Acts: Chapter 8

Themes:

  • Response: In Acts Chapter 8 we see three specific responses to the Gospel: suppress, exploit, and believe. Luke in this chapter is trying to convey the wide range of response to the Gospel.

    • First, Saul actively tries to suppress the Gospel by persecuting the church. After the stoning of Stephen, Saul is embolden and begins to more actively find and imprison early church Christians. Suppressing the Gospel is a response rooted in rejecting God. Saul’s entire identity since childhood has been the learning the Jewish law and becoming a pharisee. Saul saw that Christians and believers in Jesus were a threat to him and his way of life, so he responded with suppression. All who reject Jesus and God suppress the Gospel in their own personal life; but Saul hated the Gospel so much that he suppressed the Gospel physically with persecution.

    • Second, Simon tries to exploit the Gospel for personal gain. Simon Magus was a magician who would use his special powers to receive money and tithes from locals who believed he was “semi-divine.” The Samaritans even called him “God’s Great Power.” Simon was so popular he even had his own cult-like followers called the Simonians, which were Gnostic (the physical world has no meaning). Simon saw the Gospel and the Holy Spirit as something to be exploited. He envied with his eyes the power of the apostles. Simon did not realize that the Holy spirit can not and will not be controlled for personal gain. And, that it is the Holy Spirit that is the power (dynamo) of God! In the end Simon lost his vision, the very thing which caused him to envy in the first place.  

    • Thirdly, the Ethiopian Eunuch believed in the Gospel and was baptized. This is the correct response. What Luke is trying to show in this chapter is that anyone who is humble can receive the gospel. Saul was a Jew’s Jew and he suppressed the Gospel, Simon Magus was powerful and wealthy Magician, and he wanted to exploit the Gospel. But, it is a humble Ethiopian Eunuch that believes and is forgiven of his sins. An Ethiopian Eunuch would have been shunned by the Jews for both his race and his sexual identity. He would have been considered the lowest of the low. But it is this man who Luke shows is the richest of the three mentioned. For it is the Eunuch that asks for help, listens to the truth of Philip, and acts out the Gospel in being baptized immediately. As Jesus said, the least of these shall inherit the kingdom of God. Not the Jew, not the powerful, but those who humble themselves.

May we be reminded that daily humility is necessary to live out the Gospel in our relationships and in our community!

People:

  • Philip the Evangelist: ”is first mentioned in the account of the dispute between the Hebrew and Hellenistic disciples in Acts 6. He is one of the deacons appointed to superintend the daily distribution of food and alms, and so to remove all suspicion of partiality. The persecution of which Saul was the leader must have stopped the "daily ministrations" of the Church. The teachers who had been most prominent were compelled to take flight, and Philip was among them. It is noticeable that the city of Samaria, is the first scene of his activity. Acts 8. He is the precursor of St. Paul in his work, as Stephen had been in his teaching. The scene which brings Philip and Simon the sorcerer into contact with each other, (Acts 8:9-13) which the magician has to acknowledge a power over nature greater than his own, is interesting. This step is followed by another. On the road from Jerusalem to Gaza he meets the Ethiopian eunuch. (Acts 8:26) ff. The History that follows is interesting as one of the few records in the New Testament of the process of individual conversion. A brief sentence tells us that Philip continued his work as a preacher at Azotus (Ashdod) and among the other cities that had formerly belonged to the Philistines, and, following the coast-line, came to Caesarea. Then for a long period--not less than eighteen or nineteen years--we lose sight of him. The last glimpse of him in the New Testament is in the account of St. Paul's journey to Jerusalem. It is to his house as to one well known to them, that St. Paul and his companions turn for shelter. He has four daughters, who possess the gift of prophetic utterance and who apparently give themselves to the work of teaching instead of entering on the life of home. (Acts 21:8,9) He is visited by the prophets and elders of Jerusalem. One tradition places the scene of his death at Hierapolis in Phrygia. According to another, he died bishop of Tralles. The house in which he and-his daughters had lived was pointed out to travellers in the time of Jerome.”

  • Simon Magus: “Simon Magus, (Latin), English Simon the Magician, or The Sorcerer, (flourished 1st century AD), practitioner of magical arts who probably came from Gitta, a village in biblical Samaria. Simon, according to the New Testament account in Acts of the Apostles 8:9–24, after becoming a Christian, offered to purchase from the Apostles Peter and John the supernatural power of transmitting the Holy Spirit, thus giving rise to the term simony (q.v.) as the buying or selling of sacred things or ecclesiastical office. Later references in certain early Christian writings identify him as the founder of post-Christian Gnosticism, a dualist religious sect advocating salvation through secret knowledge, and as an archetypal heretic of the Christian Church.”

  • Ethiopian Eunuch: “A man who occupied a leading position as treasurer at the court of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, and who was converted and baptized by Philip the deacon (Ac 8:27-39). Being a eunuch, he was not in the full Jewish communion (compare De 23:1), but had gone up to Jerusalem to worship, probably as a proselyte at the gate. During his return journey he spent the time in studying Isaiah, the text which he used being that of the Septuagint (greek translation of the Old Testament). On meeting with Philip the deacon, who was on his way to Gaza, he besought of him to shed light upon the difficulties of the Scripture he was reading, and through this was converted. The place of his baptism, according to Jerome and Eusebius, was Bethsura: by some modern authorities, e.g. G. A. Smith, it has been located at or near Gaza.”

Culture:

Places

  • Samaria: “Philip most likely visited ancient Sebaste, the main city of the Samaritans, lying at the foot of their holy mountain Gerizim (This is the same mountain that Jesus references in John Ch. 4, as the Samaritan’s “Temple” so to say,  with the Woman at the Well). The Samaritans would have been prepared for Philip’s message about the Christ (Messiah), because they had their own expectation of a prophetic Messiah called the Taheb, who they believed would come to their holy mountain (John 4:20). John the Baptist and Jesus had previously ministered in this area (John 3:23; 4:4-42).”

Cultural Background

  • The Taheb (the Samaritan Messiah): The Samaritans were at odds with the Jews. This division while ethnic in nature also had a religious divide too. The Samaritans believed that the true dwelling place of God was Mt. Gerizim while the Jews knew it to be the Jerusalem Temple. The Samaritans primarily read the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) only, but their own specific translation. They also had their own Messianic figure called the Taheb (which is translated Restorer), who was to be a second Moses. This is almost identical to the Jewish Messiah as well. The Taheb was said to come to the earth and pronounce judgement on the unholy and forgiveness for the sins who believe in him. Those who are saved will be restored the the garden of Eden and will live in perfect fellowship with God. It is interesting to note that Philip and the apostles preaching Jesus convinced the Samaritans that Jesus was the true Taheb, the true Restorer of man with God. But, unlike the Samaritan “Restorer” which restored ethnic Samaritans only, Jesus restores all mankind, every nation, race, and people unto himself.

Contemplating God:

Voices of the Past:

  • On Saul’s Anger and Suppression: “Great was Saul’s frenzy: that he alone entered even into homes; he was so angry he was willing to give his own life for the law. “Arresting,” it says “men and women”: this shows both the confidence and violence he had in his frenzy. All that fell into his hands, he treated poorly and violently, even women. Because of Stephen’s murder he became more daring in his persecution.” - John Chrysostom

  • On Simon’s Envy and Exploitation: “Simon the Magician had been baptized indeed in physical water but his heart had not been cleaned...he wished to liken the gifts of God to the gathering together of Gold. He cheapened the grace of God to a prize that a merchant purchases at a market for a price to add to his own possessions.” - Arator

    “Simon did not say, “Give me also the participation of the Holy Spirit,” but instead he said, “Give me this power,” with a view to selling to others what cannot be controlled or sold for a profit (God / the Holy Spirit).” - Cyril of Jerusalem

  • On the Ethiopian Eunuch’s Belief and Baptism: “That same Philip, who had baptized Simon the Magician, and the Holy Ghost had not come upon them...baptized the officer, that is, the eunuch of queen Candace, who had worshipped in Jerusalem, and on his return was reading in his chariot Isaiah the Prophet, and understood it not. Philip being prompted by the Holy Spirit went up to his chariot, explained the Scripture, taught him the faith, and preached Christ. The eunuch believed on Christ, and said when they came unto a certain water, See water, who does hinder me to be baptized? Philip said to him, Do you believe in Jesus Christ? He answered, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Immediately he went down with him into the water. When the mystery was believed and his Baptism had been accomplished...the Holy Ghost came immediately. This shows us that it was Simon's thought that made his baptism ineffective. His heart wanted to be baptized for personal gain and to gain followers. But the Ethiopian Eunuch’s heart was pure and humble wanting to know God and God alone!” - St. Augustine of Hippo

Footnotes

Smith’s Bible Dictionary. “Philip the Evangelist.”

Encyclopedia Britannica. “Simon Magus.” www.britannica.com/biography/Simon-Magus

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. “Ethiopian Eunuch.”

Martin Henry Commentary on Acts. “Chapter 8.”

The Jewish Encyclopedia. “Samaritans.”

John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles. Homily 18.

Arator. On the Acts of the Apostles. Chapter 1.

Cyril of Jerusalem. Catechetical Lecture. 16, 10.

St. Augustine of Hippo. Sermon 99.11.

Peter Elliott