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Acts 8 – Community Group Study Notes

Acts 8 – Change and the power of the Gospel

8:4-25 – The founding of Christian communities outside of Jerusalem

Special attention is drawn to the gift of the Spirit to the Samaritans, this gift verifies God’s true people regardless of their past ethnic or cultural hostility to the Jews

Once again in Luke’s narrative the primary focus is on the word and its effect. ‘The word’ and related terms are used extensively in this chapter to describe the content of the message and explain how it is communicated – Luke unfolds a theology of evangelism here

Philip is identified as one especially gifted in this ministry. His dramatic exorcisms and healings demonstrated Satan’s subjucation and the certainty of the Kingdom of God w/ Christ as Lord

Philip’s work in Samaria created two problems: 1) many samaritans believed the gospel and were baptised but did not immediately receive the promised HS
2) second is the manipulative behaviour of Simon, which had the potential to lead the samaritans back into false religion, but now with a Christian veneer

In connection with these problems Luke outlines the critical role of the apostles Peter and John and shows how links were maintained as the gospel moved further and further away from Jerusalem. Through his portrayal of Simon, Luke is demonstrating that Christians in the post-resurreciton period have authority over Satan.

Observations on 8:4-25

[ut_togglegroup] [ut_toggle title=”8:4″] – ordinary believers who were not apostles / leaders preached the word wherever they went
– ‘preaching’ might be an unfortunate translation if it always means ‘giving a sermon’. But speaking the word of the Lord can take many forms, though will always have an element of proclamation because it is a declaration of what God has said and done
– Luke continues to highlight the centrality of the word or gospel to his narrative and to the outworking of God’s saving plan for Israel and the nations
– the inclusion formed by the use of this terminology in v. 4 and v. 25 indicates that the apostles and all those who were scatted because of the persecution proclaimed the same message and were engaged in the same activity of winning people for Christ
– This is a significant point – here and in 11:19-21 Luke implicitly challenges his readers about their own involvement in this great work of God
[/ut_toggle] [ut_toggle title=”Some Samaritans find their true deliverer (8:5-13)”] – Philip’s initial impact on a group of Samaritans is remarkable (vv. 5-8), especially since they were previously enthralled by Simon’s sorcery and false religion (vv. 9-11)
– signs and wonders performed by Philip were a significant factor in capturing the Samaritan’s attention (v. 6) – previously focused on Simon (v. 10) – but it was clearly the proclamation of the gospel that converts them and brings them to baptism
[/ut_toggle] [ut_toggle title=”8:5″] – Samaria denotes the region marked out in 1:8 as the next context for apostolic witness
– historically there was fundamental hostility between Jews and Samaritans
– the Jews put the Samaritans on a level with Gentiles, even though Samaritans claimed to worship the same God follow the law of Moses
– Philips offer of the gospel to this despised people was a radical step forward, signifying the newness of the situation brought about by Jesus and the gospel
[/ut_toggle] [ut_toggle title=”8:6-8″] – the close attention paid to Simon (same greek verb in 8:10, 11) is now transferred to Philip
– Just as Jesus and the other apostles, Philip’s preaching was accompanied by signs and wonders
– signs and wonders used in part to confirm the message being preached, and convey a partial realisation of the salvation promised
– so the preaching and signs worked together, ‘So there was great joy in that city.’
[/ut_toggle] [ut_toggle title=”8:9-11″] – Luke pauses the narrative to introduce Simon – spends a significant amount of time on Simon even though he only appears here
– Later Christian writings, such as Justin Martyr, described Simon as being able to perform sorcery through the power of the demonic, and some writers attributed Simon’s influence as initiating the Gnostic doctrine. However, Acts does not specify how Simon came to practice sorcery or what long-lasting impact he may have had
– what is clear is that there was a religious dimension to the hold that Simon had on the Samaritans
– ‘called the Great Power of God’ – the Samaritans were gripped by his magic and by his idolatrous claim to be in some sense ‘a divine man’
– This story involves competition for conversion (Simon v Philip)
[/ut_toggle] [ut_toggle title=”8:12-13″] – ‘proclaiming the good news’ is a key idea in this chapter, with the verb ‘euangelizomai’ being used 5 times (8:4, 12, 25, 35, 40)
– Philip was literally ‘gospelling the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ’
– Simon ‘also’ (kai) believed, suggesting that Simon was a special and unexpected case!
– Simon certainly is seen to make a ‘true’ confession of faith, yet 2 worrying aspects of his behaviour arise. First, ‘he was attaching himself to Philip (BDAG)’. Same words used to describe how the apostles devoted (attached) themselves to prayer and ministry of the word – so Simon’s personal attachment to Philip seems out of place or unusual. Secondly, he was astonished by the great signs and wonders performed by Philip. He seems to be where the Samaritans were initially when they heard Philip (cf. vv. 6-7)
– Although a Christian, Simon is still obsessed with power and hasn’t yet shaken his magical worldview. He needs a further renunciation of his former beliefs and practices (like us today!)
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Jerusalem Witnesses Samaria’s Reception of the Holy Spirit (8:14-17)

Quick Overview: The visit of Peter and John is not a problem solving expedition but a response of the news that the Samaria had accepted the word of God (v.14). Even so, they perceived the Spirit had not yet come on them (vv. 15-16). The impartation of prayer (v.15) and the laying on of hands (v.17) are presented as unusual events, related to the uniting of Jews and Samaritans in one community through baptism in Christ (v.16b)

[ut_togglegroup] [ut_toggle title=”8:14″] – fact that the apostles sent representatives to check on these developments shows that evangelism took place without the oversight/supervision of the apostles
– visit for positive reasons, in response to the surprising news that Samaria had accepted the word of God
– visit can be seen from two perspectives. First, Phil’s mission is incomplete until Peter and John pray for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit. The result is a cooperative mission in which an established church affirms and contributes to the establishment of new churches. Second, the effect of Peter and John is that they become convinced that the Samaritans are truly included in the messianic salvation.
[/ut_toggle] [ut_toggle title=”8:15-17″] – The apostles’ willingness to pray for the gift the of the Spirit suggests an awareness that a work of God had actually taken place but that something was missing
– Why had the Holy Spirit not come upon any of them? Given the fact that Jesus says in 2:38-9 that those who repent and are baptised in the name of Jesus Christ will have their sins forgiven and receive the gift of the HS, are we to conclude that there was something deficient in the faith of the Samaritans?
– Luke seems to be at pains to stress the correctness of Philip’s preaching, the close attention paid by the Samaritans to what they heard, and the genuineness of their response (vv.5-6). Was it because there were no apostles present? Luke later makes it clear that the Spirit can be given when the person baptising is not an apostle (9:17-18). Was it because they needed to receive the Spirit in a fuller sense, for inspiration, or for the reception of charismatic gifts? Was it because they specifically needed the Spirit to be given to them in this way to empower them for mission? The idea that they needed more of the Spirit is ruled out by Luke’s insistence that the HS had not yet come upon any of them.
– with the words ‘not yet’ Luke indicates that the Samaritan incident provides ‘a clear break with the “norm” we might expect from Acts 2:38-9′.
– the best explanation is that God himself withheld the Spirit until the coming of Peter and John in order that the Samaritans might be seen to be fully incorporated into the community of Jerusalem Christians who had received the Spirit of Pentecost
– God withheld the gift for his own revelatory and salvific purpose, not because of an inadequate response on the part of the Samaritans. The apostles needed to be there as reliable witnesses on behalf of the Jerusalem church, not to impart the Spirit because of their office. Significant, in v. 25, they return to Jerusalem to report what God has been doing.
– the delay in the sending of the Spirit put the Samaritans somewhat in the position of the Jewish disciples before Pentecost. They had a genuine faith in the risen Lord, but had not yet received the promised HS.
– neither the experience of those first disciples nor of the Samaritans can be made the basis for a two-stage view of Christian initiation, either in a Catholic or Pentecostal sense. These were unique events in salvation history, not the normal pattern of initiation known to Luke.
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8:26-40 – Overview

Encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch is clearly the centrepiece of this section, representing another remarkable step fwd for the gospel

Tannehill – the Ethiopian is a very strong representative of foreignness within a Jewish context: he comes from the edge of the known world, of the black race, is a castrated male, and probably a Gentile

Prohibition against admitting Eunuchs into the assembly of the Lord (DT 23:1) makes it unlikely that he was a jewish proselyte in the full sense

however, he was God-fearing, having journeyed to Jer. to worship God of Israel. Keen student of Jewish scriptures, particularly was fascinated with prophecies about God’s plans for the future of his people

Johnson – the conversion of the Ethiopian does not yet represent a formal opening to the Gentiles, but rather to those who were marginalised within the people of God. the eunuch is portrayed as someone on the fringes of Judaism, who s drawn into the fellowship of Jewish Christianity through Philips teaching about Jesus

Perhaps the promise of Isa 56:3-5 about eunuchs finding an honoured place among the renewed people of God is in Luke’s mind as he records this story

It is true that philip makes contact with a representative of peoples at ‘the ends of the earth’ (1.8). Ethiopia had a much better claim than Rome to be described in that way. A reasonable case can be made of seeing this narrative as being about the reaching of those from the parts of Africa that were at or beyond the borders of the empire, those that were at the ends of the earth. From a narrative point of view, the story forms part of the gradual progress of the church towards the gentiles

A Divinely Appointed Encounter (8:26-31)

The beginning of three significant conversion accounts, each illustrating the kind of transformation appropriate to different individuals from different religious and cultural backgrounds.

[ut_togglegroup] [ut_toggle title=”8:26″] – Certain parallels drawn between Philip and Elijah – addressed by an angel of the Lord (2 Ki 1:15); moved from place to place by the Spirit (1 Ki 18:12); runs down the road with the chariot of an important person (1 Ki 18:46)
– Angels play an important part in furthering God’s purposes in 5:19, 8:26, 10:3, 12:7, 27:23
[/ut_toggle] [ut_toggle title=”8:27-28″] – Ethiopia in the Bible is known as the land of Cush; modern day Sudan
– Isa 11:11 Cush is specified as one of the lands from which the Lord will reclaim the remnant that is left of his people
– attention made of the Ethiopian’s high status
– future participle ‘to worship’ indicating that his journey was made with the purpose of worshiping YHWH
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Finding Christ in the Scriptures (vv. 32-38)

Luke continues to highlight how God was sovereign in this situation. Given Jesus’ application of this prophecy to his impeding suffering, it’s not surprising that Philip used it to proclaim the gospel to the Ethiopian.
The Eunuch is seen as the ideal convert: one who is already seeking God, who hears and responds, and who rejoices in the gift of the gospel

[ut_togglegroup] [ut_toggle title=”8:34-35″] – there is no one else in history, apart from Jesus, whom these words can truly be applied
[/ut_toggle] [ut_toggle title=”8:36-38″] – verse 37 is found in on a few western MSS and in some texts of other ancient versions of the NT.
– probs wasn’t in the original writing of Luke
– would have been redundant anyway as Luke implies that some time has passed, presumably Philip explained the purpose of baptism, etc.
[/ut_toggle] [ut_toggle title=”8:39-40″] – emphasis certainly on the forceful, direct work of the Spirit, but more in the sense of ‘took hold of’ or ‘strongly directed’ and doesn’t have to mean transported literally by the Spirit
– Travels to Azotus which is about 20 miles from Gaza, and travels up the coast approx. 55 miles total while preaching the gospel
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