Author: Ron Graham
—Verse by verse
This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 8:26-40. These verses describe Philip converting the man from Ethiopia who was riding in his chariot.
Philip preaches to a man from Ethiopia.
¶“26But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip. The angel said, 'Arise, and go southward along the road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.' This area is deserted. 27But Philip arose and went. And behold, there was a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was responsible for all her treasure. He'd been to Jerusalem to worship. 28Now he was returning; seated in his chariot; reading the prophet Isaiah.” (Acts 8:26-28).
¶“29The Spirit told Philip, 'Go closer, and meet this chariot.' 30Philip ran to the man, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet. Philip said, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' 31The man replied, 'How can I, unless someone explains it to me?' He implored Philip to come up and sit with him.” (Acts 8:29-31).
¶“32Now this is the passage of Scripture the man was reading: 'He was led as a sheep to the slaughter. As a lamb before his shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 33In his humiliation his judgment was taken away. Who will declare His generation? His life is taken from the earth.' ” (Acts 8:32-33).
¶“34The eunuch further replied to Philip by asking, 'Who is the prophet talking about —himself or someone else?' 35Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture, preached to him about Jesus. 36As they went along the way, they came to some water. The eunuch said, 'Look! Here is water. What prevents me from being baptized?' [ 37Philip replied, 'If you believe with your whole heart you may be baptized.' The man said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.' Having said that,] 38he commanded the chariot to halt. Both he and Philip went down together into the water, and there Philip immersed the eunuch.” (Acts 8:34-38).
¶“39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more. The eunuch went on his way rejoicing. 40As for Philip, he found himself at Azotus. From there he passed through all the cities preaching the gospel as far as Caesarea.” (Acts 8:39-40).
1 The Holy Spirit Sends Philip Down a Lonely Road
¶ "But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip. The angel said, “Arise, and go southward along the road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” This area is deserted. But Philip arose and went. And behold, there was a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was responsible for all her treasure. He'd been to Jerusalem to worship. Now he was returning; seated in his chariot; reading the prophet Isaiah." (Acts 8:26-28).
- Jerusalem to Gaza This was a lonely road, a most unlikely place to find opportunity to preach.
- Arise and go Although a deserted place seems a strange place for a preacher to go, Philip goes as told. The angel said, “Arise and go”; Philip “arose and went”. He asked no questions —just did it. Whether he walked, and how far he went we don't know.
- A man of Ethiopia, a eunuch. This man was a long way from home. Ethiopia is far south of Gaza, so the man was still in the early stages of his journey from Jerusalem. He was most likely a black man. More interesting than that, he was a eunuch —he'd been castrated. There were many reasons for making eunuchs, including that boy singers should not lose their sweet soprano voices! In the Ethiopian’s case he served a queen as her slave, and was able to be in private with her without raising questions of propriety. The point is, however, that God loved this man and wanted him saved, regardless of his being a black man and a eunuch (Acts 10:34-35).
- Of great authority. To be the queen’s treasurer administering the economy of her kingdom, was a very responsible and important position. We are reminded of Joseph who, although a slave, was second in charge of Pharaoh’s kingdom (Genesis 41:39-40).
- Been to Jerusalem to worship. This man is a believer in God and a worshipper of God. Although probably not a Jew by birth, he is a proselyte and God-fearer who practices Judaism.
- Reading the prophet Isaiah. The Ethiopian is a student of God’s word and he spends his travelling time reading Isaiah.
- Luke tells us that the Ethiopian was reading from "the prophet Isaiah" (Acts 8:28). Later, the passage in Isaiah is identified as chapter 53 (Acts 8:32).. Some theologians hold a theory, about authorship of Isaiah, that the latter chapters, including chapter 53, were a later addition to Isaiah by other authorship. This theory accommodates disbelief in Isaiah’s God-given ability to predict the future. But that accommodation comes at a price: not only is Luke contradicted, but so also are Matthew, John, and Paul —who all attribute Isaiah 53 to the prophet Isaiah (Matthew 8:17, John 12:38, Romans 10:16). Furthermore, if Bible authors couldn't predict the future, then they couldn't predict the Messiah, and the main point of prophecy is made invalid. It is not the Bible authors who are mistaken; rather, the theory that contradicts them is in error.
2 Philip Preaches to an Audience of One
¶ "The Spirit told Philip, “Go closer, and meet this chariot.” Philip ran to the man, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet. Philip said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man replied, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” He implored Philip to come up and sit with him." (Acts 8:29-31).
- Q1: Do you understand what you are reading? Philip obeys the Spirit, and runs up to join the Ethiopian in his chariot. On foot, trying to keep up with a chariot, Philip is in no circumstance for formal greetings and pleasantries. So Philip doesn't introduce himself and discuss the weather. He gets right to the point. He asks a direct, sensible, and appropriate question — a most useful skill in evangelism.
¶ "Now this is the passage of Scripture the man was reading: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter. As a lamb before his shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth. In his humiliation his judgment was taken away. Who will declare His generation? His life is taken from the earth.” " (Acts 8:32-33, Isaiah 53:7-8).
- A sheep to the slaughter This passage predicts the death of Christ, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." (John 1:29,36). Isaiah predicts that the life of Christ would be cut short by oppression and injustice. As it turned out, he was taken into custody by a crooked court, humiliated and killed like a criminal. Only his burial was allowed some dignity, lent by a rich man’s grave. The passage ends with the injustice of his death. He was taken from life "even though he had committed no violence, nor was any deceit found in his mouth" (Isaiah 53:9). Peter, on the day of Petecost, voiced the injustice of killing Christ (Acts 2:22-23).
¶ "The eunuch further replied to Philip by asking, “Who is the prophet talking about —himself or someone else?” Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture, preached to him about Jesus." (Acts 8:34-35).
- Q2: Of whom does the prophet speak? The Ethiopian was also, like Philip, sharp enough to ask pertinent questions. This question gets right to the heart of the matter. Philip was able to take it from there and preach Jesus to him by expounding that scripture and others. Often people have questions are about side issues. We need to say, in such cases, “That's not the question we need to answer right now. The most important question is...” Philip didn't need to do that. The Ethiopian’s question was right on the mark.
3 Philip’s Teaching Results in Baptism
¶ "As they went along the way, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look! Here is water. What prevents me from being baptized?” " (Acts 8:36).
- Q3: What prevents me from being baptized? We've noted two good and pertinent questions. Now this third question —is it of the same class? The Ethopian has been listening intently to Philip, and gathered not only that Jesus is the Christ, but that God requires water baptism into the death of Christ and in the likeness of his burial and resurrection (Romans 6:3-7).
¶ "[ Philip replied, “If you believe with your whole heart you may be baptized.” The man said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Having said that,] he commanded the chariot to halt. Both he and Philip went down together into the water, and there Philip immersed the eunuch." (Acts 8:37-38).
- Philip replied...the man said. Some translations omit verse 37, the section indicated by square brackets. Because late manuscripts contain it but early manuscripts don't, the verse is relegated to the margin or a footnote. It is thought to be an interpolation (somebody added it). However other versions (such as the New King James Version) include the verse in the text. Without the verse, Philip appears to have no say in the matter; the eunuch’s question is rhetorical; and Philip must presume that the man has faith, since it is unstated. In short, removing the verse leaves an odd gap.
- Into the water. There is debate about whether the two went “down into the water” or merely “down to the water”. The argument has to do with whether baptism is immersion in water, or just the sprinkling or pouring of a little water. If the two only went down to the water, and not into it, then Philip could not have immersed the Ethiopian, but he could have reached down to draw up a little water to sprinkle or pour on the man.
- On the other hand, if the two went down into the water it would be for immersion, because there would be no need or reason to go down into the water for the purpose of sprinkling or pouring. The next verse makes the whole matter clear.
¶ "When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more. The eunuch went on his way rejoicing. As for Philip, he was found at Azotus. From there he passed through all the cities preaching the gospel as far as Caesarea." (Acts 8:39-40).
- Came up out of the water. This is the antithesis of the previous phrase, “went down into the water”. It is clear that if the two came up out of water then they must have gone down into it. One wonders, therefore, why there is any debate about whether the two went into the water or only just to the water.
- Caught Philip away. Philip disappears, vanishes from the Ethiopian’s sight. Rather than disconcerting the Ethiopian, this small miracle or sign confirms his belief in Philip’s message, so he goes on his way rejoicing.
- Azotus to Caesarea. Philip finds himself at Azotus and sets out on a preaching tour through several busy coastal cities —in contrast to his preaching to one man along a lonely road. But God has as much concern to save the one as he does to save the many. Sometimes we preach to crowds, sometimes to one or two. What's important is that we preach.