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This Sunday School Study Guide is provided free of cost for personal study and as an aid for Sunday School teachers.  It contains copyright material and may not be reproduced in any form for sale, without permission from the copyright holders.  

Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme:  Seize The Day:

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

This week’s focus is on Jesus’ commission for His followers to be mission minded in all that they do for Him.






May 29

A Call To Missions






Take your place in God’s mission to the nations.


Acts 8:26-35





Be Willing To Go (Acts 8:26-27a)

Be Open To Cross Cultural Barriers (Acts 8:27b)

Be Ready To Share Jesus (Acts 8:28-35)


Acts opens with Jesus’ final post-resurrection instruction and appearance (chapter 1), the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost (chapter 2), and His mighty works through the disciples (chapters 3–5). Chapters 6–7 tell of Stephen, one of the first deacons and the first Christian martyr. Stephen’s death set off a wave of persecution, driving most believers, including Philip, away from Jerusalem (chapter 8). From a successful ministry in Samaria, Philip was sent to a desert road.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


The gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives. But many in our world have never heard the gospel message. Believers must use every opportunity and every means available to tell the good news about Jesus. God’s heart and mission is that all people everywhere know Him, and our God-given mission is no less.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Be Willing To Go (Acts 8:26-27a)

26 An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the desert road.) 27a So he got up and went.








1.   When has a change in plans led to a change in your lifestyle?

2.   What was behind the change?  In other words, what indicated that a change in your lifestyle was needed?

3.   Was it a change for the better?  If so, what made it better?  If not, why not?

4.   Was God at the center of this change?  If not, why not? 

5.   Where you open to God’s will for this change in your life?  Why, or why not?

6.   How can you become more open to listening to God speak to you?

7.   What can you do to prepare yourself to follow God’s direction for your life?

8.   What stands in your way of saying yes to following God?

9.   What does resistance to God’s call tell you about your relationship with Him?

10.   How did God make Himself known to Philip (v. 26a)?

11.   What were the Lord’s instructions to Philip (v. 26b)?

12.   What might have seemed unusual about this call to missions?

13.   What stands out to you about Philip’s response to God’s call?

14.   How did Philip respond to God’s call (v. 27a)?

15.   What do you think Philip sacrificed to be obedient? 

16.   If God called you to a similar situation as Philip, what would you have to sacrifice to be obedient?

17.   Do you think this would be really hard for most believers to do?  Why, or why not?

18.   What does “Living by faith”  mean to you? 

19.   How would you explain what it means to live by faith?

20.   How open are you to living by faith?


Lasting Lessons in Acts 8:26-27a:

1.  God may call us to leave one place where He is working to use us in a different way or in a different place.

2.  When God calls us, we need to respond as Philip did immediately and precisely.

3.  Following Jesus means being willing to go where He sends us.



Be Open To Cross Cultural Barriers (Acts 8:27b)

27b There was an Ethiopian man, a eunuch and high official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to worship in Jerusalem

1.   To whom are we introduced in this verse?

2.   What does it mean to be a eunuch?  (See Digging Deeper.)

3.   What are we told about him?  (See Digging Deeper.)

4.   Where had he been?

5.   Why would he have been considered an “outsider,” especially by the Jews?

6.   What made him a good candidate for an evangelistic witness?

7.   Which of your actions demonstrate that you accept people who are different from you as they worship with you?

8.   Why does God require us to be open to people who are different from us in ethnic background or socio-economic status?

9.   Do you think Philip’s meeting with the eunuch was accidental?  Why, or why not? 

10.   If not, what do you think was the real underlying purpose for this meeting between Philip and the eunuch?

11.   What kinds of differences exist in our community that could be barriers to presenting the gospel?

12.   How do you recognize an opportunity to share the gospel?

13.   How do you prepare yourself for an encounter to share the gospel?

14.   Is this a regular part of your prayer life?  Why, or why not?

15.   What does this tell you about your relationship with Christ?


Lasting Lessons in Acts 8:27b:

1.  When we follow God’s directions, He provides us with opportunities to share the gospel.

2.  God prepares the hearts of people to receive our witness.

3.  We must be open to share the gospel with all kinds of people.



Be Ready To Share Jesus (Acts 8:28-35)


28 and was sitting in his chariot on his way home, reading the prophet Isaiah aloud. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go and join that chariot.” 30 When Philip ran up to it, he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone guides me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before its shearer, so He does not open His mouth. 33 In His humiliation justice was denied Him. Who will describe His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.” 34 The eunuch replied to Philip, “I ask you, who is the prophet saying this about—himself or another person?” 35 So Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning from that Scripture.

1.   What was the eunuch reading as he traveled (v. 28)?

2.   What motivated Philip to seek out the eunuch (v. 29)?

3.   What bold action did the Spirit prompt Philip to take (v. 29)?

4.   According to verse 30, what happened when Philip ran up to the eunuch’s chariot?

5.   What did Philip ask?  Why do you think Philip asked such a question?

6.   What response question from the eunuch opened the door for Philip to expand the conversation?

7.   What passage of Scripture was the eunuch reading (v. 32)?  (See Isaiah 53:7-8.)

8.   According to verse 34, what did the eunuch ask of Philip?

9.   What opportunity did the eunuch’s question open up for Philip (v. 34)?

10.   In explaining the Scripture, about whom did Philip speak (v. 35)?

11.   Do you think this encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian just happened?  Why, or why not?

12.   If you think this encounter was a divine appointment under God’s initiative and direction, what makes you think so?

13.   If you believe God goes before you and empowers you,  how should this truth shape your involvement in missions?

14.   What can you do to be more engaged in missions?

15.   What ways do we see God at work in this passage?

16.   How do you see God at work in your life when it comes to your sharing the gospel with someone?


Lasting Lessons in Acts 8:28-35:

1.  The Holy Spirit prepares the hearts of people to hear the good news about Jesus.

2.  Only Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.

3.  As believers, we need both to be willing to share Jesus and to be prepared to do so.



Our call to be on mission for Christ can include two approaches through with we share the good news of Jesus.  The first is to live it, so that others can see it.  Philip did that in Samaria, for the people saw the things he did that could only be explained in light of the poser of the Lord (8:6).  The second is to talk about it.  Philip did that in Samaria (v. 5) and also in his encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch.  This model is still relevant.  As believers, we are to demonstrate Jesus and to talk about Jesus.    Either way, when opportunities come, we are to seize that opportunity! 

As a believer, how do you demonstrate that salvation in Christ also includes a claim on your life to be on mission for Him?  On a scale of 1 (not much) to 10 (fully), how would you rate God’s claim on your life to be on mission for Him?  How well do you think your rating pleases God?  If you need improvement in this area of your life, ask God to empower you through His Spirit to become more on mission for Him?  He will, if we are willing!

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.



Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version:  Acts 8:26-35

Acts 8:26-35 (KJV)

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. 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, 28 Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. 30 And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? 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. 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: 33 In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth. 34 And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.


New American Standard Bible:  Acts 8:26-35

 Acts 8:26-35 (NASB)

26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, "Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a desert road.) 27 So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go up and join this chariot." 30 Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 And he said, "Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: "he was led as a sheep to slaughter; and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he does not open his mouth. 33 "in humiliation his judgment was taken away; who will relate his generation? For his life is removed from the earth." 34 The eunuch answered Philip and said, "Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.


New Living Translation:  Acts 8:26-35

Acts 8:26-35 (NLT)

26 As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. 29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.” 30 Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him. 32 The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. 33 He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” 35 So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus.


 (NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from five sources: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament,Believer's Bible Commentary,The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” “The College Press NIV Commentary,” and “The Moody Bible Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)


Lesson Outline — “A Call To Missions” — Acts 8:26-35




Be Willing To Go (Acts 8:26-27a)

Be Open To Cross Cultural Barriers (Acts 8:27b)

Be Ready To Share Jesus (Acts 8:28-35)


The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament:  

An Ethiopian Eunuch Converted:

This account of Philip’s ministry to a high-ranking Ethiopian government official represents a further step in the advance of the gospel from its strictly Jewish confines to a full-fledged Gentile mission. Though a Gentile, the official was probably a Jewish proselyte or near-proselyte (a so-called Proselyte of the Gate) and was therefore viewed by Luke as still within a Jewish religious milieu. He had been to Jerusalem to worship, was studying the prophecy of Isaiah, and was open to further instruction from a Jew. The “enthusiastic historiography” that many have detected in the narrative may well reflect Philip’s enthusiasm in telling the story, which Luke may have captured either directly or from some written source. In any event, here was a notable instance of providential working that carried the development of the gospel proclamation even beyond Samaria.

8:26. We are not told just where Philip was when he received his divine directive to go south to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Most have assumed he was at the Samaritan city referred to in v. 5, whether Sebaste, Samaria, Gitta, or Sychar. Some have seen him at Jerusalem because of the eis Hierosolyma—apo Ierousalem (“into Jerusalem—from Jerusalem”) couplet in vv. 25-26, while others think of him as already at Caesarea. It is also possible that Philip was at the time in one of the Samaritan villages alluded to in v. 25, if he is included in the pronominal suffix “they” of that verse. But Luke is not interested in the specifics of geography here, and it is idle to speculate further. What he is interested in is highlighting for his readers the fact that Philip’s ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch was especially arranged by God and providentially worked out in all its details.

When Luke desires to stress the special presence and activity of God in his narrative, he frequently uses the expression “the angel of the Lord” (angelos kyriou) for the more normal reference to “the spirit of the Lord” (pneuma kyriou), as in Luke 1:11; 2:9; Acts 8:26; 12:7, 23 (cf. also angelos tou theou [“angel of God”] in 10:3 and simply angelos [“angel”] in 7:30, 35, 38;  10:7, 22; 11:13; 12:11; 27:23). Here Luke begins in just such a way and with such a purpose, telling us that “an angel of the Lord” began the action by giving instructions to Philip—and also sustained it throughout, though the more usual “the Spirit” and “the Spirit of the Lord” are used in vv. 29, 39.

In the LXX the word mesembria usually means “midday” or “noon,” and it is used that way in Acts 22:6. Here, however, as in Daniel 8:4, 9 LXX, mesembria probably means “south,” with kata mesembrian meaning “southward.” The clarifying phrase haute estin eremos (“this is desert”) can refer grammatically either to “the road” (ten hodon, as RSV, NEB, JB, NIV) or to the city of Gaza itself. This was the southernmost of the five chief Philistine cities in southwest Palestine and the last settlement before the desert waste stretching away to Egypt. The fifty-mile journey from Jerusalem to Gaza trailed off at its southwestern terminus into patches of desert, and most commentators believe that the expression “this is desert” has reference to that portion of the road. Sometime around 100-96 B.C., however, Gaza was destroyed by the Maccabean priest-king Alexander Jannaeus, being literally laid waste, while about 57 B.C. a new city was built under Pompey’s orders by Gabinius. Strabo and Diodorus of Sicily seem to refer to this new Gaza as located a bit to the south of the old site and to distinguish it from a “Desert Gaza” or “Old Gaza.” Therefore, some commentators understand the expression to specify the old city of Gaza (“Desert Gaza”) rather than the new city.

8:27-28. It is difficult to determine from the text itself how Luke wanted his readers to understand the Ethiopian eunuch’s relation to Judaism. Furthermore, it is uncertain how first-century Judaism would have viewed a eunuch coming to worship at Jerusalem. While Deuteronomy 23:1 explicitly stipulates that no emasculated male could be included within the Jewish religious community, Isaiah 56:3-5 speaks of eunuchs being accepted by the God of boundless lovingkindness. Likewise, it is not at all as clear as it might appear what was the Ethiopian official’s physical condition, for the word eunuch (eunouchos) frequently appears in the LXX and in Greek vernacular writings “for high military and political officials; it does not have to imply emasculation” (TDNT, 2:766). Therefore, we are probably justified in taking “eunuch” to be a governmental title in an Oriental kingdom and in emphasizing two facts when considering the Ethiopian’s relation to Judaism: (1) he had been on a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem and (2) he was returning with a copy of the prophecy of Isaiah in his possession, which would have been difficult for a non-Jew to get.

Admittedly, Luke leaves us in some doubt when he might well have used some such expression as proselytos (“proselyte,” “convert”; cf. 6:5; 13:43), sebomenos ton theon (“God-fearer,” “Proselyte of the Gate,” “near convert”; cf. 13:50; 16:14; 17:4,  17; 18:7), phoboumenos ton theon (“reverent,” used in 13:16, 26, equivalent to sebomenos ton theon, though in 10:2, 22, 35 with no necessary relation to Judaism involved), or even eusebes (“pious,” with no relation to Judaism necessarily involved; cf. 10:2, 7), Nevertheless, judging by what Luke does tell us and by the placement of this vignette in his overall plan, we are probably to understand that this Ethiopian government official was a proselyte or near-proselyte to Judaism.

The ancient kingdom of Ethiopia lay between Aswan and Khartoum and corresponds to modern Nubia (not Abyssinia). It was ruled by a queen mother who had the dynastic title Candace and ruled on behalf of her son the king, since the king was regarded as the child of the sun and therefore too holy to become involved in the secular functions of the state. One of the ministers of the Ethiopian government—in fact, the minister of finance—having become either a full proselyte or a Proselyte of the Gate, had gone to Jerusalem to worship at one of the Jewish festivals and was now returning home reading Isaiah. It might even have been Isaiah 56:3-5 that first caught his attention and caused him to return to Isaiah again and again.

But whatever got him into Isaiah’s prophecy, the interpretation of the Servant passage of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 troubled him.

8:29-30. Having been directed to the desert road on the way to Gaza, Philip is again directed by the Spirit to the carriage the Ethiopian minister of finance is traveling in. As Philip approaches, he hears the minister reading from Isaiah, for reading aloud to oneself was “the universal practice in the ancient world.” So while running along beside the Ethiopian’s carriage, Philip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (ginoskeis ha anaginoskeis—a play on words).

8:31-34. The Ethiopian, being open to instruction from a Jew, invites Philip into his carriage to explain Isaiah 53:7-8 to him. His problem, it seems, concerns the suffering and humiliation references, and his question is “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Perhaps he had heard an official explanation of this passage at Jerusalem, but he still had questions about its meaning.

While in Late Judaism the concept of God’s Servant carried messianic connotations in certain contexts and among certain groups, there is no evidence that anyone in pre-Christian Judaism ever thought of the Messiah in terms of a Suffering Servant. The Talmud, indeed, speaks of suffering sent by God as having atoning efficacy; and there are many indications that “humility and self-humiliation, or acceptance of humiliation from God’s hand, were expected of a pious man and thought to be highly praiseworthy.” But there is no explicit evidence that this general attitude toward suffering was ever consciously carried over to ideas regarding the Messiah, God’s Servant par excellence. Klausner’s dictum continues to hold true: “In the whole Jewish Messianic literature of the Tannaitic period there is no trace of the ‘suffering Messiah.’”

The Targum on the earlier and later prophets (so-called Pseudo-Jonathan), which stems from a Palestinian milieu, consistently applies all mention of suffering and humiliation in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 either to the nation Israel (at 52:14; 53:2, 4, 10) or to the wicked Gentile nations (at 53:3, 7-9, 11). Nor can it be said that the DSS have a suffering messianology. The Hymns of Thanksgiving, it is true, bring us somewhat closer to such a concept than anything extant from the world of Judaism, chiefly in their association of suffering and the Servant of God with ideas about the coming Messiah(s): (1) that the psalmist (the Teacher of Righteousness himself?) was conscious of being God’s servant; (2) that persecution and suffering were the lot of both the Teacher and the community in following God’s will; and (3) that the group at times expressed itself in language drawn from the Servant Songs of Isaiah. But that these ideas were ever brought together at Qumran to form a Suffering Servant messianology is at best quite uncertain. It may be that rabbinic Judaism later purged a Suffering Servant messianology based on the Isaian Servant Songs from its own traditions because of the use made of such a doctrine and these passages by Christians, as Joachim Jeremias has argued. More likely, however, it seems that the lack of clarity regarding such a connection of concepts at Qumran—from whence we might reasonably expect greater precision on this point, had it existed in Late Judaism—points to the conclusion that, while the individual elements for a suffering conception of the Messiah may have been in process of being formed in certain quarters, a doctrine of a suffering Messiah was unheard of and considered unthinkable in first-century Jewish religious circles generally.

8:35.  At a time when only what Christians call the OT was Scripture, what better book was there to use in proclaiming the nature of divine redemption than Isaiah, and what better passage could be found than Isaiah 52:13-53:12? Thus Philip began with the very passage the Ethiopian was reading and proclaimed to him “the good news about Jesus,” explaining from Isaiah 53:7-8 and its context a suffering messianology. Of the evangelists, Matthew and John apply Isaiah 53 to Jesus’ ministry of healing (cf. Matt 8:17 on 53:4; John 12:38 on 53:1; see also Matt 12:18-21 on 42:1-4). Luke, however, alone among the evangelists, portrays Jesus as quoting Isaiah 53 as being fulfilled in his passion (cf. Luke 22:37 on 53:12). In his volumes, therefore, Luke sets up a parallel between Jesus’ use of Isaiah 53 and Philip’s preaching based on Isaiah 53 and implies in that parallel that the latter was dependent upon the former (cf. also 1 Peter 2:22-25 on 53:4-6, 9, 12). But Philip, we are told, only began his preaching about Jesus with Isaiah 53. Probably he went on to include other passages from that early Christian block of testimonium material that has been dubbed “Scriptures of the Servant of the Lord and the Righteous Sufferer” that also included Isaiah 42:1-44:5; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; and Pss 22, 34, 69, 118.

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers


Believer's Bible Commentary:

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (8:26-35)

8:26.  It was during this great spiritual awakening in Samaria that an angel of the Lord directed Philip to a new field of labor. He was to leave the place where many were being blessed, and minister to one man. An angel could direct Philip but could not do Philip's work of preaching the gospel. That privilege was given to men, not to angels.

In unquestioning obedience, Philip journeyed south from Samaria to Jerusalem, and then to one of the routes that led to Gaza. It is not clear whether the words, "This is desert" refer to the route or to Gaza itself. However, the effect is the same: Philip left a place of habitation and spiritual fertility for a barren area.

8:27-29. Somewhere along the route he caught up with a caravan. In the main chariot was the treasurer of Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, a eunuch of great authority. (Ethiopia was the southern part of Egypt and the Sudan.) This man had apparently become a convert to Judaism, since he had been to Jerusalem to worship and was now returning home. As the chariot rolled along, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. With split-second timing, the Spirit directed Philip to overtake this chariot.

8:30, 31.  Philip opens the conversation with a friendly question, "Do you understand what you are reading?" The eunuch readily admits his need of someone to guide him, and invites Philip to sit with him in the chariot. The utter lack of racial prejudice here is refreshing.

8:32, 33. How wonderful it was that the eunuch "happened" to be reading Isaiah 53, with its unsurpassed description of the suffering Messiah! Why did Philip approach at that particular time in his reading?

The passage in Isaiah pictures One who was meek and silent before His enemies; One who was hurried away from justice and a fair trial; and One who had no hope of posterity because He was killed in the prime of manhood and while unmarried.

8:34, 35, The eunuch wondered whether Isaiah was speaking of himself or of some other man. This, of course, gave Philip the desired opportunity to tell how these Scriptures were perfectly fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. No doubt while he was in Jerusalem the Ethiopian had heard reports about a man named Jesus, but these reports would, of course, have cast Him in an unfavorable light. Now the eunuch learns that Jesus of Nazareth is the suffering Servant of Jehovah, of whom Isaiah wrote.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: 

They preached the same good news in many Samaritan villages on their way back to Jerusalem.

8:26.  At this point the angel (Greek, an angel) of the Lord spoke to Philip telling him to rise and go toward the south to the road going down from Jerusalem to Gaza, which is desert. "Desert" also means deserted, abandoned, desolate. Here the emphasis is that the area was largely uninhabited. Gaza was the most southern of the five cities of the Philistines in Old Testament times. It was about 60 miles southwest of Jerusalem, and this road was the old road which was seldom used anymore.

The New Testament tells of angels appearing to people comparatively seldom. For example, they appeared to Elisabeth, Zechariah, and Mary (Luke 1:11-38); Joseph (Matthew 1:20-23); Jesus (Mark 1:13; Luke 22:43); and Peter (Acts 12:7); cf. Matthew 28:3; Acts 1:10. Yet they are often present and function as "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Hebrews 1:14).

Jesus himself referred to their number and activity. When they came to arrest Jesus He said He could have had more than 12 legions of angels to defend Him if He were to ask His Father for them (Matthew 26:53). Hebrews 12:22 speaks of an innumerable company of angels. Revelation 5:11 also speaks of great numbers of them. But they must be sent forth by God.

There may have been a special reason for sending an angel to Philip. He was in the midst of a great revival in Samaria. It probably took something unusual to get him to leave the crowds and go down to a deserted back road. Some take "which is desert" to refer to Old Testament Gaza which was destroyed in 93 b.c. In 57 b.c. a new city was built nearer the Mediterranean Sea. The road to old Gaza might be called the road to desert (deserted) Gaza.

8:27, 28. When the angel spoke, Philip did not hesitate or demur. He arose and went in obedience and with faith and expectation.

At the very time he reached the Gaza road, the chariot of an Ethiopian eunuch was approaching. "Behold" indicates something unexpected or surprising. Philip was surprised, but God's timing was exactly right.

Most officers in palaces were eunuchs in ancient times. This man was a highly placed officer (a potentate), a member of the court of the Ethiopian queen Candace, in charge of all her treasures, with full responsibility for the care and disbursement of funds.

Candace was the hereditary title of the queens of Ethiopia, whose seat of government was on the island of Meroe in the Nile River. Ethiopia here corresponds to what is today called the Sudan, though it probably included part of modern Ethiopia.

This eunuch had come a long distance to worship in Jerusalem. Though he was probably a proselyte to Judaism, because of his being a eunuch, he could only go as far as the Court of the Gentiles. (Some believe he could not have been a full proselyte either, and this would cause him to be classed as a Godfearing Gentile, which would also limit him to the court of the Gentiles.)

Even so, he had purchased scrolls of the Old Testament to take back with him. These were hand-copied and extremely expensive in those days. Usually a whole community of the Jews would join together to buy a set for their synagogue and would keep it locked up for use in worship and teaching.

Now the eunuch was returning home, sitting in his chariot reading the Book (roll, scroll) of Isaiah.

8:29. Then the Holy Spirit spoke to Philip. It took an angel to get Philip to leave Samaria, but now that he was aroused to do God's will, he did not need another angel to prompt him. All he needed was the inner voice of the Spirit. Guidance by the Spirit is a prominent theme in the Book of Acts and is worthy of special study. All the early believers learned to be sensitive to the moving and checks of the Spirit. Philip was undoubtedly looking to the Lord, praying as he went along, expecting the Lord to show him what to do.

The Holy Spirit's command was clear and simple. Philip was to go and join himself closely to this chariot. He was to cling to it. He must not let this opportunity pass him by.

8:30.  Philip did not need any further exhortation. In obedience he ran to the chariot and began to run alongside it. As he did so he heard the eunuch reading aloud from the prophet Isaiah. (Reading was almost always done aloud in those days.) Philip probably listened for a few moments and then interrupted the eunuch and asked if he understood what he was reading; did he really know and comprehend what Isaiah was writing about?

8:31.  The eunuch's question shows he did not feel capable of understanding what he was reading. The message of the Book was a mystery to him. The quotation which follows shows he was reading from the Septuagint version, translated in Alexandria, Egypt, beginning about 250 years before Christ. The educated Ethiopians would know Greek, and a person in government service would need to know it very well, for most government business was carried on in Greek in those days. Thus, it was not the language that was causing him difficulty.

Perhaps his difficulty came from his heathen background. The Ethiopians, like the Egyptians, were still pagans at this time, worshiping idols. There were Jewish communities among them, and it may be that the eunuch first heard the Old Testament Scriptures read as he sat with other Gentiles in the back seat of some synagogue. This must have stirred him to go to Jerusalem and learn more. Now he was returning, still with a desire to learn. But he could not grasp what he was reading. He needed someone to guide him, someone to show him the way into an understanding of God's truth. So he welcomed Philip's question and gave Philip a sincere and urgent invitation to come up into the chariot and sit with him.

8:32.  In the providence of God the eunuch was reading Isaiah 53:7, 8. Chapter 53 of Isaiah has been called the Mount Everest of messianic prophecy. There is no other chapter in the Old Testament that more clearly or more specifically tells of the redemptive work of Christ. There is little or no evidence to suppose that the eunuch, or the Jews, would have understood Isaiah 53 as a reference to the Messiah. Jesus was the first to interpret these passages describing the Suffering Servant in messianic terms. For example, Jesus said that He came to give His life as a "ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). While elsewhere in the chapters surrounding Isaiah 53, the "servant" of the Lord may refer to the nation of Israel, the vicarious and propitiatory nature of Isaiah 53:4-6 cannot be applied to anyone but the Lord Jesus Christ.

The discussion of Christ's redemptive work actually begins with Isaiah 52:13 where God refers to the coming Messiah as "my servant." As the Lord's Suffering Servant, the Messiah would be the One to carry out God's work. He would be the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. Like a sheep led to be slaughtered for sacrifice, so He would give His life for sinners. Like a lamb, He would come patiently, and without any word against His captors He would give himself. Surely it must have been exciting to Philip as he saw how wonderful and how exact God's timing was.

8:33.  The Hebrew text used by the later Masoretes (Jewish scholars of tradition) reads "from oppression and from judgment he was taken." One scholar, C.R. North, has translated the Hebrew text from which this quote is derived as follows: "After arrest and sentence he was taken off, And on his fate who reflected? For he was cut off from the land of the living" (see Bruce, New International Commentary on the the New Testament, Acts, note 49, p. 188). Certainly this passage would have been quite an enigma to anyone not familiar with the life of Jesus and His death on the cross.

The Greek text of this verse reads, "In the humiliation his judgment (that is, his punishment) was taken away." He humbled himself to take the place of a servant. Then He humbled himself even further to die the most humiliating kind of death known at that time. But death could not hold Him, and through the Resurrection the punishment He received on our behalf was taken away. (Compare Philippians 2:7-11.) "Who shall declare his generation?" may mean "Who can describe his origin?" (Compare 1 Corinthians 2:8, "Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.") The Masoretic text also reads "for he is cut off from the land of the living." The Greek for "taken" implies killing, thus there is no essential difference between the readings.

8:34.  The eunuch then requested Philip to tell him about whom the prophet Isaiah was speaking—of himself or of some other person. Isaiah 53 speaks of the One who was to suffer wholly for the sins of others and not for any of His own. The eunuch knew no one who could do that, and he was puzzled.

Some writers speculate that the eunuch could not have been in Jerusalem any length of time without hearing at least something about Jesus, His miracles, His sufferings, death, and resurrection. But it is not known how long he was there. He may have simply come to worship among the thousands who thronged the temple and then gone on his way without coming into contact with any of the believers. If he had heard of Jesus he did not make any connection between Him and Isaiah 53.

8:35.  This was Philip's great opportunity. Beginning at that very Scripture passage, he preached Jesus; he told the eunuch the good news, the gospel about Jesus. Jesus had never sinned and had never done anything to deserve suffering or death. No passage in the Prophets more clearly pictures the vicarious suffering, death, resurrection, and triumph of Jesus.

Philip undoubtedly pointed out the many ways in which Isaiah 53 speaks of Jesus. But that was only the beginning. He went on to explain the gospel further with its commands, promises, call to repentance, its assurance of salvation, and other aspects of the kingdom of God.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary - Acts.  Copyright © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.


The College Press NIV Commentary:

Philip and the Conversion of the Ethiopian (8:26-40)

After concluding his preaching to the Samaritans, Philip now heard from “an angel of the Lord.” Another occasion for preaching was about to take place, this time with a foreigner from far to the south. Philip was commanded by the Spirit to go south to the road which ran from Jerusalem to Gaza, a road that Luke notes was “a desert (ἔρημος, erēmos) road,” meaning that it was not heavily traveled. Two such roads are possible references here—one which ran south out of Jerusalem to Hebron and Birosaba and on to Gaza, and the other one which ran southwest to Eleutheropolis and then to Gaza.

When Philip reached this road he met an Ethiopian who was an official in the court of Candace. Ethiopia was the ancient Nubian empire, located on the Nile River, just south of the first cataract at Aswan in Northern Africa. The name Candace was a dynastic title used frequently of the queen mother who was placed in charge of the secular duties of the king. Thus the man met by Philip held an important position.

The Ethiopian is also described as a “eunuch.” Such a description does not necessarily amount to a comment on his physical condition. The use of actual eunuchs for palace duties was so common in the ancient world that even those officials of normal physical condition could be called eunuchs.

On the other hand, the fact that Luke calls the Ethiopian both a eunuch and “an important official in charge of all the treasury” may be an indication that the man was a eunuch physically. Such a conclusion is strengthened by the fact that Luke frequently notes the physical condition of those introduced into the record. The condition of the eunuch would have served as a barrier of sorts in his worship at the temple. He would have been quite ready to hear of a Jesus who was humiliated in Jerusalem, but opened the door of fellowship for all believers.

Whether the Ethiopian was a Jew or Gentile, Luke does not say. Northern Africa had a wealth of Jewish communities whose religious life was centered around the synagogue. In Acts 10 Cornelius will be introduced into the account as a man who was “God-fearing” (ϕοβούμενος τὸν θεὸν, phoboumenos ton theon). This technical term for a Gentile loosely connected to the Jewish synagogue is not used of the Ethiopian, a point which would have clearly defined him as Gentile.

Philip found the Ethiopian sitting in his “chariot” (ἅρμα, harma), a vehicle which looked more like an ox cart or covered wagon. It was a form of travel that averaged only ten to fifteen miles a day, allowing plenty of time for reading. Philip overheard him reading from a scroll of Isaiah and drew near at the command of the Spirit.

Exhibiting an eagerness unusual for Jewish men, Philip ran to the side of the wagon to ask the Ethiopian if he understood the passage. Receiving an invitation to explain the Scripture, Philip began “with that very passage” and told the Ethiopian “the good news about Jesus.” The Ethiopian’s question focused on the identity of the one suffering.

The passage came from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 53:7-8 and described the suffering Servant of the Lord. He would be humiliated and treated unjustly, yet would not speak out in his own defense. The difficult words “Who can speak of his descendants?” probably have reference to the fact that his life would be taken prematurely, leaving him with no possibility of producing descendants—a point which may have spoken directly to the Ethiopian in his condition. Bruce states that there is no evidence that the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:7-8 had been identified with the Davidic Messiah before the time of Jesus. Philip’s contact with the Ethiopian is a demonstration that the apostles and early Christians saw a definite connection and spoke of it in their efforts in evangelism.

As they were traveling, they came to a place with water and the Ethiopian asked about being baptized. Evidently Philip’s way of preaching Jesus included the need for baptism. As is noted in the NIV text, the response of Philip and the confession of the Ethiopian recorded in 8:37 lack solid manuscript support, though the conversation may well accord with the dynamics of the situation.

The orders of the Ethiopian that the vehicle be stopped indicate that an attendant was driving, and suggest a royal retinue of servants was probably at hand. Nevertheless, the Ethiopian got out of his wagon and “went down into the water” with Philip. This language gives the picture of an immersion, a method of baptism which also suits the meaning of the verb βαπτίζω (baptizō, to immerse). Several suggestions have been made concerning the location of this baptism, among which are the site known as “the spring of Philip” at Ein Dirweh north of Hebron, the Wadi el Hasi north of Gaza, or Ein Yael.

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit again took control of the situation. The language describes a supernatural removal of Philip from the presence of the Ethiopian who went on his way rejoicing. Philip later continued his ministry twenty miles north in Azotus, the Old Testament city of Ashdod, working his way toward Caesarea, Herod’s lavish city by the sea.

SOURCE: The College Press NIV Commentary: Acts By Dennis Gaertner, Ph.D.; New Testament Series Co-Editors: Jack Cottrell, Ph.D., Cincinnati Bible Seminar; Tony Ash, Ph.D., Abilene Christian University; College Press Publishing Company, Joplin, Missouri


The Moody Bible Commentary: 

On the Chariot with the Eunuch (8:26-35)

8:26. An angel of the Lord directed Philip to go to Gaza, south of Jerusalem. The reference to an angel confirms that God was guiding Philip and the program of building the church (cf. 5:19; 10:3; 12:7, 23; 27:23).

8:27-28. Philip obeyed and met an Ethiopian eunuch, who was an official of Queen Candace. Men who supervised harems and served as treasurers were often physically altered. This raises questions about his participation in Judaism, but Isa 56:3-5 says that God graciously offers salvation to all, even the eunuch. It is also possible that he was not a physical eunuch since the term came to mean "government official" even for those who were not literally eunuchs. He was probably at least a Gentile proselyte to Judaism judging from his visit to Jerusalem and reading Isaiah, so his conversion did not exactly mark an extension of the gospel to Gentiles, which Luke reserved for Cornelius in Ac 10. It does reflect the ever-widening movement of the gospel from indigenous Jewish people (Ac 2), to Hellenistic Jews in Stephen's ministry (6:8-9), to Samaritans with Philip's ministry (8:5), to this Gentile proselyte to Judaism. The Ethiopian official was probably returning home from the Feast of Pentecost.

8:29. The Spirit ordered Philip to join the eunuch in his chariot. Philip discovered he was reading from the prophet Isaiah but did not understand the passage. He became the official's guide for interpreting Isaiah.

8:32-35. The passage is from Isa 53:7-8, which compares the Suffering Servant to a sacrificial lamb, whose life was taken from him in unjust judgment. The passage was confusing for the eunuch. He wanted to know if Isaiah was speaking about himself or someone else. Philip explained the passage is about Jesus, and focused witness on the person of Christ. Explaining one of the most clear and compelling OT messianic predictions, Philip identified Jesus as the referent who was sacrificed for sin.

SOURCE: The Moody Bible Commentary; by Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham; © 2014 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.



Eunuch (v. 27)—Technically, a male who has been emasculated. The term seems sometimes to have been applied to men in high or responsible positions, even if not emasculated.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

EUNUCH A male deprived of the testes or external genitals. Such were excluded from serving as priests (Lev. 21:20) and from membership in the congregation of Israel (Deut. 23:1). Eunuchs were regarded as especially trustworthy in the Ancient Near East and thus were frequently employed in royal service. By extension, the Hebrew word translated eunuch could be used of any court official (At Gen. 37:36 and 39:1 the reference is to a married man). The Greek term translated eunuch is literally one in charge of a bed, a reference to the practice of using eunuchs as keepers of harems (Esth. 2:3,6,15). Part of Isaiah’s vision of the messianic era was a picture of the eunuch no longer complaining of being “a dry tree”, one without hope of descendants, because God would reward the faithful eunuch with a lasting monument and name in the Temple which would be far better than sons or daughters (Isa. 56:3-5). Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8:27 was reading from Isaiah’s scroll.

A “eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:12) is likely a metaphor for one choosing single life in order to be more useful in kingdom work. Compare 1 Cor. 7:32-34.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.




Philip   All We Know

By R. D. Fowler

R. D. Fowler is pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, Lincoln, Nebraska.


HEN THINKING OF FAMOUS EVANGELISTS, what name comes to mind?  You might think of the apostle Paul or maybe Billy Graham.  What about the one man identified in Scripture as “the evangelist”—would you think of him?

Philip, a Greek name meaning “lover of horses,” was the name of one of Jesus’ twelve apostles.  It was also the name of one of the seven men the church chose to serve widows (Acts 6).  At times some have confused these two men with each other.  The roots for this confusion date early in church history.1 The two men are not the same.  Luke later identified the Philip of Acts 6 as “Philip the evangelist” perhaps to avoid just such confusion (21:8).  He specifically mentioned this Philip had “four virgin daughters who were prophetesses” (v. 9, NASB).

Philip’s Identity

What exactly do we know about Philip?  Who was this man called “the evangelist”?  Scripture reveals no details about his background, his family relations, or where he was born and raised.  Our introduction to him comes in Acts 6:5.  A controversy developed between Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews over the neglect of Hellenistic widows.  Seven men were chosen to take care of the issue.

Before we go further, let’s explore: Who were the Hellenists?  Three views explain their possible identity.  One, they were Greeks who had adopted Christ; two, they were Greeks who had previously converted to Judaism, known as proselytes, who had then trusted Christ; or three, they were Greek-speaking Jews of the diaspora2 who had either returned to Israel to live or who had come to Jerusalem from other provinces for the Passover.3 The third is the more traditional view.

Back to the seven: evidence indicates the majority of the group of seven men were Greek-speaking Jews.  Certainly at this point in its history, the Christian community would have been almost exclusively Jewish.4 The gospel’s expansion to the Gentile world followed the later dispersion of Christians from Jerusalem under the persecution Saul led in approximately AD 35 (8:1-17).  The fact that Nicolas—one of the seven—is specifically singled out as being a proselyte from Antioch further supports this interpretation about the identity of the seven.  While all seven men have Greek names, this would indicate a distinction between Nicolas and the other six, specifically that he had been a Greek convert to Judaism.

If Philip was indeed a Hellenistic Jew, he was likely one of the many who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem from other parts of the world for Pentecost.  The account of his selection as one of the seven in Acts 6 seems to rule out that possibility of his being one of the apostles.  Specifically we read “the twelve” (6:2), which would include Philip the apostle, charged the congregation to choose from among themselves seven men for the work of distribution of the widows in order that they (the apostles) could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (v. 4).  The men the congregation selected were then brought to the apostles for the laying on of hands (v. 6).  In this story, Philip the apostle would have been laying hands on Philip the evangelist.  They were not the same person.

Philip’s Character

While we know scant details of his background, what do we know about his character?  We know three things about him from Acts 6.  First, we know he had a good reputation among both the Hellenistic and Hebraic Jews since the entire community was given the task of selecting these seven men.  Second, we know he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  This means Philip was a spiritually mature individual whose character reflected his active submission to the Spirit’s presence in his life.  Finally, he was full of wisdom.  This indicates Philip possessed the practical wisdom necessary for handling the day-to-day distributions to the widows.  It also suggests he possessed spiritual wisdom and a high degree of discernment concerning spiritual or theological matters.  Being full of the Spirit and wisdom are sometimes viewed as a single qualification.5 Both concepts equally apply to Philip.

Philip’s Work

The New Testament does not mention Philip preaching or performing signs and wonders while in Jerusalem.  That does not mean, however, he was not involved in evangelism while there.  What we read later in Acts seems to indicate that Philip—like Stephen—was doing the work of an evangelist even while in Jerusalem.

Acts 8 indicates Philip was among those forced from Jerusalem under the persecution led by Saul and the martyrdom of Stephen.  Having left Jerusalem, Philip preached the word of God in Samaria (Acts 8:4-13).  We get a glimpse of the greatness of God’s presence and power in Philip’s life when we consider the animosity that existed between Jews and Samaritans (John 4:9).  Yet, the Bible says the Samaritans had great joy because of Philip’s ministry.  As a result of Philip’s preaching, many who had unclean spirits were cleansed, many who were paralyzed and lame were healed, and many believed and were baptized.6 So powerful was Philip’s preaching in Samaria that among those who believed and were baptized was a man named Simon who had practiced magic and had great influence among the people.7

We know so little of Philip’s life, yet we must stand in awe of his faithfulness.  Philip obediently left his ministry in Samaria, where he was reaching great numbers, so he could preach to one specific person.  Acts 8:26-40 details the account of Philip’s departure from Samaria to witness to and baptize an Ethiopian eunuch, an official of the queen of Ethiopia.  Though this may have seemed to be a lesser ministry, Philip’s action clearly led to the spread of the gospel to the continent of Africa.

After baptizing the Ethiopian, Philip was carried away and found himself at Azotus, the ancient Philistine city of Ashdod.  From there, he continued his preaching ministry until he came to Caesarea.  He was still at Caesarea about 20 years later when Paul returned from his third missionary journey (21:8).  Traditions vary about where and how Philip died.  Some believe he died a martyr in Hierapolis.  Others claim he died of natural causes at Tralles in Lydia.

Philip was the church’s first know missionary with his ministry in Samaria.  He preceded both Peter and Paul as the first missionaries to the Gentiles through his witness to the Ethiopian.  His preaching crossed social, racial, and political barriers and demonstrated the wonderful truth that God’s grace is available to all people.                  Bi

1.  See Eusebius, Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: Complete and Unabridged,  trans. C. F. Cruse (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 3.31, pp. 96-97.  This confusion between the two Philips in Eusebius is also referenced in the article “Philip” by D. H. Wheaton in The New Bible Dictionary,  ed. I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, and D. J. Wiseman, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1996), 917-18.

2.  Also referred to as the dispersion, these were Jews scattered throughout the Gentile world primarily through the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities in 722 and 586 BC.

3.  For further information on the meaning of the term “Hellenist” and its use in Acts, see Richard N. Longenecker, The Acts of the Apostles  in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary,  gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 327-330; also, John B. Polhill, Acts, vol. 26 in  The New American Commentary  (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992), 179.

4.  Exclusively Jewish in the sense of religion, not necessarily nationality.  Gentile proselytes would be considered Jewish religiously.

5.  Simon J. Kistemaker, The New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles  (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 222.

6.  Acts 8:1 provides further evidence that two Philips were not the same, telling us the apostles were not among those forced from  Jerusalem.  Additionally the laying on of hands signified an apostolic affirmation of what had taken place in Samaria.  If this Philip were the apostle he would certainly have been able to affirm that or at least take part with Peter and John in the laying on of hands.  For a more detailed discussion of the unusual nature of the receiving of the Spirit by the Samaritan believers see Polhill, 217-21.

7.  Some among the early church fathers doubted the genuineness of Simon’s conversion and questioned his relationship to early gnosticism.  For a more detailed discussion see Polhill, 215-17.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 37, No. 2; Winter 2010-11.


From Jerusalem Down to Gaza

By Patrick D. Ward

Patrick D. Ward is pastor of Glenstone Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri.


HILIP—Luke first introduces him in Acts when the Hellenistic Jews complained to the Hebraic Jews about the Hellenistic widows being neglected in the distribution of food.  Philip was one of seven men chosen for overseeing this distribution (Acts 6:5).  After the martyrdom of Stephen, a systematic persecution of Christians in Jerusalem broke out.  Most believers, except the apostles, scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria.  These believers preached the Word while on their way (8:4) plus in the various places they settled such as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch.  However, they focused their proclamation on “Jews only” (11:19, NKJV).

Philip heard a different call, however.  He traveled to the principal city of the hated Samaritans (8:5).  The Scripture is not specific about the exact location of this city; thus scholars debated its location.  The German biblical scholar Martin Hengel commented that the passage “is not to be translated ‘He went down into the city (with the name) Samaria’, as happens so often in the commentaries, but, ‘He went down into the (capital) city of Samaria.’”1 If this was indeed what Luke meant, then Philip would have been ministering in the city known as “Sebaste.”

Luke indicated Philip’s ministry was a success.  Philip boldly preached Christ and performed signs, including delivering some people of unclean spirits.  The apostles in Jerusalem affirmed Philip’s ministry by sending Peter and John to Samaria (Acts 8:14).  John’s Gospel says Jesus ministered briefly in Samaria (John 4:4-42).  Philip, therefore, may have been building on the ministry of Jesus.

The Lord’s next assignment for the evangelist was far from the responsive crowds of Samaria.  While Peter and John were making their way back to Jerusalem, preaching in Samaritan villages along the way, an angel told Philip to “go south to eh road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26, NIV).  There Philip met the Ethiopian eunuch and again demonstrated his commitment to personal evangelism.

The Route

Scholars are not certain about the exact route Philip took for his providential meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch.  The text only indicates that it was a desert road leading to Gaza, a preeminent city during the Roman period.  The city was situated on the southern coastal plain of Israel at the intersection or major trade and military routes.

Numerous times the Old Testament mentions Gaza, which was one of the five principle Philistine cities, and others being Ashdod, Ashkalon, Ekron, and Gath.  Located on the primary caravan route (the “Via Maris” or “Way of the Sea”) between Syria and Egypt, Gaza served as the bridge city between Egypt and the promised land.

As with Philip’s preaching mission in Samaria, Luke did not explain the exact location of Philip’s encounter with the eunuch.  A number of roads from Jerusalem would have connected with the Via Maris.  The angel’s words directing Philip to go south seem to suggest that he should travel directly south out of Jerusalem toward Hebron.  Following this route, Philip would have gone about 15 miles to Bethzur and then would have turned off the Hebron road and gone west toward Gaza.  Supporters of this tradition locate the eunuch’s baptism in the area of Beth-zur.

Others interpret the angel’s instructions for Philip to “go south” as a general directive for him to begin to focus his ministry in the south rather than in the northern area of Samaria.  Philip could have thus taken the traditional route from Jerusalem through Emmaus and then to the Via Maris.  From there, Philip would have planned to head south through Azotus towards Gaza.2 This may be more likely because Philip eventually came to Azotus (ancient Ashdod).  Plus, ample water was in the area and would have been available for the eunuch’s baptism.3

The Results

The Ethiopian eunuch, who served as a finance minister in charge of the treasury for the queen of Ethiopia, had been to Jerusalem to worship (Acts 8:27).  Luke introduced the eunuch by highlighting his geographical origin.  Ethiopia, one of the remotest regions of the then known world, would have fittingly represented the end of the earth.  With this story, Luke thus anticipated the power of the gospel to reach “the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8, NKJV).

While the text does not explicitly state the eunuch was a proselyte, his contemporaries probably considered him a God-fearer.  As a eunuch, he would have suffered physical mutilation and could never have hoped to be incorporated fully into the Jewish community (see Deut. 23:1).  Isaiah 56:3-5 offered a prophetic viewpoint that showed god ultimately accepting eunuchs fully in His house.  This view, however, would have conflicted with the prevailing first-century view.

Still guided by the Holy Spirit, Philip saw the high ranking Ethiopian returning home in his chariot from Jerusalem and enthusiastically ran toward him to see if he could be of service.  The eunuch was reading the messianic passage of Isaiah 53:7-8 concerning the Suffering Servant.  A brief dialogue ensued.  Philip recognized the passage and asked him if he understood what he was reading.  The eunuch responded with another question: “How can I . . . unless someone explains it to me?” (Acts 8:31, NIV).  He then invited  Philip to join him in his chariot.  Upon receiving the gospel message the Ethiopian desired baptism.  Providentially, water was at hand.  Philip baptized the eunuch.  In the final scene this outcast “went on his way rejoicing” (v. 39, NIV) to his home in the Nubian kingdom beyond the border of Egypt.  The gospel made its way to Africa because of Philip’s faithfulness.

After baptizing the eunuch, “the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away” (Acts 8:39, NIV) in a way that was reminiscent of Elijah (2 Kings 2:11-12).  Arriving in Azotus, Philip next headed northward to Caesarea.  In this great Roman port city, Philip lived and evangelized for many years.

Luke does not mention Philip again until Acts 21:809.  There Luke recorded that as Paul returned from his third missionary journey, he and his party stayed with Philip at Caesarea.  Luke offered a telling description: “Philip the evangelist” (v. 8).

Some New Testament scholars believe Luke’s major themes for the Book of Acts is the gospel “unhindered.”4 Philip’s ministry exemplified that emphasis.  Luke singled him out as an example of one who received power as the Holy Spirit came on him and who bore witness to Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and , in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NIV).

Amazingly, Luke never indicated that Philip reached Gaza.  A careful reading of the angel’s words, though, shows that those were not his instructions.  Instead, Philip was to “God south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza”  (Acts 8:26, NIV, italics added).                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Bi

1.  Marten Hengel, “The Geography of Palestine in Acts” in The Book of Acts in Its First Century Setting, vol. 4, The Book of Acts in Its Palestinian Setting,  ed. Richard Bauckham (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 70.

2.  Emil G. Kraeling, Rand McNally Bible Atlas  (New York: Rand McNally, 1956), 418.

3.  Ibid.

4.  Frank Stagg, The Book of Acts  (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1955), 108.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 35, No. 3; Spring 2009.


First-Century Ethiopia

By Bill Patterson

Bill Patterson is pastor, First Baptist Church, Richland, Mississippi.

Acts 10 discloses the conversion of Cornelius, a Roman centurion.  Chapter 9 tells the story of Saul of Tarsus, a Jew.  Chapter 8 reveals the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, perhaps a proselyte to Judaism but one whose physical mutilation would have excluded him from full participation in the congregation of Israel.  His return home brought the gospel into Africa1 prior to the apostle Paul’s missionary journeys to Europe.  God initiated these conversions and in so doing revealed He desires for people of every nationality and location to know Him.


ORE THAN 40 REFERENCES to Ethiopia occur in the Old Testament, but just one in the New Testament.  The word “Ethiopia” translates the Hebrew word “Cush” and is a transliteration of the Greek word “Aithiops,” meaning “burnt faces.”  Assyrian inscriptions also mention Cush in connection to Ethiopia and Meroe.2 

The official described in Acts 8 didn’t have to travel as far as the borders of modern Ethiopia.  His land encompassed the area known as Nubia (southern Egypt) and its southern neighbor, Sudan.  Ethiopia’s northern border began at the Nile’s first cataract (waterfall) near the present-day site of Aswan, Egypt.3  Modern Ethiopia is southeast of Sudan.  The southern, eastern, and western borders of ancient Ethiopia were not well attested but likely included most of modern Sudan.  If the ancient city of Meroe, the capital of biblical Ethiopia, was the same as the present-day city of Merowe, the southern border would have extended farther south than many scholars have believed—almost as far south as the sixth cataract.4

Ethiopia has a long and proud history.  Cush appeared in Egyptian records 20 centuries before Christ.  Egypt conquered the area during the third millennium BC.  Through the centuries of Egyptian control, Ethiopians adopted Egyptian religion and culture.

The first king of Egypt’s 4th dynasty ( 2600-2500 BC ), Sneferu, invaded Ethiopia and captured 7,000 slaves and 100,000 cattle.  In the 6th Dynasty ( 2350-2190 BC ), Egyptians reached as far south as the second cataract but could not maintain permanent control of the Ethiopians.  Egypt strengthened its control over Ethiopia in the 12th dynasty ( 1963-1786 BC ) when Senusert III built a canal through the first cataract of the Nile River to make a passageway for his troops into Nubia.  From that point forward, Egypt controlled the area, despite frequent rebellions.

Egypt’s territory continued to expand.  In the 18th Dynasty ( 1550-1295 BC ), the frontier was pushed below the third cataract.  Egyptian documents boast of thousands of “’man=loads’ of ivory, ebony, perfumes, gold and ostrich feathers besides cattle, wild beasts and slaves.”  Copper, bronze, iron, and gold made Egypt wealthy.  Gold from Ethiopia was said to be as “common as dust” in Egypt by the 15th century BC.5  Job 28:19 also lists topaz as coming from Ethiopia. 

About 750 BC, however, Egypt began splitting into small principalities with weak central control.  That made Egypt relatively anemic and vulnerable.  Coming to the throne about 750 BC, Ethiopia’s leader, Piankhy, began to work Egypt’s vulnerability to his advantage and won control over all of Egypt.  So strong was Ethiopia’s domination during this era that Egypt’s 25th Dynasty (760-656) came to be called the “Ethiopian” dynasty.6  Tirhakah, one of the last great kings of Ethiopia to rule Egypt, offered support to Judah’s King Hezekiah when the Assyria’s King Sennacherib attacked ( 2 Kings 19:9; Isa. 37:9 ).

Later, Persian records listed Ethiopia as the westernmost of its 127 provinces ( Esth. 8:9 ).  The leaders of Ethiopia exercised a great deal of freedom to rule from Napata, which served as the capital city from 750-300 BC, the Assyrians sacked Thebes, thus bringing Ethiopia’s control over all of Egypt to an end.  Ethiopia, however, continued to exist as a separate nation.  From the time of Ptolemy II of Egypt ( 308-246 BC ), Greek influence prevailed.  The cap[ital moved to Meroe around 300 BC and the kingdom flourished.  Rome, having gained control over Egypt in 30 BC, turned its attention to Ethiopia.  Although the people of Ethiopia rebelled, Rome prevailed.  The two countries signed a treaty that gave Rome control but allowed Ethiopia to remain relatively independent.7

Kings served as Ethiopia’s leaders as the people considered them to be the sons of the sun.  National administration lay in the hands of Ethiopia’s queens, several of whom went by the title of “Candace.”8  The eunuch of Acts 8 was treasurer to Candace and thus likely an important figure in the queen’s administration.

The Old Testament offers snapshots involving Ethiopia.  Moses married an Ethiopian wife ( Num. 12:1 ).  Whether this is a reference to Zipporah or to an Ethiopian who later joined the exodus from Egypt, though, is unclear.  The Old Testament also states that the time will come when Ethiopia will stretch out her hands to God ( Ps. 68:31 ).

The eunuch fulfilled that psalmist’s hope.  Tradition among Nubian Christians holds the Ethiopian official of Acts 8 led other to Christ when he returned to Ethiopia.  His impact, however, may have been limited.  History indicates that Christianity seemingly did not have major impact in the country until the fourth century AD.

What about the Ethiopian or a Gentile “God-fearer”?  Many kings in the ancient Near East would have young males castrated and trained as leaders of their harems.  Such eunuchs could not be Jewish due to the Old Testament prohibition that excluded emasculated males from the temple ( Deut. 23:1 ).  However, the term “eunuch” could also mean an officer of the court, whether or not maimed.  If not physically a eunuch, the official would have been free to become a Jewish convert.  This is not likely the case since Luke not only called him an official but also a eunuch.  The terms would be redundant unless both were true.

If the man were not Jewish, how did he come to know about Judaism?  Numerous biblical and extra-biblical sources offer information about Jewish settlers in Cush.  Zephaniah 3:10 reveals that Jewish people were in Ethiopia’s farthest districts.  Elephantine Island had a thriving Jewish community including a temple where worshipers offered sacrifices.  Also, as a court official the Ethiopian eunuch would have met Jewish people.  He could have learned from any of these or even from some other source.

The Ethiopian eunuch knew Greek.  We know this because the version of Isaiah he read was from the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  Court officials of Ethiopia likely spoke several languages.9 

Luke’s purpose in telling the story of the Ethiopian eunuch seems to be to highlight how the gospel was reaching across ethnic and cultural barriers.  The story would thus be in keeping with a major theme in Acts, which intended to highlight the spreading of the gospel in ever-expanding ways.

A wealthy eunuch traveled hundreds of miles to worship in Jerusalem only to find he could not enter the temple, just an outer court.  He observed the hypocrisy of the leaders and the scrambling of merchants to sell their goods.  He probably bought a scroll of Isaiah but left empty and disappointed.

Unrolling the scroll to the text we find in chapter 53, the man read how we all, like sheep, have gone astray.  He read that the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He unrolled the scroll further to read the description of the Suffering Servant.  Philip came alongside and began to teach.  Soon the eunuch came to believe in the Lord Jesus as the One on whom his iniquities were laid.

Luke’s story highlights the stark contrast in the Ethiopian’s religious experiences.  At the temple he was excluded from full participation in worship.  He left Jerusalem reminded he was unfit and unacceptable.  To Christ, however, he was fully acceptable.  He was invited to fully participate in God’s salvation.  Rather than rejection, he found acceptance.  Rather than being rendered unfit, he was now part of the family.

After being baptized the Ethiopian continued his journey.  Soon he likely came to chapter 56 and read that God give to eunuchs who please Him “a memorial” within His temple and “an everlasting name that will not be cut off” ( v. 5, NIV ).  The eunuch found the One who fulfilled the promises of Isaiah and perhaps even shared those promises in the courts of Candace.              Bi

  1.  We presume, however, that some converted at Pentecost went to the northern reaches of Africa.

  2.  Pinches, “Cush” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia ( ISBE ), gen. ed. Orr, vol. 2 ( Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939 ), 768.

  3.  Polhill, Acts, vol. 26 in The New American Commentary ( Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992 ), 223. Also see Miller, Who’s Who and Where’s Where in the Bible ( Uhrichsville: Barbour Publishing, 2004 ), 112.

  4.  Tenney, New Testament Times ( Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004 ), 221; Bruce,  Commentary on the Book of Acts ( Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1954 ), 186.

  5.  Cobern, “Ethiopia,” in ISBE, 2:1031.

  6.  Adams, “The Kingdom and Civilization of Kush in Northeast Africa” in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, ed. in chief Sasson ( Peabody: Hendrickson Publ. 2000 ), 779.

  7.  Ibid., 787.

   8.   Pliny, Natural History, vol. 2, The Loeb Classical Library, trans. Rackham ( Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press., 1942 ), 6.35.186 ( p. 477 ); Bruce, 186.

   9.   Documents of the Elephantine Papyri were in Aramaic, Greek, and Egyptian.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Summer 2008.




(2.441)  What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? What prophet’s buried bones worked a miracle?  Answer Next Week:

Last week’s question: Who became a leper after he lied to the prophet Elisha? Answer: Gehazi, 2 Kings 5:27.