You and the Ethiopian Eunuch

You Have More In Common Than You Realize

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Yes, You Are Like The Eunuch

By Beth Demme

Sometimes we read about an incredibly beautiful moment in the Bible, like the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, and we think “good for him!” without understanding it’s really about us, too. And while it can be potentially dangerous to make everything in the Bible about y-o-u, maybe that’s a risk worth taking if it draws us closer to God.

In Acts chapter 8, the Apostle Philip meets “an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of The Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians.” Philip overhears the eunuch reading from the prophet Isaiah and strikes up a conversation with him. That leads to Philip telling him all about Jesus. Apparently, Philip brings up baptism too, because as soon as the eunuch sees some water he asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

Within moments the eunuch was baptized and “went on his way rejoicing” while God carried Philip off to another job.

This is a beautiful story of the inclusiveness of God’s Kingdom, isn’t it? The eunuch was seen as less than. In fact, Deuteronomy 23:1 called for him to be excluded from the Temple. “No one who has been emasculated … may enter the assembly of the Lord” is the most polite translation I could find. Most are more graphic about the “emasculation.”

It may seem strange to read about eunuchs in the Bible and to hear about them in church, but maybe this is a lesson in what it truly means to be whole.

Both culture and religion defined this man by what he was missing, by his brokenness. God, however, defined him by his identity as a beloved child of God, an image bearer who was worthy from the start.

Understanding it this way makes this beautiful story from the Bible even more meaningful to me. Like the eunuch, I, too, have missing pieces.

I, too, am broken. My brokenness is different from his brokenness (and from yours, too), and yet, it still needs repair. My brokenness might be less obvious to the world, but that doesn’t make it invisible to God.

Culture (and religion!) define me by what needs fixing and I tend to buy into it too easily. But then, by the mercy of God, I get a glimpse of God’s love for me and I find myself, like the Ethiopian eunuch, saying, “What is to prevent me from being a beloved child of God?” Which, after all, is really what the eunuch was asking when he brought up baptism.

In most Bibles, Philip doesn’t verbally answer the eunuch.

The eunuch’s question is answered in the stopping of the chariot, in the gift of baptism, and in his re-joy-cing. Some editors long ago couldn’t make the leap and they started assigning words to Philip. They imagined that before the chariot stopped, Philip must have said, “you can be baptized IF you believe the right things” and they assumed the eunuch must have said, “I do believe the right things!”

That was how this passage stood in the mid-16th century when the verses of the Bible were numbered. Later, we discovered more reliable transcripts and found that verse 37 was a late-model addition, so we took it out. That’s why verse 37 is probably missing from your Bible, moved down to a footnote at the bottom of the closest column. (This happens from time to time, check out my short lesson on Missing Verses from the Bible.)

In the end, maybe Philip’s answer to the question (“What is to prevent me from being baptized?”) doesn’t matter as much as your own answer.  What is to prevent you from being a beloved child of God? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Do you agree? What does the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch tell you about God’s reaction to your brokenness? Tell me about it in the comments, in an e-mail, or on Facebook.


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A Christian who loves to think, read, and laugh. A wife and mom with more love than I deserve. I have a passion for public speaking. I'm a licensed Methodist pastor, a blogger, and a lawyer, but wait ... there's more, I'm still figuring it all out.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments I deem offensive or off-topic.

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