Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch – The Eunuch’s Baptism

Acts 8:36 says, “And as they were going along the road they came to some water“.  Nobody is certain which body of water this was.  All we are told in the text is that it was large enough for a baptism.

Verse 36 continues, “and the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water!  What prevents me from being baptized?”  Another way to translate this phrase is, “Behold!  Water!”  It’s evident from this verse that the eunuch had some knowledge of the ordinance of Christian baptism, perhaps from his conversation with Philip.  It seems to have been common practice, as we’ll see in the book of Acts, that soon after professing faith in Christ, one was baptized.

These days, the two are often separated.  People are given faith in Christ and begin following Him, but feel the need to delay baptism.  There really is no biblical precedence for that.  People believed and were baptized.  The baptism was the outward expression of the inward reality.  Baptism is one’s identification with the person in whom one was being baptized.  There is no need for a believer to delay it.  And we see that here, in the Eunuch’s urgency.  Surely it could have waited until he got back to Ethiopia.  But he didn’t want to wait.  He believed what he had heard, and he was eager to be baptized into Christ.

Verse 37 is omitted in many of the oldest manuscripts, and so several English translations (including ESV) leave it out with a footnote.  It’s possible that it was inserted by a transcriber in order to emphasize the importance of genuine faith.  Even if it’s not in the inspired text, there is definitely truth to it.

According to this verse, in response to the Ethiopian’s request, “Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may’” (v37).  The first thing we see here is the Christian’s responsibility to ensure a person understands that baptism is associated with belief in Christ.  A person should not be baptized if they don’t believe in Jesus.  Now, will we always know if a profession of faith is true?  No.  But if someone professes faith in Christ and desires to be baptized, we baptize them.

The second thing that we see is that saving belief requires the “heart“.  To believe in Jesus Christ is not only a mental thing.  James 2:19 says, “Even the demons believe“.  A person with saving faith has an engaged heart because it he has been shown the reality of Christ’s work in atoning for his sins, and that causes his heart to rejoice in Him.

The third thing we see is that faith precedes baptism.  According to Philip, if this verse is true, the only way he would allow the eunuch to be baptized is that if he believed with all his heart.  He would not baptize the man without a profession of faith.  And here it is: verse 37, “And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’

Verse 38 (which is not in question) says, “And he commanded the chariot to stop“.  Most likely, this is the Ethiopian giving the command, as it wouldn’t be entirely appropriate for Philip to do so.  “And they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.” 

This verse has opened up much discussion about baptism, specifically about the mode of baptism.  On one side of the argument, they would say that the word translated “into” doesn’t necessarily mean “into”.  It could just mean “to”.  That is to say “they both went down to the water”.  Therefore, according to this argument, he didn’t necessarily immerse the man into the water.  Those who take this stance also say that even if they went into the water, Philip could have just cupped water into his hands and poured it on his head.

On the other side of the argument, they would say that if the baptism were by sprinkling or by pouring, then there would have been no need to leave the chariot.  Therefore, the logical conclusion is that the eunuch was baptized by immersion.

In my opinion, we can’t know certainly from this verse, and frankly, it’s not crucial for the purposes of this narrative.  The point is that the eunuch saw a body of water, wanted to be baptized, and Philip baptized him.

I like the Eunuch’s urgency here.  His eyes were opened to the truth of the gospel through Philip’s preaching, and rather than mull it over for a couple of weeks, he said, “I believe in Jesus!  There’s some water!  Let’s do this!”  He was excited to follow the Lord.  May we be so eager to follow Him!

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