Phillip in Gaza with the Ethiopian [16 verses]
After testifying and preaching the word of the Lord in Samaria, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem. And they stopped in many Samaritan villages along the way to preach the Good News. As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he started out, and he met the treasurer of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the Kandake, the queen of Ethiopia. The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and he was now returning. Seated in his carriage, he was reading aloud from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.” Philip ran over and heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?” And he urged Philip to come up into the carriage and sit with him. The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, He did not open His mouth. He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of His descendants? For His life was taken from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus. As they rode along, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?” [“You can,” Philip answered, “if you believe with all your heart.” And the eunuch replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.Acts 8:25-40
How can I understand unless someone instructs me?
Philip knows what the Treasurer was reading because he had heard him reading. So Philip knew he was reading from Isaiah and knew the passage. Can you do that?
Can you hear a passage of Scripture read, not having heard the reference and still be able to find it in your Bible?
Or even better, not have to find it in your Bible, be able to follow what was being said or read and give answers based on the knowledge that you have of the text that was read? In other words you don’t just know the line quoted but you know the passage around it and therefore the context of the line quoted. If you do it is a strong indication that you know your Bible well. These few lines in the story about Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian tell me volumes about Philip. This man whom the apostles chose at the beginning of Acts Chapter 6 was good value, as am I sure were all the others chosen. Philip had clearly been to Beth Sepher (the House of the Book) and Beth Talmud (The House of Interpretation) and most likely Beth Midrash (the House of Allusion) too. To be able to hear a passage read and then rightly interpret it for a person is a great skill to have. It is true that Philip has the book to read because the Treasurer was reading the book of Isaiah. So you could say Philip may well have just taken the book from him and read the passage and then came back with an answer. But I doubt that was what happened.
I tell those who come to Deeper Bible that it is more important to have the Word of God stored in your memory than it to have it on your iPad or notebook or anywhere else. I can assure you Philip would have had it stored in his memory. His answers to the Treasurer were instant, on the button and off the cuff. They would have had to have been. Here he was dealing with a high court official. One who no doubt was highly skilled and well educated. Philip’s answer would have had to have satisfied and it would have to have been off the cuff, on the run. I doubt that Philip would have gone through the book working out for himself what was going one before he answered the Treasurer. This was a chance encounter and no doubt not of long duration. It is not like the encounter of Jesus with the two on the road to Emmaus, where they stopped the night and invited Jesus to dine with them. It is more likely that this happened on the one day while riding on the chariot. Neither would Philip have been carrying his books and he certainly didn’t have his iPad with him. Philip had to have had the answers ready at his fingertips. These are all indications that Philip had been at least to the level of the House of Interpretation in his training.
We don’t actually know what Philip told him in answer to his question. But we do know the part of Isaiah that he had just been reading. Luke tells us: The passage of Scripture he had been reading was this: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter. And as a lamb is silent before the shearers, He did not open His mouth. He was humiliated and received no justice. Who can speak of His descendants? For His life was taken from the earth.”
The dialogue encounter was as follows:
- Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
- The man replied, “How can I, unless someone instructs me?”
- The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?”
- So beginning with this same Scripture, Philip told him the Good News about Jesus and in the end the eunuch said, “Look! There’s some water! Why can’t I be baptized?”
That is a huge step to make from not understanding what you are reading to coming to the point of wanting to be baptized on one short journey. Luke tells us it all happened as they rode along and they came to some water. Let me remind of the Behold factor in this. Clearly Philip had talked to him of baptism. Just as they were talking about it they came to enough water for him to be baptized. The timing of all this was perfect. Could you have made the most of the timing?
What sort of things did they talk about? Well we are not told. It would be helpful to know. Why didn’t Luke record for us the words of what Philip told him? It would have been helpful. But we have been in this situation before with Jesus on the road to Emmaus with the Cleopas and his mate. (see Gems 1303 – 1317). Luke doesn’t tell us the content of what Jesus said to the two on the road, neither does he tell us what Philip said to the Treasurer. There could be two reasons.
- He didn’t know
- He is using this didactically.
There was a body of text developed which was used to explain the teaching of some of the great Christian truths in the time of the Apostles and afterward. Much has been talked about it related to what was likely said by Jesus on the road to Emmaus and what was likely the content of what Philip said to the Ethiopian Treasurer. But we just plain don’t know. The point of all this is what would you have said to the Ethiopian? That is what the Didache was all about, what were the essential teachings concerning these things? The Didache was the essential teachings of the Apostles which laid out the essential teachings of Christianity. Most scholars believe there was a Didache created by the mid to late First Century which spelled out the essential teaching of the Apostles. Even later a Didache Bible surfaced after the Middle Ages, said to have been preserved by the Catholic Church. The word Didache means Teachings – the essential teachings.
But the point of all this is that these essential teachings are not told to us here in the Acts of the Apostles. They could have been, they perhaps even should have been but they were not. This is a good test of our ability to share with someone the essence of the Gospel and bring them to the point of salvation, repentance and baptism. This is the kind of thing that we discussed when we looked at Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 related to Repent, Believe, Be Baptized. Here we have in essence, the same steps needed to bring the Treasurer to the point of Baptism. The question is can you do it?
The quote that we have above is from Isaiah 53:7-8. The quote as given to us comes from the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Many parts of the translation were hard to understand. No wonder the Ethiopian needed help to understand it. We do too. Take a look at the text from Isaiah that Ethiopian court official was reading:
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
There it is in the KJV because I know many of you like the good old King James Version. It was likely as incomprehensible in the King James as it was in the LXX.
Here it is in some other versions as well.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? [NASB]
He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet He never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, He did not open His mouth. Unjustly condemned, He was led away. No one cared that He died without descendants, that His life was cut short in midstream. But He was struck down for the rebellion of My people. [NLT]
He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried, and he was led off– and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people. [MSG}
He was treated harshly, but endured it humbly; he never said a word. Like a lamb about to be slaughtered, like a sheep about to be sheared, he never said a word. He was arrested and sentenced and led off to die, and no one cared about his fate. He was put to death for the sins of our people. [GNB]
He was treated badly, but he never protested. He said nothing, like a lamb being led away to be killed. He was like a sheep that makes no sound as its wool is being cut off. He never opened his mouth to defend himself. He was taken away by force and judged unfairly. The people of his time did not even notice that he was killed. But he was put to death for the sins of his people. [ERV]
Why have I given you all of these versions as the background to Peter’s questions?
What does “He was humiliated and received no justice” mean? (Peter)
What is the meaning of “who shall declare his generation?” in verse 33. I looked it up in a number of versions as you told us to do and I was even more confused. (Peter)
I found a baffling amount of variation between the versions, including:
- And who will recount His generation? (LITV)
- who now can count his kin (MSG).
What is going on here Ian? (Peter)
I have given you the spread of translations above. The astute ones from Deeper Bible Classes will realise they have the spread of translations from Literal to Dynamic Equivalence to Free versions plus a couple of others thrown in for good measure. Take the time to read these and you see Peter’s dilemma as he came across the variations.
How would you explain this to someone else and lead them to believe?
- What a pity we didn’t have the words Philip used by way of explanation or better yet the words of Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
- The grim reality is we don’t, He just has you as His witness!
You are living a limited life if you are only living for yourself.Rick Warren
Start volunteering. You were not meant to be a faithful spectator.Alvi Radjagukguk
Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most great men didn’t know they were great, while they were alive?Ian Vail