Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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ACTS - Chapter 8

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Acts 8

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  THE CHURCH IN PALESTINE AND SYRIA  2, 1 -- 12, 25 (continued)

1.  Growth of the Church in Jerusalem  2, 1 -- 8, 3 (continued)

8, 1-3:  Persecution.  With the death of Stephen there arose the first general persecution of the Church.  So far only the Apostles had been molested, but now the faithful and especially the deacons were involved.  It was a general and devastating attack and Saul stood out conspicuously among the persecutors, going from house to house in search of victims and dragging them off to prison.  In consequence large numbers of the faithful fled from Jerusalem; the Apostles however remained.  Though probably not entirely exempt, they were treated with less rigor on account of their reputation and miracles; in persecuting them later (12) even King Herod moved cautiously to see how the people would react.

2.  The Church in Judea and Samaria  8, 4 -- 9, 43

The persecution furnished a great opportunity for the promulgation of the gospel through the rest of the country.  In His wisdom God had provided the necessary peace at the beginning till the Church was established and organized in Jerusalem; then out of the evil of persecution He drew the blessing of the spread of the glad tidings.  The divine plan for the conversion of the Gentiles was well known to the Apostles, but the Jews were to be given the first chance and the work was to be confined to them until God revealed how and when He wished the Gentiles to be admitted.  Throughout this section there is question of Jews only, with the doubtful exception of the eunuch in 8, 26 ff.  In the eighth chapter the chief regions of Palestine are expressly mentioned: Judea and Samaria (8, 1.4) and the cities along the coast (Gaza, 8, 26; from Azotus to Caesarea, 8, 40).  In the narrative of St. Paul's conversion there are disciples in distant Damascus (9, 2.10.19), and after the persecution has died down, St. Peter visits the churches and makes new converts in Lydda, Sharon, and Joppa (9, 31 ff), while Galilee is incidentally named among the regions where the Church is enjoying peace (9, 31).

8, 4-25:  Samaria.  It is quite in the style of St. Luke to select one or two events for detailed treatment and to omit or mention briefly the rest.  The chief evangelist in Samaria was Philip, one of the seven deacons.  Both the district and its capital city were called Samaria.  He performed many miracles in the city and made numerous converts including the sorcerer Simon who had previously won great popularity there by his magical practices.  When the news of his success reached Jerusalem, the Apostles sent St. Peter and St. John to consolidate the work; nothing is implied against the primacy of St. Peter since he was one of those who made the decision, and surely a superior can even yield to the wished of his community to undertake some special work for the common good.  The deacon Philip could baptize, but only the Apostles could confer the sacrament of Confirmation.  In Baptism the Holy Spirit is received in the remission of sins and the infusion of sanctifying grace, but Confirmation brings a fuller infusion of the Holy Spirit with strength to profess the faith courageously.

Simon the magician, either never sincerely converted or lapsing quickly from his first fervor, had an eye chiefly for the miraculous powers granted to the faithful.  He had kept close to Philip in constant wonder at his miracles, but when he saw the Apostles conferring the Holy Spirit, he could no longer conceal his worldly attitude and offered them money for a share in their power.  His only reward was a scathing rebuke from St. Peter who exhorted him to pray for forgiveness.  From this Simon is derived the word "simony" because he attempted to buy a power of a spiritual nature.

On their way back to Jerusalem the Apostles preached the gospel in the country of Samaria.  This work marks a step towards the universal preaching of the gospel, since the Jews held the Samaritans in abhorrence and excluded them from their religion.  But it did not open the door for the Gentiles because the Samaritans were the descendants of the Israelites who had been left in the country when the bulk of the population had been carried into exile.  These had intermarried with the pagan colonists, but their religion, however contaminated, was founded on the books of Moses, which they cherished, and prescribed circumcision and the observance of the Mosaic Law.

8, 26-40:  An Ethiopian.  The nationality of this convert is disputed.  If he was a Gentile, his conversion was a strictly private affair and did not change the practice of preaching to Jews only.  No solid reason has been given to prove that he was not a Jew.  He is called an Ethiopian, but the Jews in Jerusalem at the first Pentecost are also called by the names of the countries from which they came (Acts 2, 9-11).  He is styled a eunuch and such mutilation was forbidden to Jews, but their history shows that they were always lax in observing the Law, and the term "eunuch" was sometimes used simply to denote an office without implying mutilation.  His bewilderment in trying to understand the Messianic passage from Isaias shows the need of the guidance of the Church for the interpretation of Scripture.


Confraternity Bible:

Persecution  1 Now there broke out on that day a great persecution against the Church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered abroad throughout the land of Judea and Samaria.  2 And devout men took care of Stephen's burial and made great lamentation over him.  3 But Saul was harassing the Church; entering house after house, and dragging out men and women, he committed them to prison.

Samaria  4 Now those who were scattered abroad went about preaching the word.  5 And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached the Christ to them.  6 And the crowds with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, listening to him and seeing the miracles that he worked.  7 For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, went out of many possessed persons, and many paralytics and cripples were cured.  8 So there was great joy in that city.

9 Now a man named Simon had previously been practicing sorcery in that city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; 10 and all from least to greatest listening to him, saying, "This man is the power of God, which is called great."  11 And they gave heed to him because for a long time he had bewitched them with his sorceries.  12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.  13 And Simon also himself believed, and after his baptism attached himself to Philip; and at sight of the signs and exceedingly great miracles being wrought, he was amazed.

14 Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John.  15* On their arrival they prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; 16 for as yet he had not come upon any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.  18 But when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, "Give me also this power, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit."

20 But Peter said to him, "Thy money go to destruction with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money.  21 Thou hast no part or lot in this matter; for thy heart is not right before God.  22 Repent therefore of this wickedness of thine and pray to God, that perhaps this thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee; 23 for I see thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity."  24 But Simon answered, "Do you pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may happen to me."

25 So they, after bearing witness and preaching the gospel of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel to many Samaritan villages.

An Ethiopian  26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza."  (This road is desert.)  27 And he arose and went.  And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of Candace, queen of Ethiopia, who was in charge of all her treasures, had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, sitting in his carriage and reading the prophet Isaias.  29 And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and keep close to this carriage."  30 And Philip, running up, heard him reading the prophet Isaias, and he said, "Dost thou then understand what thou art reading?"  31 But he said, "Why, how can I, unless someone shows me?"  And he asked Philip to get up and sit with him.

32* Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:
"He was led like a sheep to slaughter; and just as a lamb dumb before its shearer, so did he not open his mouth. 

33* In humiliation his judgment was denied him;

Who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth." 
34 And the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I pray thee, of whom is the prophet saying this?  Of himself or of someone else?"

35 Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning from this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.  36 And as they went along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "See, here is water; what is there to prevent my being baptized?"  [37 And Philip said, "If thou dost believe with all thy heart, thou mayest."  And he answered, and said, "I believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God."]  38 And he ordered the carriage to stop; and both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.  39 But when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, but he went on his way rejoicing.  40 But Philip was found in Azotus, and passing through he preached the gospel to all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
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15: Holy Spirit: they had received the Holy Spirit in Baptism, but not in the fullness with which He is imparted in Confirmation.  Being only a deacon, Philip could not administer Confirmation.

32-33: Isa. 53, 7.