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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament
Acts 8

 

 

Verse 1-2

1, 2. Pursuant to the time-honored custom of the Jews, to mourn over the dead seven days, “devout men buried Stephen and made great mourning over him.”


Verse 3

PERSECUTIONS

3. Saul of Tarsus, flooded with native talents, literary culture, ecclesiastical prominence and unparalleled aspirations to reach the very acme of his transcendent and ambitious aspiration, arriving from the north too late to see any of the miracles wrought by Jesus during His ministry, and the Holy Ghost during the Pentecostal revival, obdurately incredulous to the testimony of the poor, despised Nazarene, at once comes to the front with the gigantic grip of his iron will, takes into hand the already complicated problem of rescuing the church from the Nazarene heresy which, in his candid judgment, is striking at the very vitals of the Mosaic institutions. Hence, as a true son of Abraham, loyal to God and Moses, he takes the bit in his teeth, determined to make a summary settlement of all difficulties. When ecclesiastical autocrats once taste the blood of persecution they invariably become insatiable. The martyrdom of Stephen lifted the flood- gate for the bloody tide which had been accumulating since the baptism of John, and had received a wonderful impetus during the revivals of Pentecost. The Roman civil arm is still willing to purchase Jewish favor at the expense of the Nazarene faction. Therefore, Saul, utilizing his wonderful sagacity as an organizer, diligently rendezvouses the orthodox magnates and the loyal element of the fallen church, sparing neither age nor sex, but running like the inquisitorial bands of St. Dominique into every house; “arresting both men and women, he continued to commit them to prison,” thus determined to make summary work and exterminate the heresy with all possible expedition, relieving the country of the nuisance and the church of the miasma already infecting her to the heart.


Verse 4

ALL SAINTS ARE PREACHERS

4. “Therefore indeed being dispersed abroad, they went everywhere preaching the word.” The martyrdom of Stephen lifted the flood-gate of a general and sweeping persecution against the Nazarenes, the Roman power acquiescent in the diabolical malignity, thus purchasing Jewish favor with the blood of the saints. Consequently they fled in all directions, like Samson’s foxes, scattering the fire throughout all Palestine and everywhere rolling out the revival wave into the Gentile world. Thus the devil overshot himself; thinking to exterminate Christianity from the globe, he sent out fiery platoons of missionaries to the ends of the earth. The Holy Ghost certifies that they all preached the gospel, here using that identical word, evangelidzoo, which means “preach the gospel,” and not simply to proclaim as an herald; thus evolving the fact that all the saints in the Apostolic age were divinely authorized preachers of the gospel, Satan having waited to a later date to invent license, thus obstructing the free and universal evangelization of earth’s dying millions under the leadership of the Holy Ghost. Unobstructed by ecclesiastical tyranny, neither the apostles nor their saintly contemporaries ever received any license to preach. If the church wants to give you license, accept it with gratitude; if not, go ahead and preach in the regular Apostolical succession.


Verses 5-25

EVANGELIZATION OF SAMARIA

5-25. Philip, a bright, uncultured layman, sanctified in the Pentecostal revival, “filled with the Spirit and wisdom,” rendering him eligible to the office of deacon, was too enthusiastic to content himself “serving tables.” Led by the Spirit, a fugitive from the persecutions, he had the courage to enter the hardest field of labor on the globe. The Samaritans were not only heathens, but irreconcilable haters of the Jews. Here we see how the grace of God is more than a match for every conceivable human difficulty and Satanic antagonism. This illiterate young evangelist invades old heathen Samaria with the heroism of Alexander the Great. His conversions were not the modern still-born species.


Verse 7

7. “Many of those having unclean spirits, roaring with a great voice went out of them.” “Crying” in E. V. is the Greek boaoo, by whose pronunciation you see that it means to roar like the lowing of an ox. Hence we see that those great, stalwart heathen men, under the mighty conviction of the Holy Ghost, through the preaching of this red-hot young Israelite, threw their mouths open and roared like oxen. I have seen much of this kind. Lord, help us to get back to the “roaring,” knock-down convictions (1

Corinthians 14:25) of the Apostolic age. Philip in Samaria met the obstruction so common in all ages, i. e., the devil’s preacher, Simon Magus, cultured, influential, wealthy and wielding an apparently omnipotent influence among the people. Nothing is too hard for the grace of God. Consequently, Satan’s preacher comes down at the mourners’ bench along with his members and gets religion. Some doubt this, but Acts 8:13 is conclusive: “And Simon himself also believed, and having been baptized, was accompanying Philip.” If uninspired man had said that “Simon believed,” I would doubt his conversion; but since the infallible Holy Ghost, the Author of l true and saving faith, here certifies that “Simon believed,” we dare not gainsay. However, it is perfectly clear that he failed to get sanctified under the preaching of Peter and John, and consequently lapsed into condemnation like millions of others who, having been truly converted and refusing to obey the call of the Holy Ghost and go on into holiness, forfeit their justification and, with Simon Magus, plunge into a backslider’s hell. The love of money which would have ruined Jacob had he not received his Peniel sanctification twenty years after his Bethel conversion, and did drag poor Judas Iscariot from the apostleship down to hell, also proved fatal in the case of Simon Magus.


Verses 14-16

APOSTOLICAL PRECEDENT

14-16. “And the apostles in Jerusalem hearing that Samaria had received the word of God, sent to them Peter and John, who having come down, prayed that they may receive the Holy Ghost.” For He had not fallen upon any one of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.


Verse 17

17. “Then they laid hands on them, and they continued to receive the Holy Ghost.” Why the church has utterly ignored this positive, clear and unequivocal Apostolical precedent, confirmatory of the second work of grace in the plan of salvation, is to all ages an enigma indissoluble, recognized by none but the fragmentary holiness movements since the fatal Constantinian apostasy of the fourth century, thus elucidating to all Bible readers the indisputable fact that all human ecclesiasticisms in all ages are actual departures from the New Testament church, following human dogmatism off on endless diversity of sidetracks, into the darkness and morasses of Satan’s bewilderment; while the irregular Holy Ghost revivals in the different ages, anathematized, persecuted and martyred by the popular churches, are really the survival of the apostles and primitive saints through all the intervening ages, daring to preach the unadulterated truth and walk in the precepts of the Apostolic church. How signally you see this fact verified at the present day. In vain do you ransack the popular ecclesiasticisms to find a verification of this Apostolical precedent. But I am happy to say you find it everywhere among the different phases of the holiness movement, this day girdling the globe, and, without financial resources, preaching the gospel to more heathens than all the popular churches with their millions of money. No church can possibly sustain a claim to orthodoxy and ignore New Testament precedent. Here we have a clear and unequivocal illustration of the gospel plan of salvation transmitted to us by the infallible history of the Holy Ghost. No one will dare discount those “roaring” demonstrative conversions under the preaching of Philip. But you see this is not enough in the judgment of the inspired apostles. Therefore they unhesitatingly send out Peter and John to preach to them the second work of grace, that they may all receive the Holy Ghost. What think you of the churches and preachers who not only ignore this procedure, but antagonize it? Rest assured, they will have trouble in the judgment day. No wonder God is raising up the holiness movement in every nation under heaven and pushing it to the ends of the earth. In connection with this movement He is raising up a grand army of evangelists, male and female, endued with Pentecostal heroism, fearlessly of men and devils to preach and practice the gospel in its New Testament simplicity, from the heads of the rivers to the ends of the earth, thus ushering in the millennium and preparing the nations for our Lord’s return.


Verse 22

22. “Repent therefore from this sin of thine, and pray the Lord if perchance the thought of thine heart shall be forgiven thee.” This verse confirms the conclusion that Simon backslid by yielding to that old predominant phase of inbred sin, i. e., the love of money, which had played so conspicuous a part in his former ministry. God help all the preachers to take warning over the sad fate of Simon Magus and Judas Iscariot, and myriads of others, ruined world without end by the love of money. No wonder our Savior condemns the hireling shepherd, assuring us that he can not be depended on; but that he will run away when the wolf comes. What can we expect of the hireling ministry who this day girdle the globe, with their Briarean arms reaching out after “filthy lucre” instead of souls.


Verse 23

23. “For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” This verse shows clearly that Simon had never been saved from inbred sin abiding in his heart after regeneration, and even amid those wonderful revival scenes getting the upper hand and again slaying him by his old predilection of money-love.


Verse 24

24. From this verse we see that the Holy Spirit had not utterly forsaken Simon; but that he becomes penitent under the straight and terrible warning of Peter, so that he actually calls on him to pray for him that he might be reclaimed. Here the curtain falls, hiding forever the continued vision of an open door to reclamation to be followed by entire sanctification amid the wonderful privileges of that glorious revival, now augmented by the ministry of Peter and John, having come from Jerusalem and joined the heroic young evangelist in his arduous labors. Ecclesiastical history, corroborated by secular, gives us a legend, by some doubted, certifying that poor Simon was never reclaimed, but went on from bad to worse, becoming the founder of one of the first heresies of the Apostolic age, thus returning to Satan’s ministry, in which Philip found him, and there spending the remnant of his days.


Verse 25

25. After the arrival of the apostles, Philip accompanied them; meanwhile they prosecuted extensive tours in Samaria, everywhere preaching the gospel, seeing multitudes of those heathen converted, and unhesitatingly preaching to them the second work of grace, i. e., entire sanctification in the reception of the personal Holy Ghost.


Verses 26-40

THE CONVERSION OF THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH

26-40. After the apostles have completed their Samaritan tour and returned to Jerusalem, leaving Philip surrounded by hosts of his converts pressing the battle, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in visible form, and with audible voice sending him away on a southern tour down toward Gaza, the most southern city in Palestine, in the olden time occupied by the Philistines, the road leading through a desert. For expedition he leaves Jerusalem on the east, taking a bee-line toward Gaza. Ere long he recognizes a man in royal costume slowly riding along before him on a chariot, lost in meditation as he reads the wonderful prophecy of Isaiah 52, 53, describing the Lord’s Christ in His first advent into the world, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, despised and rejected of men,” bleeding and dying to redeem a wicked world from sin, death and hell. The strange traveler proves to be the first comptroller of the royal treasury of Queen Candace, of Ethiopia. He is a Jewish proselyte, a worshiper of the God of Israel, who has traveled fifteen hundred miles to Jerusalem to worship the Most High in His temple, and is now returning. He has in his possession the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, translated by seventy learned Jews, B. C. 280, under the administration of Ptolemy Philadelphus, at Alexandria, Egypt, for the benefit of his Jewish subjects. It had no divisions into chapters, out he was reading the prophecy of Isaiah, found in chapters 52 and 53. Pursuant to his kind invitation, Philip mounts the chariot, and, seated beside his brother in ebony, preaches to him the Christ of prophecy, about whom he has been reading.


Verse 33

33. “In his humiliation his judgment was taken away.” It is a significant fact that our Savior was killed by a cruel mob, stirred up and led by the preachers who stood at the head of the popular church, claiming, and doubtless believing, that they were God’s true ministers. Pilate, the Roman governor, as history says, had not a sufficient military force to keep the peace, having recently sent away a detachment to quell an insurrection in Syria. Consequently, defiant of Roman laws, which gave every man a fair trial and the right of self-defense, he assigned the death-warrant of Jesus merely as a peace measure, to keep the mob from killing him and, at the same time, deluging Jerusalem in blood. “Who shall declare his generation?

because his life is taken away from the earth.” “Generation” here means race, family, posterity, hence it means the spiritual children of God. If Jesus had not died, the plan of salvation would have collapsed and He would have had no spiritual posterity. The sown grain must die in the earth in order to produce a crop. You must die [i. e., old Adam in you] if you ever have a spiritual posterity. Hence, as a rule, unsanctified people have few, if any, spiritual children. Because our Savior redeemed the world by His death, in the grand finale He will exhibit before the Great White Throne a spiritual posterity which neither men, angels nor archangels can ever enumerate. They will outnumber the sands of the sea, the dust of the desert, the leaves of the forest and the stars of heaven; while contrastively Satan’s rabble will dwindle into an insignificant handful. This is one of the many confirmations of the wonderful achievements of the millennial reign, when the world will be flooded with overwhelming populations, the devil cast out, the road to hell overgrown with pennyroyal and dog-fennel, holiness covering the earth as the waters cover the sea, earth’s teeming millions sweeping up to heaven as the millennial centuries go by, thus supplying heaven with her long-anticipated populations redeemed from the earth by the blood of her Son. Meanwhile the chariot rolls along and time is unconsciously beguiled, the Ethiopian electrified by the thrilling gospel of Philip. They arrive at some water, recognized by the eunuch calling the attention of his comrade and inquiring why he should not be baptized, pursuant to the preaching of Philip from Isaiah 52:15. As the inspired narrative says that this was a desert, and geography reveals no river in that region, and Eusebius, the historian of the fourth century, describes the spring Bethsoron along that road, certifying that it was commemorated by the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch at the hands of Philip, you must not forget that (Acts 8:37) the eunuch’s confession is an interpolation [see R. V.]. I hold in my hand the oldest Greek Testament in the world. It has nothing of it. That verse was composed and inserted by Erasmus, a contemporary of Martin Luther, in the sixteenth century, who, while transcribing his Greek Testament, concluded that the connection required a confession there, and supposing that some careless transcriber had left it out, he composed and inserted that thirty-seventh verse. Subsequently older manuscripts were found, and especially the Sinaitic which I hold in my hand. As none of them have that verse, it is demonstrative proof that it never existed till Erasmus composed and inserted it.


Verse 38

38. “. . .they both went down to the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.


Verse 39

39. “And when they came up from the water. . .” I verily trow the blessed Holy Spirit gave us this passage in that ambiguous verbiage, lest some one might be stickleristic on the quantity of water and the manner of its application, and thus run into a very dangerous form of idolatry, i. e., hydrolatry, i. e., water-worship, i. e., the imputation of saving efficacy to water baptism, which is a fond delusion, and has doubtless sent multitudes to hell who relied on water-baptism and human works instead of Jesus only. Such is the ambiguity of this passage that we can not tell whether they went into it and Philip immersed the entire body, or whether they simply went to the spring and took up some water with which Philip baptized him according to Isaiah 52:15, which the eunuch had read and Philip preached. When the publicans demanded of our Savior and Peter the payment of taxes, and He sent Peter to the sea to catch that fish with the money in its mouth, the statement of Peter’s going down to the sea is precisely identical with the Greek in this passage. Hence if you do not believe that Peter waded into the sea to catch the fish, you need not believe that Philip and the eunuch waded into the sea in order to the baptism. Suffice it to say, reader, God has made plenty of water. So take all you want in your baptism. If you are not satisfied, go on till your conscience is perfectly satisfied (1 Peter 3:21). You had better live and die without water-baptism than to receive it under the popish heresy of baptismal regeneration, which is very likely to so blind your eyes that you will never see the Savior, live and die ignorant of God and make your bed in hell. So pay no attention to baptism nor anything else, but fly to the Savior, get intelligently saved and receive the Savior’s baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire. There abide, keeping your eye on Jesus, and assuredly He will keep His hand on you. When you are thus clearly and intelligently saved and sanctified, consciously baptized by the Savior with the Holy Ghost and fire, witnessed clearly and unmistakably by the indwelling Holy Spirit, then we can safely tell you to take all the water you want and any way you want, fully satisfying all of your convictions, as then there is no danger of your becoming a poor, superstitious, deluded devotee of Satan’s water-god like multiplied millions, who have thus been side-tracked by the devil into idolatry and lost their souls. We have not a word of criticism for immersion, trine immersion, copious effusion or simple sprinkling, pursuant to your convictions, if you only receive the “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5), i. e., the baptism of the Holy Ghost administered by the Savior. What was the character of the eunuch’s conversion? It is simply preposterous to conclude that this man was a sinner.

(a) He was a man of sterling integrity, actually entrusted with the money of the kingdom;

(b) he was a Jewish proselyte, a bona fide member of God’s Church in his dispensation;

(c) he actually traveled fifteen hundred miles to worship God in His temple on Mt. Moriah in the holy city;

(d) he loved his precious Bible, so that he carried it with him and even read it as he rode along;

(e) he hailed God’s prophet with delight, gave him a seat by his side and received with enthusiasm the thrilling tidings that the Christ of prophecy, whom he worshipped and trusted for salvation, had already come into the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, suffered and died on Calvary’s cross, risen and ascended into heaven. The argument even favors the conclusion that he was a sanctified man, as we see not a vestige of prejudice, bigotry or jealousy rising to eclipse his eyes to the truth which Philip preached. The case is clear and even demonstrative that he was a pious and faithful member of the Jewish Church, like Zacharias and Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna and many others, and simply needed conversion to the Christhood of Jesus, like thousands of other pious Jews serving God in the full light of their dispensation, needing not conversion to God, but to the Christhood of Jesus, a mere matter of historic faith, having already been saved by justifying faith in the Christ of prophecy. I doubt not that item of history which certifies that the Ethiopian eunuch who raised the shout in the presence of Philip, “went on his way rejoicing,” stirring the people along the road, telling them of Jesus, His redeeming grace and dying love, arriving at Thebes, the Ethiopian capital, turns preacher and shakes the whole country with a spiritual earthquake, pressing the evangelistic work as the years go by, till finally the Apostle Matthew comes to his relief, taking Ethiopia for his field of labor, where he preached on till bloody martyrdom crowned his triumphant exit from earth to heaven.


Verse 40

40. After the manner of the old prophets the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip from the presence of his happy Ethiopian convert, dropping him down at Azotus, which is another name for the old city of Ashdod, a Philistine capital. It seems that Philip never returned to honor the office of deacon in the Jerusalem church. God put him in a better work, i. e., preaching the gospel. We are here informed that he continued his evangelistic peregrinations northward, “preaching in many cities till he arrived in Caesarea.” It seems that he settled in this metropolis of the Mediterranean, making it henceforth his residence, from which he radiated out in his evangelistic work, as we hear no more of him till twenty-three years have rolled away and Paul stops in his home in Caesarea (Acts 21:9), while on his last journey to Jerusalem in May, A. D. 58. We now find his evangelistic force augmented by four preaching daughters, whom God has given him to assist him in his labors of love.

 


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Bibliography Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Acts 8:4". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/acts-8.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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