Philip and the Ethiopian (Hays)

From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, Vol. 14 (New Studies in Biblical Theology) The story in Acts 8 where Philip meets an important Ethiopian man is a great story.  The Ethiopian was on his very long trip home after worshiping Yahweh in Jerusalem.  The Holy Spirit led Philip to the point where he eventually shares the gospel with the Ethiopian starting in Isaiah 53.  There are many application points in this story.  One of them is brought out well by J. Daniel Hays in From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race.

The actual story of the Ethiopian’s conversion to Christianity is familiar.  Philip, led by an angel of the Lord, left Samaria and went to the Gaza road, where he encountered this Ethiopian official in his chariot.  After Philip explained ‘the good news about Jesus’ to him, they drove by some water and the Ethiopian asked, ‘What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ (8:36, NRSV).  Polhill notes the theological significance of the verb in this question (koluo, to hinder forbid, prohibit), and suggests that Luke records this question for his Gentile Church audience, thus clarifying that no one is to be denied full membership into the Church through baptism.  Remember that this official was a eunuch and was prohibited from full membership in Judaism.  He was also from a region that lay outside the limits of the Roman Empire.  Polhill summarizes by writing, ‘The verb indicates that barriers have been removed, hindrances to the spread of the gospel to all people.  In this case a double barrier of both physical and racial prejudice had fallen.’

Hays ends the section like this:

As in this entire unit of Acts, the Spirit plays a major role.  So we can conclude that it was clearly part of God’s plan for the gospel to reach this Black African in the most initial stages of the Christian evangelistic explosion.  A Greek-speaking Semitic Jew led a Black African eunuch to Christ in one of the first evangelistic encounters recorded in Christian history, thus setting the stage for the explosion of the gospel into the world that took place over the next thirty years, and giving a foretaste of the mixed composition of the new people of God that will fill the kingdom of Christ.

J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation, p. 174, 176. 

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015