Acts 8 – The Gospel to the Half-Jews
1. In some Greek versions, this verse is included at the end of chapter 7.
Due to the wave of persecutions that began after the martyrdom of Stephen, Christians began dispersing throughout the Mediterranean world . This scattering was important for Christianity because it forced Christianity to be spread beyond Jerusalem. This is often the pattern in Christianity. Tertullian said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
4ff. Remember in Chapter 1, Jesus tells the apostles that they will preach the Gospel in Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. This begins the expansion to Samaria (or the half-Jews). The progression of the Gospel was to the Jews, the half-Jews, and then the Gentiles.
The expansion to Samaria was important for several reasons. Mostly for racial reasons, the first Christians were Jews, and many thought it would never move beyond the Jews, and this was a controversy the Church dealt with throughout the first century. The Samaritans were half-Jews/half-Gentiles, and the embrace of the Gospel was the logical progression toward taking the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Samaria was the portion of Palestine between Judea and Galilee and the people groups were Jews who had intermarried with Gentiles during one of their exiles. They held to a similar religion with the Jews but with slight difference. Jews avoided them because they were considered heretics and worse because of their intermarriage with the Gentiles. See Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan women at the well in John 4. It may have been the Samaritan woman’s life and story which planted the seed for the fullness of the Gospel being brought by Philip.
Also, this Philip was not Philip the apostle, but Philip the deacon that we met in Acts 6.
Philip travels to Samaria and the gospel is heard and confirmed by the miracles that he performed. Yet among the hearers is a man named Simon who was a magician who accepted the gospel because of the attraction to miraculous power.
14ff. The apostles hear what is taking place and they travel to Samaria to confirm the work of the Holy Spirit. This paradigm is common among early missionary activities of the church. Men or women other than the bishops of the church enter non-Christian lands and begin spreading the gospel. The people accept the Gospel of Christ. Then the apostles/bishops are brought in to confirm the work and set things in order.
After Simon sees Peter anoint the people with Holy Spirit, he offers money to receive such a power, and Peter then rebukes him sharply. And it appears from what we know historically that Simon fulfills Peter’s prophesy in vs. 23.
24. Simon is often portrayed as the founder of Gnostic heresies among early Christian writers. Usually he is referred to as Simon Magus.
Simony is the ecclesiastical crime of paying for holy offices or positions in the hierarchy of a church, named after Simon Magus, who appears in the Acts of the Apostles 8:18-24. Simon Magus offers the disciples of Jesus, Peter and John, payment so that anyone he would place his hands on would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the origin of the term simony, but it also extends to other forms of trafficking for money in spiritual things .
26. The second half of the chapter is the Gospel being brought by Philip to Ethiopia via the Ethiopian eunuch. Why would this be included in the Samaritan section? Ethiopians considered themselves Jews and even maintained a form of Judaism. The Eunuch was probably in Jerusalem on festal pilgrimage because he considered himself Jewish. Ethiopia claims that from the time of Solomon they have embraced Judaism. The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon and they bore a son. According to Ethiopian tradition, Sheba sent this son to live with Solomon for a time and Solomon called him David because he looked so much like his father. This Solomonic dynasty continued in Ethiopia until Haile Selassiein the 1970s. Supposedly when this son of Sheba returned to Ethiopia, he brought the ark back with him, and Ethiopians claim it remains there to this day.
The Ethiopians can produce the whole line of this dynasty beginning from the Queen of Sheba until this last king in the 20th Century. The symbol they use for this dynasty is the Lion of Judah.
In this dynasty you can find a Queen Hendeke which is similar to the literal Greek, Kandake which we transliterate into English as Candace. According to the Ethiopian dynasty she reigned for eight years including 34 AD.
Philip finds the Ethiopian eunuch reading from Isaiah (53:7 & 8) but the eunuch is unable to understand what he is reading. This is a clear illustration of the need for proper interpretation when reading Scripture. The eunuch had the inspired text but needed an inspired interpreter to understand. When he understood he asked for baptism by the hand of Philip.
* Life of the Holy Apostle Philip of the Seventy, one of the 7 Deacons is not to be confused with St Philip one of the Twelve Apostles (November 14). This Philip was born in Palestine, was married and had four daughters who had the gift of prophecy. (Acts 21:8,9)
The holy Apostle Philip tirelessly preached the Word of God in many of the lands of the Near East adjoining Palestine. At Jerusalem the Apostles made him a bishop and sent him to Tralles in Asia Minor, where he also baptized many. St Philip died in old age. He is also commemorated on October 11.
*thanks to Meskerem Eshetu for the Ethiopian history.