The Ethiopian Eunuch

  

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
     “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
          and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
          so he opens not his mouth.
     In his humiliation justice was denied him.
          Who can describe his generation?
          For his life is taken away from the earth.”  

And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 8:26-39

The story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 is a marvelous depiction of God’s role in evangelism. There are many elements of God’s providence and intervention in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. The account reveals the importance of these three things: the Word of God, the Holy Spirit’s leading, and a human evangelist. In order for a person to accept the truth, he must first hear the truth preached (Romans 10:14). It is God’s desire that the truth be preached everywhere (Acts 1:8). The Spirit of the Lord had been preparing the eunuch’s heart to receive the gospel. As the eunuch read Isaiah, he began to ask questions, and at just the right moment the Lord brought Philip across his path. The field was “ripe for harvest” (John 4:35), and Philip was God’s laborer in the field. This was no coincidence. It was God’s plan from the very beginning, and Philip was obedient to that plan.

The Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion illustrates Jesus’ promise to take the initiative to draw all kinds of people to himself (Jn.12:32). We might expect that Philip, who was a working-class Jew from a family with a biblical heritage, would become a follower of Jesus. But a black, sexually-altered treasury secretary for the royal family of a distant and totally pagan country? Yet the story emphasizes the lengths to which Jesus will go to draw people to himself. The passage narrates the culmination of Jesus’ drawing—but it also provides hints at how Jesus had been drawing him long before this time.

The story of the Ethiopian eunuch is a wonderful conversion story, but it takes on a much more significant story for LGBT Christians. The term eunuch in the ancient world was often synonymous with what we call today homosexuality, but was understood differently in ancient society. In Matthew 19:12, Jesus says “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”. Though, in this is trance, Jesus is teaching about divorce, but he clearly acknowledges that some men are born in a way that does not allow them to have children. These men that Jesus speaks of are men who did not marry in order to devote their lives to God, but also could, and I think it does, mean that some men are not mean to be with women, some of those men are asexual, others are homosexual.

Commentators generally suggest that the combination of “eunuch” together with the title “court official” indicates a literal eunuch, who would have been excluded from the Temple by the restriction in Deuteronomy 23:1. Some scholars point out that eunuchs were excluded from Jewish worship and extend the New Testament’s inclusion of these men to other sexual minorities. John J. McNeill, ordained as a Jesuit priest and a major figure in Queer Theology, cites the non-literal uses of “eunuch” in other New Testament passages such as Matthew 19:12, suggesting that this eunuch was “the first baptized gay Christian,” while Jack Rogers, a Presbyterian minister and author, writes that “the fact that the first Gentile convert to Christianity is from a sexual minority and a different race, ethnicity and nationality together” calls Christians to be radically inclusive and welcoming.

When evangelicals and fundamentalists share the gospel with gay men and lesbians, it is standard practice to tell the new believer he or she must stop being gay, but they forget that Jesus does not discriminate. He welcomed all people, even the Ethiopian eunuch, a high court official, who was probably perceived as a homosexual. Yet, Philip did not shun the man for his sexuality, whatever it may have been, but embraced him, taught him the gospel, baptized him, and sent him back to Ethiopia to spread the Good News. Whenever churches exclude LGBT Christians, they are not following the teachings of God, but the prejudices of man. We must remind them that turning someone away from God, as they often do, that it is the practice of Satan, because God welcomes all.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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