Philip and the Ethiopian. 8:26-40


Following the stoning of Stephen, there was a general persecution of the Greek speaking believers in Jerusalem. There were obviously racial overtones to this persecution. In escaping Jerusalem, these converted Hellenist Jews were able to carry the gospel beyond the city. In chapter 8 Luke focuses on Philip, one of the deacons appointed to serve in the Jerusalem church. His ministry in Samaria produced such spectacular results that the apostles sent Peter and John to investigate. Our passage for study describes Philip's encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch.

The passage

v26. In Old Testament prophetic style, Philip is guided by an angel to minister to a seeker on the Gaza road.

v27-28. The Ethiopian was an official from an ancient kingdom that stretched from the first cataract on the Nile at Aswan, south to Khartoum. As a court official, he may have been a eunuch, or may just have carried the title. He was obviously a God-fearer of sorts, a Gentile follower of the Jewish faith, although as a eunuch, his participation in religious celebrations would have been very limited.

v29-31. The Ethiopian was traveling in a covered carriage and was reading from Isaiah 53. The ancient practice was to read aloud, since the manuscripts of the time were not easy to read. Philip is prompted by the Spirit to run beside the wagon. Philip asks whether the Ethiopian understands what he is reading. Philip is then invited to interpret.

v32-33. Neither the prophets, nor the teachers of the law, ever made the link between the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the Davidic Messiah of Isaiah 11 and the glorious Son of Man of Daniel 7. Jesus certainly made the link, and it was not till after his death and resurrection that the disciples started to work on that link.

v34-35. The Ethiopian's question allowed Philip to explain the gospel. We can well imagine Philip starting with the Isaiah passage and going on to explain how Jesus was the suffering Servant for the sin of the many. So, Philip communicated the gospel to the eunuch.

v36-38. Although not recorded, Philip probably concluded his gospel presentation with a call to repent and be baptized. Following the practice of John the Baptist, repentance was usually expressed outwardly in water immersion or splashing. The Ethiopian obviously felt that the time was right, for they were soon on the lookout for some water.

v39. The Spirit now leads Philip toward further missionary opportunities while the eunuch continues his journey filled with joy.



v40. Philip moves north along the coast road, preaching in the old Philistine cities on the way. In church tradition it is believed he settled down in Caesarea, a family man with four daughters renowned as prophets.

Truth revealed

Jesus promised his disciples that "when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth", Jn.16:13; "he will teach you all things", Jn.14:26. Of course, Jesus gave this promise to his disciples and he did add, "and will remind you of everything I have said to you." A promise to a specific group of people is not necessarily a promise to everyone. Obviously, only the disciples could be reminded of Jesus' actual words. Still, in John's first letter we find the promise "the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you..... his anointing teaches you about all things ...." 1Jn.2:27.

Clearly, God is in the business of revealing truth to those who seek it. The Holy Spirit is the instrument of that revelation, and this is why he is called "the Spirit of truth". Although some Bible verses may imply that the revelation of truth through the Spirit supersedes both education and intellect, the Bible as a whole dispels this misunderstanding. The ministries of the Word serve to build us up, Eph.4:11-13, and we are bound always to test that truth, 1Cor.2:13. Yet, although human initiative is required in the truth business, it is God who expedites the truth to us.

So it was that an Ethiopian eunuch, confused by a prophecy concerning a Suffering Servant, discovered the truth through the initiative of the Spirit and the willing ability of Philip. Of this we can be sure, our Lord will not leave a person in the dark who seeks the truth that sets humanity free. As it was for the Ethiopian eunuch, those who seek will find. This promise also applies to all believers who seek the truth. As we listen to the Word expounded, join with our brothers and sisters in a Bible study, research a Bible passage in a good commentary, or just meditate on a daily Bible reading, so the mystery will be revealed to us. Not necessarily the totality of the mystery, but enough of mystery to set us free. Our God does not leave us in the dark.


1. If the Holy Spirit leads us into "all truth", does this mean literally all truth or just particular truth?

2. If believers possess the truth, why do we so often hold contrary views?

[Printer icon]   Print-friendly: Sermon Notes. and Technical Notes

Index of studies: Resource library
[Pumpkin Cottage]
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources
Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons