Philip, the evangelist, had just finished a great work in Samaria converting many to Christ, including a “sorcerer”. His next mission would be one individual (Acts 8:26). God used an angel to direct Philip to the right location to meet a man who was ready to hear the gospel. Angels are used in many ways, but they were never used to proclaim the gospel to the lost (Acts 11:13-14). He is told to go south toward the road that goes between Jerusalem and Gaza. Gaza is one of the oldest places mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 10:19).
Philip does not argue with the angel; he arose and went (vs. 27-28). The eunuch was the treasurer of Queen Candace. All the queens of Ethiopia were called Candance, similarly to how the rulers of Egypt were called Pharaoh and the rulers of Rome were called Caesar.
According to BDAG, eunuchs were “(a) castrated male person … Eunuchs served, esp. in the orient, as keepers of a harem (Esth. 2:14) and not infreq. rose to high positions in the state.” Even though this eunuch was not allowed to go into the temple, he still traveled hundreds of miles to worship God in Jerusalem, which shows his dedication. I wish more Christians had this same zeal to worship God. The eunuch was returning home on his chariot and was reading a scroll from Isaiah the prophet.
The Holy Spirit tells Philip to overtake the eunuch’s chariot (v. 29). The Holy Spirit didn’t teach the lost the gospel either. Instead, He would direct preachers like Philip to the person that needed to hear it. Today, salvation is taught by the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17).
Philip hears the eunuch reading from Isaiah, and he asked him a great question: “Do you understand what you are reading?” (v. 30). The eunuch didn’t understand what he was reading, and he needed someone to guide him (v. 31). His lack of understanding does not mean that we can’t read and understand the Scriptures on our own because we can (Acts 17:11; Eph. 3:3-5; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 1:3). However, a person new to reading the Bible can benefit from a person who has studied it for years. The eunuch invited Philip to join him (v. 31).
The eunuch wanted to know if the prophecy was about Isaiah or someone else (vs. 32-24; Is. 53:7-8). Philip answered his question by preaching to him about Jesus from Isaiah 53 (v. 35). Though we don’t have the details, we know he taught him the same basic message he taught the Samaritans, which included Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection and what he needed to do to be saved.
The desert spoken of earlier (v. 26) was not dry sandy wasteland but was just an isolated place because there was a pool of water there (v. 36). As Philip preached to the eunuch about Jesus and what was needed to be saved, he taught him about the necessity of baptism. We can know this because when the eunuch saw the pool of water on the side of the road, he immediately wanted to know if there was anything preventing him from being baptized, which shows his eagerness to become a Christian (v. 37).
Some Bible versions don’t have verse 37 because it isn’t found in any of the earlier manuscripts. However, part of the Ethiopian’s confession of faith in Christ was quoted by Irenaeus in the second century (Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 1 Against Heresies, III.xii:8), which suggests that it belongs there. Also, the answer and the response given in verse 37 fits naturally within the text. Even without this verse, it doesn’t take away from the question the eunuch asked.
Philip said that he must believe with all his heart, and the eunuch makes the confession that Jesus is the Son of God, which agrees with what Jesus said: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). A person must believe before he can be baptized. You will notice the eunuch didn’t schedule his baptism later so his family members could watch it. No, he saw the water on the side of the road and he wanted to be baptized immediately.
The eunuch commanded the chariot to stop, and they went down into the water (v. 38). Philip baptized him, and they came up out of the water. Those who teach that pouring or sprinkling is a valid way to baptize will say that they went to the edge of the water and Philip either took a cup and poured some water on him or perhaps put his fingers in the water and sprinkled him. We can know this is not true because the Greek word that has been transliterated into the word ‘baptism’ means to dip, plunge, or immerse. Besides, the text says they went ‘into’ the water and ‘came out’ of the water, which proves they did not just go to the edge of the water.
When they came out of the water, the Holy Spirit sent Philip to a new area, and the eunuch continued his journey home rejoicing because he knew he was saved (v. 39). Rejoicing was the typical response of those who had been baptized (Acts 16:34). The eunuch had a lot to rejoice about because he would no longer have to make an arduous journey to worship God outside the temple in Jerusalem. Now, he would be able to worship God in a local congregation with his brothers and sisters in Christ with no division, and we have the same privilege today.
Cougan is the minister of the Lone Grove Church of Christ in Lone Grove, OK.