Philip and the Eunuch

by romprakash

Shaded relief map of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia

I was reading through Acts 8, and didn’t recognize a couple of things that I ought to have previously. The first is that the Ethiopian is probably the first Gentile convert in the early Church (the Church had been exclusively Jewish up to this point). The more famous conversion story of a Gentile is in Acts 10 (Cornelius, and Jesus’ revelation to Peter that the dietary laws were lifted).

I’ve often glossed over the implications of what it meant that this man was a eunuch however. And this turns out to be quite significant if we look at the Mosaic Law. Deuteronomy 23:1 says:

No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.

What is the assembly of the LORD? This is what A Handbook on Deuteronomy by UBS has to say about this verse (FYI: the UBS commentary series is used to assist translators who translate the Bible into other languages):

Shall not enter the assembly of the Lord: this sounds like going into an assembly hall. But what it means is “shall not belong to the assembly” or “… the Lord’s people” (tev,cev). The Hebrew word qahal is translated in the Septuagint by ekklesia, which is the Greek word in the New Testament translated “church.”

Other commentators on this verse also mention that this was to prohibit practices found in other cultures that the LORD found detestable. If you remember a lot of societies would castrate young men for various reasons (for instance, it is widely assumed that Daniel was made a eunuch when taken to Babylon), but such a thing was detestable to the LORD.

It is curious that this man was reading Isaiah (see Acts 8:32), as Isaiah contains a passage full of hope for eunuchs (in light of Deuteronomy 23:1 above). See Isaiah 56:3-5:

No foreigner who has converted to the Lord should say, “The Lord will exclude me from His people”; and the eunuch should not say, “Look, I am a dried-up tree.” For the Lord says this: “For the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold firmly to My covenant, I will give them, in My house and within My walls, a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give each of them an everlasting name that will never be cut off.

So there was a message of hope for the eunuchs inside of Isaiah – which I would guess is a good reason why this Ethiopian was reading the book. Is it any small wonder that he was full of joy (Acts 8:39) once Philip told him the good news about Jesus (Acts 8:35) and he believed (Acts 8:37)?

The next thing that struck me is that it is incorrect when certain people claim that the Church (ekklesia) is a new construct of the New Testament. Instead, the Church is the Assembly of God – which is a continuation of the qahal (Hebrew) in the Old Testament. The Church isn’t something new and different that just popped up sight unseen! In fact qahal is translated ekklesia in the Septuagint!

The Church doesn’t replace anything as some people charge Reformed Theologians as teaching, instead it is (as Paul states) the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) – a continuation and expansion of the faithful remnant of Israel. God’s assembly has been expanded to include Jew and Gentile now. As Paul states so forcefully in Galatians 3:

There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one  in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

The promise given to Abraham has been fulfilled in Abraham’s seed – Jesus Christ. There is no more Jew or Greek. The dividing wall has been torn down. And more directly to this issue at hand is Ephesians 2:

12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise,  with no hope  and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood  of the •Messiah. 14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one  and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He did away with the law of the commandments in regulations, so that He might create  in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it.  17 When Christ came, He proclaimed the good news  of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  18 For through Him we both have access  by one Spirit to the Father.  19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,  with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is being fitted together  in Him and is growing into a holy sanctuary in the Lord,  22 in whom you also are being built together  for God’s dwelling  in the Spirit.

What an amazing way to see God’s prophesy in Isaiah go from promise to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. What great hope the eunuchs of the world have, as well as the Jew, the sinner and tax collector. We who were once without hope and God have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. Thanks be to God!

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