The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 8:4-8

Philip Proclaims Christ in Samaria

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city[a] of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

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My previous entry discussed the first three verses of Acts 8.

In summary, Stephen’s brutal martyrdom — aided and abetted by Paul (verses 1 and 3) — caused the disciples to scatter. The Apostles remained in Jerusalem to minister to the converts there.

Despite Stephen’s martyrdom in Jerusalem, which everyone would have been aware of, those who scattered continued to preach the word (verse 4).

Matthew Henry makes this point about the persecutors (emphases mine below):

The persecution that was designed to extirpate the church was by the overruling providence of God made an occasion of the enlargement of it. Christ had said, I am come to send fire on the earth; and they thought, by scattering those who were kindled with that fire, to have put it out, but instead of this they did but help to spread it.

As for the disciples:

They did not go to hide themselves for fear of suffering, no, nor to show themselves as proud of their sufferings; but they went up and down to scatter the knowledge of Christ in every place where they were scattered. They went every where, into the way of the Gentiles, and the cities of the Samaritans, which before they were forbidden to go into, Matthew 10:5. They did not keep together in a body, though this might have been a strength to them; but they scattered into all parts, not to take their ease, but to find out work. They went evangelizing the world, preaching the word of the gospel; it was this which filled them, and which they endeavoured to fill the country with, those of them that were preachers in their preaching, and others in their common converse.

They knew Samaria and the Samaritans knew about Christ:

They were now in a country where they were no strangers, for Christ and his disciples had conversed much in the regions of Judea; so that they had a foundation laid there for them to build upon; and it would be requisite to let the people there know what that doctrine which Jesus had preached there some time ago was come to, and that it was not lost and forgotten, as perhaps they were made to believe.

This was thanks to the exchange Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:

25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

John MacArthur picks up on the words ‘went about’ in verse 4:

It literally means, “They went through countries and districts.” And it’s used of missionary extensions, and here you have the first missionary effort of the church.

Verse 5 brings us to Philip, the subject of much of Acts 8. Like Stephen, he was one of the first deacons, as Acts 6:5 tells us:

And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.

He, again like Stephen, was a Hellenic (Greek) Jew who converted to Christianity.

The Apostles instituted the office of deacon to ensure that food and charity were fairly distributed in the Church in Jerusalem. Acts 6:1 says:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists[a] arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.

Incidentally, Philip the Deacon — or Evangelist — is different to Philip the Apostle. Philip the Evangelist might have been the founder of the church in Tralles in Anatolia. He also had four daughters who followed him into prophesying (Acts 21:9).

In a third similarity to Stephen, God gave Philip remarkable powers. Acts 6:8 states:

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts 8:6-8 describes Philip as being able to accomplish God-given signs and the ability to drive out demons as well as restore the paralysed and lame to full health, all of which brought much happiness to the people of Samaria.

MacArthur describes the history of the uneasy relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans. First, there is the statement in verse 5 that Philip ‘went down’ to Samaria:

Now when it says he went down to Samaria, everybody always thinks, “Well, my map, Samaria is up.” But if you were in Jerusalem, everything is down because Jerusalem is way up on a high plateau and you go down to go to Samaria, down to go to Jericho, down to go to anywhere. And so he went down and north to Samaria. Samaria was an area, and it was also the name of the city, the ancient capital of that whole area, the Northern Kingdom, was Samaria. And so he went to this place.

Now into the history:

In the 8th Century B.C., you remember before that had been split into the Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom of Israel. After Solomon, Solomon messed everything up so much that Solomon had brought about a fracture in the kingdom and, of course, following Solomon, the kingdom was split: Jeroboam and Rehoboam in the north and the south. Ten tribes went north, two tribes went south: Judah and Benjamin. The Northern Kingdom, by the 8th Century, was carried off into captivity by the Assyrians. And at that time, there were some Jews left in the lands. Most of them were carried off; some were left. They then moved strangers into the land, and the Jews, not being really committed to their Judaism, intermarried with the strangers that the Assyrians put in the land. Consequently, it became a mongrel race.

In the 5th Century B.C., the Jews who had been carried into Babylonian captivity, the South Kingdom, was Judah, Benjamin. They’d been carried off. After 70 years, Cyrus gave a decree they could come back. Now remember they came back under Ezra and Nehemiah to build the temple again, and the walls. So they all marched back and started their building. Well, all the guys in the North who were now half-breeds came down and said, “We want to help.” They were contemptuously rejected. Remember the story? They didn’t want a thing from those half-breeds who had desecrated their Judaism by intermarrying with Gentiles. And that began the rift, and it’s continued even until the book of Acts, and often times even until today.

MacArthur says that Philip was the first to bridge the gap between evangelist and teaching pastor. Verse 5 tells us that Philip ‘proclaimed’ Christ to the people. In some translations, the word is ‘preached’:

Now this is an interesting thing because the word “preached” in 5 is different than the word “preaching.” One is euaggelizo, one is kerusso. Philip – kerusso; that means he “proclaimed”. He was a public herald. There is a difference between an individual presenting the gospel, and somebody who is a preacher, a herald, a public speaker. Philip was a public speaker and he presented, in preaching – look at it – Christ, unto them.

The people of Samaria understood and appreciated Philip’s public proclamations because they already knew something about Christ:

So, when Philip went there, he presented to them that Christ is Messiah. It was a simple message, and they were ready for it. Now, hang on to this point. You see, they had the background to understand that announcement.

Because of this, they ‘paid attention’ to what he said and did (verse 6):

In verse 6, bang, they responded right off. And these people, the word is “multitudes,” with one accord, they had a wholesale spiritual awakening; gave heed unto those things which Philip spoke.

Furthermore, the miracles proved the truth of Philip’s words:

God confirmed the preaching with miracles, so they would know it was from God.

MacArthur points out that these abilities ended with the Apostolic Age:

We don’t have that power today. Jesus had the power to cast them out with a word. His apostles and these two [Stephen and Philip], whom He gave the gift of miracles, had the power to do it. But today, we are the same level as we are when we come to the sick. We have to pray for their healing. And so with demon possessed people. We can’t walk around saying “Alright all you demons. In the name of Christ, get out.” And I think a lot of people today are frustrated because they try it and it doesn’t work. You know, people say to me “Well, I tired to cast these demons out. It didn’t go.” Well, I’ve done the same thing and I’ve tried and it didn’t go either.

There’s a question of the ability to do miracles here that does not belong to us and we have to pray for these people even as we do sick people, because we can’t just walk up and say, “Be healed.” That gift belonged to this age.

He says that there was only one time when he was sure he had met someone — a woman — possessed by two demons, who came out only when she confessed serious sins from her past to him and another minister with him at the time:

we found that we had to pray, and it all boiled down to her confession of sin before those demons ever left. Because I had worked for two hours and so had Jerry, trying to get rid of this one demon, called Decito. And nothing ever happened until she finally was willing to confess some really filthy things in her life for which she needed relief, the relief that comes in confession, and the cleansing. And then it was gone, no problem.

So again, we cannot go about casting out demons, but we can certainly pray for people. And we can certainly confront them with the need for confession and cleansing that there might be no place for demons to occupy.

Next week’s post will feature more about Philip’s ministry.

Next time: Acts 8:9-13

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