SUMMARY.--The Persecution at Jerusalem. Saul's Zeal in Persecution. Philip's Conversion of the Samaritans. Simon the Sorcerer Believes. Peter and John Sent Down to Bestow the Miraculous Powers of the Holy Spirit. Simon's Wicked Offer and Peter's Rebuke. Philip Sent to Preach to the Ethiopian Eunuch. He Explains the Scriptures on the Way and Preaches Jesus. The Eunuch's Request for Baptism. Baptized and Goes on His Way Rejoicing.
1. Saul was consenting unto his death. The first three verses of this chapter ought to be attached to the one preceding. Saul consented, that is, approved and gave his voice to the death of Stephen. He did not actively take part in the stoning, but aided and abetted. The memory of this sad event clung to him painfully even to old age. See Acts 22:20. Luke no doubt here records the facts given him by the apostle himself. At that time. "On that day." See Revision. Not satisfied with the blood of Stephen, their persecutors turned their rage at once on the whole church. They were all scattered. The meetings of the saints were for the time broken up, and the disciples generally fled from the storm, into the country portions of Judea and the adjoining district of Samaria. The apostles, in some way not explained, shielded from the destruction, remained, and many of the scattered brethren, residents of Jerusalem, soon afterwards returned, while others that were foreign Jews went to other regions, carrying the gospel.
2. Devout men carried Stephen to his burial. Not disciples, but pious Jews, deeply impressed by the gospel, but not yet brought to its acceptance. They were "devout" like Cornelius the Gentile before his conversion. Made great lamentation over him. They made their protest against the deed by a public funeral with all the usual Jewish demonstrations of mourning.
3. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church. This mad violence he often recalled and mentioned while serving Christ. See Acts 22:4; 26:10; 1 Cor. 15:9; Gal 1:13; Phil. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:13. Entering into every house. Where he supposed disciples could be found. Haling. Hauling, dragging with violence. As we learn from Paul's statements elsewhere, the saints were not only committed to prison, but scourged in the synagogues and persecuted unto death.
4. Went every where preaching the word. The rage of the persecutors only extended the reign of Christ. The scattered saints, long prepared at the feet of the apostles, went everywhere as preachers of Christ. The blood of Stephen was the seed of the church.
5. Philip went down to the city of Samaria. This was not Philip, the apostle, for all the apostles remained at Jerusalem, but Philip, one of the seven (Acts 6:5). The city of Samaria. The Greek does not render it certain that this was the capital named Samaria, as there is no definite article. It is literally "a city of Samaria." The district (see map) lies between Judea and Galilee. Samaria and Sychar were, at this time, two of its principal cities. It was probably one or the other of these to which Philip went.
6-8. The people with one accord gave heed. It was the miracles that, at first, fixed their attention. Observe that Philip, another of the seven, has the gift of miracles, the second recorded instance in the church of the possession of this power by one not an apostle. The next verse describes the nature of his miracles, similar to those of Christ. See note on Matt. 4:24. See also Mark 3:11 and Luke 4:41.
9. There was a certain man, called Simon. Called the sorcerer, or magician, who bewitched the people by his enchantments. Whether this was done by the conjurer's art or by the power of Satan, it is perhaps impossible for us to know. Giving out that himself was some great one. Claiming to be more than a mere man.
10. This man is the great power of God. Unable to explain the things that he did, the Samaritans ascribed them to divine power manifested through Simon.
12. When they believed Philip. This verse states in the concisest manner the apostolic order of converting men: (1) Philip preached; (2) he preached the kingdom and name of Jesus Christ; (3) faith came by hearing, for the Samaritans believed; (4) when they believed they were baptized. This describes the uniform course in apostolic days. Both men and women. Note that (1) only believers are baptized, (2) that men and women are both included, but children are not named.
13. Then Simon himself believed also. There has been much needless discussion whether Simon was sincere. It would never have been doubted had we not been told that later he fell into sin. It is best to take the Scripture in its manifest sense. He became a believer like the rest. He was baptized like the rest; then, like many others, at a later period, under temptation, he fell into sin. It is impossible to believe that a man of his power and influence in Samaria would have yielded outwardly to the gospel and shown the deference he manifested to Philip unless he was at the time sincere. But he was of the class described by the Savior when the seed of the sower fell among among thorns.
14. The apostles . . . heard. They had remained at Jerusalem. The word reached them of Philip's faithful work. Christ had directed that the gospel be carried to "Jerusalem, and unto Judea, and unto Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth." In this order it had been carried to Samaria and been received. The preacher sent there was not an apostle. He had miraculous powers, but could not confer them. It seemed needful, now that the gospel was accepted by a new people, not Jewish, that spiritual gifts, such as had been given to the apostles on the day of Pentecost and imparted through them to others, should be bestowed upon this alien nation. Observe, (1) when the Jews first had the gospel on the day of Pentecost these gifts were imparted by the descent of the Holy Spirit; (2) when the Samaritans were converted these were imparted by the presence of the apostles; (3) when the first Gentiles were converted, an apostle being present, they were imparted. There is no record of their impartation, save in or by apostolic presence. See Rom. 1:11. Sent unto them Peter and John. This is positive proof that Peter was not a pope. The body which sends is superior to the one sent. He and John go at the bidding of the whole apostolic body. This is the last mention of John in Acts.
15-17. Prayed for them. That the Holy Spirit might fall on them. They had been born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5), but had not received that baptism of the Spirit which conferred miraculous powers. This was bestowed by apostolic prayer and the laying on of hands. I suppose, not on all, but on those selected for teachers and preachers among the Samaritans. "The prayer clearly pointed to such a power of the Holy Spirit as had been bestowed on Pentecost."--Plumptree. "Luke speaks not of the common grace of the Holy Spirit, but of those singular gifts with which God would have certain endowed at the beginning of the gospel."--Calvin. Laid . . . hands on them. "This was part of that miraculous supremacy of the apostles that they could not communicate to any successor."--Whedon. This reception of the Holy Spirit was manifest in speaking with tongue and other powers.
18, 19. When Simon saw . . . he offered them money. Uninstructed in the lofty spirit of the gospel, ambitious to possess this power peculiar to the apostles, he is sordid enough to offer money for it. His sin was not that he aspired to this power, but that he sought to buy it. He had very crude conceptions of the spirit of Christianity. It is not stated, but it is easy to infer, that he was not one of those upon whom the apostles had bestowed the divine gift.
20-24. Peter said. Peter's outburst of indignation is characteristic. Thy money perish with thee. Not an anathema, but the statement of a fact, unless he repents. Because thou hast thought. Observe that, in Peter's rebukes, the thought is, not that he has never been converted, but that he has now committed an awful sin. It is one sin, not his sins, that stands out in every sentence. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter. In these gifts of the Holy Spirit. He can neither receive them, nor impart them. Perhaps salvation is also included. For thy heart is not right. This offer to purchase the gift of God shows that it was not. Because it is not, he can have no part nor lot, etc. Repent, therefore, of this. Observe that Peter does not bid him to repent of his sins, but of this one great sin. If perhaps the thought of thine heart. This one sin is so great that Peter seems doubtful whether it will be forgiven, even on repentance and prayer. For I perceive that thou art. His great sin had brought him into the state now described. Gall of bitterness. The gall of reptiles was considered by ancients the source of their venom. The expression would denote moral corruption. Bond of iniquity. Bound by iniquity. Pray ye to the Lord for me. Simon's language indicates that he was terror-stricken and perhaps deeply touched. The sacred record is silent concerning his future career. Whether he repented or relapsed into his old life is conjecture. Tradition insists that he pursued the latter course.
25. When they had testified. Peter and John did not return until they preached in many Samaritan villages.
26. The angel of the Lord spake unto Philip. In some way he was supernaturally directed to go far south of Samaria to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza for his next work. Gaza. An old Philistine city, on the sea-coast plain in southwest Palestine. It was taken by Alexander the Great, and had endured many sieges, but is still a town of 15,000 or 16,000 inhabitants.
27. A man of Ethiopia. The term is applied to that portion of Africa which lies south of Egypt. A eunuch of great authority. This mutilated class of men often rose to great power in Oriental countries. This one was the royal treasurer. Under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. Candace had her seat of power on the island of Meroe, a large island of the Nile, about a thousand miles from the mouth of the river. The name Candace seems to have belonged to several queens of this kingdom. It is still seen inscribed on the ruined palace walls of Meroe. Come to Jerusalem for to worship. He was probably a proselyte to the Jewish faith. His long journey, his study of Scripture, and his ready hearing all indicate a believer in Jehovah, a devout man, and one seeking for the Christ.
28. Was returning and . . . reading. Reading aloud in the Oriental manner. Perhaps he had heard at Jerusalem of Jesus and the Christians. At any rate, he was reading in Isaiah a prophecy of Christ.
29, 30. The Spirit said. How we are not told. Philip promptly obeyed, ran to the chariot, listened and heard what he read, and then asked his question, the result of which was that he was asked to take his place in the chariot to explain the Scripture.
32, 33. The place of the scripture . . . was this. See Isa. 53:7, 8. The whole chapter is a wonderful delineation of the sufferings of Christ. Philip found Christ in the text, and from it he preached to him Jesus. Led as a sheep. Unresisting. Opened he not his mouth. Made no defence. His judgment was taken away. Justice was trampled under foot. Who shall declare his generation? Meyer, De Wette, Robinson and Hackett all agree that this refers to portraying the wickedness of the generation which slew him. Others insist that it means Christ's spiritual posterity, his followers.
34, 35. Of whom speaketh the prophet? This gave Philip the opportunity of preaching Jesus. He showed the prophecies of the Messiah, that it behooved him to suffer, die, and rise again, and that he commanded his gospel to be preached and believers to be baptized in his name. That the eunuch calls for baptism, shows that in preaching Jesus Philip preached the rite.
36. They came to a certain water. The locality of the baptism is not certain. There are several roads from Jerusalem to Gaza. The one by Hebron is through "desert" more than the others. Eusebius and Jerome state that the baptism occurred at a perennial stream, coming from a fountain at Bethsur, not far from Hebron. Robinson places the baptism not far from Gaza, at the old site of Eglon. See. The Greek is, "Behold! Water!" As if his soul was filled with joy that he could obey. What doth hinder me? Nothing, if he was a believer and the means were at hand.
37. If thou believest, etc.? This verse is omitted in the Revision. It is not found in the oldest extant manuscripts, but was certainly in manuscripts older than any now extant. It is referred to by Irenæus in the second century, and by Augustine in the fourth. Whether written by Luke or not, it shows that the custom of the early church was to require such a confession of faith. With all thine heart. A living faith must seize upon and control the heart.
38. They both went down into the water. "The original undoubtedly implies a going, not to, but into, the water."--Abbott. "No sufficient reason can be given why the parties went down into the water, but for the sake of the immersion of the new convert."--Ripley.
39, 40. When they were come up out of the water. They did not go to and come away from the water, but they went, "both Philip and the eunuch," down into (Greek, eis) and came up out of (Greek, ek) the water. The Spirit . . . caught away Philip. Led him to depart abruptly. He was snatched away. Went on his way rejoicing. In his new-found Savior. But Philip was found at Azotus. The old Philistine city of Ashdod, near the sea-coast, between Gaza and Joppa. It is now a ruin. Here he preached in all the sea-coast cities, probably founding churches (see Acts 9:32, 36), till he came to Cæsarea, the seaport northwest of Jerusalem, the Roman capital of Judea. We are not told how soon he reached Cæsarea. It may have been months or years. At any rate, it is likely that it did not take place until after Peter's missionary work there. Many years later we find Philip living in this city (Acts 21:8).