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Acts Eight

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

Acts 8:1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.

church which was at Jerusalem. The church at Jerusalem had grown inordinately large. In addition to the three thousand converts on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41), there were many others who had joined. After Peter's second sermon, it was noted that the believers numbered five thousand men, evidently not even counting the women and children (Acts 4:4). Later the disciples were called a “multitude” (Acts 4:32), and still later it was said that “the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly” (Acts 6:7). They were all staying in Jerusalem, enjoying one another's fellowship and the preaching of the apostles. The Lord, however, had commissioned them to go throughout all Judaea and Samaria, and eventually “to the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Since they had not even started to do this, perhaps it was the Lord who allowed this persecution to arise. Soon they were, indeed, scattering into the rest of Judaea and into Samaria, and as they scattered, they “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). Perhaps modern churches that desire to become large and powerful should be advised by this example (note also, for example, the later church at Laodicea, which had become big and rich in material things, but lukewarm in doctrine and devotion to Christ—Revelation 3:14-20). When the Lord blesses a church with many converts and disciples, it may well be more efficient as well as Christ honoring for many of its members to “scatter abroad” to form new churches in other areas where they are more needed. Philip's glad reception in Samaria (Acts 8:5-8) is a case in point.

Acts 8:2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

Acts 8:3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

Acts 8:4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.

Acts 8:5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

Acts 8:6 And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.

Acts 8:7 For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.

Acts 8:8 And there was great joy in that city.

Acts 8:9 But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:

Acts 8:10 To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.

Acts 8:11 And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.

Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

Acts 8:13 Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

believed also. Simon's “belief” was evidently only a belief in the reality of the signs and wonders performed by Philip (note Christ's rebuke of this kind of belief in John 4:48; also compare John 2:23-25). These wonders were greater than Simon was able to do with his sorceries (Greek mageia, from which we get our word “magic”), and he was envious. In the early Christian literature, he was called Simon Magus, and was said to be a prominent enemy of the true faith.

Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:

Acts 8:15 Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:

Acts 8:16 (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

Acts 8:17 Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

laid they their hands. This procedure—laying on hands to receive the Holy Ghost—is not normative for all believers. It is only mentioned twice (here and in Acts 19:6), and these were both special cases. In this case, it was vital for the new Samaritan believers to be integrated spiritually with the Jerusalem church, since the Jews and Samaritans had been enemies for centuries and this barrier urgently needed to be removed. Consequently, two leaders of the apostles, Peter and John, came to Samaria to confirm the Samaritan acceptance on the human level, and the Holy Spirit came on the divine level, evidently by supernatural phenomena, as He had done at Pentecost. There is no indication, however, that the Samaritan believers spoke in other tongues. After all, there were only Samaritans present on this occasion, rather than men from many nations, as at Pentecost, so such tongues would have been unintelligible. Whatever the manifestation may have been, it was obvious that the Holy Spirit had fallen on the Samaritans, just as He had on the Jews at Pentecost.

Acts 8:18 And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,

offered them money. The practice of paying money for spiritual privileges has been called “simony” ever since Simon the sorcerer tried to purchase the ability to confer the Holy Spirit on people. His offer, recognizing the superiority of the Holy Spirit's gifts to his own magical abilities, does indicate that the reception of the Holy Spirit by the Samaritans was evidenced by supernatural manifestations of some kind.

Acts 8:19 Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.

Acts 8:20 But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

Acts 8:21 Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.

Acts 8:22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.

Acts 8:23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

Acts 8:24 Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.

Then answered Simon. Simon's apparent repentance seems to have deferred Peter's anathema on him. Although no further mention of Simon is given in the book of Acts, church history indicates that he later became a serious problem to the church. Known as Simon Magus, he is said to have been the one who introduced gnosticism into the church, and was a persistent opponent and rival of Peter.

Acts 8:25 And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.

Acts 8:26 And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.

Acts 8:27 And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,

man of Ethiopia. Philip had been among the first to go to Samaria with the gospel; now he also was called to witness in the outside world, through this influential official of the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia. The latter seems (like Cornelius, as noted in Acts 10) to have been a proselyte of Judaism, but his witness could bring a significant opening for Christianity into Africa.

Acts 8:28 Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.

Acts 8:29 Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.

Acts 8:30 And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?

Acts 8:31 And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

Acts 8:32 The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth:

Acts 8:33 In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.

Acts 8:34 And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?

Acts 8:35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.

at the same scripture. Philip realized that the Ethiopian was reading from the great Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53:7-8, and it was natural to use this Scripture to preach Christ to him. At the same time, all the Old Testament Scriptures relate to Christ in one way or another.

Acts 8:36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

Acts 8:37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

If thou believest. This response that Philip gave to the Ethiopian clearly shows that baptism is to be preceded by saving faith in Christ. This truth is also evident from many other Scriptures, but the authenticity of this particular verse has been questioned because of its omission from a number of ancient manuscripts. Either the verse was carelessly omitted by the earliest copyists of the book of Acts, or else some ancient scribe deliberately inserted it, with the error in either case being perpetuated thereby into many later copies. Either could be a possibility, although the latter alternative would seem less probable. In either case, there is no doubt that Philip would have expected a profession of faith from the Ethiopian before he baptized him.

Acts 8:38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

Acts 8:39 And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.

out of the water. It is obvious that the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch took place in either a river or a pool. He and Philip first “went down both” into the water (Acts 8:38), and then came “up out of the water.” Any other interpretation than immersion would seem forced and unnatural. There would be no need to go down into a pool for any other reason.

caught away Philip. This was evidently a unique miracle, God somehow translating Philip rapidly from Gaza to Azotus (same as the ancient Ashdod), twenty miles to the north along the Mediterranean coast. For reference to similar miraculous translations in space, see 1 Kings 18:12, 2 Kings 2:16; Ezekiel 3:14; 8:3. A far greater translation will take place when Christ comes again (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).

Acts 8:40 But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.

Caesarea. Evidently Philip continued preaching in all the coastal cities until he settled down in Caesarea. Twenty years later, Philip is mentioned as residing at Caesarea with his four daughters (Acts 21:8-9).