The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 8:26-40

Posted by Dim Bulb on May 11, 2011

26. Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying: Arise, go towards the south, to the way that goeth down from Jerusalem into Gaza: this is desert.

Gaza, one of the principal cities of the Philistines, was on the southwestern confines of Palestine, on the edge of the desert between Egypt and Palestine. Philip took the road from Samaria to Gaza which led through Hebron, and this was a ” desert,” i.e., a desolate and uninhabited way.

27. And rising up, he went. And behold a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch, of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge over all her treasures, had come to Jerusalem to adore.

Ethiopia was the region south of Egypt now called Abyssinia (Father Callan’s Commentary was published in 1919). An eunuch, who was probably one of the principal functionaries employed in the palace of the Queen. Candace was most likely the name of the dynasty, or of all the Queens of Ethiopia, like Pharaoh in Egypt. To adore, which shows that the eunuch was either a Jew or a proselyte (i.e., a Gentile convert to Judaism).

Candace. Pliny indicates that the name Candace was indeed a dynastic rather than a personal name (Natural History, 6:186).  The title also appears in the Life of Alexander of Macedon, 3:18, a work falsely attributed to Callisthenes.

28. And he was returning, sitting in his chariot, and reading Isaias the prophet.

As verse 32 indicates, the eunuch was reading Isaiah 53:7-8.

29. And the Spirit said to Philip : Go near, and join thyself to this chariot

The Spirit; i.e., the Holy Ghost, by an internal inspiration, or an external revelation, said to Philip, etc.  It was an angel of the Lord who spoke to St Philip in verse 26. The angel gave the missionary directions, the Spirit is the impetus behind the actual evangelization of the eunuch.

30. And Philip running thither, heard him reading the prophet Isaias. And he said: Thinkest thou that thou understandest what thou readest?

It was commonplace in the ancient world to read out loud. One only needs to recall the famous passage in St Augustine’s Confessions wherein he expresses surprise at finding St Ambrose reading silently.

31. Who said: And how can I, unless some man shew me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

How can I, etc. The eunuch, although evidently a man of intelligence, found private interpretation of the Scriptures not so easy as do Protestants; he felt the need of the Church in this matter.

A more literal translation of the eunuch’s question would be How am I able. unless some man lead me down that road?

32. And the place of the scripture which he was reading was this: He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb without voice before his shearer, so openeth he not his mouth.

The passage he was reading was that of Isaias 53:7 ff., which speaks of the bitter sufferings and death (and resurrection) of the Messiah for His people. The eunuch was reading the Septuagint version.

33. In humility his judgment was taken away. His generation who shall declare, for his life shall be taken from the earth?

In humility his judgment, etc. This may mean: (a) in his humiliation, bereft of friends and defenders, our Lord was denied a just sentence and condemned to an unjust death; or (b) in the humiliation of His voluntary death, the sentence of death pronounced against Him by men was taken away or cancelled by His glorious Resurrection and victory over death.

His generation who shall declare? The most probable meanings of these words are: (a) Who can declare or understand the cruelty of the contemporaries of the Saviour who will put Him to death? Hence this interpretation refers the words to Christ’s temporary existence, (b) Who can explain the eternal generation of the Word of God, who, as man, will suffer death in obedience to His Father? (c) Who can describe the number of those that will believe in Christ, risen and triumphant over death?

34. And the eunuch answering Philip, said : I beseech thee, of whom doth the prophet speak this? of himself, or of some other man?
35. Then Philip, opening his mouth, and beginning at this scripture, preached unto him Jesus.

Preached unto him Jesus; i.e., Philip applied the passage to Jesus, in whom the prophecy was fulfilled. Cf. 1 Peter 2:22-24.

36. And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water; and the eunuch said: See, here is water: what doth hinder me from being baptized?

While explaining to the eunuch the doctrines of Christ, Philip must have touched on Baptism, and hence the eunuch wished to be baptized.

What doth hinder me? the Greek word translated here as hinder is  κωλυει, thus indicating that one ought to suffer the eunuch to come to Jesus as a little child (Luke 18:16), and hinder him as a scholar of the law might (Luke 11:52).  The word is also used in Acts 10:47 and Acts 11:17 in a baptismal context, as it is here.

37. And Philip said: If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answering, said: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Philip exacted an external and explicit confession of faith before he would admit the eunuch to Baptism. This verse, although cited by Irenaeus and Cyprian, is not found in many MSS.

38. And he commanded the chariot to stand still; and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him.
39. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took away Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more. And he went on his way rejoicing.

The sudden disappearance of Philip made the eunuch understand the greatness of the benefit he had received, and the spiritual character of its messenger. Tradition says that the eunuch became the Apostle of Ethiopia.

40. But Philip was found in Azotus; and passing through, he preached the gospel to all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.

Azotus was a city of the Philistines north of Gaza. Often besieged by the kings of Assyria and the Pharaohs of Egypt, it was finally destroyed during the wars of the Maccabees.

Caesarea was on the western seacoast of Palestine, a little to the south of Mount Carmel. It was built by Herod I in honor of Caesar Augustus, and hence received the name of Caesarea. This Caesarea must not be confounded with Caesarea Philippi. See on Matthew 16:13.

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5 Responses to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 8:26-40”

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