Practical Bible Studies

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The Eunuch's Confession of Faith- A Case for Acts 8:37
by Andrew Heckmaster, 9/9/19
Edited: 10/27/19

 

           Let me start off by saying that I am not a King James Only guy. I think the KJV could be improved in some areas. Namely the fixing of the Granville Sharp constructions and the misuse of kill in place of murder. Most of the changes to more "modern" versions are not demonic, in my opinion. I use the KJV, MEV, ESV, NASB, CSB, NLT, and a handful of other ones. I believe that all of them convey the core doctrines of Christianity accurately enough for the Holy Spirit to save. I do affirm the Chicago Statement as well.



The Confession of Faith


            Before we dive into the critical issues of the verse in question, let’s look at the Biblical story:

 

26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”

30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this:

“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;

And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,

So He opened not His mouth.

33   In His humiliation His justice was taken away,

And who will declare His generation?

For His life is taken from the earth.”

34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

37 Then 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.”

38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.[1] -Acts 8:26-40, NKJV

 

            The story makes sense. It reads this way in the King James Version, the New King James Version, the Modern English Version, and the World English Bible in addition to most of the English versions prior to the twentieth century.

If you noticed, the eunuch is reading Isaiah. In my opinion, Isaiah is probably the best book of the Old Testament when it comes to the prophecy of the Messiah. The Eunuch was well-aware that Jesus was the Christ. Baptism was a natural extension of his faith. If you are a pastor, it preaches well. Let’s take a look at the English Standard Version:

 

36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.[2] -Acts 8:36-38, ESV

 

            Theologically, it makes sense that the Eunuch has to be saved before he can be baptized. Was this verse added later to refute infant baptism? I don’t believe so. Neither do I believe that the Nestle-Aland or even the Wescott and Hort Greek texts were deliberately false in excluding it. They might be lies, but simply going by the oldest available manuscripts you can see why it the choice was made.


[1] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ac 8:26–40). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 8:36–38). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.



Manuscript Evidence for Verse 37


            By most standards, one has to agree that the inclusion of Acts 8:37 seems suspect at first glance. The earliest BIBLICAL manuscript where it can be found is Codex Laudianus (Designated by Ea or 08 in Gregory-Aland numbering). It is a diglot containing both Latin and Greek, making it very useful. The closest universal date that I could find on it is somewhere around 550 AD. This makes it fairly far removed from the time of Christ, so it often gets pushed aside in favor of other manuscripts like Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. More on those in chapter six.

            Aside from Laudianus, there are over sixty Greek manuscripts that include verse thirty-seven. However, one has to be honest about the lack of evidence in the majority of manuscripts. Over four hundred manuscripts omit the verse, but the known evidence is thin. At surface level, the case isn’t very strong for the inclusion of Acts 8:37 in the Holy Bible. See chapter three for more.

            Some consider the Latin Vulgate a source for the verse as well. It was completed by Jerome in the late fourth century. This puts it a little after the oldest manuscripts, but that begs the question: Where did Jerome get the manuscripts that he translated it from?



Early Church Fathers


            The patriarchs of the early Church are assets beyond measure. Whether you agree with their theology or not, you have to admit the positive impact. If every Bible and manuscript was destroyed, all of scripture could be reconstructed from the patristic writings.

 

Cyprian (About 200AD-258AD)

            One of the earliest evidences for thirty-seven is in the writings of Cyprian. He writes this in his treatises:

 

43. That he who truly believes can immediately obtain.[1]

 

            Sound familiar? Cyprian is speaking directly of Acts 8:37. Phillip tells him if he believes with all his heart that he may be baptized. I believe this to be BOTH symbolic and literal. The Eunuch could not be baptized until he believed, based on this verse.

            Even still, Cyprian isn’t the best possible evidence in the case for verse 37…

 

Irenaeus (130AD-202AD)

            There are few men that have walked the earth to do more for apologetics and biblical preservation than Irenaeus. Of all the patristic writings, his are the most complete. Despite my disagreements with some of his theology, I contend that Against Heresies is one of the greatest works of apologetics in history.

            Irenaeus writes,

 

            But again: Whom did Philip preach to the eunuch of the queen of the Ethiopians, returning from Jerusalem, and reading Esaias (Isaiah) the prophet, when he and this man were alone together? Was it not He of whom the prophet spoke: “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before the shearer, so He opened not the mouth?”

“But who shall declare His nativity? for His life shall be taken away from the earth.” [Philip declared] that this was Jesus, and that the Scripture was fulfilled in Him; as did also the believing eunuch himself: and, immediately requesting to be baptized, he said, “I believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God.” This man was also sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed, that there was one God preached by the prophets, but that the Son of this [God] had already made [His] appearance in human nature (secundum hominem), and had been led as a sheep to the slaughter; and all the other statements which the prophets make regarding Him.[2]

 

            Commentaries like this are difficult to find. Especially from such an early date. Irenaeus gives us the smoking gun that puts the earliest evidence of Acts 8:37 in the second century; about 180AD to be precise.

            The argument should be over at this point. Some may also use the works of Tertullian as a reference, but the quote is partial and largely irrelevant. So, what else is there?

            If you agree with me, great. If you don’t, that’s okay as well. I am not dogmatic about textual criticism. I only want to communicate that I agree with both Irenaeus and Cyprian who believed Acts 8:37 to be scripture.


[1] Cyprian of Carthage. (1886). Three Books of Testimonies against the Jews. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), R. E. Wallis (Trans.), Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix (Vol. 5, p. 529). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

[2] Irenaeus of Lyons. (1868–1869). The Writings of Irenæus. (A. Roberts & J. Donaldson, Eds., A. Roberts & W. H. Rambaut, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 305–306). Edinburgh; London; Dublin: T. & T. Clark; Hamilton & Co.; John Robertson & Co.



The Great Persecution


            If ever there was a time when Christianity was hanging by a thread, it was during the Great Persecution. This is led by co-emperors of the Roman empire, Diocletian and Maximian. In 302AD, Diocletian ordered a deacon have his tongue cut out for his interruption of official sacrifices. Deacon Romanus of Caesarea was executed on November 17th of 303AD.

            In February of 303AD, Diocletian ordered the destruction of the church at Nicomedia. This included the burning of biblical manuscripts. The next day, an edict was published prohibiting Christians from assembling for worship. There are conflicting viewpoints here, but Galerius convinces Diocletian that Christians burned part of the Imperial palace in response to the edict. Many persecutions followed during the investigation on what actually happened to the palace.

            During the next seven years, hundreds, if not thousands, of manuscripts were destroyed. Galerius finally rescinded the edict in 311AD. The Romans had failed to bring Christians to their traditional pagan religion. Even though Christianity survived, many important documents did not.

 


Quick Note on the KJV

    

            The King James Version, also called the Authorized Version or KJV, is the best sold book in human history. If you combine that with other Textus Receptus based versions, the number is staggering. It will likely never be equaled. It is beautiful, reverent and authoritative. With that comes controversy.

            I would like to note that the King James is written in modern English. It is earlier than our current English, but linguistically we can understand most of it with no added effort. Let’s take an example from the Wycliffe Bible published in the late fourteenth century:

 

And the while thei wenten bi the weye, thei camen to sum watir. And the ʽgeldyng seith, Loo! watir; who forbedith me for to be baptysid? Forsoth Philip seide, If thou bileuyst of al the herte, it is leefful. And he answeringe, seith, I bileue the sone of God ʽfor to be Jhesu. And he comaundide the chare for to stonde. And thei wenten doun bothe into the watir, Philip and the gelding, and he baptisyde him.[1]

 

            Did you recognize Acts 8:36-38? If you answered “sort of” you are not alone. Atheists and people ignorant of history will say the KJV is written in Old English. You just read what we have been studying in Middle English. It was the bridge between Old English and Modern English. I could put some Old English examples up, but this book is meant to be read aloud and someone reading it has already been embarrassed enough.

            Next time someone makes the comment about the KJV being written in an archaic language, you can educate them.


[1] Wycliffe, J. (1850). The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments, with the Apocryphal Books: Early Version. (J. Forshall & F. Madden, Eds.) (Vol. I–IV, Ac 8:35–38). Oxford: Oxford, at the University Press.

Final Thoughts

            Despite a thorough awareness of textual critical issues, I am convinced that we have the Bible as it was written in the first century. It's which pieces that go in that I question. Regardless of these things, any scholarly translation by a team of bible-believing Christians has the potential to inspire a person to be saved by the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, all a translation has to do is accurately portray the intention of the original author.