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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Acts 8

 

 

Verse 1

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.

Persecution of the Church at Jerusalem, Particularly by Saul ()

And Saul was consenting unto his death , [ een (Greek #1510) suneudokoon (Greek #4909) tee (Greek #3588) anairesei (Greek #336) autou (Greek #846)] - was heartily approving of his execution. The word conveys more than mere 'consent' (as will be seen from Luke 11:48; Romans 1:32; 1 Corinthians 7:12-13). How much more there was in this case his own confession long afterward reveal to us, Acts 22:20; Acts 26:9-11; and see below, Acts 8:3.

And at that time , [ en (Greek #1722) ekeinee (Greek #1565) tee (Greek #3588) heemera (Greek #2250)] - literally, 'on that day.' In this literal sense it is understood by the Vulgate, Calvin, Beza, Bengel, DeWette, Meyer, Hackett, and Lechler, most of whom urge that the tide of the persecution which had swept away Stephen is here said to have rolled on from that hour. But there is no need to take it quite so literally, and what follows hardly accords with that. The phrase is employed in the same indefinite sense of "at that time" (in which our translators take it here) in John 14:20; John 16:23-26; and Mark 2:26 (according to the true reading). But, no doubt it was the facility with which the enemies of the Gospel had got rid of Stephen that stimulated them to proceed against the whole party of Christians at Jerusalem; for the persecuting passion, like every other passion, is fed by exercise, and they might think it wise to strike while the iron was hot.

And they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. This statement is not to be taken too literally. Probably it means only that all the more prominent disciples were fain to flee agreeably to their Lord's directions (Matthew 10:23). At all events not a few of them must have soon returned, as is evident from Acts 9:26-30. The apostles remained, not certainly as being less exposed to the heat of persecution, but to watch over the infant cause, at whatever risk, where it was most needful to cherish it, and probably under the impression that Jerusalem being the center of the whole Christian movement, they were not warranted to abandon it without express authority.


Verse 2

And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

And devout men , [ andres (Greek #435) eulabeis (Greek #2126)] - pious Jews, impressed probably with admiration for Stephen, and secretly inclined to Christianity, though not yet prepared, especially while the persecution raged, openly to declare themselves.

Carried Stephen to his burial. The words "to his burial" should not have been put in Italics, as the word which our translators render "carried" [ sunekomisan (Greek #4792)] implies as much.


Verse 3

As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house - like an Inquisitor (as Bengel says),

And haling men and women, committed them to prison. 'Since he could not (says Baumgarten) discover any public meetings, he goes about entering into every house where he suspects there are Christians dwelling, and casts them into prison. It was perhaps at this time that for the purpose of detesting the confession of Jesus under the outward guise of Judaism, he had recourse to the dreadful means which he himself speaks of in Acts 26:11, "compelling them to blaspheme."' Indeed, the best commentary on the historian's description of his procedure hero will be found in his own affecting confessions, many years after this, which are once and again repeated in varied forms: see Acts 22:4; Acts 26:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:13.

How this was Overruled to the Furtherance of the Gospel, Particularly in Samaria (Acts )


Verse 4

Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.

Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where , [ dieelthon (Greek #1330)] - 'went up and down' or 'in all directions,'

Preaching the word. The least that this can mean is that they went through the principal parts of Palestine; Samaria being particularized only because a detailed account of what took place there was to be subjoined. Accordingly, after Saul's conversion, it is said, "Then had the churches (or, according to the genuine reading. 'the Church') rest throughout all Judea and Galilee" (see the notes at Acts 9 to 31); which implies that before this the Gospel had obtained a footing in all those parts. Also, when Peter "passed throughout all quarters" (that is, of Palestine), he found "saints at Lydda," and there seems hardly to have been a spot in which there were not disciples (Acts 9:32-43). Thus faithfully and successfully, when at length driven out of Jerusalem, was the Masters injunction carried out, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me in all Judea." But this was not all; because in a subsequent chapter we read that "they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only," and that some of these zealous preachers, bursting the fetters that bound their fellow-preachers to the Jews exclusively, preached at Antioch to the Gentiles also, and with immense success. (See the notes at Acts 11:19-21.) From these intensely interesting facts being reserved by the historian until after the conversion of Cornelius, the general reader is apt to think that they occurred subsequently to that in point of time. But they plainly belong to the period immediately following the dispersion of the Christians from Jerusalem on the death of Stephen.


Verse 5

Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

Then Philip - not the apostle of that name (as some of the fathers supposed), for in that case (as Grotius observes) the apostles would have had no need to send some of themselves to lay their hands on the newly-baptized disciples (Acts 8:14-17). It was the deacon of that name, who in the list of the seven stands next to Stephen, likely as being the next most prominent. Probably (as Meyer supposes) the persecution was especially directed against Stephen's colleagues.

Went down to the city of Samaria , [ eis (Greek #1519) polin (Greek #4172) Samareias (Greek #4540). Lachmann inserts the article before polin (Greek #4172), the transcribers, doubtless, understanding the capital to be meant, and deeming the article necessary to express this. But the authorities are decisive against it, and Tischendorf properly adheres to the Received Text]. Our translators, by rendering the phrase "the city of Samaria," evidently understood the capital to be meant; and so Erasmus, Calvin, Beza, Grotius, Hackett, etc. take it. But the very same phrase is used in John 4:5 - "a city of Samaria" - where Sychar is expressly named as the city meant. If this be the sense of the phrase here, Samaria means the region or country; and so Lightfoot, Bengel, DeWette, Meyer, Olshausen, Neander, Humphry, Alford, Webster and Wilkinson, and Lechler, understand it. Probably Sychar is meant-a place at this time of growing importance. Both the religious excitement which Simon Magus caused, and the subsequent triumphs of the Gospel in that place accord well with what we read of Sychar in the Gospel of John (John 4:1-54) - as a place over which a great religious change had come some years before-a change whose good effects still remained; whose imperfect character laid them open to the impostures of Simon Magus, in the first instance, but whose reality and strength enabled them to see through the cheat when exposed to the light of the glorious Gospel which Philip brought them. Perhaps we should mark the providence which sent a Grecian, or Hellenistic, Jew to a people who, from national antipathy, might have been less disposed (as Webster and Wilkinson remark) to a native of Judea.


Verse 6

And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 7

For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.

For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. Lechler, while calling attention to Bengel's acute remark on this verse-that Luke in the Acts never uses the word 'demons' [ daimonia (Greek #1140)] when speaking of the possessed, while in his Gospel he uses it oftener than the other evangelists-demurs very properly to Bengel's inference from this-namely, that the power of possession had waxed weaker since the death of Christ. Lechler's own observation is worth noticing-how remarkable it is that in the Acts possession does not occur among the Israelities, but only in pagan territories-as in Ephesus (Acts 19:12) - or in the boundary between Judaism and paganism, as in the country of Samaria. Perhaps the reason of this was, that as the rage of Satan was in this particular form naturally roused first in the Jewish territory, where Christ came to disturb his reign, and the triumphs of Christ over him were already sufficiently displayed there, so now, when the Gospel was marching into his pagan territories, it was natural that his rage should be transferred there, and a fitting thing that its signal triumphs over him there also should in this history be recorded.


Verse 8

And there was great joy in that city.

And there was great joy in that city joy over the change worked by the Gospel in it and over the varied And there was great joy in that city - joy over the change worked by the Gospel in it, and over the varied cures by which its divine character was attested. This joy of the converted Samaritans was like that of the Jewish Christians at Pentecost (Acts 2:46-47).

Simon Magus believes and is baptized ()


Verse 9

But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:

But there was , [ proupeerchen (Greek #4391)] - 'was there before;' preceding Philip in operating on the people,

A certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery , [ mageuoon (Greek #3096)] - using magical arts,

And bewitched ('astounded' or 'startled') the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one.


Verse 10

To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.

To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest. [Lachmann and Tischendorf leave out pantes (Greek #3956), but all the leading, manuscripts have it; and instead of being inserted to 'fill up the sense,' as Alford says, it was far more likely to be left out just because the sense was filled up by what follows.]

Saying, This man is the great power of God - or, according to the reading which has far the greatest authority [of 'Aleph (') A B C D E, etc., the Vulgate, and other ancient versions], 'This is that power of God which is called great' [ Houtos (Greek #3778) estin (Greek #2076) hee (Greek #3588) dunamis (Greek #1411) tou (Greek #3588) Theou (Greek #2316) hee (Greek #3588) kaloumenee (Greek #2564) megalee (Greek #3173)]; that power which is by all of us acknowledged to be pre-eminent-a sort of incarnation of divinity. The learned efforts to identify this impostor, and to collect the particulars of his life and opinions have issued in little that is satisfactory. All that probably can be depended on is, what Justin Martyr (himself a native of this region) attests, that he was a Samaritan. That after his exposure and rejection by the apostles he attempted to combine a corrupt form of Christianity with Oriental or Grecian philosophy (Irenoeus, in the second century, calls him the master and progenitor of all heretics) - is simply not improbable, in which case he may be considered as heralding other and more systematic efforts in the same direction afterward. The Tubingen critics, as might be expected, take advantage of the legendary character of some of these traditions, and the uncertainty attaching to all of them, to impugn the historical credibility of this whole narrative-a method of criticism which would destroy the credit of much in ancient history that rests on the surest evidence.


Verse 11

And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.

And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them , [ dia (Greek #1223) to (Greek #3588) hikanoo (Greek #2425) chronoo (Greek #5550) ... exestakenai (Greek #1839)] - 'because that for a considerable time they had been bewitched' the perfect tense having an intransitive sense),

With sorceries. This, coupled with the rapidity with which they attached themselves to Philip, strikingly shows both how ripe the people of this region were for some religious change, and how much they lacked fundamental training. If our Lord's stay among them was the cause of the one, the shortness of that stay, and their imperfect knowledge of Old Testament truth, is a sufficient explanation of the other.


Verse 12

But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

But when they believed Philip preaching [the things] concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (The bracketed article [ ta (Greek #3588)] is wanting in authority, and unnecessary to the sense.) The detection of Simon's frauds would help to extend and deepen the effects of Philip's preaching.


Verse 13

Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

Then Simon himself believed also. Left without followers, he thinks it best to join the man who had fairly outstripped him, not without a touch of real conviction.

And when he was baptized. What a light does this throw on what is called Baptismal Regeneration! He continued with, [ een (G1510) proskarteroon (G4342), 'was in constant attendance upon'] Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Our translators have here departed from the Received Text, which reads as in the margin, 'the signs and great wonders which were done.' Tischendorf omits the word 'great' [ megalous (Greek #3173)], as our translators do; but Lachmann, on greatly preponderating authority, as we judge, retains it. The historian's remark here throws a strong light on Simon's true character-astonishment at the miracle, rather than joy in the Gospel, being the predominant element in the feelings of this new convert.

The Apostolic Visit to the New Converts-Peter's Interview with Simon Magus ()


Verse 14

Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:

Now when the apostles which were as Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John - showing that Peter was regarded only as their own equal. At the same time, by selecting the two most prominent of their number, they show the importance they attached to this first accession of a city to Christ.


Verse 15-16

Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:

No JFB commentary on these verses.


Verse 17

Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. While the prayer seems to have been one act [the verb is in the aorist, proseeuxanto (Greek #4336)], the imposition of hands and the descent of the Spirit, was a succession of acts in each case or in clusters [as the imperfects, epetithoun (Greek #2007) and elambanon (Greek #2983), imply]. That the reference here is to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, or such a communication of the Spirit as made itself visibly or audibly manifest, there cannot be a reasonable doubt. The baptism of adult believers and the renewing of the Holy Spirit went together (1 Corinthians 12:13; Titus 3:5-7). What is here recorded, therefore, of the communication of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the apostles' hands, sometime afar the parties had been baptized, must have been a added thing; and as it was but occasional, so it was invariably attended by miraculous manifestations. See Acts 10:44, where it followed Peter's preaching; and Acts 19:1-7, where, as here, it followed the imposition of apostolic hands. This being the first accession and baptism of a large body of disciples, through the instrumentality of one who was not himself an a apostle, it was fitting that the newborn church of this city should be taught the proper position and authority of those divinely-appointed founders of the Church; and this visit to them of a deputation from the mother-church at Jerusalem, consisting of the two most prominent members of the apostolic body, was just the thing to produce that effect. Beautiful certainly was the spectacle here first exhibited, of Jew and Samaritan one in Christ.


Verse 18

And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,

And when Simon saw, [ theasamenos (G2300) is the received reading, but idoon (G1492) is better supported] that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money. Hence, the term Simony, to denote trafficking in sacred things, but chiefly the purchase of ecclesiastical offices.


Verse 19

Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.

Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Spirit. This was evidently a plan for recovering, through the new Faith, that influence over the people as wonder-worker which their conversion to Christ had quite destroyed; revealing not only how entirely his conversion, such as it was, had failed to check his spiritual ambition, but how ignorant be was of the first principles of that Gospel which he bad embraced.


Verse 20

But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee. This is the language of mingled horror and indignation, reminding us of our Lord's rebuke of Peter himself (Matthew 16:23),

because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. [ ktasthai (Greek #2932)] - rather, 'hast thought to acquire the gift,' etc.


Verse 21

Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.

Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter. It is a needless refinement of Bengel to distinguish between these two words in such a phrase, which plainly is but an emphatic expression for 'no share at all' (cf. in Septuagint, Deuteronomy 18:1; Psalms 16:5; Isaiah 57:6).

For thy heart is not right in this sight of God. This is the fidelity of a true minister to one awfully self-deceived.


Verse 22

Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God - `pray the Lord' is evidently the true reading here [ kuriou (Greek #2962), with 'Aleph (') A B C D E, etc.; the Peshito Syriac; some manuscripts of the Vulgate and other versions-not tou (Greek #3588) Theou (Greek #2316), and so Lachmann and Tischendorf],

If perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee - this expression of doubt as to his forgiveness being designed to impress on him the greatness of his sin, and awaken alarm in his mind.


Verse 23

For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness - literally 'into' it [ eis (Greek #1519)] as if steeped in it For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness - literally, 'into' it [ eis (Greek #1519)], as if steeped in it,

And in the bond of iniquity - as if chained to it.


Verse 24

Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.

Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me. The "ye" here [ humeis (Greek #5210)] is emphatic-`Your prayer will be more efficacious than mine' (as Webster and Wilkinson well put it). Peter had urged him to pray for himself: he asks these wonder-working men to do it for him; having no confidence in the prayer of faith, but thinking that such men as these must possess some special interest with Heaven.

That none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me - not that the thought of his heart might be forgiven him (as Peter entreated him to seek), but only that the evils threatened might be averted from him. While this confirms Peter's view of his melancholy case, it shows that Christianity, as something divine, still retained its hold on him. Tradition (as already observed) - though not much to be relied on-represents this miserable man as turning out a great heresiarch, mingling Oriental and Grecian philosophy with some Christian elements.


Verse 25

And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

And they (Peter and John), when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord - that is, both in the city where Philip's labours had been so richly blesses and in the surrounding parts, as the word implies [ diamarturamenoi (Greek #1263)].

Returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans - embracing the opportunity of their journey back to Jerusalem to fulfill their Lord's commission (Acts 1:8) to the whole region of Samaria. [Agreeably to this, the imperfects - hupestrefon (Greek #5290) and euangelizonto (Greek #2097) - are better supported than the aorists, hupestrepsan (Greek #5290) and euangelisanto (Greek #2097), of the Received Text.]

Remarks:

(1) The infant Church having no visible existence up to this time, except at Jerusalem, was at its lowest point of depression when, after the slaughter of so eminent a witness for Christ as Stephen, the public meetings of the Christians appear to have ceased, and that bloody persecutor, Saul of Tarsus, went from street to street, and house to house, searching for disciples, sparing neither age nor sex-intent upon stamping out the last embers of that fire from heaven which had been kindled on the day of Pentecost. But just then it was that the Gospel took a first start; not only breaking loose from its dependence on the capital, to which the ancient economy was entirely linked, but trying for the first time those wings on which it was to fly to the uttermost parts of the earth. It was just that attempt to crush the Gospel which was the immediate occasion of this signal dispersion of it. As the disciples fled from Jerusalem, and were scattered abroad without the apostles, like shepherdless sheep, we might fancy them trembling for the ark of God, and anticipating the worst. But

`Know, the darkest part of night Is before the dawn of light.'

New circumstances presented all things to them in a new light. Instead of having their hopes dashed and their energies crushed, they found their field of vision and of action only enlarged and brightened. As their hold on Jerusalem, with all its ancient association and endearments, got loosened, it was only to disclose to them something of the more extended career on which the Church was about to enter. And so it has ever been, that just at evening time it has been light.

(2) Were these dispersed preachers, then, ordained and official ministers of Christ? Certainly not; and all the best and most recent critics not only recognize, but call special attrition to the fact. 'The dispersal (says Lechler excellently) were not apostles, because the apostles remained behind in Jerusalem. At the most, a few of them belonged to the elected Seven (Acts 6:1-15), and even thee were not directly called as authorized ministers of the Word. But the great majority of the dispersed Christians held no ecclesiastical office whatever. Yet they preached wherever they came, without being called to do so by official duty and express commission. but entirely from the internal pressure of faith, which cannot but speak that which affects the heart, from the impulse of the Spirit by which they were anointed, and from love to the Saviour, to whom they were indebted for the forgiveness of their sins and for their blessed hopes. Thus this spread of the Gospel without the holy city, this planting of the Church of Christ in the regions of Palestine-indeed, even beyond those regions-was effected not by the apostles, but chiefly by other Christians who held no office, in virtue of the universal priesthood of believers. According to human ideas of Church government and office, it ought not to have taken place. But the Lord of the Church does not so confine Himself even to the apostolate established by Himself, as that everything must take place entirely through it in order to be lawful, pleasing to God, blessed, and full of promise. Christ thus shows that no man, and no finite office is indispensable,' (Similar sentiments are expressed, by Baumgarten.) Official functionaries of the Church are often slow to recognize such truths, and so are found not seldom resisting movements and calling in question results, as irregular and disorderly, which are manifestly of God. But,

(3) Though private Christians are at full liberty to work for Christ, according to their opportunities and gifts, and their evangelistic labours should be owned and encouraged, they are not to regard themselves as an independent agency, and much less to ignore or attempt to supersede the regular channel of the Christian ministry. In the visit of the apostolic deputation to the Samaritan converts, the welcome given to it, and the divine seal set upon its authority, we have a beautiful illustration of the harmony that should reign among all the diversified agencies of the Church for the promotion of the common cause.

(4) The religious history of Samaria (as we find it in the Fourth Gospel and in the Acts) holds forth encouragement regarding places in which the truth, richly sown, has borne little fruit. For the labour bestowed on them may prove to have been but the preparation of the ground for other labourers and other appliances, that were to perfect what was lacking at the first. Thus was it with Samaria, sown first by the great Sewer Himself, and only afterward reaped by Philip and others. (See the notes at John 4:1-42, Remark 7 at the close of that section.) (5) Religious imposture-as probably in Simon Magus-usually begins in an honest but unenlightened enthusiasm for some religious views, guided by vanity and the lust of power. When this is successful in creating a party, and bringing considerable numbers under its influence-kept together with difficulty where solid truth and exalted motives of action are wanting-unscrupulous measures are almost invariably resorted to, to preserve what has been acquired; and honest enthusiasm, then giving place to secretiveness and cunning, gradually ripens into willful imposture. Thus is realized what might seem impossible, a combination of religions feeling and of conscious fraud-the latter by degrees absorbing the former. Mere sincerity, then, in the maintenance of religious opinions, and self-sacrificing absorption in the propagation of them, as they are no evidence of the truth of them, so they are not to be relied on even for its own continuance, and in the case of errorists often degenerate rate what was never dreamed of at the first, and discover a strange mixture of the deceived and the deceiver in one and the same person, according to the apostle's striking saying, "Evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:13). Illustrations of this in our own time may be seen in Mormonism and Agapemonism.

(6) Contrast Simon's request, "Give me this power" with our Lord's words to the Twelve, when they reported to Him how "even the spirits had been subject to them through His name" - "Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:17; Luke 10:20). These two opposite feelings-that of Simon, on the one hand, and that here expressed by our Lord-are the characteristics of two opposite sorts of ecclesiastics.

(7) Though fickleness in religion, as in everything else, is fatal to solid progress, we are not to confound with this that unsteadiness which is almost characteristic of children in the Christian as well as in the natural life, and which with time and training disappear. The readiness of the Samaritans to fall in with Simon's impostures, though the result of their defective training, showed the spiritual thirst which had been awakened in them; and the joy with which they forsook him, on Philip's bringing the Gospel to their hearts, and health to their homes, with the subsequent establishment of a Christian community among them-sealed by apostolic hands with the gift of the Holy Spirit-is an evidence that they had passed out of religious instability-all the more solid in the faith, probably, from their previous experience of "the depths of Satan." And so should we judge of similar cases, as they still arise.

Unawakened, stupid souls, immersed in the world, or steeped in literary and scientific pursuits-who fall in with the current religious systems, or are indifferent to all religion-such are never imposed upon by plausible religionists, nor run any risk of being sucked into a current of religious fanaticism. But then they are equally inaccessible to the truth itself, and right and wrong feelings on religion are alike strangers to their breasts. Whereas these whose souls have been touched with a sense of their wretchedness without God, though, in their thirst for satisfaction, they may be imposed upon by religious plausibilities, and carried away from the true resting-place of the heart, will, on discovering their mistake and finding the truth, lay faster hold of it, and become all the more enlightened and stable Christians for the humbling experience they have come through. At the same time it is not to be doubted that 'growing in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,' is the only sure preservative against 'falling from our own stedfastness' (2 Peter 3:17-18). Accordingly, in a very striking passage on the subject of religious delusions, not unlike this of Simon Magus, the apostle intimates that the Christian ministry was the gift of the Church's glorified Head, on the one hand for maturing and bringing it to eventual perfection, and on the other for curing childish instability - "That ye be no longer children, tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive," etc. (Ephesians 4:14.)

(8) Indignant feeling and sharp rebuke are not inconsistent with tenderness and pity in the treatment of those who make a gain of godliness, even though to some extent self-deceived. Nor can we expect to do them any good until their self-complacency has been thus dashed to the ground. Compare what is said of Christ Himself, "When he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their heart" Himself, "When he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their heart" etc. (Mark 3:5.)

'With the foregoing narrative (says Olshausen) of the progress of the Gospel among the Samaritans is connected another, which points to the diffusion of the doctrine of the Cross among the remotest nations. The simplicity of the chamberlain of Meroe forms a remarkable contrast with the craft of the magician just described.'


Verse 26

And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.

And the (or 'an') angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way (that is, so as to get into the way) that goeth down from Jerusalem into Gaza, which [ hautee (G3778), that is, not Gaza itself, but the way], is desert. Gaza was the southernmost city of Palestine, situated at the border of the desert leading to Egypt. It is mentioned as early as Genesis 10:19; it was allotted to the tribe of Judah; but it was seized and held by the Philistines, and became one of their five principal cities. There was such a road to it, across mount Hebron, which Philip might take without requiring to go first to Jerusalem (as Von Raumer's 'Palestine' shows). Indeed, there were, and still are, two such roads at least (Robinson's 'Palestine,' 2: p. 321). The next clause, therefore, "which is desert" - a tract of country without villages or fixed habitations-was probably intended to define the one which Philip was to take, so as not to miss the returning eunuch. (So Bengel, Alford, Baumgarten, Hackett, Lechler.) Others take Gaza itself as what was "desert;" some of these referring it to the ancient Gaza, which was then a ruin, though rebuilt with the same name (as Olshausen, Humphry, etc.), while others apply it even to the rebuilt Gaza, which was destroyed by the Romans, (so Hug, etc.) But as that destruction did not take place until after this book must have been published, this interpretation must be set aside.

Nor does any application of the phrase, "which is desert," to the town give point to the direction to Philip, as the word Gaza would be enough to guide him to the spot, whether old or new, standing or ruined. Little better is it to suppose this (as several critics do) to be a parenthetical explanation of the historian himself, to enable his readers to identify the spot. By far the simplest explanation of the clause, then, is to refer it to the way or road which the angel would have Philip take, to compass his object.


Verse 27

And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,

And he arose and went. To leave a city where his hands were full of his Master's work, to go far away on a desert road, and to be kept in ignorance of the object of the journey-was fitted to stagger the faith of our zealous evangelist. But, like Paul, he "was not disobedient, to the heavenly vision;" and, like Abraham, "he went out, not knowing where he went."

And, behold, a man of Ethiopia - the name anciently given to Upper or Southern Egypt, of which Meroe-a rich island formed by two branches of the Nile-was the capital.

An eunuch of great authority. Eunuchs were generally employed for confidential offices in the East, as to some extent they are still; and although, from their being so much employed about royal persons, this name was sometimes given to those who were not literally eunuchs, there is no sufficient reason to doubt that it is here used in its literal sense-not (as some take it) in the general sense of 'a grandee.' The prohibition of the Mosaic law against the admission of such to the congregation (Deuteronomy 23:1) has been pleaded against this. But the approach there intended seems not to relate to any but born Israelites, and so would have excluded all proselytes; and even though it did not, from the case of Ebed-melech (Jeremiah 38:7-13; Jeremiah 39:16-18) - of whom we can scarcely doubt that he had a place in the congregation-there is reason to think that this law was not so rigidly enforced as to prove a bar to the recognition of one in the high position of this Ethiopian, even though a literal eunuch.

Under Candace queen of the Ethiopians. We learn from Pliny ('H.N.' 6: 29), who flourished during the reign of Vespasian, that this had for many years been the family name of the queens of Upper Egypt-like Abimelech, Pharaoh, Caesar, etc., and Eusebius ('E.H.' 2: 10) says that as in Sheba (South Arabia), so here, females were allowed to reign.

Who had the charge of all her treasure [ gazees (Greek #1047)] - a special Persian word for the royal treasure, (Quint. Curt. 3: 13. 5);

And had come to Jerusalem for to worship - to keep the recent feast of Pentecost, as a Gentile proselyte to the Jewish Faith. See the glorious premise to such, Isaiah 56:3-8.


Verse 28

Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.

Was returning. Having come so far, he not only stayed out the days of the festival, but prolonged his stay until now. It says much for his fidelity and value to his royal mistress that he had such liberty. But the faith in Yahweh and love of His worship and Word, with which he was imbued, sufficiently explain this.

And sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet - no doubt, in the Greek translation, called the Septuagint Olshausen, taking it for granted that he was reading in the original Hebrew, concludes from this that he was a born Jew. But besides that the historian says nothing as to the language of the copy he used, the whole description conveys the impression that he was an Ethiopian pagan by birth. Not contented with the statutory services in which he had joined, he beguiles the tedium of the journey homeward by reading the Scriptures. But this is not all; because as Philip "heard him read the prophet Esaias," he must have been reading aloud; and though it was customary, as it still is, in the East to read aloud, since he was audible even to Philip, the probability is that he was reading not for his own benefit only, but for that of his charioteer also.


Verse 29

Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.

Then the Spirit said unto Philip - by an unmistakable voice within, as in Acts 10:19; Acts 16:6-7,

Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. This would reveal to Philip the hitherto unknown object of his journey, and encourage him to expect some fruit of his interview with this stranger.


Verse 30

And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?

And Philip ran there to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? [ ara (Greek #686) ge (Greek #1065).] The particles here used imply that a negative, rather than an affirmative, answer was expected. To one so engaged this would be deemed no rude question while the eager appearance of the speaker, and the question itself, would indicate a readiness to supply any want of insight that might be felt.


Verse 31

And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

And he said, How can I , [ Poos (Greek #4459) gar (Greek #1063) an (Greek #302) dunaimeen (Greek #1410)] - 'Why, how should I,'

Except some man should guide me? Beautiful expression at once of humility and docility; the invitation to Philip which immediately followed,

And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him, being but the natural expression of this.


Verse 32

The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth:

The place , [ periochee (Greek #4042)] - the 'portion,' or 'section;' not 'contents' (as most modern critics render the word (from 1 Peter 2:6, where the verb certainly has this sense)

Of the scripture which he read was this. What follows is from Isaiah 53:7-8, almost verbatim as in the Septuagint,


Verse 33

In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.

In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. The proper exposition of the several clauses of this prediction belongs rather to a commentary on the evangelical prophet than to this place; and since Philip would dwell rather on the brightly Messianic character of this whole chapter than on the precise sense of the verses here quoted, it will not be necessary to stay on them here. Rather let us wonder that this, of all predictions of Messiah's sufferings in the Old Testament the most striking, should have been that which the eunuch was reading before Philip joined him. He could hardly miss to have heard at Jerusalem of the sufferings and death of Jesus, and of the existence of a continually increasing party who acknowledged him to be the Messiah. But his question to Philip, whether the prophet in this passage meant himself or some other man, clearly shows that he had not the least idea of any connection between this prediction and those facts.


Verse 34

And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?

And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? The respect with which he here addresses Philip was prompted by his reverence for one whom he perceived to be his superior in divine things, his own worldly position sinking before this.


Verse 35

Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.

Then Philip opened his mouth (see the note at Matthew 5:2), and began at the same scripture - founding on it as his text,

And preached unto him Jesus - showing Him to be the glorious Burden of this wonderful prediction, and interpreting it in the light of the facts of His history.


Verse 36

And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water , [ idou (Greek #2400) hudoor (Greek #5204)] - 'Behold water,' as if already, his mind filled with light and his soul set free, he was eagerly looking out for the first water in which he might seal his reception of the truth, and be enrolled among the visible disciples of the Lord Jesus.

What doth hinder me to be baptized? Philip had probably told him that this was the ordained sign and seal of discipleship, but the eunuch's question was likely the first proposal of its application to himself.


Verse 37

And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

[And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.] This entire verse is missing in the oldest and best manuscripts - ('Aleph ('), A B C G H, etc.; in the best manuscript of the Vulgate (the Codex Amiatinus of the first hand), in the Peshito Syriac, and in both the Egyptian versions; in Chrysostom also. It must be regarded, therefore, as an interpolation: but certainly it is a very early one; because we find it both in the Greek of Irenaeus and in the Latin version of it, in the second century. We may conclude, therefore, that as the transition from the eunuch's question to the act of baptizing him seemed too abrupt, this verse was added on the margin of the few manuscripts which contain it, and afterward introduced into the text, to express what would have been demanded of the eunuch, as a confession of his faith, at the time when this addition was made.


Verse 38

And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

And he commanded the chariot to stand still; and they went down both into the water , [ eis (Greek #1519) to (Greek #3588) hudoor (Greek #5204)]. This may be rendered 'unto the water,' meaning the valley where the water was (so Webster and Wilkinson, after Robinson). But this seems plainly to be short of the sense intended; for (as Hackett observes) the next verse tells that they came "out of the water" [ ek (Greek #1537) tou (Greek #3588) hudatos (Greek #5204)]. Clearly, the meaning is, as our version renders it, "into the water," both standing in it;

Both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him - probably washing the water upon him; but the precise form, and whether it was uniform or (as is more likely) variable, is not perfectly certain, nor yet of much consequence.


Verse 39

And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.

And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip. To deny the supernatural character of this removal of Philip (as Olshausen, Meyer, Bloomfield, Hackett, and others do) is vain. It stands out on the face of the expressions, "caught away" [ harpasen (Greek #726)], "saw him no more" [ eiden (Greek #1492) auton (Greek #846) ouketi (Greek #3765)], "was found" [ heurethee (Greek #2147)]. In fact, on comparing what is here said of the eunuch with what we read of Elijah (1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16), it will be seen to be but a repetition of the Lord's method with the ancient prophets on important occasions. (So Bengel, Alford, Lechler, and the great majority of interpretors.) The word, to "catch away" [ harpazoo (Greek #726)], is used (as Bengel notes) to express a similarly supernatural removal, in 2 Corinthians 12:2, and 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

And he went on his way rejoicing. He had found Christ, and the key to the Scriptures; his soul was set free, and his discipleship sealed; he had lost his teacher, but gained what was infinitely better; he felt himself a new man, and "his joy was full." Tradition says he was the first preacher of the Gospel in Ethiopia; and how, indeed, could he choose but "tell what the Lord had done for his soul"? Yet there is no certainty as to any historical connection between his labours and the introduction of Christianity into that country.


Verse 40

But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.

But Philip was found at , [ heurethee (Greek #2147) eis (Greek #1519)], q.d., 'was found brought to:' see Winer, 50. 4, b, and 65. 8]. The idea is that of 'made his appearance,' or 'was next heard of at;' an expression confirming the miraculous manner of his transportation:

Azotus - the ancient "Ashdod," (1 Samuel 5:1, etc.)

And passing through he preached in all the cities - lying along the coast, proceeding northwards-Lydda, Joppa, etc.

Till he came to Cesarea - 55 miles northwest of Jerusalem, on the Mediterranean, just south of mount Carmel; and so named by Herod, who rebuilt it, in honour of Caesar Augustus. At the time when this was written Caesarea was the place where the Roman Procurators resided. Henceforth we lose sight of zealous and honoured Philip, with the exception of a momentary re-appearance when Paul visited him at Caesarea, where he resided Acts 21:8) - as by and by we shall lose sight even of Peter. As the chariot of the Gospel rolls on, other agents are raised up, each suited to his work. But "he that soweth and he that reapeth shall rejoice together" (see the note at John 4:37).

Remarks:

(1) The bearing of this beautiful episode on the commission given forth by the risen Savior to His apostles, "Ye shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in Samaria, and in all Judea, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth," is worthy of notice. So fully had they executed the first part of this commission, that, even their enemies themselves being judges, they had "filled Jerusalem with their doctrine" (Acts 5:28). When persecution drove them from Jerusalem, the brethren then went to "Samaria and all Judea," preaching the Word. The time for the formal opening of the door of faith unto the Gentiles had not yet quite come; but doors for reaching them being meantime providentially opened, it was doubly anticipated-on the one hand by the simple impulses of Christian love in the dispersed disciples (see the note at Acts 8:4), constraining them to declare even to the Gentiles what they had seen and heard, and here, by express divine direction to Philip, taking him out of the midst of blessed work in Samaria, to fetch in a distinguished Gentile proselyte then on his way home to Upper Egypt from Jerusalem.

And not only so, but whereas it was to the apostles that the commission was given, we see this witness borne "in all Judea and in Samaria, and (initially) to the uttermost part of the earth," not by the apostles themselves, who remained in Jerusalem, but by the dispersed disciples, apparently without any special call; nor was Philip divinely directed to carry the Gospel to the eunuch until he had been richly blessed in voluntary work at Samaria. What does all this proclaim? Surely, that while provision is divinely made for the work of the Church being formally and officially done, it is the privilege of all that love the Lord Jesus to embrace whatever openings the providence of Goal may present for extending or building up the kingdom of Christ, according to their gifts; and wherever the joy of God's salvation is strong in any community of Christians, there will such breakings forth of voluntary effort be sure to occur; and when they have the seal of Heaven set upon them-often even more visibly than upon the stated work of the ministry-it will be the part of wise ministers of Christ to recognize and had such efforts, regulating and comprehending them within the sphere of their own labours, as so much additional gain for their Master.

(2) Philip, though called away from a sphere of labour in which he was divinely owned, to go on a desert track, and without any further information, "was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision." One soul thereby gained to Christ was his reward: many others, it may be, were gathered in through him; but of this no trace remains in history. Yet, doubtless, in the eye of Heaven that service was of more importance than any which he might have rendered to the cause of Christ by remaining in Samaria. And since the good that the servants of Christ are to do depends not so much on the largeness of the field, or its apparently promising character, as on the Master's countenance in their work, they will do well to ensure this first, by studying to know His will in all their movements, following simply the manifest leadings of His providence and the guidance of His Spirit.

(3) The preparation of the eunuch for receiving the Gospel was as remarkable as that of the instrument for bringing it to him. His conversion first to the Jewish Faith; his strong desire to mingle in its religious services, leading him, though occupying a high and responsible post, to take a journey to Jerusalem to keep the festival of Pentecost; his remaining there for some time after it was over, evidently from the interest which he felt in all that related to his new Religion; his not only having a copy of the Scriptures in his possession (no doubt the Greek Septuagint), but reading it alond on his way home; still more, "the place of the scripture which he read" - of all others the richest in the Old Testament in Evangelical matter; then Philip's coming up just as he had come to the meek submission of the slaughtered Lamb, in a somewhat obscure part of the chapter; the eagerness with which the traveler, coming up to him, asked if he understood it; his frank confession that he needed a guide, and his invitation to the traveler to come up and sit with him; and, beyond all, the alacrity with which he drank in Philip's exposition of the work of Christ from that text, his eager desire to be baptized at the first place where water was found, and the joy with which he went on his way alone after this-all these majestic steps in this case show a divine preparation for the result, as instructive as it is remarkable.

Another such series of preparatory steps we shall by and by find in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48) - just the reverse of the case of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1-43); and there can be no doubt that similar preparations in providence are made in every age and every land for most of the more important accessions to Christ, whether of individuals or of territories. In the view of this, should not the servants of Christ be on the watch, and lie in wait to be employed on such errands as this of Philip? and if they did, perhaps they would have more of them than otherwise falls to their lot.

(4) Are we, or are we not, to regard Philip's views of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, and the change on the eunuch's views in consequence, as indicating the true interpretation of that chapter? That after being divinely directed to meet this distinguished convert to the Jewish Faith, and bring him to the reception of the Gospel, Philip should have been permitted to do this by an erroneous (even though honest) application of that celebrated prophecy to Christ, and that the eunuch, yielding to this false view of the connection between the Faith he had before embraced and that now propounded to him, was baptized and departed rejoicing in what was, to a large extent, a mistake-is not for a moment to be thought of. Nor let it be said that though Philip took "this scripture" as his starting-point, it was the historical sketch which he would doubtless give him of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, with the subsequent descent of the Spirit, and the beginnings of the Church, that he would lay the chief stress upon, and that would constitute the ground of the eunuch's faith and joy, and not the sense put upon that prophetic chapter.

On the contrary, the natural impression certainly is, that Philip's express design was to show, and that he succeeded in showing, to this inquiring eunuch that "this scripture" which he had been reading had its divinely intended and proper fulfillment in the sufferings and death of "Jesus" - the history and the prophecy being just the complement of each other. If this be correct, it refutes some modern theories of the interpretation of prophecy. We speak not here of those which are based on the denial of all that is supernatural in the Old Testament, but of such as that of the late Dr. Arnold-that prophecy is not intended to predict historical events at all, and has to do only with principles, holding forth the conflict of good and evil, and the ultimate issues of both. But even such theories as that of the late Dr. J.A. Alexander, in his 'Commentary on Isaiah'-that not Christ personally, but Christ and His Church together, as one complex, mystical Person, is the proper subject of all the Messianic prophecies-must be regarded, we think, in the light of this narrative, as an inadequate key to the interpretation of that chapter. Though there is an important truth at the Bottom of that theory, we cannot but think that, as a key for the interpretation of this chapter, it would have been positively in Philip's way, if it had been before his mind at all; and that the facility and directness with which he got from "this scripture" to "Jesus," whom he preached from it, and the readiness with which the eunuch fell in with the view given him of the chapter and the tidings brought him of Jesus, speak much for the old and all but unanimous opinion of the Church, that the personal sufferings of Christ, and the glories to follow them, are the direct and proper burden of this prophetic chapter.

(5) The joy with which the eunuch embraced Christ crucified, and went on his way after his baptism admits of no satisfactory explanation except that of the expiatory character of Christ's death. We have the old Socinian theory of it now dressed up in new forms and more plausible phraseology, by a school of divines professing orthodoxy, but fond of inveighing against all traditional conceptions of biblical truth. Such hold Forth Christ's sufferings and death simply as a historical event, but one by which God intended that a transcendent examples should be given to the world of self-sacrifice in His service, by drinking into the spirit of which we are to be made partakers of the glory in which He now reigns. Who can possibly suppose that this, or anything like this, was what made the eunuch go on his way rejoicing? But if, as Peter told Cornelius and his company, "the word which God sent unto the children of Israel" was a word "preaching peace by Jesus Christ" (Acts 10:36); if, as Paul told the Jews in the synagogue of Antioch, "through this man was preached unto them the forgiveness of sins, and by Him all that believe are justified from all things" (Acts 13:38-39); if, in short, he taught the eunuch, in terms of the prophetic chapter which he was reading, that "the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all" - then is the joy of the eunuch easily understood. For it is the joy of a purged conscience, the joy of peace with God through the blood of the cross, the joy of having found the God with whom He had become acquainted through the Old Testament a reconciled Father-a joy which every pardoned child of God understands from his own experience-a joy which would send him home lightened of his chiefest burden, to serve his mistress in a new character and to higher ends than ever before.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Acts 8:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/acts-8.html. 1871-8.

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