The Conversion of the Eunuch

B.C. Goodpasture

The conversion of the eunuch differs from other cases of conversion recorded in the book of Acts only in the incidentals. The essentials of conversion are uniformly the same. In the great commission, Jesus mentioned the terms upon which the obedient of all nations would be accepted—namely, faith (Mark 16:16), repentance (Luke 24:47), and baptism (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16). These are the essentials of conversion.

In conversion, there are three fundamental changes—a change of heart, a change of conduct, and a change of state. Faith changes the heart (Acts 15:9); repentance changes the conduct (Matt. 12:41; Jonah 3:5-10); and baptism, the state (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27). These are found in every case of conversion under the preaching of the gospel. If they are not all mentioned, they are all necessarily understood.

But the incidentals, such as the number of preachers present, the number and nationality of the hearers, the means employed in bringing the preacher in contact with the hearer, the time, the place, and the like, may vary. Again, according to the divine plan, there is uniformity, in that we always have the messenger, the message, and the hearer.

It was God’s good pleasure through “the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21 ASV). The gospel is the subject of the preaching (Mark 16:16). It is God’s power to save (Rom. 1:16). It must be preached to every creature. The divine scheme for the conversion of the world involves the preaching of the gospel by man to man. This order is unvarying. Under no circumstances do we find, after Pentecost, either Christ, the Spirit, or an angel preaching the gospel directly to any man. Since the preaching of the gospel has been committed to men (Mark 16:15) we find only men preaching it. With these preliminary considerations in mind, we shall now look for their application in the conversion of the eunuch.

The preacher, in this case, was “Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven” (Acts 21:8 ASV) who had been appointed to distribute food to the widows among the Grecian Jews in the daily ministrations (Acts 6:1-6). He was a man of “good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3 ASV).

In the great persecution that arose about the time of Stephen’s death, he was driven from Jerusalem, and went down to the city of Samaria, where he preached Christ with outstanding results, when he received instructions from the angel of the Lord. “Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza: the same is desert” (Acts 8:26 ASV). It should be observed that the angel, in this case, speaks to the preacher rather than to the man to be converted, as in the case of Cornelius (Acts 10:3); but the angel appeared in each instance for the same purpose—to put the man who needed the gospel in touch with the man who had it, the preacher. As incidentals, these differ in that one spoke to the preacher; the other, to the man who needed to hear the preacher.

Later in the story, the Spirit spoke to Philip and for the same purpose as the angel. Of course, they could have preached the gospel directly to the eunuch, if it had been God’s will; but it was not. However, the fact that the angel and the Spirit spoke to Philip as they did, shows beyond a doubt that he was divinely endorsed as a preacher and amply qualified to instruct the eunuch in the way of salvation.

Having received specific instructions to go “toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza,” the Gaza which was in ruins and deserted, as opposed to the new and flourishing Gaza (see George Adam Smith’s Historical Geography Of The Holy Land, p. 186) Philip “arose and went.” He did not pause to object, question, or obtain permission from any man or board of men. Having traveled the road from Samaria to its junction with the road from Jerusalem to deserted Gaza, he met the man who needed to hear the gospel of Christ, and, at the command of the Spirit, joined himself to the chariot.

This man was a “eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was over all her treasure, who had come to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27 ASV). Whether he was a Jew or a proselyte, we do not certainly know, but it seems likely that he, like Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah, had risen as a Jew, to a position of influence and power in a foreign government. The fact that he held this important office shows that he was a man of honesty and integrity.

He was a religious man—in fact, a very religious man. He had made a journey of more than 1,000 miles from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship. He came to Jerusalem to worship God. He had some truth, but not all the truth. He was a Bible reader, and, what is more, a truth seeker. He was modest and open to conviction. When asked by Philip, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” he replied, “How can I, except some man shall guide me?” Philip knew from this answer that he did not know anything about Jesus, and that he had an “honest and good heart.” He was sincerely religious, but he still needed something.

Through the angel of the Lord and the Spirit, Philip was directed to this man to tell him what to do to be saved. This shows clearly that the mere fact that one is religious, and sincere in his religion, is not sufficient to save him. One must be sincerely religious to be saved, but it is possible for one to be sincerely religious and at the same time to be lost. Philip did not regard the eunuch as a saved man. But taking advantage of the text from Isaiah 53, which the eunuch was reading when he met him, he “preached unto him Jesus.” Philip preached the same doctrine to the eunuch that he had previously preached in Samaria (Acts 8:5, 12).

What is it to “preach Jesus?” We have an illustration in this connection. The eunuch was reading Isaiah. What is it to read Isaiah? It is to read the teachings of Isaiah. If reading the teachings of Isaiah is reading Isaiah, why would not “preaching Jesus” be preaching the teachings of Jesus?

We do not know how far back into the life and teachings of Jesus Philip went, but it is certain that he related the story of His death, because his text was a prophecy that described Him as a sheep led “to the slaughter.” He doubtless preached not only Jesus’ death, but also His burial and resurrection. “And as they went on the way, they came unto a certain water; and the eunuch saith, Behold, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” (Acts 8:36 ASV). Why did the eunuch ask this question? If he had heard some preachers today preach for a year, he would not have so much as known there was such a thing as Christian baptism, to say nothing of having been so impressed with the importance of attending to it as soon as opportunity afforded. The only tenable answer to the question is that Philip preached Jesus, and in preaching Jesus he preached baptism. If it was necessary to preach baptism in order to preach Jesus then, it is necessary to preach baptism in order to preach Jesus now, and that without apology.

Behold, here is water.” Evidently for the lack of water the act of baptism could not be attended to sooner; but since there was water in sufficiency, the eunuch inquired, “What doth hinder me to be baptized?” What did Philip answer? Did he say, “We will have to go back to Jerusalem or to the nearest church of like faith and order and have you relate your experience before the brethren; and if they think well of it, then I will baptize you?” No, he did not say that. Philip was the kind of preacher who could baptize a man by himself. He replied,

If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 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 8:37-38).

Note carefully that they came to the water—they did not bring it. They “both” went down into the water, the act of baptism was administered, and “they came up out of the water.” Only one thing practiced as baptism necessitates all that they did—that is a burial in water (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12).

Did the eunuch comply with the conditions mentioned in the beginning of this article? Did he believe? Yes, he believed. He said he did, and Philip accepted his statement. Moreover if it had not been so stated that he believed, we would know it from the fact that no one can be saved without faith (Mark 16:16; John 8:24; Heb. 11:6); and from the fact that Philip baptized him; for faith is a prerequisite of baptism (Mark 16:15-16).

Did he repent? Yes, he repented. How do you know, since it is not expressly stated? It is a matter of implication. No man can be saved without repentance (Luke 13:3, 5; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30). Like faith, repentance is a prerequisite of baptism (Acts 2:38). Moreover, we know he turned from one system of worship to another.

Was he baptized? Yes, it is so stated. Again, Philip preached the gospel to him and he obeyed it. There is no evidence that he knew, when Philip was taken from him, that the angel and the Spirit had spoken to Philip. He “went on his way rejoicing.” He had learned the truth, the facts about Jesus, the gospel. He had learned and accepted new truths, and in so doing he did not have to give up any truth that he already had. It is significant that his rejoicing came after his baptism.

Such is the rule in the New Testament. See the case of the jailer (Acts 16:34), and that of Saul, who fasted until he was baptized (Acts 9:9), but after he was baptized took food and was strengthened. This order is not the result of chance. There is design in it. It is the natural result. Baptism is inductive (Gal. 3:27) and marks the completion of one’s obedience, as an alien, to the gospel (Rom. 6:17-18; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21; John 3:5; Titus 3:5).

Of what church was the eunuch a member?

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