Monday, March 28, 2016

The Ethiopian Eunuch's Baptism

But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, "Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert place. And he arose and went; and behold, there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship. And he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.
And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go up and join this chariot."
And when Philip had run up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?"
And he said, "Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: "HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO SLAUGHTER; AND AS A LAMB BEFORE ITS SHEARER IS SILENT, SO HE DOES NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH. IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY; WHO SHALL RELATE HIS GENERATION? FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH." And the eunuch answered Philip and said, "Please [tell me,] of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself, or of someone else?"
And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.
And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?"
And Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus; and as he passed through he kept preaching the gospel to all the cities, until he came to Caesarea.
(Acts 8:26-40)
Let us examine the circumstantial evidence and see if we can determine the truth regarding the Ethiopian eunuch's baptism. We know from geography that Gaza was some forty or fifty miles southwest of Jerusalem. The Bible informs us that this was "a desert place" (v. 26). Stories in the Old Testament inform us that this was a poorly watered area where wells had to be dug just to provide water for animals. There are accounts in the story of Abraham of such wells (Gen. 21:25-31), and Abraham's servant who went to find Isaac a wife stopped at such a well where Rebekah came to get water (Gen. 24:10-21). From Genesis 26:12-22, Exodus 2:16-22, and other passages, we learn the value of these wells in that region. These wells were valuable property. These logistical facts concerning the quality of the land do not point to a good chance of finding enough water for immersion.

By the Ethiopian eunuch asking, "Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?," he must have known something about baptism already. He was reading from the middle of Isaiah 53, which we learn from the quote in Acts 8:32-33. He must have been studying it for some time. Remember, chapters and verses did not exist in the Scriptures at that time. Is there anything nearby that could have suggested the subject of baptism to him?
Thus He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what had not been told them they will see, And what they had not heard they will understand. (Is. 52:15)
When they came to water, no doubt the passage he had read earlier was still on his mind, thus prompting him to ask, "What prevents me from being baptized?" No doubt Philip would have been able to explain the importance of the Spirit's work and how the water in baptism is a symbol of the Spirit's cleansing, descending or being sprinkled on those who trust in Jesus.

When it says they "went down into the water" and they "came up out of the water," all this means is that they walked into the water and walked out of the water. If I walk from the shore to the middle of a stream that only comes to my ankles, I have "went down into the water." When I walk from the middle of the stream back onto the shore, I have "came up out of the water." The Greek word katabaino (καταβαινω) translated as "went down" means "to descend." The Greek word anabaino (αναβαινω) translated as "came up" means "to ascend." The Greek word eis (εις) translated "into" is where we get our term eisegesis from, referring to the reading into of a text ideas and concepts that simply are not there. The Greek word ek (εκ) tranlated "out of" simply means "from." Immersion is not in view here, otherwise Philip got baptized as well.

What is the likelihood that after an immersion baptism, Philip traveled 20 miles to Azotus dripping wet? There is no mention of preparation in this passage, such as dry clothing, or any other passage related to baptism. If one's hypothesis concerning this account is that the Ethiopian eunuch was immersed, all the probabilities of circumstantial evidence point against it.

How does it seem to you?

"[Study] to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

"Now [the Bereans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things [taught to them by the Apostle Paul] were so." Acts 17:11