Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch – Philip’s Departure

Acts 8:39 says, “And when they [Philip and the eunuch] came up out of the water“.  This phrase “out of” in the Greek is the opposite of “into”.  So, they came “out of the water”, supporting the immersion baptism.

Again, in this narrative, we see God, “the Spirit of the Lord”.  We remember from verse 29 that “the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over and join this chariot.’”  The Spirit had brought Philip to the eunuch, and the same Spirit, now that Philip had finished his mission, directed his departure.

Verse 39 says that the Spirit “carried Philip away“.  This has been commonly understood to mean that he was forcibly and miraculously removed to another place.  Some have supposed that he was carried through the air by an angel.  Others would consider that to be a foolish exposition of the text, and they would say that just as the Spirit told Philip to go near the eunuch, so He told Philip to leave.  This is why they would say that:

First, they would say, it’s not wise to suppose that there’s a miracle happening in Scripture except for when it’s clearly being said.

Secondly, the word translated “carried…away” doesn’t imply that there was a miracle.   The phrase means “to seize and bear away anything violently, without the consent of the owner”, like a robber or a plunderer would do.  It can also refer to removing anything in a forcible manner, to use strength or power to remove it.  Here’s an example of another way this phrase is used: “And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10).  It’s also used in Matthew 13:19, John 10:28, 2 Corinthians 12:2-4.  In none of those cases is it used to mean that a miracle was performed.

So, what they would say is that the Spirit strongly admonished Philip to go to some other place, that His pull was so strong that it tore him away from the eunuch.  Philip probably would have wanted to continue on the journey with the eunuch.  But so strong were the convictions of the Holy Spirit to go to some other place to do some other duty that he was compelled to leave his new friend and brother.  The work for which he was sent was now complete, and he was now called to another place and duty.

Others would say that as soon as the eunuch was baptized, he miraculously disappeared and was transported to another place.  This way, it’s clear that Philip had no ulterior motives in approaching this rich and powerful man’s chariot, and also, it was a clear confirmation to the eunuch that this was of God.  These would say that Philip was physically taken up, just as Ezekiel was in Ezekiel 8:3, “He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven“.

My position is that I don’t know, but I’m open to either possibility.  Could God have miraculously removed Philip?  Without a shadow of a doubt in my mind.  Has He done it before in Scripture?  Yes!  Did He do it here?  Maybe….Either way, credit is appropriately given to God.  He was sovereignly at work here, either by miracle or divine intervention, that His purpose would be fulfilled.

Do you view God in this light?  Do you acknowledge that He is in full control of every situation in every person’s life?  He can send anyone, anywhere, at any time.  He is not watching passively as history unfolds.  He is writing it.

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