Archive for January 2009

Acts 8

January 21, 2009

This chapter recapitulates Saul’s passive participation in the stoning of Stephen and describes his transition to an active destroyer of the church, imprisoning the faithful and forcing all except the apostles to flee [1]. But rather than diminishing the church, persecution spread its teachings. This chapter focuses on the evangelism of Philip, who exorcised spirits, baptized, and healed in an unnamed city in Samaria. An acclaimed sorcerer [2] who had been called the Great Power, Simon was one of many who were baptized. Peter and John came and transmitted the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands[3]. Simon tried to buy knowledge of the power from them. Peter cursed Simon [4] and told him to repent and pray for having had such a thought. Simon asks Peter to pray for him [5].

Next, an angel of the Lord sends Philip to the Jerusalem-Gaza road, which is called a desert road. There Philip meets a eunuch who is the treasurer of the Ethiopian queen Candace, riding in a chariot on his return and reading scripture. The Holy Spirit directs Philip to approach the chariot and stay near it [6]. Philip asks the eunuch if he understands the scripture he is reading. The eunuch confesses that he does not, and asks Philip to explain a passage in Isaiah describing the suffering servant. The eunuch asks to be baptized and orders the chariot to be stopped. They both went into the water, but when they emerge, the Holy Spirit transported Philip to Azotus. From there, he traveled around preaching until he reached Caesarea [7].

Notes
1. Matthew Henry says that Saul assented with delight to the murder of Stephen and he notes that there was no respecting of gender in the persecution. He also points out that in Acts 26, Saul confesses to having forced followers of Jesus to blaspheme and even urged that they be condemned to death. Notably, the apostles were not dispersed, unlike the rest of the church.
2. The word for practicing the arts of sorcerery is mageuo and occurs only in this instance in the New Testament. However, in Acts 13, the magos bar-Jesus/Elymas appears. The concept of sorcery is also infrequent in the scriptures. The most memorable example occurs in the plagues of Exodus. The Egyptian sorcerers (Hebrew kashaph) and magicians (Hebew chartome) are consulted in Exodus 7. Kashaph occurs six times and chartome occurs ten times, mostly in Exodus. The terms used when Saul consults the “witch” of Endor are ‘owb (medium) and yidd@oniy (spiritist). The latter are strongly censured in Mosaic law. Kashaph (who apparently invoked their magic through prayer) also come in for censure, but chartome (apparently scribes) appear to be unsanctioned.
3. Again there is an emphasis that baptism is purely for repentance and that the acceptance of the Holy Spirit is a separate act
4. Peter says that bitterness has induced Simon to try to pay for the gift of the Holy Spirit, and made him captive to sin.
5. This echoes Saul and Samuel in 1 Sam. 15
6. We can infer from this that the chariot is moving. Later, the eunuch orders the chariot to be stopped.
7. Azotus, which is modern-day Ashdod, was one of the principal cities of the Philistines, as was Gaza. Caesarea was a former Phoenician port, which Herod dedicated to Augustus, and was the site at which the Jewish rebellion against the Romans began.