The third of the nine most detailed records of conversion found in the New Testament is also found in the eighth chapter of the Acts of Apostles (8:26 — 40) as was the previous. It is the story of the conversion to Christ of an official of the government of Ethiopia, whose conversion occurred while he was traveling home from Jerusalem going south towards Gaza.
As with the conversion of the Samaritans and Simon, this story has several unique and important details found along with the incidental information. Here are some of the facts and points I have identified in my studies.
There are only two reasonable possibilities as to why this Philip (one of the deacons in the Jerusalem church) became known as “the evangelist” (Acts 21:8). One is that the title was used to distinguish Philip the teacher from Philip the Apostle. The other choice is that Philip the Evangelist was known by this title because he was among the first who journeyed out from Jerusalem teaching and carrying the Good News. Unfortunately nothing at all is stated of the Apostle Philip’s work, but both men were working in the church at Jerusalem holding different offices at the same time. I would suggest both possibilities explain why this distinction was made, but the second might be the one of the greatest weight. As with John the Baptist the title certainly was not attached to him indiscriminately.
There is no indication as to how much time had transpired since the conversion of the Samaritans and up to this incident, but it took some time for Philip to complete his work in Samaria and then to make this journey. At least a part of a year or possibly more has now passed since the death of Christ, although we cannot be certain exactly how much time may have passed.
To the story and its details: Philip, who had for some time been teaching and evangelizing in Samaria, is told by an angel to go south on the road toward Gaza. At some point he comes upon a man reading while seated in a chariot and the Holy Spirit tells him to join himself to it. There is more to note in that and we will take it up again in a moment.
When he comes near the chariot, he hears that the man is reading aloud from a scroll of Isaiah. We are informed that the man was a eunuch, the treasurer of Candace, which is the name and title of the line of the queens of Ethiopia, and that he was returning home following worshipping in Jerusalem. The text is silent on how he came to worship as a Jew, but most teachers accept that he was a proselyte-at-the-gate.
We can make some other observations based upon the information given. This man was obviously well placed and wealthy, as only officials or the very rich could afford either chariots or scrolls. Owning a chariot then was the equivalent of owning your own Gulfstream jet now.
Gaza is the narrow strip of mixed desert and wadi that joins the African continent to the Middle East and Israel, running up the coast of Israel away from the Sinai and Red Sea. In that time it was sparsely populated as the text notes in the phrase “a desert place.” That does not necessarily mean that it was a water void desert so much as it means that it was isolated — correctly rendered a deserted place.
As Philip heard the eunuch reading he asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” When he replied that he did not, Philip sat with him and taking his cue from the passage he was reading in Isaiah 53, it says he “taught him Christ.”
It apparently used to be easy to teach Christ and to have people know what they needed to do to become Christians. The response in this case took less than a day as there is no indication at all that the sun went down on the proceedings. It seems that it is a much more complicated process now and so it only rarely gets a response in any amount of time. I wonder why that is so? Christ hasn’t changed, and the scriptures are the same. Therefore, the fault must lie with the teachers. If the problem then is not the material, and is not the message or that it has changed, it can only be due to a lack of enthusiasm and commitment among Christians. But I digress.
The teaching of Christ to the eunuch must have included some instruction on the meaning and purpose of baptism, as the given succeeding statement of the eunuch to Philip following his having been taught Christ was, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Therefore we must conclude that teaching “Christ” included instruction on baptism. So much for the notion that baptism is unimportant to salvation. It apparently is essential in being taught Christ, and that alone makes it important to your salvation. It seems that as far as we have progressed reading the instruction manual on conversions that so far the indication is that you cannot get into Christ without being baptized.
That this baptism into Christ was performed in water is also clear. It states that both the baptizer and the one to be baptized “both went down into the water”–with the word for “both” in the Greek actually occurring twice in the sentence purely for emphasis. So much then for sprinkling or pouring.
There is no mention at all of the Holy Spirit aside from his work in moving the preacher into contact with the one who was to receive the instruction, and later when things were accomplished in moving him out to the next arena. The two were parted immediately upon coming out of the water, with no indication that the eunuch could discern where Philip had gotten off to.
There is no evidence that the eunuch ever heard anything about the Holy Spirit or even knew that He had acted upon his behalf. We had learned from the record of the previous conversion that Philip could not transfer the gifts of the Holy Spirit to others, so it certainly follows necessarily that there was no transference here. No other persons were present so it is safe to conclude that there was no giving of the Holy Spirit at all.
There is no mention of the baptism of the Spirit and no other form of immersion than that in water is noted by the text. Therefore we must conclude that the only form of baptism that the eunuch came under was immersion in water and that it is the baptism that mattered and that upon completion of that act he became a Christian. When he came out of the water, “he went on his way rejoicing.” Do you suppose that he knew that he was then “in Christ?” Or was there some unsettled doubt yet present? By the time his hair had dried the preacher had been spirited away and there is no indication of a need for a continuing education in the first principles of being a Christian before salvation was granted, there was no vote taken by the church and no prayer was made to get him into the fold.
I must also then conclude that the eunuch did not require an indwelling of the Spirit in order to save his soul, as there is no indication at all that he knew a thing about the workings of the Spirit of God. The same things must still be true and the same things must still be working or available today, for if not, then God is out laying traps for people and Christ and the apostles did not tell it straight. You pick.
There is another element to salvation introduced in this example. That is the confession of Christ. Some people have excused this passage by teaching that it does not occur in “many early manuscripts.” Most scholars suggest that it is a late addition to the text, and that may be true. It certainly does not conflict with any other passages that mention this type of confession, so the import is not spurious. But, in order to prove the usefulness of confession we should use other scriptures (of which there are many) and that will require other essays on other days.
So in all, the elements in coming to Christ are the same here as they were with the last two accounts. Hear, believe, repent and be baptized. Of course, not a word is said of repentance here, but it is unlikely that Philip skipped over it, left it off, or failed through memory loss to mention it, and we will see in the ensuing accounts its repeated and continued importance.
In three detailed conversions to Christ we have encountered thus far we can demonstrate that those to be converted had to hear the message of the good news of God’s word; that they had to believe what they were taught. Then they had to turn from what they were doing and into the path of righteousness, and they had to be immersed in water.
The count is now three examples of hear, believe, repent and be baptized to become a Christian versus no examples for anyone having done anything else to become a Christian. We have six detailed accounts of conversion yet to study.
In the next installment we will take a close look at the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. This may take up more than a single essay to be thorough. To be prepared you should read the ninth, twenty-second and twenty-sixth chapters of Acts.