Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
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.PART THIRD
The Church of Christ throughout Judea and Samaria, and in its transition to the Gentiles. Ch. 8–12
THE PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH IN JERUSALEM, WHICH BEGAN WITH THE STONING OF STEPHEN, AND IN WHICH SAUL ESPECIALLY TOOK AN ACTIVE PART, OCCASIONS THE DISPERSION OF THE BELIEVERS THROUGHOUT JUDEA AND SAMARIA, BUT ALSO LEADS TO THE PROMULGATION OF THE GOSPEL IN THESE REGIONS, AND EVEN TO THE CONVERSION OF A PROSELYTE FROM A DISTANT COUNTRY
A.—THE FLIGHT OF THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH FROM JERUSALEM, LEADS TO THE PROMULGATION OF THE GOSPEL IN JUDEA, AND EVEN IN SAMARIA. PHILIP PREACHES CHRIST TO THE SAMARITANS WITH SUCCESS, AND SIMON THE SORCERER HIMSELF IS BAPTIZED. THE APOSTLES PETER AND JOHN SUBSEQUENTLY ARRIVE; THEY CONFER THE GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST, AND UNMASK SIMON
§ I. Persecution and Dispersion
1And [But] Saul was consenting unto [had pleasure in] his death [execution]. And at that time [on that day] there was [arose] a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and [but]1 they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2And [But] devout men carried Stephen to his burial [buried Stephen], and made2 great lamentation [wailing] over him. 3As for Saul, he [But Saul] made havoc of [ravaged] the church, entering into every house, [entering (here and there) into houses], and haling [dragging]men and women, committed them to prison. 4Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where [went further] preaching the word [the Gospel, λόγον].
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
ACTS 8:1 a. And Saul was consenting unto his death.—Tischendorf [and Stier, with whom J. A. Alex. and Hack. agree] attaches this short sentence to Acts 7 at the end. But it belongs rather to the commencement of the present chapter, since it serves to introduce the narrative of that persecution of the Christians which now began to extend. And even the construction: ἦνσυςευδοκῶν, in place of the simple past tense, implying continuance of time [WINER: Gram. N. T. § 45. 5.—TR.], derives its significance here mainly from the facts that are now to be related.
b. And at that time … persecution.—The expression ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ, is usually understood in the widest sense, as equivalent to: “At that time” (Luther’s [and Engl.] version). There is, however, no reason for departing from the literal sense: “On that day.” We might rather infer a priori, from psychological considerations, as well as from others furnished by the natural sequence of events, that the stoning of Stephen would be immediately followed by an outbreak of fanaticism, of which the Christians generally would be the victims. Bengel accordingly remarks on ἐκ. τ. ἡμ.: non differebant adversarii. As a wild beast that has once tasted blood, is ever afterwards governed by a thirst for it, so the brutal passions of men, when they are once roused, and especially when they are combined with religious fanaticism, acquire additional ferocity after every successful outbreak. It is not probable that many days passed by, before the great persecution began; it is possible, that the mass of the Jews, on returning to the city, at once began a general attack on the Christians. And this persecution was, without doubt, not exclusively a measure adopted by the theocratical authorities, but rather the act of the people, who had previously been “stirred up,” according to Acts 6:12, and had now participated in the act of stoning Stephen.
c. They were all scattered abroad.—The members of the church fled from the persecution to which they were exposed in the capital, in accordance with the direction and permission of the Redeemer (Matth. 10:23). They retired at first to the surrounding regions of Judea, and sought places of refuge in other cities or in villages; many of them subsequently withdrew to the territory of Samaria. It is, however, questionable whether the term πάντες is to be literally understood, in the sense that every Christian left the city. Luke himself reports one exception, when he appends the words: πλὴν τῶν ἀποστόλων, so that it is certain that at least the apostles remained in Jerusalem. They regard that city as the post to which the command of the Lord had assigned them, and which they do not feel at liberty to abandon, without an express declaration of his will. And, besides, the holy city, the central point of Israel, was still, in their view, the future central point of the kingdom of Christ. The apostles, therefore, supported by their faith, courageously maintained their position in the midst of the dangers which threatened them. But did not a single Christian, with the exception of the twelve apostles remain in Jerusalem? It is not probable that such was the fact, particularly when we consider the circumstance that, not long afterwards, Acts 9:26, disciples are found present in Jerusalem, in addition to the apostles, who are themselves not mentioned until the facts stated in Acts 8:27, are introduced. An additional argument against the literal meaning of πάντες is furnished by Acts 8:3, of the present chapter, as some interpreters suppose, since even after the dispersion mentioned in Acts 8:1, Saul was able to ravage the church, by dragging men and women to prison (Meyer). But we do not ascribe any importance to this argument, as Acts 8:3 appears to us not to describe subsequent events, but rather to present, more in detail, one aspect precisely of that διωγμός which had been mentioned only in general terms in Acts 8:1. Still we cannot be convinced that πάντες is to be here understood in its strict and literal sense; the term is rather to be regarded as employed in a hyperbolical manner [Meyer; de Wette; as in Acts 3:18; Mt. 3:5; Mark 1:37; 6:33; John 3:26; the word here “need not be pressed so as to include every individual.” (Hackett).—TR.]. But this view does not authorize us to take πάντες at once in the sense of multi (Kuinoel), nor to restrict it to the doctores (Bengel), nor to assume that ἐκκλησίαν designates exclusively the Hellenistic part of the church (Baur). Baumgarten’s conjecture (I. 158 ff.) is equally as little capable of being sustained, when closely examined. He supposes that precisely at the hour in which Stephen was stoned, the church, in its deep sympathy, was gathered together, offering prayer in his behalf, and that the first assault in this persecution was directed against that congregational meeting, the members being instantly dispersed. If this was the case, the words πάντες διεσπάρησαν κατὰ τὰς χώρας; would state nothing more than that all those members who were accidentally gathered together, were scattered. Now, in the first place, it is an unaccountable circumstance that the apostles, who were certainly present, if such a meeting had been held, should not also have been scattered abroad, as well as others. In the second place, Baumgarten rends portions of the text asunder which are intimately connected, namely: διεσπάρησαν; for he represents the dispersion of the meeting as the immediate result of the persecution, and the flight to regions beyond the city, as an indirect result, which is offering violence to the text.
ACTS 8:2. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial.—The particle δέ after συνεκόμισαν undoubtedly indicates a contrast, namely, that between the tender affections of certain individuals and the madly excited passions of the mass of the people. These ἄνδρεςἐυλαβεῖς are, without doubt, Jews, as in Acts 2:5, and not Christians, (as Heinrichs and da Costa imagine); the latter are always designated in THE ACTS by other terms. [But Ananias, mentioned in Acts 22:12, was a Christian, and yet is so designated, according to the reading preferred by Lechler to that of the textus receptus.—TR.]. They were Jews who rendered the last honors to Stephen, and even engaged in a solemn mourning for him [de Wette refers here to Gen. 50:10.—TR.]. But they were εὐλαβεῖς, that is, they were men who feared God more than they feared man, or than they regarded the temper of the populace at the time. They did not hesitate to give an honorable burial to a man of whose innocence and godliness they were convinced, although he had been accused of blasphemy (of which he had not been proved to be guilty), and had suffered the ignominious death of a criminal. An analogous case may be found in the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea, who also had, previously, not been a disciple of Jesus (at least according to Luke and Mark). [Termed a “disciple” in Mt. 27:57 ff; a “disciple—secretly,” in John 19:38, but not so designated in Mark 15:43 ff., and Lu. 23:50 ff.—TR.]
ACTS 8:3. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church.—Luke proceeds to relate the share which Saul took in the persecution of the Christians; his conduct contrasts strikingly with that of the devout men mentioned in Acts 8:2, and also illustrates the general statement made in Acts 8:1. Saul ravaged (ἐλυμαίνετο) the church [comp. the same word in Ps. 80:14, Sept. with ποοͅθέω in Acts 9:21; Gal. 1:13, 23; and see Acts 22:19, 20; 26:9–11; 1 Tim. 1:13.—TR.]. The word implies that, as far as it lay in his power, he injured and destroyed the church; he entered into houses, κατὰ οἴκους, literally, from house to house; the expression, however, can, naturally, refer to those houses only, in which he expected to find Christians. When these were discovered, he dragged them forth, (doubtless with the aid of the officers of the Sanhedrin), and transferred them to the prison. It is obvious that he was sustained by the hierarchical authorities, as he could not have otherwise ventured to enter by force into private dwellings, neither would he have found the doors of the prison open to receive his victims. Still, the general tenor of this verse leads us to conjecture that these results depended in a great measure on the personal character of Saul, and that it was specially his wildly excited fanaticism which inflicted great injuries on the church. The novel and revolting features of his course were the systematic manner in which he sought out the confessors of Jesus, and his rude intrusion into domestic circles—a Jewish prelude of the later Romish Inquisition.
ACTS 8:4. Therefore they that were scattered abroad, went every where.—These words are connected with διεσπάρησαν in Acts 8:1, and are explanatory of that term; they inform us that the fugitive Christians did not quietly establish themselves in any places of refuge which they may have found, but travelled onward from place to place [διῆλθον, they went through, i.e., the country; comp. Acts 8:40, below.—TR.]. But the most important fact is stated in the next words: preaching the word, i.e., the Gospel. It consequently appears that the persecution which they had endured in Jerusalem, could not so intimidate them, that they henceforth concealed their faith in Jesus from public view; on the contrary, wherever they appeared, they proclaimed their faith, and the joyful tidings concerning the Redeemer and his redeeming work.—The very closest chronological connection exists between this historical statement and Acts 11:19 ff.: οἱ μὲν οὖν διασπαρέντες … διῆλθον ἕως Φοινίκμς; the intervening portions, from Acts 8:5 to Acts 11:18, accordingly assume the character of an episode.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. This persecution of the Christians and its consequences constitute a glorious evidence of the government of Christ, who rules also in the midst of his enemies [Ps. 110:2], and always promotes the interests of his kingdom. An event which appeared to the eye of man to threaten inevitable destruction, so that it was a question whether the church of Christ could continue to exist, or would be annihilated, was, on the contrary, converted into the means of invigorating and extending it. The dispersed Christians preached the Gospel; thus the storm which burst forth, carried the seed which had hitherto been gathered together in a single spot, to many different regions, and, in some cases, to a considerable distance. And that seed germinated and produced fruit. The Gospel now begins its course, which is to extend over the whole globe, after having been hitherto confined to the one city of Jerusalem. Thus, even when men think evil, the Redeemer means it unto good [Gen. 50:20], that is to say, he not only counteracts the intended disastrous results, but also employs the devices of enemies, in an unexpected manner, as means for extending his kingdom.
2. As the apostles remained in Jerusalem, the dispersed Christians were church members only: at most, several of them, Philip, for instance, Acts 8:5, may have belonged to the company of the “seven men”, who had been previously elected, Acts 6:3 ff. But even to these the ministry of the word had not been primarily intrusted; hence, these scattered Christians, in the great majority of cases, were invested with no ecclesiastical office whatever. And yet they labored as evangelists, wherever they came, without any official obligation, or any express authority. They were moved by the inward power of that faith which cannot but speak of the truth of which the heart is full; they were influenced by the Spirit, with whom they had been anointed; they were controlled by their love of the Saviour, to whom they owed the remission of their sins and all their blessed hopes. This propagation of the Gospel beyond the limits of the holy city—this establishment of the church of Christ in other districts of Palestine, and even beyond its boundaries (see Acts 11:19), was, consequently, not the work of the apostles themselves, but mainly of other Christians, who held no office, but were invested with the general priesthood of believers [1 Pet. 2:5, 9]. According to human conceptions of church government and the ecclesiastical office, such a course should not have been adopted. But the Lord of the church did not restrict himself to the apostolic office which he had instituted, in such a manner that no work could be legitimate, acceptable to God, or rich in blessings and in promise, unless it were performed exclusively by the apostles. Here, too, Christ teaches us that no human being and no finite ordinance can be regarded as necessary, and absolutely indispensable; He alone is at all times and in all places, indispensable.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
See below, § 2. Acts 8:5–13.
Acts 8:1. πάντες δὲ. The particle τε [of the text. rec.] is attested only by the Alexandrian MS. [A.], and the Syriac, as well as the two [REUSS: Gesch. d. h. Sch. N. T. § 431.] Ethiopic versions; whereas, all the other minuscule mss. and ancient versions read δὲ, which is, accordingly, to be preferred. [δὲ is found in B. C. D. E. H. and adopted by Lach., Tisch. and Alf. Neither particle is found in Cod. Sin., but a later hand (C) prefixed και to παντ.—TR.]
Acts 8:2. [Lachm., with whom de Wette agrees, reads ἐποίησαν before κοπετὸν, with A. B. C. D., but Tisch. and Alf., following E. H. read with text. rec. ἐποιήσαντο, the former being, according to Alf., very probably a later correction.—Cod. Sin. ἐποίησαν.—TR.]
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.§ II Philip Preaches the Gospel in Samaria with Success, and Simon, the Sorcerer, himself is Baptized
5 Then Philip went down to the3 [a] city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. 6And the people [the multitudes, οἱ ὄχλοι] with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing [when they heard and saw] the miracles [signs] which he did. 7For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many4 that were possessed with them [For from many who had unclean spirits, these came out with a loud cry]: and many taken with palsies [many that were paralytic], and that were lame, were healed.8And there was great joy in that city. 9But there was [previously] a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime [om. which beforetime] in the same city [who] used sorcery, and bewitched [astonished] the people of Samaria, giving out that himself [professing (λέγων) that he] was some great one: 10To whom they all5 [om. all] gave heed, from the least to the greatest [small and great], saying, This man is the great power of God [the power of God which is called great].6 11And [But] to him they had regard [gave heed, (as in Acts 8:10)], because that of long time he had bewitched them with [time they had been astonished at his] sorceries. 12But when they believed Philip preaching [who preached] the things7 [the gospel (om. the things, εὐαγγελ.)] concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus. Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13Then [But] Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with [adhered to] Philip, and wondered [was astonished (as in Acts 8:9 and 11)], beholding the miracles and signs8 which were done.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
ACTS 8:5. a. Then Philip went down.—Luke had briefly stated above, that the members of the church, after being dispersed by the persecution, had carried the Gospel to other regions. He now describes a single case as an illustration. This Philip, who, as the connection shows, had been driven from Jerusalem by the same violent persecution, cannot possibly have been the apostle who bore the same name, as, according to Acts 8:1, the company of the apostles remained in the holy city. The interpretation that the narrative here refers to a later period, and that it was really the apostle Philip who visited Samaria, cannot, for several reasons, be admitted. For the connection, in the first place, between Acts 8:4 and Acts 8:5, is so intimate, that the journey of Philip, must be regarded, both chronologically, and in accordance with the natural sequence of events, as a direct result of that persecution. And, in the second place, the journey of John and Peter, who were sent to Samaria, as the commissioners of the apostles, Acts 8:14, would be perfectly inexplicable, if Philip himself were one of the apostles. It is, therefore, not the apostle Philip who is here meant, but another person of the same name; he is, beyond all doubt, the one who is mentioned in Acts 6:5, as the second of the chosen Seven. It is, indeed, precisely this position of the name in that list, which renders it probable that the Philip here mentioned, was not only one of the Seven, but also the same who is described in Acts 21:8 as ὁ εὐαγγελιστής, ὁ ὢν ἐκ τῶν ἑπτά. For the name of Stephen is, without doubt, placed first in that list for the reason that his labors and sufferings had given unusual prominence to him, and invested his name with a special interest. Philip seems to have been mentioned in the second place for similar reasons, since he was identified with events of the highest moment in the history of the Church. It may be easily imagined that the colleagues of Stephen were the first persons on whom the hostility of the Jews prepared to inflict its blows. The opinion, that this Philip was one of the twelve, was entertained already by Polycrates in the second century (as quoted by Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. iii. 31; v. 24), by the authors of the Apostolical Constitutions (vi. 7. 1), in the third century, and by others; it was suggested not only by the sameness of the name, but probably also by the special character of the labors of Philip, since these appear to have been such as the apostles exclusively performed. This latter view seems, indeed, to be sustained by the expression: ἐκήρυσσε τὸν Χρ., inasmuch as it was originally applied to the proclamation of a herald, and denotes, therefore, here, that a public declaration was made in a more than ordinarily solemn manner, and by special authority, while in the case of others, merely the terms εὐαγγελίζσθαι (8:4; 11:20) and λαλεῖν τὸν λόγον were employed. The evangelizing labors of Philip, therefore, undoubtedly seem to be of a different kind from those of the latter. But they do not on this account assume a decidedly apostolical character, in which case διδάσκειν or διδαχὴ would have been the term employed, as in 4:2, 18; 5:25, 28, 42; comp. 2:42. The word κηρύσσειν, in the present verse, constitutes, as it were, an intermediate grade, or occupies a position between the specifically apostolical διδάσκειν, and the general Christian εὐαγγελίζεσθαι; or, λαλεῖν τὸν λόγον. This view is in the strictest accordance with the opinion that Philip was one of the Seven, as these men really did occupy an intermediate position in their respective relations to the apostles, and to the disciples in general.
b. The name of the city in Samaria, in which Philip labored so successfully, cannot by any means be determined with certainty; from the text we merely learn that it was one of the numerous cities of the district of Samaria. The language in Acts 8:8 and 9, conveys the impression that Luke himself was not acquainted with the precise name, and that he purposely expressed himself in indefinite terms. It is not probable that the capital city is meant (Kuinoel); it also bore the name of Samaria, and received that of Sebaste from Herod the Great, but it cannot be here intended, as the same name in Acts 8:9 and 14 plainly designates the whole region [as in 1:8].
ACTS 8:6–8. And the people with one accord.—Philip proclaimed the Messiah to them, and, at the same time, performed many miracles of healing, as well in the case of persons that were possessed, from whom the unclean spirits (demons) came out with loud cries, as also in the case of those who were lame and paralytic. The inhabitants, who had a personal knowledge of these wonderful works, were thus induced to listen with devout attention to the words of Philip (προςεῖχον—ἐν τῷ ἀκούειν αὐτοιὺς καὶ βλέπειν τὰ σημεῖα). Not merely a few individuals, or the adherents of any particular party, but the whole mass of the population (οἱ ὄχλοι) listened in a confiding and respectful manner, and with entire unanimity (ὁμοθυμαδόν) to the addresses of Philip (although προςεῖχον is not yet equivalent to ἐπίστευον in the higher sense of the latter word). The joy which pervaded the city, and which was already occasioned by the healing of many sick persons, and by Philip’s joyful tidings concerning the Saviour and redemption, became so great, (χαρὰ μεγάλη), when the people perceived that they were all acting with one accord.
ACTS 8:9–11. But there was a certain man called Simon.—The logical connection is the following:—A man, named Simon, had been in the place before Philip’s arrival, whose magic arts had created a great sensation, and secured a number of adherents for him. [The word here and in Acts 8:11 translated bewitched (ἐξίστημι, see Wahl and Robinson), but never so rendered where it occurs in the New Test. elsewhere, signifies amazed, astonished, as in 2:7, 12; 9:21 (J. A. Alex.); thus, below, in Acts 8:13, it is translated wondered.—TR.]. Luke furnishes us with no information respecting the origin of this man, e.g., whether he was a native of this city, or, indeed, whether he was a Samaritan at all. So far, therefore, no facts are presented that are adverse to the conjecture of Neander, Gieseler and others (which Meyer combats on insufficient grounds). Those writers identify Simon with an individual of the same name, whom Josephus thus describes: Σίμων ’Ιουδαῖος, Κύπριος δὲ γένος, μάγος εἶναι σκηπτόμενος. Antiq. xx. 7, 2); the Roman procurator Felix had employed him, about A. D. 60, as a pander. The statement of Justin Martyr that Simon was a native of Gitta in Samaria [see K. V. RAUMER: Palæstina, p. 156] is the less worthy of confidence, not only as more than a century intervenes between him and Simon, but also because he connects other and later legends, as it can be demonstrated, with the name of this sorcerer; and the penitential petition of Simon in Acts 8:24, affords no evidence per se, that he did not subsequently resume the practice of his deceptive arts.—Simon was, unquestionably, according to the text before us, one of the men who, in “that solstitial period of religion”, travelled through the country (as Greek and Roman writers also testify), in the capacity of fortune-tellers, astrologers, and interpreters of dreams, or who attracted attention, and acquired influence as jugglers, or as men professedly endowed with miraculous powers to heal. He had practised his magical arts during a considerable period (Acts 8:11), and his frauds had been so successful that the entire population of Samaria (and not merely the inhabitants of the city to which Philip came), were filled with wonder and amazement. They placed the utmost confidence in him, and entertained the most exalted opinion of his personal character and abilities (Acts 8:10). He alleged that he possessed peculiar attributes, and was a personage of an extraordinary character (εἶναί τινα ἑαυτὸν μέγαν). He found credence among people of every age and every station in life—[from the least to the greatest]—and these gradually adopted the opinion that he was himselfἡ δύναμις τοῦ θεοῦ ἡ μεγάλη. This expression doubtless means that they discerned, as they thought, a species of theophany in the person of Simon, and that they supposed that the great power of God, the most exalted divine power, was revealed in him. It is here an important circumstance, which should be carefully noticed, that Luke himself distinguishes between the personal statements of the magus, on the one hand, and the delusion, on the other, of the people who were prepossessed in his favor. The latter deified him, according to a popular opinion which seems to have assumed a distinct shape; but this was only the opinion of his adherents, and was not founded on any direct statements of Simon himself. Perhaps he deemed it to be the most prudent and advantageous course, to employ a species of chiaroscuro, or to resort to mysterious terms, when he spoke of himself personally.—In view of the legends to which later writers have given currency, in connection with Simon the Magus, Baur and Zeller arrive at the conclusion that the actual historical existence of the Simon who is mentioned in the text before us, is very doubtful. We live, however, in a perverse world, and, when we judge dispassionately, we must perceive that it is a violation of the principles of sound criticism to cast a shade of doubt on the present narrative, simply because certain fables connected with this Magus originated at a later period; these obtained currency from the days of Justin Martyr, particularly through the Clementine Homilies, and the Apostolical Constitutions. Luke furnishes a plain statement, the truth of which is fully sustained by accounts derived from other sources respecting the magians of that age, and that statement by no means belongs to the category of certain legends which originated more than a century afterwards.
ACTS 8:12. But when they believed Philip.—The faith with which the Samaritans listened to the preaching of Philip, who bore witness, not like Simon, of himself, but of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God, was the more honorable and blessed, as it took the place of a superstition which had already begun to prevail; it demonstrated, moreover, that it possessed the character of a willing obedience, since it induced the Samaritans to receive baptism.
ACTS 8:13. Then Simon himself believed also.—The circumstance that even this magus received the Gospel, was baptized, and attached himself to Philip as a disciple (προςκαρτερῶν), was in itself a very striking proof of the superior power, and, indeed, the divinity of the Gospel concerning Christ. The influence which, psychologically speaking, first of all affected Simon, proceeded from the deeds, i.e., the miracles of healing which Philip performed, and of which he was an eye-witness, and, it may be added, an attentive observer (θεωρῶν). These facts amazed him, as much as his own magic arts had hitherto amazed the people, and this thought Luke evidently intends to suggest by employing the same word (ἐξίστατο, Mid.), which he had previously employed in connection with Simon, transitively, in Acts 8:9, and intransitively in Acts 8:11. Simon had hitherto astonished others, but he now, in his turn, passes from one degree of astonishment to another. Yet it does not thence follow that this magus (as Grotius conjectured, and more recent interpreters have assumed) did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but merely regarded him as a magus and worker of miracles, who possessed a power superior to his own.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. Philip combined miracles with the preaching of the word, like the apostles, and like Stephen, who also wrought miracles, (Acts 6:8). But while these contributed to the efficacy of his preaching (comp. Mark 16:20), the word of the Gospel was the great object to which his labors were dedicated. His miracles of healing doubtless attracted attention to him, and opened an avenue to the hearts of men; still, the conversion of the latter was the fruit of the preaching of the word. And whenever the word, the pure truth of the Gospel, is proclaimed with freedom and fidelity, and received with attention and diligence, it always will continue to bring forth fruit.
2. The joy of the converted Samaritans resembled the heart-felt joy of the Israelitic Christians of Jerusalem, Acts 2:46, 47. “Righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” [Rom. 14:17], prevail in the kingdom of God. It is a source of joy, to know that we are reconciled unto God—that we have found a Saviour—that, in Jesus, we are “of one heart, and of one soul” [ch. 4:32] with those who love him. We might, perhaps, say that the joy and rapture of a believing soul proceed from the conviction that it has at length found its true home, that it is at home, and that it feels at home in God.
3. Even demoniacs [Acts 8:7] were delivered from the unclean spirits by Philip, through the power of Christ. These works, which no apostle had hitherto performed, as far as the narrative before us is concerned, were wrought by this man, who was not invested with the apostolical office. Bengel observes here, with much acuteness, that Luke never introduces the word δαιμόνια in THE ACTS, when he speaks of demoniacs [it occurs in a different sense in Acts 17:18], while, in his Gospel, he employs it more frequently than any one of the other evangelists. Hence he concludes that the power of [the unclean spirits to take] possession [of men, “obsessionis vim”] had been impaired after the death of Christ. We are, however, the less inclined to adopt this latter opinion, as it is said precisely in the passage before us, that many were at this time possessed with unclean spirits. Still, it is worthy of notice, that no case of bodily possession, of which an Israelite was the subject, is described in the book of THE ACTS; those that are mentioned, occurred either in a heathen territory (Acts 19:12 ff., in Ephesus), or near the boundaries which divided Judaism from heathenism; and the territory of the Samaritans was of this character.
4. Any doctrines which Simon, the sorcerer, may have taught, referred to his own person, and were intended to exalt him in the eyes of the people. How different was the course which Philip pursued! He never alludes to himself personally, but speaks of Jesus Christ alone, whose name (Acts 8:12) he commends to his hearers as very holy and precious, and whose kingdom he proclaims as the kingdom of life and salvation. “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” (2 Cor. 4:5); this language describes the preaching of every apostle and evangelist mentioned in THE ACTS, and, indeed, constitutes a law which all their successors are solemnly bound to obey. As soon as a pastor or any one who is employed in the service of the church, begins to speak of himself, and to establish faith in his person as a part of the creed of others, and, as soon as a congregation or church complies, they are all guilty of a grievous departure from the path of duty, and commit a sin which ultimately conducts to a paganizing deification of the creature.
5. The narrative which now follows, demonstrates that although Simon believed (Acts 8:13), he did not adopt the true faith. There is, however, no foundation for the opinion, that, the error of this sorcerer consisted in believing that Jesus himself was merely a sorcerer, but possessed of great powers; at least, such a delusion could have derived no support whatever from the doctrine of Philip concerning Jesus as the Messiah, or concerning his kingdom. The narrative does not intimate that the error of Simon was connected with the substance of his faith, but rather implies that the kind or manner of his faith was unsound. It is quite possible that he professedly received the pure doctrine without gainsaying, but he certainly was not “sound in the faith” [Tit. 1:9, 13]. His faith, like that which is often found in Christendom, was merely a faith of his understanding, a transient conviction, but not one that touched, much less resided in his heart; it was not a fides plena, justificans, cor purificans, salvans. Nothing that fails to move the heart and call forth a prompt and full response, can be more than a superficial impression; it effects no favorable change in the individual, or, at the most, converts him into a hypocrite.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
ACTS 8:1. And Saul was consenting unto his death.—Comp. 1 Tim. 1:13: “I did it ignorantly.” Thus men may remain blind, with all their human wisdom and the light of reason, and be irrational persecutors, with all their supposed zeal for God. Not even the edifying end of Stephen, could make an impression on Saul’s imbittered heart.—And yet, we prefer an avowed enemy like Saul, to a false friend like Simon. The former made havoc of the church, the latter continued with Philip, and received baptism; the former was sincere, even in his madness, for he acted in ignorance; the heart of the latter was full of bitterness and deceit; the former was converted, the latter, cast off; Acts 8:20, 21. (From Ap. Past.).—Except the apostles.—In seasons of violent persecution, all should not flee, neither should all alike remain. (Starke).—The apostles demonstrated, by remaining in the city, I. Their manly courage, which made no concession to the enemy; II. Their childlike obedience to the command of Jesus, who had directed them to proclaim his name in Jerusalem, before they went out into the world. (Ap. Past.).—The apostles remained behind as monuments, testifying that the Lord Jesus could not be expelled from that soil. So the two witnesses (Rev. 11:8–11) will, at last, stand up in the city in which their Lord was crucified. (K. H. Rieger).—The solitary witnesses of God in the midst of a perverse nation: (comp. Noah, before the deluge; Lot in Sodom; Abraham among the idolaters; Moses in Egypt; Elijah among the priests of Baal; Daniel in Babylon; the apostles in Jerusalem; Paul among the Gentiles; the harbingers of the Reformation in the darkness of popery). They are, I. Majestic remains of a ruined temple of God; II. Bright beacons amid the darkness of an evil age; III. Massive foundation-stones of a future building of God.
ACTS 8:2. And made great lamentation over him.—It is natural that we should mourn when those are taken away who have rendered great services to the church and congregation; for while their death is a gain to themselves, the bereavement is painfully felt by the church. (Starke).—The different sentiments with which the death of the servants of Jesus is surveyed: I. The world rejoices, Acts 8:1; II. The devout mourn, Acts 8:2. The witnesses of Christ are able to move the hearts of men even after their death. When one servant is called to his home, another, whom the Lord has trained, is ready to take his place. No sooner has Stephen passed away, than Philip appears. (Ap. Past.).
ACTS 8:3. Saul made havoc of the church.—Observe his increasing violence and fury: I. He takes’ charge of the clothes of Stephen’s murderers; II. He consents to the death of this witness; III. He persecutes the fugitives; IV. He searches for those who are concealed: V. He drags them forth, sparing neither sex; VI. He commits them to prison. (Starke).—The passion-week of the primitive church: I. The members are dispersed, Acts 8:1; II. They bury their first martyr, Acts 8:2; III. They are persecuted by Saul, Acts 8:3. (Lisco.).
ACTS 8:4. They that were scattered abroad, went everywhere preaching the word.—Sanguis martyrum semen Christianorum (Tertullian).—The storms of persecution are only winds that, I. Fan the fire of faith in the church; II. Carry the spark of truth to a distance. Compare [the following stanzas of] Luther’s Hymn on the two martyrs of Christ, who were burnt in Brussels [July 1, 1523, named Henry Voes and John Esch. The original consists of 12 stanzas, each containing nine lines, and begins: Ein neues Lied wir heben an].
“Flung to the heedless winds,
Or on the waters cast,
Their ashes shall be watch’d,
And gather’d at the last:
And from that scatter’d dust,
Around us and abroad,
Shall spring a plenteous seed
Of witnesses for God.
“Jesus has now receiv’d
Their latest living breath:
Yet vain is Satan’s boast
Of vict’ry in their death;
Still, still, though dead, they speak,
And, trumpet-tongued, proclaim
To many a wak’ning land
The one availing Name.”
—Scattered … preaching.—How often Christ sends his ambassadors in the guise of persecuted fugitives! (K. H. Rieger).—God usually bestows a spiritual blessing on those who shelter devout exiles. (Quesn.).—The wonderful ways of the Lord in extending his kingdom: I. Stephen, the martyr, moistens the field of the church with his blood; II. The raging Saul, even as a persecutor, already serves, unconsciously, as an instrument in extending the kingdom of Christ; III. The fugitive Christians labor in distant regions as the first missionaries of the Gospel.
ACTS 8:5. Then Philip went down … and preached.—The true servants of Christ may be compelled to change their place of abode, but they do not change their minds. (Apost. Past.).—Faithful laborers always find work, and are always engaged in fulfilling the duties of their vocation, whether it be in Jerusalem or Samaria. Rom. 15:19. (Starke).
ACTS 8:6. The people … gave heed … seeing the miracles.—By hearing and seeing we are conducted to faith. John 1:47–50. (Starke).—“One soweth, and another reapeth.” The seed had been sown by Jesus a few years previously, (John, Acts 4), and now the harvest is gathered in. (Starke).
ACTS 8:7, 8. Unclean spirits … came out … many … were healed … and there was great joy.—Behold here an image of the spiritual miracles of the Gospel: I. The unclean are cleansed; II. The feeble are made strong; III. The sorrowing begin to rejoice.—Even if the pathway to the kingdom of God leads through much tribulation, it terminates in joy—joy, pro-seeding from the remission of sins, the grace of God, and the hope of eternal salvation.
ACTS 8:9 Simon … bewitched [astonished] the people.—Mundus vult decipi. When people desire to see a great display, they are easily bewitched by pretenders who are ready to gratify them. Comp. Rev. 13:3, 4, “saying, Who is like unto the beast?” Simon was neither the first nor the last of that class of persons who are now called original characters, and whom others weakly take a pride in imitating. They are sometimes able to propagate infidelity with great success, and communicate ungodly tastes to a whole people or race. Such men, who erect barriers in the way that leads to heaven, often fascinate others by their wealth, or their intellect, or their vain words. (K. H. Rieger).
ACTS 8:12. But when they believed Philip preaching, etc.—So, too, the apostolical-simplicity of the dove will always triumph in the end over the fascinating influence and the cunning of the serpent.—Where God’s truth arises, the kingdom of lies must wane.
ACTS 8:13. Then Simon himself believed also.—To be touched by the truth, to assent to it, to commend it—all this is insufficient, unless the heart and mind be renewed, and abide in the ways of truth.—Even upright pastors may be deceived by hypocrites, and holy things may be taken from them by fraud. (Starke).
ACTS 8:9–13. Simon the sorcerer, viewed as the image of a false teacher: I. He gave out that himself was some great one, Acts 8:9; false teachers do not seek after the honor of God, but after their own; II. He bewitched the people, Acts 8:9; false teachers endeavor to fascinate and dazzle by vain arts, but not to enlighten and convert men; III. He believed, was baptized, and continued with Philip, Acts 8:13. Thus, too, unbelievers often speak the language of Canaan [Isai. 19:18, i.e., utter devout phrases.—TR.], when they hope to derive advantage from it; they hypocritically connect themselves with the servants of God, in order to conceal their plague-spots under the mantle of borrowed sanctity.—Saul, (Acts 8:1–3), Simon, (Acts 8:9–11, 13), Philip (Acts 8:5–8, 12),—the open enemy, the false friend, and the upright servant of the Lord—each considered with reference to the state of his heart, his course of action, and his lot on earth.—The first persecution of the Christians, and its blessings: illustrated in the case, I. Of Saul; II. Of Philip; III. Of Simon—each, in a peculiar mode, contributing to the glory of the Gospel.—[Lessons taught by the first persecution of the Church: respecting, I. The moral state of man by nature: (a) his spiritual blindness; (b) alienation of his heart from God; (c) the state of degradation to which sin reduces him; II: The ways of divine providence: (a) sometimes mysterious (the power of Stephen’s enemies); (b) often apparently discouraging (the dispersion); (c) always wise and good; III. The vitality of the Church: in resisting, as then, (a) enmity in every form; (b) perpetually; (c) victoriously—by the power of the divine Founder.—TR.]
Acts 8:5.—The article before πόλιν, which Lachm., in accordance with A. B. and two later [minuscule] mss., has adopted, la certainly a later addition; it is wanting in the great majority of the minuscule mss., and also in Chrysostom, and was probably inserted in order to designate the capital city. [Meyer and de Wette concur with Lechler, and Alf. omits it.—It is found in Cod. Sin., τήν.—TR.]
Acts 8:7.—Πολλῶν [of text. rec.] is supported only by H. among the uncial MSS., but also by various minuscule mss., and several oriental versions and fathers. However, it would not have been substituted for πολλοί of A. B. C. E. [and Cod. Sin.] if the latter had been the original reading, while, on the other hand, in view of the latter half of the verse, πολλοί could easily have been substituted as a correction of πολλῶν. But ἐξήρχοντο is much more fully attested [by A. B. C. E. and Cod. Sin.] than the singular number ἐξήρχετο [of text. rec. and H.—Lach. and Alf. read πολλοί… ἐξήρχοντο. “πολλοίis a nominativus pendens; comp. Acts 7:40; Rev. 3:12. WINER, § 28. 3 (and § 63. 2. 6.)” (Alford); but de Wette calls this “correction” an “unmeaning” reading, prefers that of the text. rec., and remarks that the “genitive πολλῶν is governed by ἐξηρχ., as in Acts 16:39; Matt. 10:14.”—Vulg. multi. – – exibant.—TR.]
Acts 8:10. a.—πάντες [of text. rec.] before ἀπὸ, is omitted by Tisch. [and Alf.], in accordance with H., some versions and fathers, as a later addition, although it is found in the great majority of MSS. [A. B. C. D. E. Cod. Sin., and retained by Lach.]. But the different positions which it occupies in several MSS., respectively, render it suspicious; it could easily have been inserted by a later hand. [Tisch. refers to Heb. 8:11 as its source.—TR.]
Acts 8:10. b.—καλουμένη [inserted before μεγάλη] is wanting in only a few MSS. [G. H.]; it may have been dropped by copyists as, apparently, an incongruity. But it is so well supported [by A. B. C. D.E. Cod. Sin., Syr. Vulg., etc.], that the most recent editors have all adopted it, although it is wanting in the textus receptus. [But it is, perhaps, like another reading, λεγομένη, found in some minuscules, only a marginal gloss. (de Wette).—TR.]
Acts 8:12—τά [of text. rec.] before περί, is found only in G. H. and is wanting in all the other uncial MSS. [including Cod. Sin.]; hence it is omitted by Lach. and Tisch. [but retained by Alf.]. Meyer considers its presence to be indispensable, as εὐαγγελίζεσθαι is not found elsewhere in combination with περί; but that circumstance does not prove that here, too, it must be combined with the accusative.
Acts 8:13.—The reading δυνάμεις καὶ σημεῖα, without μεγάλα or μεγάλας (the latter, in either form, being certainly a later addition suggested by ἐξίστατο), is adopted by Tischendorf and Meyer, and should be preferred to the usual σημ. κ. δυν. [Great variations occur in the ancient MSS., and in the printed text of editors. The text. rec. and Lach. read: σημ. κ. δυν. μεγάλας γινομένας with A. B. C. D. Cod. Sin., except that C. omits γιν. Alford reads: δυν. κ. σημ. γινομένα with E. G. H. Syr. and fathers; G. H. omit μεγ. The text of the Engl. version (which follows Tynd. and Cranmer) changes the order of the text. rec., and omits μεγ., which it recognizes in the margin, where we read: signs and great miracles.—TR.]
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:§ III. The apostles Peter and John follow Philip, in order to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost, on which occasion Simon the sorcerer is unmasked.
14Now [But] when the apostles which [who] were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: 15Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: 16[om. the renthetical signs enclosing the next verse] (For as yet9 he was fallen upon none of them: only they were [but (δὲ) they were only] baptized in [unto, εἰς] the name of the Lord Jesus.) 17Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. 18And [But] when Simon saw10 that through [the] laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered [brought] them money, 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 [May thy money with thee go to destruction], because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money [because thou hast thought of acquiring the gift of God by means of money!]. 21Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right [upright] in the sight of11 [before] God. 22Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God12 [beseech the Lord], if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. 23For I perceive [see] that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity [that thou art bitter gall and art bound up in unrighteousness]. 24Then answered Simon [But Simon answered], and said, Pray ye to [Beseech ye] the Lord for me, that none [nothing] of these things which ye have spoken come upon me [!]. 25And they [But they,οἱ μὲν οὗν], when they had testified and preached [spoken] the word of the Lord, returned13 to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
ACTS 8:14. a. Now when the apostles … heard that Samaria had received the word of God.—The tidings which the apostles, who had remained in Jerusalem, now received, were evidently as unexpected, as they were important; they accordingly resolved to send two of their number to the new missionary field. Luke refers to the momentous character of the event, when he employs the phraseology: “Samaria received the word of God.” It would weaken the force of the remark, if we should interpret Σαμάρεια as the name of the city; it here designates the whole province, and indirectly alludes to the peculiar position, in matters of religion, which the Samaritans occupied as a people. The fact is here brought, to our notice, by implication, that the promulgation of the word of God among the Samaritans, and their acceptance of the Gospel in faith, constituted an epoch, inasmuch as the Samaritans, who were originally a mixed people (Israelites and pagans, ἀλλογενεῖς, Luke 17:18), were regarded by the Jews as sectarians and heretics.
b. They sent unto them Peter and John.—This is the first time, since the proposition to elect the Seven was made (Acts 6:3), that the Twelve collectively adopt any measure, as an organized body, authorized and pledged to exercise a general control. It is also a novel circumstance that the college of the apostles deputes two of the whole number, choosing precisely the two who had hitherto (e. g. Acts 3 and Acts 4). been the most prominent of all. Such a mission unquestionably conferred distinction, and was a decided expression of confidence in those who were intrusted with it. But it was, at the same time, a declaration on the part of the apostolic college which offered the mission, and an acknowledgment on the part of those who accepted it, of the great fact that no single apostle, even though it were a Peter or a John, was elevated above the whole company of the apostles, but that each member was subordinate to it. We hare here a direct refutation of the Romish doctrine of the primacy of the apostle Peter, and a proof that he, like any other of the number, could claim only a parity of rank. (See KARL LECHLER; N. T. Lehre vom heil. Amt, p. 136 f. [Doctrine of the New Testament concerning the sacred office.]).
ACTS 8:15–17. Who … prayed for them.—The service which the apostles rendered to those who were already converted, consisted in offering intercessory prayer for the gift of the Holy Ghost [“that the faith of the Samaritans who had received already the converting influences of the Spirit—might be confirmed by a miraculous attestation” (Hackett)]: prayer was combined with the imposition of hands, Acts 8:15, 17. The result was, that the converted Samaritans received the Holy Ghost. And it would, further, seem as if one prayer had been offered in behalf of all, as a single or momentary action (aor. προςηύξαντο), and that the imposition of hands was a subsequent act (τότε, Acts 8:17); according to this view, the imposition of hands on the individuals in succession, occupied a considerable time, and thus, too, the individual converts received the Holy Ghost, not simultaneously, but one after the other (imperf. ἐπετίθουν—ἐλάμβανον). [“The aorist describes a momentary action, or a single action—the imperfect describes an action in its continuance and progress.” Kühner: Gr. Gram. § 256. 3. Rem. 2.—TR.]
ACTS 8:18, 19. a. And when Simon saw.—Simon had observed that the Holy Ghost was given by means of the laying on of hands of the apostles. The latter fact was doubtless apparent to him, when he observed certain manifestations on the part of the believers, and compared with these the prayer of the apostles, to which, like others, he had listened. The question whether Simon himself had also received the Holy Ghost, is at once decided by two considerations: first, if he had been so endowed, his conduct, as described in Acts 8:18, would have been a moral impossibility; secondly, the terms ἱδών, etc., obviously represent him as a mere spectator, and not as one of those who personally received the imposition of hands, and the gift of the Spirit.
b. He offered them money.—Simon again betrays the characteristic features of the sorcerer, that is, he is completely controlled by selfish considerations, and is interested in that which is spiritual and holy, only in so far as it may serve as the means of aiding him in his sorceries, and enlarging his personal influence and power. His true character is, further, revealed by the hope which he entertained of gaining his object through the medium of money. For as he expects to influence the apostles by pecuniary considerations, he plainly shows that he himself is influenced chiefly by such motives. He views the communication of the Spirit in the light of magic, that is to say, as a power or authority, which does not depend on the moral character, but may be exercised or transferred at pleasure. The latter view is expressed in the words: ᾧ ἐὰν ἐπιθῶ τ. χ. λαμβάνῃ π. ἅ..
ACTS 8:20. Thy money perish with thee.—Peter, whose labors had, so far, been strictly associated with those of John, Acts 8:14, now steps forward, ready to speak and to act, at a moment when a prompt decision, and a resolute course of action, were needed. He not only positively rejects the money, but also, with holy indignation, and with the utmost abhorrence, devotes both the silver [ἀργύριον] and the man who offers it, to destruction! The moral indignation and the imprecation of Peter are occasioned by Simon’s desire and will to purchase God’s gift with money [“which, from its very nature, could be only a free gift” (J. A. Alex.)]. The term ἐνόμισας, namely, is applied not merely to an opinion, but also to an established sentiment and a purpose; the mere opinion, as far as it depends on the understanding, could not be subjected to a moral judgment and retribution, unless it was associated with the general tendency of the will and the character, and was in reality dictated by them.
ACTS 8:21. Thou hast neither part nor lot.—After Peter had very righteously repulsed the man, and rejected the silver, he next refuses, in the most positive terms, to grant the request itself. As, in the former case, his strong emotion led him to begin with the words: τὸ ἀργυρ. σου etc., so here he begins his refusal with the words [in the original]: “There is no part nor lot for thee in, etc.,” that is, Thou canst have no share at all therein. [“Part and lot are synonymous; the former is the literal, the latter, a tropical term.” (de Wette).—TR.]. The phrase; ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τούτῳ, must here be interpreted, as the connection shows, not merely in accordance with the Hebrew דָּבָר, but also with the classic usage of λόγος, or, as equivalent to ipsa causa, i. e. “in this matter or thing of which you speak”, namely, the power to bestow the Holy Ghost. That mode of interpretation which adheres to the definition of λόγος as word, doctrine, and assumes that either a participation in the Gospel itself is meant (Grotius; Neander), or that the inspired manifestations of the believers are here to be understood (Lange), is not consistent with the context, or else is too artificial to be considered as setting forth the true import. The reason which induces the apostle to refuse so absolutely any share to his namesake in his apostolic authority, is to be sought for in the insincerity of the sorcerer alone.—Thy heart is not right, [εὐθεῖα, straight-forward, (Robinson)—TR.], not upright, not honest, in the eyes of God; thy heart is perverted and treacherous.
ACTS 8:22, 23. Repent therefore, etc.—This is the practical lesson which Peter deduces (οὖν), i.e., “since such is thy state, change thy mind, and cease (ἀπὸ) from thy wickedness.”—Peter urges Simon to repent and to pray for the forgiveness of his sin, but gives him no assurance of the latter, since the phrase; if perhaps (εἰ ἄρα ἀφ.) indicates that the result, (i.e. whether God will forgive), is doubtful.—Ἐπίνοια, a (practical) thought, purpose, plan, is a vox media [i.e. it may be applied to an honest purpose, in bonam partem, or to one that is dishonest, in malam partem, according to the context.—TR.]. The statement of the cause or reason is here, as in the preceding verses, introduced by γάρ, although that reason had already been indicated by οὖν in Acts 8:22. Peter’s words, literally, mean: “I regard you as a man whose influence will be like that of bitter gall and of a bond of unrighteousness, or, as a man who has reached such a state.” The reference is, primarily, to the personal and fixed character of Simon, and secondarily, to the pernicious influence which it might be apprehended that he would exercise on the newly formed church. The bitter gall (in the original a Hebraizing genitive [WINER: Gram. N. T. § 34. 2.]), probably indicates poison, as, in ancient times, the gall of the serpent was supposed to be the seat of its poison, even as the German alliterative phrase; Gift und Galle [poison and gall] assumes that an immediate connection exists between the two. [Comp. Job 20:14. “The terms here are probably derived from Deut. 29:17, Sept. χολὴ καὶ πικρία, etc.” (de Wette).—TR.]. The expression σύνδεσμος ἀδικίας occurs in Isai. 58:6 [in the Sept.], but in an entirely different sense; it here implies that Simon’s whole person had become, as it were, a single band, a whole bundle [translated by some: “bundle of unrighteousness.” (J. A. Alexander).—TR.], all the component parts of which were unrighteousnesses [see below, HOM. and PRAC. on Acts 8:18, 19 (b)]; hence the word is analogous in sense to the modern German: Ausbund von, etc. [This German word, (from ausbinden, to untie and take out, i.e. to select) is sometimes translated paragon or quintessence, and is applied to any object which exceeds all others of its kind in any good or bad quality.—TR.]
ACTS 8:24. Pray ye to the Lord for me.—In what light should we regard this language of Simon, as well as the sentiments which dictated it? Meyer inferred, at an earlier period, from the silence which Luke henceforth observes respecting Simon, that the sacred writer intended to describe, in Acts 8:24, the beginning of a genuine repentance, and that he expected the reader to complete in his own mind the history of Simon’s entire reformation. This is an erroneous view of the case. The old interpretation, which Neander, Olshausen, de Wette, and Baumgarten, among recent writers, have adopted, and to which Meyer himself assents in the last edition of his Commentary, undoubtedly presents the true view, viz., that no genuine repentance on the part of Simon is indicated by the narrative. At the same time, however, no value is to be ascribed to the patristic accounts of Simon which have been preserved, e. g., that he subsequently resumed the practice of his magic arts, and, indeed, that his course became more iniquitous than it had previously been, inasmuch as he now regarded it as the great object of his life to maintain a systematic opposition to the apostles and the Gospel. The language of the text before us is sufficiently explicit. Peter had demanded two things of Simon: first, that he should repent; secondly, that he should pray for forgiveness. He yields only a partial obedience to the latter admonition, or, strictly speaking, none at all. In place of praying himself, and seeking forgiveness, he requests the apostles to pray for him. But by this course he betrays, first of all, that his heart is not truly contrite, and, secondly, that he still entertains superstitious views, since he expects miraculous results from the intercessory prayers of others, without his own self-abasement before God, or supplications offered by himself. And, further, we cannot suppose that an individual has sincerely and truly repented, who, like Simon in the present case, is alarmed solely by the consequences, that is, the punishment of sin, but is not influenced by a sense of his own moral guilt and baseness. He is moved by a dread of the evils with which he is menaced (ὦν εἰρήκατε), but not by any abhorrence of the sin itself of which he is guilty. These are not indications which can encourage us to believe that Simon entertained a godly sorrow, that he sincerely repented, and that he became a renewed man; we cannot, therefore, speak of his conversion as “a glorious victory of the superior spiritual power of the apostles” [quoted by Lechler from an early edition of Meyer’s Commentary, but essentially changed in the last edition.—Stier says, in this connection (Reden d. Ap. I. 195, 2d ed.): “Simon speaks here almost like Pharaoh, who afterwards hardened himself; see Exod. 8:29; 9:28; 10:17.”—TR.]
ACTS 8:25. They … returned.—The two apostles did not content themselves with imparting to the new converts of that one locality fuller religious instructions than the latter had hitherto received. (This was theδιδάσκειν, which, in Matt. 28:20, follows the βαπτίζειν the order of time, but also constitutes a part of the μαθητεύειν; see above, EXEG. and CRIT., note a. ult. on Acts 8:5). Peter and John, therefore, after having been engaged in the labors already described, devoted themselves to others of a direct missionary character, and preached the Gospel in many villages of Samaria, before they returned to Jerusalem. That these labors were not hastily performed, but were continued for some time, and that the return of the apostles was, consequently, somewhat delayed, are circumstances very plainly indicated by the Imperfect(ὑπέστρεφον—εὐηγγελίζοντο), which is, for critical reasons, to be preferred to the Aorist. [See the note numbered 5, appended to the text, above, Acts 8:14–25, and also EXEG. AND CRIT., Acts 8:15–17, ult.—TR.]
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. Baptism and the gift of the Spirit, missionary and apostolical labors—what is the relation which the one sustains to the other? The converted Samaritans had received baptism, but not one of their number had with it received the gift of the Holy Ghost, Acts 8:16. Does this latter expression denote exclusively the extraordinary gifts and miraculous manifestations of the Spirit, so that we are authorized to assume that the new converts had, at their baptism, and in conjunction with it, already received the ordinary gift of the Holy Ghost? (LÖHE: Aphorismen, p. 29 f.). Not at all! Such an assumption is altogether arbitrary, and requires us to obtrude the distinction just specified, upon the text, whereas πνεῦμα ἅγιον occurs in Acts 8:15, 17, 18, without any indication of such a distinction. We can, moreover, discover no explicit doctrinal passage in the New Testament which would furnish a firm foundation for the assumption that the gift of the Holy Ghost was immediately and inseparably connected with baptism. Even Acts 2:38, when closely examined, does not sustain this view, and Acts 10:44, 47, 48, proves that God can impart the Holy Ghost even before baptism. The baptism with water, accordingly, is not always accompanied by the baptism with the Spirit, as if the latter were dependent upon it, but may in some cases be separated from it by a certain intervening period of time. The determination of the order or sequence belongs to Him who causes His Spirit to descend according to his own pleasure (John 3:8), and who has also in this respect “put the times and seasons in his own power.” (Acts 1:7). We are hardly in a position to fathom the causes and conditions on which the simultaneousness or the succession of the baptism with water and of that with the Spirit, depends, or, in any special case, to exhibit these causes distinctly in certain natural and finite instruments and persons. When Neander, for instance, refers to the circumstance that the Samaritans had not yet received the Holy Ghost, he alleges that the cause lay in the new converts themselves, and adds the explanatory remark, that they had at first received the preaching concerning Christ merely in an outward manner, and had only afterwards, when the apostles arrived and addressed them, been inwardly impressed or affected; but he obtrudes this distinction upon the entire narrative, which furnishes no support whatever for it. Others have supposed that the most simple explanation which could be given of the fact is the following: Philip was not an apostle, whereas Peter and John were, emphatically, apostles; they accordingly believe that the gift of the Holy Ghost could be conferred by none but apostles. This is the view not only of the Romish and the Anglican churches (both of which, in conformity to it, regard the administration of the rite of Confirmation as exclusively a function of the episcopate), but also of many Protestant commentators. The latter believe that the explanation of the fact before us is to be derived solely from the circumstance that the giving of the Holy Ghost was reserved for the apostles, as such. But Luke cannot have entertained this opinion, since he relates in the very next chapter (9:17 ff.), that the Damascene Christian Ananias, at the command of Christ, put his hands on Saul and baptized him, in order to impart the Holy Ghost to him. Yet Ananias himself was not an apostle, nor even one of the Seven, like Philip. The latter cannot therefore have been prevented by any barrier, such as an official restriction, from being the medium of an outpouring of the Holy Ghost on those whom he had baptized. It is also an error to assume, at the same time, that the. reason for which the apostles sent two of their own number to Samaria, is to be found precisely in their wish to aid the Samaritans in receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost as well as baptism (Meyer). For the narrative by no means states that the apostles in Jerusalem had heard that any want of this description existed in Samaria: it simply informs us that intelligence reached them “that Samaria had received the word of God,” and that they at once sent thither two of their number. Their real motive is apparent: they desired to recognize by that act the work of evangelization which had been commenced in Samaria without their direct agency, to form a bond of union between the new converts and themselves, and to avow and sustain the principle of the unity of the Church of Christ, the interests of which had been specially intrusted to them. While they were influenced by these considerations, the two apostles ascertained, after their arrival, that, by imparting the Holy Ghost, they could materially strengthen the new converts, and aid in the work of maintaining the moral purity and uprightness of the congregation, in view of the equivocal purposes of the sorcerer.
2. The imposition of hands is here mentioned a second time in THE ACTS (comp. 6:6). It was a sign, in the first place, (after the intercessory prayer, Acts 8:15, had been once offered for all the baptized persons), of the communication of the gift to the individual; it was, as a symbolical action, a sign, in the second place, and also the medium, of the actual impartation of the Spirit and of spiritual life. But it clearly appears from Acts 9:17, that the laying on of hands was not an act which the apostles exclusively were authorized to perform, and, from Acts 10:44 ff., that this act was not the sole, the indispensable, and, as it were, the only lawful, medium in communicating the Spirit.
3. The conduct of Simon Magus, which betrayed that he had not “put off the old man” [Eph. 4:22], has, from the earliest times, been regarded as the type of a procedure which derives from him the name of Simony. He desired to acquire a special spiritual power by means of money; hence the Church with great propriety applies the name of crimen simoniæ to the act of giving or offering secular means and advantages as a compensation for the conferring of spiritual things (such as ecclesiastical offices or Church preferment, ordination, etc.); and the guilty man is termed simoniacus. A striking proof of the purity and power of the Christian sentiments imparted to the apostles by the Holy Ghost, is furnished by the conduct of Peter, who at once discerns the true character of the hypocrite, instantaneously, without any hesitation, judicially repels the tempter, and surveys the temptation with abhorrence and a holy zeal. The ethical judgment pronounced by Peter exposes the twofold sin from which the temptation proceeded: (a) the desire to obtain from men that which God alone can bestow (τήν δωρεὰν τοῦ θεοῦ); (b) the desire to obtain by his own means, even by money, that which is solely a free gift of the grace of God (τὴν δωρεὰν τοῦ θεοῦ—διὰ χρ. κτᾶσθαι). It is precisely the latter that constitutes Simony. If the apostles had desired to grant the request of Simon (which, however, they could not have done, according to (a) above), they would have violated the express command of the Lord:δωρεὰν ἐλὰβετε, δωρεὰν δότε. Mt. 10:8.
4. Simon is a type not only of all the simonists, but also of all the heretics who have since arisen in the Church. It is well known that this magus has been regarded ever since the second century, as the prominent leader of an heretical school, and, indeed, as magister et progenitor omnium hæreticorum (IREN. adv. hær. I. 27), and that a Gnostico-heretical system has been ascribed to him personally. It is undoubtedly true that a legendary influence is perceptible in the accounts which have been preserved respecting this man. Still, it would be inconsistent with enlarged views and with the dictates of true wisdom to overlook the deep truth which constitutes the foundation of these traditional accounts. Simon’s error consisted essentially in combining pagan with Christian principles, inasmuch as he expected to acquire and exercise the power of conferring the Holy Ghost, as a magic art, and obtain increased facilities for gratifying his ambitious and covetous spirit. He intended, accordingly, to combine, in practice his heathenish trade as a sorcerer with Christianity. But he must have had a conception of the whole subject which was still indistinct: his views, if unfolded in the practice which he proposed to adopt, would have ultimately led to the theory of an amalgamation of pagan superstition and Christian faith. Whatever course an individual may pursue in actual life, he will endeavor to justify it by adopting any theory that will satisfy himself and the world around him. Hence we cannot fail to see the germs of a Gnostic, and, in general, of an heretical tendency in the sentiments which Simon obviously entertains. The book of the Acts, as a whole, shadows forth or exhibits the germs, as it were, of all the events and phenomena which belong, to the subsequent history of the Church of Christ. Simon Magus, for instance, is, in his personal history, a pre-figuration of later occurrences. He became a Christian, but no inward change occurred in him, since he attempted to combine Christianity with his heathenish sorcery. He is thus the representative of all those unsound theories, devices and parties within the pale of Christendom, of which the main object was the combination of foreign elements with the Gospel, or the retention of paganism under a Christian garb; the issue of all such efforts is also prefigured in his history.
5. On this occasion Peter employed the binding key [an allusion to “the office of the keys,” i.e. the binding and the loosing key, Matt. 16:19; 18:18; John 20:23.—TR.]. He did not, it is true, in distinct terms pronounce an anathema upon Simon Magus—he did not expressly exclude him from the Lord’s Table, and expel him from the Church of Christ; but he desired, as far as he himself was concerned, that destruction (ἀπώλεια), might come upon Simon. Now this language implies at least a temporary exclusion from the communion of the Church and the Sacrament. The apostle stands before this man as one who is invested with full authority, although his words do not assume the form of the definitive sentence of a judge, but rather that of an imprecation (εἵη). The reason which he assigns, viz.,ὅτι τὴν δωρεὰν etc., plainly shows that his imprecatory language was not dictated by any highly excited personal feeling, by a carnal zeal, or by the fervor of passion, but by an ethically pure and righteous zeal for the honor of God and of his cause. And that his zeal was not fanatical in its character, or one that disregarded the spiritual interests of an erring soul, is demonstrated in the most beautiful manner, when be exhorts Simon to repent and become changed in mind, Acts 8:22; he likewise admonishes the offender to offer prayer in a penitent spirit to the Redeemer, as the way that may conduct him to forgiveness [see note 4, above, appended to the text.—TR.]
6. The ethical character of Christianity is most gloriously revealed in this apostolical declaration, which assumes a strictly categorical form. Peter takes away from Simon, Acts 8:21, in the most explicit manner, all hope of obtaining by any possibility the power to confer the Holy Ghost. The cause lay in his own heart, which was not upright. In the practice of magic arts, no regard whatever is paid to the moral sentiments either of the operator or of the subject to whom these arts are applied; purity of heart and integrity of character are here of not the slightest importance. But in the kingdom of God, none can receive grace or the gift of divine grace without corresponding moral qualifications; here, integrity and uprightness of heart are indispensable.
7. Peter’s language leaves the point in doubt, whether Simon actually will obtain the forgiveness of sin—not, however, because forgiveness in itself is an uncertain matter, but because he entertains doubts himself respecting the sincerity of Simon’s repentance and conversion. The great danger which proceeds from the frame of mind in which he finds this wretched man, is the sole cause which prevents him from giving Simon an unconditional assurance of his pardon. It is contrary to the Scriptures, and a very hazardous course, to infuse doubts into the soul of any individual respecting the forgiveness of his sins, or to teach, as the Romish Church does, that he can never be fully assured of the divine forgiveness of his sins. But it is equally as unscriptural and as dangerous to the souls of men, to represent this assurance or certainty of the divine pardon as independent of the state or fitness of the heart. Now the latter was wanting in Simon, as Acts 8:24 demonstrates, even after the solemn appeal which the apostle made to his conscience.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
ACTS 8:14. Now when the apostles … at Jerusalem heard, etc.—Persecution cannot weaken the zeal of faithful shepherds in laboring for the welfare of the church. It is of great importance that the faith of the members of newly organized congregations should be steadily maintained and strengthened. Let there be no envy among the servants of God; let none of them look with jealousy on the blessing which attends the labors of others. (Starke).—The most eminent apostles, Peter and John, come, in a fraternal spirit to the aid of Philip, who occupies a subordinate position. (Apost. Past.).—The storm of persecution carried a seed away from the plant, and deposited it in a good soil. The Gospel, which is to be preached to all nations, here comes forth from the temple of the covenant people into an outer court; it reaches a people, which, occupying an intermediate position, in its relations to Jews and Gentiles, was acquainted with the law and the promises given to Israel, and. partially observed them. (Leonh. and Sp.).—Even as the Lord Jesus sent his disciples two and two before his face (Lu. 10:1), so the holy college, of the apostles, devoutly imitating this example, sent forth two of their number—that faithful pair of disciples, whom the hand of God united so intimately in the path of duty. The testimony of the truth is intended to be proclaimed in full harmony by the mouth of two witnesses, and their fraternal love is intended to be a source of comfort and encouragement to both. (ib.).—The first ecclesiastical visitation: I. The occasion: (a) spiritual life has been imparted, but needs support, Acts 8:14; (b) a certain want exists in the church, which must be supplied, Acts 8:16. II. The visitors: (a) Peter—apostolical earnestness and zeal; (b) John—evangelical mildness and gentleness. III. The functions of chief pastors: (a) humble prayer in the name of the church, Acts 8:15, and, (b) sacerdotal imposition of hands in the name of God, Acts 8:17. IV. The results: (a) the congregation is strengthened, Acts 8:17, and, (b) sifted, Acts 8:18 ff.
ACTS 8:15. Who … prayed.—The pastor’s work includes prayer as well as preaching. God does not withhold an answer to the prayers of his servants for the salvation of the souls intrusted to their care.
ACTS 8:16. As yet he was fallen upon none of them; only they were baptized.—The baptism of the Spirit must be combined with the baptism with water, else the latter remains incomplete, and the individual is no true Christian. With which baptism hast thou been baptized?
ACTS 8:17. Then laid they their hands on them.—This imposition of hands, combined with prayer, is the holy type of our ecclesiastical Confirmation, which is intended to be neither more nor less than the avouchment and sealing of the Spirit received in Baptism. (Leonh. and Sp).—The holy rite of Confirmation: considered with respect, I. To its origin: it is not, indeed, a sacramental institution of the Lord, but it is a venerable order or usage of the church; II. To its significance: it is not, indeed, a substitute for, or repetition of, baptism, but it is a confirmation of the baptismal confession of faith, and of baptismal grace; III. To its effects: it is not, indeed, an infallible means of imparting the Holy Ghost, as in the case of the apostolical imposition of hands on the Samaritans, but it is a spiritual blessing of incalculable value to hearts that are properly disposed to receive it.
ACTS 8:18, 19; comp. Acts 8:23, 24. Simon … offered them money, saying, Give me also this power.—The sin of converting church matters and spiritual gifts into articles of trade, either as buyers or sellers, is the sin which Simon committed, i.e., Simony. With respect to this subject, the following points claim attention (from Apost. Past.): (a) Simony originates in a covetous and ambitious heart. As Simon had, during a long period, wielded a considerable influence, and practised his sorceries among the people, but now ascertained that the powers of the apostles diminished his influence and his profits, he basely resolved to acquire new honor, and secure new gains, by means of money. Thus all who seize on offices by dishonest means, are governed by no other motive than that of serving their idols—honor, or the belly [Phil. 3:19], or mammon.—The church has, therefore, from the earliest times, regarded Simon, on sufficient grounds, as the father of heresy, and the type of sectarianism. The hidden motive, indeed, of nearly every founder of a sect, is a thirst for spiritual power combined with immeasurable arrogance, which employs audacity and a plausible appearance as the means for bewitching people who look merely at the surface. (b) The sin of Simon, further, betrays that his heart was full of bitter gall, and was, in truth, a bundle of manifold unrighteousness. His heart was full of bitter gall, i.e., full of bitter envy, when he saw the blessing that attended the labors of the apostles, and the superiority of their divine preaching to his magic arts. There was a bundle of unrighteousness in his heart. For instance, although he had become a Christian, he had no intention to exhibit his Christianity by bearing the cross and following Jesus; he desired to become a proud worker of miracles, and, consequently, we find a carnal mind in him. Then, he continued with the apostles in appearance only, for, in his heart, he was irritated when they succeeded, and thus he secretly cherished hypocrisy in his bosom. He hoped to bewitch these servants of Jesus with his money, as he had previously bewitched the people with his sorceries, and as he was himself bewitched by the idols of honor and mammon; hence he entertained degrading views respecting the apostles, and looked on them and their office with mean and sordid feelings. And this bundle or combination of envy and jealousy, of a carnal mind, and degrading views of the sacred office and of those who are invested with it, is even yet the characteristic mark of the followers of Simon, (c) Simon is anxious to obtain, not χάριν but ἐξουσίαν, a power to do certain acts, Acts 8:19. He did not desire to conduct men to the wells of salvation, by preaching the Gospel, but rather to acquire eminence by the exhibition of great power. In this respect all those resemble him who seek an [ecclesiastical] office without having yet obtained grace, and who are influenced, not by a desire to labor in the service of the Lord, or to do good to the souls of men, but by considerations that refer to their own dignity, rank or power. Those persons, too, belong to this class, who are anxious to acquire certain official qualifications, but altogether overlook those which are derived from the sanctification of the soul. They are diligent in collecting stores of showy learning, and are eager to exhibit the possession of the gift of a graceful and attractive delivery, but their efforts are not directed to the acquisition of an enlightened understanding, a renewed heart, and a mind devoted to the Lord. “In this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” Lu. 10:20.—(d) Simon offered the apostles money or “treasures.” There are many who do not precisely offer ready money as a compensation, but attempt to secure an office by the offer of a valuable consideration of another kind. How often the office constitutes a dowry! How often the door of the sheepfold refuses to open, until the patron of the benefice has been reached by clandestine means! (e) Simon regards the divine punishments with servile fear, in consequence of his evil purpose. He dreads the condemnation with which he is threatened by the apostles; yet no conversion takes place; he simply desires, in a slavish manner, to escape punishment. He cannot pray himself, with a joyful spirit, but says, in his alarm: ‘Pray ye for me!’ This is still the condition of pastors who are guilty of the sin of simony; they are perpetually harassed by a slavish fear. They bear with them an evil conscience, and cannot possibly derive enjoyment from their office; they can never unreservedly put their trust in God, and act in the name of Jesus.—“Pastors should apply this case as a test to themselves, and ascertain whether they have obtained their office Proverbs jure et titulo; if their conscience accuses them, let them take the path which the apostle directs Simon to pursue, Acts 8:22. All candidate ministerii may find a standing warning in this text, and learn from it that no real advantage can ever be derived from the use of unfair means.”
ACTS 8:20. Thy money perish with thee!—This is the language of the moneyless Peter, who had said to the lame man: ‘Silver and gold have I none.’ (Acts 3:6). He speaks with a holy abhorrence of the avarice and hypocrisy which Simon had so shamelessly betrayed, and speaks, too, with a distinct recollection of the Lord’s words: “Freely ye have received, freely give.” [Matt. 10:8]. The “Successors of Peter” have not always thought, spoken, and acted in this manner.—There are none with whom we should deal with more severity than with hypocrites, who enter the vineyard of Christ under plausible pretences, to the great injury of the souls of men. (Apost. Past.).—But those who wish to be zealous after the manner of the apostles, must also possess a portion of their spirit, (ib.).—It is one thing to condemn, and another to convince an individual that he is in a state of condemnation. (Starke).—And these two points, also, the successors of Peter have sometimes overlooked.
ACTS 8:21. Thou hast neither part nor lot.—He who prefers that his part and lot should consist in the things of this world, will have no share in those that are spiritual and eternal.—Thy heart is not right in the sight of God.—When we rebuke sinners, it is always necessary to direct their attention to the state of their hearts. It is not sufficient to refer to their outward acts; it is far more to their advantage when we expose to them the original source from which their evil deeds proceed. And, therefore, when we assail a particular sin, while we occupy the pulpit, or at our pastoral visits, we should always show that the unconverted heart is the true source of that sin. This procedure is, above all, needed in the case of hypocrites. (Apost. Past).
ACTS 8:22.—Repent, therefore, etc.—Pastors ought to labor sincerely for the salvation of those whose sins they condemn, and guide them to the way of salvation by urging them to repent. 2 Cor. 12:19. (Starke).—An apostle of the Lord, who came “not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” [Luke 9:56], bears with him not only the thunderbolt of law, but also the olive-branch of the Gospel, which offers forgiveness to all repentant sinners. (Leonh. and Sp.).—And pray God.—It is of great importance that we should urge inquiring souls to offer prayer to God themselves: such counsel is adapted to sins of every kind: it points to the only means that can afford relief to a soul which is conscious of its guilt and misery.—If perhaps … forgive thee.—Peter does not intend to represent the forgiveness of Simon as a doubtful point, but only to exhibit to him the great danger in which he is placed, and the necessity of sincere repentance. An evangelical pastor must adopt proper precautions, must furnish remedies against levity of mind, as well as against a weak faith or unbelief, and be careful, while he guards men against an unnecessary anxiety, not to establish them in a state of false security. (Apost. Past.).
ACTS 8:23. Gall of bitterness.—Nothing is more offensive to the taste of men than gall; so, too, nothing is more abominable in the eyes of God than deceitfulness and lies. Ps. 5:6. (Starke).—The bitter gall of the heart must be expelled by the bitterness of repentance, that is, one hitter thing must be expelled by another, before the sweetness of the Gospel and the goodness of the Lord can be tasted. [Ps. 34:8]. (ib.).
ACTS 8:24. Pray ye … that none, etc.—Behold here the characteristic features of an imperfect or false repentance: (a) “Pray ye for me.” In such a case, the individual is converted simply in the sight of men, and unto men, who are chosen as mediators, but he is not converted in the sight of God, and unto God. (b) “That none of these things … come upon me.” Such an individual simply desires to be delivered from punishment by indulgence, but not to be delivered from sin by forgivenesss and purification.—“Thus Simon approached, step by step, that destruction from which there is no deliverance, although at every step which he took, grace rebuked, warned, and called him: thus his latter end was worse than the beginning. [2 Pet. 2:20]. He had received grace, but in place of applying it conscientiously, he employed it in promoting carnal purposes. The wonderful works of God which he beheld, did not fill him with humility, but only tempted and animated anew his arrogant spirit. He sought to acquire a more precious gift than he had already received, but it was his purpose to employ it in destroying the souls of men. The call to repentance reached him, but did not infuse life into his soul; it simply led him to think of means for escaping the temporal punishment of his sin.” (Rudelbach).—The precious gift of the Holy Ghost: I. It completes the work commenced by the word and the sacraments, Acts 8:14–17; II. It can neither be obtained by any human art, nor be purchased with money, Acts 8:18–21; III. It is a free gift of God, reserved for those who repent and believe, Acts 8:22–25.—The Holy Spirit, a gift of the grace of God: I. Freely bestowed on up-right souls (the Samaritans); II. Never sold to the deceitful at any price (Simon).
ACTS 8:25. They returned—and preached the gospel in many villages.—The true torches of God, enkindled by the fire of divine love, afford both light and warmth wherever they appear.—Even when we are travelling, the fear of God should be our guide, and the love of our neighbor, be our companion, John 4:3–5.—The man is very guilty, whose arrogance leads him to desire a pastorate in an eminent city, and reject one in a despised village. What else are these distinguished apostles here, but village preachers! (Starke).—It is, indeed, very painful to a servant of Christ, when he had hoped to derive pleasure from a soul that seemed to be converted, but is disappointed in the end. However, he should not despair. If he is disappointed in one case, all his hopes may be fulfilled in other cases. If Simon is found to be deceitful, the Lord awakens in his place the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:27. (Ap. Past.).—The evidence of the vital power of the Church of Christ: I. It daily extends its borders, amid the opposition of the world; II. It promotes the spiritual growth of believers, by communicating the gifts of the Holy Ghost; III. It maintains its own purity by a strict judgment in the case of hypocrites and false teachers. (Leonh. and Sp.).—The circumstances under which the Gospel went forth for the first time into all the world: I. The holy order appointed by the Lord was here maintained, Acts 8:14–17; II. That order was violated by the sin of man, Acts 8:18, 19; III. The watchfulness and fidelity of the shepherds preserved the flocks from the dangers that threatened them, Acts 8:20–25. (Langbein.)
Acts 8:16. In place of οὔπω of the text. rec., Griesbach has, in accordance with the most important MSS. [A. B. C. D. E. and Cod. Sin.] recommended οὐδέπω; and this latter reading has been unanimously adopted by all the more recent critics. [Alford, who concurs, found it, however, difficult to decide, as far as internal evidence is concerned, and “followed MS. authority.”—TR.]
Acts 8:18. Ἰδών [in A. B. C. D. E. and Cod. Sin.] is much better supported than θεασάμενος [of text. rec.], which is found only in G. H., and is evidently a correction intended to improve the text. [Lach. and Tisch. read ἰδών, but Alf., who reads θεασ., regards the former as the correction. Meyer concurs with him, and de Wette would adopt the same view, if ἰδών were not so strongly supported.—In the same verse, Alf., with Tisch., omits τὸ ἅγιον of the text. rec. after πν.; but while this reading is omitted in B. and Cod Sin., it is found in A. C. D. E., Vulg., etc., and Lach. retains the two words.—TR.]
Acts 8:21. ἔναντι in A. B. D. [and Cod. Sin.] like οὐδέπω [in Acts 8:16], is a somewhat rare form, for which C. and some fathers read ἐναντίον; the more usual ένώπιον [of the text. rec.] is incorrectly substituted for it in E. G. H. [Lach., Tisch. and Alf., with whom Meyer agrees, read ἔναντι, but as Luke very frequently employs ἐνώπιον in his Gospel and elsewhere in THE ACTS, de Wette regards tins latter form as the original reading also here.—TR.]
Acts 8:22. κυρίου is far more positively attested [A. B. C. D. E. Cod. Sin.] than Θεοῦ [in G. Η., Vulg., etc.,], which appears to have been transferred from Acts 8:21. [κυρίου, by the later editors.—TR.]
Acts 8:25. ὑπέστρεφον—εὐηγγελίζοντο are the readings preferred by Lachmann and Tischendorf to those of the text. rec., which, in both cases, exhibits the aorist; however, ὑπέστρεφον is found only in A. B. D., while εὐηγγελίζ. is found in A. B. C. D. E. The authorities which exhibit the latter, advocate the former also, as both words should undoubtedly appear in the same tense. [ὐπεστρέψαν of text. rec., in C. E. G. H.; ὑπέστρεφον, (adopted by Lach., Tisch. and Alf.) in A. B. D. and many minuscules; εὐηγγελίσαντο, of text. rec., in G. H.; εὐηγγελίζοντο (adopted by the same editors) in A. B. C. D. E.—Cod. Sin. reads ὑπέστρεφον and εὐηγγελίζοντο.—TR.]
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.B.—PHILIP IS EMPLOYED AS AN INSTRUMENT IN THE CONVERSION OP A PROSELYTE FROM A DISTANT COUNTRY, AN OFFICES. AT THE COURT OF CANDACE, THE QUEEN OF THE ETHIOPIANS
26And the [But an] 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.27And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority [a eunuch and high officer] under [of] Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of [who was appointed over] all her treasure, and [who (am. and)]14 had come to Jerusalem for to worship, 28[And, τε] Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read [and reading] Esaias the prophet. 29Then [But] the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join [attach] thyself to this chariot. 30And Philip ran thither to him [ran near (to it)], and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou [then, ἆρά γε] what thou readest? 31And [But] he said, How can I [How should I be able], except some man should [if some one does not] guide me? And he desired Philip that he would [invited Philip to] come up and sit with him. 32[But] The place [contents] of the Scripture which he read was this [were these], He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; [,] and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, [;] so opened [opens] he not his mouth: 33In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and [but] who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken [away] from the earth.34And [Then, δὲ] the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man [one]? 35Then [But] Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same [at this] Scripture, and preached unto him [the gospel concerning] Jesus. 36And as they [thus] went on their way [travelled on the road], they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See [Behold],here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?15 36[Omit the entire 37th verse.] 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. 38And he commanded the chariot to [that the chariot should] stand still: and they went down both into the water, both [om. both] Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. 39And [But] when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord16 caught [carried] away Philip, that [and, χαὶ] the eunuch saw him no more: [,] and [for, γὰρ] he Went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip was found at Azotus [Ashdod]: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Cesarea.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
ACTS 8:20. a. And the angel of the Lord, etc.—Philip was still in Samaria when he received this command. Zeller, it is true, has asserted, that he must have returned to Jerusalem before the apostles, and could not have elsewhere received the commission. This view seems to be supported by the circumstance that Philip was directed to take “the way that goeth down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” The region, however, to which Philip was to proceed, was undoubtedly situated toward the south from Samaria, and hence no inference of a decisive character can be deduced from the mention of the “way that goeth down from Jerusalem.” But the principal objection to Zeller’s view is derived from Acts 8:25, which distinctly speaks of the return only of the two apostles to Jerusalem, without mentioning that of Philip, who must therefore be considered as having, for the present, remained in Samaria.—Rationalistic interpreters, e. g., Eckermann, have assumed that the angel mentioned in this verse, appeared to Philip only in a dream, and appeal, in support of their view, to the word ἀνάστηθι; but as the text does not even remotely indicate that the occurrence took place at night, this word, standing alone, as little implies that Philip was asleep at the time, as it represents the high priest mentioned in Acts 5:17, as being in that state; it graphically describes, on the contrary, the summons to proceed to action, [ἀναστάς, Acts 8:27, does not refer to a couch, but is a well known Hebraism. (de Wette). Comp. WINER. § 65. 4. Obs. on c). TR.]
b. Go toward the south … unto Gaza.—Philip is commanded to proceed to the south, i.e. south of Samaria, or in a southerly direction, which did not necessarily require him to pass through Jerusalem; he could, on the contrary, take a nearer road. He is informed that he can recognize the road by two features: 1, it is the one that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza; 2, the road itself is ἔρημος. Gaza, one of the five chief cities of the Philistines, was situated near the southern boundary of Canaan, somewhat less than three miles from the Mediterranean. It had frequently been destroyed in times of war, and as frequently been rebuilt. It was again laid in ruins about A. D. 65, by the insurgent Jews, when Gessius Floras was the Procurator, but was subsequently restored. Many interpreters refer the clause: αὕτη ἐστὶν ἔρημος to the city of Gaza, and suppose that it means that the city had been destroyed, and was now uninhabited, or else, that it was no longer fortified. The latter view cannot be philologically sustained, and the former is improbable, as that desolation could have been but temporary [ROBINSON: Bibl. Res. II. 41], and, besides, any reference to it in this passage, in which no interest whatever attaches to the city itself, and only a certain road is to be described, would be altogether inapposite. This clause, therefore, can refer only to ὁδός, and is designed to describe a particular road that led to Gaza. And this description “was the more necessary, because there were several ways leading from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (ROBINSON: Palæstina. II. 748 f.) [Lechler refers to the German edition; in the English work of Robinson, the passage will be found in Vol. II. p. 514. Lechler generally quotes Robinson verbatim, but without marks of quotation, in the two or three following sentences, but substitutes Beit Jibrin for Betogabra. K. v. Raumer, who differs from Robinson, assigns another route to Philip, viz. through Hebron, in place of Ramleh. See his Palæstina (4th ed. 1860), p. 186, n. 172 e; p. 193 n. 181 f.; and App. p. 449. IV. “On ACTS 8:26.”—TR.]. The most frequented at the present day, although the longest, is the way by Ramleh; it proceeds at first in a north-westerly direction from Jerusalem. There are two other more direct roads: one down Wady cs-Surâr by Beth-shemesh, the other through Wady Musurr to Beit Jibrin or Eleutheropolis, and thence to Gaza through a more southern tract. The latter now actually passes through a desert, that is, through a region which is without villages, and is inhabited only by nomadic Arabs. That this district was at that time in like manner deserted, is not improbable: there is, at least, no mention made of cities or villages in the plain between Gaza and the mountains, later than the time of Nehemiah. Hence this clause: which is desert (constituting a part of the angel’s address, as we are constrained to believe, and not a parenthetic remark of Luke himself), precisely designates the road which Philip was to take, in order to meet with the man, of whose conversion he was appointed by the counsel of God to be the instrument. We do not deem it necessary to adduce here the numerous conjectures and interpretations which have been offered by writers in connection with the three words: αἵτη ἐστὶν ἔρημος.
ACTS 8:27, 28. a. And he arose, and went.—Philip at once obeyed the instructions which he had received, and, on the road which had been indicated to him, met the stranger, or rather, now the well known man of high rank, who belonged to a distant country. The name of Indich, which tradition assigns to the latter, belongs to the domain of fables.—The following narrative is an uncommonly beautiful idyl, belonging to the history of missions in the apostolic age, and is deeply interesting on account both of its simplicity and graphic character, and of the importance of the events which it describes.
b. And, behold, a man of Ethiopia, etc.—The term ἱδού presents the whole scene to us in a vivid manner: Philip, who travels on foot, probably perceives a conveyance approaching, which soon overtakes him. It is occupied by a stranger, who is, by birth, an Ethiopian. Ethiopia embraced the highlands on the south of Egypt, or the territories to which, in modern times, the names of Nubia, Kordofan and Abyssinia have been assigned; the island of Meroë [formed by two arms of the Nile; HERZOG: Real-Encyk. V. 18; Robinson’s Lex. art. סְבָא; Jos. Ant. ii. 10. 2.—TR.] was the central point of the religion and commerce of the kingdom. As far as the color of the skin of this man is concerned, we have reason to regard him as a . Olshausen’s assertion that he was of Israelitish descent, a Jew born in Ethiopia, is very feebly supported by the circumstance that he is here found reading Isaiah, particularly as such a view would require us to assume, in addition, that he was reading the original Hebrew. He was a man of high rank in his country, and exercised a powerful influence (δυνάστης) since he was the chief treasurer of his queen. The title of Candace was, according to Greek and Roman authorities (e. g. PLINY, Hist. Nat. VI. 35), usually assigned to the queens who, in that age, ruled over Ethiopia (Meroë). Luke terms this wealthy lord also a εὐνοῦχος, which, literally, signifies one who has been emasculated. But persons of this class were invested with offices of various kinds at the courts of oriental sovereigns, insomuch that this name was frequently applied to court-officers who were not emasculated; hence many interpreters have, since the sixteenth century, understood the word here as equivalent to “court-officer,” without any reference to a sexual mutilation. This opinion derived additional force from the usual assumption that the individual before us, even if he was not a Jew by birth (Olshausen), had at least formally obtained Israelitish citizenship, whereas, according to Deut. 23:1, no castrated person could enter the congregation of Jehovah. But it is very doubtful whether this state officer had been received as a “proselyte of righteousness,” since no evidence of the fact is indicated, and, as he was employed in the service of a queen, it is the more probable that he was really emasculated, as his title imports.—The first interesting circumstance which is related in connection with this man, is his visit to Jerusalem, for the purpose of worshipping in that city. This fact implies that he had been taught in his African home to recognize the God of Israel as the true God, and the worship of Jehovah as the true religion; he had now made a pilgrimage, in order to offer sacrifices and adore God in the holy city and in the temple itself. We have hence sufficient reason to regard him as a proselyte, in the wider sense of the term; (i.e. a proselyte of the gate), but not sufficient to represent him as a proselyte in the narrower or the strictest sense of the term. The view which is best supported, is, on the contrary, the very ancient one which Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. II. 1.) already entertained, viz., that this man was a pagan, who acknowledged the Old Covenant from conviction and with sentiments of respect, but without a formal adoption of it.—While he was sitting in his chariot, he occupied himself with the perusal of the prophet Isaiah; he was probably furnished with a copy of the Greek version, which originated in Alexandria, and was well known throughout Egypt, possibly also in the adjoining territories. Those who constituted the highest and most intelligent class in these regions, were undoubtedly acquainted with the Greek language. The pilgrimage of this stranger was no opus operatum, but a matter in which his heart was deeply interested; even when he was returning home, his soul continued in the sanctuary, absorbed in meditation on the word of God, namely, the predictions of the prophet.
ACTS 8:29–31. Then the Spirit said unto Philip.—That inward voice which directed Philip to approach the traveller, and keep near the chariot (κολλήθητι), was a command of the Holy Ghost dwelling in him. He rapidly ran towards the chariot (προςδραμών, comp. πρόςηλθε, Acts 8:29), and, as the man was reading aloud to himself, perceived that he was reading the prophet Isaiah (ἀναγινώσκειν, originally signifies to read to others). Yielding to the impulse of the Spirit, he at once commenced a conversation with the man, by addressing a question to him which included an ingenious Paronomasia, viz.:ἀράγεγινώσκεις ἅ ἀναγινώσκεις; [it is repeated in 2 Cor. 3:2]. The form of the question, which usually indicates that a negative answer is expected [WINER. § 57. 2, ult.], expresses at the same time, Philip’s conjecture that the eunuch does not understand. The noble pilgrim replies with a candor and a modesty that are honorable to him, that he certainly could not understand the prophet, unless some person would guide him. And as the question inspired him with the hope that Philip both understood the passage correctly, and would be willing to direct him, he requested him to enter the chariot and take a seat at his side: Philip at once complied with his request.
ACTS 8:32–34. The place of the Scripture … was this.—The two are seated together; the chariot is the scene of missionary labors; the time devoted to travelling, is occupied with a Bible lesson. At Philip’s request, the African shows him the section which had engaged his attention, and, possibly, reads it again aloud, intending to ask for an explanation of the meaning and true application of the words. The context clearly shows that the word γραφή here designates a particular passage of Scripture; περιοχή, on the other hand, undoubtedly refers to the contents of the section.
The words of the Old Testament which are quoted are found in Isai. 53:7, 8. The text of the Septuagint, which deviates considerably from the original Hebrew, is here reproduced with such exactness, that the only variations are, the insertion of αὐτοῦ before ταπεινώσει, and of δέ before γενεάν. The sense which the authors of the Alexandrian version intended to convey in Acts 8:33 (Isai. 53:8), is, without doubt, the following: “In his humiliation, occasioned by his enemies, the judgment, which impended over him was set aside by God; but, with respect to his generation, i.e., his contemporaries, no one can adequately describe their iniquity, for they slew him.”—The words; ἀποκριθεὶς … τῷ Φ., imply that Philip had addressed an inquiry to the traveller respecting the subject on which he had been reading; the latter replies by exhibiting the passage (τοῦτο), and soliciting an explanation. His request, which refers to the main point in the passage, shows that he was a thoughtful and reflecting reader.
ACTS 8:35. Then Philip opened his mouth.—These descriptive words assign a very solemn character to the answer of Philip, and imply that it was very full and explicit. The words: ἀρξάμενος ἀπὸ τ. γρ. ταύτης, inform us that the interpretation of the prophetic passage constituted only a part of Philip’s reply, that he proceeded to unfold the Gospel concerning Christ as the leading topic of the conversation, and that he succinctly stated to the eunuch the principal facts and the most important truths concerning Christ; he must have also explained to him that the way of salvation was entered through repentance and baptism in the name of Christ (Acts 2:38).
ACTS 8:36–38. See, here is water.—Robinson says, II. p. 749 [Bibl. Res. II. p. 515, Boston ed. 1856.]: “When we were at Tell el-Hasy, and saw the water standing along the bottom of the adjacent Wady, we could not but remark the coincidence of several circumstances with the account of the eunuch’s baptism. This water is on the most direct route from Beit Jibrin to Gaza, on the most southern road from Jerusalem, and in the midst of the country now ‘desert,’ i.e. without villages or fixed habitations. The thought struck us, that this might not improbably be the place of water described. There is at present no other similar water on this road; and various circumstances—the way to Gaza, the chariot, and the subsequent finding of Philip at Azotus—all go to show that the transaction took place in or near the plains.” Robinson probably expresses only a bold opinion, when he supposes that he has discovered the precise spot, since many changes may have occurred in the individual features of the country, in the course of eighteen centuries. [See Palæstina, p. 449–451, by K. V. RAUMER, who controverts Robinson’s view, and fixes the place of the baptism at Beth-zur, a few miles north-north-west of Hebron, and considerably to the east of the spot designated on Robinson’s map.—TR.].—The joy of the panting traveller in a sandy desert, when his glance at length falls on an oasis with its springs of fresh water, cannot be greater than was that of the eunuch, when he saw water in which he could be baptized. [Philip had undoubtedly explained to him the necessity of baptism (de Wette; J. A. Alexander).—TR.]. The eunuch was soon convinced, after a brief but appropriate catechumenical lesson, and, eager to share in the salvation proclaimed to him, solicits Philip to baptize him. The latter does not hesitate to fulfil his wish, although such an issue had been reached with unusual celerity. The chariot stops at the command of the eunuch, and he and Philip alight. [“The preposition in κατέβησαν may refer to the descent from the higher ground to the water, etc.” (Hackett).].—Philip is mentioned first, since he was in so far the superior, as he administered the rite; he accordingly baptized him in the water at the road. [“That they went down into the water (εἰς τὸ ὕδωρ), can prove nothing as to its extent or depth.” (J. A. Alex.). Εἰς may mean unto as well as into; according to John 20:4, 5, Peter came to the sepulchre (ἦλθε εἰς τὸ μν.) … yet went not in (οὐ μέντοι ειςῆλθεν) TR.].—No mention is here made of the attendants of the eunuch, whose presence, however, is implied both by the word ἐκέλευσε, and by the circumstance that, as the chariot proceeded, he was quietly reading, Acts 8:28.
ACTS 8:39. And when they were come up.—Philip instantly disappeared, so that the eunuch saw him no more, neither did he re-appear until he was borne to Azotus; εὑρέθη εἰς Ἀζ. This city [here bearing the Grecized form of the name Ashdod], was situated, according to Diod. Sic., 270 stadia [according to others about 20 miles] in a north-easterly direction from Gaza, and was, like the latter, one of the five principal cities of the Philistines. The miraculously sudden removal of Philip, the manner of which was invisible both to the eunuch and to others(εὑρέθη εἰς Ἀ.), was effected by the Spirit of God, who seized and carried him away with supernatural power, even as Elijah had previously been removed (2 Kings 12:2). But the eunuch went on his way, i.e., pursued his journey on the road leading to Gaza, and was full of joy. The particle γάρ establishes a logical connection between the eunuch’s resumption of his journey in the original direction, and the removal of Philip: he went on his way (Luke implies), because he saw him no more, for he would otherwise have followed Philip in place of continuing his journey. The joy of this man proceeded not only from his conviction that he had found the way of salvation, but also from the sudden removal of the evangelist. “Hoc ipso discessu confirmata est eunuchi fides.” (Bengel). It seemed to him as if an angel from heaven had been sent as his temporary travelling companion, and had now disappeared.
ACTS 8:40. And passing through he preached, etc.—It is obvious that when Philip departed from Azotus, he continued his journey in the ordinary manner. He went from one city to another, doubtless visiting Jabneh [Jamnia], Ekron, Joppa, etc., until he reached Cesarea, on the coast of the Mediterranean, [nearly thirty-five miles north of Joppa, and fifty-five N. N. W. of Jerusalem], where he paused. Here we find him [many years afterwards] established in a permanent home (Acts 21:8, 9), [“surrounded by a family of adult children,” (J A. Alex.), and entertaining the Saul of Acts 8:1 and 3, as a Christian guest (Hackett).—TR.]. He preached the Gospel in every place through which he passed; it is, hence, not surprising that Luke not only describes him in Acts 21:8, as ὁ ὤν ἐκ τῶν ἑπτά, but also formally styles him ὁ εὐαγγελιστής.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. It was not the angel of the Lord, as Luther [followed by the English version] translates in Acts 8:26, but an angel, through whom God commanded Philip to arise and go on his way. It was not a particular series of events, resembling that which led him to Samaria, nor a mere internal movement, but an express command of God, transmitted by a celestial messenger, that conducted him from Samaria to the southern part of the country. Its purpose referred to the conversion and baptism of a stranger, who was, in his heart, not far, it is true from the kingdom of God, but, in his external relations of life, very far from obtaining the privileges of a fellow-citizen among the people of God. He was a pagan by birth, dwelt in the pagan country of the Ethiopians, held an office at the court of a pagan queen, and was a eunuch. It was precisely under such circumstances that a direct and miraculous command of God was needed, in order that the object in view might be attained, namely, the union of such a heathen with the church of Christ through the Gospel and Baptism.
2. The angel indicates to Philip, geographically and topographically, the direction in which he should proceed, but communicates no information whatever respecting the nature of the duty which he should perform, or the character of the person whom he would meet. Thus his faith was exercised. Both the calling of a missionary and the ordinary ministry of reconciliation require the servants of the Lord to labor in faith, and to obey in hope.
3. While this pilgrim was travelling home in his chariot, he was occupied with the word of God. This was even a more profitable and noble employment of his time than the pilgrimage itself, which he had made. He had gone to see the sanctuary of Jehovah with his own eyes, to visit the holy city, “to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” (Ps. 27:4). But he now searches the word of God, in order to gaze into the sanctuary of the Lord with spiritual eyes. The word is, indeed, a true sanctuary. And even when the reader does not clearly and accurately understand the whole, or when the word of God appears to him to be an enigma (αἴνιγμα, 1 Cor. 13:12), or to propose a thousand enigmas to him, his devout and earnest study of it, is, nevertheless, a most blessed employment, which conducts him nearer and nearer to the light.
4. Prophecy, and its fulfilment.—The servant of God, patiently suffering, but gloriously vindicated, even as Isaiah describes him, Acts 53., appears to the eye of the devout pilgrim. But he is unable to decide to whom the prophet alludes. Does he speak of himself, or of some other man? At the moment when he earnestly desires information, God sends him a guide, who announces that the promise is fulfilled. It is, in truth, the fulfilment alone that enables us rightly to understand the promise. The revelations of God constitute a complete whole; one part reflects light on another, in the sense, however, expressed in the saying: Vetus Testamentum in Novo patet. The witness of the prophet concerning Jesus Christ is intelligible only in and through Christ. The servant of Jehovah in Isaiah’s representation, is, at the base (the broadest sense), the people of Israel—at an intermediate point, the ideal Israel, that is, the body of the servants of God or of the true Israelites, including the prophets—at the apex, the personal Messiah. (Comp. art. Messiah, by Oehler, in Herzog’s Real-Encyk. [Vol. IX], and Delitzsch in Drechsler’s Commentary on Isaiah.) But this last truth, viz., that the servant of Jehovah is revealed in the Redeemer himself, cannot be comprehended except through the medium of the fulfilment, when the historical person of Jesus Christ is manifested as that of the παῖς θεοῦ. [See above, 3:13, 14. a. EXEG.] The sufficiency of the Scriptures, can, according to the testimony of the New Testament, be asserted only of the entire body of the sacred writings, that is, of the Old and the New Testaments in their combination, since the Old Testament, when it is alone taken in hand, and is explained only by itself, is not sufficient unto salvation. No one could thirst more eagerly after the truth, or search more sincerely for it than this eunuch, but he did not understand the prophecy, because he had found no ὁδηγός. As soon, however, as Philip had taught him the way that leads to Jesus, and brought him into communion with the Redeemer himself through the medium of the word and sacrament, he no longer needed a ὁδηγός. Christ himself has now become “the way, the truth, and the life,” to the eunuch, and the Spirit will guide him into all truth (ὁδηγήσει, John 16:13). The fact that the eunuch had felt the need of a guide, Acts 8:31, by no means proves, as the Romish church alleges, that the Bible, without the aid of tradition and the guidance of the church, is not a sufficient guide in the way that leads to truth and salvation: for, otherwise, Philip would not have been so suddenly taken away from this catechumen. But he now remains alone, after having received baptism, and derives no aid from a personal guide and from tradition. Nevertheless, he is no longer conscious of an existing want, for we perceive that he goes on his way rejoicing. He had found the Saviour, and had thus obtained an understanding of the Scriptures.
5. An angel of God had conveyed the command to Philip that he should proceed to the south, to the road leading from Jerusalem to Gaza which was desert. When he arrived at the place, and saw the traveller in his chariot, the Holy Ghost directed him to approach the latter. Again, after the conversion and baptism of the stranger, the Spirit of God caught away Philip, so that the eunuch saw him no more. In this whole transaction, at the beginning, during its progress, and at the close, the command, the direction, and the operation of God, are conspicuously revealed. But those features of the transaction, too, which seem to be natural, are, in reality, not less wonderful. Philip, and this stranger from a distant country—the Israelitic evangelist and the heathen—the ὁδηγός, and the man who was seeking and was open to conviction, that is to say, two persons between whom a species of “pre-established harmony” exists, are here brought together. Now this association of circumstances is the result of a divine interposition, which in all its aspects, is not less astonishing, nor less essentially a miraculous procedure, than when God sends an angel, or suddenly removes the evangelist, without an effort on his own part, from the sight of the eunuch. And the celerity with which the harvest follows seedtime in the soul of the Ethiopian, is fully as wonderful as the invisible process which resulted in the disappearance of Philip.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
ACTS 8:26. And the [an] angel of the Lord.—When Satan’s malice succeeds in placing a stumbling-block in the way of the church of God [Simon, the sorcerer], the Lord does not fail to cheer the hearts of sorrowing believers by special manifestations of his power and goodness. (Leonh. and Sp.).—The Gospel does not make progress in the world without God, neither is a single soul won for it without Him.—If the law was received by the disposition of angels [Acts 7:53], why should not their ministry be employed in disseminating the Gospel, the mysteries of which they specially desire to look into [1 Pet. 1:12]? (Starke).—How precious in the eyes of God is the conversion of a single soul! For the sake of imparting a saving faith to the eunuch, He sends an angel to Philip, and commands the latter to withdraw from the populous regions of Samaria to the desolate road leading to Gaza. (Apost. Past).—The way … which is desert.—It is sin that, in truth, desolates a country; but wherever the Gospel appears, the wilderness and the desert begin to rejoice. Isai. 35:1. (Starke.)
ACTS 8:27. And he arose and went.—The preacher of the Gospel is under a solemn obligation to obey in faith, and to go, even when he is called to deserts.—And, behold, a man of Ethiopia.—The fulfilment of the promise in Ps. 68:31, now begins: “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.”
ACTS 8:27, 28. Had come to Jerusalem for to worship, (and) was returning.—It was so ordered that he found the pearl of great price, not in the temple of Jerusalem, but on the desolate road to Gaza. So, too, the wise men from the east, after reaching Jerusalem, were required to travel further, even to Bethlehem, before they found the new-born Jesus.—Read Esaias the prophet.—The reading of the Scriptures is recommended as specially profitable, when, like the eunuch, we have visited the house of God; by such means the holy sentiments which may have there been awakened in us, become more firmly established. (Quesn.).—The Bible, the best book for reading on a journey—not only on the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza, but also while we are travelling from the present to the eternal world: I. We thus forget the difficulties of the road; II. We cease to gaze on forbidden paths; III. We form a happy acquaintance with many fellow-travellers; IV. We remain in the right road, and safely reach our destination.—He had worshipped, and now read the prophet.—There was still a twilight in his devout soul when he visited the temple, and it continued while he was reading the Scriptures on his return. But he was on the right road. No one can reach the summit of the ladder by a single leap; we must ascend step by step. Let us therefore employ, as it were, our two feet, namely, meditation and prayer. The former makes us acquainted with our spiritual wants; the latter obtains such grace from God, that all our wants are supplied. Meditation shows us the right way; prayer enables us to walk therein. (St. Bernard).—The blessing which attends fidelity in that which is little, is exemplified in the eunuch. He applies the limited knowledge which he possessed concerning the God of Israel, in the first place, by taking a long journey in order to worship him, and, secondly, by faithfully employing his time during the journey in reading the prophet; we have here the evidence that the truth was, to a certain extent, in him, and that he would ultimately be conducted to a full knowledge of salvation—of all truth. (From K. H. Rieger).
ACTS 8:30. And Philip ran thither … and heard … and said.—The course which Philip pursued in the case of the eunuch, admirably illustrates the manner in which a pastor should deal with awakened persons. Notice the excellent counsel which Spener gives: “A pastor should not devote his whole attention to hardened and dead sinners, and painfully labor for their conversion exclusively, but should rather attend with great diligence to those whose hearts God has mercifully prepared by his grace for-conversion.” The spark which has fallen into such souls he should diligently fan. If the physician is, after all his efforts, simply a minister of nature, the preacher of the Gospel, on his part, is only a minister of grace. When the child is come to the birth, help is needed. If many souls perish under such circumstances, the cause that they are not brought forth, must, in reality, be traced in part to the carelessness and unskilfulness of pastors. (From Apost. Past.).—Philip does not wait till he is addressed and invited; without expending his time in vain compliments or excuses, he refers at once to the state of the heart of the man to whom God had conducted him, and speaks with devout freedom and the boldness of holy joy. Awakened souls are often timid, and hesitate to approach the pastor; it is his duty to seek them out, to take a deep interest in them, and beseech God to grant him wisdom, that in such cases, he may readily find an avenue to the heart, (ib.).—Heard him read the prophet Esaias.—When the pastor, on visiting a family, finds them engaged in reading God’s word, let him not attempt to introduce the great subject by remarks on the weather, etc., but at once take up the word of God that lies open before him, as his guide in offering pastoral instructions, (ib.).—‘Understandest thou what thou readest?’ What answer shall we give to this question? I. It presupposes that we read the Bible. Is this true in our case? Or docs this Ethiopian, with his limited opportunities, put us to shame? II. It reveals to us our natural blindness. Or is not, very often, our mode of reading the Bible, unwise? Is not the holy volume often unintelligible? III. It impels us to seek an interpreter and guide. Now, that guide is he who spake through Philip, (Acts 8:29), and who still abides in the church, and continues his gracious operations.—Three questions addressed to the conscience, in reference to the word of God: I. Readest thou what thou hast? (Acts 8:28); II. Understandest thou what thou readest? (Acts 8:30); III. Dost thou do that which thou understandest? (Acts 8:36–38.)
ACTS 8:31. And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?—The teacher who is ready to communicate knowledge, and the pupil who is eager to learn, soon understand each other. (Starke).—With the Scriptures in thy hand, and the sacred office at thy side, thou canst not miss the way.—Although the eunuch did not understand this passage in Isaiah, it deeply moved his heart. It was his chosen companion in solitude, at home and abroad. (Besser).—The holy Scriptures interest and delight the reader, even when he only partially understands them; the aroma of spices penetrates the envelope which encloses them, (Bengel).—The Scriptures introduce thee into the church, and the church makes thee acquainted with the Scriptures. (Rudelbach).—And he desired, etc.—The guest in the chariot, who had been so courteously invited, soon becomes a guide to the true home.
ACTS 8:32, 33. The place … was this, He was led as a sheep, etc.—It was the finger of God which pointed precisely to this passage, for all Christian truth is concentrated in Christ, whose humiliation was succeeded by his exaltation, Phil. 2:5–9. And all pastors may here find an admonition to communicate to the souls intrusted to their care, primarily, the knowledge of Christ the Crucified and Risen One. This course usually produces a greater effect than that which follows the delivery of many merely moral sermons. Missionaries who, during several years, had preached in Greenland to ears that would not hear, although they spoke of the living God and his holy commandments, at length prevailed, when they commenced with the second Article [of the Apostles’ Creed: “And (I believe) in Jesus Christ, his only Son, etc.”], and delivered the evangelical message: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
ACTS 8:34. I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this?—It is better to confess our ignorance of divine things with humility, than to conceal it through pride. It is wiser to ask questions concerning the mysteries of the Scriptures, than to mock at them.—The eunuch’s question conducts us from the Old Testament to the New.
ACTS 8:35. Then Philip … preached unto him Jesus.—The knowledge of the Saviour comprises the knowledge of the whole plan of salvation, 1 Cor. 2:2. (Quesn.).
ACTS 8:36. See, here is water!—Everything had been so ordered as to establish this man fully in the faith; let the pastor only continue to advance, with a believing and trusting heart, in the path which God has indicated; the place, the time, the circumstances, will all combine, as he will experience, in aiding him, when he labors for the kingdom of God. (Ap. Past.).—“See; here is water!”—the joyful exclamation of the thirsting pilgrim in the terrestrial desert: I. When he gratefully looks back to his baptism with water; II. When ho approaches in faith the wells of salvation in the divine word; III. When he looks forward in hope to the fountain [Rev. 7:17] of eternal life.—What doth hinder me to be baptized?—The word and the sacraments are means of grace which reciprocally complete one another; it is not lawful either to overvalue or to undervalue the one, as compared with the other. When the sacraments are despised, the body of the church falls asunder; when the word is set aside, its spirit departs.
(ACTS 8:37, according to the textus receptus. [See note 2, above, appended to the text.]).—If thou believest with all thine heart.—The case of the hypocritical Simon (Acts 8:23) may have taught Philip to be cautious, and, when testing the faith of another, to demand all the heart. But when he was satisfied that the faith of the eunuch, even though it was not fully developed, was, nevertheless, genuine in its nature and essence, he did not withhold the sacrament. The whole occurrence admonishes the pastor, when he is requested to administer the gracious consolations of the word and the sacraments, on the one hand, not to proceed in a loose and thoughtless manner, and, on the other, not to create an unnecessary delay, or discourage and intimidate the seeking soul by excessive legal demands.—According to the primitive custom, the confession of faith belongs to baptism.—“The circumstance that the eunuch was not admitted to baptism, until he had confessed his faith, furnishes the general rule that none of those who stood originally without, ought to be received into the church, until they have borne witness that they believe in Christ.” … “But here fanatical men find a pretext for impugning infant baptism, and thus act unwisely and unjustly. Why was it necessary that, in the case of the eunuch, faith should precede baptism? Because Christ affixes this sign to those alone who belong to the household of the church, those are necessarily ingrafted into the church, who are baptized. But even as it is sure that adults are ingrafted by faith, so, too, I maintain that the children of believers are born as sons of the church, and are counted among its members from the womb.”—“For God undoubtedly considers the children of those as his children, to whose seed he has promised to be a Father.” … “And hence, although faith is demanded, this is unreasonably transferred to infants, whose case is very different.” (Calvin). [Gerok here combines extracts from Calvin’s Com. in Acta Ap. ad. 8:37, and Inst. Chr. Rel. IV. 16. 24. TR.].—“How can water produce such great effects? It is not the water indeed that produces these effects, but the word of God which accompanies and is connected with the water, and our faith which relies on the word of God connected with the water.” (Luther) [Small Catech. iv. 3.]. Both are here found in connection with the water, viz.: the word of God, in Philip’s mouth; faith, in the eunuch’s heart. (Leonh. and Sp.).—Distinguish between the faith which precedes, and the faith which follows baptism. The faith which precedes baptism, dictates the following language: I believe that I am a sinner, and that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the Saviour of sinners; I will therefore be baptized in his name, so that I may obtain the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.—Such language, orally expressed, the church requires adults to employ, who desire to receive baptism. Little children, who cannot speak, nevertheless employ a language which is intelligible to God; their speechless misery cries aloud, as it were, to the Saviour, who shed his blood also for them, and has promised to them the kingdom of heaven; hence the church does not withhold baptism from them. Or, do we ever deny food to children and to the sick, who cannot work, because we are told that “if any would not work, neither should he eat”? [2 Thess. 3:10]. On the other hand, the faith which follows baptism, dictates this language: I believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is my Saviour, who has delivered me, once a lost sinner, from death and the devil, and has saved me by the forgiveness of my sins. [Col. 1:13; 1 John 3:8; Tit. 3:5]. It was this faith which afterwards filled the baptized eunuch with joy, Acts 8:39. (Besser).
ACTS 8:38. And he baptized him.—Holy Baptism has now, like a flood of grace, been imparted to the eunuch, as the first-fruits of Ham’s race, which, since the flood [Gen. 9:25] had lived under the curse. (Leonh. and Sp.).
ACTS 8:39. The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip.—When the agents whom God employs, have completed the work assigned to them, they may, without disadvantage, be removed to another field of labor on earth, or be transferred from the church militant to the church triumphant.—May it be our happy lot, too, to return hereafter to our Lord, and be able to say with truth: Lord, we have done that which thou hast commanded! (Ap. Past.).—The eunuch saw him no more.—Philip had been the means of converting the eunuch to Jesus, and not to himself. The soul that has found Jesus in faith, can thereafter easily dispense with every other guide. (Ap. Past.).—He went on his way rejoicing.—When we have found the Lord, we can joyfully travel onward to our eternal home.—Such is the fruit of faith; the heart is thereby made bold, is enabled to rejoice and be glad, to find joy in God and in all his creatures, and to encounter affliction without fear or dread. (Luther.)
ACTS 8:40. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through, etc.—He was not contended with the precious prize which he had gained, neither did he say to himself: Thou hast now fulfilled thy duty, and mayest take thine ease. (Ap. Past.).—The journeys of believers are always profitable; they never take a step, without being “unto God a sweet savor of Christ.” [2 Cor. 2:15], (Starke).—The walls of partition which divide nations, and are the bulwarks of national jealousies, gradually fall, as the Gospel advances. Philip had won souls for Christ in Samaria; he now preaches Christ in Philistia.
ON THE WHOLE SECTION.
The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, an illustration of the mode in which the Gospel was originally propagated: I. The divine procedure here revealed; God so directs the preaching of the Gospel, that the greatest good is accomplished in the shortest period of time. Let every one who shares in the blessings which flow from this divine arrangement, conscientiously apply such gifts of grace; they are intrusted to him, not simply for his own sake, but on account of his connection with the lofty plan according to which, in the Providence of God, the promulgation of the Gospel proceeds. II. The human course of action observable in this narrative. Philip’s example teaches us to follow the leadings of the Spirit, when we become conscious of them, and, again, when they are not perceived, to proceed calmly in the ordinary path of duty. His course also teaches us to meet with cordiality and prompt aid the advances that are made by a soul which seeks salvation and takes pleasure in the word of God, without being embarrassed ourselves by painful scruples respecting the mere letter of the creed, but rather trusting that God himself will, by the power of his word and the blessing that attends the usages of Christian order, rightly complete the work which his grace had begun. (Schleiermacher).
The conversion of the Ethiopian: I. Occasioned by the interposition of God; II. Accomplished through the preaching of the Gospel; III. Sealed through Baptism. (Lisco).
The blessed pilgrimage: I. The departure from the world; II. The inquiry after the Lord; III. The heavenly friend; IV. The journey homeward in company with him (Acts 8:39). (ib).
The history of the conversion of the man of Ethiopia, viewed as a pledge that precious promises of God will be fulfilled: I. The twofold promise which the Father in heaven has given to his dear Son: (a) “I will give thee for a light to the Gentiles, etc.” Isai. 49:6. (b) “I will divide him a portion with the great, etc.” Isai. 53:12. II. A twofold promise which is given to us all: (a) “Before they call, I will answer, etc.” Isai. 65:24. (b) “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered.” Joel 2:32. (Langbein).
The divine mode of conducting the soul unto life: I. God awakens an ardent longing after peace, Acts 8:27; II. Enkindles a desire after his word, and love to it, Acts 8:28; III. Unfolds to the understanding, by faith, his plan of salvation, Acts 8:35; IV. Fills the soul, through the power of the sacraments, with the comforts of his grace, Acts 8:38. (Leon, and Sp.).
How wonderfully all influences are combined, in conducting a seeking soul to salvation: I. God; by his angel (Acts 8:26), and his Spirit (Acts 8:29); II. Man; Philip meets and guides the eunuch; III. The Scriptures; the prophecy of Isaiah, (Acts 8:28 ff.); IV. Nature; the water on the way, (Acts 8:20).
Four noble guides on the way of salvation: I. The voice in the heart that seeks after God; II. The lessons of the Scriptures, which refer to Christ; III. The instructions derived from the ministerial office, and explanatory both of the longings of the heart, and the deep truths, of the Scriptures; IV. The power of the Sacraments, as seals of divine grace, and means of establishing and sustaining the divine life in the soul.
How the Ethiopian treasurer found the true treasure: I. The place where he found it: a lonely road in the desert; II. The shrine in which it lay concealed: the Scriptures, with their mysteries and seals; III. The key which he received from the preaching of the Gospel, to which he eagerly listened; IV. The precious jewel which sparkled before him: Christ, “who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” [Rom. 4:25]; V. His title to the treasure, assigned to him in Holy Baptism; VI. His enjoyment of the treasure which he brought to his home with a happy heart.
Philip on the road to Gaza, a model, as a faithful minister of the word: I. By the devout obedience with which he yields to the impulse of the Spirit, Acts 8:26, 29: II. By the apostolical courage with which he approaches the stranger, Acts 8:30; III. By the evangelical wisdom with which he cherishes the spark of faith in the eunuch’s soul; IV. By the priestly anointing by which, at the right moment, he seals the rescued soul unto the Lord; V. By the Christian humility with which, after the completion of his work, he submits the result to the Lord.
Even the desert is converted into the garden of God, in the case of the devout pilgrim: I. God’s word is his manna—he no longer hungers; II. God’s children are his —companions—he no longer goes astray; III. God’s grace is an ever-flowing fountain, whence his soul continually derives new strength; IV. God’s heaven is his Canaan, which he is rapidly approaching—[The missionary labors of Philip the Evangelist (21:8, 9): I. The authority by which he performed them: (a) his own conversion by the grace of God; (b) his appointment by the Providence of God, Acts 8:4, 5, 6, 26, 29; II. Their peculiar form; (a) he labored as a travelling missionary, Acts 8:40; (b) and was endowed with miraculous powers, Acts 8:6, 7; III. The spirit in which they were performed; (a) a living faith; (b) a holy love; IV. Their results; (a) immediately visible; (b) fully disclosed only in eternity.
Philip and the Ethiopian: I. The personal history and character of each; II. Their providential meeting; III. The nature of their interview; IV. The divine purpose; V. The result of the meeting. —TR.]
Acts 8:27. Lachmann omits ὅς [of text. rec.], before ἐληλύθει, in accordance with but few MSS. [A. C. D., also Cod. Sin. Vulg.]; it is found in most of the MSS. [E. G. H., and afterwards added in C. D.] and ancient versions [Syr.]; it was probably omitted for no other reason than that ἰδοὺ ἀνὴρ was supposed to be immediately connected with the verb ἐληλυθει [whereas, άνὴρ is a nominative absolute (Meyer), WINER: Gram, § 63. 2. d.—ὅς was inserted in Cod. Sin. by a later hand.—In the same verse, τῆς before βασιλ. of text. rec. and G. H. and fathers, is omitted by Lach., Tisch. and Alf., in accordance with A. B. C. E. and Cod. Sin.—TR.].
Acts 8:36. The textus receptus inserts the following [as Acts 8:37]. ει̇͂πε δὲ ὁ Φίλιππος̓ ἐι πιστύεις ἐξ ὄλης τῆς καρδίας, ἔξεστιν. Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ει̇͂πἐ Πιστεύω τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ ει̇͂ναι τὸν Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν. These clauses are found only in a single uncial MS., namely, E., but also in about 20 [specified] minuscule mss., in some ancient versions [Vulg. etc.], and in the fathers, from the time of Irenæus, but with very great variations [which is “another strong mark of spuriousness in a disputed passage.” (Alford)]. On the other hand, all these clauses are entirely omitted in A. B. C. G. H. [“there is here hiatus in D.” (de Wette)], as well as in the Sinaitic MS. [which exhibits no signs of an erasure or correction]; also in more than 60 [specified] minuscule mss., in ancient versions, and in some fathers. The whole is, without doubt, spurious, although an addition of an early date. It was intended to fill up an apparent void, and furnish a statement of Philip’s assent and examination of the eunuch’s faith, both of which seemed to be wanting. Lach., Tisch. and others, very properly cancel the whole verse. [It is inserted with brackets in Stier and Theile’s Polyg. Bible. Alford, who omits the whole, adopts the following explanation, suggested by Meyer: “The insertion appears to have been made to suit the formularies of the baptismal liturgies, etc.” The text. rec. does not strictly adhere to E., which exhibits ἐαν before πἰστεύεις, adds σου after καρδίας, and substitutes σωθήσει, according to Tisch. for ἔξεστιν. J. A. Alexander regards the external testimony for and against the genuineness of the verse as “very nearly balanced,” and would prefer to retain the latter. Hackett appears to regard the weight of the testimony as unfavorable to the retention of the passage, but adds: “The interpolation, if it be such, is as old certainly as the time of Irenæus, etc.”—TR.]
Acts 8:39. The Alexandrian MS. [A], after presenting the original reading, inserts between πνεῦμα and κυρίου, as an emendation, the following words: ἅγιον ἐπέπεσεν ὲπι τὸν ἐυνοῦχον. ἅγγελος δὲ. This correction was made, according to the testimony of Tischendorf, by the original hand. [Tisch. says: ipse * correxit, indicating by the single asterisk the original writer of the MSS.—TR.]. Seven minuscule mss., a couple of versions, and Jerome, have adopted these words, which, however, are unquestionably interpolated, and were intended to improve the text; they are, besides, omitted in the Sinaitic manuscript [which exhibits the reading of the text. rec.—TR.]