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Bible Commentaries
Acts 8

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

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Verses 1-4

Acts 8:1 b Acts 8:4 . Persecution and Dispersion.— There has been no great persecution of the believers as yet. A night’ s imprisonment and beating was all they had to suffer. Now we are told that on the day of Stephen’ s death, a great persecution arose against the Church at Jerusalem, as if the passion that brought about the death of Stephen had sought further satisfaction. Such a persecution would be aimed specially at the Hellenistic side of the Church, not at those who went to the Temple and upheld the customs. The Jewish side of the Church suffered less; the apostles remained at Jerusalem, where we find them seated and recognised as the central authority ( Acts 8:14, Acts 9:26 f., Acts 11:1, Acts 11:27-30, Acts 15:1 f.), and retaining with them many members who did not feel the persecution to be aimed at them. The all of :1 must be understood with this qualification; see Well-hausen, Noten zur Apostelgeschichte, pp. 9 ff. Eusebius ( H.E. V. xviii. 14 ) tells us of a tradition that Christ had enjoined on the apostles not to depart from Jerusalem for twelve years ( Acts 1:4 *), and the injunction ( Matthew 10:5 f.) would act in the same way. The scattered members are found in the regions of Judæ a and Samaria.

There is a discrepancy between Acts 8:1 and Acts 8:2; Acts 8:1 reporting the flight of all the believers but the apostles, so that no one else was left to bury Stephen; and they evidently are not meant. Acts 8:1 is continued at Acts 8:4; Acts 8:3 is also detached. Was the persecution Saul undoubtedly carried on ( Galatians 1:13) directed against Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, or against those of Stephen’ s way of thinking in the provinces ( Acts 9:1 *)? The persecution by Saul is said to have been severe, embracing domestic inquisition, and summary imprisonment. The same statement as to the scattering of the believers at the death of Stephen is found in Acts 11:19, whore the story of these missionaries is taken up again. An example of their activity is given here in the mission of Philip to Samaria.

Verses 5-8

Acts 8:5-8 . Philip at Samaria.— Philip’ s activity is given here beside that of Stephen. He belongs to the Seven, not to the Twelve, who remain at Jerusalem except when specially called elsewhere ( Acts 6:1-6 *). More is heard of him in Acts 21:8. Samaria presented a very open field for every kind of doctrine, lying as it did on two great trade routes, and visited by people from all countries. The Samaritans had an attenuated Judaism, receiving the books of Moses only, and carrying on a worship like that of Jerusalem (p. 79 ). What Philip preached there is said to have been Christ, the fact that Messiah had appeared, an announcement the Samaritans, like the Jews, readily understood. The populace accepted it; both what they heard from Philip and what they saw him do helped to that result. The scenes which took place in Chorazin and Bethsaida in the ministry of Christ were repeated at Samaria; and great joy prevailed.

Verses 9-13

Acts 8:9-13 . Simon Magus.— This man had been for some time at Samaria. This is the only account of him in NT; but in the early Fathers and in Christian legend he occupies much space, and he has been the occasion during the last century of voluminous controversy; see Baur, Church History, i. 91– 98 , Schmiedel in EBi., Headlam in HDB. Justin Martyr, who was a native of Samaria, tells us that he was born at Gitta, three miles W. of Samaria, and that evil spirits acted in him and enabled him to perform magical works; also that his followers made great use of exorcisms, incantations, philtres, etc. More is known of him by later writers. In the Pseudo-Clementine writings he is surrounded by a rich growth of legend (ANF, vol. xvii.); he had contests with Peter in Palestine and later at Rome; he injured himself in an attempt to fly across the Tiber; and he appears as a caricature of Paul, using some of his expressions and imitating some of his acts. He was regarded by some of the Fathers as the source of Gnostic heresy; on the other hand his existence has been denied. We assume his historical reality, but some of the details about him in this passage are scarcely transparent to us. When Philip came, and preached about the Kingdom of God— this was the theme on which Jesus bade His followers preach, but we have not heard of it up to this point since Acts 1:3— and the name of Jesus Messiah, the instrument on which they relied for their works of power, the Samaritans turned away from Simon and accepted baptism. Simon himself became a convert, was baptized, and attached himself to Philip, wondering at his signs and great acts of power.

Verses 14-24

Acts 8:14-24 . Peter and Simon.— No more is heard of Philip at Samaria; the Jerusalem apostles appear, represented by Peter and John, who have got over the prohibition of Matthew 10:5. The baptism of Philip appears to be regarded as imperfect; the apostles only can impart the full rite; the privilege of a Church order is upheld against outbursts of the Spirit which have not the official seal. The connexion of the imposition of hands and baptism occurs only here and Acts 19:6. It does not appear in the Didaché , but in Hebrews 6:2 we have it, and in Tertullian, De Bapt. 8 . It may be doubted if the occurrence here reported can be historical; Simon sees that the (Holy) Spirit is given through the imposition of the apostles’ hands. How does he see this? Acts 10:46 explains; also Acts 19:6; speaking with tongues seems to have been a normal incident of baptism. Simon is much interested, and wishes that he too had the power to put such activities in motion; he offers money to have the power conferred on him also. [97] Power is, in the religious language of the period of Acts, any magic power (Reitzenstein, Die Hellenistischen Mysterienreligionen, p. 183 ); in Ac. power is connected with the office to which God has entrusted it. What Simon proposes is out of the question; gifts of God cannot be bought or sold. The money offered for such a purpose is cursed, and he who offers it. “ No part nor lot” ( Deuteronomy 12:12; Deuteronomy 14:27, of the Levites). Simon can have no part to play in the Gospel, from the sentiment of which he is far removed, the God of which he is not willing to glorify ( Psalms 78:37). A change of mind is what he needs; he must pray to be forgiven for the view which prompted his request. He is in the gall of bitterness ( Deuteronomy 29:18) and bond of iniquity ( Isaiah 58:6). Peter upholds the milder view that there may be repentance and forgiveness after baptism; cf. Hebrews 6:4-6. Simon addresses himself to penitence. The words added at the end of Acts 8:24 in Cod. D, “ and he wept much and ceased not,” makes this more evident. The story of Simon Magus is not concluded.

[97] Hence “ simony,” the ecclesiastical offence of using money or promising a consideration in exchange for a spiritual office or privilege.

Verse 25

Acts 8:25 . Return of Peter and John to Jerusalem.— The Church founded by Philip at Samaria is further strengthened by the apostles, who also preached in many villages of the Samaritans, whether before they arrived at Jerusalem or afterwards is scarcely clear. It is not likely that Philip is to be understood as returning with them.

Verses 26-40

Acts 8:26-40 . Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.— Philip appears again; we are not told where, but the instruction given him by the angel shows that he was not at Jerusalem; he is to go southward ( mg. “ at noon” ; not suitable for a long journey) to the Jerusalem-Gaza road. That the road was forsaken was in its favour in this instance. Arrived at the junction of the two roads, from Tyre and from Jerusalem, Philip sees a chariot; it contains an Ethiopian eunuch, the treasurer at an African court under Candace (a dynastic title rather than a name). He is returning home from Jerusalem, where he had gone to worship; whether he was a Jew or a proselyte we are not told. An angel suggested Philip’ s journey; the Spirit now bids him approach the chariot. He hears the eunuch reading aloud from Isaiah words which have recently received a new interpretation among followers of Jesus. The eunuch is a modest man; he cannot understand without guidance what he is reading, and he invites Philip to sit beside him. In the Church the passage, here quoted from the LXX, had been applied to Jesus ( Acts 3:13, “ his Servant” ; Acts 3:18, Luke 24:25-27). The doctrine of atonement through Christ was absent from the preaching of Peter, but 1 Corinthians 15:3 shows that a beginning was early made with it, no doubt connected with Isaiah 53. The eunuch’ s question ( Acts 8:34) was a natural one; it is still asked, and answered in various ways. Philip makes the passage his text for a sermon about Jesus, which proves convincing; and the baptism follows. Philip is carried northward and found at Azotus, i.e. Ashdod (p. 28 ). He continues his missionary activity in the west of Palestine, and his journey ends at Cæ sarea (p. 28 ) , where it may have begun. Cæ sarea was a new town built by Herod and supplied with a good harbour. It was the residence of the Roman procurator, and the most important town of Palestine.

Acts 8:37 . Only mg. gives this verse, in which Philip asks for a confession of faith before baptizing, and a very short one is made. This verse was known to Irenæ us and Cyprian, but the MSS are against it, and it could easily be inserted, while it would not readily be removed, once there.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Acts 8". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/acts-8.html. 1919.
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