Acts 8:25-40


A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds 

April 16, 2009 

The book of Acts tells the story of the expanding witness of the early church.  We have seen that Acts 1:8 is the thesis sentence of the book and provides us a broad outline or table of contents of what is to follow.  In Acts 1:8 Jesus told His disciples, “…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”  The book of Acts tells the story of how that happened.

·         Acts 1:1 – 8:3 tells primarily of the witness in Jerusalem

·         Acts 8:4 – 11:18 tells primarily of the witness in Samaria and the coastal regions of Judea

·         Acts 11:19 – 28:31 tells primarily of the witness beyond Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria

 

In our last session we began looking at the second major section of Acts which tells primarily of the witness in Samaria and the coastal regions of Judea.  This section of this Acts focuses on three people:

·         Acts 8:4-40 tells of the ministry of Philip

·         Acts 9:1-32 tells of the conversion of Saul

·         Acts 9:33 – 11:18 tells of the work of Peter

 

The Witness of Philip (Acts 8:4-40)

The story of the witness of Philip (not Philip the apostle but Philip who was one of the seven selected in Acts 6 to assist the apostles with the daily distribution of food to the needy) is told in three movements:

·         Proclaiming the good news to the Samaritans (Acts 8:4-25)

·         Explaining the Scriptures to a man from Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-39)

·         Preaching in the towns that dotted the Sharon Valley along the shore of the Mediterranean from just north of Gaza to his hometown of Caesarea (Acts 8:40)

In our previous session we looked at the first of those three events.  In this session we will focus on the other two.  Verse 25 is a brief interlude in Luke’s description of the ministry of Philip.  Remember that in Verse 14 Luke tells us the apostles sent Peter and John, the two most prominent of the apostles, to check out what was happening in Samaria.  It was such an amazing thought to the average 1st century Jew that God would actually include the Samaritans in His redemptive plan (see the discussion about Jews and Samaritans in the previous session of this study), that the an investigation into Philip’s ministry was launched.  But when Peter and John saw what God was doing in Samaria, they wisely got on board with God’s plan.  Verse 25 represents a radical change in Peter and especially John.  The man who at one time wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village (see Luke 9:51-56), was now “…preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.” 

 

Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:25-39)

 

Verses 26-29 provide the background for this encounter.

“but”- This is a conjunction of contrast.  As opposed to Peter and John who made their way back to Jerusalem, Philip was called to go another direction.  (Application 1 - This is a reminder that God’s plan is not the same for every believer.  He gives some one task and others another task.  It is not our role to question God’s purposes, but gladly accept the assignment as Philip did.)

“an angel of the Lord” – This phrase and the phrase “the Spirit of the Lord” seem to be used interchangeably throughout this account (see verses 29 and 39).  The point is that Philip was being directed by God.  (Application 2 – The phrases “an angel of the Lord spoke…” in verse 26 and “the Spirit said” in verse 39 implies Philip hearing.  We need to make sure we are in a position to hear what the Lord is saying to us.  How many times do we miss His voice because we are preoccupied with other things?)

“road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza” – Gaza was a Phoenician city.  Old Gaza was destroyed in 98 B.C. and the city was rebuilt nearer to the Mediterranean in 57 B.C.  That part of Israel still retains the name Gaza Strip today and, of course, it is very much in the news.

“and he arose and went” – What an incredible response!  There is no hint of questioning or complaining by Philip.  He just did as he was instructed to do.  (Application 3 - From a human perspective, to leave a thriving ministry in Samaria to go to the barren area of Gaze seemed foolish.  But Philip, with complete confidence and trust in God, obeyed without hesitation.  This is a reminder that we do not see things from the perspective of God.  He sees things we do not see.  Trusting Him means doing what He says even when we cannot understand why or predict the outcome.)

“an Ethiopian” – Ethiopia was a general term for the area south of Egypt.  Greeks and Romans were fascinated with dark-skinned Africans.  This man, who was an important official, must have seemed both powerful and exotic to Philip.

“eunuch” – It was not unusual in ancient times for male servants of royal families to be castrated to remove any possibility of sexual impropriety.

“court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” – Candace is a title like “queen mother” and probably not a proper name.

“in charge of all her treasure” – Royalty oversaw the duties of state but were considered above day to day administration.  That task was given to others.  This man had a powerful position.  He was the chief treasurer of a region known for gold mining, iron smelting, and trade.

“had come to Jerusalem to worship” – Luke does not tell us the religious background of this man.  He could have been a:

·         Proselyte – Gentiles who accepted Judaism, were circumcised, and obeyed the law.  Some think because the man was a eunuch he could not have been a Jewish proselyte.  Deuteronomy 23:1 forbids eunuchs from entering the assembly of the Lord.  However, Isaiah 56:3-6 seems to invite eunuchs into the presence of God.  Maybe that explains why the eunuch was reading from the prophecy of Isaiah.

·         God-fearer – Did not go to quite the length proselytes did in accepting Judaism, but did read the Scripture and attend synagogues.

“the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and join this chariot.’” – It is not likely this powerful government official was traveling alone.  He probably had a substantial entourage.  It took a direct command from the Spirit for Philip to have the courage to approach such a person.

 

Verses 30-33 describe the beginning of the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian. 

“he heard him reading” – Reading aloud was a common practice in the ancient world.

“Isaiah the prophet” – The passage the Ethiopian was reading could not have given Philip a better opportunity to share the good news with this man.  The passage quoted in verses 32-33 is from Isaiah 53:7-8.  Isaiah 53, written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, is an amazingly accurate prophecy concerning the suffering of the coming Messiah.  (That the Ethiopian was reading from this particular chapter when Philip approached him is a reminder that God’s timing is always perfect.  Our lives work out much better if we trust the Lord’s timing, not lagging behind or running ahead of Him.  That’s why the Scripture instructs us over and over again to wait for the Lord.  Psalm 27:14 puts it well:  “Wait for the Lord; Be strong, and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”)

The question the Ethiopian asks in verse 31 reveals a lot about his character.  When Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, the Ethiopian’s response was, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?”  Here was a very powerful man who was not afraid to ask for help.  He did not pretend to know it all.  He was not arrogant or prideful.  He had a genuinely teachable spirit and the Lord blessed that.

 

Verses 34-35 describe the heart of the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian.  While Luke does not tell us precisely what Philip said, he does tell us that he “preached Jesus to him.”  The word for “preached” is euaggelizo which is made up of an adverb meaning good and a verb meaning to announce or report.  Philip merely reported to the man the good news about Jesus who was the fulfillment of the prophecy which was being read from Isaiah 53.

 

Verses 36-39 describe the result of the conversation.  Obviously as Philip instructed the Ethiopian about Jesus, he dealt with the subject of baptism.  Remember in the sermon at Pentecost Peter made baptism one of his central themes.  Maybe Philip said something like Peter said in Acts 2:38 – “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…”

 

The desire of the Ethiopian to be baptized was evidence of the genuineness of his faith in Jesus.  Here’s what one writer says about that:  “Everything Philip told the eunuch was good news.  Whereas he had been excluded from the Temple because of his race and physical condition, in Christ the Ethiopian was cordially invited to come into the inner recesses of the presence of God.  There were no barriers in this new faith; all shared equally in the grace of God and in the salvation offered by the Suffering Servant ... By the side of the road, with dozens of soldiers, attendants, and probably some passing by looking on, this high official of government submitted himself to the rite of baptism as an expression of his newfound faith in Jesus Christ.” [Layman’s Bible Commentary, Acts]

 

You will notice that in the NASB verse 37 is set apart by brackets.  That’s because many of the earliest and most reliable manuscripts of the New Testament do not contain this verse.

 

Baptism by immersion is clearly suggested by the phrase “they both went down into the water,” by the word “baptized” which means to dip or immerse, and by the phrase “when they came up out of the water.”  William Barclay points out that in New Testament times baptism was by immersion and in running water.  He says it symbolized cleansing, a fresh start, and union with Christ in His death and resurrection.

 

Verse 39 says that immediately after the baptism “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away…”  While some of tried to rationalize this statement merely to mean that Philip left, I see no reason to interpret this event as any thing other than a supernatural occurrence.  His mission was accomplished in this place and the Lord had another assignment for him.

 

 

Philip’s Continued Ministry of Preaching (Acts 8:40)

Verse 40 tells of Philip preaching in the towns that dotted the Sharon Valley along the shore of the Mediterranean from just north of Gaza to his hometown of Caesarea.  This verse is a reminder that much was happening in the early church of which we have no record.  Based on what we see of Philip in Acts 8, there is little doubt that the Lord blessed his ministry in all the cities to which he was led.