Monday 11 July 2022

Bible Book:

] and sit beside him. (vs 30-31)

Acts 8: 26-40 Monday 11 July 2022

Psalm 4


This encounter arguably marked a key moment in the spread of Christianity. An official from Ethiopia had been visiting Jerusalem and was converted on his way home; tradition often associates him with the birth of what became the Ethiopian Coptic Church.

We know very little about this mysterious unnamed official. He was clearly either a Jew, a convert or a ‘God-fearer’ (a Gentile (non-Jew) who worshipped the God of Judaism, but without formally converting), as he had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to worship – presumably in the Temple. But it is worth noting that Deuteronomy 23:1 prohibited eunuchs from participating in the worship of the Temple. So, even if he was born a Jew, he may have travelled a great distance in order to come no closer to the Temple’s holy places than the outer court.

He was also clearly a man of significant standing and influence back home – an official in the royal court, with responsibility for the treasury. His identity as a eunuch could indicate that he was a slave or freedman, but whatever the case he was clearly trusted by the Queen, and possessed great authority as well as the freedom and means to embark on a lengthy journey. He was literate, which is no surprise, given his position, and he possessed a scroll of the book of Isaiah, which again indicates wealth – perhaps he had bought it in Jerusalem, as a souvenir of his pilgrimage?

And yet, when it came to scriptural and religious understanding, he was clearly intelligent, curious and keen to learn, but felt no pressure to appear learned. The passage he was reading is from Isaiah 53:7-8. This is one of a number of sections of Isaiah which are often known as the ‘Servant Songs’. They describe vicarious, possibly redemptive, suffering experienced by an unspecified servant of God – perhaps Israel as a whole, or an anointed king or leader. By the first century, some Jewish groups understood this prophecy as messianic, so it would have been a valuable opening for Philip in his mission to witness to the one he understood to be the Messiah.

To Ponder:

  • The official is given no name and never reappears in the narrative of Acts. Why, then, did the writer of Acts feel the need to tell this story of the conversion of one man among so many?
  • LGBTQ+ readings of scripture have sometimes focussed on this story, as an account of a new disciple whose gender identity does not neatly fit the accepted categories. Others have seen this as the first baptism of someone whose Jewish identity is unclear. What might this story say to those who feel on the margins of the church community?
  • The Ethiopian man is a powerful official. What would you want to draw from the Isaiah passage and from the death and resurrection of Jesus, to share with those holding political power today?

God of challenge and of new beginnings, we pray for all coming to faith, deepening their understanding of the gospel, or seeking to interpret Scripture and bear witness to your love.

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