6. Philip Evangelizes Samaria and Baptizes an Ethiopian (Acts 8)

Audio (37:43)

Design: Edward Burne-Jones, 'Philip the Deacon Baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch' (1876), stained glass, St. Barnabas Chapel (Mission Church), Norfolk Island, Australia; window by Morris & Co.
Design: Edward Burne-Jones, 'Philip the Deacon Baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch' (1876), stained glass, St. Barnabas Chapel (Mission Church), Norfolk Island, Australia; window by Morris & Co. Larger image.

In Acts 6 we are introduced to seven men who are selected by the Jerusalem congregation -- and confirmed by the apostles through the laying on of hands -- to oversee the church's daily distribution of food to the widows, to make sure that the Greek-speaking widows weren't shorted. These are men filled with the Spirit as one of their qualifying characteristics.

One of these is Stephen. But in addition to administrative work for the congregation, Stephen is an effective preacher and healer in Jerusalem, especially among the Greek-speaking population. The next of these Seven to become visible to us is Philip, who we'll examine in this lesson.

6.1 Intense Persecution (Acts 8:1-4)

Acts 8 opens with a wicked frenzy. Jewish believers are fleeing Jerusalem to surrounding Judea and even Samaria to escape a wave of intense persecution precipitated by Stephen's stoning.

"And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison." (Acts 8:1-3)

Now we come to a new word in Acts: "persecution." "Persecution" (diōgmos) refers to "a program or process designed to harass and oppress someone, persecution" for reasons of belief. But this isn't some kind of low-grade fever. Luke describes it as a "great persecution," suggesting extreme intensity and zeal.[318]Marshall observes,

"The successful attack on Stephen was the signal for a wider attack on the church in Jerusalem, no doubt instigated by the same group that had attacked him."[319]

Since the apostles (who are Galileans) remain in Jerusalem, it is probable that the persecution was primarily focused on Greek-speaking Jewish believers, not so much on Palestinian believers.320 Saul, whom we know as the Apostle Paul, is probably from the zealous Synagogue of the Freedman himself (Acts 6:9), and is incensed that his kind of people have embraced what he believes is a false messiah.

Saul is on the rampage. Notice the violent verbs.

"Saul began to destroy321 the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off322 men and women and put them323 in prison." (Acts 8:3)

Saul does everything he can to disrupt gatherings, arrest leaders, and even threaten them with death if they don't cease and desist from preaching about Jesus as Messiah. Later, Paul recalls: "I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man"324 (1 Timothy 1:13). He was personally involved in the round-up of Christians in Jerusalem, and as we'll see in Acts 9, as far away as the Jewish community in Damascus.

Formal Punishments in New Testament Times

I've wondered what prison has to do with this persecution. It is common in the 21st century to see a prison term as a punishment for crime, but this wasn't the pattern among the Jews of this time.325 Prison was not a sentence, but a pre-trial holding strategy. True, some, like John the Baptist and Paul were held for a long time without a hearing, but there was no prison sentence. Jewish jurisprudence was administered by a sanhedrin. The Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem ruled Judaism, while each synagogue had a sanhedrin of elders that judged cases and disciplined local members. Typical punishments might be:

  1. Fines of various kinds.
  2. Scourging. The Romans allowed the Jews 40 lashes less one, lest they might kill the prisoner.
  3. Excommunication. Expulsion from the synagogue and Jewish community.
  4. Death. Death by stoning was reserved for the most extreme cases such as blasphemy, but since the Romans forbade the Jews capital punishment, it was seldom practiced, except perhaps as some kind of mob violence that I think we see in the case of Stephen (Acts 7:57-60)

Saul's persecution consisted of imprisoning Christians and forcing them to be tried before their local synagogue's sanhedrin and punished as severely as possible (Acts 26:11). Saul also received authority from the Great Sanhedrin to arrest Christian Jews and bring them to Jerusalem for trial. In Paul's testimony before King Herod Agrippa in Caesarea, you can see both venues mentioned.

"9 I ... was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them." (Acts 26:9-11)

If Saul could get the Jewish Christians to say something that could be seen as blasphemy, he could try for the death penalty, though (with the exception of Stephen and perhaps a few others), most punishments would more likely be a severe lashing and expulsion from the synagogue and thus the Jewish community.

Spreading the Message of Jesus (Acts 8:1, 4; 11:19)

One of the ironies of Saul's persecution is that God used the persecution to spread the gospel far beyond its beginnings in Jerusalem.

"On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered326 throughout Judea and Samaria.... 4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went."327 (Acts 8 :1, 4)

"Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch...." (Acts 11:19)

Remember the main premise and outline of the Book of Acts:

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

I am sure that there was much hand-wringing and sorrow among the believers at the persecution. But in spite of the evil Saul intended against Jesus' Church, God practices a kind of spiritual jujitsu and uses the very persecution to work out his plan to spread the Good News of Jesus all over the known world.

There may be some terrible things going on in your life right now. God is able to take stumbling blocks and turn them into stepping stones for his people (Romans 8:28; Genesis 50:20). We don't praise God for evil, but we can and should praise God in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:17; Psalm 34:1).

Q1. (Acts 8:1, 4; 11:19) What enables us to give thanks in all circumstances? What was the short-term effect of Saul's persecution? What was the longer-term effect?

6.2 Philip Evangelizes Samaria (Acts 8:5-25)

Philip is one of the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians that Saul is targeting. So he and many of his comrades leave Jerusalem, the center of the persecution, and travel to the outlying country in the Roman province of Judea. Some escape to Samaria, an area where these Jerusalem Jewish leaders will have no friends, since the Samaritans and Jews had excommunicated each other. The Samaritans had worshipped in a temple they built on Mount Gerizim in the mid-5th century BC. Jewish extremists destroyed it in the 2nd century BC. There was no love lost between the Jews and Samaritans.

Judea and Samaria at the time of Saul's persecution.
Judea and Samaria at the time of Saul's persecution. Larger map.

Philip probably isn't a Palestinian Jew, but a Jew born in one of the great cities around the Mediterranean, far from the Jewish-Samaritan controversy. God has sent him to Samaria perhaps because he doesn't carry so much cultural baggage. He may also be viewed differently by the Samaritans.

Proclaiming Christ in Samaria (Acts 8:5-25)

The specific Samaritan city Philip travels to isn't clear. It could have been Sebaste (formerly Samaria) or Sychar (formerly Shechem), where Jesus had visited and evangelized a few years before (John 4).328 We're not sure.

"5 Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6 When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city." (Acts 8:5-7)

In verse 4 the evangelism is described by the phrase "preached the word" or "message" (logos) with the verb euangelizō, "proclaim good news."329 Verse 5 employs the word kērussō, "proclaim aloud."330 This is no quiet friendship or service evangelism -- though God can use these powerfully. This is overtly speaking the good news about Jesus. Philip "proclaimed the Christ there," that is, he declares Jesus to be the Messiah.

Notice how the crowds "paid close attention331 to what he said." No doubt the Holy Spirit anoints his message. But the other factor is the presence of signs and wonders in fulfillment of Jesus' promise in Mark 16:17. Sadly, in our day, healing evangelism isn't practiced as much in America, and has gotten a bad name, though we've seen this effective in winning people in Africa and Asia in recent years. The combination of preaching Christ and healing the sick is powerful; it is the pattern Jesus taught his disciples.

Luke mentions three kinds of signs of the Kingdom here:

  1. Exorcism. Evil spirits are being cast out, and making quite a show of it "with shrieks,"332 as these demonic spirits struggle unsuccessfully to resist the power of Jesus' name.
  2. Paralytics healed.333 Once they were lying in the house all day, too weak to get up, or muscles that had atrophied from strokes. Now they are whole!
  3. Cripples restored.334 Many had bones that hadn't been properly set when broken, or pulled ligaments that forced a constant limp. Now they can walk, run, and dance for joy.

All these are signs that point to the Kingdom of God of the resurrected Messiah Jesus. The result is "great joy in that city." In Jerusalem, powerful healings bring rage from the leaders and plots to kill. In Samaria, amazing miracles bring open joy in God's goodness and faith in Jesus. Open, hungry hearts make the difference.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit by the Hands of the Apostles (Acts 8:12-17)

Next, Luke introduces Simon the Sorcerer, but I want to delay discussing him for a moment while we consider the unexpected way the Spirit comes to the Samaritans.

"12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women....

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted335 the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply336 been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:12, 14-17)

Philip's preaching accompanied by signs and wonders sparks a genuine faith in the Samaritans.337 Seeing this, Philip baptizes them. After all, Jesus had told the apostles that the gospel would go to Samaria (Acts 1:8).

But something unexpected happens. They don't receive the Holy Spirit when they are baptized like Philip is used to during the early days of the Jerusalem church.

"The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them;
they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 8:16)

Philip sends a report back to the mother church in Jerusalem, probably by one of his coworkers, and the church sends Peter and John out to investigate this new event of Samaritans coming to faith. Though Jesus had evangelized Sychar and healed some Samaritan lepers (John 4:1-42), he had specifically restricted his disciples from preaching in Samaritan towns on their training mission (Matthew 5:10). There is something new going on and it raises several questions.

Signs of the Spirit's Coming in Samaria

How did Philip know the Samaritans hadn't received the Spirit? We're not told, but looking at the pattern in the Book of Acts we can guess that they didn't manifest some kind of response such as praise, prophecy, or speaking in tongues. It is important to note, however, that often in Acts, no such phenomenon is mentioned when the Spirit comes. Some have made this into a doctrine: that the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. Though I can understand how they got there, I contend in my study Disciple's Guide to the Holy Spirit (JesusWalk Publications, 2018) that while tongues, praise, and prophecy were sometimes present in the early days, the scarcity of the mention of speaking tongues in the New Testament suggest that such a restrictive doctrine of tongues as a necessary evidence of the Spirit Baptism is overstated and goes beyond the teaching of the apostles.338

Why didn't the Samaritans receive the Holy Spirit when they believed in Christ and were baptized? We can speculate, probably correctly, that God caused this delay in order to get apostles from Jerusalem to travel to Samaria to witness and give their blessing to the fact that Samaritans are now included in the family of God. They are no longer to be considered the "black sheep" of the Jewish family. The Samaritan believers become full members of the household of faith.

Metaphors of the Spirit's Coming

Notice the metaphors here for the coming of the Spirit:

  • "Receive"339 suggests taking possession of a gift or something offered by another (Acts 2:38; Acts 8:15, 17; 10:47; 19:2).
  • "Come upon" or "fallen upon"340 suggests a power overcoming or overwhelming a person from above. (Acts 1:8; 8:16; 10:44; 19:6).
  • "Was given"341 emphasizes the gift element of the Holy Spirit's coming (Acts 5:32; 8:18; 15:8).

As we study Acts we see other expressions such as "fill," "baptize," "pour out," etc. (Lesson 1, Lesson 2, and Lesson 8). I believe that these are used synonymously. We can expect new experiences in the Spirit as we open ourselves to him. We can also expect special "fillings" for particular ministry situations (Acts 4:8, 31; 13:9; etc.). We can't put the Spirit in a doctrinal box. He is God. And it is such a wonderful privilege to have him dwelling in us!

Q2. (Acts 8:4-17) What convinced the Samaritans to believe in Jesus? In your opinion, why didn't the Holy Spirit fall on them at the time of their baptism? Why did Peter and John have to come first?

Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8:9-11, 18-24)

I've delayed introducing the villain of the story -- Simon the Sorcerer, sometimes known as Simon Magus. However, Simon's part in the narrative teaches us some important things about the Holy Spirit also.

"9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, 'This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.' 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic." (Acts 8:9-11)

"Practiced sorcery" (NIV, cf. KJV), "practiced magic" (ESV, NRSV) is the verb mageuō.342 But this isn't the modern-day magician of sleight-of-hand tricks and pulling rabbits out of hats. This is kind of a cross between folk Judaism, magic healing remedies, wearing amulets, casting spells, and reliance on special incantations. No doubt there was a strong element of the demonic, since you find these sorcerers opposing the message of Christ (Acts 13:6-12).

Perhaps you wouldn't find this kind of sorcery in orthodox Jerusalem due to strong prohibitions in the Pentateuch,343 but the Jewish communities in the pagan cities of the Mediterranean were subject to syncretism with the mystery religions that flourished at this time. It doesn't seem to be that uncommon.344 In Acts we see:

  • Simon Magus in Samaria (Acts 8:9-24)
  • Bar-Jesus in Paphos, Crete (Acts 13:6-12)6-12)
  • Seven sons of Sceva and those who had valuable magic scrolls in Ephesus (Acts 19:13-19).

Simon Magus seems to enjoy the status and control he has had and is filled with pride. "He boasted that he was someone great" (Acts 8:9), thriving on being the center of attention. The people call him "the divine power known as the Great Power" (Acts 8:10b) for he amazes them with what he could do. This is little short of blasphemy!

But Simon is completely outclassed by the signs and wonders that Philip performs in Samaria and he becomes a believer -- how sincere, we don't know.

"Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw." (Acts 8:13)

No doubt he follows Philip to see if he could learn the trick of the miracles so he can reproduce them.

Simon Magus Rebuked (Acts 8:18-24)

When Simon sees the apostles convey the Spirit, he wants that power also.

"18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money 19 and said, 'Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 8:18-19)

Peter, with prophetic insight into Simon's character and motives, rebukes him sharply.

"May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money!" (Acts 8:20)

"May your money perish with you," sounds a bit strong. But it probably catches more of the actual sense if we were to roughly translate it as, "May you burn in hell with your money!" -- that's the sense of the verb -- "annihilation."345 To try to purchase spiritual power makes this an entirely transactional exchange, while we're talking about what God gives away free -- "the gift of God."

Peter pierces right into Simon's heart.

"21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought346 in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin." (Acts 8:21-23)

"Your heart is not right" is our way of expressing it. The text uses the contrast between straight and crooked to express moral uprightness.347 Peter doesn't sense that Simon is completely beyond repentance and forgiveness, but doesn't offer strong assurance.348 Peter's analysis of Simon's condition is:

  • Wickedness. So often we soften our perception of our own sins as excusable weakness. Peter calls it for what it is: depravity and wickedness,349 the opposite of any virtue.
  • Bitterness. "Full of bitterness" (NIV) or "gall of bitterness" (ESV, NRSV, KJV). Perhaps this Semitic idiom suggests "bitter poison" or "bitter envy."350
  • Captive to sin (NIV) or perhaps "chains of wickedness" (NRSV).351 Jesus teaches that when we practice sin, it begins to exert a hold on us that cannot be easily broken.352 Sin is not free. We need the deliverance of Jesus to set us free from its hold on our behavior and thinking.

Peter's words frighten Simon.

"Then Simon answered, 'Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.'" (Acts 8:24)

I wish I could report that Simon repented and his life changed. But the Church Fathers indicate that Simon Magus continued in sin, became the father of Gnosticism and spawned an heretical sect.353

Seeking to use spiritual gifts for personal gain is at the root of Simon Magus's sin, as well as jealousy and pride. Using money to obtain a spiritual power or to purchase influence in the church or in heaven is deeply offensive to God. The sin of simony is named after Simon Magus, the sin of buying and selling ecclesiastical offices.

Q3. (Acts 8:9-25) What is at the root of Simon Magus's sin? Why is using money to buy spiritual influence, power, and salvation so deeply offensive to God? How is it opposite to God's way? Where do you see this sin in the modern church?

Peter and John Preach in Samaria (Acts 8:25)

Once Jesus had prohibited the disciples from preaching the Kingdom in Samaritan towns (Matthew 10:5), but no more (Acts 1:8). On their way back to Jerusalem, Peter and John preach their way through Samaria.

"When they had testified and proclaimed the word of the Lord, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many Samaritan villages." (Acts 8:25)

As Jews, believers in the Jerusalem church had tended to ignore that they were to be "a light to the nations"; rather they shunned Samaritans and Gentiles. This breakthrough in Samaria begins to change the way the Jerusalem church looks at the recipients of salvation. And there is more to come. Beyond the Samaritan half-Jews, God has his eye on rank Gentiles as we'll see in Acts 10.

6.3 Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40)

Herbert Boeckl, 'Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch,' (1952-60), Angel's Chapel, Seckau Abbey, Styria, Austria
Herbert Boeckl, 'Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch,' (1952-60), Angel's Chapel, Seckau Abbey, Styria, Austria

Philip has had a powerful ministry in Samaria, but now God contacts him through an angel. This could have immediately followed the Samaritan revival, but there might be intervening time -- we're not told.

"26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road -- the desert road -- that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians." (Acts 8:26-27)

Ethiopia (Cush)

The ancient kingdom of Ethiopia (Kush)
The ancient kingdom of Ethiopia (Kush). Larger map.

The man in the chariot is a high official of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia (Greek Aithiops; Hebrew, Kush) with its capital at Meroë. Ethiopia, also known as Cush and Nubia in the Bible, lay along the Upper Nile, below the First Cataract at Aswan south to Khartoum.

There is a history of Jewish colonies in Egypt, going back to the 7th century BC. After the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC, a group Jewish refugees fled to Egypt (2 Kings 25:26). One polytheistic Jewish sect settled on the island of Elephantine near Aswan and built a temple to Yahweh, which was destroyed in 410 BC. Jeremiah and Zephaniah both mention Jews who have settled in Upper Egypt (Jeremiah 44:1; Zephaniah 3:10).

Beginning with Queen Baratare (ca. 284-275 BC), Ethiopia had a history of female rule. "Candace" is the Ethiopic word for "queen (mother)," a title rather than a name. Scholars believe that the Candace mentioned in Acts 8:27 may be Amanitere, who perhaps survived her husband Natakamun and was ruling as queen mother in his place.354

In Acts 8:27 we meet a court official of the Kingdom of Kush -- "an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians." He is described as a eunouchos, "a castrated male person."355 It was common for officers serving with queens to be eunuchs. He is also described as a dynastēs, one who is in a position to command others, here, a "court official."356

"This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet." (Acts 8:27b-28)

That he had gone to Jerusalem to worship suggests that he is a God-fearer, sympathetic to the moral faith preached by the Jews. He is reading an expensive scroll of the Prophet Isaiah on his way home to Ethiopia. That he asks Philip to explain it to him suggests that he isn't a full Jew himself but rather a sympathetic inquirer.

Go to the Road, Catch Up with the Chariot (Acts 8:26-29)

One of the interesting elements of this passage is the way Philip is "nudged" by the Lord to be in the right place at the right time.357

"26 An angel of the Lord said to Philip, 'Go south to the road -- the desert road -- that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.' 27a So he started out.... 29 The Spirit told Philip, 'Go to that chariot and stay near it.' 30a Then Philip ran up to the chariot...." (Acts 8:26-27a, 29-30a)

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40)
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). Larger map.

We aren't told where Philip is when the angel tells him where to go. But when he hears the first command to "go south to the road," he obeys. It just so happens that he sees a chariot coming down the road, obviously the conveyance of a rich personage.

Now comes the second command, in this case from the Spirit: "Go to the chariot and stay near it." As the chariot approaches, Philip starts jogging until he is running at the same speed alongside. The nudgings of the Holy Spirit have got him to the right place at the right time, ready to minister.

I've found that such nudgings or whispers of the Holy Spirit are not uncommon when we seek to walk close to the Lord. We can sensitize our ears to listen and then respond to what we believe the Lord is saying. By obeying what we believe we are hearing, we can begin to discern what God's voice sounds like and learn this part of discipleship. The more you hear the Lord's voice, the easier it is to recognize.

Q4. (Acts 8:26-29). Notice how Philip learns what to do -- from an angel (verse 26) and from the Spirit (verse 29). Can God speak to us today by his Spirit, or was this just for the first century?

Jesus, the Suffering Servant (Acts 8:30-35)

"Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet." (Acts 8:30a)

Philip is now jogging alongside and sees the man trying to read aloud a scroll while riding in a chariot -- no mean feat! The passage he is reading from is Isaiah 53, which talks about the Servant's atoning death for our sins. Philip recognizes that the Spirit has set him up to witness, so he begins to engage the man in conversation.

"30b 'Do you understand what you are reading?' Philip asked.

31 'How can I,' he said, 'unless someone explains it to me?' So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:

    'He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
    33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.'" (Acts 8:30b-33, quoting Isaiah 53:7-8)

Now the Ethiopian asks a leading question. The man is hungry!

"34 The eunuch asked Philip, 'Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?' 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus." (Acts 8:34-35)

Of course, Philip explains to the man how Jesus' death on the cross is a sacrifice to atone for our sins, that Jesus is the one about whom the prophet is speaking. Isaiah 53 is such a strong testimony to Jesus that for a time it was removed from the list of Scriptures to be read in synagogues because too many Jews came to Christ when hearing it.

Baptism along the Road (Acts 8:36, 38)

I think God allowed Philip enough time with the eunuch in the chariot to lead him to faith in Christ and talk about being baptized in Jesus' name. Now the eunuch, who knows this road, takes the next step.xt step.

"As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?'" (Acts 8:36)

The KJV adds verse 37, but it isn't supported by the earliest Greek manuscripts, and is omitted from modern translations.358

[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. (Acts 8:37, KJV)]

Philip agrees with the eunuch's request.

"And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him." (Acts 8:38)

We're not sure where along the road they found water, perhaps a stream or oasis. This is a desert, after all, so they take what they can get. They both descend into the water,359 so there's at least enough water to stand in. Whether there was enough water for full immersion, we'll let the Baptists fight it out with the Presbyterians. (Joke!) At any rate, Philip was satisfied with the amount of water.

It's interesting to me that Philip doesn't feel that a probationary period is necessary prior to baptism (as the church did a bit later, to cut down on people who fell away). Rather, he explained the gospel, the man accepted it in faith, and Philip baptized him. We assume that he received the Holy Spirit at this time, but it is not mentioned in the text.

Presumably, the Ethiopian treasurer returns to his home and he is a great witness to Christ in the palace, though we're not told that part of the story.[360]

Philip Is "Transported" to Azotus (Acts 8:39-40)

Philip doesn't stick around to talk more.

"39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea." (Acts 8:39-40)

Exactly how Philip disappeared, we don't know for sure. The text says that the Spirit "suddenly took Philip away." The verb suggests a sudden seizing or snatching,361 and is the same verb that is used for the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:17), as well as Paul being caught up into the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4).

The chapter ends with the Ethiopian going on his way home filled with joy, and Philip "finding himself"362 at Azotos, the Greek name of ancient and present-day Ashdod.

Philip never misses a beat.

"[He] traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea." (Acts 8:40)

The verb used here is euangelizō, "to preach good news." Philip continues to evangelize all along the coastal towns until he reaches Caesarea, a port city with a strong Roman presence. It is here we see him much later, hosting Paul at the conclusion of Paul's Third Missionary Journey. Luke writes:

"We reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied." (Acts 21:8-9)

Lessons for Disciples

This passage has some one-of-a-kind instances. But we can generalize some of the lessons we see here for our own lives.

  1. God can use persecutions and evil against us to fulfill his own purposes. He is at work even in evil times (Acts 8:1, 4; 11:19).
  2. God uses preaching combined with signs and wonders to attract attention and stimulate faith in Christ. Healing evangelism is powerful and follows the pattern of Jesus (Acts 8:6-7).
  3. God delays the coming of the Spirit upon the Samaritans, probably so the Jerusalem church will send representatives and thus embrace the conversion of the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17).
  4. Seeking to use spiritual gifts for personal gain is at the root of Simon Magus' sin, as well as jealousy. Using money to obtain a spiritual power or to purchase influence in the church or in heaven is deeply offensive to God.
  5. We can become "slaves" to sin, needing Jesus to set us free through repentance and his grace (Acts 8:23; cf. John 8:34; Proverbs 5:22; Romans 6:17-22; Titus 3:3; 2 Peter 2:19).
  6. If we're listening, God's voice will sometimes give us directions on where to go, what to do (Acts 8:26, 29). It takes practice to learn to discern God's voice, but as we are quiet before the Lord, we can learn and then be more usable in the Lord's hands.
  7. It is appropriate for new believers to be baptized soon after conversion, so long as they understand the basics of the gospel (Acts 8:36-39).

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Father, thank you for how you can powerfully use your servants in ministry. Teach us, teach me, to be more sensitive to your voice so we're more pliable and usable on the spur of the moment. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria." (Acts 8:1b, NIV)

"Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said." (Acts 8:5--6, NIV)

When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:15--17, NIV)

"As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?' 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him." (Acts 8:36, 38, NIV)


References and Abbreviations

[318] "Persecution" is the noun diōgmos, "(BDAG 253). "Great" is megas.

[319] Marshall, Acts, p. 160.

[320] Marshall, Acts, p. 160. "The apostles were presumably left alone; the fact that they could stay on in Jerusalem (no doubt along with other Christians) confirms the suspicion that it was mainly Stephen's group which was being attacked." So Bruce, Acts, p. 174. This is disputed, however, by Schnabel (Acts, pp. 393-394), who contends that this assumption goes beyond what is stated in the text. Though we are speculating, I think it likely that the main persecution at this point was against the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians.

[321] "Began to destroy" (NIV), "was ravaging" (ESV, NRSV), "made havock of" (KJV) is the imperfect of lymainō, "to cause harm to, injure, damage, spoil, ruin, destroy" (BDAG 604). "Ravage, lay waste" (W. Michaelis, lymainomai, TDNT 4:312). "Outrage, maltreat," especially of personal injuries, scouring, binding, etc., later simply, "harm, injure" (lymainomai, Lindell-Scott 1065, 1). Note: The Lexham Bible translates this as a conative imperfect, "attempting to destroy." A synonym is used in Acts 9:21: portheo.

[322] "Dragged off" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "haling" (KJV) is the present participle of surō, "drag, pull, draw, drag away" something (BDAG 977).

[323] "Put" (NIV), "committed" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the imperfect of paradidōmi, "hand over, turn over, give up" a person (as a technical term of police and courts 'hand over into [the] custody [of]') (BDAG 762, 1b).

[324] "Violent man" (NIV, cf. NRSV), "insolent opponent" (ESV), "injurious" (KJV) is the adverb hubristēs, "a violent, insolent person" (BDAG 1022). The related noun hubris (which we also have in English) can mean "insolence, arrogance," as well as, "damage caused by use of force, damage, disaster," from hubrizō, "to treat in an insolent or spiteful manner, mistreat, scoff at, insult."

[325] Adin Steinsaltz, "Sanhedrin 81a-b: Incarceration and Jewish Law" (steinsaltz.org/daf/sanhedrin81/); Charles J. Haray, "Incarceration as a Modality of Punishment" (Jewish Law website; http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/ch_incarceration.html).

[326] "Regions" (ESV, KJV), "countryside" (NRSV) is chōra, "district, region, place," then "the open country in contrast to the city, 'country'" (BDAG 1093, 3). The NIV omits translating this word. "Scattered throughout" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "scattered abroad throughout" (KJV) is two words, "scattered" is the passive aorist of the verb diaspeirō, "scatter," passive of scattered communities of Christians (Acts 8:1, 4; 11:19; BDAG 236). "Throughout" is kata, "extension in various directions within an area, throughout" (so in Luke's writings) (BDAG 511, 1c).

[327] "Went" is the aorist indicative of dierchomai, "go through," here, "to travel or move about go about from place to place" (BDAG 244, 1a).

[328] Other cities in Samaria mentioned in Acts are Lydda (Acts 9:32), Joppa (Acts 9:36-42), and Caesarea (Acts 10; 11:16; 21:8). In this period, Samaria was a region of the Province of Judea, not a province with its own governance.

[329] "Proclaiming" (NRSV), preaching/preached" (ESV, NIV, KJV) in verse 4 is the present participle of euangelizō, "bring good news, announce good news," here specifically, "proclaim the message of salvation, proclaim the gospel" (BDAG 402, 2aα).

[330] "Proclaimed" (ESV, NRSV, NIV), "preached" (KJV) in verse 5 is the imperfect of kērussō, "proclaim aloud" (BDAG 543, 2bβ).

[331] The phrase "they all paid close attention" (NIV), with one accord paid attention" (ESV), with one accord listened eagerly" (NRSV), "with one accord gave heed" (KJV) uses two words: the adverb homothumadon, "with one mind/purpose/impulse" (BDAG 706); and homothymine the imperfect of the verb prosechō, "turn one's mind to," here, "to pay close attention to something, pay attention to, give heed to, follow" (BDAG 880, 2b). The aorist of this verb appears in verses 10 and 11 with regard to Simon the sorcerer.

[332] "Crying out with a loud voice" (ESV, KJV), "with shrieks" (NIV), "crying with loud shrieks" (NRSV) is three words: "great" (megas), "voice" (phōnē), and the present participle of the verb boaō, "to use one's voice at high volume, call, shout, cry out" (BDAG 180, 1b).

[333] "Paralytics" (NIV), "paralyzed" (ESV, NRSV), "taken with palsies" (KJV) is the passive participle of paraluō, "to cause to be feeble, undo, weaken, disable" (BDAG 268). "Healed" (NIV, ESV, KJV), "cured" (NRSV) is the aorist indicative of therapeuō (from which we get the words "therapy, therapeutic") "heal, restore," often used in the senses of "care for, wait upon, treat medically" (BDAG 453, 2).

[334] "Crippled" (NIV), "lame" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is chōlos, "lame, crippled" (BDAG 1093).

[335] "Received" (ESV, KJV), "accepted" (NIV, NRSV) is the perfect passive of the verb dechomai, "to indicate approval or conviction by accepting, be receptive of, be open to, approve, accept," of things (BDAG 221, 5).

[336] "Only" (ESV, NRSV, KJV), "simply" (NIV) is monos, here, "a marker of limitation, only, alone," the neuter monon being used as an adverb, limiting the action or state to the one designated by the verb (BDAG 659, 2a).

[337] "Believed" is the aorist active verb pisteuō, "to consider something to be true and therefore worthy of one's trust, believe," here, "give credence to, believe" (BDAG 816, 1b).

[338] See Disciple's Guide to the Holy Spirit (JesusWalk Publications, 2018), lesson 6, "Baptized with the Holy Spirit" (www.jesuswalk.com/spirit/06_spirit_baptized.htm), and my essay, "Spirit Baptism, the New Birth,
and Speaking in Tongues" (www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/spirit-baptism.htm).

[339] "Receive" (verse 15) is the aorist subjunctive of the verb lambanō, "to be a receiver, receive, get, obtain" (BDAG 584, 10b). "Received" in verses 17 and 19 is also lambanō -- (verse 17) imperfect tense, parallel to laying on of hands; (verse 19) present active subjunctive.

[340] "Fallen on" (ESV, KJV), "come upon" (NIV, NRSV) is the perfect active participle of the verb epipiptō, "come upon" (BDAG 377, 2).

[341] "Was given" (verse 18) is the present passive of didōmi, "to give."

[342] Mageuō, "practice magic" (BDAG 608).

[343] Exodus 22:18; Deuteronomy 18:10-14; Leviticus 19:26b.

[344] See C. E. Arnold, "Magic and Astrology," DLNT, pp. 702-703.

[345] "Perish" is the preposition eis, "unto" and the noun apōleia, "annihilation" both complete and in process, "ruin." (BDAG 127, 2).

[346] "Thought" (NIV, KJV), "intent" (ESV, NRSV) is epinoia, "the result of a thought process, thought, conception" (BDAG 376).

[347] "Right" is the adjective euthus, "straight," figuratively, "proper, right, upright" (BDAG 406, 2b).

[348] The Greek particle ara casts doubt on the outcome, used here to "to express something tentative, perhaps, conceivably." In addition to its inferential meaning, ara is employed in the context of the tentative, the uncertain, the unresolved, the contingent, e.g. possibly" (BDAG 127, 3).

[349] "Wickedness" is kakia, "the quality or state of wickedness, baseness, depravity, wickedness, vice," the opposite of aretē ["excellence of character"] and all virtue. (BDAG 500, 1).

[350] "Full of bitterness" (NIV), "in the gall of bitterness" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is two words: the noun cholē, "gall, bile," here "a substance with an unpleasant taste, something bitter, gall" (BDAG 1085, 2); and the adjective pikria, "bitterness," here, bitter gall." (BDAG 813, 1). This Semitic idiom probably means "bitter poison" or perhaps "bitter envy" (Lexham English Bible).

[351] "Captive to sin" (NIV), "the bond of iniquity" (ESV, KJV), "the chains of wickedness" (NRSV) is two words: syndesmos, "that which binds together," here, "a bond that confines/hinders, fetter" (BDAG 966, 3); and adikia, "the quality of injustice, unrighteousness, wickedness, injustice" (BDAG 20, 2).

[353] See Wikipedia article on "Simon Magus." Also D.E. Aune, "Simon Magus," ISBE 4:516-518.

[354] R. F. Youngblood and D.W. Wead, "Ethiopia," ISBE 2:193-197; See Wikipedia articles on "Elephantine," "Elephantine paprii," and "Meroë."

[355] Eunouchos, BDAG 409, 1.

[356] Dynastēs, BDAG 263, 2.

[357] More on that in my study Listening for God's Voice (JesusWalk Publications, 2018), lesson 3, (www.jesuswalk.com/voice/3_nudges.htm).

[358] Metzger (Textual Commentary, p. 315) notes that verse 37 is a "Western addition," but not found in 𝔓45 א A B C 33 81 614 vg syrp copsaeth. If it were present in the original manuscripts, he sees no reason why scribes would have omitted it. It is quoted by Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 3.12.8). Erasmus also included it in his Greek Bible.

[359] "Went down" (NIV) is katabainō, "to move downward, come/go/climb down" (BDAG 514, 1aδ). "Into" is the preposition eis, "into, towards, too" (BDAG 288, 1aα). As an American Baptist pastor myself, I've concluded that, while the verb baptizō means "to dip, immerse," the amount of water is not the point.

[360] According to one church tradition, the newly-created apostle St. Matthias later preached in Ethiopia (Nicephorus, Historia eccl., 2.40), but that may refer to the area of a similar name in the region of Colchis, in modern-day Georgia near the Black Sea. By 330 AD, Christianity was declared a state religion by King Ezana the Great of Axum and took a strong foothold in the country.

[361] "Suddenly took away" (NIV), "carried away" (ESV), "snatched away" (NRSV), "caught away" (KJV) is the aorist indicative verb harpazō, "snatch, seize, take suddenly and vehemently," here, "to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch/take away" (BDAG 134, 2b).

[362] "Found himself" is the aorist passive of euriskō, "find, come upon" someone (BDAG 411, 1b).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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