Acts: Chapter 8
Let’s begin by reading (Acts 8:1-13).
(Verse 1) “Now Saul was consenting to his death.” As we mentioned in (Acts 7:58), before stoning Stephen, the Jewish leaders (“witnesses”) “laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” That was the first mention in the New Testament of Saul (Paul), and this is the second. Does this mean that Paul actually took part in the stoning of Stephen, or was he in charge of those who did it?
I would answer “no” to both questions, finding no evidence for either.
As out of control as the mob was against Stephen, it appears that they did decide to follow Jewish law in regards to the (“so-called”) blasphemy of Stephen. First, the condemned was to be “cast out of the city,” and then “stoned,” with the “witnesses” (they were “false witnesses” – Acts 6:13) doing the stoning (Acts 7:58-59). Taking the one to be stoned out of the city was commanded by God in (Lev 24:14)(example: Lk 4:29), and having “witnesses” to the sin casting the first stones was commanded in (Deut 17:6-7)(Deut 13:9-10).
Since Paul was not a “witness,” he would not have thrown a first stone. And, he likely was not expected to throw a stone at all, which would explain why the “witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet… of Saul.” They knew that he would not be taking part, so they wanted him to watch their clothes.
There is some evidence that Paul might have been a part of the Sanhedrin (Acts 26:10), and he may have even been a member at the time of the stoning. However, it was rare that the Sanhedrin ever took part in punishing those they found guilty. They would condemn people, and then have others carry out the punishment (i.e. Acts 5:21-42, Lk 23:13-25). Therefore, “if” Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin at the time of Stephen’s stoning, he almost certainly would not have taken part in it. Did he order it, or lead the people who did do it? It is possible, but there is no evidence for this.
***Note: I answer the question of how old Paul (Saul) was when Stephen was stoned here: https://jesusalive.cc/pauls-age-when-stephen-stoned.
Of course, as we will see in the next chapter, he becomes a Christian (perhaps in part because he remembers what has happened here), and the author of the majority books in the New Testament.
(Verse 1) “And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
The murder of Stephen began a “persecution” against the new Christian “church.” Some scholars believe that this persecution may initially been centered on the “Hellenistic” Jews, of which Stephen likely was one (See: Acts Ch. 6:1-7 study). Philip, who we will be speaking of shortly, was also a “Hellenistic Jew,” and it might have been the reason he “scattered.” The apostles did not “scatter” though. This may have been because the new “persecution” was not centered on them at the moment, or perhaps they were simply more “mature” and “bold” Christians.
This “persecution” and “scattering” was known by God ahead of time, and He used it. Without the persecution, the new Christians might not have left Jerusalem to spread the Gospel “to the ends of the earth” as commanded in (Acts 1:8). However, because they left, (Verse 4) tells us, “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.” Let’s also turn to (Acts 11:19-21).
(Verse 2) “And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.”
Some believe the “devout” men could have been pious Jews (mentioned in Acts 2:5) who did not agree with what had been done to Stephen, or perhaps respected him. However, it seems more likely they were fellow Christians. My Liberty Bible Commentary shares this interesting related statement: “It was directly against Jewish law to make lamentations at the funeral of an executed person (see Mishna, Sanhedrin vi, 6).”
(Verse 3)(NKJV) “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.”
The Greek word for “havoc” is “lumainomai,” which basically means to be mangled or destroyed by a wild animal.
Paul later recounts this “persecution” of the church in a number of places, sharing with others what his life was life was like before Christ changed him – See: (Acts 22:4-5)(Acts 26:9-11)(1 Cor 15:9)(Gal 1:13)(Phil 3:6)(1 Tim 1:13).
(Verse 4) “Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”
The Greek word for “went everywhere” (“traveled” – NIV)(“dierchomai“) is used over and over in Acts in conjunction with evangelism and missionary work: i.e. 8:40, 11:19, 13:6, 14:24, 15:3,41, 16:6, 18:23, 19:1,21, 20:2.
(Verse 5) “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.”
We first met “Philip” in (Acts 6:1-7), when he was 1 of 7 men chosen by the “church” at Jerusalem, and commissioned by the apostles to serve as a “deacon” (Gr: “diakoneo“). Philip is the only man in the Bible who is specifically called an “evangelist” (Acts 21:8), and he later “had four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9).
***Note: It is important to remember that the “Philip” we are speaking of here is different from the “Philip” who was a disciple of Jesus.
“Samaria” – The land which would be called Samaria was purchased in 920 B.C. by Omri, the 6th king of Israel, from a man named “Shemer” for two talents of silver (1 Kin 16:24). (Omri named Samaria after him). Afterwards, it became the capital of the 10 northern tribes of Israel. In 722-721 B.C., Samaria was conquered by the Assyrians. Many of those who were living in Samaria were deported, and replaced by “people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim” (2 Kin 17:24). However, some Israelites avoided being exiled. Those who remained intermarried with these “foreigners.” These became known as the “Samaritans,” a “mixed race” who were despised by the “full-blooded” Jews, and considered “contaminated.”
(Verses 6-8) While “preaching Christ” in Samaria, God used Philip to “perform miracles,” “cast out unclean spirits from many who were possessed,” and “heal many who were paralyzed and lame.”
These things “caused the multitudes to heed the things spoken by Philip.” This was one of the primary purposes of miracles in the Bible. Jesus confirmed this, saying in a number of places that His miracles were done to confirm He was from God (Jn 3:2)(Jn 5:36)(Mk 2:10-12), and so that people would believe in Him (Jn 10:37-38)(Jn 20:30-31)(Mt 11:2-6). (Other places showing this: Acts 2:22, Heb 2:3-4).
(Verse 9)(NKJV) “But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great.”
Simon, also known as “Simon Magus,” was a “sorcerer.” “Sorcery” is defined by Webster’s as “the use of power gained from the assistance or control of evil spirits esp. for divining: necromancy.” MacArthur gives this definition: “Magic which originally referred to the practices of the Medo-Persians: a mixture of science and superstition, including astrology, divination, and the occult.”
Practicing “sorcery,” and things associated with it is condemned by God in the Bible (Deut 18:10-12)(Mal 3:5)(Acts 13:8-12)(Lev 20:27)(2 Kin 21:6). (Rev 9:21) says that those practicing “sorceries” need to repent. (Rev 21:8) says that one day “sorcerers… shall have their part in the lake of fire.” (Rev 22:15) says that in the New Jerusalem, “sorcerers…. will be outside the gates of the city.”
(Verses 10-11) “To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. (11) And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.”
Simon had been practicing his “sorcery” and “magic” for so long, and was so convincing, that some came to believe he was either God, or represented God.
***Note: It is IMPORTANT to always remember that Satan has the ability to perform miracles. Let’s look at a few of these: (Job 1:6-19)(Ex 7:8-13,20-22)(Ex 8:1-7)(Rev 13:13-14).
Keeping these in mind, we know that not ALL things that appear miraculous are from God. Whether the acts of Simon were indeed miracles, or simply deception, God was not behind any of it!
*** Note: The Bible also says that those performing these evil “signs and wonders” will become more numerous in the “end times” (Mt 24:24)(2 Th 2:9)(Rev 16:14)(Rev 19:20), and we are warned not to believe someone is from God just because they can perform these “signs and wonders” or miracles (Mt 7:22-23)(Deut 13:1-3).
(Verses 12-13) “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (13) Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.”
As we saw in (verse 10), the people of Samaria “gave heed” to Simon because of the “magic” (perhaps miracles) he performed. However, in (verse 7), it says that when Philip came, the people “gave heed” to what he was saying because of the “miracles” he performed. Many “gave heed” to what Philip was saying more than they “gave heed” to what Simon had said. They began to “believe” what Philip was “preaching” about salvation, became saved, and were “baptized.”
Then, we are told that even “Simon believed Philip and was baptized.” Afterwards, he “continued with Philip,” being “amazed” (NKJV) at the “miracles and signs” he was performing. More to come on this!
Next, let’s read (Acts 8:14-25).
(Verses 14-15) “Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: (15) “Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:”
As we first spoke of when we began our study in Acts by looking at the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” while on Earth, Jesus had promised a number of times to send the Holy Spirit after He ascended into heaven (i.e. Lk 24:49, Jn 16:5-7, Jn 7:39). This happened in Acts. Fulfilling a promise made to Peter in (Mt 16:19), Jesus used Peter to bring the Holy Spirit (giving him the “keys to the kingdom of heaven”). This “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” brought by Peter, occurred in 3 different stages in Acts : first at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-47), secondly here with the Samaritans, and the third will be in (Acts 10:44-48) with the Gentiles. The “baptism of the Holy Spirit” brought each of these 3 groups into God’s New Covenant (and the Church).
***Note: It should be noted that ALL believers who were present in these groups were “Baptized by the Holy Spirit.”
(Verses 16-17) “(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) (17) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.”
Those who had accepted Christ at Samaria had been baptized with water (“baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus”) after they “believed,” however, they had not yet been “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit). They received the Holy Spirit after Peter and John “prayed” and “laid their hands on them.”
I want to quickly address two things in these verses:
1. In several places in Acts, when people were “baptized,” it says they were “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (i.e. here, Acts 2:38, Acts 19:5). Some churches have taken this to mean that these words, and ONLY these words must be used when “baptizing” someone. If any other words are used (i.e. baptizing in the name of the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Mt 28:19), it is said to be an “un-biblical” baptism. Churches who teach this almost always add baptism as a necessary component to salvation. On the contrary, baptism follows a decision for Christ, and it is is an outward sign to others that we have made that decision. It is NOT necessary for salvation. For more on this, go here: https://jesusalive.cc/baptism-for-salvation.
2. Peter and John “laid hands on them.” Laying hands on people is found all through the Bible. It is mentioned in conjunction with 5 things basically:
Healing: (Mk 6:5)(Mk 8:22-26)(Lk 4:40)(Lk 13:11-13)(Acts 9:12-17)(Acts 28:8)
Commissioning: (Num 8:10-11)(Num 27:18-23)(Deut 34:9)(Acts 6:5-6)(Acts 13:3)
Blessing: (Gen 48:14-20)(Mt 19:13-15)(Mk 10:13-16)
When receiving the Holy Spirit: (Acts 8:14-19)(Acts 9:17)(Acts 19:6)
Giving spiritual gifts: (1 Tim 4:14)(2 Tim 1:6)
“Laying hands” on people clearly has Biblical support, however, it is important not to add too much significance to this act. Some churches have carried “laying hands” to an extreme, saying it is necessary to “transfer anointing,” “bring healing,” “be baptized with the Holy Spirit,” and more. The Bible clearly shows that laying hands on people does not NEED to be done in order to do any of these things. For example, Jesus healed many people He did not lay hands on (and certainly could have healed those He did lay hands on without laying hands on them), and the Holy Spirit was also given without the laying on of hands (Acts 10:44-48)(Acts 2:1-4).
“Laying hands” on people is a “symbolic” act. While there can be a measure of power and intimacy associated with the laying on of hands, there is nothing “mystical” about it.
(Verses 18-19) “And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, (19) Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.”
The “believer” Simon was still obsessed with “magic” and “sorcery.” Just as with some people today, Simon believed that money can buy anything. Simon was totally unaware of the spiritual significance of what was going on here, and just wanted to “buy” the power he saw. A term today called “simony” (I had never heard of it until this study) is said to have come from this. My “Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary” defines this as: “to denote trafficking in sacred things, but chiefly the purchase of ecclesiastical offices.”
(Verses 20-24) “But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. (21) Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. (22) Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. (23) For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. (24) Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.
Ok! While we cannot know the answer to this for sure, let’s discuss the big question:
Looking at what is said about Simon, do you think Simon was ever actually saved? Why or why not?
Several of my study Bibles / commentaries cite “tradition,” which says the following things about Simon:
“The early church fathers claimed he was one of the founders of Gnosticism, which asserted there were a series of divine emanations reaching up to God called “Powers,” and the people believed he was at the top of the ladder.” (MacArthur)
“(Tradition represents him as turning out a great heresiarch, mingling Oriental or Grecian philosophy with some elements of Christianity.)” (JFB Commentary)
“Church history later associates Simon with heresy and identifies him as an enemy of Christian faith.” (Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible)
(Verses 22-24) It is interesting to note in these verses that when Peter tells Simon to “repent of his wickedness, and pray to God,” instead Simon asks “Peter” to pray to God “for” him. Some use this as an example of going to a man (or woman) (i.e. a dead saint, Mary, or the Pope) to “mediate” between themselves and God. Why is this wrong?
(Verse 23) “thou art in the gall of bitterness”
In the Old Testament (KJV), we see the word “gall” (Heb: “rowsh“) used for “poison” in a number of verses i.e. (Jer 8:14)(Jer 9:15)(Jer 23:15)(Amos 6:12). In (Deut 29:18), “gall” is used to warn the Israelites about not having “a root bearing poisonous (“rowsh“) and bitter fruit.” When we look at a parallel verse for this in the NT in (Heb 12:15), it says, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”
In other words, I believe that Peter is saying here that he “perceived” that Simon was in the “poison” (“gall”) of bitterness.
Finally, let’s read (Acts 8:26-40).
(Verse 26) “And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.”
As we have seen, God has been using Philip to accomplish many great things in Samaria. Now, God’s spokesman, the (an) “angel of the Lord,” suddenly asks him to leave it all behind and go “unto Gaza, which is desert.” I wonder what Philip was thinking when this message was given?
“Barnes” says of Gaza: “Gaza, or Azzah Genesis 10:19, was a city of the Philistines, given by Joshua to Judah Joshua 15:47; 1 Samuel 6:17. It was one of the five principal cities of the Philistines. It was formerly a large place; was situated on an eminence, and commanded a beautiful prospect. It was in this place that Samson took away the gates of the city, and bore them off, Judges 16:2-3. It was near Askelon, about 60 miles southwest from Jerusalem.” MacArthur adds, “The original city was destroyed in the first century B.C. and a new city was built near the coast.”
(Verses 27-28)(NKJV) “So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, (28) was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.”
Regardless of what he might have been thinking, Philip immediately obeyed the directive of the “angel,” and headed to Gaza. Along the way, he encountered the “eunuch from Ethiopia.”
There are three things in these verses I want to explain more deeply.
First, what was a “eunuch” in the Bible?
A eunuch (Heb: caric)(Gr: eunouchizo) was generally a man who had had his testicles removed (castration), thus making him sterile/impotent and unable to reproduce. If a man’s testicles were crushed in some way, he was also considered a eunuch, and as such, God would not allow him to serve as a priest (Lev 21:16-20), nor could he have “membership in the congregation of Israel” (Deut 23:1). (This likely meant he did not have ALL of the religious rights and privileges afforded to Israel: i.e. he could not hold an office or marry an Israelite woman. God later extends grace and blessings to eunuchs in: Isa 56:3-5). In (Mt 19:12), Jesus extended the definition of a eunuch to include any man who was born unable to reproduce or a man who voluntarily lived a celibate life in order to do God’s work (i.e. Paul was such a man: 1 Cor 7:7-9).
Eunuchs / chamberlains (same Heb word) are found throughout the Old Testament, often serving in significant capacities for kings or queens (i.e. Es 6:2,14, Es 4:4-5, Dan 1:3, Jer 52:25). Because of his position, which often entailed working with women (i.e. being in charge of the king’s harem or working for the queen), a man was often made a eunuch (castrated) so that he would be unable to have sex with the women he was working around (this often removes the urge as well). This made the man more trustworthy. (Having sex with the wife or concubine of a king was considered making a play for the king’s throne: 1 Kin 2:17-25, 2 Sam 16:21-22, 2 Sam 3:7.)
Second, this “eunuch” was an official under “Candace the queen of the Ethiopians.” “Candace” was not this woman’s name, but it was an official title, similar to “Pharaoh” or “Caesar.” Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible adds this: “The ancient kingdom of Ethiopia was ruled by a queen mother or Candace, who ruled on behalf of her son the king. Because the king was considered the child of the sun, he was too holy to become involved in secular affairs. Therefore, his mother took over the responsibility.”
Third, Ethiopia” was in Africa, south of Egypt. The distance between Jerusalem (where he had gone “to worship”) and Ethiopia was about 1500 miles (traveling in a chariot!)!! This was a man who was serious about his faith! He “may” have been a Gentile who had converted to the Jewish faith (a “proselyte” – see: Jn 12:20, Isa 56:3-8). Some believe he may have gone to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost.
(Verse 29) “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.”
This is one of several places in Acts where the Holy Spirit “verbally” directs God’s messengers. Also see: (Acts 10:19)(Acts 13:1-2)(Acts 16:6-7)(Acts 20:22-23)
(Verses 30-31)(NASB) “Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” (31) And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”
Several interesting or important things are found in these verses, What do you see?
(Verses 32-33)(NKJV) “The place in the Scripture which he read was this: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. (33) In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth.”
This is a quote taken from (Isa 53:7-8).
(Verse 34) “So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?”
After reading these verses, the eunuch asks a great question: Who is the prophet (Isaiah) talking about in these verses? Is Isaiah speaking of himself, or some other man? How would you answer him? What evidence would you give for that position?
(Verse 35) “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.”
It seems clear from this verse that Philip thought the verses in Isaiah pointed to the Messiah. He used those verses as the starting point to share the Gospel (“preach Jesus”) with the eunuch.
***Note: It is worth noting here that Philip used the “Old Testament” as a starting point to share the Gospel. The Old Testament still has value for winning people to Christ today!
(Verses 36-37) “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? (37) And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
It seems clear that as Philip “preached Jesus” (shared the Gospel) to the eunuch, he must have mentioned the importance and significance of baptism. After hearing Philip say this about baptism, as they continued down the road, the eunuch suddenly saw water, and wanted to be baptized. Philip consented to do it if the eunuch “believed with all of his heart,” which the eunuch confirmed.
(Verse 38) “And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.”
How should a person be baptized: by “immersion” (being dunked in water), or by “sprinkling” (having water poured on one’s head [often an infant’s head])? This verse (going down into the water) as well as many others, points to baptism by “immersion” as the proper way to be baptized. I share more verses and proofs for “immersion” (AFTER making a decision for Christ) as the proper way to be baptized here: https://jesusalive.cc/infant-baptism-wrong.
Keeping in mind that one of the primary purposes of baptism is to make a public declaration of our faith to others, the eunuch was making this public declaration in front of all of those who worked for him in the traveling caravan. I wonder what effect this later had on them?
(Verse 39) “And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip”
This is a fascinating verse! Philip suddenly disappears, taken away by the Holy Spirit! What do you think this looked like? Can you think of other places in the Bible like this?
(Verse 39) “that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.”
What do you think happened with the eunuch after this?
(Verse 40) “But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.”
“Azotus” was “Ashdod” in the Old Testament (see: 1 Sam 5:1). It was one of 5 Philistine cities. It was about 19 miles from Gaza, therefore, the Holy Spirit had “transported” Philip 19 miles away!
In this verse, we see that Philip traveled from Azotus to Caesarea, “preaching in all the cities” along the way. It appears that Philip may have decided to stay and live in Caesarea. Many years later, when Paul is on his 3rd missionary journey (seen in Acts Ch. 18-21), we see that as he passes through Caesarea, he stays at Philip’s house (Acts 21:8-9).