Aug 13, 2010
Alexander: Acts 8:37
Excerpt from: J.A. Alexander, Commentary on Acts, Vol.1, (NY, 1857) pp.
Acts 8:37 (p. 349)
37. And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
This verse is excluded from the text by the latest critics, because wanting in several of the oldest manuscripts and versions, while in many copies which contain it, there is a diversity of form, both in the words themselves and in their order, which is commonly considered a suspicious circumstance.
The interpolation is accounted for, as an attempt to guard against the practice of precipitate admission to the church, in favour of which this verse might with some plausibility have been alleged. But on the other hand, it may be argued that the verse, though genuine, was afterwards omitted, as unfriendly to the practice of delaying baptism, which had become common, if not prevalent, before the end of the third century.
It is moreover found in many manuscripts, including some of the most ancient, and is quoted as a part of this context, not only by Cyprian but by Irenaeus. It is therefore one of those cases, in which the external testimony may be looked upon as very nearly balanced, and in which it is the safest course to let the scale of the received text and traditional belief preponderate.
At the same time, let it be observed that even if the verse should be expunged, there would be nothing taken from the text that is not easily supplied from other places, and indeed implied in what immediately precedes and follows ; not only in the act of baptism, but in the proposal of the Eunuch, as explained above, and really involving just such a profession of his faith in Jesus, as Philip, in the verse before us, more explicitly requires.
38. And he commanded the chariot to stand still, and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the Eunuch, and he baptized him.
The expression in the first clause shows that he was not driving it himself, but, as might have been expected from his rank, was accompanied by one or more domestics. That they went down into the water, can prove nothing as to its extent or depth. Without insisting, as some writers have done, that the Greek phrase (εις το υδωρ) may mean nothing more than to the water's edge, its stronger sense is fully satisfied, if we suppose that they stood in it, which in any language would be naturally expressed by saying, they went into it. That the phrase does not necessarily imply submersion, is moreover clear from the consideration, that such an inference would prove too much for those who draw it, namely, that the baptizer must himself be totally immersed. For not only is there no distinction made, but it is twice said expressly, in two different forms, as if to preclude all doubt and ambiguity, that both (αμφοτεροι) went down into the water, both (ο τε) Philip and the Eunuch.
If the verb and preposition necessarily imply immersion, they imply it equally in either case. If they do not necessarily imply it in the one, there can be no such necessary implication in the other. This is not used as an argument to prove that there was no immersion here, but simply to prevent an unfair use of the expression, as conclusively proving that there was.
The same negative effect may be promoted by a simple illustration from analogy. Suppose them to have stopped for a similar yet altogether different purpose, one requiring no complete immersion, such as that of washing the face or hands. How could this have been more conveniently accomplished, especially by orientals, travelling either barefoot or in sandals, than by simply standing in the water ; and how could it be otherwise expressed by the historian, without gratuitous minuteness or circumlocution, than by saying just what Luke says here, that they stopped the chariot and " both went down into the water." All that is contended for is this, that terms which might be naturally used in cases where there is no immersion at all, cannot possibly be made to prove, in any one case, that there was immersion.
To the very different question, in what character, or by what right, Philip administered the ordinance, the narrative itself affords no certain answer. All that it is necessary to insist upon, according to the principle just stated, is that it cannot be shown to have been done by Philip as a deacon, and as a necessary function of that office. This negative position may be fully justified by the existence of alternative hypotheses, either of which, to say the least, is as probable as that just mentioned. The fact that Philip is described below (21, 8), not only as "one of the Seven" (named in 6, 5), but first and most distinctively as " the Evangelist," if not enough to prove that he baptized in this capacity, is certainly sufficient to rebut the proof that he baptized as a Deacon.
The lapse of time between the case before us and the place where he is called an Evangelist, creates no difficulty, since, as we have seen above (on v. 5), his previous labours in Samaria were precisely such as we should look for m this class of ministers, whether the title be explained to mean a Missionary, or a Preacher clothed with temporary and extraorduiary powers. (See below, on 21, 8.)
These two questions have been here discussed at some length, for the purpose of exemplifying an important principle, to wit, that while we have no right to draw positive conclusions, in defence of our own usages and doctrines, from passages admitting of a different interpretation, we are equally bound to resist all similar abuses, and to see, so far as in us lies, so that others do not handle the word of God deceitfully (2 Cor. 4, 2.)
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