Acts 8 Study Notes
8:1 Events surrounding Stephen’s testimony and murder led to severe persecution of the church in Jerusalem. All believers except the apostles were scattered to nearby regions. Hence the persecution helped spread the gospel to surrounding areas such as Judea and Samaria. The facts that the apostles were not the focus of the persecution and that it came about after Stephen’s death suggest that the persecution focused primarily on Hellenistic Jewish Christians, although the entire church was affected.
8:2 In the midst of such persecution, it took great courage to bury and mourn over Stephen.
8:3 Paul, or Saul, seems to have become lead persecutor. His reputation as a destructive force in Jerusalem (ravaging the church), and possibly elsewhere, seems to have preceded him to Damascus (9:13).
8:4-5 Among those who scattered with the heightened persecution was Philip, who went to a city in Samaria. This territory near Judea was made up of those who had not left under the Assyrian exile and had intermarried with non-Jews. Jews generally looked down on Samaria; ministry here was a significant step for the church, for it indicated that old biases had no place in Christianity. For bias against the Samaritans among Jesus’s own disciples, see Lk 9:51-55. For the antagonism between Jews and Samaritans, see Lk 10:29-37; Jn 4:9.
8:6-8 The signs that accompanied Philip’s message about Jesus, including the casting out of unclean spirits and the healing of many who were paralyzed and lame, ensured that the crowds were all paying attention. God was vouching for Philip’s preaching.
8:9 This Simon the magician (Simon Magus), who practiced sorcery in Samaria, was well known in post-apostolic Christianity as a heretic and proto-Gnostic.
8:10-11 The term Great Power of God reflects pagan language.
8:12-13 Even Simon was one of those who believed the good news presented by Philip. The authenticity of his belief is doubtful. He seems to have been fixated on the signs and miracles that accompanied Philip’s preaching, not the person of Jesus Christ.
8:14-16 Some suggest that God withheld the Holy Spirit from the Samaritans so the apostles could come and witness that even the Samaritans were included in the Christian community.
8:17 Early converts received the Holy Spirit at the laying on of hands by apostles or evangelists. Some suggest that this was God’s plan to ensure that new believers received trustworthy instruction and got connected to God’s chosen apostolic leaders.
8:18-19 Here we see Simon’s true heart. He was used to impressing the crowds with magic; now he wanted to impress them with his ability to impart the Holy Spirit.
8:20-24 By saying that Simon had no part or share in this matter, Peter confirmed that Simon had not truly converted to Christianity. His heart (meaning his will, affections, allegiance) was still not right before God.
8:25 After several episodes in Samaria, Peter, John, Philip, and any other apostles traveling with them returned to Jerusalem. They evangelized many villages of the Samaritans along the way, tearing down ethnic barriers with the global gospel of Jesus Christ.
8:26-29 Through the agency of an angel of the Lord, God arranged for Philip to stand in a place that would bring him into contact with an important Ethiopian man who would listen, believe, and in turn spread the gospel to other lands. Candace was not the queen’s name but a title. Reading aloud was common, especially if the scroll was not in his native language. The eunuch was a Gentile God-fearer who had come to worship in Jerusalem. The Ethiopia of that time was not the modern country of Ethiopia but the ancient kingdom of Meroe, which covered what is now northern Sudan south of Aswan to Khartoum.
8:32-34 The Ethiopian was reading Is 53:7-8, apparently from the Greek text. It is likely that he was reading the entire Suffering Servant section of Isaiah (52:13-53:12). The eunuch’s question, who is the prophet saying this about, allowed Philip to explain Jesus as the subject of the passage. It is Jesus, not Isaiah, who suffered for the sins of humanity (Is 53:6). From the earliest days of the church, the Suffering Servant section has been seen as an ideal starting place for explaining the gospel.
8:35 The phrase, beginning with that Scripture, may indicate that Philip went on to explain other relevant OT passages besides those in Isaiah.
8:38-40 The Ethiopian requested and was granted baptism just as soon as he believed (see note at 10:47-48). That they went into the water and then came up out of the water apparently indicates baptism by immersion. The eunuch came out of the water and found himself alone. The Holy Spirit had miraculously carried Philip away to his next appointment, a place called Azotus, the OT Philistine city of Ashdod, about thirty-five miles from Gaza.