Acts 8

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Saul Begins a Persecution

Verse 1: And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. (NRSV)

  • This persecution quite simply spurred on the believers to begin the great commission, because they scattered to Judea, and Samaria from Jerusalem.
    • This is the fulfillment of Acts 1:8.
    • It also didn't really send people that far away, which indicates how location specific the persecution was.
    • We don't know why the disciples stayed as they would be the ones most likely to be killed. It probably wasn't fear because Stephen just showed that non-apostles had faith and courage.

Simon the Sorcerer

Verse 14: Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. (NRSV)

  • Interesting that the best people were needed after these people received salvation, not before.
  • John rarely seems to say anything, he is just in the shadow of Peter the big brother.
  • There seems to be a lot of interest in making sure that wherever the gospel goes it is approved by and connected with the Jerusalem Church at this point.

Verse 16: (for as yet the Spirit had not comen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). (NRSV)

  • There is a question about why the Holy Spirit had not already come. After all, the Holy spirit seems to be associated with baptism and often comes right then (Marshall 157).
    • It seems more like a literary device than a need, a reason to connect the different believers together and bring the apostles to Samaria.
    • Others think that something went wrong with the baptism of the believers, but that puts too much emphasis on the ritual and not enough on the meaning.
    • We also need to avoid assuming that all the new believers had the same issue that Simon did. Most were probably very dedicated and sincere.

Verse 17: Then Peter and Johno laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (NRSV)

  • Philip had already been here, why couldn't he have laid hands on the believers to receive the Holy Spirit?

Verse 18: Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, (NRSV)

  • There is a lot of debate about whether Simon was actually a believer.
    • He was baptized and had hands laid on him to receive the Holy Spirit, but did he believe?
    • Simon's actions say he probably didn't fully believe. Perhaps he thought that the actions themselves conveyed power.
    • But I doubt the apostles would have baptized him without some form of confession. I just think he hadn't quite “gotten” it yet, like a new father giving away cigars in the foyer.
    • There was a famous heretic of the early Church called Simon Magus and while we don't know if this was the same man or not, it is possible (Longenecker 156).
    • A reasonable explanation is that he is a fascinating character in Acts and represents the conflict between God and evil, so the early Church fathers wrote and elaborated on the story.
    • The two definitely are connected in early Christian thought, where Simon Magos is sometimes thought to have started the Simonians (Fitzmyer 403).
  • This is obvious, but when the Spirit came it was something that people could see physically because Simon saw it as such a change that he wanted to be able to bring that about. But what we don't know is how it appeared, whether it was similar to Pentecost or anything like that.

Verse 19: saying, “Give me also this power so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” (NRSV)

  • This was not about paying to get the Spirit, but paying to pass it on to others. After all, apparently Philip couldn't pass it on either.
  • Simon is never talked about as losing his salvation, he just needs to beg for forgiveness.

Verse 20: But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God's gift with money! (NRSV)

  • Peter seems to basically be saying “you should die, and take your money with you.”
  • ”may your money” is optative mood, which is wishes, prayer, and dreams. This isn't about commanding that he die, but saying “you might die because of this” or “I hope you pay for this.”

Verse 21: You have no part or share in this, for your heart is not right before God. (NRSV)

  • It is unclear whether this verse is about the laying on of hands or Holy Spirit/Christianity itself.
  • The idea here is that Peter is literally seeing Simon's heart on this issue and going beyond just the deeds into the reasons.
  • Simon had done the right things, had been baptized and said the statements of faith but his actions still put him in danger of losing it.

Verse 22: Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. (NRSV)

  • ”Repent” and “beg” are both imperatives, orders, but they apply more to what Peter sees in him than to him trying to buy the Holy Spirit.
  • There is a word here, “ara” that is not translated but that is designed to draw attention to what is around it, “it” in this case. It is about “possibility” (ALGNT 73). When alone, it can expect a negative answer to a statement (IDEL 113).

Verse 23: For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness.” (NRSV)

  • ”For” here ties in the last verse with this one. Bitterness and wickedness are the reasons why he needs to repent, and trying to buy the Holy Spirit is just a symptom of something deeper.
  • It is interesting that bitterness is one of the things held against him. We don't know what he would be bitter over unless he was upset that he didn't have that kind of power and wasn't the center of attention anymore.
    • The only other reference to “bitter gall” is in the Septuagint, and refers to breaking a covenant (Johnson 149). Perhaps here it refers to turning so soon away from what he had promised to God when being baptized.
    • Another opinion about the “bitter gall” is that it is referring to a poisonous plant and here is being used to talk about Simon's fruit leading to poison for himself and those around him (Marshall 159).

Verse 24: Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what youp have said may happen to me.” (NRSV)

  • Simon repented, right there and then. But he didn't beg from God, he begged Peter to pray for him instead.
  • It is interesting to compare Ananias and Simon here. Simon got a chance to repent, perhaps simply because he was being honest about it. He didn't try to lie, he was just going the wrong direction.

The Ethiopian Eunuch

Verse 26: Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) (NRSV)

  • So far this has been a decidedly Jewish group of believers. Even the last event regarded Samaritans, who were partly Jews and partly locals. This is the first full fledged foreigner, though he was already seeking so should not count towards and ministry to Gentiles.
  • There is no mention that this Philip is the apostle Philip. Some commentators say this is a different person, but if it is there is no direct evidence of that either.
  • Gaza is right on the trade route to Egypt, and therefore the road to Ethiopia.
  • The word translated “south” here mainly means “noon” (Longenecker 158).

Verse 27: So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship (NRSV)

  • Jewish legend has the queen of Sheba (Ethiopia) coming to king Solomon, and that is how Judaism got to Ethiopia.
    • This Eunuch is then thought to have brought Christianity back to the Judaic faith in Ethiopia, though that is far from a historical certainty.
    • The earliest we know of Christianity being a force in Ethiopia is in the 5th century (Fitzmyer 411).
    • There is a branch of Christianity that is still dating to Ethiopia which is very ancient, called the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (Note that this is not the country of Ethiopia today, but more like the Sudan, what was once Nubia).
  • This eunuch seems to be making a pilgrimage to the temple and back. So even though he is technically not a Jew, this shouldn't be classified as the beginning of witnessing to the gentiles (Fitzmyerer 410), but as a long distance Jew, or as a transition between Jews and Gentiles.
  • ”Candace” is not the queen's name, but a transliteration of the term “queen” in Ethiopian (Fitzmyer 413), or a dynasty name (Johnson 155).
  • The Ethiopian is a high official here, equivalent of “The Minister of France” (NAC 223).
    • Whether he is a physical eunuch or one by position is in question. That term was used of those in high position as well.
  • There is a lot of question about how a eunuch would be received at the temple. Deuteronomy 23:1 that no eunuch could enter, but Isaiah 56:3-5 talks about them being accepted (Longenecker 158).

Verse 29: Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” (NRSV)

  • This is a change, it isn't an angel speaking to Philip but the Spirit. Whether it is a change in wording or a change in the situation we can't know for sure.

Verse 30: So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (NRSV)

  • Reading aloud was pretty much the only way to read anything until well past the middle ages. So it's not surprising that Philip could hear him reading.
  • This was a day and age when only synagogues had scripture written down.
    • That this man had a copy of something as expensive and large as Isaiah says that he was very wealthy.
    • The Eunuch could also have bought this scroll for his queen, but that is not even hinted at here, only in that it was such an expensive object and that the Ethiopians had a long history with Judaism already.
  • Interesting that Philip here did not start evangelizing, but simply took advantage of a small opportunity.

Verse 32-33: Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: (NRSV)

  • This is a nearly direct quote from the Septuagint.

Verse 34: The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else? (NRSV)

  • This is one of the key questions that Jewish scholars had been debating for centuries. Was the Eunuch trying to start a discussion or did he really expect Philip to be able to answer it?
  • While a full commentary of these verses deserves treatment in Isaiah itself, it should be noted that the next verses following these are about foreigners coming to God and being accepted.
    • So who the speaker is here really matters. If it was Isaiah, well the time for Isaiah has past. But if it is someone else, then perhaps the eunuch can still find salvation.

Verse 36: As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (NRSV)

  • The discussion must have gone on far beyond merely reading Isaiah, because baptism was part of the discussion so that he knew what to do.
    • By making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Ethiopian shows he was already following God to some extent.
    • Whether he already baptized as a proselyte and this was a Christian baptism, or he was being baptized for the first time, we don't know.
  • The eunuch did not seek a reason to do what he needed to do, but a reason not to. He brought it up, he took the initiative.

Verse 39: When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (NRSV)

  • ”Rejoicing” is the standard reaction to being part of God's plan. Especially interesting is the connection with the disciples leaving rejoicing after persecution (Acts 5:41).
    • Eunuchs could not be full proselytes (Barrett 124), so perhaps an element of the rejoicing here is that the eunuch could become a full member of the Christian community. Acceptance.

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