Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.Acts 8:1-8 The disciples being dispersed by reason of a great
persecution at Jerusalem, a church is planted by
Philip in Samaria.
Acts 8:9-13 Simon the sorcerer is baptized, with many others.
Acts 8:14-17 Peter and John are sent thither, who by prayer and
imposition of hands give the Holy Ghost.
Acts 8:18-25 Simon offereth money for the like power, is sharply
reproved by Peter for his wickedness and hypocrisy,
and admonished to repent: the apostles return to
Jerusalem, having preached the word.
Acts 8:26-40 Philip is sent by an angel to convert and baptize an
Consenting unto his death; well pleased with it, (as the word implies), and did approve it in thought, word, and deed, Acts 22:4,20; which is here noted in the beginning of the narrative concerning this great apostle, that we might consider oiov ex oiou, what a great change the grace of God did make; which was by him, and is by us the more to be acknowledged and magnified.
A great persecution against the church; not, as heretofore, against the apostles only; but now it was against the whole church.
All scattered abroad; the multitude of believers, at least as many as could flee; which was allowed, or rather commanded, Matthew 10:23, when they were persecuted in one city, to flee unto another; especially such as were teachers amongst them (besides the apostles) were forced to remove from Jerusalem, and by this means did publish the gospel in all places whither they came; so that what was intended for the hinderance, God did overrule towards the furtherance, of the gospel; as he did afterwards, Philippians 1:12, and still does, and ever will do.
Except the apostles; who were commanded to stay at Jerusalem, Acts 1:4; there they were to make their beginning, Luke 24:47, and from thence to proceed unto other parts, Isaiah 2:3; and whilst God had any work for them to do at Jerusalem, they knew that God could and would defend and maintain them in the midst of their enemies, as he had done the bush in the fire, Exodus 3:3.
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.It was an argument that they were devout (religious) indeed, that they durst, amongst such a multitude of persecutors and furious zealots, own their esteem for St. Stephen. It was piacular amongst the Jews, to touch the dead corpse of such a one as was put to death for blasphemy; and these perform such funeral rites for him, as were used for such only as were of note and eminency.
Made great lamentation over him; as the Jews were wont to do at the funeral especially of eminent persons: thus it was done at Jacob’s interment, Genesis 50:10; and thus had been done more lately at Lazarus’s funeral, John 11:1-44, even by our Saviour himself, Acts 8:35: which lamentation was the greater, because of the church’s loss at such a time.
As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.He made havoc of the church; Saul was a degree beyond the ordinary sort of persecutors, and was, as he does acknowledge himself, eminently injurious, 1 Timothy 1:13.
Entering into every house; house after house, sparing none.
Haling men and women; as by the hair of their heads.
Committed them to prison; this to be sure the Jews had yet retained power from the Romans to do. All this is but as a foil, to illustrate more the riches of God’s mercy towards Saul.
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.Now the partition wall was about to be broken down, and the Gentiles to be taken into the pale of the church, God provides this strange means towards it. The disciples are forced to flee for their lives out of Jerusalem, and have an opportunity to preach Christ and the gospel wheresoever they came: thus God can make light to come out of darkness, and makes Japheth to dwell in the tents of Shem, Genesis 9:27.
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.Philip; not the apostle, but the deacon of that name; for the apostles remained at Jerusalem, as Acts 8:1.
Samaria is a name both of a city and a country, so called from the chief city, 1 Kings 16:24: here it is taken for that city, or at least a city in that country.
Preached Christ; the doctrine of Christ, his miraculous birth, holy life and death, and glorious resurrection and ascension, together with remission of sins only by faith in his name, &c.
And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.Gave heed; a good preparation towards their conversion, seeing faith cometh by hearing, Romans 10:17.
Hearing and seeing the miracles which he did; these miracles were as so many evidences of the truth he spake, by which he showed God’s authority for what he said.
For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.Unclean spirits, crying with loud voice; this is frequently mentioned, as Matthew 8:29 Mark 1:26 3:11 5:8 Luke 4:41, to show how doth these evil spirits are to be forbid and kept from tormenting and destroying of us; and they are called unclean spirits, because they delight in sin, and instigate men unto it, which is spiritual uncleanness, and defile the soul.
Taken with palsies, and other diseases and infirmities: this was promised, Mark 16:17,18, that they which believe should cure in Christ’s name, or by his power.
And there was great joy in that city.Great joy; not only for the cures wroght upon their bodies, but much more for the word of reconciliation and salvation preached unto their souls: joy in the Holy Ghost, is one of the effects of the kingdom of God, Romans 14:17.
In that city; the despised Samaria rejoices, and the formerly beloved city of Jerusalem repines, at the gospel; such strange alterations does the free grace of God make.
But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:Used sorcery; magical enchantments, as a wizard.
Bewitched the people; caused them, as men in an ecstasy, to be amazed at and afraid of him.
Some great one; as if he had been God, or at least had some great favour with him, and had received some extraordinary power from him. Ecclesiastical histories speak much of him, and tell us that he had a statue set up in Rome for him, inscribed, To Simon the holy God.
To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.From the least to the greatest; showing how general their mispersuasion was; and no condition is exempt from the grossest mistakes, if not prevented by the grace of God.
This man is the great power of God; it is said of this Simon, that he gave out himself to be that god, which any nation held to be the chiefest; and that he was the Messias of the Jews, and the God of the Gentiles.
And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.They had regard; they acquiesced in what he said, and yielded obedience unto it; not only attending to his words with their ears, but with their hearts: so true is that which our Saviour says, John 5:43, If any man come in his own name, him will ye receive. These Samaritans shall rise up in judgment against most men, who do not thus regard what was said by Christ, and such as he hath sent.
Bewitched them; made them as out of their wits; they were not themselves, and could not act their reason.
With sorceries; such wonders as by the permission of God, and Satan’s power, he did.
But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.When they believed; before they were baptized, being adult and strangers from the covenant, they must first evidence their right unto it, and profess their faith in Christ, and testify their conversation.
Concerning the kingdom of God; the kingdom of grace, and the kingdom of his glory, which is one and the same, being begun here, but consummated in heaven hereafter.
Both men and women; women under the gospel are as capable of this seal of the covenant as men.
Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.Simon himself believed; Simon believed with an historical faith, that it was indeed true, that our Saviour had done miracles, and did rise from the dead, but his faith, to be sure, was dead all the while; neither did he believe with his heart, or purpose to live according to the law of Christ, which is the life of faith.
He continued with Philip; kept him constantly company, and was amongst the forwardest of the professors of Christ’s faith.
And wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done; thus the magicians of Egypt were brought to acknowledge the finger of God, Exodus 8:19, although their hearts were hardened.
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:These were sent that they might further confirm the doctrine which Philip had preached amongst the Samaritans, and by apostolical authority constitute a church in Samaria.
Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:They; Peter and John.
Prayed for them; in this particular they did not pray for all that believed, amongst whom there were several women, Acts 8:12.
That they might receive the Holy Ghost; those extraordinary gifts of tongues, of prophesying of working miracles, &c. See Acts 10:45.
(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)For as yet he was fallen upon none of them; by which it is plain that the Holy Ghost as the author of saving grace, is not here meant, for so he was fallen upon all them that did believe, for faith is the gift of God; but he was not yet bestowed upon them as the author of those extraordinary gifts mentioned Acts 2:4.
They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus:
1. They were baptized by his authority and commission, Matthew 28:19.
2. By baptism they now belong unto and are united with him; they are baptized into Jesus Christ, Romans 6:3.
Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.That this laying on of the hands of the apostles was not intended here as any rite whereby the apostles did confirm some, or ordain others, seems evident from the context.
They received the Holy Ghost; the power of speaking with tongues, and working of miracles; which throughout this book is so often spoken of in this acceptation.
And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money,The Holy Ghost; those extraordinary gifts before mentioned; for this appeared visibly and audibly, and by this indeed was signified the great change God’s Spirit makes where he comes.
He offered them money; this notorious hypocrite values these outward gifts; how much more valuable are the inward and spiritual gifts of God!
Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.Such an extraordinary power of working miracles he did not desire that he might glorify God, or confirm the truths of the gospel (now professed by him); but out of an insatiable desire of gain, and ambition to keep up his reputation, seeing how the apostles had done beyond what he was able to do.
But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.Thy money perish with thee; a formal execration or curse, not only on his money, but also upon Simon himself; but always to be conditional, viz. unless he repented.
Thou hast thought: our hearts are to be watched over; our thoughts may be exceeding sinful, as here, which made his words or desires to be so ill taken.
Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.Neither part nor lot in this matter; no inheritance or share in such a thing as this, to wit, either in the receiving or conferring the Holy Ghost; or in that eternal life which we preach; thou hast no part in it, neither art thou fit to be a minister of it.
Thy heart is not right in the sight of God: the apostle had the gift of discerning of spirits, which is mentioned 1 Corinthians 12:10; which might cause the execration in the foregoing verse, and in divers other places of Scripture, 2 Timothy 4:14.
Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.The only remedy and help in his (otherwise) desperate case. This is not spoken as if it were doubtful whether true repentance should obtain pardon, but whether Simon Magus’s repentance were true. Repentance is a condition under which God proposeth our pardon and forgiveness, but it is far from being the cause of it.
For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.The gall of bitterness; the same with gall and wormwood, Deu 29:18: or gall and bitterness; signifying a very bad constitution and disposition of soul or mind, such as may be compared unto that meat which the gall of any creature hath corrupted. And for Simon Magus to be in the gall of bitterness, is yet worse than to have the gall of bitterness in him; as to be born in sin, which the Pharisees upbraided the blind man with, John 11:34, denotes more intended thereby than that he had sin from his birth in him: thus David bewails that he was shapen in iniquity, Psalm 51:5 and thus may those expressions of St. Paul be understood, of being in the flesh, and being in the Spirit, Romans 8:9. This also shows (if any sensible or outward thing could show it) what a bitter and poison my thing sin is, no gall so bitter, no poison so deadly.
The bond of iniquity; either the judgment St. Peter had threatened to deter him from sin was this bond, or his sin itself might be rather so called: the we read of the bands of wickedness, Isaiah 58:6. One sin is twisted with another, hard to be severed or broken, and draws on judgment powerfully.
Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.Simon Magus was convinced that he was indeed such as the apostles had spoken him to be; and knowing them to be powerful with God, he desires this of them. He feigns himself to be a true penitent, being terrified with the threatening of St. Peter, Acts 8:20, and probably fearing the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira might befall him, which it is likely he had heard of.
And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.Not only in the chief city, but in the smallest villages, these great apostles spend their pains; for so it was promised unto them that they should receive power to do, Acts 1:8.
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.Some speak of two Gazas, one distinguished from the other by this epithet of
desert; but rather there were two ways unto one and the same Gaza, and that it was not the city but the way unto it, which is called desert; by which difference, here mentioned, the angel admonishes Philip not to go the ordinary road, but the more unusual road over the mountians, which was rarely travelled over, but was now necessary to be gone in to meet with the eunuch. God telleth our wanderings, and ordereth our steps.
And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,A man of Ethiopia: the Ethiopians were the most despicable unto the Jews; and Homer calls them, escatoi anorwn; but God would now show that there is no difference of nations with him; but in every nation, he that worketh righteousness shall be accepted, Acts 10:35.
An eunuch; in great esteem in courts, especially to attend on queens, to avoid all suspicion: here that prophecy was fulfilled, Isaiah 56:4,5: though both in the Hebrew and (anciently) in the Greek tongue a eunuch signified more largely, viz. any attendant in the chamber.
Candace; a name common to the queens of that country; as all the kings of Egypt were called Pharaohs, and the emperors of Germany are called Caesars.
Come to Jerusalem for to worship; being a proselyte, he had been to worship God in that solemn festival of the passover.
Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.He had some knowledge of the true God, whom he came to worship, and he endeavours after more: and to him that thus hath, shall be given; and they that thus seek, shall find. God will rather work a miracle, than that any that sincerely desire and faithfully endeavour to know him, or his will, should be disappointed.
Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.The Spirit said, either by the ministry of an angel, as Acts 8:26, or by inspiration immediately by himself.
Go near; so near that you may speak with him that sits in it.
Join thyself to this chariot; stick close unto it, and leave it not.
And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?Philip ran thither to him; hastening to obey the Divine command, and coveting to gain a soul.
Heard him read the prophet Esaias, with a loud voice, it is like, to instruct some of his attendants.
Understandest thou what thou readest? Without understanding our reading is but as the tinkling of a cymbal.
And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.A wonderful modesty and humility in so great a man: he takes well Philip’s interposing, and questioning with him; he acknowledges his ignorance, and desires further instruction, and condescends to be taught by one so much his inferior.
The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth:God’s providence is remarkable, that the eunuch should be reading this very scripture, which contains such fundamental truths, and which he had most need for to be informed of. The words referred unto are in Isaiah 53:7. Whether read in the Hebrew tongue, which the eunuch might have learned of many Jews living in Ethiopia; or whether they were read out of the translation of the Seventy, which was then in common use, is not so necessary an inquiry; both being to the same intent and purpose. Christ was indeed as a sheep for his patience, not opening his mouth to defend his own case; but especially he was as a sheep in being a sacrifice for us, the true paschal Lamb that causeth the destroyer to pass from us; and yet he is our Shepherd too, to supply and preserve us, Psalm 23:1.
In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.In his humiliation; when our blessed Saviour was in his lowest condition, and the utmost degree of his exinanition; his soul being made a sacrifice for us, and suffering that desertion for a time we had merited for ever, and his body laid in the grave as in a prison; then
his judgment, the punishment which was inflicted upon him in our stead,
was taken away; for he brake the bonds of death, and opened the prison door: this was foretold, although in somewhat differing expressions, by the prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 53:7,8.
Who shall declare his generation? Those that shall be brought forth by this travail of his soul are innumerable, or his own eternal generation (who could do such great things as overcame death itself for us) is inexpressible: but by generation others (more to the scope of this place) understand Christ’s duration, or abiding, notwithstanding that he died; genea, does often signify duration; and thus it is an ordinary expression with the prophet, Isaiah 34:10,17, from generation to generation: now none can comprehend that eternal duration of Christ, who dies no more, Romans 6:9, and of whose kingdom there is no end, Luke 1:33.
For his life is taken from the earth; Christ aquired his glory by his suffering; his very exceeding great weight of glory was indeed wrought for him by his afflictions, (as for us, 2 Corinthians 4:17), his becoming obedient unto the death was the cause why he was so highly exalted, Philippians 2:8,9.
And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?Of whom speaketh the prophet this? The modestly inquisitive man does get understanding; this question (God so ordering it) brings in the discourse concerning our Saviour.
Of himself, or of some other man? This the eunuch might well make a question, because Isaiah himself suffered much under Manasseh.
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.Opened his mouth; so they were said to do when they began to speak of some weighty matter.
Began at the same Scripture; showing that the prophet, in that most signal prophecy, Isaiah 53:7,8 could not mean such things of himself, nor of Jeremiah, or of any other.
Preached unto him Jesus; things in that prophecy are applicable unto our blessed Saviour, but to none else.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?A certain water; this water is supposed to be a fountain in a town called Bethsora, or a river called Eleutherus, which in that road must needs be passed over; it being otherwise very dry, and water very scarce there.
What doth hinder me to be baptized? Although it was not expressly mentioned, Philip had informed this eunuch concerning baptism, its nature and use, which made him express such desire after it; which else he had not done.
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.With all thine heart: a verbal profession is not a sufficient believing, Romans 10:10 though we can discern no other, yet God can, and will not he mocked: Philip, in God’s name, requires a faith with all the heart, and not such as Simon Magus had, who is said to believe, and be baptized, Acts 8:13.
I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; this was the only thing necessary, either then or now, if rightly understood. The eunuch was instructed concerning God out of the law, and was one of them that waited for his salvation; which here he acknowledgeth to be only found in Christ, whom he owns to be the Messiah, who made his soul an offering for sin, Isaiah 53:10, and did bear our griefs, and carried our sorrows, Isaiah 53:4, and was wounded for our transgressions, Isaiah 53:5; for all these things Philip had told him were meant of our Saviour, which he did believe were so to be understood.
And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.In hot countries this was usual, to baptize by dipping the body in the water; and to this the apostle alludes, when he tells the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 6:1, that they are washed: but God will have mercy, and not sacrifice; sprinkling being as effectual as washing, and as significative also, representing the sprinkling of the blood of the paschal lamb, of which we read, Exodus 12:3, which presignified the sprinkling the blood of Jesus, that Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world; and our hearts must by it be sprinkled from an evil conscience, Hebrews 10:22. It is not the more or the less of the outward element which makes the sacraments effectual; but they are effectual only as they are God’s appointments, and attended upon according to his will.
And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.Philip was suddenly and extraordinarily taken away from the eunuch’s sight and company, that thereby the eunuch might be the more assured of the truth of those things which had been taught by him. The rejoicing was the effect of his faith; being now justified, he had peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 5:1.
But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.Philip was set down by the Spirit at Ashdod of the Philistines, which is called by the Septuagint
Azotus: names of persons and places do in tract of time vary. This place had been famous for the idol Dagon, 1 Samuel 5:3, and for being a chief place of the Philistines, those enemies to God’s church; but Christ, when he comes, can cast Satan out of his strongest holds. This Azotus is accounted thirty-four miles from Gaza.