18 May. Acts 8:26-40

18 May. Philip explains the scriptures to an Ethiopian Jew

"An angel of the Lord said to Philip, 'Get ready and go south to the road that leads down to Gaza from Jerusalem - the desert road.' So Philip got ready and went."

"On the road he saw a man from Ethiopia, a eunuch. He was an important officer in the service of Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians; he was responsible for taking care of all her money."

"He had gone to Jerusalem to worship. Now, as he was on his way home, he was sitting in his chariot reading [a scroll] from the Book of Isaiah, the [Jewish] prophet."

"The [Holy] Spirit said to Philip, 'Go to that chariot and stay near it.' So when Philip ran towards the chariot, he heard the man reading from Isaiah the prophet. Philip asked, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' He answered. 'How can I understand unless someone explains it to me.'"

"Then he invited Philip to climb in and sit with him. The portion of Scripture he was reading was this:

'He was like a sheep being led to be killed.
He was quiet, as a lamb is quiet while its wool is being cut.
He never opened his mouth.
He was shamed and was treated unfairly.
He died without children to continue his family.
His life on earth has ended.'" [Isaiah 53:7-8]

"The officer said to Philip, 'Please tell me who the prophet is talking about - himself, or someone else.' Philip began to speak, and starting with this same scripture, he told the man the Good News about Jesus."

"While they were travelling down the road, they came to some water [from a well]. The officer said, 'Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptised?' Then the officer commanded the chariot to stop. Both Philip and the officer went into the water and Philip baptised him."

"After they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away... and the officer continued on his way home, full of joy."

"Then Philip [walked further until he] appeared in a city called Azotus, and preached the Good News in all the towns on the way from Azotus to Caesarea."

          (Acts 8:26-40)

 

 

This incident from the 'Acts of the Apostles' is often referred to as 'Philip and the Ethiopian' or 'Philip teaches an Ethiopian'. However, if you read carefully and try to understand the context, it soon becomes clear that the man in the chariot wasn't an ethnic Ethiopian at all - he was a Jew who was fulfilling his religious obligation to worship in Jerusalem (though, as a eunuch, he would have been regarded as ritually ‘unclean’ and would not have been allowed into the Temple itself) (see Deuteronomy 23:1).

Like Jacob's son Joseph - who was sold into slavery in Egypt, but eventually became the Chancellor of Egypt and second only to the Pharaoh - this man was part of the 'worldwide' Jewish diaspora of wealthy and influential Jews who served as a top-ranking official in the Ethiopian court of Queen Candace (whose kingdom stretched north along the River Nile into what is now northern Sudan).

It would have been pretty obvious to Philip that this man was a wealthy Jew living abroad. Firstly, only the most wealthy aristocrat or government official could have afforded a two-seater horse-drawn chariot with his own charioteer to act as a chauffeur.

And secondly, only a very wealthy Jew would have sat reading aloud in Hebrew from his own expensive scroll containing a hand-written copy of the Jewish Scriptures.

So what an opportunity to help such an influential person living abroad understand how the prophet Isaiah spoke about Jesus as the 'suffering servant' of God in Chapter 53; how he was 'led like a lamb to the slaughter' when he died on the cross (Isaiah 53:7), and how 'the LORD put on him the punishment for all the evil we have done.' (Isaiah 53:6)

The Bible - especially the ancient Jewish Old Testament - is a difficult collection of books to understand, and, like the Jewish official serving in Ethiopia, we can quickly gain a false understanding of its meaning unless we ask someone with more theological training (either personally, or via a book or website) to explain it more clearly to us.

Indeed, many readers (and Bible translators) go on to assume that the Jewish official was then baptised by full immersion when he accepted Jesus as his personal Saviour. But they forget that this event took place on the desert road leading from Jerusalem down to the coastal town of Gaza.

They imagine Philip baptising the Ethiopian official as they passed a flowing river or lake, completely forgetting that there are NO rivers or lakes on the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza. All water in this dry limestone area has to be extracted from deep wells, and it's highly unlikely that there was anything other than, perhaps, a small stone trough for donkeys and horses to drink from beside the well. Even this would quickly dry up in the hot sun of the arid desert. But most Bible scholars and translators are blissfully unaware of this simple geographical fact, and have Philip and the official entering the water as if it was a deep river!

Finally, we're told that, after this brief encounter, the Holy Spirit took Philip further north to Azotus (Ashdod), then through all the coastal towns before reaching Caesarea on the coast of Samaria.

Caesarea was an important Roman port, and the headquarters of the Roman administration in Judaea and Samaria. Herod the Great had built a new harbour here (and a palace for himself) and had named the city after the Roman emperor Augustus Caesar.

Philip (a Greek-speaking Jew) settled in Caesarea (where there were very few Hebraic Jews to persecute his family) and was visited here over twenty years later by Paul in 57AD (see Acts 21:8). At the outbreak of the Romano-Jewish War in 66AD, Philip and his four daughters escaped to Hierapolis (near Laodicea and Colossi in the Roman province of Asia - in modern-day Turkey), where a church celebrating his martyrdom can still be seen today.

The photo shows remains of the Roman harbour at Caesarea (see Acts 8:40).

You can find out more about Philip @ https://www.thebiblejourney.org/…/7-journ…/philips-journeys/


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