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Acts 8:26-39 – The Baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch

Summary

Philip is taken by the Holy Spirit to meet a highly placed Ethiopian court official who is reading Isaiah on the way home from Jerusalem. The Ethiopian asks for and receives baptism as a believer in Jesus as God's Messiah, promised by Isaiah.

Analysis

This passage is often thought to be about the first baptism of a Gentile. If that is true (we are not told whether the eunuch is living as a Jew prior to meeting Philip), very little is made of it in Luke-Acts. The story is more interesting for three other reasons. First, the man is an Ethiopian who returns to a position of power among his people. One presumes that he will speak of his new faith and perhaps establish it in his homeland. Second, he returns to Ethiopia with joy, reminding us that becoming part of the community of the baptized, welcoming Jesus as God's Messiah, creates and sustains joy. Third, this story fulfills a prophecy from Isaiah 56:1-7. In this passage God promises that, when God's "salvation will come" and God's "deliverance [will] be revealed," foreigners and eunuchs who love God and keep God's covenant will have a place among God's people and experience joy. The fulfillment of this prophecy is both an important part of proof that God is acting to save and an example of how the mission will go forward.

Acts 8:26-39

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south* to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27So 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 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
   and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
     so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
   Who can describe his generation?
     For his life is taken away from the earth.’
34The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As 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?’* 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip* baptized him. 39When 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.

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10 February 2011

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