Philip, the First Missionary – Acts 8
Read the Passage: Acts 8
The People of Samaria (8:1–8)
At the end of the account of the death of Stephen in Acts 7 it was reported that “the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). This is the first mentioning of Saul, who would become Paul, in the Bible; yet, he dominates the remainder of the New Testament. In Acts 8:1–3, Luke reports that Saul, possibly a member of the “Synagogue of the Freedmen” (Acts 6:9), was consenting to Stephen’s death and, furthermore, that he began to persecute the church. This persecution led to the scattering of the church from Jerusalem to the world. Interestingly, while the suffering and dispersion of the early church was surely viewed as a trial by early Christians, in retrospect, it was clearly a blessing for the world, as the gospel was carried to the nations by these fleeing pilgrims.
In Acts 8:4–8 we are reintroduced to Philip, one of the seven deacons from Acts 6:5. Philip is the first missionary—in the modern sense of the term—mentioned in the book of Acts, and the first person to be given the title of “evangelist” (Acts 21:8) in the Bible. Because of the persecution in Jerusalem, we are told that Philip went “down to the city of Samaria” (Acts 8:5). Samaria was the region of Canaan where people with a mixed Jewish and Gentile heritage resided, which was the result of Assyrian reallocation of peoples. Samaria was actually geographically north of Jerusalem, but topologically lower than Jerusalem, which sits on a ridge. Acts 8:7–8 reports that Philip’s preaching of the gospel in Samaria resulted in: (1) the casting out of unclean spirits from the possessed, (2) the healing of the sick, and (3) the feeling of great joy in the city.
Simon the Sorcerer (8:9–25)
In Acts 8:9–13 we are introduced to a sorcerer named Simon who was apparently a resident of Samaria. The text reports that Simon had “practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, ‘This man is the great power of God.’ And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time” (Acts 8:9–11). Note that the sorcery Simon performed was likely a variety of magic, illusions, astrology, and the occult. When Simon saw the authentic miraculous signs done by Philip, he “himself [ostensibly] also believed” (Acts 8:13). This is an indication that Simon knew his own signs were not authentic.
Acts 8:14–25 contains two important events. First, there is the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Samaritan believers in the presence of the apostles, Peter and John. This event is likely meant to be a confirmation for the apostles that the gospel was for all men. Note that later in the book of Acts the Holy Spirit comes in a similar manner upon the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10:46–47), as well as upon the followers of John (cf. Acts 19:6). This is similar to the Holy Spirit’s resting upon the Jews on the Day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:4). Second, there is the apostasy of Simon. The text reports that when Simon witnessed the arrival of the Holy Spirit, he tried to buy the ability to bestow the Holy Spirit from the apostles (cf. Acts 8:18–19). Upon hearing Simon’s offer, the apostles sharply rebuked him (cf. Acts 8:20–25).
The Ethiopian Eunuch (8:26–40)
Acts 8:26–40 contains one of the most interesting narratives in the book of Acts. In this passage Philip is miraculously directed to a road near Gaza. Here he finds an Ethiopian royal official in his chariot on the way home. This man, who was likely a Jewish proselyte, was a eunuch and thus would have been excluded from the inner courts of the Temple in Jerusalem (cf. Deut. 23:1). Nevertheless, he had come to worship and was now on his way home, reading the book of Isaiah as he traveled. After Philip explained that he who is referenced at Isa. 53:7–8 is Jesus Christ, the Ethiopian believed and was baptized. Then, as miraculously as he appeared, Philip was taken from this man and delivered to Azotus from where he preached to all of Ceasarea.
- How important is it for you to be recognized for your service in the church? What might a desire to be recognized show about one’s motive for ministry?
- Why, when the gospel is preached today, do we not see the casting out of unclean spirits and the widespread healing of the sick?
- What was it about Philip’s ministry that was attractive to Simon? Should Simon have been baptized so soon?
- Do you think Simon was an immature believer, or an unbeliever (cf. Luke 8:4–15; John 2:23–24)?
- What are some lessons about sharing our faith that we can learn from the narrative of the Ethiopian eunuch?