Acts 8:26-40 (AD 31)
It might seem random that Luke mentions that the Ethiopian (modern-day Sudanese) official was a eunuch. But being as this is the Bible, it’s not random at all.
Back in Deuteronomy 23:1, around 1400BC, God spoke of the assembly of worship in ancient Israel, which was to be a symbol of perfection and true worship. Because of the symbolism, a variety of groups were excluded, including Moabites and Ammonites, for ten generations, due to the bad treatment the Hebrews had received from them previously. Also excluded were eunuchs, whether they were that way through an accident or through a pagan ritual, which was common among the neighbouring Canaanites.
Fast forward about 700 years to Isaiah’s time and the restriction of eunuchs remained. God continued to establish his identity as not only a gracious and loving God, but also a holy and perfect one. But in 56:3-8 Isaiah corrected the idea that not being allowed to attend a particular physical assembly, was any bar to forgiveness or redemption. On the contrary: “To the eunuchs who…choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant – to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons or daughters” (Isaiah 56:4-5).
Fast forward another 700 years to Philip’s time, and God made Isaiah’s (i.e. his own) inclusive point more forcefully. God had Philip – a Jewish man – directed to an apparently random place, to meet and speak with a foreign eunuch, and baptise him into the family of God’s people.
Reading this can help us to rejoice in God’s desire for all kinds of people from all over the world, no matter what they currently believe or what they might have suffered. No matter how far away from God they currently are.
After all, without God’s inclusiveness, you and I would have no chance of a relationship with him, no chance of forgiveness.
This was a one-off event, not a teaching passage about how to treat new Christians. Therefore, just as we can’t infer that the best way to treat new Christians is to miraculously disappear and never see them again, we also can’t claim this as a mandate for baptising people the minute they profess faith.
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