Acts - Lesson 11
Acts Chapter 8
In this lesson, you will learn about the spread of the gospel in Jerusalem and beyond, following the death of Stephen. You will study the preaching of Philip in Samaria, where he faced opposition from the Jews and the conversion of Simon the Magician and the Ethiopian Eunuch. You will gain insight into the challenges faced by early Christians in spreading the gospel and how God used them to further his kingdom.
Acts Chapter 8
NT619-11 Acts Chapter 8
I. Introduction to Chapter 8
A. Stephen's death and the persecution of the church
B. The gospel spreading throughout Jerusalem and Judea
C. Philip in Samaria
II. Philip in Samaria
A. The preaching of Philip
B. The response of the people
C. The opposition of the Jews
III. Simon the Magician
A. Simon's encounter with Philip
B. Simon's conversion
C. Simon's request for the apostles' power
IV. The Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch
A. The eunuch's background
B. The encounter with Philip
C. The eunuch's baptism
A. The gospel spreading throughout the world
B. The continuing opposition of the Jews
- Acts is often referred to as "Luke: Part 2" suggesting that Luke was the author. Internal and external evidence confirms this authorship. It is believed that Acts was written in the 70's or 80's of the first century as a historical monograph with a biographic focus.
You will gain knowledge and insight about the authorship, date, and genre of the Book of Acts. The lesson will present evidence that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts and provide historical context to help determine the date of its writing. The genre of the Book of Acts will also be discussed, giving you a better understanding of its composition and purpose.
Acts is not a novel because it doesn't fit the style that novels of that time period were written in. It has elements of both common folk literature and elite literature. One motive that Luke had in writing Acts is as an apologetic to support a Jewish perspective. Acts is an apologetic, ethnographic history in a monograph form.
- In this lesson, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of the genre, historiography, purpose, and historical reliability of the book of Acts and its implications for interpretation.
This lesson teaches you about the themes of theology, history, culture, and miracles in the book of Acts, including Christology, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God, and the historical and cultural context of the first-century Roman Empire and Jewish culture. You'll learn the role of miracles in establishing the credibility of the gospel message and its relationship with faith. By the end, you will have a complete understanding of the main themes in the book of Acts.
In this lesson, you will learn about the role of miracles in the early church and how they were used to support and advance the gospel message in the book of Acts. The purpose of miracles, such as healings and other supernatural events, were seen as signs of the Holy Spirit's power and evidence of the truth of the gospel, which helped attract people to the message. Through exploring specific examples from the book of Acts, you will see how miracles played a crucial role in the growth of the early church and the spread of the gospel.
- This lesson covers the historical context of Acts, including the Jewish World, Roman Empire, political/social structures, and Mediterranean Geography. The purpose and authorship of the book, including Luke as the author, the purpose of the book, and its theology, will be discussed. The narrative structure, major sections, and events will be overviewed.
- The lesson is about the historical and theological context of the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit in the early Church as described in the first two chapters of the Book of Acts.
In this lesson you will learn about Peter's healing and sermon, the persecution and expansion of the church, and Stephen's martyrdom. You will gain insight into the early church's growth and the challenges they faced, as well as the impact of Stephen's death on the spread of Christianity.
- The lesson teaches about the events in Acts 5-7, including the story of Ananias and Sapphira, the growth of the church, the appointment of the seven, Stephen's defense, and his martyrdom, providing insight into the early Christian community and its challenges.
- The lesson is about the early events of the Church of Jerusalem and the role of the seven men chosen to serve the community, the first major persecution of the Christian Church, the spread of the gospel, and the conversion of Saul to Paul.
- The lesson covers the spread of the gospel in Jerusalem and beyond following Stephen's death, including Philip's preaching in Samaria, conversion of Simon and the Ethiopian Eunuch, and the challenges faced by early Christians.
- This lesson provides an overview of Saul's conversion and the events that took place on the Damascus road, including his baptism and ministry, and the implications for our lives today.
- This lesson provides an understanding of the events leading to the inclusion of Gentiles in the early Christian church and the spread of the gospel to non-Jewish people.
- This lesson explores the early Christian church's growth and challenges through the events of Acts 12 and 13, including the arrest and deliverance of Peter, Herod's death, the mission of Barnabas and Saul, and the first missionary journey.
- The First Missionary Journey in Acts 13-15 provides insight into the early Christian church through covering the team sent out, their ministry, and the results of their ministry.
- In this lesson, you will learn about the major issue that arose in the early Christian church regarding the relationship between Gentile converts and Jewish customs, the decision of the Jerusalem Council, and the implementation and response of the Gentile churches.
- In this lesson, you'll learn about the spread of the gospel in Philippi through Paul and Silas and the conversions of Lydia and the jailer, showcasing the gospel's power.
- In this lesson, you will learn about Paul's encounter with the philosophers of Athens and his message to them about the one true God, the judgment of humanity, and the resurrection of Jesus.
- This lesson provides a comprehensive overview of Paul's ministry in the city of Corinth, including the challenges he faced, the Lord's encouragement, and the significance of this episode in the book of Acts.
- This lesson provides insight into Paul's second missionary journey and his preaching, as well as the importance of the Holy Spirit's work and the ministry of the Word.
- The lesson provides an overview of Paul's journey to Jerusalem and the events that took place during his arrival in Jerusalem, the incident at the temple, his arrest, and his appearance before the Sanhedrin and its significance in the early Christian church.
- The lesson covers Paul's defenses in the final four chapters of Acts and his navigation of political and religious tensions while remaining faithful to his beliefs and mission.
- In this lesson, you will gain insight into Paul's journey from Caesarea to Rome, including details about the voyage and shipwreck, the aftermath of the shipwreck, and the significance of Paul's ministry.
The book of Acts portrays, in a narrative way, the life of the early church. The theme of the book is, "the mission of the early church." It tells how Jesus continued to carry out his mission that he started as recorded in the book of Luke, by working through the people of the early church. Dr. Keeener discusses the growth of the church from its Jewish roots through reaching the ends of the earth to fulfill the Great Commission.
Lecture 11: Acts Chapter 8
1. Acts Chapter 8
In Acts 7, Stephen lays the theological groundwork for the mission away from Jerusalem. But Philip is the first one to begin to officially carry the mission out. Actually, there were many people who were scattered and many took the Good News with them. Philip is one of the seven, one of the leaders of the Hellenist Jewish Christian movement. So, in Acts 8:5-25 we see Philip’s mission to Samaria and in Acts 8:26-40 his ministry to an African Court Official. So, in 8:5-13, we have the conversion of Samaria starting with the main city of Samaria, probably the city of Neapolis which was on the ancient site of Shechem. It is probably not the site of ancient city of Samaria which was no longer a Samarian city; instead it had become primarily a Greek city. So, Neapolis was on the site of ancient Shechem; Shechem which actually does figure in Stephen’s retelling of Israel’s history in Acts 7:15-16. Many people were coming to faith; however, he runs into there is Simon the Sorcerer.
Now, gentiles used magic a lot. It was popular in love; you had love magic to try to seduce people to like you, to charm them into being attracted to you. It was also used in sports, where a person would use magic to try and kill their opponents, making their chariots crash. It was also used in Egypt in particular; we have a lot of evidence for it there because of ancient magical papyri found telling us about it. The Jewish practitioners were sometimes considered some of the best at magic, despite the fact that some of the Jewish teachers said that magic was very bad and they weren’t supposed to use it. Many of the rabbis said that you had to show the differences between illusions and demons. Even though rabbis condemned magic, we see rabbis doing something that kind of looked like magic later on, using the secrets of creation to create the hind part of a calf and things like that. The reason for Jewish people were being well known for magic; it often worked by invoking the name of a higher spirit to deal with a lower spirit. Jewish people were reputed to know the secret name of their deity. What we really had for the name of God was YhWh, we didn’t have the vowels to go with it. Consequently, it was a tradition on how it was pronounced. Because Jewish people didn’t pronounce the sacred name in public anymore; they called him Lord rather than Yahweh. So, it was considered a secret name and in magic often people would try every possible permutation of how to pronounce that divine name. In any case, Jewish practitioners of magic were highly reputed; you see a Jewish false prophet in Acts 13 where the seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva was doing this. What they were doing was similar to practices in ancient magic and you have people who weren’t Jews trying to use the name of the Jewish deity. We see that Simon in this Samaritan town had gained a lot of notoriety from the practice of magic. There was a Greek city nearby named Sabass, founded on the site of ancient Samaria. The name meant the most noted (August) one. It was named after the title of the emperor. In this Greek city, we have evidence of what was going on in other places as well as there. In addition, at this time many were blending all the male deities into one kind of synthesis.
Justin Martyr was from Neapolis in the 2nd century; now today that town is called Nablus. He was a gentile from the Samaritan area although he wasn’t Samaritan as such by religion; he later became a Christian. He said that the tradition there was that Simon was being portrayed as the incarnation of the male deity and his consort Helena was being portrayed as the avatar of the female deity. We don’t know if that tradition goes back to the 1st century, but it could have as he was from the right area to know something about it. This would make some sense because in this passage it says that he claimed to be the great power of god. Now, remember there are people in Acts that claim to be somebody; Gamaliel said that Judas claimed to be somebody and in Acts 12, Herod Agrippa I wanted to receive worship as a deity. By contrast, Peter rejects veneration in Acts 3:12 and also in Acts 10; Paul and Barnabas also reject veneration in Acts 14. But here is somebody that wants to be exalted; what did Jesus say in Luke’s Gospel? Whoever seeks to exalt them-selves will be brought low and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Well, the Samaritans are baptized by Philip. They were already circumcised; so the issue of whether or not you had to circumcise would not be an issue as it was later on with the gentiles. But if the Samaritans converted to Judaism they would have converted by baptism alone, but this was viewed as tantamount to denying their identity as a Samaritan. It was viewed as being a traitor to ones people. For a Jew, like Philip, to invite Samaritans to follow the Jewish Messiah would have also been viewed as a betrayal of Judaism. Because they thought that Jesus was their Messiah and these people should not be welcomed into the fold as such. But it follows the program of decentralized witness that was argued in Acts 7 and was promoted by Jesus in Acts 1:8.
So, in Acts 8:13, we see a power encounter. Pagan sorcerers would sometimes duplicate some of God’s signs. You see this in Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7, but there was a limit in doing this. You get to Exodus 8:18-19; Pharaoh’s magicians were never able to duplicate the scale on which God was working. We know that God owns the universe and that God works in nature. You will never be able to duplicate anything on that scale creating another universe. They couldn’t do the things that Moses was doing at all and they recognized that this was the finger of God. Interestingly enough, in Luke 11 where Jesus talks about casting out demons, Jesus says that if I by the kingdom of God cast out demons, the Kingdom of God has come into your midst. Many places in the world today we see sorcerers being converted because they see that God’s power is really greater than that of the devil. Someone I know that graduated from Ashbury Seminary with a Doctor of Ministry sent me some pictures and reports of how sometimes in one year they will have twenty practitioners of witchcraft who openly claim this is what they do, converted and baptized in just one area of Indonesia where he is from. We have reports like that from many parts of Africa and elsewhere. One report from Southern Africa, a black South African evangelist was preaching among Zulus and there was a witch doctor practitioner of witchcraft who was curious about what was going on. He joined into the crowd and he had all of these charms woven into his hair. The power of the Holy Spirit was so strong that he just passed out. He fell down flat and when he regained consciousness all of his hair had fallen out with the charms and he became a Christian. We have a number of power encounters taking place all over the world today. And I have experienced some of that, not in the most pleasant ways but have seen that God’s power is superior to the power of the evil one and I know that God is victorious.
c. Ratification of the Samaritan Conversions
Well, in verses 14-25, the remainder of this narrative, we learn of the apostolic ratification of the Samaritan conversions. I mentioned this earlier in talking about current debates about baptism and the Holy Spirit. Theologically the Spirit’s work is one package. You see this in 2:38-39 but some people would say that repenting and being baptized is a perquisite and that the gift of the Spirit doesn’t immediately follow. But I think it is probably a bit messier than that. I have a friend, Danny McCain who teaches in Nigeria and he talks about how he will assign different passages of the Book of Acts to different students. Then he asks about what it means to receive the Spirit like in the Book of Acts? Depending on the passage they have; well, you get baptized first, then you receive the Spirit or you receive the Spirit and then you get baptized. Some of those may be exceptional, but the point is God is sovereign; he isn’t limited to doing it just one way. There may be an ideal pattern but let God be God. In any case, in principle, we receive the Spirit at conversion but experiential we don’t necessarily experience all aspects of it simultaneously. Scholars have approached this in various ways; but some people say that the Samaritans were not really converted yet. That is a decidedly minority view among Acts commentators. Most acknowledge that they were converted but this aspect of the work of the spirit, they hadn’t experienced yet. Calvin said they hadn’t experienced the outward signs of the Spirit yet. However you take it, it was something that the apostles felt Samaritans needed to have which they didn’t have yet. The biggest point here is that the Samaritans also received the gift and the Jerusalem church recognized and approved of this; at least the leaders did. Peter and John want this; they want them to receive the Spirit. According to Luke’s emphasis, the Spirit is a powerful witness. Thus the Samaritans become partners in missions. This wasn’t what Jewish people normally expected. Most Jewish people in travelling from Galilee to Jerusalem if they were Galileans like Peter and John were would travel through Samaria. Samarians would sometimes mock them as they traveled to Jerusalem.
d. Mt. Gerizim
The story is told of this one Samarian who asked why they were going up to Jerusalem. They said that their holy mountain, Mt. Gerizim was higher than Mt. Zion. In fact, it is the only mountain that wasn’t covered during the flood. The rabbi didn’t know what to say to him but his assistant, the donkey driver, said, well, according to the Torah only the mountains of the Ararat weren’t immersed. The Samarian was ashamed and there after the rabbi got off his donkey and then let the driver ride because the driver was so adept in Scripture. But this happened in Luke 9 where they were passing through Samaria and the Samarians were very displeased that they were headed toward Jerusalem. John and James wanted to call down fire from heaven on the Samarians wanting to act like Elijah. They didn’t really understand that God really cared about the Samarians. John was performing a very different role at this point. You can see things moving toward this as seen in Luke 17. You see also where Jesus heals a number of Lepers. The only one that came back to give thanks was a Samarian and Jesus commends him. So they were learning some things and we know from John’s Gospel chapter 4, they had other things going on. This was a remarkable turn about wanting the Samarians to receive the Spirit. It was definitely a change for the Galileans. It was a transition; you haven’t got to the gentiles yet. Acts 8:17 provides us with an example of laying on of hands for prayer. Of course hands were laid on to impart blessings in the Old Testament. We talked about this in chapter 6 for the coming of the Spirit for ministry. But laying on of hands for prayer in general wasn’t that common. But here, Peter and John who have laid hands on the seven earlier including Philip now lay hands on the Samarians. The goal isn’t to keep the power for ourselves or to keep knowledge for ourselves; the goal is to disseminate it and multiple it as much as possible so that we have as many co-workers as possible. The harvest is great, but the laborers are so few; let’s seek to multiple it.
e. Simon the Sorcerer
Acts 8:18-24, we see that sorcerers also work signs and Simon sees something that lets him know that people had received the Holy Spirit. There are different views on what it may have been. Whether it was Stephen looking like an angel in Acts 6:15; a lot of people think that it was tongues because they appear elsewhere. But I think Luke has such an emphasis on cross-cultural communications; he would love to narrate tongues if he knew that it had happened on this occasion. I am inclined to think that it wasn’t tongues, but that perhaps is the majority view of people who try to narrow it down to anything. C.G. Done thinks it was tongues. Seeing that it is Luke and Acts, it could have been any kind of prophesizing, but I think Luke might have mentioned this if he really knew what it was. He may not have had the details for this occasion. But whatever it was, it was something that Simon saw and he wanted that same power that these apostles have because it was really dramatic. Well, sorcerers were used to buying magical formulas and now he wanted to buy this power that the Holy Spirit gives. But no one could buy the Spirit of God. This is God’s gift and there is no money in the world that would be enough to acquire God’s gift worthily. We have to accept it as God’s gift. And we don’t all have the same gifts; we have to be faithful with the gifts we have and be open if God wants to give us more gifts. But Simon took the wrong approach and Simon Peter told him that he and his money perish with you. So Simon then asks them to pray for him. It ends on somewhat of a positive note; at least Simon realizes that he’s in trouble and wants them to pray for him and acknowledges their right to pray. It doesn’t say that he repented for himself and according to later tradition, he didn’t. Keep in mind the way the later church dealt with false prophets of their own day, it helped if they had somebody they could link them to in the New Testament. And some of those false prophets actually wanted some precedence in the New Testament other than the public apostolic traditions.
f. Philip and the Ethiopian Official
In Acts 8:26-40 we have Philip with the Ethiopian Official. Philip functions as a forerunner, perhaps not in the same way that John the Baptist does for Jesus, but Scot Spenser has pointed out that Philip often functions as a forerunner for Peter in the Book of Acts because it’s Philip who preaches to the Samaritans first. As Peter and John are on their way back home, they also preach to the Samaritans. They have learned something that Philip did before them, they could preach in the Samaritan’s villages. Philip, being Hellenist, probably could only speak Greek and thus speak in the major towns; a lot of the Samaritans there could speak Greek, but in the surrounding villages they would just speak Aramaic. So Peter and John could preach in the villages of Samaria in a way that Philip couldn’t. So, we learn about the conversion of an African official; this is significant. It is the first fully gentile convert; the narrative repeats itself five times saying that this was an Ethiopian eunuch. But it would be more dramatic to say that he was the treasurer of Queen Kandace, often Latinized as Candace, she was queen of the Ethiopians. The point that he was a eunuch was literal as it mentions it several times. There were a number of officials in antiquity that were eunuchs. Male servants of queens were often eunuchs. People would look down on eunuchs, especially in the Roman world; they often called them half-men. It was understood that sometimes people were born with certain things missing, but most eunuchs were people who were made eunuchs, humanly. This was sometimes done to servants who were male so they would not enter puberty in the normal way and would continue to be sexual abused by their male masters. But this was especially done in Parthia, east of the Roman Empire.
If a person was literally a eunuch according to Deuteronomy 23:1, this person could not become a proselyte. They could not join the community of Israel. They could be a God-fearer and the man obviously was, as he was reading about the prophet Isaiah. He was reading Scripture; he went to Jerusalem for worship. But he would not actually be allowed to be a full proselyte. He is the first fully gentile Christian being from Africa. We call him the Ethiopian Eunuch thinking of the current nation of Ethiopia which has a wonderful Christian history. They were converted through the witness of a couple of Syrian Christians around the year 333. The Emperor of the New Empire of Aksum in East Africa which is now Ethiopia was converted to Christianity and afterwards much of the country converted with him. This is one of the few places in the world where the Gospel initially spread without martyrs. But this court official is probably not from what we call Ethiopia today. Ethiopia had a wider meaning back then and the mention of Kandace tells us that he was from the Nubian kingdom of Maroway which existed before Aksum, dating back to 750 BC. How do we know that this conversion was so significant in terms of Luke’s narrative? He has already mentioned a proselyte in chapter 6. We have Samaritans in the first part of chapter 8. Cornelius is clearly a gentile in chapter 10 and some say that he was the first gentile convert. He was the first public gentile convert, the one that Jerusalem knows about. But there things happened before what became commonly and widely known. Paul and his companion, including Luke in Acts 21 spent time in Philip’s home. What could Philip and Paul have been talking about together; probably simply old times perhaps Paul persecuting the church and having scatters the church. What did Philip do when he went out; Luke may also have been staying with Philip later on in Caesarea when Paul was in Roman custody there for two years. He certainly would have had other occasions to talk with Philip whom he already met. This might be a story that only Philip knew; Philip went on to Caesarea, he didn’t go back to Jerusalem. So this isn’t something that would necessarily get back to the Jerusalem church in contrast to the conversions in Samaria. That would have had to get back to the Jerusalem church as travelers went back and forth all the time.
There is a message here; one that Luke undoubtedly finds very ideal to emphasize in light of the Old Testament. Isaiah 56:3-5, we see that God himself welcomes foreigners and eunuchs. This is the context of the passage that Luke sites earlier where Jesus sites from Isaiah 56 and says that this house shall be called a House of Prayer. The context is a House of Prayer for all nations. Also, there is an Ethiopian eunuch in the Old Testament who turns out to be one of Jeramiah’s few allies and saves his life. He doesn’t’ get as much play in the Book of Acts as Cornelius does. The Cornelius story is repeated three times in the Book of Acts, but that is because of Peter’s role in that story. Cornelius was the first official convert and the important thing about that story wasn’t just the conversion of Cornelius but the conversion of the Jerusalem church. The change in their thinking about what could happen; they were regarding this as an exception rather than a precedent until you get to Acts 15 when Peter sites this as a precedent. But this conversion of Cornelius wasn’t the first gentile Christian; that was the African Court Official. Now Luke traces the mission of the church to the west, to the heart of the Empire which was his audience. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about the Gospel going to remaining ends of the earth. He narrates this, going to the southern ends of the earth. So, this is given as much space as the Samaritan Revival and it may show us something significant also in terms of reaching out to the international visitors among us. Some of these visits are from places where it is very hard to reach people within their own context of where they are from. If they come to places where we can minister and where there is more freedom to minister, we should be reaching out to them. It is so tragic that in some countries where there is freedom to preach the Gospel but people are not doing anything to reach the unreached. God is often sending the unreached to Christians; many of our cities have such a mixture of cultures. We need to be proactive in reaching out to people. It is their choice how they respond, but we certainly need to be loving them and sharing with them and in this case God certain orchestrates these events.
In 8:26 Philip is told to go south, but the Greek word could be translated as midday. If he is being sent at midday, that is normally considered urgent as most would stay in the shade during that time; shepherds would take their flocks in the shade of trees if possible. They would usually stop at midday and have a light meal and then a rest. But more likely the term means to go south, which is also interesting as it is the south road toward Gaza. There were two major roads from Jerusalem that led south; one led through Hebron and into Idumaea while the other road went south but joined the coast road before it reached Gaza heading for Egypt. We have Roman mile stones as road markers showing where these roads actually were. But he speaks of something deserted, either a deserted road or more likely a deserted Gaza. There was Old Gaza and New Gaza, the city had been rebuilt. The Old Gaza was a deserted town near the Old Testament Ashkelon and then a New Gaza. After the revival in Samaria, the command to go south must have appeared strange. You can think of Abraham being sent out as being similar to this. God often tests the faith of his servants through apparently absurd commands. Moses apparently leads his people and they come up to the sea and then he was told to stretch out his hand and his rod and part the sea. That sounds like an absurd command.
In 1 Kings 17, Elisha tells a widow in Jerafat to first prepare the food for me. She said, I just have enough for my son and myself and then I was going to die, but she goes ahead and prepares the food. In 2 Kings 5, Naaman is told by Elisha’s servant that he is to go and dip himself in the River Jordan, but he is offended, thinking that the rivers Abana and Pharpa, the rivers of Damascus would be better than all the waters of Israel. He wanted Elisha to wave his hand over the leprosy, but his servants persuaded him to do it. So Naaman was healed after going to the Jordan. In the same way, Philip is given a fairly absurd command. When God gives us a command, we should obey it. In Acts 8:27 Philip got up and met the Ethiopian eunuch as God commanded. The Greek for Ethiopia was Aithiops, a term referring to Africa, south of Egypt. It wasn’t just what we call Ethiopia today. Mediterranean legends placed Ethiopia at the southern end of the earth and there were a number of myths about Ethiopia. Memnon was a mighty warrior, son of Eos the dawn goddess. There was Andromeda, an Ethiopian princess who was rescued by Perseus in Greek mythology. In Homer, they sometimes spoke of gods spending time with the Ethiopians. They were considered a very special group of people. The most common feature of Ethiopians in Greek literature was their black skin; and this is also in the Old Testament. You also have busts of them, statues of them and the writings speak of other features. It is absolutely clear that this is talking about Africans south of Egypt. There had been Nubian Empires since around 3000 BC and this particular empire; he speaks of the Kingdom of Meroe. Well, Meroe was a Nubian Kingdom, south of Egypt in what is now the Sudan. It had been around since 750 BC and its main cities were Meroe and Napata. Eventually this empire fell about the time it was being eclipsed by the Empire of Aksum. But the Gospel spread in Nubia and in the 5th and 6th centuries it became a major stronghold of Christianity. In fact, it remained a Christian stronghold for almost a thousand years.
Because they couldn’t get priests with teaching as the Patriarch of Alexandra couldn’t spare them and Ethiopia couldn’t spare them, they eventually succumbed to invaders from the north. They were able to stop them for many centuries. But we only have oral tradition stating these points, nothing concrete especially as to what happened after this official returned to his home. The Candace, Greeks thought of this as a title of the ruling Queen mother. So, according to Greek usage, probably this would not have been just a queen, but the ruling queen. But Africans probably used the title more widely, not just for the queen who reigned when there wasn’t a king. One ruling Queen Mother actually beat Augustus in battle and he had to retreat. There are a number of other ancient reports about these powerful Ethiopian Queens. According to Jewish legend, Moses married one. There was one ruling in this period by the name of Kandake, who was ruling Nubia. In Nubian art, it portrays the queen with many jewels and also depicts her having a wide girth which means that she had a lot of food available. This was a powerful queen, whether she was reigning or whether she was married to a husband who was reigning, we don’t know for sure during this period. The days of the ruling hierarchy are not quite fixed yet. The queen’s treasurer would definitely be a powerful person because the queen was very wealthy and this was a very wealthy kingdom. Archeologists have found considerable wealth in the ruins in Meroe which was way further south than Egypt on the Nile. Greek would be used in trade ties with Egypt and Greek was the language of the cities of Egypt during this time. Many of the common people still spoke Coptic but Greek would have been used for official things. The Nile was very good for trade because one could sail southward on the Nile because of the wind or one could said northward on the Nile because of the current. So, this official that Philip was speaking to, undoubtedly spoke Greek since he was involved with economic issues for the kingdom. Remember that Philip was Hellenist and therefore Greek was his language. This was the common language in which they could communicate. It is probably also the language of the scroll the Ethiopian was reading, most likely acquired in Alexandria.
We see in verse 28 that he was seated in his chariot. Only the wealthiest people had chariots; people occasionally read as they sat in their chariots. He was obviously literate, being of a class who could have afforded education, but he might have had a reader reading it to him. And presumably this was in Greek, otherwise there was no way Philip would have recognized the text that he was reading. In verse 29, the Spirit told Philip to run up to the chariot, being apparently a young man and in good health. Sometimes we see that positive aspect of youth in Scripture. Peter and John in John chapter 20 in competing as to who could run the fastest to get to the tomb of Jesus; John outruns Peter but on the Galilee Lake, Peter swings to Jesus showing his devotion. Well, Philip was probably a young man; we see later on that he had four daughters so probably he was a young man at this point. And so, Philip runs up to the chariot; now note that reading silently was very rare in antiquity. However, it did happen sometimes, but usually people read aloud; they hadn’t developed reading silently as a separate skill for the most part. He runs up the chariot and hears the man reading from Isaiah. The Ethiopian ask to whom was the prophet speaking, of himself or someone else? Well, that was a divine setup; you have those sometimes in Scripture, like in Genesis 24 where Abraham sends his servant to fine a wife for Isaac and we see how the details fall into place in ways that make the confirmation crystal clear which was very important for the message of Genesis as the line must be carried on. We see the story is narrated at great length being told at least twice as the servant narrates in detail to the family as the Lord confirmed this for him. Most of you if you have been a Christian very long have experienced some of these divine setups. I have seen them happen and experienced them fairly often. But this one is pretty dramatic; it’s very important that the good news be able to go even to this far off land, farther than Philip’s language abilities can take him.
Here is a key moment and the text that is being read is from Isaiah 53. Who is the servant in the Book of Isaiah? Well, sometimes Isaiah tells us; in Isaiah 42 it tells us that the servant is explicitly Israel. In Isaiah 49, the servant is also Israel but in 49:5 the servant seems to be distinguished from the rest of Israel. He suffered on behalf of Israel and then in 53:1-3 the servant is rejected by Israel and in 53:4-12 it says that the servant bears the sins of Israel even though Isaiah has been talking about Israel being punished for her sins. And in Isaiah 53:9, it says that this servant is not guilty and 53:12 that the servant suffers voluntarily. This doesn’t sound like it is describing Israel, but it is depicted as somebody who acts on behave of Israel. One person within Israel, a remnant who acts on for Israel and this is applied in the New Testament to Jesus who we see fulfilled this. In Acts 8:36-38, they are going along and the Ethiopian is so delighted; remember that he wasn’t allowed to convert to Judaism; he couldn’t being a eunuch but now he is welcome to be a Christian.
There were wadis near Gaza that sometimes contained water; they come to such a place where there was water; ‘so what prevents me from being baptized?’ Full emersion was presupposed in Jewish baptism. So if a gentile wanted to convert to Judaism, they would be immersed in water. And normally the immersion was much more immersively than practiced in churches today, in that the person normally had to be completely naked. Later, rabbis said that if so much a bean thread was between their teeth, it invalidated the conversion because you weren’t fully immersed. No, I don’t think that John the Baptist was immersing people in the river Jordan naked where there were both men and women. I don’t think that was very likely knowing what we know about Judaism. This may not have been a naked baptism either. In any case, there is a wadi with water in it and as a God fearer; the Ethiopian probably understood the need for baptism. He couldn’t be circumcised but at least I can go through this ritual. By the way, I’m not trying to get into the issue for what churches should do in later period. I am only explaining the background to what was done then. Ideally, you should be immersed in running water. If not, then use still water and it goes on that you may have to pour water over them. The most important point here, this was an act that was understood as an act of conversion. I don’t know how your church does it; I’m talking about how it was considered in the Book of Acts, based on how it was normally done in this period. But in Acts 8:39, the Spirit takes Philip away and the Ethiopian doesn’t see him anymore but he goes on his way rejoicing which is also a sign of the Spirit in Acts.
g. Philip was Taken Away
This was like in Acts 13; the Spirit catches Philip away. Now, it had been thought that this could happen to a prophet in the Old Testament; like Elijah; Obadiah said that he was afraid when you told me to get Ahab; nobody has been able to find you, you are so elusive. I was afraid that I would go and tell Ahab and you wouldn’t be here. The Spirit would take you and put you somewhere else. In 2 Kings 2:16, some of the sons of the prophets said to Elisha that they knew his master would be taken from him today, so maybe the Spirit of the Lord has carried him away on some mountain. In Ezekiel 3:12-14, the Spirit actually does take Ezekiel away, but it is not clear whether it is in his body or it is in a visionary way. In one, he is actually picked up by his hair and carried away in the Spirit. So, was it literal or not, but here it is clearly real and physical. He is completely relocated to another place. This isn’t very common in the New Testament, except for here and also in the Book of Revelation. Paul says, whether in the body or out, I don’t know. There are reports of this in Indonesia, some of the ministry teams that were walking to a walk that should have taken them a week, but instead only took them a day. God has ways of doing these things if he wants to, but it isn’t frequent. The African Court Official goes on his way. Philip, the Spirit however carries him away and he starts going to the coastal cities. The ancient Philistine stronghold of Ashdod, but Azotus was the current name of the city. It was about twenty-five miles north of Gaza and about thirty-five miles west of Jerusalem. He preaches in these cities until he comes to Caesarea Marittima as opposed to Caesarea Philippi; what used to be known as Paneas which was near the city of Dan, north of Galilee where Jeroboam I, the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel offered sacrifices to a golden calf and led Israel into Idolatry in 1 Kings 12:26-28. Caesarea Marittima was over fifty miles north of Azotus and it was off the same coastal road. So Philip is walking on the main road. It leaves Philip here but comes back to him later and he will still be in Caesarea.
There are different seasons in our lives and at different times we do different things, different ministries. For Philip, he was an itinerant at one point as an evangelist. Here, Philip apparently settles in the city and does ministry. Caesarea Marittima is going to be very significant for this narrative. That is where Peter is going to share the Gospel with Cornelius. Philip has already been there, but Peter, a leader in the Jerusalem church is the one who sent for because the Jerusalem church needs to learn some things also. Caesarea was more multicultural than Jerusalem. Jerusalem was pretty much monolithically Jewish, but Caesarea was divided between Jews and gentiles and there was a lot of interchange and a lot suspicion and mistrust. Philip presumably settles there and does ministry there and that is where Peter is going to meet Cornelius in Acts 10. But before Acts 10, Acts 9 which is where Saul becomes a believer and for a few chapters, it is going to be going back and forth, gradually transitioning between Peter and the Jerusalem church on the one hand and Paul and the gentile mission on the other. Caesarea was also probably widely known because of the Judean Roman war. When war broke out, Jews and Syrian started killing each other in the streets of Caesarea. We are told by Josephus that in a very short amount of time, the Syrian gained the upper hand and slaughtered around twenty thousand Jewish residents of the city. It was a terrible thing. We are told by later church traditions that Philip was no longer there; they had immigrated to Asia Minor and part of the Johannian related church there. Philip functions as Peter’s forerunner here with the Samaritans, the gentiles and even with Caesarea. Luke probably got these stories from Philip; sometimes we have a lot of unsung heroes in history. With Philip, we would not have known about any of these things if Luke had only access to the stories of the Jerusalem church.
h. Unsung Heroes
We have a lot of unsung heroes in church history. Some of us who are out in front of people, people that know about us, but we have people behind us who are praying for us. We have other people that you never hear of, who are doing ministry. You think of the people who lead others to the Lord. The people who led me to the Lord; those who brought me the Gospel on the street when I was an atheist; I argued with them for forty-five minutes until I changed. They didn’t even know that I was converted until a year later; I went looking for them and told them what had happened. By then I had led ten other people to the Lord. I know their names but most people don’t know, but all of our names are written down in heaven. They are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life as it says in chapter 10. That is what matters the most; God knows who we are and as brothers and sisters, we will all be together forever. I remember one time I was walking into a place of prayer; people were praying and worshiping there. And I was so wrapped up with the things I was doing for the Lord; as I entered, the Holy Spirit spoke to me that the ministry I was involved in were all good things. But some day, I won’t be this or that, but you will always be my child, and that is the heart of our identity. Whether people know who we are or not; Philip does the mission before Peter and Philip doesn’t get the same notoriety that Peter does. But God used Philip to break new ground and God knows in that God’s book and that is what matters and God’s work goes forth. We seek first the Kingdom and everything else will be added to us and in the end, it is the kingdom that matters because that is what is forever.