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Bailey Sadler Class
SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE – Spring 2016
Study Theme: Seize
What This Lesson Is About:
week’s focus is on Jesus’ commission for His followers to be mission
minded in all that they do for Him.
A Call To Missions
your place in God’s mission to the nations.
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.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; LifeWay
Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza,
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,
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.
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
whom are we introduced in this verse?
does it mean to be a eunuch? (See
are we told about him? (See Digging
had he been?
would he have been considered an “outsider,” especially by the Jews?
made him a good candidate for an evangelistic witness?
of your actions demonstrate that you accept people who are different from you as
they worship with you?
does God require us to be open to people who are different from us in ethnic
background or socio-economic status?
you think Philip’s meeting with the eunuch was accidental?
Why, or why not?
not, what do you think was the real underlying purpose for this meeting between
Philip and the eunuch?
What kinds of differences exist in our community
that could be barriers to presenting the gospel?
How do you recognize
an opportunity to share the gospel?
How do you prepare
yourself for an encounter to share the gospel?
Is this a regular
part of your prayer life? Why, or
What does this tell
you about your relationship with Christ?
Lessons in Acts 8:27b:
we follow God’s directions, He provides us with opportunities to share
prepares the hearts of people to receive our witness.
must be open to share the gospel with all kinds of people.
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
was the eunuch reading as he traveled (v. 28)?
motivated Philip to seek out the eunuch (v. 29)?
bold action did the Spirit prompt Philip to take (v. 29)?
to verse 30, what happened when Philip ran up to the eunuch’s chariot?
did Philip ask? Why do you think
Philip asked such a question?
response question from the eunuch opened the door for Philip to expand the
passage of Scripture was the eunuch reading (v. 32)?
(See Isaiah 53:7-8.)
to verse 34, what did the eunuch ask of Philip?
opportunity did the eunuch’s question open up for Philip (v. 34)?
explaining the Scripture, about whom did Philip speak (v. 35)?
you think this encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian just happened?
Why, or why not?
If you think this encounter was a divine
appointment under God’s initiative and direction, what makes you think so?
If you believe God goes before you and empowers
you, how should this truth shape
your involvement in missions?
What can you do to be more engaged in missions?
What ways do we see
God at work in this passage?
How do you see God at
work in your life when it comes to your sharing the gospel with someone?
Lessons in Acts 8:28-35:
Spirit prepares the hearts of people to hear the good news about Jesus.
fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.
believers, we need both to be willing to share Jesus and to be prepared to
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
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!
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.
Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Focal Passage from three different translations of
King James Version: Acts
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
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 (NLT)
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
Be Open To Cross Cultural Barriers (Acts 8:27b)
Be Ready To Share Jesus (Acts 8:28-35)
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
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
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
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.
Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990,
1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.
Complete Biblical Library Commentary:
They preached the same good news in many Samaritan
villages on their way back to Jerusalem.
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
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
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Complete Biblical Library Commentary - Acts. Copyright ©
2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.
The College Press NIV Commentary:
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
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
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.
(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.
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.
All We Know
By R. D. Fowler
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Exclusively Jewish in the sense of religion, not necessarily nationality.
Gentile proselytes would be considered Jewish religiously.
Simon J. Kistemaker, The New
Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Grand
Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 222.
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.
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.
From Jerusalem Down to Gaza
By Patrick D. Ward
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,
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.
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
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
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
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
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).
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.
Emil G. Kraeling, Rand McNally
Bible Atlas (New York: Rand
McNally, 1956), 418.
Frank Stagg, The Book of Acts
(Nashville: Broadman Press, 1955), 108.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
eunuch of Acts 8 was treasurer to Candace and thus likely an important figure in
the queen’s administration.
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 ).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
presume, however, that some converted at Pentecost went to the northern reaches
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 ),
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.
“Ethiopia,” in ISBE, 2:1031.
“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.
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;
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
Last week’s question: Who
became a leper after he lied to the prophet Elisha? Answer: Gehazi,
2 Kings 5:27.