Monday, September 22, 2014

The Ethiopian Eunuch Knew About Baptism Prior to Philip's Teaching

Archaeology has revealed large "baptistries" ("mikveh") around the Temple; people who were entering the Temple would go down the steps on one side of these baths, into the water, immerse themselves as a purification ritual, and then come out up the steps on the other side so as to not mix the pure path with the unpure path (ex.,

The Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8 would have been witness to these Jewish baptisms all week long while he was in Jerusalem during Passover Week, wishing he could be baptized, sorrowful that he could not be part of God's community because of his status as an eunuch (Lev 21:18-20; Deut 23:1). Philip preached Jesus to him starting at Isaiah 53:7-8, and when they got three chapters further in (56:3ff), the Eunuch was excited that he might could now be part of God's community. When they came to some water, the eunuch's question was, "What's to keep me from being baptized?" And after he was baptized, he went on his way rejoicing that he could now be part of God's community.

Jesus had told the disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria, then to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:7). Luke shows this progression in his writing: conversion begins in Jerusalem, and includes the "Judean" (that is, full-blooded) Jews (Acts 2); then the half-Jews of Samaria (first half of Acts 8); then the disenfranchised, like eunuchs (second half of Acts 8); then the non-Jewish Gentiles who were favorable to the Jewish religion (Acts 10); then the somewhat-interested-in-Judaism Gentiles (Acts 13); then the pagans (Acts 14); more of the disenfranchised, like women and those working for the hated Roman government (Acts 16); then the snobbish elite heathen philosophers (Acts 17); then the king of the world himself and his worldly government (Acts 21-28). Luke is not trying to teach us that when Jesus is preached, baptism is part of that process (the eunuch was already familiar with baptism, albeit probably not the baptism of Jesus, which Philip would of necessity had to then explain, I'm confident); rather, he's developing his theme that those who were formerly excluded from the kingdom of God, such as the eunuch, are now welcome.

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