Icon of Philip and the Eunuch

Acts Devotional Commentary [Acts 8:26-40] Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch


Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch


Acts 8:26-40

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

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

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37] (omitted) 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.


Observations and Reflections


Before we can comment on the content of this great passage, we must address the fact that verse 37 is missing from most modern Bible translations. In short, the oldest and most reliable manuscripts do not contain this passage. It appears to be a 6th century addition based on oral tradition. A few early church fathers believe this verse to be part of the story but did not state where the information came from; whether it’s from tradition or one of the manuscripts. Some translations like the NASB include the verse but place it in brackets, adding a footnote that it’s not in the early manuscripts. For more on this issue, read this article: Why is Acts 8:37 Missing from Modern Bible Translations?


The story of Philip and the Eunuch is one that does not get a ton of sermon time in the church. However, in the early church era it was of vital importance. The early church was forming their rituals and sacraments and baptism was one of the most critical, because some early church leaders believed that baptism literally washed away our sin. They did not believe it to be a symbolic gesture. The Catholic church records this information in their catechism,

1213 Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua),4 and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.”

1239 The essential rite of the sacrament follows: Baptism properly speaking. It signifies and actually brings about death to sin and entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ. Baptism is performed in the most expressive way by triple immersion in the baptismal water. However, from ancient times it has also been able to be conferred by pouring the water three times over the candidate’s head.

1263 By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin.66 In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam’s sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.

1264 Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin” (fomes peccati); since concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.”67 Indeed, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”

The Eastern churches had similar beliefs. In the Byzantine catechism we find a similar teaching.

EVERY SIN MAY BE FoRGtveN.When St. Peter told the people
of Jerusalem, “Every one of you must be baptized-.-for the
forgiveness of your r[nr” (Ac 2:38), he did not’exclude any sin,
“orilinat ot perional. St. Paul explained to the Colossians: “Yott
haie been^buried with him, *hrn you were baptized; and by
baptism, too, you lnve been raised up with him through your belief
in the power of God wln raised him from the dead’ You were
dead irro^, you ,rrc sinners. . .he lns brought yoy to _l!f: with
him, he lns forgive,n us all our sins” (Col 2:11-13). When he
wrote to the- C6rinthians, he listed many sins which exclude
p.”pf. iro* heaven, yet he stated: “Thesi are the sort of people
ioi, of you were oirr, but now you have been washed clean,
and tanitified, and justified through the ryame
of the Lord Jesus

Christ anil through the Spirit of our God.” (l Co 6:11).
BAPTISM ALSO CANCELS ALL PUNISHMENT, TEMPORAL AS WELL AS
ETERNAL, DUE To SIN. This follows from the fact that baptism not
only takes away all sin, but also renews and regenerates the
baptized. The oid -an, full of sin, is buried with Christ.

Moreover, the early church fathers and other writtings seem to have also held baptism as the process for removal of sin.

Wherefore also, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but
according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order that, by believing in His death, ye may by
baptism be made partakers of His resurrection. (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians — Ignatius)

Concerning the water, indeed, it is written, in reference to the Israelites, that they should
not receive that baptism which leads to the remission of sins, but should procure1591 another for
themselves. (First Apology— Justin Martyr)

As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able
to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their
sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is
water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the
name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy
Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, “Except ye be born again, ye
shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Second Apology — Justin Martyr)

By reason, therefore, of this laver of repentance and knowledge of God, which has been
ordained on account of the transgression of God’s people, as Isaiah cries, we have believed, and
testify that that very baptism which he announced is alone able to purify those who have repented;
and this is the water of life. (Second Apology — Justin Martyr)

“And when we come to refute them [the gnostic], we shall show in its fitting- place, that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole [Christian]  faith…For the baptism instituted  by the visible Jesus  was  for the remission of sins”  (Against Heresies — Irenaeus)

“Regarding  [baptism],  we have the  evidence of  Scripture that Israel would refuse  to accept the washing  which  confers the remission  of sins and would set up a substitution of their own instead [Ps. 1:3–6]. Observe there how he describes both the water and the cross in the same figure. His meaning is, ‘Blessed are those who go down into the water with their hopes set on the cross.’ Here he is saying that after we have stepped down into the water, burdened with sin and defilement,  we come up out of it bearing fruit, with reverence in our hearts and the hope of Jesus in our souls” (Letter of Barnabas)

“I have heard, sir,’ said I [to the Shepherd], ‘from some teacher, that there is no other repentance except that which took place when we went down into the water and obtained the remission of our former sins.’ He said to me, ‘You have heard rightly, for so it is” (The Shepherd of Hermas)

“Moreover, those things which were created from the waters were blessed by God, so that this might also be a sign that men would at a future time receive repentance and remission of sins through water and the bath of regeneration—all who proceed to the truth and are born again and receive a blessing from God” (To Autolycus — Tehophilus of Antioch)

“When we are baptized, we are enlightened. Being enlightened, we are adopted as  sons.  Adopted  as  sons,  we  are  made perfect.  Made perfect,  we become immortal . . . ‘and sons of the Most High’ [Ps. 82:6]. This work is variously called grace, illumination,  perfection, and washing. It is a washing by which we are cleansed of sins, a gift of grace by which the punishments  due our sins are remitted, an illumination by which we behold that holy light of salvation” (The Instructor of Children — Clement of Alexandria)

“Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life. . . . But we, little fishes after the example of our [Great] Fish,  Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water. So that most monstrous creature, who had no right to teach even sound doctrine, knew full well how to kill the little fishes—by taking them away from the water!”

………………

“Baptism itself is a corporal act by which we are plunged into the water, while its effect is spiritual, in that we are freed from our sins.” (Baptism — Tertullian)

“And the bishop shall lay his hand upon them [the newly baptized], invoking and saying:  ‘O  Lord God, who did count these  worthy of  deserving  the forgiveness of sins by the laver of regeneration, make them worthy to be filled with your Holy Spirit and send upon them thy grace [in confirmation], that they may serve you according to your will” (The Apostolic Tradition — Hippolytus)

“Baptism  washes away all,  absolutely all,  our  sins, whether of deed, word, or  thought, whether  sins  original or  added, whether  knowingly or unknowingly contracted” (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians — Augustine)

“While I was lying in darkness . . . I thought it indeed difficult and hard to believe . . . that divine mercy was promised for my salvation, so that anyone might be born again and quickened unto a new life by the laver of the saving water, he might put off what he had been before, and, although the structure of the body remained,  he might change himself  in soul  and mind. . . . But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the water of rebirth, a light from above poured itself  upon my chastened and now pure  heart;  afterwards, through the Spirit  which is breathed   from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man” (To Donatus — Cyprian of Carthage)

There are many more writings from the early church on the matter but we should look no further than the creed most Christians profess, the Nicaean Creed,

“And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” (Council of Nicaea — Nicene Creed)

With this in mind, we should not be surprised that the early church may have placed a heavy burden on the Eunuch’s baptism to conform to the baptismal tradition that was passed down to them. It was not a trivial matter.

Knowing how important baptism was to the early church the apostolic traditions, those of us from more evangelical backgrounds (myself included) might want to have a serious look at how nonchalantly we treat baptism in today’s ministry. We talk about the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Jesus, but do we ever talk about the remission of our sins? Remission and forgiveness are two different matters. To be forgiven means it’s not held against a person anymore. But the remission is essentially the removal or the cleansing of the stain left by sin.


Another interesting facet of this passage is at the very beginning, where we discover that Philip’s baptism of the Eunuch was only because of the prompting of God, through a messenger.

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (Acts 8:26)

In Acts it’s usually the Holy Spirit that does the leading. However, Philip received word through an angel of the Lord. It is hard to know if this is an earthly messenger or a heavenly messenger. The word for angel in Greek is άγγελος which usually translates into messenger like in Matthew 11:10. However, the phrase “messenger of the Lord” usually refers to a heavenly being. Yet, Philip’s visit from the angel seems to be of little fanfare. No fear and trembling or confusion as with other visits by angels in the gospels. Perhaps it was not important to the story. Or is it possible that the angel was appearing as a human? We might never know.



 

Comments, curses, and blessings welcome!

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