As we continue our Easter journey through Acts we embark on a theme that will carry us through the next few weeks . Who gets to be part of the church? What are the criteria for inclusion? A foreign eunuch? Those who do not follow the Law?

This week we have a story that is often skipped over. After all the books of Acts is more about Peter and Paul than anybody else and neither of them appear in this story. How often do we talk about Philip at all? (Though he does appear in the RCL on Easter 5B). You can read the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch here.

By Lambert Sustris – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain,

Since Philip appears in the RCL there are Text This Week resources available here. And as always the folks at Working Preacher provide a commentary and a podcast.

Up to the beginning chapter 8 the church, as described in Acts, appears to be pretty much a Jerusalem phenomenon. Only after the martyrdom of Stephen do the members of the Christian community fan out across Judea and Samaria (in a few chapters Paul and others will start to carry the message even farther afield — eventually to Rome itself), possibly as they flee from a persecution that is beginning in Jerusalem.

As he travels Philip meets a relatively important person. As the Working Preacher commentary notes, only a personage of high status would not only have a chariot, but also a servant to drive the chariot (assuming that the chariot is in motion while the eunuch is sitting in the chariot and reading — the text never explicitly names the presence of a driver). As both a foreigner and a non-intact male the eunuch would seem an unlikely member of what is, essentially, still a Jewish community. But God may have other plans…

God sends Philip over to the chariot in the first place. Would he have even thought to do that? Where are the places God is urging us to go and engage in conversation that we think are beyond the pale?

By Uoaei1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

As they travel along and Philip shares the Good News the eunuch, on the spot, asks for baptism. As far as the text tells us the “look here is water” could mean a roadside puddle or a stream but water is water. Unless the version you use contains verse 37 (which is contested and thought to be a later addition) we do not have any reaction from Philip to this request. Nor do we see the eunuch making a clear statement of faith. For many of our traditions a baptism needs to include a statement of faith made either by the candidate themself (if of age) or by the parent(s)/guardian on behalf of a young child. In many places before a baptism such as this there would be some time (possibly a year or more) of instruction and preparation. In this case we have less than a day’s worth. Do we know when the standards and protocols of admission that we have set are in line with the movement of the Holy Spirit? Do we know when we need to get out of the way? And are we able to let go of those rules?

As the story of the church continues, God challenges those early people to expand their vision of the community. Next will come the controversy of the Judaizers (which the NL will allow us to visit both from the perspective of Luke as he writes Acts and Paul as he writes to the Galatians). Two millennia (well almost) later the church continues to wrestle with the question of who gets to belong to the community. Where do we draw lines that God tries to erase? Are we willing to listen to the God who pushes us to see more broadly?


Gord Waldie is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Canada, currently in Northwestern Alberta. He shares his life with his partner and their four daughters and blogs (periodically) at Following Frodo or shares his “churchy-stuff” at Ministerial Mutterings


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2 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: The Circle Starts to Spread Edition (Acts 8:26-39, Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch)

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