ASK Commentary
June 8, 2004 

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Commentary for June 8, 2004 — A Clarification

Questions have arisen regarding a point made by Dr. Martin on p. 5 (approximately, depending on your computer and print settings) in the article “Types of People God Is Calling.” The article is a transcript containing essential material from a 1974 audiotape recording of a public lecture. Dr. Martin said that Philip was:

“north in Samaria around that area preaching the Gospel. It says that He was taken bodily through the air (like Ezekiel in the Old Testament was transported from Babylon to the Temple in Jerusalem), and he was put there beside the road to Gaza from Jerusalem. It was a desert region and there were few people there.”

page 5 of Article

The biblical text indicates that Philip went to the area around Gaza by his own power and after the encounter he was “caught away” or snatched in a manner similar to Ezekiel. It occurred at the end of, not before, Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch.

The comparison with Ezekiel that Dr. Martin made was that both Ezekiel and Philip were caught up by a supernatural figure and placed in a different physical location.

Background

Previous to this event, Philip was in Samaria preaching. There he had success and even baptized Simon Magus. Then Peter and John went to assist Philip, and Peter had his encounter with Simon Magus (Acts 8:4–25). Then the scene shifts back to Philip. It appears that everyone involved returned to Jerusalem:

“And they [the foregoing, presumably Philip, Peter, and John], when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and [besides] preached the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.”

Acts 8:25

This verse says that those who “testified and preached” continued to do so on their way back to Jerusalem, with the Samaritans specifically targeted as their audience. Then the section with the Ethiopian Eunuch begins in Acts 8:26.
“And the angel of the Lord spoke unto Philip, saying, ‘Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goes down from Jerusalem unto Gaza,’ which is desert. 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, was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.”

Acts 8:26–28

Note the sequence of events: Philip was instructed to “Arise, and go” in verse 26, and without delay “And he arose and went.” The Eunuch had been to Jerusalem and “was returning” on his way back to Ethiopia in Acts 8:28. (It is interesting that the Gospel was not taught to the Ethiopian in Jerusalem.) It appears that Philip left Jerusalem before the Eunuch and was near to him on the road.

No supernatural travel is involved in this event. However, the message did come from an “angel of the Lord.” In Greek there is no definite article before “angel,” so we cannot tell for sure if it was “the angel of the Lord.” Later the speaker (presumably the same messenger, or angel) is referred to as “the spirit” (with a definite article) in Acts 8:29. In Acts 8:39 it is the “spirit of the Lord” (again, no definite article before “spirit”) who catches away Philip with the result that the Ethiopian Eunuch suddenly does not see him. It appears, therefore, that the “angel of the Lord,” “the spirit” and the “spirit of the Lord” are the same entity. You are free to draw your own conclusion.

“Then the Spirit said unto Philip, ‘Go near, and join yourself to this chariot.’ And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, ‘Do you understand what you [are] reading?’ 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.”

Acts 8:26–28

The spirit pointed out the exact chariot Philip was to go to. Again, Philip did not hesitate and “ran” to the Ethiopian and then he heard him reading “Esaias” or Isaiah. He read:
“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: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.’”

Acts 8:32–33

The quotation is taken from Isaiah 53:7–8. The Greek of Acts chapter 8 is almost identical to the words of Isaiah in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. The passage is a prophecy that describes Jesus Christ’s approaching death and the purpose of that death. This passage, and no doubt many others, was what that Philip taught to the Ethiopian.
“And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, ‘I pray you, of whom is this prophet speaking? of himself, or of some other man?’ Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water; what does hinder me to be baptized?’ ... 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.”

Acts 8:34–38, (most Greek texts omit v. 37)

This entire incident may be in fulfillment of a passage in Palm 68:
“Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon [or hasten to] stretch out her hands unto God.”

Psalm 68:31

Supernatural Travel

Then something interesting happened immediately after the Eunuch’s baptism:

“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. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.”

Acts 8:39–40

This is the occasion that Dr. Martin misplaced to the beginning of the story when it actually took place at the end. From the Eunuch’s point of view Philip suddenly disappeared. From Philip’s point of view, he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord and found himself at Azotus. Azotus is the Greek for Ashdod, one of the 5 Philistine cities some 25 miles north of Gaza. From there Philip traveled north, preaching as he went, up to Caesarea. This ends the passage concerning Philip in Acts chapter 8.

We last encounter him in Acts 21:8–9 where Luke, Paul, and associates find Philip living in Caesarea with his four virgin daughters who prophesy. It may be from this meeting that Luke obtained his first-hand knowledge of this incident.

My thanks to those who caught this problem. I should have caught it when I edited the tape transcript. I hope this clarifies matters.

David Sielaff
david@askelm.com

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