Acts 8


A general persecution is raised against the Church, 1.

Stephen's burial, 2.

Saul greatly oppresses the followers of Christ, 3, 4.

Philip the deacon goes to Samaria, preaches, works many

miracles, converts many persons, and baptizes Simon the

sorcerer, 5-13.

Peter and John are sent by the apostles to Samaria; they

confirm the disciples, and by prayer and imposition of hands

they confer the Holy Spirit, 14-17.

Simon the sorcerer, seeing this, offers them money, to enable

him to confer the Holy Spirit, 18, 19.

He is sharply reproved by Peter, and exhorted to repent, 20-23.

He appears to be convinced of his sin, and implores an interest

in the apostle's prayers, 24.

Peter and John, having preached the Gospel in the villages of

Samaria, return to Jerusalem, 25.

An angel of the Lord commands Philip to go towards Gaza, to meet

an Ethiopian eunuch, 26.

He goes, meets, and converses with the eunuch, preaches the

Gospel to him, and baptizes him, 27-38.

The Spirit of God carries Philip to Azotus, passing through

which, he preaches in all the cities till he comes to Caesarea,

39, 40.


Verse 1. Saul was consenting unto his death.] So inveterate was

the hatred that this man bore to Christ and his followers that he

delighted in their destruction. So blind was his heart with

superstitious zeal that he thought he did God service by offering

him the blood of a fellow creature, whose creed he supposed to be

erroneous. The word συνευδοκων signifies gladly consenting, being

pleased with his murderous work! How dangerous is a party

spirit; and how destructive may zeal even for the true worship of

God prove, if not inspired and regulated by the spirit of Christ!

It has already been remarked that this clause belongs to the

conclusion of the preceding chapter; so it stands in the Vulgate,

and so it should stand in every version.

There was a great persecution] The Jews could not bear the

doctrine of Christ's resurrection; for this point being proved

demonstrated his innocence and their enormous guilt in his

crucifixion; as therefore the apostles continued to insist

strongly on the resurrection of Christ, the persecution against

them became hot and general.

They were all scattered abroad-except the apostles.] Their Lord

had commanded them, when persecuted in one city, to flee to

another: this they did, but, wherever they went, they proclaimed

the same doctrines, though at the risk and hazard of their lives.

It is evident, therefore, that they did not flee from persecution,

or the death it threatened; but merely in obedience to their

Lord's command. Had they fled through the fear of death, they

would have taken care not to provoke persecution to follow them,

by continuing to proclaim the same truths that provoked it in the

first instance.

That the apostles were not also exiled is a very remarkable

fact: they continued in Jerusalem, to found and organize the

infant Church; and it is marvellous that the hand of persecution

was not permitted to touch them. Why this should be we cannot

tell; but so it pleased the great Head of the Church. Bp. Pearce

justly suspects those accounts, in Eusebius and others, that state

that the apostles went very shortly after Christ's ascension into

different countries, preaching and founding Churches. He thinks

this is inconsistent with the various intimations we have of the

continuance of the apostles in Jerusalem; and refers particularly

to the following texts: Ac 8:1, 14, 25; Ac 9:26, 27; 11:1, 2;

Ac 12:1-4; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; Ac 21:17, 18;

Ga 1:17-19; 2:1, 9. The Church at Jerusalem was the

first CHRISTIAN Church; and consequently, the boast of the

Church of Rome is vain and unfounded. From this time a new aera of

the Church arose. Hitherto the apostles and disciples confined

their labours among their countrymen in Jerusalem. Now persecution

drove the latter into different parts of Judea, and through

Samaria; and those who had received the doctrine of Christ at the

pentecost, who had come up to Jerusalem from different countries

to be present at the feast, would naturally return, especially at

the commencement of the persecution, to their respective

countries, and proclaim to their countrymen the Gospel of the

grace of God. To effect this grand purpose, the Spirit was poured

out at the day of pentecost; that the multitudes from different

quarters, partaking of the word of life, might carry it back to

the different nations among whom they had their residence. One of

the fathers has well observed, that "these holy fugitives were

like so many lamps, lighted by the fire of the Holy Spirit,

spreading every where the sacred flame by which they themselves

had been illuminated."

Verse 2. Devout men carried Stephen to his burial] The Greek

word, συνεκομισαν, signifies not only to carry, or rather to

gather up, but also to do every thing necessary for the

interment of the dead. Among the Jews, and indeed among most

nations of the earth, it was esteemed a work of piety, charity,

and mercy, to bury the dead. The Jews did not bury those who were

condemned by the Sanhedrin in the burying place of the fathers, as

they would not bury the guilty with the innocent; and they had a

separate place for those who were stoned, and for those that were

burnt. According to the Tract Sanh. fol. 45, 46, the stone

wherewith any one was stoned, the post on which he was hanged, the

sword by which he was beheaded, and the cord by which he was

strangled, were buried in the same place with the bodies of the

executed persons. As these persons died under the curse of the

law, the instruments by which they were put to death were

considered as unclean and accursed, and therefore buried with

their bodies. Among the ancients, whatever was grateful or useful

to a person in life was ordinarily buried with him; thus the

sword, spear, shield, &c., of the soldier were put in the same

grave; the faithful dog of the hunter, &c., &c. And on this

principle the wife of a Brahman burns with the body of her

deceased husband.

Made great lamentation over him.] This was never done over any

condemned by the Sanhedrin-they only bemoaned such privately; this

great lamentation over Stephen, if the same custom then prevailed

as afterwards, is a proof that Stephen was not condemned by the

Sanhedrin; he probably fell a sacrifice to the fury of the bigoted

incensed mob, the Sanhedrin not interfering to prevent the illegal


Verse 3. Saul made havoc of the Church] The word ελυμαινετο,

from λυμαινω, to destroy, devastate, ravage, signifies the act of

ferocious animals, such as bears, wolves, and the like, in

seeking and devouring their prey. This shows with what persevering

rancour this man pursued the harmless Christians; and thus we see

in him what bigotry and false zeal are capable of performing.

Entering into every house] For, however it might be to others, a

Christian man's house was not his castle.

Haling men and women] Neither sparing age nor sex in the

professors of Christianity. The word συρων signifies dragging them

before the magistrates, or dragging them to justice.

Committed them to prison.] For, as the Romans alone had the

power of life and death, the Sanhedrin, by whom Saul was employed,

Ac 26:10, could do no more than arrest and imprison, in order to

inflict any punishment short of death. It is true, St. Paul

himself says that some of them were put to death, see Ac 26:10;

but this was either done by Roman authority, or by what was called

the judgment of zeal, i.e. when the mob took the execution of the

laws into their own hands, and massacred those whom they pretended

to be blasphemers of God: for these sanctified their murderous

outrage under the specious name of zeal for God's glory, and

quoted the ensample of Phineas as a precedent. Such persons as

these formed a sect among the Jews; and are known in

ecclesiastical history by the appellation of Zealots or Sicarii.

Verse 4. They that were scattered-went every where preaching]

Thus the very means devised by Satan to destroy the Church became

the very instruments of its diffusion and establishment. What are

counsel, or might, or cunning, or rage, or malice, against the

Lord, whether they are excited by men or devils!

Verse 5. Then Philip] One of the seven deacons, Ac 6:5, called

afterwards, Philip the Evangelist, Ac 21:8.

The city of Samaria] At this time there was no city of Samaria

existing: according to Josephus, Ant. lib. xiii. cap. 10, sect. 3,

Hyrcanus had so utterly demolished it as to leave no vestige of it

remaining. Herod the Great did afterwards build a city on the same

spot of ground; but he called it σεβαστη i.e. Augusta, in

compliment to the Emperor Augustus, as Josephus tells us, Ant.

lib. xv. cap. 8, sect. 5; War, lib. i. cap. 2. sect. 7; and by

this name of Sebast�, or Augusta, that city, if meant here, would

in all probability have been called, in the same manner as the

town called Strato's Tower, (which Herod built on the sea coasts,

and to which he gave the name of Caesarea, in compliment to

Augustus Caesar,) is always called Caesarea, wherever it is

mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. Bp. Pearce.

As Sychem was the very heart and seat of the Samaritan religion,

and Mount Gerizim the cathedral church of that sect, it is more

likely that it should be intended than any other. See Lightfoot.

As the Samaritans received the same law with the Jews, as they

also expected the Messiah, as Christ had preached to and converted

many of that people, Joh 4:39-42, it was very reasonable that the

earliest offers of salvation should be made to them, before any

attempt was made to evangelize the Gentiles. The Samaritans,

indeed, formed the connecting link between the Jews and the

Gentiles; for they were a mongrel people, made up of both sorts,

and holding both Jewish and Pagan rites. See the account of them

on Mt 10:5.

Verse 6. The people with one accord gave heed] He had fixed

their attention, not only with the gravity and importance of the

matter of his preaching, but also by the miracles which he did.

Verse 7. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out

of many that were possessed] Hence it is evident that these

unclean spirits were not a species of diseases; as they are here

distinguished from the paralytic and the lame. There is nothing

more certain than that the New Testament writers mean real

diabolic possessions by the terms unclean spirits, devils, &c.,

which they use. It is absolute trifling to deny it. If we, in our

superior sagacity can show that they were mistaken, that is quite

a different matter!

Verse 8. There was great joy in that city.] No wonder, when they

heard such glorious truths, and were the subjects of such

beneficent miracles.

Verse 9. A certain man called Simon] In ancient ecclesiastical

writers, we have the strangest account of this man; they say that

he pretended to be the Father, who gave the law to Moses; that he

came in the reign of Tiberius in the person of the Son; that he

descended on the apostles on the day of pentecost, in flames of

fire, in quality of the Holy Spirit; that he was the Messiah, the

Paraclete, and Jupiter; that the woman who accompanied him,

called Helena, was Minerva, or the first intelligence; with many

other extravagancies which probably never had an existence. All

that we know to be certain on this subject is, that he used

sorcery, that he bewitched the people, and that he gave out

himself to be some great one.

This might be sufficient, were not men prone to be wise above

what is written.

Our word sorcerer, from the French sorcier, which, from the

Latin sors, a lot, signifies the using of lots to draw presages

concerning the future; a custom that prevailed in all countries,

and was practised with a great variety of forms. On the word lot

see Clarke's note, "Le 16:8; "Le 16:9";

and Jos 14:2.

The Greek word, μαγευων, signifies practising the rites or

science of the Magi, or [Persic] Mughan, the worshippers of fire

among the Persians; the same as [Arabic] Majoos, and [Arabic]

Majooseean, from which we have our word magician.

See Clarke on Mt 2:1.

And bewitched the people of Samaria] εξιστων, Astonishing,

amazing, or confounding the judgment of the people, from εξιστημι

to remove out of a place or state, to be transported beyond one's

self, to be out of one's wits; a word that expresses precisely the

same effect which the tricks or legerdemain of a juggler produce

in the minds of the common people who behold his feats. It is very

likely that Simon was a man of this cast, for the east has always

abounded in persons of this sort. The Persian, Arabian, Hindoo,

and Chinese jugglers are notorious to the present day; and even

while I write this, (July, 1813,) three Indian jugglers, lately

arrived, are astonishing the people of London; and if such persons

can now interest and amaze the people of a city so cultivated and

enlightened, what might not such do among the grosser people of

Sychem or Sebaste, eighteen hundred years ago?

That himself was some great one.] That the feats which he

performed sufficiently proved that he possessed a most powerful

supernatural agency, and could do whatsoever he pleased.

Verse 10. This man is the great power of God.] That is, he is

invested with it, and can command and use it. They certainly did

not believe him to be God; but they thought him to be endued with

a great supernatural power.

There is a remarkable reading here in several MSS. which should

not pass unnoticed. In ABCDE, several others, together with the

AEthiopic, Armenian, later Syriac, Vulgate, Itala, Origen, and

Irenaeus, the word καλουμενη is added before μεγαλη, and the

passage reads thus, This person is that power of God which is

CALLED the GREAT. This appears to be the true reading; but what

the Samaritans meant by that power of God which they termed the

Great, we know not. Simon endeavoured to persuade the people that

he was a very great personage, and he succeeded.

Verse 12. But when they believed Philip] So it is evident that

Philip's word came with greater power then that of Simon; and that

his miracles stood the test in such a way as the feats of Simon

could not.

Verse 13. Simon himself believed also] He was struck with the

doctrine and miracles of Philip-he saw that these were real; he

knew his own to be fictitious. He believed therefore that Jesus

was the Messiah, and was in consequence baptized.

Continued with Philip, and wondered] εξιστατο, He was as much

astonished and confounded at the miracles of Philip as the

people of Samaria were at his legerdemain. It is worthy of remark

that εξιστατο comes from the same root, εξιστημι, as the word

εξιστων, in Ac 8:9, and, if our translation

bewitched be proper there, it should be retained here; and then

we should read, Then Simon himself believed and was baptized, and

continued with Philip, being BEWITCHED, beholding the miracles and

signs which were done. We may see, from this circumstance, how

improper the term bewitched is, in the 9th and 11th verses.

Ac 8:9,11

Verse 14. The word of God] The doctrine of the Lord Jesus


They sent unto them Peter and John] There was no individual

ruler among the apostles-there was not even a president of the

council; and Peter, far from being chief of the apostles, is one

of those sent, with the same commission and authority as John, to

confirm the Samaritans in the faith.

Verse 15. When they were come down] The very same mode of

speaking, in reference to Jerusalem formerly, obtains now in

reference to London. The metropolis in both cases is considered as

the centre; and all parts, in every direction, no matter how

distant, or how situated, are represented as below the metropolis.

Hence we so frequently hear of persons going up to Jerusalem: and

going down from the same. So in London the people speak of going

down to the country; and, in the country, of going up to London.

It is necessary to make this remark, lest any person should be led

away with the notion that Jerusalem was situated on the highest

ground in Palestine. It is a mode of speech which is used to

designate a royal or imperial city.

Prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost.] It

seems evident from this case, that even the most holy deacons,

though full of the Holy Ghost themselves, could not confer this

heavenly gift on others. This was the prerogative of the apostles,

and they were only instruments; but they were those alone by which

the Lord chose to work. They prayed and laid their hands on the

disciples, and God sent down the gift; so, the blessing came from

God by the apostles, and not from the apostles to the people. But

for what purpose was the Holy Spirit thus given? Certainly not for

the sanctification of the souls of the people: this they had on

believing in Christ Jesus; and this the apostles never dispensed.

It was the miraculous gifts of the Spirit which were thus

communicated: the speaking with different tongues, and those

extraordinary qualifications which were necessary for the

successful preaching of the Gospel; and doubtless many, if not

all, of those on whom the apostles laid their hands, were employed

more or less in the public work of the Church.

Verse 17. Then laid they their hands on them] Probably only on

some select persons, who were thought proper for public use in the

Church. They did not lay hands on all; for certainly no hands in

this way were laid on Simon.

Verse 18. When Simon saw, &c.] By hearing these speak with

different tongues and work miracles.

He offered them money] Supposing that the dispensing this Spirit

belonged to them-that they could give it to whomsoever they

pleased; and imagining that, as he saw them to be poor men, they

would not object to take money for their gift; and it is probable

that he had gained considerably by his juggling, and therefore

could afford to spare some, as he hoped to make it all up by the

profit which he expected to derive from this new influence.

Verse 20. Thy money perish with thee] This is an awful

declaration; and imports thus much, that if he did not repent, he

and his ill-gotten goods would perish together; his money should

be dissipated, and his soul go into perdition.

That the gift of God may be purchased] Peter takes care to

inform not only Simon, but all to whom these presents may come,

that the Spirit of God is the gift of God alone, and consequently

cannot be purchased with money; for what reward can HE receive

from his creatures, to whom the silver and the gold belong, the

cattle on a thousand hills, the earth and its fulness!

Verse 21. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter] Thou

hast no part among the faithful, and no lot in this ministry. That

the word κληρος, which we translate lot, is to be understood as

implying a spiritual portion, office, &c., see proved in the note

on Nu 26:55.

Thy heart is not right] It is not through motives of purity,

benevolence, or love to the souls of men, that thou desirest to be

enabled to confer the Holy Ghost; it is through pride, vain glory,

and love of money: thou wouldest now give a little money that thou

mightest, by thy new gift, gain much.

Verse 22. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness] St. Peter did

not suppose his case to be utterly hopeless; though his sin,

considered in its motives and objects, was of the most heinous


If perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.] His

sin, as yet, only existed in thought and purpose; and therefore it

is said, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven.

Verse 23. The gall of bitterness] A Hebraism for excessive

bitterness: gall, wormwood, and such like, were used to express

the dreadful effects of sin in the soul; the bitter repentance,

bitter regret, bitter sufferings, bitter death, &c., &c., which

it produces. In De 29:18, idolatry and its consequences are

expressed, by having among them a root that beareth GALL and

WORMWOOD. And in Heb 12:15, some grievous sin is intended, when

the apostle warns them, lest any root of BITTERNESS springing up,

trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.

Bond of iniquity.] An allusion to the mode in which the Romans

secured their prisoners, chaining the right hand of the prisoner

to the left hand of the soldier who guarded him; as if the apostle

had said, Thou art tied and bound by the chain of thy sin; justice

hath laid hold upon thee, and thou hast only a short respite

before thy execution, to see if thou wilt repent.

Verse 24. Pray ye to the Lord for me] The words of Peter

certainly made a deep impression on Simon's mind; and he must have

had a high opinion of the apostle's sanctity and influence with

God, when he thus commended himself to their prayers. And we may

hope well of his repentance and salvation, if the reading of the

Codex Bezae, and the margin of the later Syriac may be relied

on: Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none (τουτωντωνκακων) OF

ALL THOSE EVILS which ye have spoken (μοι) TO ME, may come upon

me: (οςπολλακλαιωνουδιελιμπανεν) WHO WEPT GREATLY, and DID

NOT CEASE. That is, he was an incessant penitent. However

favourably this or any other MS. may speak of Simon, he is

generally supposed to have "grown worse and worse, opposing the

apostles and the Christian doctrine, and deceiving many cities and

provinces by magical operations; till being at Rome, in the reign

of the Emperor Claudius, he boasted that he could fly, and when

exhibiting before the emperor and the senate, St. Peter and St.

Paul being present, who knew that his flying was occasioned by

magic, prayed to God that the people might be undeceived, and

that his power might fail; in consequence of which he came

tumbling down, and died soon after of his bruises." This account

comes in a most questionable shape, and has no evidence which can

challenge our assent. To me, it and the rest of the things spoken

of Simon the sorcerer appear utterly unworthy of credit. Calmet

makes a general collection of what is to be found in Justin

Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian; Eusebius, Theodoret, Augustine, and

others, on the subject of Simon Magus; and to him, if the reader

think it worth the pains, he may refer. The substance of these

accounts is given above, and in Clarke's note on "Ac 8:9"; and to say

the least of them they are all very dubious. The tale of his

having an altar erected to him at Rome, with the inscription,

Simoni sancto deo, "To the holy god Simon," has been founded on

an utter mistake, and has been long ago sufficiently confuted. See

the inscriptions in Gruter, vol. i. p. 96, inscript. No. 5, 6, 7.

Verse 25. And they, when they had-preached-returned to

Jerusalem] That is, Peter and John returned, after they had

borne testimony to and confirmed the work which Philip had


Verse 26. Arise, and go toward the south] How circumstantially

particular are these directions! Every thing is so precisely

marked that there is no danger of the apostle missing his way. He

is to perform some great duty; but what, he is not informed. The

road which he is to take is marked out; but what he is to do in

that road, or how far he is to proceed, he is not told! It is GOD

who employs him, and requires of him implicit obedience. If he do

his will, according to the present direction, he shall know, by

the issue, that God hath sent him on an errand worthy of his

wisdom and goodness. We have a similar instance of circumstantial

direction from God in Ac 9:11:

Arise, go into the street called Straight, and inquire in the

house of Judas for one Saul of Tarsus, &c. And another instance,

still more particular, in Ac 10:5, 6:

Send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is

Peter; he lodgeth with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the

sea side. God never sends any man on a message, without giving him

such directions as shall prevent all mistakes and miscarriages, if

simply and implicitly followed. This is also strictly true of the

doctrines contained in his word: no soul ever missed salvation

that simply followed the directions given in the word of God.

Those who will refine upon every thing, question the Divine

testimony, and dispute with their Maker, cannot be saved. And how

many of this stamp are found, even among Christians, professing

strict godliness!

Gaza, which is desert.] αυτηεστινερημος, This it the desert,

or this is in the desert. Gaza was a town about two miles and a

half from the sea-side; it was the last town which a traveller

passed through, when he went from Phoenicia to Egypt, and was at

the entrance into a wilderness, according to the account given by

Arrian in Exped. Alex. lib. ii. cap. 26, p. 102. [Ed. Gronov.]

That it was the last inhabited town, as a man goes from

Phoenicia to Egypt, επιτηαρχητηςερημου, on the commencement of

the desert. See Bp. Pearce.

Dr. Lightfoot supposes that the word desert is added here,

because at that time the ancient Gaza was actually desert, having

been destroyed by Alexander, and μενουσαερημος, remaining desert,

as Strabo, lib. xvi. p. 1102, says; and that the angel mentioned

this desert Gaza to distinguish it from another city of the same

name, in the tribe of Ephraim, not far from the place where Philip

now was. On this we may observe that, although Gaza was desolated

by Alexander the Great, as were several other cities, yet it was

afterwards rebuilt by Gabinius. See Josephus, Ant. lib. xv. cap.

5, sect. 3. And writers of the first century represent it as being

flourishing and populous in their times. See Wetstein.

Schoettgen thinks that ερημος, desert, should be referred, not

to Gaza, but to οδος, the way; and that it signifies a road that

was less frequented. If there were two roads to Gaza from

Jerusalem, as some have imagined, (see Rosenmuller,) the eunuch

might have chosen that which was desert, or less frequented, for

the sake of privacy in his journeying religious exercises.

Verse 27. A man of Ethiopia] ανηραιθιοψ should be translated an

Ethiopian, for the reasons given on Ac 7:2.

An eunuch] See this word interpreted, on Mt 19:12. The term

eunuch was given to persons in authority at court, to whom its

literal meaning did not apply. Potiphar was probably an eunuch

only as to his office; for he was a married man. See

Ge 37:36; 39:1. And it is likely that this Ethiopian was of the

same sort.

Of great authority] δυναστης, A perfect lord chamberlain of

the royal household; or, rather, her treasurer, for it is here

said, he had charge of all her treasure, ηνεπιπασηςτηςγαζης

αυτης. The apparent Greek word γαζα, Gaza, is generally allowed

to be Persian, from the authority of Servius, who, in his comment

on AEn. lib. i. ver. 118:-

Apparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto,

Arma virum, tabulaeque, et Troia GAZA per undas.

"And here and there above the waves are seen

Arms, pictures, precious goods, and floating men."


The words of Servius are: "Gaza Persicus sermo est, et

significat divitias; unde Gaza urbs in Palaestina dicitur, quod in

ea Cambyses rex Persarum cum AEgyptiis bellum inferret divitias

suas condidit." GAZA is a Persian word, and signifies RICHES:

hence Gaza, a city in Palestine, was so called because Cambyses,

king of Persia, laid up his treasures in it, when he waged war

with the Egyptians. The nearest Persian word of this signification

which I find is [Persian] gunj, or ganz, and [Persian] gunja,

which signify a magazine, store, hoard, or hidden treasure. The

Arabic [Arabic] kluzaneh, comes as near as the Persian, with the

same meaning. Hence [Arabic] makhzen, called magazen by the

Spaniards, and magazine by the English; a word which signifies a

collection of stores or treasures, or the place where they

are laid up. It is scarcely necessary to remark that this name is

given also to certain monthly publications, which are, or profess

to be, a store of treasures, or repository of precious, or

valuable things.

But who was Candace? It is granted that she is not found in the

common lists of Ethiopic sovereigns with which we have been

favoured. But neither the Abyssinians nor the Jews admitted women

in their genealogies. I shall not enter into this controversy, but

shall content myself with quoting the words of Mr. Bruce. "It is

known," says he, "from credible writers engaged in no controversy,

that this Candace reigned upon the Nile in Atbara, near Egypt. Her

capital also, was taken in the time of Augustus, a few years

before the conversion of the slave by Philip; and we shall have

occasion often to mention her successors and her kingdom, as

existing in the reign of the Abyssinian kings, long after the

Mohammedan conquest: they existed when I passed through Atbara,

and do undoubtedly exist there to this day."-Bruce's Travels, vol.

ii. p. 431.

It does not appear, as some have imagined, that the Abyssinians

were converted to the Christian faith by this eunuch, nor by any

of the apostles; as there is strong historic evidence that they

continued Jews and Pagans for more than three hundred years after

the Christian aera. Their conversion is with great probability

attributed to Frumentius, sent to Abyssinia for that purpose by

Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, about A.D. 330. See Bruce as


The Ethiopians mentioned here are those who inhabited the isle

or peninsula of Meroe, above and southward of Egypt. It is the

district which Mr. Bruce calls Atbara, and which he proves

formerly bore the name of Meroe. This place, according to Diodorus

Siculus, had its name from Meroe, daughter of Cambyses, king of

Persia, who died there in the expedition which her father

undertook against the Ethiopians. Strabo mentions a queen in this

very district named Candace: his words are remarkable. Speaking of

an insurrection of the Ethiopians against the Romans he says:



"Among these were the officers of Queen CANDACE, who in our days

reigned over the Ethiopians. She was a masculine woman, and blind

of one eye." Though this could not have been the Candace mentioned

in the text, it being a little before the Christian aera, yet it

establishes the fact that a queen of this name did reign in this

place; and we learn from others that it was a common name to the

queens of Ethiopia. Pliny, giving an account of the report made by

Nero's messengers, who were sent to examine this country, says,

AEdificia oppidi (Meroes) pauca: regnare faeminam CANDACEN; quod

nomen multis jam annis ad reginas transiit. Hist. Nat. lib. vi.

cap. 29, ad fin. They reported that "the edifices of the city were

few: that a woman reigned there of the name of Candace; which name

had passed to their queens, successively, for many years." To one

of those queens the eunuch in the text belonged; and the above is

sufficient authority to prove that queens of this name reigned

over this part of Ethiopia.

Had come to Jerusalem for to worship] Which is a proof that he

was a worshipper of the God of Israel; but how came he acquainted

with the Jewish religion? Let us, for a little, examine this

question. In 1Ki 10:1, &c., we have the account of the visit paid

to Solomon by the queen of Sheba, the person to whom our Lord

refers, Mt 12:42, and Lu 11:31. It has been long credited by the

Abyssinians that this queen, who by some is called Balkis, by

others Maqueda, was not only instructed by Solomon in the Jewish

religion, but also established it in her own empire on her return;

that she had a son by Solomon named Menilek, who succeeded her in

the kingdom; and, from that time till the present, they have

preserved the Jewish religion. Mr. Bruce throws some light upon

this subject: the substance of what he says is the following:

"There can be no doubt of the expedition of the queen of Sheba; as

Pagan, Moor, Arab, Abyssinian, and all the countries round, vouch

for it, nearly in the terms of Scripture. Our Saviour calls her

queen of the south; and she is called, in 1Ki 10:1, &c.,

2Ch 9:1, &c., queen of

Sheba or Saba; for Saba, Azab, and Azaba, all signify the

south: and she is said to have come from the uttermost parts of

the earth. In our Saviour's time the boundaries of the known land,

southward, were Raptam or Prassum; which were the uttermost parts

of the known earth, and were with great propriety so styled by our

Lord. The gold, myrrh, cassia, and frankincense, which she brought

with her, are all products of that country. The annals of the

Abyssinians state that she was a pagan when she left Saba or Azab,

to visit Solomon; and that she was there converted and had a son

by Solomon, who succeeded her in the kingdom, as stated above. All

the inhabitants of this country, whether Jews or Christians,

believe this; and, farther, that the 45th Psalm Ps 45:1, &c.

was a prophecy of her journey to Jerusalem; that she was

accompanied by a daughter of Hiram from Tyre; and that the latter

part of the Psalm is a prophecy of her having a son by Solomon,

and of his ruling over the Gentiles." Travels, vol. ii. page 395,

&c. All this being granted, and especially the Scripture fact of

the queen of Sheba's visit, and the great probability, supported

by uninterrupted tradition, that she established the Jewish

religion in her dominions on her return, we may at once see that

the eunuch in question was a descendant of those Jews; or that he

was a proselyte in his own country to the Jewish faith, and was

now come up at the great feast to worship God at Jerusalem. Mr.

Bruce may be right; but some think that Saba, in Arabia Felix, is

meant: See Clarke on Mt 12:42.

Verse 28. Sitting in his chariot, read Esaias the prophet.] He

had gone to Jerusalem to worship: he had profited by his religious

exercises: and even in travelling, he is improving his time. God

sees his simplicity and earnestness, and provides him an

instructer, who should lead him into the great truths of the

Gospel, which, without such a one, he could not have understood.

Many, after having done their duty, as they call it, in attending

a place of worship, forget the errand that brought them thither,

and spend their time, on their return, rather in idle conversation

than in reading or conversing about the word of God. It is no

wonder that such should be always learning, and never able to come

to the knowledge of the truth.

Verse 29. Then the Spirit said unto Philip] This holy man having

obeyed the first direction he received from God, and gone

southward without knowing the reason why, it was requisite that he

should now be informed of the object of his mission: the Spirit

said unto him, go near, and join thyself, &c. The angel who had

given him the first direction had departed; and the influence of

the Holy Spirit now completed the information. It is likely that

what the Spirit did in this case was by a strong impression on his

mind, which left him no doubt of its being from God.

Verse 30. Heard him read the Prophet Esaias] The eunuch, it

seems, was reading aloud, and apparently in Greek, for that was

the common language in Egypt; and, indeed, almost in every place

it was understood. And it appears that it was the Greek version of

the Septuagint that he was reading, as the quotation below is from

that version.

Verse 31. How can I, except some man should guide me?] This is

no proof that "the Scriptures cannot be understood without an

authorized interpreter," as some of the papistical writers assert.

How could the eunuch know any thing of the Gospel dispensation, to

which this scripture referred? That dispensation had not yet been

proclaimed to him; he knew nothing about Jesus. But where that

dispensation has been published, where the four Gospels and the

apostolic epistles are at hand, every thing relative to the

salvation of the soul may be clearly apprehended by any simple,

upright person. There are difficulties, it is true, in different

parts of the sacred writings, which neither the pope nor his

conclave can solve; and several which even the more enlightened

Protestant cannot remove; but these difficulties do not refer to

matters in which the salvation of the soul is immediately

concerned: they refer to such as are common to every ancient

author in the universe. These difficulties, being understood, add

to the beauty, elegance, and justness of the language, thoughts,

and turns of expression; and these, only the few who are capable

of understanding are able to relish. As to all the rest, all that

relates to faith and practice, all in which the present and

eternal interest of the soul is concerned, "the wayfaring man,

though a fool, (quite illiterate,) shall not err therein."

That he would come up, and sit with him.] So earnestly desirous

was he to receive instruction relative to those things which

concerned the welfare of his soul.

Verse 32. The place of the scripture] περιοχητηςγραφης, The

section, or paragraph.

Verse 33. In his humiliation, his judgment was taken away] He

who was the fountain of judgment and justice had no justice shown

him (mercy he needed not) in his humiliation; viz. that time in

which he emptied himself, and appeared in the form of a servant.

Who shall declare his generation] τηνγενεαναυτου: Answering to

the Hebrew doro, which Bp. Lowth understands as implying his

manner of life. It was the custom among the Jews, when they were

taking away any criminal from judgment to execution, to call out

and inquire whether there was any person who could appear in

behalf of the character of the criminal-whether there was any who,

from intimate acquaintance with his manner of life, could say any

thing in his favour? This circumstance I have noticed before, and

it has been particularly remarked in the case of Stephen: see at

Ac 7:60. In our Lord's case, this benevolent inquiry does not

appear to have been made; and perhaps to this breach of justice,

as well as of custom, the prophet refers; and this shows how

minutely the conduct of those bad men was known seven hundred

years before it took place. God can foreknow what he pleases, and

can do what he pleases; and all the operations of his infinite

mind are just and right. Some think that, who shall declare his

generation? refers to his eternal Sonship; others, to his

miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit, in the womb of the

virgin; others, to the multitudinous progeny of spiritual

children which should be born unto God, in consequence of his

passion and meritorious death. Perhaps the first, which refers to

the usual custom in behalf of the criminal, is the best and most

natural sense.

Verse 34. Of whom speaketh the prophet this] This was a very

natural inquiry: for in the text itself, and in its circumstances,

there was nothing that could determine the meaning, so as to

ascertain whether the prophet meant himself or some other person;

and the very inquiry shows that the eunuch had thought deeply on

the subject.

Verse 35. Began at the same scripture] He did not confine

himself to this one scripture, but made this his text, and showed,

from the general tenor of the sacred writings, that Jesus was the

Christ, or Messiah; and that in his person, birth, life,

doctrine, miracles, passion, death, and resurrection, the

Scriptures of the Old Testament were fulfilled. This preaching had

the desired effect, for the eunuch was convinced of the truth of

Philip's doctrine, and desired to be baptized in the name of


Verse 36. See, here is water] He was not willing to omit the

first opportunity that presented itself of his taking upon himself

the profession of the Gospel. By this we may see that Philip had

explained the whole of the Christian faith to him, and the way by

which believers were brought into the Christian Church.

Verse 37. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.] He

believed that Jesus, whom Philip preached to him, was THE CHRIST

or Messiah, and consequently the Son of God.

This whole verse is omitted by ABCG, several others of the first

authority, Erpen's edit. of the Arabic, the Syriac, the Coptic,

Sahidic, AEthiopic, and some of the Slavonic: almost all the

critics declare against it as spurious. Griesbach has left it out

of the text; and Professor White in his Crisews says, "Hic versus

certissime delendus," this verse, most assuredly, should be

blotted out. It is found in E, several others of minor importance,

and in the Vulgate and Arabic. In those MSS. where it is extant it

exists in a variety of forms, though the sense is the same.

Verse 38. And they went down] They alighted from the chariot

into the water. While Philip was instructing him, and he professed

his faith in Christ, he probably plunged himself under the water,

as this was the plan which appears to have been generally followed

among the Jews in their baptisms; but the person who had received

has confession of faith was he to whom the baptism was attributed,

as it was administered by his authority.

Verse 39. The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip] Perhaps

this means no more than that the Holy Spirit suggested to the mind

of Philip that he should withdraw abruptly from the eunuch, and

thus leave him to pursue his journey, reflecting on the important

incidents which had taken place. Some suppose that the angel of

the Lord, and the Spirit of the Lord, are the same person

throughout this chapter. There is a remarkable reading in the

Codex Alexandrinus which exists thus in two lines:-


The Spirit of the Lord fell upon the eunuch:


But the angel of the Lord snatched away Philip.

This reading is found in several other MSS. and in some

versions. Many think that the Spirit or angel of God carried

off Philip in some such manner as the Apocrypha represents the

transportation of Habakkuk, who was taken up by the hair of the

head, and carried from Judea to Babylon! For such an interposition

there was no need. When Philip had baptized the eunuch, the Spirit

of God showed him that it was not the will of God that he should

accompany the eunuch to Meroe, but, on the contrary, that he

should hasten away to Ashdod; as God had in that, and the

neighbouring places, work sufficient to employ him in.

Verse 40. Philip was found at Azotus] Prom the time he left the

eunuch, he was not heard of till he got to Azotus, which,

according to Dr. Lightfoot, was about 34 miles from Gaza, and

probably it was near Gaze that Philip met the eunuch. The Azotus

of the New Testament is the Ashdod of the old. It was given by

Joshua to the tribe of Judah, Jos 15:47. It was one of the five

lordships which belonged to the Philistines, and is a seaport town

on the Mediterranean Sea, between Gaza on the south, and Joppa or

Jaffa on the north. Herodotus reports, lib. ii. cap. 157, that

Psammeticus, king of Egypt, besieged this city 29 years, which, if

true, is the longest siege which any city or fortress ever


Preached in all the cities, till he cams to Caesarea.] This was

Caesarea in Palestine, formerly called Strato's Tower, built by

Herod the Great in honour of Augustus. There was an excellent

harbour here made by Herod; and, after the destruction of

Jerusalem, it became the capital of the whole land of Judea. It

must be always distinguished from Caesarea Philippi, which was an

inland town not far from the springs of Jordan. Whenever the word

Caesarea occurs without Philippi, the former is intended. As

Philip preached in all the cities of Palestine till he came to

Caesarea, he must have preached in the different cities of the

Philistine country, Ashdod, Akkaron, and Jamnia, and also in the

principal parts of Samaria, as these lay in his way from Gaza to

Caesarea. As there was a readier disposition to receive the word

in those places, the Spirit of the Lord, under whose guidance he

acted, did not suffer him to accompany the eunuch to Abyssinia. It

appears, from Ac 21:8, that Philip settled at Caesarea, where he

had a house and family, four of his unmarried daughters being

prophetesses. It is likely that his itinerant mission ended here;

though he continued occasionally to perform the work of an

evangelist, and to bring up his family in the knowledge and fear

of God, which is the most imperious duty that any master of a

family can be called on to perform, and which it is impossible for

any man to accomplish by substitute; and which none can neglect

without endangering his own salvation.

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