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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And 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.
And Saul was consenting ... - Was pleased with his being put to death and approved it. Compare Acts 22:20. This part of the verse should have been connected with the previous chapter.
And at that time. - That is, immediately following the death of Stephen. The persecution arose on account of Stephen, Acts 11:19. The tumult did not subside when Stephen was killed. The anger of his persecutors continued to be excited against all Christians. They had become so embittered by the zeal and success of the apostles, and by their frequent charges of murder in putting the Son of God to death, that they resolved at once to put a period to their progress and success. This was the first persecution against Christians; the first in a series that terminated only when the religion which they wished to destroy was fully established on the ruins of both Judaism and paganism.
The church - The collection of Christians which were now organized into a church. The church at Jerusalem was the first that was collected.
All scattered - That is, the great mass of Christians.
The regions of Judea ... - See the notes on Matthew 2:22.
Except the apostles - Probably the other Christians fled from fear. Why the apostles, who were particularly in danger, did not flee also, is not stated by the historian. Having been, however, more fully instructed than the others, and having been taught their duty by the example and teaching of the Saviour, they resolved, it seems, to remain and brave the fury of the persecutors. For them to have fled then would have exposed them, as leaders and founders of the new religion, to the charge of timidity and weakness. They therefore resolved to remain in the midst of their persecutors; and a merciful Providence watched over them, and defended them from harm. The dispersion extended not only to Judea and Samaria, but those who fled carried the gospel also to Phenice, Cyprus, and Antioch, Acts 11:19. There was a reason why this was permitted. The early converts were Jews. They had strong feelings of attachment to the city of Jerusalem, to the temple, and to the land of their fathers. Yet it was the design of the Lord Jesus that the gospel should be preached everywhere. To accomplish this, he suffered a persecution to rage; and they were scattered abroad, and bore his gospel to other cities and lands. Good thus came out of evil; and the first persecution resulted, as all others have done, in advancing the cause which was intended to be destroyed.
2And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
And devout men - Religious men. The word used here does not imply of necessity that they were Christians. There might have been Jews who did not approve of the popular tumult, and the murder of Stephen, who gave him a decent burial. Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, both Jews, thus gave to the Lord Jesus a decent burial, John 19:38-39.
Carried Stephen - The word translated "carried" means properly to "collect," as fruits, etc. Then it is applied to all the preparations necessary for fitting a dead body for burial, as "collecting," or confining it by bandages, with spices, etc.
And made great lamentation - This was usual among the Jews at a funeral. See the notes on Matthew 9:23.
3As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
As for Saul - But Saul. He took no interest or part in the pious attentions shown to Stephen, but engaged with zeal in the work of persecution.
He made havoc - ἐλυμαίνετο elumaineto. This word is commonly applied to wild beasts, to lions, wolves, etc., and denotes the "devastations" which they commit. Saul raged against the church like a wild beast - a strong expression, denoting the zeal and fury with which he engaged in persecution.
Entering into every house - To search for those who were suspected of being Christians.
Haling - Dragging, or compelling them.
Committed them to prison - The Sanhedrin had no power to put them to death, John 18:31. But they had power to imprison; and they resolved, it seems, to exercise this power to the utmost. Paul frequently refers to his zeal in persecuting the church, Acts 26:10-11; Galatians 1:13. It may be remarked here that there never was a persecution commenced with more flattering prospects to the persecutors. Saul, the principal agent, was young, zealous, learned, and clothed with power. He showed afterward that he had talents suited for any station, and zeal that tired with no exertion, and that was appalled by no obstacle. With this talent and this zeal he entered on his work. The Christians were few and feeble. They were scattered and unarmed. They were unprotected by any civil power, and exposed, therefore, to the full blaze and rage of persecution. That the church was not destroyed was owing to the protection of God a protection which not only secured its existence, but which extended its influence and power by means of this very persecution far abroad on the earth.
4Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.
Went everywhere - That is, they traveled through the various regions where they were scattered. In all places to which they came, they preached the Word.
Preaching the word - Greek: "evangelizing," or announcing the good news of the message of mercy, or the Word of God. This is not the usual word which is rendered "preach," but it means simply announcing the good news of salvation. There is no evidence, nor is there any probability, that all these persons were "ordained" to preach. They were manifestly common Christians who were scattered by the persecution; and the meaning is, that they communicated to their fellow-men in conversation wherever they met them, and probably in the synagogues, where all Jews had a right to speak, the glad tidings that the Messiah had come. It is not said that they set themselves up for public teachers, or that they administered baptism, or that they founded churches, but they proclaimed everywhere the news that a Saviour had come. Their hearts were full of it. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks; and they made the truth known to "all" whom they met. We may learn from this:
(1) That persecution tends to promote the very thing which it would destroy.
(2) that one of the best means to make Christians active and zealous is to persecute them.
(3) that it is right for all Christians to make known the truths of the gospel. When the heart is full the lips will speak, and there is no more impropriety in their speaking of redemption than of anything else.
(4) it should be the great object of all Christians to make the Saviour known "everywhere." By their lives, their conversation, and their pious exhortations and entreaties, they should beseech dying sinners to be reconciled to God. And especially should this be done when they "are traveling." Christians when away from home seem almost to imagine that they lay aside the obligations of religion. But the example of Christ and his early disciples has taught us that this is the very time to attempt to do good.
5Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.
Then Philip - One of the seven deacons, Acts 6:5. He is afterward called the "evangelist," Acts 21:8.
The city of Samaria - This does not mean a city whose "name" was Samaria, for no such city at that time existed. Samaria was a "region," Matthew 2:22. The ancient city Samaria, the capital of that region, had been destroyed by Hyrcanus, so completely as to leave no vestige of it remaining; and he "took away," says Josephus, "the very marks that there had ever been such a city there" (Antiq., book 13, chapter 10, section 3). Herod the Great afterward built a city on this site, and called it "Sebaste"; that is, "Augusta," in honor of the Emperor Augustus (Josephus, Antiq., book 15, chapter 8, section 5). Perhaps this city is intended, as being the principal city of Samaria; or possibly "Sychar," another city where the gospel had been before preached by the Saviour himself, John 4.
And preached Christ - Preached that the Messiah had come, and made known his doctrines. The same truths had been before stated in Samaria by the Saviour himself John 4; and this was doubtless one of the reasons why they so gladly now received the Word of God. The field had been prepared by the Lord Jesus. He had said that it was white for the harvest John 4:35, and into that field Philip now entered, and was signally blessed. His coming was attended with a remarkable "revival of religion." The word translated "preach" here is not what is used in the previous verse. This denotes to "proclaim as a crier," and is commonly employed to denote the preaching of the gospel, so called, Mark 5:20; Mark 7:36; Luke 8:39; Matthew 24:14; Acts 10:42; Romans 10:15; 1 Corinthians 9:27; 1 Corinthians 15:12; 2 Timothy 4:2. It has been argued that because "Philip" is said thus to have preached to the Samaritans, that "therefore" all "deacons" have a right to preach, or that they are, under the New Testament economy, an "order" of ministers. But this is by no means clear. For:
(1) It is not evident, nor can it be shown, that the "other" deacons Acts 6:1-15 ever preached. There is no record of their doing so; and the narrative would lead us to suppose that they did not.
(2) they were "appointed" for a very different purpose Acts 6:1-5; and it is fair to suppose that, as "deacons," they confined themselves to the design of their appointment.
(3) it is not said that "Philip" preached in virtue of his being a "deacon." From anything in "this" place, it would seem that he preached as the other Christians did - wherever he was.
(4) but "elsewhere" an express distinction is made between Philip and the others. A new appellation is given him, and he is expressly called the "evangelist," Acts 21:8. From this, it seems that he preached, not "because" he was a "deacon," but because he had received a special "appointment" to this business as an evangelist.
(5) this same office, or rank of Christian teachers, is expressly recognized elsewhere, Ephesians 4:11. All these considerations show that there is "not" in the sacred Scriptures an order of ministers appointed to preach "as deacons."
6And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.
With one accord - Unitedly, or with one mined. Great multitudes of them did it.
Gave heed - Paid attention to; embraced.
Hearing - Hearing what he said.
7For 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.
For unclean spirits - See the notes on Matthew 4:24.
Crying with loud voice - See the notes on Mark 1:26.
Palsies - See the notes on Matthew 4:24.
8And there was great joy in that city.
And there was great joy - This joy arose:
(1) From the fact that so many persons, before sick and afflicted, were restored to health.
(2) from the conversion of individuals to Christ.
(3) from the mutual joy of "families" and "friends" that their friends were converted. The tendency of a revival of religion is thus to produce great joy.
9But 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:
But there was a certain man called Simon - The fathers have written much respecting this man, and have given strange accounts of him; but nothing more is certainly known of him than is stated in this place. Rosenmuller and Kuinoel suppose him to have been a Simon mentioned by Josephus (Antiq., book 20, chapter 7, section 2), who was born in Cyprus. He was a magician, and was employed by Felix to persuade Drusilla to forsake her husband Azizus, and to marry Felix. But it is not very probable that this was the same person. (See the note in Whiston's Josephus.) Simon Magus was probably a "Jew" or a "Samaritan," who had addicted himself to the arts of magic, and who was much celebrated for it. He had studied philosophy in Alexandria in Egypt (Mosheim, vol. i., pp. 113, 114, Murdock's translation), and then lived in Samaria. After he was cut off from the hope of adding to his other powers the power of working miracles, the "fathers" say that he fell into many errors, and became the founder of the sect of the Simonians. They accused him of affirming that he came down as the "Father" in respect to the Samaritans, the "Son" in respect to the Jews, and the "Holy Spirit" in respect to the Gentiles. He did not acknowledge Christ to be the Son of God, but a rival, and pretended himself to be Christ. He rejected the Law of Moses. Many other things are affirmed of him which rest on doubtful authority. He seems to have become an enemy to Christianity, though he was willing "then" to avail himself of some of its doctrines in order to advance his own interests. The account that he came to a tragical death in Rome; that he was honored as a deity by the Roman senate; and that a statue was erected to his memory in the isle of Tiber, is now generally rejected. His end is not known. (See Calmet, art. "Simon Magus," and Mosheim, vol. i., p. 114, note.)
Beforetime - The practice of magic, or sorcery, was common at that time, and in all the ancient nations.
Used sorcery - Greek: μαγεύων mageuōn. Exercising the arts of the "Magi," or "magicians"; hence, the name Simon "Magus." See the notes on Matthew 2:1. The ancient "Magi" had their rise in Persia, and were at first addicted to the study of philosophy, astronomy, medicine, etc. This name came afterward to signify those who made use of the knowledge of these arts for the purpose of imposing on mankind - astrologers, soothsayers, necromancers, fortune-tellers, etc. Such persons pretended to predict future events by the positions of the stars, and to cure diseases by incantations, etc. See Isaiah 2:6. See also Daniel 1:20; Daniel 2:2. It was expressly forbidden the Jews to consult such persons on pain of death, Leviticus 19:31; Leviticus 20:6. In these arts Simon had been eminently successful.
And bewitched - This is an unhappy translation. The Greek means merely that he "astonished" or amazed the people, or "confounded" their judgment. The idea of "bewitching" them is not in the original.
Giving out ... - "Saying"; that is, boasting. It was in this way, partly, that he so confounded them. Jugglers generally impose on people just in proportion to the "extravagance" and folly of their pretensions. The same remark may be made of "quack doctors," and of all persons who attempt to delude and impose on people.
10To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.
The great power of God - Probably this means only that they believed that he was "invested with" the power of God, not that they supposed he was really the Great God.
11And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.
12But 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.
13Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
Then Simon himself believed also - That is, he believed that Jesus had performed miracles, and was raised from the dead, etc. All this he could believe in entire consistency with his own notions of the power of magic; and all that the connection requires us to suppose is that he believed this Jesus had the power of working miracles; and as he purposed to turn this to his own account, he was willing to profess himself to be his follower. It might have injured his popularity, moreover, if he had taken a stand in opposition when so many were professing to become Christians. People often profess religion because, if they do not, they fear that they will lose their influence, and be left with the ungodly. That Simon was not a real Christian is apparent from the whole narrative, Acts 8:18, Acts 8:21-23.
And when he was baptized - He was admitted to a "profession" of religion in the same way as others. Philip did not pretend to know the heart; and Simon was admitted because he "professed" his belief. This is all the evidence that ministers of the gospel can now have, and it is no wonder that they, as well Philip, are often deceived. The reasons which influenced Simon to make a profession of religion seem to have been these:
(1) An impression that Christianity was "true." He seems to have been convinced of this by the miracles of Philip.
(2) the fact that many others were becoming Christians; and "he" went in with the multitude. This is often the case in revivals of religion.
(3) he was willing to make use of Christianity to advance his own power, influence, and popularity - a thing which multitudes of men of the same mind with Simon Magus have been willing since to do.
He continued ... - It was customary and natural for the disciples to remain with their teachers. See Acts 2:42.
And wondered - This is the same word that is translated "bewitched" in Acts 8:9, Acts 8:11. It means that he was amazed that Philip could "really" perform so much greater miracles than "he" had even pretended to. Hypocrites will sometimes be greatly attentive to the external duties of religion, and will be greatly surprised at what is done by God for the salvation of sinners.
Miracles and signs - Greek: signs and great powers, or great miracles. That is, so much greater than he pretended to be able to perform.
14Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:
They sent - That is, the apostles "deputed" two of their number. This shows conclusively that there was no "chief" or ruler among them. They acted as being equal in authority. The reason why they sent Peter and John was probably that there would be a demand for more labor than Philip could render; a church was to be founded, and it was important that persons of experience and wisdom should be present to organize it, and to build it up. The "harvest" had occurred in Samaria, of which the Saviour spoke John 4:35, and it was proper that they should enter into it. In times of revival there is often more to be done than can be done by the regular servant of a people, and it is proper that he should be aided from abroad.
Peter - This shows that "Peter" had no such authority and primacy as the Roman Catholics claim for him. He exercised no authority in "sending" others, but was himself "sent." He was appointed by their united voice, instead of claiming the power himself of directing "them."
And John - Peter was ardent, hold, zealous, rash; John was mild, gentle, tender, persuasive. There was wisdom in uniting them in this work, as the talents of both were needed; and the excellencies in the character of the one would compensate for the defects of the other. It is observable that the apostles sent "two" together, as the Saviour had himself done. See the notes on Mark 6:7.
15Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:
Were come down - To Samaria. Jerusalem was generally represented as "up," or "higher" than the rest of the land, Matthew 20:18; John 7:8.
Prayed for them - They sought at the hand of God the extraordinary communications of the Holy Spirit. They did not even pretend to have the power of doing it without the aid of God.
That they might receive the Holy Ghost - The main question here is, what was meant by the Holy Spirit? In Acts 8:20, it is called "the gift of God." The following remarks may make this plain:
(1) It was not that gift of the Holy Spirit by which "the soul is converted," for they had this when they believed, Acts 8:6. Everywhere the conversion of the sinner is traced to his influence. Compare John 1:13.
(2) it was not the ordinary influences of the Spirit by which "the soul is sanctified"; for sanctification is a progressive work, and this was sudden.
(3) it was something that was discernible by "external effects"; for Simon saw Acts 8:18 that this was done by the laying on of hands.
(4) the phrase "the gift of the Holy Spirit," and "the descent of the Holy Spirit," signified not merely his "ordinary" influences in converting sinners, but those "extraordinary" influences that attended the first preaching of the gospel - the power of speaking with new tongues Acts 2, the power of working miracles, etc., Acts 19:6.
(5) this is further clear from the fact that Simon wished to "purchase" this power, evidently to keep up his influence among the people, and to retain his ascendency as a juggler and sorcerer. But surely Simon would not wish to "purchase" the converting and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit; it was the power of working miracles. These things made it clear that by the gift of the Holy Spirit here is meant the power of speaking with new tongues (compare 1 Corinthians 14) and the power of working miracles. And it is further clear that "this" passage should not be adduced in favor of "the rite of confirmation" in the Christian church. For, besides the fact that there are now no "apostles," the thing spoken of here is entirely different from the rite of confirmation. "This" was to confer the extraordinary power of working miracles; "that" is for a different purpose.
If it be asked "why" this power was conferred on the early Christians, it may be replied that it was to furnish striking proof of the truth of the Christian religion; to impress the people, and thus to win them to embrace the gospel. The early church was thus armed with the power of the Holy Spirit; and this extraordinary attestation of God to his message was one cause of the rapid propagation and permanent establishment of the gospel.
16(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
He was fallen - This expression is several times applied to the Holy Spirit, Acts 10:44; Acts 11:15. It does not differ materially from the common expression, "The Holy Spirit descended." It means that he came from heaven; and the expression "to fall," applied to his influences, denotes the "rapidity" and "suddenness" of his coming. Compare Acts 19:2.
In the name of the Lord Jesus - See the notes on Acts 2:38. See also Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5-6.
17Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
Then laid they their hands ... - This was an act of "prayer," expressing an invocation to God that he would impart the blessing to "them." On "how many" they laid their hands is not said. It is evident that it was not on "all," for they did not thus lay hands on Simon. Perhaps it was done on a few of the more prominent and leading persons, who were to be employed particularly in bearing witness to the truth of the gospel. It was customary to lay the hands on any person when a "favor" was to be conferred or a blessing imparted. See notes on Matthew 9:18.
18And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,
Simon saw ... - That is, he witnessed the extraordinary effects, the power of speaking in a miraculous manner, etc. See the notes on Acts 8:15.
He offered them money - He had had a remarkable influence over the Samaritans, and he saw that the possession of this power would perpetuate and increase his influence. People commonly employ the tricks of legerdemain for the purpose of making money, and it seems probable that such had been the design of Simon. He saw that if he could communicate to "others" this power; if he could confer on "them" the talent of speaking other languages, it might be turned to vast account, and he sought, therefore, to purchase it of the apostles. From this act of Simon we have derived our word "simony," to denote the buying and selling of ecclesiastical preferment, or church offices, where religion is supported by the state. This act of Simon shows conclusively that he was influenced by improper motives in becoming connected with the church.
19Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.
20But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.
Thy money perish with thee - This is expressive of the horror and indignation of Peter at the base offer of Simon. It is not to be understood as an imprecation on Simon. The main idea is the apostle's contempt for the "money," as if he regarded it as of no value. "Let your money go to destruction. We abhor your impious offer. We can freely see "any" amount of money destroyed before we will be tempted to sell the gift of the Holy Spirit. But there was here also an expression of his belief that "Simon" also would perish. It was a declaration that he was hastening to ruin, and as if this was certain, Peter says, let your money perish "too."
The gift of God - That which he has "given," or conferred as a favor. The idea was absurd that what God himself gave as a sovereign could be purchased. It was "impious" to think of attempting to buy with worthless gold what was of so inestimable value. The "gift of God" here means the extraordinary influences of the Holy Spirit, Acts 10:45; Acts 11:17. How can we pay a "price" to God? All that "we" can give, the silver, and the gold, and the cattle on a thousand hills, belong to him already. We have "nothing" which we can present for his favors. And yet there are many who seek to "purchase" the favor of God. Some do it by alms and prayers; some by penance and fasting; some by attempting to make their own hearts better, and by self-righteousness; and some by penitence and tears. All these will not "purchase" his favor. Salvation, like every other blessing, will be "his gift"; and if ever received, we must be willing to accept it on his own terms; at his own time; in his own way. We are without merit; and if saved, it will be by the sovereign grace of God.
21Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.
Neither part - You have no "portion" of the grace of God; that is, you are destitute of it altogether. This word commonly denotes the "part" of an inheritance which falls to one when it is divided.
Nor lot - This word means properly a portion which "falls" to one when an estate, or when spoil in war is divided into portions, according to the number of those who are to be partakers, and the part of each one is determined by "lot." The two words denote "emphatically" that he was in no sense a partaker of the favor of God.
In this matter - Greek: in this "word"; that is, thing. That which is referred to here is the religion of Christ. Simon was not a Christian. It is remarkable that Peter judged him so soon, and when he had seen but "one" act of his. But it was an act which satisfied him that he was a stranger to religion. One act may sometimes bring out the "whole character"; it may evince the "governing" motives; it may show traits of character utterly "inconsistent" with true religion; and then it is as certain a criterion as any long series of acts.
Thy heart - Your "affections," or "governing motives"; your principle of conduct. Comp, 2 Kings 10:15. You love gold and popularity, and not the gospel for what it is. There is no evidence here that Peter saw this in a miraculous manner, or by any supernatural influence. It was apparent and plain that Simon was not influenced by the pure, disinterested motives of the gospel, but by the love of power and of the world.
In the sight of God - That is, God sees or judges that your heart is not sincere and pure. No external profession is acceptable without the heart. Reader, is your heart right with God? Are your motives pure; and does "God" see there the exercise of holy, sincere, and benevolent affections toward him? God "knows" the motives; and with unerring certainty he will judge, and with unerring justice he will fix our doom according to the affections of the heart.
22Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.
Repent, therefore - Here we may remark:
(1) That Simon was at this time an unconverted sinner.
(2) that the command was given to him "as such."
(3) that he was required to "do the thing"; not to wait or seek merely, but actually to repent.
(4) that this was to be the "first step" in his conversion. He was not even directed to "pray" first, but his first indispensable work was to "repent"; that is, to exercise proper sorrow for this sin, and to "abandon" his plan or principle of action.
And this shows:
(1) that all sinners are to be exhorted to "repent," as their first work. They are not to be told to "wait," and "read," and "pray," in the expectation that repentance will be "given" them. With such helps as they can obtain, they are to "do the thing."
(2) prayer will not be acceptable or heard unless the sinner comes "repenting"; that is, unless he regrets his sin, and "desires" to forsake it. Then, and then only, will he be heard. When he comes "loving" his sins, and resolving still to practice them, God will not hear him. When he comes "desirous" of forsaking them, grieved that he is guilty, and "feeling" his need of help, God will hear his prayer. See Isaiah 1:15; Micah 3:4; Proverbs 1:28; Psalm 66:18.
And pray God - Having a "desire" to forsake the sin, and to be pardoned, "then" pray to God to forgive. It would be absurd to ask forgiveness until a man felt his need of it. This shows that a sinner "ought" to pray, and "how" he ought to do it. It should be with a desire and purpose to forsake sin, and in that state of mind God will hear the prayer. Compare Daniel 4:27.
If perhaps - There was no certainty that God would forgive him; nor is there any evidence either that Simon prayed, or that he was forgiven. This direction of Peter presents "another" important principle in regard to the conduct of sinners. They are to be directed to repent; not because they have the "promise" of forgiveness, and not because they "hope" to be forgiven, but because sin "is a great evil," and because it is "right" and "proper" that they should repent, whether they are forgiven or not. That is to be left to the sovereign mercy of God. they are to repent of sin, and then they are to feel, not that they have any claim on God, but that they are dependent upon Him, and must be saved or lost at His will. They are not to suppose that their tears will purchase forgiveness, but that they lie at the footstool of mercy, and that there is hope - not certainty - that God will forgive. The language of the humbled sinner is:
"Perhaps he will admit my plea,
Perhaps will hear my prayer;
But if I perish I will pray,
And perish only there.
"I can but perish if Igo;
I am resolved to try;
For if I stay away, I
Know I shall forever die."
The thought ... - Your "purpose," or "wish." "Thoughts" may be, therefore, evil, and need forgiveness. It is not open sin only that needs to be pardoned; it is the secret purpose of the soul.
23For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
For I perceive - That is, by the act which he had done. His offer had shown a state of mind that was wholly inconsistent with true religion. One single sin "may" as certainly show that there is no true piety as many acts of iniquity. It may be so decided, so malignant, so utterly inconsistent with just views as at once to determine what the character is. The sin of Simon was of this character. Peter here does not appear to have claimed the power of judging the "heart"; but he judged, as all other people would, by the act.
In the gall - This word denotes properly "bile," or "that bitter, yellowish-green fluid that is secreted in the liver." Hence, it means anything very bitter; and also any bad passion of the mind, as anger, malice, etc. We speak of "bitterness" of mind, etc.
Of bitterness - This is a Hebraism; the usual mode of expressing the "superlative," and means "excessive bitterness." The phrase is used respecting idolatry Deuteronomy 29:18, "Lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood." A similar expression occurs in Hebrews 12:15, "Lest any root of bitterness springing up, trouble you." "Sin" is thus represented as a "bitter" or poisonous thing; a tiring not only "unpleasant" in its consequences, but ruinous in its character, as a poisonous plant would be in the midst of other plants, Jeremiah 2:19, "It is an evil and bitter thing that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God"; Jeremiah 4:18; Romans 3:14, "Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness"; Ephesians 4:31. The meaning here is, that the heart of Simon was full of dreadful, malignant sin.
Bond of iniquity - Or, that thou art "bound by" iniquity. That is, that it has the rule over you, and "binds" you as a captive. Sin is often thus represented as "bondage" and "captivity," Psalm 116:16; Proverbs 5:22, "He shall be holden with the cords of his sins"; Romans 7:23-24. These expressions prove conclusively that Simon was a stranger to religion.
24Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.
Pray ye ... - Here remark:
(1) That Simon was directed to pray for himself Acts 8:22, but he had no disposition to do it, but was willing to ask others to do it for him. Sinners will often ask others to pray for them, when they are too proud, or too much in love with sin, to pray for themselves.
(2) the main thing that Peter wished to impress on him was a sense of his sin. Simon did not regard this, but looked only to the punishment. He was terrified and alarmed; he sought to avoid future "punishment," but he had no alarm about his "sins." So it is often with sinners. So it was with Pharaoh Exodus 8:28, Exodus 8:32, and with Jeroboam 1 Kings 13:6. Sinners often quiet their own consciences by asking ministers and Christian friends to pray for them, while "they" still purpose to persevere in iniquity. If people expect to be saved, they must pray "for themselves"; and pray not chiefly to be freed from "punishment," but from the "sin which deserves hell." This is all that we hear of Simon in the New Testament; and the probability is, that, like many other sinners, he did not pray for himself, but continued to live in the gall of bitterness, and died in the bond of iniquity. The testimony of antiquity is decided on that point. See the notes on Acts 8:9.
25And 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.
In many villages ... - They went at first directly to the "city" of Samaria. On their return to Jerusalem they travelled more at leisure, and preached in the villages also - a good example for the ministers of the gospel, and for all Christians, when traveling from place to place. The reason why they returned to Jerusalem, and made that their permanent abode, might have been, that it was important to bear witness to the resurrection of Christ in the very city where he had been crucified, and where his resurrection had occurred. If the doctrine was established "there," it would be more easy to establish it elsewhere.
26And 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.
And the angel of the Lord - The word "angel" is used in the Scriptures in a great variety of significations. See the notes on Matthew 1:20. Here it has been supposed by some to mean literally a celestial messenger sent from God; others have supposed that it means a "dream"; others a "vision," etc. The word properly means a "messenger"; and all that it can be shown to signify here is, that the Lord sent a "message" to Philip of this kind. It is most probable, I think, that the passage means that God communicated the message by his Spirit; for in Acts 8:29, Acts 8:39, it is expressly said that "the Spirit" spake to Philip, etc. Thus, in Acts 16:7, the "Spirit" is said to have forbidden Paul to preach in Bithynia; and in Acts 8:9, the message on the subject is said to have been conveyed in "a vision." There is no absurdity, however, in supposing that an "angel" literally was employed to communicate this message to Phil See Hebrews 1:14; Genesis 19:1; Genesis 22:11; Judges 6:12.
Spake unto Philip - Compare Matthew 2:13.
Arise - See the notes on Luke 15:18.
And go ... - Philip had been employed in Samaria. As God now intended to send the gospel to another place, he gave a special direction to him to go and convey it. It is evident that God designed the "conversion" of this eunuch, and the direction to Philip shows how he accomplishes his designs. It is not by miracle, but by the use of means. It is not by direct power without "truth," but it is by a message suited to the end. The salvation of a single sinner is an object worthy the attention of God. When such a sinner is converted, it is because God forms a plan or "purpose" to do it. when it is done, he inclines his servants to labor; he directs their labors; he leads his ministers; and he prepares the way Acts 8:28) for the reception of the truth.
Toward the south - That is, south of Samaria, where Philip was then laboring.
Unto Gaza - Gaza, or Azzah Genesis 10:19, was a city of the Philistines, given by Joshua to Judah Joshua 15:47; 1 Samuel 6:17. It was one of the five principal cities of the Philistines. It was formerly a large place; was situated on an eminence, and commanded a beautiful prospect. It was in this place that Samson took away the gates of the city, and bore them off, Judges 16:2-3. It was near Askelon, about 60 miles southwest from Jerusalem.
Which is desert - This may refer either to the "way" or to the "place." The natural construction is the latter. In explanation of this, it is to be observed that there were "two" towns of that name, Old and New Gaza. The prophet Zephaniah ZEphesians 2:4 said that "Gaza" should be "forsaken," that is, destroyed. "This was partly accomplished by Alexander the Great (Josephus, Antiq., book 11, chapter 8, sections 3 and 4; book 13, chapter 13, section 3). Another town was afterward built of the same name, but at some distance from the former, and Old Gaza was abandoned to desolation. Strabo mentions 'Gaza the desert,' and Diodorus Siculus speaks of 'Old Gaza'" (Robinson's Calmet). Some have supposed, however, that Luke refers here to the "road" leading to Gaza, as being desolate and uninhabited. Dr. Robinson (Biblical Res., 2:640) remarks: "There were several ways leading from Jerusalem to Gaza. The most frequented at the present day, although the longest, is the way by Ramleh. Anciently there appear to have been two more direct roads. Both these roads exist at the present day, and the one actually passes through the desert, that is, through a tract of country without villages, inhabited only by nomadic tribes." "In this place, in 1823, the American missionaries, Messrs. Fisk and King, found Gaza, a town built of stone, making a very mean appearance, and confining about five thousand inhabitants" (Hall on the Acts ).
27And 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,
A man of Ethiopia - Gaza was near the confines between Palestine and Egypt. It was in the direct road from Jerusalem to Egypt. "Ethiopia" was one of the great kingdoms of Africa, part of which is now called Abyssinia. It is frequently mentioned in Scripture under the name of "Cush." But "Cush" comprehended a much larger region, including the southern part of Arabia, and even sometimes the countries adjacent to the Tigris and Euphrates. Ethiopia proper lay south of Egypt, on the Nile, and was bounded north by Egypt, that is, by the cataracts near Syene; east by the Red Sea, and perhaps part by the Indian Ocean; south by unknown regions in the interior of Africa; and west by Libya and the deserts. It comprehended the modern kingdoms of Nubia or Sennaar, and Abyssinia. The chief city in it was the ancient Meroe, situated on the island or tract of the same name, between the Nile and Ashtaboras, not far from the modern Shendi Robinson's Calmet).
An eunuch ... - See the notes on Matthew 19:12. Eunuchs were commonly employed in attendance on the females of the harem; but the word is often used to denote "any confidential officer, or counselor of state." It is evidently so used here.
Of great authority - Of high rank; an officer of the court. It is clear from what follows that this man was a Jew. But it is known that Jews were often raised to posts of high honor and distinction in foreign courts, as in the case of Joseph in Egypt, and of Daniel in Babylon.
Under Candace ... - Candace is said to have been the common name of the queens of Ethiopia, as "Pharaoh" was of the sovereigns of Egypt. This is expressly stated by Pliny (Nat. History, 7:29). His words are: "The edifices of the city were few; a woman reigned there of the name of Candace, which name had been transmitted to these queens for many years." Strabo mentions also a queen of Ethiopia of the name of Candace. Speaking of an insurrection against the Romans, he says, "Among these were the officers of queen Candace, who in our days reigned over the Ethiopians." As this could not have been the Candace mentioned here, it is plain that the name was common to these queens - a sort of royal title. She was probably queen of Meroe, an important part of Ethiopia (Bruce's Travels, vol. ii, p. 431; Clarke).
Who had the charge ... - The treasurer was an officer of high trust and responsibility.
And had come ... - This proves that he was a Jew, or at least a Jewish proselyte. It was customary for the Jews in foreign lands, as far as practicable, to attend the great feasts at Jerusalem. He had gone up to attend the Passover, etc. See the notes on Acts 2:5.
28Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.
And, sitting in his chariot - His carriage; his vehicle. The form of the carriage is not known. In some instances the carriages of the ancients were placed on wheels; in others were borne on poles, in the form of a "litter" or palanquin, by men, mules, or horses. See Calmet's "Chariot" article.
Reading Esaias ... - Isaiah. Reading doubtless the translation of Isaiah called the Septuagint. This translation was made in Egypt for the special use of the Jews in Alexandria and throughout Egypt, and was what was commonly used. "Why" he was reading the Scriptures, and especially this prophet, is not certainly known. It is morally certain, however, that he was in Judea at the time of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus; that he had heard much of him; that this would be a subject of discussion; and it was natural for him, in returning, to look at the prophecies respecting the Messiah, either to meditate on them as a suitable subject of inquiry and thought, or to examine the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to this office. The prophecy in Isaiah 53:1-12; was so striking, and coincided so clearly with the character of Jesus, that it was natural for a candid mind to examine whether "he" might not be the person intended by the prophet. On this narrative we may remark:
(1) It is a proper and profitable employment, upon returning from "worship," to examine the Sacred Scriptures.
(2) it is well to be in the habit of reading the Scriptures when we are on a journey. It may serve to keep the heart from worldly objects, and secure the affections for God.
(3) it is well at all times to read the Bible. It is one of the means of grace. And it is when we are searching his will that we obtain light and comfort. The sinner should examine with a candid mind the sacred volume. It may be the means of conducting him in the true path of salvation.
(4) God often gives us light in regard to the meaning of the Bible in unexpected modes. How little did this eunuch expect to be enlightened in the manner in which he actually was. Yet God, who intended to instruct and save him, sent the living teacher (Philip), and opened to him the Scriptures, and led him to the Saviour.
29Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.
The Spirit - See the notes on Acts 8:26. The Holy Spirit is evidently intended here. The thought in Philip's mind is here traced to his suggestion. All good thoughts and designs have the same origin.
Join thyself - Join him in his chariot. Go and sit with him.
30And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?
And Philip ran ... - Indicating his haste and his desire to obey the suggestions of the Spirit. A thousand difficulties might have been started in the mind of Philip if he had reflected a little. The eunuch was a stranger; he had the appearance of a man of rank; he was engaged in reading; he might be indisposed to be interrupted or to converse, etc. But Philip obeyed without any hesitation the instructions of the Spirit, and "ran" to him. It is well to follow the first suggestions of the Spirit; to yield to the clear indications of duty, and to perform it at once. Especially in a deed of benevolence, and in conversing with others on the subject of religion, our first thoughts are commonly the safest and the best. If we do not follow them, the calculations of avarice, or fear, or of worldly prudence are very apt to come in. We become alarmed; we are afraid of the rich and the great; we suppose that our conversation and admonitions will be unacceptable. We may learn from this case:
(1) To do our duty at once, without hesitation or debate.
(2) we shall often be disappointed in regard to subjects of this kind. We shall find candid, humble, Christian conversation far more acceptable to strangers, to the rich, and to the great, than we commonly suppose. If, as in this case, they are "alone"; if we approach them kindly; if we do not rudely and harshly address them, we shall find most people willing to talk on the subject of religion. I have conversed with some hundreds of persons on the subject of religion, and do not now recollect but two instances in which I was rudely treated, and in which it was not easy to gain a respectful and kind attention to Christian conversation.
And heard him read - He was reading "loud" - sometimes the best way of impressing truth on the mind in our private reading the Scriptures.
And said ... - This question, there might have been reason to fear, would not be kindly received. But the eunuch's mind was in such a state that he took no offence from such an inquiry, though made by a footman and a stranger. He doubtless recognized him as a brother Jew. It is an important question to ask ourselves when we read the Sacred Scriptures.
31And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.
And he said ... - This was a general acknowledgment of his need of direction. It evinced a humble state of mind. It was an acknowledgment, also, originating probably from this particular passage which he was reading. He did not understand how it could be applied to the Messiah; how the description of his humiliation and condemnation Acts 8:33 could be reconciled to the prevalent ideas of his being a prince and a conqueror. The same sentiment is expressed by Paul in Romans 10:14. The circumstance, the state of mind in the eunuch, and the result, strongly remind one of the declaration in Psalm 25:9, "The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way."
And he desired ... - He was willing to receive instruction, even from a stranger. The rich and the great may often receive valuable instruction from a stranger, and from a poor, unknown man.
32The 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:
The place ... - Isaiah 53:7-8.
He was led ... - This quotation is taken literally from the Septuagint. It varies very little from the Hebrew. It has been almost universally understood that this place refers to the Messiah; and Philip expressly applies it to him. The word "was led" ἤχθη ēchthē implies that he was conducted by others; that he was led as a sheep is led to be killed. The general idea is that of "meekness" and "submission" when he was led to be put to death; a description that applies in a very striking manner to the Lord Jesus.
To the slaughter - To be killed. The characteristic here recorded is more remarkable in sheep than in any other animal.
And like a lamb dumb ... - Still, patient, unresisting.
So he opened not his mouth - He did not "complain" or "murmur"; he offered no resistance, but yielded patiently to what was done by others. Compare the notes on Isaiah 53.
33In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.
In his humiliation - This varies from the Hebrew, but is copied exactly from the Septuagint, showing that he was reading the Septuagint. The Hebrew text is: "He was taken from prison and from judgment." The word rendered "prison" denotes any kind of "detention," or even "oppression." It does not mean, as with us, to be confined "in" a prison or jail, but may mean "custody," and be applied to the detention or custody of the Saviour when his hands were bound, and he was led to be tried. See the notes on Matthew 27:2. It is not known why the Septuagint thus translated the expression "he was taken from prison," etc., by "in his humiliation," etc. The word "from prison" may mean, as has been remarked, however, from "oppression," and this does not differ materially from "humiliation"; and in this sense the Septuagint understood it. The "meaning" of the expression in the Septuagint and the Acts is clear. It denotes that in his state of oppression and calamity; when he was destitute of protectors and friends; when at the lowest state of humiliation, and therefore most the object of pity, "in addition to that," justice was denied him; his judgment - a just sentence - was taken away, or withheld, and he was delivered to be put to death. His deep humiliation and friendless state was "followed" by an unjust and cruel condemnation, when no one would stand forth to plead his cause. Every circumstance thus goes to deepen the view of his sufferings.
His judgment - Justice, a just sentence, was denied him, and he was cruelly condemned.
And who shall declare his generation? - The word "generation" used here properly denotes "posterity"; then "an age" of mankind, comprehending about 30 years, as we speak of this and the next generation; then it denotes "the men" of a particular age or time. Very various interpretations have been given of this expression. Lowth translates it, "His manner of life who would declare?" referring, as he supposes, to the fact that when a prisoner was condemned and led to execution, it was customary for a proclamation to be made by a crier in these words, "Whoever knows anything about his innocence, let him come and declare it." This passage is taken from the Gemara of Babylon (Kennicott, as quoted by Lowth). The same Gemara of Babylon on this passage adds, "that before the death of Jesus, this proclamation was made 40 days; but no defense could be found" - a manifest falsehood, and a story strikingly illustrative of the character of the Jewish writings.
The Gemara was written some time after Christ, perhaps not far from the year 180 (Lardner), and is a collection of commentaries on the traditional laws of the Jews. That this custom existed is very probable; but it is certain that no such thing was done on the trial of the Saviour. The Chaldee paraphrase translates the passage in Isaiah, "He shall collect our captivity from infirmities and vengeance; and who can declare what wonderful things shall be done for us in his days?" Others have referred this question to his Deity, or his divine "generation"; intimating that no one could explain the mystery of his eternal generation. But the word in the Scriptures has no such signification; and such a sense would not suit the connection (see Calvin in loco.) Others have referred it to "his own spiritual posterity," his disciples, his family; "the number of his friends and followers who could enumerate?" (Calvin, Beza, etc.) Another sense which the word has is to denote the "people" of any particular age or time (Matthew 11:16; Matthew 23:36; Luke 16:8, etc.); and it has been supposed that the question here means, "Who can describe the character and wickedness of the generation when he shall live - the enormous crime of that age, in putting him to death?" On this passage, see the notes on Isaiah 53:8. Perhaps, after all that has been written on this passage, the simple idea is, "Who shall stand up for him, declaring who he is? Who will appear for him? Who will vindicate him?" meaning that all would forsake him, and that there would be none to "declare really who he was."
For his life ... - The Hebrew is, "For he was cut off from the land of the living"; that is he was put to death. The expression used in the Acts was taken from the Septuagint, and means substantially the same as the Hebrew.
34And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?
Answered Philip - That is, "addressed" Phil The Hebrews often use the word "answer" as synonymous with "addressing" one, whether he had spoken or not.
Of himself ... - This was a natural inquiry, for there was nothing in the text itself that would determine to whom the reference was. The ancient Jews expressly applied the passage to the Messiah. Thus, the Targum of Jonathan on Isaiah 52:13, "Behold my servant shall deal prudently," etc., renders it, "Behold, my servant, the Messiah, shall be prospered," etc. But we should remember that the eunuch was probably not deeply versed in the Scriptures. We should remember, further, that he had just been at Jerusalem, and that the public mind was agitated about the proceedings of the Sanhedrin in putting Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be the Messiah, to death. It is by no means improbable that This passage had been urged as a proof that he was the Messiah; and that the Jews, to evade the force of it, had maintained that it referred to Isaiah or Jeremiah - as they have done since. Yet the subject was so important and so difficult that it had occupied the attention of the traveler during his journey; and his question shows that he had been deeply pondering the inquiry whether it could refer to Isaiah himself or any of the prophets, or whether it must have reference to the Messiah. In this state of suspense and agitation, when his mind was just suited to receive instruction, God sent a messenger to guide him. He often thus prepares, by His Providence, or by a train of affecting and solemn events, the minds of people for a reception of the truth; and then He sends his messengers to guide the thoughtful and the anxious in the way of peace and salvation.
35Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
Opened his mouth - See Matthew 5:2.
At the same scripture - Taking this as a "text" to be illustrated.
Preached unto him Jesus - Showed him that Jesus of Nazareth exactly corresponded to the description of the prophet, and that therefore he referred to the Messiah, and that the Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth. How far Philip detailed the circumstances of the life and death of Christ is unknown. What follows shows also that he stated the design of baptism, and the duty of being baptized.
36And 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?
As they went on their way - In their journey.
A certain water - The expression used here does not determine whether this was a river, a brook, or a standing pool. And there are no circumstances to determine that. It is well known, however, that there is no large river or very considerable stream in this vicinity. All that is intimated is that there was water enough to perform the rite of baptism. Grotius says they came "to a fountain which was in the neighborhood of Bethsora, in the tribe of Juda, at the twentieth milestone from Aelia (Jerusalem) to Hebron." This is, however, a tradition taken from Eusebius. The place is still shown (Pococke).
What doth hinder me ... - This shows that he had been instructed by Philip on the nature and design of baptism. It evinces also a purpose at once to give himself to Christ, to profess his name, and to be dedicated to his service.
To be baptized - On the meaning of the word "baptize" βαπτίζω baptizō, see all the notes on Matthew 3:6, Matthew 3:16.
37And 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.
And Philip said ... - This was stated by Philip as the proper qualification for making a profession of religion. The terms are:
(1) "Faith," that is, a reception of Jesus as a Saviour; yielding the mind to the proper influences of the truths of redemption. See the notes on Mark 16:16.
(2) there is required not merely the assent of the understanding, but a surrender of the "heart, the will, the affections," to the truth of the gospel. As these were the proper qualifications then, so they are now. Nothing less is required; and nothing but this can constitute a proper qualification for the Lord's Supper.
I believe ... - This profession is more than a professed belief that Jesus was "the Messiah." The name "Christ" implies that. "I believe that Jesus the Messiah is the Son of God." He professed his belief that he was the "Son of God" - showing either that he had before supposed that the Messiah "would be" the Son of God, or that Philip had instructed him on that point. It was natural for Philip, in discoursing on the humiliation and poverty of Jesus, to add also that he sustained a higher rank of being than a man, and was the Son of God. What precise ideas the eunuch attached to this expression cannot be now determined. This verse is missing in a very large number of manuscripts (Mill), and has been rejected by many of the ablest critics. It is also omitted in the Syriac and Ethiopic versions. It is not easy to conceive why it has been omitted in almost all the Greek mss. unless it is spurious. If it was not in the original copy of the Acts , it was probably inserted by some early transcriber, and was deemed so important to the connection, to show that the eunuch was not admitted hastily to baptism, that it was afterward retained. It contains, however, an important truth, elsewhere abundantly taught in the Scriptures, that "faith" is necessary to a proper profession of religion.
38And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
And they went down both into the water - This passage has been made the subject of much discussion on the subject of baptism. It has been adduced in proof of the necessity of immersion. It is not proposed to enter into that subject here (see the Editors' Notes at Matthew 3:6, Matthew 3:16). It may be remarked here that the preposition εἰς eis, translated "into," does not of necessity mean that they went "into" the water. Its meaning would be as well expressed by "to" or "unto," or as we should say, "they went "to" the water," without meaning to determine whether they went "into" it or not. Out of "twenty-six" significations which Schleusner has given the word, this is one, and one which frequently occurs: John 11:38, "Jesus, therefore, groaning in himself, cometh to εἰς eis the grave" - assuredly not "into" the grave; Luke 11:49, "I send them prophets," Greek, "I send to εἰς eis them prophets" - "to" them, not "into" them, compare Romans 2:4, 1 Corinthians 14:36; Matthew 12:41, "They repented at εἰς eis the preaching of Jonas" - not into his preaching; John 4:5, "Then cometh he "to" εἰς eis a city of Samaria," that is, "near to it," for the context shows that he had not yet entered "into" it, compare Acts 7:6, Acts 7:8; John 21:4, "Jesus stood "on" εἰς eis the shore," that is, not "in," but "near" the shore. These passages show:
(1) That the word does not necessarily mean that they entered "into" the water. But,
(2) If it did, it does not necessarily follow that the eunuch was immersed. There might be various ways of baptizing, even after they were "in" the water, besides immersing. Sprinkling or pouring might be performed there as well as elsewhere. The most solemn act of baptism that I ever saw performed was, when I was a boy, in the river on the banks of which I was born, where the minister and the candidate went both of them "into" the Myer, and, when near to the middle of the river, the candidate kneeled down in the water, and the minister with a bowl "poured" water on his head. Yet if the fact had been stated, in reference to this case, that "they went both down "into" the water, and came up out of the water," and it had been hence inferred that the man was "immersed," it would have been wholly a false inference. No such immersion occurred, and there is, from the narrative here, no more evidence that it occurred in the case of the eunuch. See βαπτίζω baptizō.
(3) it is incumbent on those who maintain that "immersion" is the only valid mode of baptism to prove that this passage cannot possibly mean anything else, and that there was no other mode practiced by the apostles.
(4) it would still be incumbent to show that if this were the common and even the only mode then, in a warm climate, that it is indispensable that this mode should be practiced everywhere else. No such positive command can be adduced. And it follows, therefore, that it cannot be proved that immersion is the only lawful mode of baptism. See the Editors' Notes at Matthew 3:6, Matthew 3:16.
39And 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 - ἐκ ek. This preposition stands opposed to εἰς eis, "into"; and as that may mean to, so this may mean From; if that means into, this means here out of.
The Spirit of the Lord - See Acts 8:29. The Spirit had suggested to Philip to go to meet the eunuch, and the same Spirit, now that he had fulfilled the design of his going there, directed his departure.
Caught away - This phrase has been usually understood of a forcible or miraculous removal of Philip to some other place. Some have even supposed that he was borne through the air by an angel (see even Doddridge). To such foolish interpretations have many expositors been led. The meaning is, clearly, that the Spirit, who had directed Philip to go near the eunuch, now removed him in a similar manner. That this is the meaning is clear:
(1) Because it accounts for all that occurred. It is not wise to suppose the existence of a miracle except where the effect cannot otherwise be accounted for, and except where there is a plain statement that there was a miracle.
(2) the word "caught away" ἥρπασεν hērpasen does not imply that there was a miracle. The word properly means "to seize and bear away anything violently, without the consent of the owner," as robbers and plunderers do. Then it signifies to remove anything in a forcible manner; to make use of strength or power to remove it, Acts 23:10; Matthew 13:19; John 10:28; 2 Corinthians 12:2, 2 Corinthians 12:4, etc. In no case does it ever denote that a miracle is performed. And all that can be signified here is, that the Spirit strongly admonished Philip to go to some other place; that he so forcibly or vividly suggested the duty to his mind as to tear him away, as it were, from the society of the eunuch. He had been deeply interested in the case. He would have found pleasure in continuing the journey with him. But the strong convictions of duty urged by the Holy Spirit impelled him, as it were, to break off this new and interesting acquaintanceship, and to go to some other place. The purpose for which he was sent, to instruct and baptize the eunuch, was accomplished, and now he was called to some other field of labor. A similar instance of interpretation has been considered in the notes on Matthew 4:5.
And he went on his way rejoicing - His mind was enlightened on a perplexing passage of Scripture. He was satisfied respecting the Messiah. He was baptized; and he experienced what all feel who embrace the Saviour and are baptized - joy. It was joy resulting from the fact that he was reconciled to God; and a joy the natural effect of having done his duty promptly in making a profession of religion. If we wish happiness if we would avoid clouds and gloom, we should do our duty at once. If we delay until tomorrow what we ought to do today, we may expect to be troubled with melancholy thoughts. If we find peace, it will be in doing promptly just what God requires at our hands. This is the last that we hear of this man. Some have supposed that he carried the gospel to Ethiopia, and preached it there. But there is strong evidence to believe that the gospel was not preached there successfully until about the year 330 a.d., when it was introduced by Frumentius, sent to Abyssinia for that purpose by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria. From this narrative we may learn:
(1) That God often prepares the mind to receive the truth.
(2) that this takes place sometimes with the great and the noble, as well as the poor and obscure.
(3) that we should study the Scriptures. This is the way in which God usually directs the mind in the truths of religion.
(4) that they who read the Bible with candor and care may expect that God will, in some mode, guide them into the truth. It will often be in a way which they least expect; but they need not be afraid of being left to darkness or error.
(5) that we should be ready at all times to speak to sinners. God often prepares their minds, as he did that of the eunuch, to receive the truth.
(6) that we should not be afraid of the great, he rich, or of strangers. God often prepares their minds to receive the truth; and we may find a man willing to hear of the Saviour where we least expected it.
(7) that we should do our duty in this respect, as Philip did, promptly. We should not delay or hesitate, but should at once do that which we believe to be in accordance with the will of God. See Psalm 119:60.
40But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.
But Philip was found - That is, he came to Azotus, or he was not heard of until he reached Azotus. The word is often used in this sense. See 1 Chronicles 29:17, margin; 2 Chronicles 29:29, margin; Genesis 2:20; see also Luke 17:18; Romans 7:10. In all these places the word is used in the sense of to be, or to be present. It does not mean here that there was any miracle in the case, but that Philip, after leaving the eunuch, came to or was in Azotus.
Azotus - This is the Greek name of the city which by the Hebrews was called Ashdod. It was one of the cities which were not taken by Joshua, and which remained in the possession of the Philistines. It was to this place that the ark of God was sent when it was taken by the Philistines from the Israelites; and here Dagon was cast down before it, 1 Samuel 5:2-3. Uzziah, King of Judah, broke down its wall, and built cities or watch-towers around it, 2 Chronicles 26:6. It was a place of great strength and consequence. It was distant about thirty miles from Gaza. It was situated on the coast of the Mediterranean, and had a seaport, which has now entirely disappeared. The sea is now some two miles distant, and the intervening space is a desert of moving sand, which has reached the outskirts of the town (Land and the Book, Dr. Thomson, vol. ii, p. 320). Prof. Hackett (Illustrations of Scripture, pp. 142, 143) says of this place: "A little village called Esdud perpetuates the ancient name. Ashdod was one of the chief cities of the Philistines, but is now utterly forsaken. The prophet's sentence has been executed upon it to the letter: 'I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod' Amos 1:8. The only marks of antiquity which I could discover were a high mound, where the old city stood, covered now with fragments of pottery; two or three cellars or cisterns that seemed to have been recently laid open; two marble columns, one prostrate in the court of a neighboring khan, and the other made into a drinking-trough; several broken pieces of columns or tablets, mostly built into a sakieh, or watering machine; and a few traces of masonry near the Jaffa road, which may have belonged to the city walls. These last are so concealed as to be found only with special pains."
He preached in all the cities - Joppa, Lydda, Askelon, Arimarthea, etc., lying along the coast of the Mediterranean.
Cesarea - This city was formerly called Strato's Tower. It is situated on the coast of the Mediterranean, at the mouth of a small river, and has a fine harbor. It is 36 miles south of Acre, and about 62 miles northwest of Jerusalem, and about the same distance northeast of Azotus. The city is supposed by some to be the Hazor mentioned in Joshua 11:1. It was rebuilt by Herod the Great, and named Caesarea in honor of Augustus Caesar. The city was dedicated to him, and was called Sebaste, the Greek word for Augustus. It was adorned with most splendid houses; and the Temple of Caesar was erected by Herod over against the mouth of the haven, in which was placed the statue of the Roman emperor. It became the seat of the Roman governor while Judea was a Roman province, Acts 23:33; Acts 25:6, Acts 25:13. Philip afterward resided at this place. See Acts 21:8-9. Caesarea at present is inhabited only by jackals and beasts of prey. "Perhaps," says Dr. Clarke, "there has not been in the history of the world an example of any city that in so short a space of time rose to such an extraordinary height of splendor as did this of Caesarea, or that exhibits a more awful contrast to its former magnificence by the present desolate appearance of its ruins. Not a single inhabitant remains. Of its gorgeous palaces and temples, enriched with the choicest works of art, scarcely a trace can be discerned. Within the space of 10 years after laying the foundation, from an obscure fortress, it became the most flourishing and celebrated city of all Syria." Now it is in utter desolation. See Robinson's Calmet, "Caesarea."