Baptism of the Eunuch

 

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Before proceeding I would recommend you read through my series on Baptism, which you can find HERE, if you have not already.  When people contest the Biblical teaching of baptism they usually hover in the Book of Acts.

One of the most commonly quoted proof-texts for believer baptism is Acts 8:37.  For clarity and context I will be including the surrounding verses.  Most should be familiar with this passage though.

 

“35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.; 36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?; 37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.; 38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” Acts 8:35-38 KJV 

 

As with other posts in my series on difficult passages I am going to present some sound Biblical commentary and then I will weigh in at the end.

 

Commentaries

“We may well imagine the scene: a fine autumn day, the comparatively uninhabited plain extending on either side, the driver of the chariot half-dozing over his lines, the two men poring over the sacred roll. Note that Luke refers to the contents of the passage of Scripture as of a fixed quantity, a book which was known by that name to all the Jews. Having read the passage in question together once more, the eunuch asked Philip whether the prophet was here speaking of himself or referring to some one else. His knowledge of prophecy and the teaching he had had did not enable him to decide this important point. And Philip, full of the joy of the missionary when he finds an eager inquirer after the truth, opened his mouth for a long discourse. He could hardly have found a more suitable text to expound his great topic, for his subject was Jesus and the wonderful message concerning Him. Beginning with the many clear and beautiful texts of the Old Testament, he had a fine opportunity of showing the fulfillment of prophecy in the case of Jesus of Nazareth. And he undoubtedly spoke also of the great commission of the Lord which He had entrusted to His disciples, “to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” Matt. 28, 19. And while Philip was still picturing the glories of the Christ in glowing colors, the chariot came near one of the small streams or pools which, even in the dry season, may contain some little water. And the eunuch, half in eagerness and half in fear, points to the water and asks whether there would be anything in the way of his being baptized. Philip thereupon put the question which is fundamental in every true formula for baptizing, saying that his wish may very well be granted if he believes with all his heart. And the eunuch, filled with the sweetness and beauty of the Gospel proclamation which he has just heard, utters his confession: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God: a short, but comprehensive formula, amounting to a confession in the Triune God. The officer then commanded the chariot to halt, and both Philip and the eunuch went down to, or into, the water, where the latter was baptized, the method not being indicated, though it was probably either by pouring or by immersion. No weight attaches to the method or form of baptism, so long as water is used and applied with the words of institution. But when they came up out of the water, the Lord, the Spirit of the Lord, performed a miracle by suddenly removing Philip from the side of the eunuch and out of his sight.” – Kretzmann Commentaries

“This whole verse is omitted by ABCG, several others of the first authority, Erpen’s edit. of the Arabic, the Syriac, the Coptic, Sahidic, Ethiopic, and some of the Slavonic: almost all the critics declare against it as spurious. Griesbach has left it out of the text; and Professor White in his Crisews says, “Hic versus certissime delendus,” this verse, most assuredly, should be blotted out. It is found in E, several others of minor importance, and in the Vulgate and Arabic. In those MSS. where it is extant it exists in a variety of forms, though the sense is the same.” – Clarke Commentary

“This verse is missing in a very large number of manuscripts (Mill), and has been rejected by many of the ablest critics. It is also omitted in the Syriac and Ethiopic versions. It is not easy to conceive why it has been omitted in almost all the Greek mss.” – Barnes Commentary

Why isn’t Acts 8:37 in the ESV?

There are a few things that I would like to comment on about Acts 8:37.  First of all, it should be mentioned that this particular verse is apocryphal.  If you look for it in a modern Bible like the ESV you will see that Acts 8:37 isn’t included.  Why is that?  The answer is because in all likelihood this verse wasn’t in the original copy of Acts.

Does that mean it isn’t true?  Of course not.  It is entirely possible that Acts 8:37 was something that was part of the oral tradition but just didn’t get written down in the book itself when it was first circulated.  That doesn’t in and of itself mean that this part of the story isn’t true.  But it does mean that the verse is shaky ground to use as a proof-text for anything.  For the same reason, I don’t use Mark 16:16 to argue for Baptismal Regeneration even though Luther did quite frequently.

If you want a breakdown on this concept then I recommend taking a look at a fair article I found on it for you HERE.  Delving into textual criticism is far beyond the scope of this post.  That said, every student of scripture should have at least a cursory understanding of it.  So do read through that if you are unfamiliar.  To be fair, I linked to a Baptist source  just so show that there is ecumenical unity on the apocryphal origins of this verse.

All that said, how should we understand this passage?  Well to be completely fair I am going to address the verse as if it was in the Bible.

What Does it Mean?

One thing that needs to be stated is that this passage is descriptive, not prescriptive.  We are seeing a story of a conversion and then a Baptism.  We see Philip preaching the Word (Acts 8:35), and in this act we would expect the Eunuch to receive faith as prescriptively taught elsewhere (Rom 10:17)(Eph 2:8-9).  At this moment the Eunuch is confessing faith and requests Baptism (Acts 8:36-37) and then in verse 38 the Baptism is performed.

It should be stated that there is nothing wrong with doing it this way.  Scripturally, the only significant thing about means of grace in the odro saludis (order of salvation) is that it precedes receiving of faith.  By that I mean, since the Eunuch heard the preaching of the Word first then this is the means he received faith from first.  Had Philip led with Baptism and then preached the Word it would have been just as efficacious for the creation of faith in the Heart of the Eunuch.

Simply stated, this verse isn’t tricky for Lutherans.  Baptism is one means of Grace.  The thief on the cross is a good example of someone who was saved by the Preaching of the Word only.

An important thing to understand is that Baptism and the teaching/preaching of the Word are something that should be connected together.

“19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, ; 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt 28:19-20 ESV 

Notice that Baptizing comes first, and then after that we see teaching.  Ideally this should be the general norm of the Christian life.  Obviously Babies are too young to be taught the scripture so you baptize them first and teach them later.  Narrative is not normative though, and in the case of the Eunuch he wanted to be taught first.  Baptism is Gospel not Law, thus it shouldn’t be looked at legalistically.   The Eunuch is in the kingdom, that’s what matters.

Conclusion

Like I said above, even if this verse is included in the canon, it is not difficult for Lutheran theology.  Baptism is only one means by which the literal death burial and Resurrection of Christ is poured on the Believer.  In practice what is generally done is that Babies are baptized and then taught while adults are taught and then baptized.  Though both means of Grace are independently efficacious at the time of application we are taught by Christ to connect the two throughout the Christian life.  In the preaching of the Word we continually remember our Baptism, our salvation in Christ, and where we stand with him.

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About ACTheologian

I am a layman who blogs my Biblical studies. Enjoy, please read with an open Bible and do double check with your pastor.
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2 Responses to Baptism of the Eunuch

  1. jvigil873 says:

    Great post! Very informative!! Would you consider doing a blog on Acts 19:1-7? Specifically John baptism versus baptism into the Lord Jesus. Also, in vs 6, didn’t they already have the Holy Spirit in baptism? Why does it mention that they received it when Paul laid hands on them?

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    • ACTheologian says:

      That is a really good passage to cover. I’ve been waiting until I’m ready to blog on it as part of my work on cessationism. If not I will cover it in this series though. Or perhaps both why not.

      What I believe is going on there is a few things unique to the apostolic age.

      John’s baptism was pointing to Jesus. It wasn’t the same thing. What stood out about his baptism from a first century Jewish baptism was that he required Jews to be baptized not just gentiles. Which would have been a big deal back then. But it conveyed a point in that we ALL need to be clean.

      The laying of hands by an apostle is something we don’t have today. What I believe is going on there is that second order apostles were being established.

      In my post on the apostolic office I demonstrated that there were two classes of apostles if you will. Those directly sent by Jesus and those sent directly by one of the apostles sent by Jesus.

      When the apostles died out we lost the ability to replicate this secondary office. And we lost the gifts that came with it. One of which was the gift of prophecy.

      Remember, they didn’t have a new testament yet. How did they discern truth? How did they preach the word of God? They had the septuigint but no new testament.

      In that age anyone that had the gift of prophecy could speak it for the congregation. It was not as good as what we have now. Paul calls what we have today “perfect” in 1 Cor 13.

      So when they say they don’t have the Holy Spirit I think they mean it with regards to the gifts that were obvious and experiential.

      Though we know from other scripture that we received the Holy Spirit by means of Grace, this is something that we trust happened based on the Word of God.

      That’s where I am on it and I thought I would share in the comments. It might be a spell before I’m comfortable blogging it.

      Acts is a tough book to handle especially on things unique to that time. There isn’t a lot of scripture to compare it to and the book lends itself well to eisegesis. In Acts I would recommend establishing your hermeneutic in more systematic prescriptive works first and then coming to acts with that lens in place.

      I think that helps protect us from eisegeting it. When I do blog on this passage I will try to present it with that technique.

      Hope this helps, God bless.

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