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Bible: What Does Acts 8 Teach Us About the Apostles Philip, Peter and John?

Updated on September 8, 2016

The Apostle Paul

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Acts 8: Philip and Simon Magus; Peter and John Visit Samaritan Saints; Peter Confronts Simon Magus; Philip's Witness to the Ethiopian Eunuch

Saul's Persecution

Briefly returning to his treatment of Saul’s life (before devoting the bulk of the rest of his book to it), Luke notes that this young Pharisee approved of Stephen’s execution (v. 1a).

After recording that widespread persecution began to scatter Christ’s followers (excluding the apostles) throughout much of Israel (v. 1b) and that certain men buried and lamented for Stephen (v. 2), the historian provides his readers with a glimpse of Saul’s Gestapo-like, personal vendetta against the Jerusalem church (v. 3).

This Pharisee-led persecution succeeds in helping the Church begin to accomplish her worldwide mission by disseminating both ordinary and gifted “evangelists” “everywhere” (v. 4; cf. 1:8; 11:19-20).

Not the least member in the latter group, Philip, one of the seven servants/elders of Acts 6, journeys to Samaria where he sustains a successful preaching, healing, and exorcism ministry, eliciting “great joy in that city” (vv. 5-8).

There the reader encounters Simon the magician, a man who had gathered quite a following because of his long-standing success as a sorcerer (vv. 9-11).

Widespread conversion to Christ and subsequent baptisms among Simon’s disciples change the magician’s strategy, making him feign salvation and commitment to Jesus (vv. 12-13).

[Luke hints that the prospect of gaining more and greater magical powers attracted Simon to Christ; his “belief” in Jesus is evidently false.]

Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the apostles (who stayed behind during the persecution) respond to the good news from Samaria by sending Peter and John to the new believers there (v. 14).

[Apparently, the Twelve corporately decided which ones among them would confirm the saints in Samaria.]

The Apostle John

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The Apostle Peter

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Peter and John with the Samaritan Believers

Although the Samaritans had been immersed “in Jesus’ name”—this immersion formula may possibly constitute a corruption of Jesus’ original commission (cf. Mt. 28:18-19)—they had not yet received the Holy Spirit (vv. 15-16).

[How did the apostles know that the Samaritans had not received the Spirit?

In those early days, everyone who believed and submitted to immersion manifested a sign—such as speaking in tongues—that indicated the baptism of the Spirit had taken place (cf. 10:44-48 for an instance when believers spoke in tongues and praised God after the Holy Spirit fell upon them)].

After Peter and John pray for them and identify themselves with the new believers by placing their hands on them, the Samaritans receive the Spirit (and presumably manifest some sign) [v. 17].

[Ryrie suggests that Peter and John needed to act officially here so as to avoid a possible schism between the Jerusalem and Samaritan churches.

By exercising their apostolic authority well, they maintained the unity of the Church (New Testament Study Bible, 221).]

Simon Magus and Peter

Simon, eager to augment his own personal power and influence, offers Peter payment to acquire this ability to confer the Spirit (vv. 18-19).

Recognizing that Simon is not worthy to be a partner in ministry because his “heart is not right in the sight of God”—evidenced by his belief that he could buy the gift of the Holy Spirit (vv. 20-21)—the apostle commands the magician to repent (turn from his sin) and pray for God’s forgiveness of this particular sin (v. 22).

[Is this gift the Holy Spirit Himself, or the ability to confer the Holy Spirit upon others?

Is it possible that Simon is a believer, but just needs to confess and repent of this sin?]

Peter informs Simon that he perceives that the latter has a two-fold sin problem: bitterness and iniquity (v. 23).

[Speculation: Simon’s bitterness stems from unrealized dreams of grandeur; its poison permeates his very soul.

His iniquity may originate from a lust for power; this desire precludes him from gaining spiritual freedom.]

The magician asks Peter to intercede for him, so that he would experience “none of the things which you have spoken” (v. 24).

[The NKJV rendering (“Pray to the Lord for me”) makes Simon’s response sound like a petition for help; the NASB translation of the magician’s words (“Pray to the Lord for me yourselves”) reads like a rejection of Peter’s advice.]

Peter and John return to Jerusalem after completing their short-term, but extensive, itinerant ministry throughout Samaria (v. 25).

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

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Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Now Luke resumes the narrative, reviewing Philip’s ministry (vv. 26-40; cf. 8:4-8, 12-13).

This evangelist receives a verbal communication from “an angel of the Lord”—revelation that tells him to travel a deserted road between Jerusalem and Gaza (v. 26; Ryrie’s note gives a possible identification of this road [New Testament Study Bible, 222]).

While obeying this directive, Philip encounters an influential figure from the court of Candace the Ethiopian (Nubian) queen—a eunuch who served as her treasurer—returning home after worshiping in Jerusalem’s temple (vv. 27-28a).

The Spirit commands His servant to run after the Nubian’s chariot (v. 29).

As Philip comes alongside the vehicle, he hears the eunuch reading a passage from Isaiah.

Taking advantage of this providence, he asks the official if he understands the meaning of the text (vv. 28b-30).

Replying in the negative, the Ethiopian subsequently welcomes Philip aboard his vessel, and shows him the particular prophecy in question, Isaiah 53:7-8: the famous description of the Messiah’s passion (vv. 31-33).

[Isaiah describes how the Lamb of God would remain totally submissive, yielded to the will of the Father, and silent while suffering through the ordeal (Is. 53:7; cf. Lam. 3:28).

His persecutors take Him from judgment and prison to the place of execution; the entire context declares His death in the place of sinners (53:8).]

The eunuch’s query about the identity of the subject of the prophecy opens the door for Philip to preach Jesus to him (vv. 34-35).

[Luke records that Philip started with Isaiah 53, but the latter undoubtedly related the entire gospel to him].

While evangelizing, Philip presumably mentions immersion, for the Ethiopian, seeing a body of water along the road, desires to submit to this ordinance (v. 36).

[Both the NU and the Majority texts do not contain verse thirty-seven, perhaps because it appears to be a scribal interpolation meant to clarify the means of salvation, i.e., that one must believe in the deity of Christ and that immersion does not save.

However, believing intellectually that Jesus is God the Son constitutes only part of the gospel message; therefore, the interpolator’s addition (if it is such) does not completely accomplish his purpose.]

Both men enter the pool of water—this verse (and others) speaks volumes regarding the mode of baptism—, and Philip immerses him (v. 38).

Immediately after the evangelist performs this service, the Spirit “catches” him away and deposits him in Azotus (Heb. Ashdod).

[What other servants of God did the Spirit transport in like fashion? (cf. 1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2: 16; Ezek. 2: 12, 14].

There he continues his preaching ministry all the way to Caesarea (vv. 39a-40).

Meanwhile, the eunuch resumes his journey home, rejoicing in his new relationship with God through Christ (v. 39b).

© 2013 glynch1

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