came to Samaria themselves. What did they learn from Jesus that would have motivated them to do this?

Philip & the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40)

The narrative now follows Philip as he resumes his travels. The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch is often remembered for the details of how Philip was led to him and how Philip taught him. It is also noteworthy in showing the importance that even one conversion has to God. It is encouraging to see the joy brought into this man’s life when he learned the truth. The conversion is also recounted to show some of the barriers overcome by the gospel.

With his ministry in Samaria completed, Philip continues to follow the Spirit’s direction (Acts 8:26-31). Told to follow the desert road to Gaza, he soon meets a man from Ethiopia who had taken a journey to Jerusalem to worship. Ethiopia was not included in the list of areas mentioned as being represented in the crowd at Pentecost in Acts 2, which makes this encounter significant. It is also noteworthy symbolically in that the man is a eunuch, which would have made him ineligible for the Levitical priesthood, but not for the New Testament priesthood of Jesus. He is also a man of important position, and yet he shows great humility in his attitude towards the Word of God. Philip soon finds that this man is as eager as anyone could be to hear the truth, and he takes full advantage of the opportunity. The very passage that the Ethiopian is reading provides an ideal starting point for a lesson about Jesus and his ministry.

Philip teaches him the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:32-40), beginning with the passage from Isaiah 53 that the man had been studying before Philip came along. We often see in Acts how valuable the Old Testament is in demonstrating the truth of the gospel and also in explaining its key points. The Ethiopian is quick to learn, and wants to be baptized right away*. Philip then proceeds on his way, leaving behind a new believer full of joy. Philip is just one example of the ways that God used the disruption in Jerusalem to send a message of joy throughout Judea and Samaria.

The detail in verse 37 does not appear in the earliest manuscripts, and so is generally omitted from the main text of most translations. If authentic, it would indeed be a handy verse, but there is no way to demonstrate that it was part of the original text. What is clearer from this passage, though, is the means of baptism, with Philip taking the Ethiopian down into the water to baptize him.

For Discussion or Study: Philip is blessed here with an amazingly ’easy’ opportunity to teach the gospel. How can we find opportunities like this? Consider also the approach that Philip uses in his teaching here. What are some of the ways that we also can use the Old Testament in teaching about Jesus?

- Mark W. Garner, April 2002

Verses 3-4

Act 8:3-4

DISCIPLES SCATTERED

Acts 8:3-4

3 But Saul laid waste the church,—The first seven chapters of Acts give a history of the origin or beginning of the church and its development in Jerusalem; so far all of the events narrated about the church occurred in the city of Jerusalem. It seems that for the first three to five years the church was confined to Jerusalem, but after the martyrdom of Stephen, the persecuting spirit, which had already so often attempted to silence the apostles, became more decided and even unrelenting. It prevailed to such an extent that the Christians were induced in large numbers to leave the city, and go abroad even beyond their own country. (Acts 11:19.) The persecution which was designed to crush the rising cause of the gospel was overruled by God into an occasion of its rapid advancement. The followers of Christ, wherever they went, made known the gospel, and multitudes were converted to Christ. The history from now on takes us to regions beyond Jerusalem. Saul was a leader in the persecution. He not only persecuted Christians publicly, but visited homes, and “dragging men and women” out of their homes, “committed them to prison.” He was empowered, as he himself said (Acts 26:10), by the chief priests to persecute Christians.

4 They therefore that were scattered abroad—It is probable that the events took place in A.D. 37; this was the year in which Tiberius died and Caligula succeeded him. There was a time when there was no Roman governor in Judea, and the Jewish factions reigned supreme. Hence, the opponents of Christianity visited Christian homes and thrust Christian men and women into vile prisons, and then brought them before the elders in the synagogue, who tried to force them to deny Jesus; on their refusal some of them were put to death (Acts 22:4 Acts 26:10), others were beaten (`), and all suffered many outrages (1 Timothy 1:13). They that “were scattered abroad went about preaching the word.” They traveled far and wide through various regions; they did not confine themselves to the Jewish territory, but some of them went as far as Phoenicia, the island of Cyprus, and Antioch in Syria. (Acts 11:19.) By going beyond the Jewish territory they would be in less danger of being pursued by the hostility of the chief priests, and might hope to enjoy comparative security. It is probable that some went as far as Rome, for Andronicus and Junias were disciples before Paul’s conversion. (Romans 16:7.) “Preaching the word” is from the Greek “euaggelizomenoi ton logon,” and means “evangelizing” or “gospelizing” the word. All of those scattered were emergency preachers; they were men stirred to activity by zeal for the Lord. They visited the country, towns, and villages, and even went into the homes of those who would permit them, and told them about Jesus, the Savior of the world. We see here another illustration of the providential law, which appears to be an irretrievable calamity and it is not only overruled, but designed from the beginning to promote the very cause which it seems to threaten with disaster and defeat.

Verses 5-8

Act 8:5-8

PHILIP IN SAMARIA

Acts 8:5-8

5 And Philip went down to the city of Samaria,—This Philip was one of the seven selected at Jerusalem to help look after the Grecian widows in the daily ministration. (Acts 6:5.) He was also called later “Philip the evangelist.” (Acts 21:8.) So this was not Philip the apostle, for the twelve apostles remained at Jerusalem. The apostles are mentioned in Acts 8:14 in distinction from Philip. We do not have Philip the apostle mentioned any more in Acts. “The city of Samaria” is located in the country of Samaria; so there was a city and a country by the same name. The city of Samaria was built by Omri, king of Israel. (1 Kings 16:24.) It became the capital of the kingdom of the ten tribes, or northern kingdom. It was destroyed several times and rebuilt. Philip “went down” to this city; Jerusalem was situated on a higher elevation than Samaria. He “proclaimed unto them the Christ.” He preached that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. The Samaritans of half-heathen descent accepted and professed a corrupted Judaism; they looked for the Messiah, who was to rebuild the temple on Mount Gerizim, and restore everywhere the law of Moses. (John 4:25.) This is the first instance cited of the expansion noted in verse 4; proclaim is here translated from “ekerussen,” which means “to preach and keep on at it.” It is different from “euaggelizomenoi” in verse 4, where the good news is spread. To proclaim Christ is to preach the gospel. Samaria had been expressly named by Christ as a region in which his disciples were to bear witness of him. (Acts 1:8.)

6 And the multitudes gave heed with one accord—“Gave heed” is from “proseichon,” which means that they kept holding the mind on the things which were spoken by Philip; it carried the meaning of “spellbound.” The entire multitude “with one accord” listened attentively to what Philip preached and were astonished at the signs which he did. Great throngs of people crowded around Philip and listened with eager attention; the Holy Spirit aided the preaching of the word with “signs” or miracles. These miracles were to be the “signs” that the message which Philip preached was from God; they were such as could leave no doubt in the minds of those who witnessed them.

7-8 For from many of those that had unclean spirits,—The kind of miracles mentioned were such that there could be no doubt that God had wrought them. “Unclean spirits” were cast out and came out “with a loud voice”; this would attract the attention of the multitude to the one who was afflicted. The cry may have been a testimony to the Messiahship of Christ. (Mark 3:11; Luke 4:41.) Then again it may have been just an inarticulate shout of rage; it is to be noticed that demoniac possession is clearly distinguished in this passage from ordinary disease, for “many that were palsied, and that were lame, were healed.” Under the general name “palsied,” several infirmities may be included ; sometimes it meant apoplexy, which affected the whole body, and sometimes a paralysis of a part of the body. The preaching, and the curing of the disease, caused much joy in that city.

Verses 9-13

Act 8:9-13

SIMON THE SORCERER

Acts 8:9-13

9 But there was a certain man, Simon—“Simon” was a common name among the Jews; it is a contraction from “Simeon.” There are ten men mentioned in the New Testament by this name. This Simon is known as “Simon Magus,” or “Simon the sorcerer.” There were many sorcerers, or those who deceived the people by certain tricks and deceptions. Nothing further is known of this Simon except what is mentioned here. He had used sorcery for some time and had “amazed the people of Samaria,” and had pretended himself to be “some great one.” Simon was an impostor, and it is amazing how gullible people are in the presence of such deceivers. He practiced his magic arts and pretended that he could do wonderful things. Simon has become a famous character in the early history of the church in Samaria. His pretended miracles were not discovered by the people; they thought that he was what he claimed to be, “some great one.”

10 to whom they all gave heed,—It seems that he had been successful in practicing his magic art until he had deceived all the people in that country. They listened to him from the “least to the greatest,” and all praised him, thinking that the “power of God which is called Great” was exercised through him. They were led to regard him as having a most intimate connection with the Deity, and as having power to affect seriously the destiny of men.

11 And they gave heed to him,—Tradition has it that Simon went about accompanied by a woman named Helena who was also a “power of God.” He taught a great first principle, hidden but omnipresent; this principle manifested itself in two different ways —as an active and spiritual principle and as a passive and receptive principle. The first is the good, the latter the evil; the first is the great “power of God” manifesting itself from the recovery of the other or passive receptive principle. Simon himself was the incarnation of the active principle, which made for salvation; Helena was the incarnation of the passive reception principle. Her life of degradation was a type of the deterioration of the visible universe, and her recovery by Simon was the process of salvation by the great power of God made visible. This dualism, with its simple, almost childish, symbolism, its male and female principles, its opposition of good and evil, was the source out of which Simon constructed his system. Simon had so amazed the people by his pretended supernatural powers that they gave heed to him in whatsoever he did or claimed.

12 But when they believed Philip preaching—When Philip went among these deluded people and preached Jesus as the Messiah and the Savior of the world, and accompanied his preaching with the real “signs” or miracles, they believed him. Philip’s miracles were put in direct contrast with the pretended works of Simon; Philip cast out demons, cured the palsied, and healed the crippled so that the people could see what he had done. Many of them were thus healed and knew that there was no deception practiced by Philip. It is noted that when they believed, “they were baptized, both men and women.” On Pentecost after they believed Peter’s preaching, they asked what to do, and they were told that they should repent and be baptized “unto the remission of your sins.” (Acts 2:38.) Hence, in every instance where people turned to the Lord, or believed the gospel, they were baptized.

13 And Simon also himself believed:—Simon heard Philip and saw what Philip did; he “believed: and being baptized,” he continued for some time with Philip. There was no difference between the faith of Simon and that of the other people in Samaria. “Simon also himself believed”: he believed the same thing that the others believed, and he was baptized as were the others. Jesus had said: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16.) Simon “believed” and was “baptized”; hence, he had the remission of his sins, for Jesus had said that the one who believed and was baptized should be saved. “He continued with Philip,” and saw the “signs and great miracles wrought” by Philip. “Continued” is from the Greek “proskartereo,” and is used in Acts 1:14 Acts 2:42 Acts 2:46, and means originally “to persist obstinately in.” For some time at least he continued with Philip, hearing his preaching and seeing the miracles that he wrought. He saw the wide contrast in what Philip was doing and what he had pretended to do. He was “amazed” or astonished at what Philip was able to do; he saw the reality of working miracles by the hand of Philip.

Verses 14-25

Act 8:14-25

PETER AND JOHN IN SAMARIA

Acts 8:14-25

14 Now when the apostles that were at Jerusalem—The apostles were still at Jerusalem, though the church had been scattered. The apostles heard the good news of the success that Philip had in Samaria, and it was thought best to send someone there with apostolic authority to encourage and confer on the believers some extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit; so Peter and John were sent. It must have been an occasion of rejoicing on the part of the apostles when they heard that the Samaritans had received the gospel of Christ. (Matthew 10:5; Acts 1:8.) It should be noticed that the apostles “sent” Peter and John as their messengers; it will be recalled also that John had at one time sought to call down fire on a Samaritan village. (Luke 9:54.)

15 who, when they were come down,—Peter and John went down to Samaria and prayed for the disciples there; they prayed “that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” There were special gifts of the Holy Spirit which could be given by the apostles; these gifts would confirm the disciples in the faith. Sometimes they were imparted by the laying on of hands. These gifts are to be distinguished from the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

16 for as yet it was fallen upon none of them:—“It was fallen upon” none of them; “pneuma” is the word for “spirit” here, and the translation should be “he,” rather than “it”; it is not a correct form to use “it” for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a member of the Godhead and is a personality, or spiritual being; Jesus frequently referred to him with the personal pronoun and the masculine gender. (John 14:16-17 John 15:26 John 16:13-14.) These Samaritans had only been “baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus”; hence, they had received remission of sins, but had not received a miraculous measure of the Holy Spirit.

17 Then laid they their hands on them,—The laying on of hands did not occur at Pentecost (Acts 2:4 Acts 2:33) nor in Acts 10:44; these were baptisms of the Holy Spirit, and were administered by the Lord; the Holy Spirit given by the laying on of hands was a measure of the Holy Spirit not so full as‘the baptism. Some have concluded that the Holy Spirit in its miraculous form could be given only by the apostles; hence, Peter and John had to go to Samaria. We do not know that all who believed in Samaria received this miraculous endowment of the Holy Spirit; neither do we know whether Simon received this measure. Some have concluded that Simon and all the believers in Samaria had hands laid on them and a miraculous measure of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon them, but the evidence is not clear and does not warrant such a conclusion.

18-19 Now when Simon saw that through the laying on—There was something that Simon could see in the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Spirit; he observed a transference of power from the apostles to the believers. Simon wanted the power to bestow gifts upon others; he “offered them money” for the power to bestow miraculous gifts upon others. Simon had been for some time practicing magic arts and deceiving the people; but now he thought that he could obtain with money the power not only to work miracles himself, but to give others the power to work miracles. Simon had not as yet risen above the mercenary spirit. Simon’s whole attitude is that of a professional trickster or deceiver ; he fancied that he could by money be instructed how to acquire, use, and impart, all in the way of trade, these powers. From this act of Simon’s comes our word “simony,” the crime of buying, selling, or bargaining for spiritual functions.

20 But Peter said unto him,—Peter was filled with holy and righteous indignation at Simon’s proposition; he used language as strong as we find anywhere in Peter’s teaching or writings; “thy silver perish with thee” was the condemnation; this expresses his abhorrence of the proposal and shows Simon the imminent danger to which he was exposed with such a condition of heart. Peter also sounded a solemn warning to him of the end that would befall him if he followed such a course. Simon thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money; he is to learn that the blessings of God, and especially the power to bestow miraculous gifts on others, cannot be had with money.

21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter:—“Lot” comes from the Greek “kleros,” and means “part”; it means that Simon should have no “part” in the matter of bestowing the Holy Spirit on others. “Part nor lot,” the first denoting any share or portion, and the second one determined or assigned. “In this matter” literally means in this word (Luke 1:4; Acts 15:6), and has direct reference to the power of communicating the Holy Spirit. However, some think that it has reference to the preaching of the gospel; hence, they would say that Simon had no part in preaching the gospel; the context seems not to bear out this thought. “For thy heart is not right before God,” or “straight”; Simon’s heart was not “right,” or “straight,” or “straightforward,” as it ought to be, but was seeking crooked, perverse, and secret ways. (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; 2 Peter 2:15.)

22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness,—Peter here gives the second law of pardon—the law of forgiveness to the erring Christian. He is commanded to “repent,” and “pray” for forgiveness. Simon as a Christian had made the mistake of thinking that he could purchase the communication of the Holy Spirit to others with his money; hence, Peter tells him to repent “of this thy wickedness”; this shows what wickedness he was to repent of; his former sins had been forgiven, and now he is guilty of another sin, and it is this one that he is instructed to repent of and “pray the Lord” that “the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee.”

Again we see that the sin of which he was to repent was “the thought of thy heart” of thinking that he could purchase that power with his money. “If perhaps” means that there is some chance of his forgiveness; though his sin was great, yet if he would repent and pray God there is a hope of his being cleansed of it. Some think that Peter had in mind the sin mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 12:31, but Peter does not close the door of hope here. “If perhaps” means “if it be possible,” or since it is possible.

23 For I see that thou art in the gall of bitterness—“Gall,” as used here, is an emblem of exceeding great wickedness; “gall” is from the Greek “cholas,” and means to pour out a yellowish green bile or gall; it is used only twice in the New Testament— here and in Matthew 27:34. “Gall and wormwood” (Deuteronomy 29:18); in Hebrews 12:15 we have a “root of bitterness,” or a bitter root; “bond of iniquity” means that he would be in the bondage of sin and under the curse of the sin. The ancients considered that the gall of noxious reptiles was the source of their venom, and Peter warns Simon that unless repentance comes he will become worse and worse until he becomes all venom; Simon is warned that unless he repents a chain or band of iniquity will enslave him. This was a dangerous condition for him to be in.

24 And Simon answered and said,—Simon saw the danger that he was in; evidently he repented and prayed God, and even asked Peter to pray for him, as though his own prayer was not sufficient to obtain forgiveness. Simon is anxious to escape the penalty for his sin, and hopes that Peter can avert it; Peter had by the Holy Spirit diagnosed his case correctly. Simon was a converted man, but was in sin at this point. We are led to believe that Simon surely repented and corrected his life. The inspired record drops the matter here and draws the curtain, so that we see Simon no more. Some claim that Simon was never penitent, and therefore never forgiven; they say that there is no evidence that Simon ever prayed for himself. However, the fact that he asked Peter to pray for him seems to imply that he was praying for himself. Surely he would not ask Peter to do for him what Peter had commanded him to do for himself.

25 They therefore, when they had testified—Peter and John had been sent down to Samaria to encourage those who had believed and to bestow such miraculous gifts upon the believers as the Holy Spirit deemed wise to confirm the word of the Samaritans. Luke the historian has lingered on the case of Simon, and now, having disposed of that notable case, states that Peter and John preached the word of the Lord to them while there and then returned to Jerusalem. However, they “preached the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.” The preaching of the gospel among the Samaritans was not confined to the city where it had begun, but extended to many of the smaller towns through which Peter and John passed on their return to Jerusalem. Peter and John furthered the work of Philip among the Samaritans; Luke closes the record of Philip’s work in Samaria, and he is next directed to go to the Ethiopian eunuch.

Verses 26-40

Act 8:26-40

CONVERSION OF THE EUNUCH,

SAUL, AND CORNELIUS

Acts 8:26 to Acts 12:25

CONVERSION OF THE EUNUCH

Acts 8:26-40

26 But an angel of the Lord spake unto Philip,—The historian now turns from the brief record of the work of Peter and John in Samaria to the further work that the Holy Spirit had for Philip. It is not stated how the angel of the Lord spoke unto Philip, and there is no use in our guessing at it. It is enough to know that the message was conveyed to Philip in language that Philip understood and obeyed. The command was given to Philip in Samaria. He was commanded to “arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza.” He is not required to go to Jerusalem, but to get upon the road leading from Jerusalem to Gaza. Gaza is one of the oldest places mentioned in the Bible; it first occurs in Genesis 10:19, as a frontier town of the Canaanites, and later as the southernmost of the five cities of the Philistines, to whom it really belonged, even after it was formally assigned to Judah. (Joshua 15:47; Judges 1:18.) Palestine was divided into three divisions at this time—Galilee was the extreme northern division, Samaria was the middle division, and Judea the southern division. Gaza was in Judea. Gaza was about sixty miles southwest from Jerusalem, and had been destroyed in 96 B.C., but was rebuilt, and was a city of importance at this time. Philip would pass west of Jerusalem on his way from Samaria and would intercept the road between Jerusalem and Gaza; this was a journey of from sixty to seventy miles. “The same is desert.” It has been a matter of much dispute as to whether this means the way was desert or whether the city was deserted; some have contended that the city was deserted at this time; however, others think that Gaza was not deserted until later. This phrase is considered as not being the language of the angel, but is the language of Luke the historian. There were two roads, some think three, from Jerusalem.to Gaza; Philip was told to take the “desert” road, probably the one by Hebron which went through the desert hills of southern Judea. Any place which was thinly peopled and unfit for cultivation was called “desert”; hence, the angel sent Philip to a desert road, in which he was not likely to encounter travelers much less to meet with such an adventure as did there befall him. It is “desert” in the sense of being uninhabited, and not in the sense of there being no water.

27 And he arose and went:—Philip obeyed promptly the instruction received from the angel. Attention is now directed to “a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.” It is not known whether the eunuch was a Jew or a proselyte of the Jewish religion. He was certainly zealous in going the long distance to Jerusalem to worship. He is introduced to us as “a man of Ethiopia.” “Ethiopia” is the general term for that part of Africa now known as Nubia and Abyssinia; this portion of Africa was ruled for a long time by queens. “Candace” was the general title of their queens, as rulers of Egypt were called “Pharaoh,” and those of Rome were called “Caesar.” This eunuch had “great authority,” as he was “over all her treasure.” Hence, he was the treasurer of this country, and had been honored with great authority. Eunuchs were often employed by oriental rulers in high stations; they were not allowed to be Jews in the full sense, but only proselytes of the gate. (Deuteronomy 23:1.) This eunuch seems to have held the same office under Candace that Blastus held in the court or family of Herod Agrippa. (Acts 12:20.) The word “treasure,” as used here, means royal treasure. The purpose of his visit to Jerusalem is clearly stated; he went there “to worship”; this meant that he went to worship according to the law of Moses.

28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot,—“Returning” seems to be a favorite Greek verb with Luke. (Acts 1:12 Acts 8:25.) It seemed that he was returning by way of Egypt to his own country; his first stage or journey was from Jerusalem to Gaza. He was riding in his chariot. He was “sitting in his chariot" and “was reading the prophet Isaiah." “Was reading" is from the original “aneginosken," which means that he was reading aloud as Philip “heard him" reading. This was common among the orientals; some think that he had purchased this roll of Isaiah in Jerusalem and was reading from the Septuagint Version. The Jews when on a journey were accustomed to employ their time in reading their scriptures. One of the commands enjoined by the rabbis upon the Jews was that a Jew, when on a journey without a companion, should study the law. He was reading “the prophet Isaiah."

29 And the Spirit said unto Philip,—It should be noted that the Holy Spirit spoke to the preacher, not to the one to be converted; Philip is directed to “go near, and join" himself to the chariot. If the eunuch had been from some eastern country he might have been riding a camel; but chariots were common in Egypt. Here we get the first intimation of Philip’s journey to this section of the country; he is to interview the man who is riding in this chariot. Philip may have been standing there waiting for further direction when the eunuch came along.

30 And Philip ran to him, and heard him reading—Philip obeyed promptly the command given by the Holy Spirit. It should be noted here that there have been cooperating three agencies to bring to the eunuch a knowledge of the gospel—namely, an angel, the Holy Spirit, and Philip the preacher. The angel and the Holy Spirit have not spoken to the man to be converted; they have cooperated in bringing Philip to the eunuch. Philip heard the eunuch reading; hence, the eunuch was reading aloud. Philip may have recognized the scripture that was being read. He asked: “Understandest thou what thou readest?" It will be noticed furthermore that “Philip ran" to the eunuch; that is, he hastened to do what the Holy Spirit commanded. Here was a soul unconverted, and an opportunity is given to convert him. Philip’s question refers to the meaning and application of the words that the eunuch was reading. The eunuch did not know that the very words that he was reading were a prophecy concerning Jesus. It is very likely that he had heard something of Jesus while he was in Jerusalem; surely he would have heard something about Christianity while there. It is always a profitable question to ask when one is reading: “Understandest thou what thou readest?” Reading is of very little profit if one does not understand what is read.

31 And he said, How can I,—The eunuch felt the need of someone to guide him in understanding what he was reading; his question here seems to imply, “How can you expect a stranger without aid to understand what puzzles your most learned doctors?” “Guide me” is the expression which is employed for the guidance given by a teacher to a pupil. Jesus used this expression frequently in reproaching the blind guidance which the scribes and Pharisees were giving to the people who came to them for instruction. (Matthew 15:14; Luke 6:39.) He uses also the same word for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (John 16:13.) He then asked Philip to join him and instruct him. He seems to have recognized in Philip one who could guide him; he desired to learn and graciously invited Philip “to come up and sit with him” in the chariot. This shows that the eunuch was an anxious inquirer of the truth, but bewildered and ready to be taught.

32-33 Now the passage of the scripture—“The passage” is from the Greek “perioche,” and means either of the section or the contents of the scripture; the eunuch was reading one particular passage, which we know as Isaiah 53:7-8. This quotation is taken from the Septuagint Version, which varies some from the Hebrew text. This scripture describes the sufferings of an innocent and unresisting person; what perplexed the eunuch was to whom this referred. The declaration means that in his humiliation his right to justice was taken away; and who will be heirs or followers of him since his life was violently taken away? The Messiah patiently submitted, without murmuring to the ignominy and death; he made no complaint, though treated violently and unjustly; he was submissive, like the innocent lamb. Jesus was taken away from prison and from judgment; he was taken away to death by a violent judicial procedure. Pilate had declared that he found no fault in him. (Luke 23:4; John 18:38 John 19:6.) Jesus could have claimed a verdict of “not guilty”; but he let this sentence or judgment pass without claiming protection under it. The question is asked: “His generation who shall declare? for his life is taken from the earth.” The idea of extinction is conveyed here, but his apostles and disciples were to declare his generation; the apostles were to bear witness of him, and the Holy Spirit was sent to bear witness of him, and he was now ready to do so through Philip to the eunuch.

34 And the eunuch answered Philip,—The point of difficulty in the mind of the eunuch was to whom did this scripture in Isaiah refer. Of whom is the prophet speaking? This question was very interesting, and perhaps more so, because of what the eunuch had heard in Jerusalem. We do not know whether he began obscurely to connect this passage with what he may have heard concerning Jesus; hence, he at once frankly asked Philip the question. He was encouraged to do so by the interest that Philip manifested in him, and by Philip’s accepting the invitation to ride with him.

35 And Philip opened his mouth,—This question gave Philip the opportunity to instruct the eunuch; he had a good text, and an anxious learner. Philip knew, and he was as anxious to teach the eunuch as the eunuch was to learn. He began with this scripture and “preached unto him Jesus.” “Preached unto him Jesus” comes from the Greek “eueggalisato autoi ton Iesoun,” which is the Greek for “evangelize.” Philip had no doubt about the Messianic meaning of this passage, and he knew that Jesus was the Messiah. Philip “evangelized unto him Jesus”; he taught him about Jesus. Philip showed that the language of Isaiah had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, and particularly the manner of his death, and then his resurrection and the ascension. To “preach” Jesus is to preach his commands. Philip in preaching Jesus not only preached his death, burial, resurrection, but the commission that he gave to his apostles just before his ascension. Philip preached the terms of remission of sins.

36 And as they went on the way,—They continued to ride along the way, Philip preaching Jesus and the eunuch listening intensively. This’was a most serious and important occasion; the eunuch hears Philip preach the commands of the gospel; and as they went along, “they came unto a certain water.” It is to be noted that they “came” to this water. We must suppose that Philip traveled for some time with the eunuch, for it would take some time to teach the eunuch all that he needed to know about Jesus. Much discussion has been had as to where the eunuch was baptized. Luke does not tell us, hence we do not know. We do know that they “came unto a certain water,” and that there was enough water for Philip and the eunuch to go “down into the water.” Philip had preached Jesus in such a way that the eunuch learned that he should be baptized. No inspired preacher of the gospel then preached Jesus without preaching the baptism that Jesus commanded; no gospel preacher today can preach Jesus without preaching the command to be baptized.

(37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thy heart,)—Verse 37 is left out of the Standard Version, but a footnote is inserted, saying that “some ancient authorities insert, wholly or in part, verse 37.” It was found in one manuscript in the latter half of the second century, as it was quoted by “Irenaeus,” who was active from the year A.D. 170 to A.D. 210. It is supposed that this verse was written in the margin and later was transcribed as a part of the original text. Even if the verse be an interpolation, and should be left out, it does not change in any way the thought; nothing is added by retaining the verse so far as doctrine is concerned, and nothing certainly is lost by omitting the verse. However, the early records that contain it show that very early in the history of the church such a question was asked and such answer was given.

38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still:—Evidently the eunuch had a chariot driver, since he “commanded the chariot” to stop. When the chariot stopped, “they both went down into the water”; it was necessary that they go down into the water in order to do what was commanded to be done. The purpose of their going down into the water was to baptize the eunuch. Philip had preached Jesus to the eunuch and he had learned from such preaching that he was to be baptized; he also had learned or knew that it was necessary to go down into the water to be baptized. Both the baptizer and the one to be baptized went into the water, and Philip baptized the eunuch after they went down into the water. The eunuch must have laid aside his garments and descended into the water and was buried in baptism “in the name of our Lord Jesus”; this was the authority for Philip’s baptizing the eunuch.

39 And when they came up out of the water,—They did not come up from the “edge of the water,” but up “out of the water.” (Mark 1:10.) Philip had done what he was directed to do; he had been led to the eunuch who was an unconverted man, and was ready to receive the truth. Philip had preached to him the truth of the gospel; he had heard it, believed it, and had been baptized; now he had the promise of Jesus that “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16.) Philip was now “caught away” by “the Spirit of the Lord.” Some look at this as a miracle; however, Philip was “caught away” from the eunuch by the Holy Spirit in the way that he was led to the eunuch. The Greek for “caught away” is “herpasen,” which sometimes means suddenly and miraculously carried away. Hence, according to the view of some, he was literally snatched away from the presence of the eunuch as was Elijah. (1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:11; Ezekiel 3:12 Ezekiel 3:14; 2 Corinthians 12:2 2 Corinthians 12:4.) The eunuch saw Philip no more, but went on his way rejoicing in the salvation that he had found in Christ. The next and only other account that we have of the eunuch is not in the Bible but in tradition; Luke draws the curtain here and we see the eunuch no more.

40 But Philip was found at Azotus:—“Azotus” is the name for the ancient city of the Philistines, “Ashdod.” It was about thirty miles from Gaza, on the way to Joppa. Philip “preached the gospel to all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.” Philip did evangelistic service through the country there “till he came to Caesarea,” where he made his home and headquarters (Acts 21:8) and was known as the “evangelist.” It will be noted that Philip preached the gospel “to all the cities” in that section of the country. The route which Philip would naturally take on this journey led through Lydda and Joppa and we may trace the effects of his preaching in the appearance in Acts 9:32 Acts 9:36.

Questions on Acts

By E.M. Zerr

Acts Chapter 8

  • · Who is antecedent of "his" in the first verse?

  • · In what way did Saul give his consent?

  • · What calamity happened at this time?

  • · How did it affect the disciples?

  • · What was done with Stephen’s body?

  • · Relate Saul’s activities at this time.

  • · What did the ones scattered do?

  • · Who was Philip?

  • · Where did he go and why?

  • · By what was his preaching confirmed?

  • · What prediction did this fulfill?

  • · State the reception his preaching received.

  • · What certain man is now introduced?

  • · State his occupation.

  • · Describe the extent of his influence.

  • · What power was ascribed to him?

  • · But what influence now supplanted this?

  • · What rank or age of people was baptized?

  • · When were they baptized?

  • · What man was baptized with the rest?

  • · Had he become a believer?

  • · Was his sincerity questioned?

  • · With whom did he continue to associate?

  • · State how the wonders of Philip affected him.

  • · What news was heard by the apostles at Jerusalem?

  • · Upon that what did they do?

  • · Why did they send these men down?

  • · Had the Samaritans already received salvation?

  • · Why had they not received the Holy Ghost?

  • · What ceremony was performed by the apostles?

  • · Tell what observation Simon made.

  • · What proposition did he make?

  • · Why was his money to perish with him?

  • · What is meant by "this matter" in 21st verse?

  • · How about Simon’s heart?

  • · State the law of pardon delivered him by Peter.

  • · Explain this in light of Acts 2:38.

  • · Harmonize verse 23 with verse 13.

  • · Where did the apostles then go?

  • · On their way what did they do?

  • · Who spoke to Philip?

  • · Where was he to go?

  • · What kind of country was it?

  • · Does that have to be the dry sand?

  • · Who was also making a journey?

  • · Where had he been and why?

  • · What was he doing as he rode?

  • · Locate the scripture he was reading.

  • · Did the angel further instruct Philip?

  • · What was he told to do?

  • · Repeat the question he asked the eunuch.

  • · And the answer.

  • · Of whom was the eunuch reading?

  • · What facts in his life were being predicted?

  • · Repeat the question the eunuch asked Philip.

  • · And the answer.

  • · What word indicates a fixed body of water?

  • · State the question the eunuch asked.

  • · Also give the answer.

  • · Repeat the confession.

  • · Why should the chariot come to a stop?

  • · Who went down into the water?

  • · What act would require this?

  • · In what way did Philip disappear?

  • · What were his activities?

Acts Chapter Eight

Ralph Starling

Saul was the young man who kept Stephen’s clothes,

Who stood by consenting to his death blows.

Inspired by these events he became horrendous,

Committing men and women to prison from any house.

This caused believers to be scattered abroad,

But they went everywhere preaching the Word.

Among them was Phillip a powerful preacher indeed,

Whose preaching and miracles caused many to believe.

Those that believed and were baptized,

To receive the Holy Ghost they did not realize.

The Apostles hearing of this need,

Sent Peter and John that this gift they might receive.

When Simon the Sorcerer saw what was wrought,

He supposed this gift could be bought.

Peter said, “They money perish with thee,

God’s gift cannot be purchased with greed.”

Peter said, “In this matter you have no part,

Repent and pray for God to forgive this thought of your heart.”

Simon was filled with remorse,

“Pray for me,” he said. “I have no recourse.”

Later Phillip was told to go down to the desert.

On the road he met a man returning from worship.

Phillip called out, “Understand what you read?”

He answered, “How can I except on guide me?”

From that scripture, Phillip preached Jesus.

Coming to some water the man reasoned,

“Here is water, may I be baptized right away?”

Phillip replied, “If you believe you may.”

The Eunuch said, “I believe Christ is God’s son.”

Both went into the water and the deed was done.

Phillip was caught away for more preaching.

The Eunuch went on his way rejoicing

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Acts 8". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/acts-8.html.
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