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May 15, 2020

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Bible Gemz 1506 - Philip told the Ethiopian the Good News about Jesus (Acts 8:35-40)

February 7, 2019


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)


This is an interesting section given the questions some of you asked. I would not necessarily have stopped to comment on these issues specifically but because I opened the way for you then it is important that I give some response. It interesting that we are not told what Philip specifically taught the eunuch about Baptism. The text tells us that he told him the Good News about Jesus. But the Good News includes talking about baptism. For the reference point to that we have to go back to Peter’s teaching on salvation which includes Repent, Believe and be Baptised. 

Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." 

And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!”(Acts 2:38-40)


It is clear that the path or process of salvation includes all three. At least in the eyes of the Church in the ensuing years. That is what makes the addition of the Acts 8:37 interesting. Is it original Luke or is it not? Was it simply added because of Church protocol and therefore the need for the clarity to be added in order to preserve the teaching on the sacrament of Baptism in an official way? Therefore David’s and Kev’s interesting questions related to Baptism, along with the other two questions we are left with. 


 Why did the Ethiopian ask to be baptised when he saw the water? Did he know about baptism already? How? (David)

Just a question on baptism: l noticed that the Eunuch asked to be baptised. I gather from this and other instances that baptism wasn't something that the Christian church or even Jesus invented but was already familiar to Jews and surrounding cultures. Is that correct or am I just jumping to a conclusion? Kev


What sort of things did they talk about? How indeed did the question of baptism come up?

I suspect that Philip himself brought it up in the context of teaching on the Good News about Jesus. This is a refrain that we will encounter through the Book of Acts. It was highlighted by Peter initially and it seems it became part of the Catechism, part of the standard teachings about what it means to come to faith in Christ:- Repent, Believe and Be Baptised for the remission of your sins. As I have hinted at already, I feel that Philip has included teaching on baptism in what he told the eunuch in the Good News about Jesus. He has followed the lead of Peter in terms of what was considered important to know and do related to the process of becoming a Christian; coming to faith in Christ. Clearly Philip begins at the point of the eunuch’s question and I suspect has just finished telling him about the need to repent, believe and be baptised when they came upon the water. The eunuch was in the process of reading Isaiah 53 when Philip caught up with him and heard him reading aloud. Philip asked, "Do you understand what you are reading?” Whereupon the eunuch invited him to sit on the chariot and instruct him. Philip deals firstly with some the difficult concepts of Isaiah 53 and then the eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, was the prophet talking about himself or someone else?” At that point, Philip leads the man from where he is at to the point of repentance, belief and baptism, just as Peter had taught before him. This is the beginning of what becomes a standard approach of the Church.


But of course it still leaves us with questions. Has the eunuch heard of baptism before or has he been introduced to the concept by Philip? Was baptism taught by the Jews or other cultures in the area or did the Church or Jesus invent it? Did Jesus merely mention baptism in passing or was it always part of His plan? The verses which link it most strongly to faith and salvation are part of the disputed verses at the end of the Gospel of Mark. Interesting isn’t it that here too we have disputed verses surrounding the issue of baptism. Here again part of the teaching on baptism is found in verses which are debated as to whether they are genuine gospel or established church additions. Also we have the issue of whether baptism was by immersion or sprinkling. Just how much water was involved? We don’t actually know. But again I return to the “behold” aspect of them coming across water in a dry area in Desert Gaza. Some have argued the water can’t have been very deep to have allowed for baptism by immersion. Well that is not conclusive because we just don’t know how much water was there. Again I marvel at the perfect timing of this. I would say the water must have been significant enough for the eunuch to notice it in the midst of their conversation and stop the chariot, asking why he couldn’t be baptised now. I would also highlight the presence of the Greek words [eis] “into” and [ek] "out from” to suggest it must has been enough for him to get into. But that is not conclusive evidence because the words have multiple meanings and could also mean “came to’ water and came "away from” it. I would add that the word [baptidzo] was also used of baptising boats or large sea-going vessels. Now you don't sprinkle them do you? You put them IN the water. But neither does it exclude the possibility that you could sprinkle someone in the act of baptism as it was and is a symbolic act. So yes Philip could either have immersed the eunuch in the water or sprinkled him with water from a little puddle in the desert region so it is inconclusive. 


In answer to Kev’s specific question as to whether the notion of baptism was already found in the surrounding cultures the answer is yes. The ancient religions certainly had parallel rites as far spread as Eleusinian cults, Bacchic, Egyptian worship of Isis and Mithras, Appolinarian, Mandaean, Babylonian, Persian and Indian even some ancient baptismal customs in the upper Jordan valley. So the answer is yes Kev. Some pre-Christian practices did exist. I remember reading years ago at Bible College (but I don’t remember the source – yet recall it was a reputable source) that "to be baptised in the name of a god” in some of the cultures of the time preceding this period meant you became the possession of the god into whose name you were baptised. Seemingly the word has been used by the early apostles and given new meaning. I have not finished with the notion of Baptism because Luke has not finished with it. We meet the idea of baptism over and over through the Book of Acts. There appears to be a progressive revelation as the idea unfolds. 



Two final Miscellaneous Questions from Gillian

Why do Peter and John come after Simon and then leave before Simon leaves?

Why is it that Peter and John are often together (and James)? Is there a reason for that? 


I will respond to one of them and leave the other for the following Gemz as we look back on Chapter Eight of Acts in retrospect and overview. The one I will address now is the second of your questions Gillian and the other I will leave for the next Gemz as we look back on Acts 8 and ponder the question Kev asked related to this chapter to being a fruit salad chapter or not? Were all of these pericope simply gathered together in a haphazard manner or is there some purpose or thrust to it all? We will address that matter on Wednesday. Also you may wonder why I have gone back to calling the Treasurer aeunuchwhen I had said I would refer to him as theTreasurer. There is purpose in that too. As Prof Brown used to say, “There is always more”.


Why is it that Peter and John are often together (and James)? Is there a reason for that? 

Simply there are numbers of passages through the New Testament which record Peter, John and James mentioned together. The order is normally Peter, James and John but the point is the same. Jesus will often deal with these three in a way that he didn't with the other disciples. It is like these three formed an inner circle or an elite group of the disciples whom Jesus took into special situations to give them further input or experience. Interesting isn’t it that these three then become authors of significant books of the New Testament. My response to your question Gillian is simply yes, there is a reason. But rather than tell you the answer I want to point you in the direction of this feature you have noticed and suggest it is worthy of your focused attention. I don’t even need to give you a list of references to the passages where these three are mentioned together because they are easy to find. A concordance will give you the reference or a search in E-Sword on the three names together will give you all of the passages in question. Take the time to look at the nature of the times when Jesus called Peter, James and John aside and ponder the reason or significance more deeply. The treasures of Scripture are revealed to those who bother "to ponder these things in their heart”. Yes it is significant. I am simply doing to you what Prof Brown did for me. There is gold here, take the time to dig for it. 



Pay attention to what you are saying about yourself. Your life is moving in the direction of your words. Lavonia Grabau


Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.


It is not enough to stare up the steps; we must step up the stairs. Vaclav Havel (or in this case – down the stairs. Ian)


When you blame and criticize others, you are avoiding some truth about yourself.


Your relationships reflect your fears and limits. How can anyone ever give you what you won’t allow? Stephen C. Paul




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