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Tuesday, 12 July 2022
Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Acts 8:37
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)
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The previous words revealed the eunuch’s desire to be baptized, asking, “What hinders me from being baptized?” With that, the words of verse 8:37 are given. This verse, however, is not found in many Bibles. The usual reason given by scholars and translators is that it is “not found in the best texts.” That is a subjective analysis, assuming that one text is better than the other, usually because of age – “If it is older, it is better.”
The inclusion of this verse doesn’t harm any other theology presented in the Bible, but more, it is to be remembered that Acts is a descriptive account of what occurred. Set doctrine is to be based upon what is stated in the epistles. Philip is simply saying what he believes the circumstances demand based upon a short meeting with this person. As such, in response to the eunuch’s question, Luke records, “Then Philip said.”
Philip is an evangelist. What he has done and continues to do is recorded in the epistles, but he is not an apostle, as such his words must be taken in light of the prescriptive epistles. Luke just records what he says as any accurate historian should. With that noted, Philip’s words are, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
More rightly, the words read, “If you believe out of [or from] all your heart, it is permitted.” The word translated as “may” is generally translated as “lawful.” It is that which is permitted based on the surrounding circumstances. For example, for one under the law, that person would use this word to indicate something acceptable to the law, hence “lawful.”
Philip has set a standard for the eunuch to ensure that he fully grasps the gospel that has been presented. He is letting the eunuch know that an outward display doesn’t save, but rather a change in the heart is what speaks out to God. This is reflective of what Paul says later in Romans 10 –
“But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 10:8-10
Philip’s point of saying “out of all your heart” is certainly with the understanding that nobody really half-heartedly believes anything. A person may not fully understand a matter, but what he does understand is either accepted or rejected. The “heart” in Scripture does not speak of the emotions as we use it today. Rather, it is the seat of reason and understanding. The conditional statement has been set forth by Philip based on what he has said to the eunuch. With that, Luke records, “And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’”
Several points can be gleaned from his answer. The first is that he connects the term “Christ” to Jesus. The eunuch either knew that Israel anticipated a Messiah or Philip explained what that meant. The eunuch has affixed that title to the name, accepting that He is the One to have fulfilled that role.
Next, as the passage from Isaiah spoke of His suffering and death, something then explained by Philip, it is clear that the eunuch also heard of and accepted the resurrection of Jesus, because he says that Jesus Christ is (present tense) the Son of God. He has obviously accepted the premise of the resurrection.
Thirdly, in saying that He is the Son of God, it is an affirmation that God is His Father. The logical conclusion is that Philip explained this to him and told him of the incarnation. Jesus is not simply an “adopted” son of God, but the Son of God, begotten of the Father. Otherwise, there would be no need to state this. In his proclamation, he is thus acknowledging the deity of Christ and, therefore, His sinless perfection.
It is this that is expected of those who hear the message. He has believed and his confession has been made.
The Pulpit Commentary states, “Irenaeus, in the third book against Heresies, Acts 12:8, distinctly quotes a portion of this verse. … and Cyprian, in his third book of Testimonies, 43, quotes the other part of the verse. In proof of the thesis that “whoever believes may be immediately baptized.”
Irenaeus was born in 130AD. Cyprian was born in the early 3rd century and died in 258AD. As these two men included portions of this verse in their writings, if the verse is spurious, it was added at a very early date. The obvious reason why someone would claim that it was inserted later is that without verse 37, there appears to be a sudden jump in action from Acts 8:36 to Acts 8:38 –
Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.
Without verse 8:37, someone may suppose that Philip didn’t cross every t and dot every i. But Acts is not given for that purpose. It is given to tell us what occurred, to whom they occurred, and where things took place. We are not supposed to get our precise theology from the book. Rather, we are to take a global view of the book of Acts in order to understand what occurred and why. Whether original or spurious, the inclusion harms no other doctrine, and its exclusion leaves nothing out that would leave a void in our understanding of right doctrine.
Life application: What Peter says in Acts 2 is not something that applies to all people at all times. He was speaking to the people of Israel during a certain time and at a certain event. His words cannot be applied to Gentile believers who are not of Israel, except as a descriptive account of what occurred.
The account of the Ethiopian eunuch is something that is historically recorded as having occurred. It was at the leading of the Holy Spirit, it was conducted by an evangelist who had sufficient information to properly witness to another person about Jesus, and it shows (in the coming verse) that this person was baptized into the faith.
Nothing is prescribed here for us. We do not have to evangelize people in the desert. We do not have to ride with people in a chariot in order to tell them about Jesus. We do not have to start with Isaiah 53 when we talk about the Lord. And so on. As these things are true, there must be another reason for the inclusion of this account.
That reason will be looked at in the next verse. Other than that, it is a historical record of a person physically unacceptable to be included in the assembly of the Jews under the Law of Moses, but who is fully acceptable to be included in the body of believers who are saved by Jesus Christ.
Heavenly Father, help us to be willing to talk to any and to all who come into our paths about Jesus. There is none too far from Your saving grace, and there is every reason why we should open our mouths and speak forth the beautiful message of the gospel. Help us to be faithful in this, O God. Amen.