Acts Chapter 8: Saul, Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Jan 27th, 2010 | By | Category: Acts, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Acts Chapter 8: Saul

Acts 8:1 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.

Acts 8:2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

Acts 8:3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

Saul consented to the stoning of Stephen. Having been trained under the Law, he probably felt duty-bound to do so. He considered his defense of God to be just and righteous, and he did not see that his actions were a perversion of reason.

Comment: Saul’s conversion occurred within a year after Jesus’ death. The tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the early Church and their oneness of spirit, as well as the “great persecution” that followed, also took place in the same year.

Reply: Yes, opposite experiences were compacted into that first year—from elation and a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit to immediate and intense persecution, of which Stephen was the first martyr. He was very zealous but was cut off in death shortly after getting the Holy Spirit.

No doubt he had had Old Testament training before his Spirit begettal.

In witnessing the zeal and boldness of Stephen, Paul would have reasoned that if Stephen was an example of a believer, then believers were dangerous. Saul felt he had to contain the Christian movement lest the Jewish priesthood be overthrown. He was an example of one who has the right motive of wanting to serve God but lacks understanding. When he did accept Christ, he left everything to follow in his steps.

Providence protected the apostles there in Jerusalem, whereas other disciples (“the church”) were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Saul entered homes to hale (pull out) men and women and remand them to prison, persecution, and death. The apostles were miraculously spared because they were meant to be foundation stones and had a ministry to perform. Saul was a Jew but evidently had obtained Roman citizenship through his father, who had a large estate and was very wealthy. Paul was “free born” through the purchase of Roman citizenship at great expense before he became a Christian (Acts 22:28). Later in his life, he was providentially sent to Rome as a Roman citizen.

Acts 8:4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.

Acts 8:5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

Acts 8:6 And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.

Acts 8:7 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.

Acts 8:8 And there was great joy in that city.

Philip (not the apostle) did many miracles in Samaria, where the woman at the well was from (John 4:5-7). Jesus had told his disciples to preach (1) in Jerusalem and Judea, (2) in Samaria, and (3) to the Gentiles. The persecution providentially directed the spread of the gospel by displacing the disciples from their homes, disrupting the communal arrangement, and stopping the holding of all goods in common. However, the disciples were zealous, not despondent, for they were rewarded by being able to preach the gospel and do many miracles. The Samaritans, being a mixture of Jew and Gentile, were considered half-breeds, and soon would come the incident with the Ethiopian eunuch, a proselyte. But Cornelius would be the first Gentile convert in the full sense of the word, and that would not occur until AD 36, three years hence.

Acts 8:9 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:

Acts 8:10 To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.

Acts 8:11 And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.

Acts 8:12 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.

Acts 8:13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

Philip’s miracles far exceeded what Simon had been doing through witchcraft. When Simon recognized this fact, he believed and went through the motions of being baptized. “Simony,” which was derived from this Simon, was the practice of the Roman Catholic Church to grant bishoprics for money to mere professed believers who were really unregenerate. For many thousands of dollars, the pope assigned a territory over which an individual would have religious jurisdiction and authority. The purchase had nothing to do with the Holy Spirit or the manifestation of zeal for God and truth.

Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:

Acts 8:15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:

Acts 8:16 (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

Acts 8:17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

Verse 16 should have the pronoun “it” for the Holy Spirit. After Philip did wonderful miracles, the believers were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. However, they did not receive the Holy Spirit until the apostles came, for despite all of the miracles, Philip could not confer the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the apostles Peter and John were sent from Jerusalem to Samaria for this purpose, and when they laid their hands on the newly consecrated ones, immediately the Holy Spirit was received. Back there the receiving of a mechanical gift was viewed as a bona fide assurance of one’s acceptance.

There were many intricacies in how these baptisms took place in the early Church: the kind of baptism, who received the baptism, etc. This subject has been very little explored, and even the general rules have exceptions.

Acts 8:18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,

Acts 8:19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.

Acts 8:20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

Acts 8:21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.

Acts 8:22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

Acts 8:23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

Simon wanted to purchase the power to convey the Holy Spirit to others by the laying on of hands. In other words, he wanted to duplicate what the apostles could do. In condemning this desire of Simon, Peter was again the leading spokesman. Peter told him to repent of his evil heart condition, saying (paraphrased), “Pray to God that perhaps the evil thought of your heart will be forgiven.” Notice that the forgiveness had to come from God. Although we can forgive some sins, other sins are the prerogative of God. Repentance and the retracing of wrong steps are the minimum requirement for blessing and forgiveness, but forgiveness is up to God.

Comment: Actually, Peter was being merciful to expose the sin so that Simon could ask for prayer and forgiveness.

Reply: Yes, and Peter spoke strong words, saying that Simon was “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” The taste of bile is very bitter. Bile is one of the first things to be removed from the carcass of an animal that is to be cooked. Otherwise, it would poison the food. The point is that strong talk is necessary when strong steps have to be taken for reconciliation to God.

Generally speaking, only the apostles could confer the Holy Spirit, but there were exceptions. This ability helped to distinguish between the service of apostles and that of the brotherhood whether or not an individual was an elder. For example, apostolic doctrinal statements and teachings were infallible. Simon was asking for apostolic power.

Acts 8:24 Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.

Acts 8:25 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.

It is favorable that Simon recognized the authority of Peter and John and asked for their prayers. Simon felt that if he was in the gall of bitterness, he was in no condition to pray for himself and he needed the prayers of the apostles. By Peter’s not saying that Simon was healed, the others were left with a fear of pursuing such a course. Otherwise, some would have taken the approach or attitude, “Sin now and ask for forgiveness later.”

Brethren often do not recognize the superiority of another. Some are not able to appreciate the motive(s) of one who is on a higher level, yet a humble person would give credit based on Jesus’ statement “If you do not believe me, believe my works” (John 10:38 paraphrase). Even if one’s actions are not understood, wisdom would say to believe the brother for his works.

Humility can admit to a higher motive even if the act is not understood, and humility and faith can bridge understanding and thus accept things on a higher level. Of course when the 144,000 are revealed, a lot of questions will be answered. God’s will and decision will stop all mouths at that time.

Acts 8:26 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.

An angel told Philip the evangelist to go “toward the south” and not to a specific destination.

Philip was to get on the main road that went from Jerusalem to Egypt by way of Gaza. Thus Philip knew where to go but did not know what to expect. It was a simple direction of obedience. As both a city and a locality, Gaza was the last outlying district before entering Egypt. Just to clarify: Philip was not told to go to Gaza but to go south and get on the road that led to Gaza.

Acts 8:27 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,

Philip obeyed. The Ethiopian eunuch had just finished a mission to go to Jerusalem to worship.

Now he was returning home to Ethiopia, but he was still in Israel at this point. He was probably a proselyte to the Jewish faith, as was Ruth the Moabitess. The eunuch had to be a “Jew” in some respect because the gospel was not opened to the Gentiles until AD 36, the end of the 70 weeks’ prophecy, which began in 454 BC, the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes. Coming from Ethiopia, he would have been black.

Since the eunuch had charge of all the treasure of the queen and was a man “of great authority,” it speaks well for the queen that she permitted him to leave for a period of time.

Ethiopia was at least 500 miles from Jerusalem, so this was quite a trip, even by chariot. Since there were several Candaces, we do not know which one this was. “Candace” is probably a female title like “Cleopatra.”

In that day, Ethiopia was considered the outpost of civilization in land travel. The Queen of Sheba “came from the uttermost parts of the earth [a comparable distance] to hear the wisdom of Solomon,” but she came by boat to Eilat and then traveled by land (Matt. 12:42).

Acts 8:28 Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.

The eunuch was sitting in his chariot and reading Isaiah aloud.

Q: How did the eunuch get a copy of Isaiah when scrolls were kept in the Temple?

A: To be in charge of the queen’s treasury meant that he was a man of wealth, as well as a man of great authority, so although scrolls were scarce, it was possible to purchase one at considerable cost. For the common man, scrolls were available only in the synagogue.

Comment: What zeal and intense interest he showed to travel more than 500 miles and then go to a lot of effort to find a scroll to purchase for a large sum of money!

Reply: Although he would not have come annually to worship, it had probably been on his heart to worship at Jerusalem for some time, and this was the year for the journey. The fact he had a chariot confirms both his wealth and his authority.

Acts 8:29 Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.

Acts 8:30 And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?

Philip was told by the Holy Spirit to go near the eunuch’s chariot and “join” himself to it.

Whether the Spirit spoke mechanically in his inner ear or whether he felt compelled by the Spirit to go to the chariot, we do not know, but the latter may have happened. At any rate, he sensed that the incident about to unfold was the object of his being sent “toward the south.”

“Philip ran thither” to the eunuch and the chariot. This bit of information tells us that the chariot was moving and that it had passed Philip. He probably did not pay much attention to the chariot when it first passed him, and although he may have heard the eunuch reading, the words were not intelligible. But then he put certain pieces together and realized how unusual the situation was. After a delayed reaction, he sensed that he should run after the chariot, which was now going in the opposite direction. After his baptism, Jesus was similarly compelled, and thus he went into the wilderness to fast, meditate, pray, and study. The Holy Spirit sometimes “speaks” through impulse or emotion.

Comment: When Philip was first told to go south to the main road between Jerusalem and Egypt, he was probably very alert, watching to ascertain the reason for his being sent there.

Subsequently he may have daydreamed or had a lapse of concentration. Then, when the Spirit spoke to him, the situation registered, and he ran after the chariot.

Reply: Philip would have run abreast of the chariot at first and been able to distinguish the words the eunuch was reading aloud from the Book of Isaiah. A natural question under the circumstances was, “Do you understand what you are reading?” No doubt an expression or smile on Philip’s face was conducive to continuing the conversation.

Acts 8:31 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.

The eunuch gave a humble answer: “How can I, except some man should guide me?” What an open invitation to Philip! The eunuch then asked Philip to come up into the chariot and sit with him. Having been reading aloud, the eunuch sensed from Philip’s question that this stranger could explain Isaiah 53:7,8. Obviously, the eunuch was struggling to understand, and the bumpy chariot ride made the reading even more difficult. Hence he was very intense in his desire to understand.

Acts 8:32 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:

Acts 8:33 In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.

Most Jews knew Greek and Hebrew, so the eunuch was probably reading from the Septuagint, which Philip understood. Under this providential setting, Philip seized on the moment as a wonderful opportunity to say the Isaiah text was speaking about Jesus.

We will take a moment to discuss part of the paraphrased quote from Isaiah 53:8, “In his [Jesus’] humiliation his judgment was taken away.” What is the thought of “judgment” in this context? Although Jesus was the Son of God, he did not exercise power to save himself. He did not call on angels to save him but humbled himself and willingly submitted “unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7,8). Jesus’ role of humiliation is that he was meek and did not try to defend himself or finagle himself out of being crucified. Earlier he boldly and loudly defended himself and his doctrine to the masses. During his ministry, he was without fear and bold like a lion, but the day or two before his death, there was a radical and sudden change in Jesus’ demeanor. He submitted willingly to humiliation in his death on the Cross. In his “judgment [right to life],” he was falsely condemned, two false witnesses with trumped-up charges having testified against him. “Who shall declare his generation [offspring]? for his life [and seed] is taken from the earth.” When Jesus died, he left no offspring. He was unmarried and had no children—and hence no posterity. Therefore, his “life” and seed were taken from the earth.

Acts 8:34 And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?

The eunuch asked of whom Isaiah was speaking. Sensing that Philip knew something, the eunuch was desirous for any clue that would assist him in his understanding. He wanted to know, “Was the Prophet Isaiah speaking of his own experience or of another personage?”

Acts 8:35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.

Philip had said nothing more until now. At this point, he “opened his mouth, and began [to speak],” starting with the Isaiah text and then going to many other Scriptures to preach Jesus and to show how they were fulfilled in the personage of Christ. The explanation would have taken some time, and we know that the eunuch was receiving the words with joy because of what happened subsequently.

Acts 8:36 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?

The chariot was still moving as Philip and the eunuch came in sight of water. The eunuch immediately suggested that he be baptized: “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”

Comment: Obviously, Philip had covered much ground in witnessing for the eunuch to make such a comment.

Reply: Yes. In recounting why he believed Jesus was the true Messiah, Philip must have brought in the subject of water baptism. What an ideal situation! The candidate saw the water and asked for and desired consecration and baptism without being urged or pressured by others. Apparently, Philip had preached a very powerful and complete yet simple sermon. The eunuch, a man of great authority, was meek (teachable) and humble.

Acts 8:37 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.

Although this verse is probably spurious, the Revised Standard Version says that some ancient manuscripts include all or some of it. Nevertheless, the comments are appropriate.

Acts 8:38 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.

The eunuch commanded the chariot to stop, and Philip baptized him in the water. Perhaps the water was in a wadi, which the Lord would have filled through a rainstorm. The eunuch had not come alone in the chariot, for he commanded other(s) to stop the vehicle. Obviously, he had servants and was not driving the chariot himself.

Q: Philip was not an apostle, and the eunuch was going back to Ethiopia where there were no apostles. Therefore, did the eunuch receive the Holy Spirit from the evangelist?

A: It would seem so, but the account does not so state. Some Scriptures later in the Book of Acts give us leeway to surmise that the eunuch did receive the Holy Spirit. Although it was rare for one to receive the Holy Spirit without an apostle being present, exceptions did occur. This Philip was the same individual (the evangelist, not the apostle) as in Acts 6:5; 8:5; and 21:8.

Acts 8:39 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.

Acts 8:40 But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.

After the eunuch’s baptism, the Spirit of the Lord translated Philip to Azotus, which was 30 to 40 miles away. The eunuch went on his way rejoicing because he thought he had seen an angel.

This experience would have lasted him a lifetime. In returning home, the eunuch went to Gaza and then into Egypt and up the Nile to Ethiopia, which was a great distance of 500 to 600 miles from Jerusalem.

From Azotus (Ashdod?) to Caesarea, Philip testified and witnessed in all the cities about this experience. Incidentally, Elijah and Enoch were also translated.

(1991–1992 Study)

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