A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 8:36-39a c). Philip baptises the Ethiopian.
*As they travelled along the road they came to some water*, presumably in a wayside wadi, and the Ethiopian said: ‘*Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptised?*’ (36). The following verse (37), found in the text of AV and NIV margin, is a Western addition, not found in the earlier manuscripts: ‘Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”’ The two sentences seem to have belonged to an early baptismal liturgy. They were probably inserted into the text by a scribe who felt certain that Philip, before baptizing the Ethiopian, would have made sure that he had believed in his heart, in contrast to Simon Magus, whose heart was ‘not right before God’ (21).
At all events, the Ethiopian *gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and Philip baptised him* (38). The water was a visible sign of the washing away of his sins and of his baptism with the Spirit. Incidentally. the words ‘went down into the water’, as J.A. Alexander comments, ‘can prove nothing as to its extent or depth’. Total immersion *may* be implied, but in that case the baptizer and the baptised will have been submerged together, since the same statement is made of them both. So the expression may rather mean, as the earliest paintings and baptisteries suggest, that they went down into the water up to their waist, and that Philip then poured water over the Ethiopian. Several MSS add that ‘the Holy Spirit fell on the eunuch’, and some scholars accept these words as original. But it seems more likely that they were added specially ‘to make explicit that baptism of the Ethiopian was followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit’. d). Philip is parted from the Ethiopian (8:39b-40)
Luke implies that immediately after *they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away* (39)… and he *appeared at Azotus*, that is Ashdod (40a). Some understand this trip as ‘a supersonic ride’, undertaken ‘with miraculous velocity’, and, to be sure, the Greek verb for ‘took away’ (*harpazo*) normally means to ‘snatch’ (NEB) or ‘seize’, as at the rapture (1 Thess.4:17). But I think Campbell Morgan was right: ‘It is not at all necessary that this should be accounted a miracle. I am never anxious to read miracles in, where they are not; any more than I am anxious to rule out miracles, where they are in’. At any rate, *the eunuch did not see him (Philip) again, but went on his way rejoicing* (39b), without the evangelist but with the evangel, without human aid but with the divine Spirit who not only gave him joy but also, according to Irenaeus, gave him courage and power in his own country ‘to preach what he had himself believed’. Philip also went on evangelizing, working his way north along the coast, *preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea* 40b), where, later if not already, he made his home.
Tomorrow: 4). Some lessons about evangelism.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|