Acts 8

Acts 8:1 Background on Saul

James E. Talmage

"Among the disputants who, when defeated in discussion, conspired against Stephen and brought about his death, were Jews from Cilicia. Associated with them was a young man named Saul, a native of the Cilician city of Tarsus. This man was an able scholar, a forceful controversialist, an ardent defender of what he regarded as the right, and a vigorous assailant of what to him was wrong. Though born in Tarsus he had been brought to Jerusalem in early youth and had there grown up a strict Pharisee and an aggressive supporter of Judaism. He was a student of the law under the tutelage of Gamaliel, one of the most eminent masters of the time; and had the confidence of the high priest. His father, or perhaps an earlier progenitor, had acquired the rank of Roman citizenship, and Saul was a born heir to that distinction. Saul was a violent opponent of the apostles and the Church, and had made himself a party to the death of Stephen by openly consenting thereunto and by holding in personal custody the garments of the false witnesses while they stoned the martyr." (Jesus the Christ, 661)

Acts 8:1 Saul was consenting unto his death

Saul's persecutions were done with a blinded soul and a hardened heart. But is it difficult to believe that witnessing Stephen's noble martyrdom did not have some effect on him-even though, at the time, he was a consenting onlooker.

"The scripture says that Saul, a young man, was present and that he 'was consenting unto [Stephen's] death' (Acts 8:1)...As we all know, Saul was subsequently converted while on the road to Damascus and in a few years became the great 'apostle of the Gentiles' (Rom. 11:13). It is probable that Stephen's gracious manner had almost as much effect upon Paul as did his stirring words...Paul was no doubt present at Stephen's defense in the council and had seen his angelic face on that occasion. He would have observed the kneeling Stephen plead with the Lord for the forgiveness of his persecutors. All of this must have made an impression in Paul's memory because sometime later during a vision, Paul said to the Lord Jesus, 'When the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him' (Acts 22:20).

"It is possible, even probable, that Paul was thinking about Stephen's words and gracious manner just before his own vision on the road to Damascus." (Robert J. Matthews, Selected Writings of Robert J. Matthews: Gospel Scholars Series [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1999], 285 - 286.)

Acts 8:4 they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word

God's all-seeing vision can see a silver lining on the darkest storm clouds. Amidst a terrible persecution of the Jerusalem saints, the Lord knew that this would suit his purposes in spreading the gospel. The persecuted saints may not have been as understanding as they were driven out of their homeland, but what better way to spread the gospel? The lesson is that when we are truly patient and trusting, we understand 'that all things work together for good to them that love God.' (Rom. 8:28.)

"It is a relatively simple thing to pour out gratitude to God when the cup is full, the harvest plenteous, the peace secure; but it is much more challenging to have the faith to believe that even in adversity and persecution, even in times of darkness and devastation, the Lord's hand is in it for the benefit of his children." (LDS Church News, 1989, 06/10/89)

Neal A. Maxwell

"The more we contemplate God's character, the more we understand that the God who watches over Israel does not sleep, nor does he slumber (see Psalm 121:4). If there are what appear to us to be ambiguities and perplexities, God has, long beforehand, taken all these into account. He has made 'ample provision' for His purposes to be achieved fully. We will not be exempted from these uncertainties, however, nor will we always see the end from the beginning. But knowing adequately of the divine character and plans, we can proceed anyway, for 'we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose' (Rom. 8:28)" (Lord, Increase Our Faith [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1994], 31.)"Rom. 8:28

Acts 8:7 unclean spirits...came out of many...and many...that were lame, were healed

Bruce R. McConkie

"Philip-saintly, valiant, a powerful preacher, a mighty worker of miracles-held only the Aaronic Priesthood! Peter and John must yet come from Jerusalem to Samaria to confer the Holy Ghost upon his baptized converts. (Acts 8:14-17.) And yet Philip, magnifying his calling, casts out devils, commands the lame to leap and the sick to rise from their beds of affliction. Miracles are wrought by the power of faith, and a righteous man need not hold the Melchizedek Priesthood to have power and influence with his Creator. As Joseph Smith said, 'If a priest understands his duty, his calling, and ministry, and preaches by the Holy Ghost, his enjoyment is as great as if he were one of the Presidency.' (Teachings, p. 112.)" (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 81.)

Wilford Woodruff

"I desire to impress upon you the fact that it does not make any difference whether a man is a priest or an Apostle, if he magnifies his calling. A Priest holds the key of the ministering of angels. Never in my life, as an Apostle, as a Seventy, or as an Elder, have I ever had more of the protection of the Lord than while holding the office of a Priest. The Lord revealed to me by visions, by revelations, and by the Holy Spirit, many things that lay before me." (Institute Manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & his Apostles, 2nd ed., p. 246)

Acts 8:11 to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries

The Samaritans were ready to believe in the supernatural. Their spiritual gullibility left them prey to tricksters like Simon. When Philip comes along performing miracles by the power of God, they believe him also. Yet, they lacked that gift of the spirit-the gift of discernment (DC 46:23)-whereby they could correctly determine who was the true servant of God.

"I believe that we must recognize that there are charlatans, imbued with unholy purposes, who use the true principle of the relationship of mind and body in devilish ways. While the devil cannot do good, men imbued with evil designs may sometimes mix the good and the evil...We find examples of this evil use of true principles in Biblical and historical accounts. For examples, using demonic powers, the magicians of Egypt were able to duplicate many of the miracles Moses performed with the power of God. (See Ex. 7-8.) During the days of the early apostles, Simon the sorcerer so convincingly portrayed his satanic powers as divine that many people, 'from the least to the greatest, [said], This man is the great power of God.' (Acts 8:10) In 1830, Hiram Page, one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon, claimed to receive 'revelations' for the Church from a certain stone he had obtained. Although these 'revelations' contradicted those Joseph Smith had received from the Lord, his manner of receiving them deceived several members of the Church, including Oliver Cowdery. The Lord commanded Oliver to tell Brother Page 'that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him.' (D&C 28:11) Eight years later, Hiram Page left the Church. Obviously in these cases, Satan gave men mighty power so similar to that manifested by true servants of God that many were deceived." (William E. Berrett, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Oct. 1979, 30)

Acts 8:14-15 they sent unto them Peter and John...that they might receive the Holy Ghost

Latter-day saints have no difficulty explaining this passage. To us, it makes perfect sense for the Brethren in Jerusalem to send Peter and John to administer the Melchizedek priesthood ordinance of bestowing the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. But what does Christianity have to say about this passage? Why would Peter and John need to come if Philip's baptism alone was enough? As Joseph Smith said, "You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half-that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 314.)

LeGrand Richards

"As I finished my first mission over in Amsterdam, over seventy-five years ago, I was invited into the home of one of the Saints to talk to her neighbor. When my companion and I arrived, the neighbor was there but she had her minister with her. We had a little difference of opinion on priesthood, and right there he challenged me to a debate in his church the next Saturday night.

"When we arrived, the church was full; all of his people were there, and all of our people. How our people found it out, I don't know; I didn't tell them!

"The minister stood up and said, 'Now, inasmuch as Mr. Richards is a guest in our church, we will accord him the privilege of opening this debate, and we will each talk for twenty minutes. Is that agreeable with you, Mr. Richards?'

I said, 'Very much.'...Then I stood up...and I chose for my text the sixth chapter of Hebrews where Paul said:

'Leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.' (Heb. 6:1-2.)

"I hurried over faith and repentance-I thought they believed in them. I spoke on baptism by immersion for the remission of sin until everybody was giving me accord.

"Then it came to the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. And they didn't believe that. I never found a church that did believe it outside of our Church-they think the Holy Ghost comes just like the breezes that blow over the head. I quoted them the passage saying that when the Apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God through the preaching of Philip, they sent Peter and John. And when they came, they prayed for them, they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon the sorcerer saw that the Holy Ghost was conveyed by the laying on of the Apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying: 'Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay my hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.' (Acts 8:19-20.)

"And then I gave them a few more references on the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and sat down.

"The minister stood up and talked for twenty minutes, and he never once mentioned a word I had said. He started on the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the 'Mormon Bible,' and stated that Joseph Smith had admitted he had made many mistakes; and then in a most courteous manner, he said: 'Now if Mr. Richards will enlighten us on these matters, I am sure this audience will be most appreciative.'

"I was on my feet just like that...I said, 'In the days of the Savior, his enemies tried to trick him with cunning and craftiness. I don't suppose there's anybody here tonight that would like to see us resort to those old tactics.' I said, 'If I understand a debate, it is the presentation of argument and the answering of those presentations. Has this man answered any of my arguments?'

"Everybody said, 'No.'

"I said, 'All right, my friend, you may have your twenty minutes over again.' He couldn't do it, and I knew he couldn't.

"Finally his wife stood up in the audience, and she said, 'What Mr. Richards is asking you is fair. You ought to answer him.'

"But he couldn't do it, and I said to my companion, 'Stand up and give me my coat and hat.' I said, 'One more chance. I am willing to remain here until ten o'clock tomorrow morning, when we have to be in our own church, provided this debate can go forward on the basis that you set it up. If not, I am going to leave and ask my companion to leave and ask our members to leave, and we will leave it with you to settle with your people for what has transpired here tonight."

"I met him on the street a number of times after that, but he would duck his head so he didn't need to speak to me!" ("What the Gospel Teaches," Ensign, May 1982, 31)

Orson F. Whitney

"The laying on of hands is the divinely-authorized method of administering spirit baptism...The laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost was an ordinance in the Christian church for centuries. The ordinance remained with the church much longer than did the Holy Ghost. Cyprian mentions it in the third century; Augustine in the fourth. Gradually, however, it began to be neglected, until finally some of the sects repudiated it, while others, retaining the 'form of godliness,' denied 'the power thereof.'" (Gospel Themes [Salt Lake City: n.p., 1914], 63.)

Acts 8:18 Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost

Spencer J. Condie

"The chief Apostle had discerned the real intent of Simon the sorcerer's heart. His desire for the priesthood power was not so much to bless as to impress." (In Perfect Balance [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1993], 68.)

Acts 8:23 I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity

James E. Talmage

"The attempted grafting of foreign doctrines on the true vine of the gospel of Christ was characteristic of the early years of the apostolic period. We read of the sorcerer Simon, who professed belief and entered the Church by baptism, but who was so devoid of the true spirit of the gospel that he sought to purchase by money the authority and power of the priesthood. This man, though rebuked by Peter, and apparently penitent, continued to trouble the Church, by inculcating heresies and winning disciples within the fold. His followers were distinguished as a sect or cult down to the fourth century; and, writing at that time, Eusebius says of them: 'These, after the manner of their founder, insinuating themselves into the Church, like a pestilential and leprous disease, infected those with the greatest corruption, into whom they were able to infuse their secret, irremediable, and destructive poison.' This Simon, known in history as Simon Magus, is referred to by early Christian writers as the founder of heresy, owing to his persistent attempts to combine Christianity with Gnosticism. It is with reference to his proposition to purchase spiritual authority that all traffic in spiritual offices has come to be known as simony." (The Great Apostasy [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1958], 97.)

Acts 8:29-30 the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither

Neal A. Maxwell

"We can be of so much service to others in many 'thou shalt' ways. Of course, the problem is that rendering such service takes time and we are all so busy. Some situations may call for service that somehow seems to be beneath us. Besides, we have other things to do. The 'thou shalts' are so convenient to put off. Who will notice the procrastination anyway? After all, we are not robbing a bank. Or are there forms of withholding which constitute stealing? (quotes Acts 8:26-21)

"...How many times are we too busy to 'come up and sit' (v. 31) with someone who needs conversation? You and I have divine promptings all the time encouraging us to do good, but we often deflect them instead of doing like Philip, who 'ran thither.'" ("The Pathway of Discipleship," Ensign, Sept. 1998, 10)

Acts 8:30 Philip...heard him read the prophet Esaias

The eunuch read Isaiah 53:7-8. He must have found the passage rather poetic. The words must have sounded beautiful as they eloquently rolled off his tongue, but without an understanding of their meaning they were 'as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal' (1 Cor. 13:1). How many Isaiah-readers from subsequent generations can sympathize with this poor eunuch? Haven't we all read some Isaiah passage and declared, 'How can I [understand this stuff], except some man should guide me?' Isaiah is easy only for people like Nephi who unlocked the secret of understanding when he declared, 'the words of Isaiah...are plain unto all those that are filled with the spirit of prophecy' (2 Ne 25:4). Indeed, Nephi becomes a Philip-like tutor for all of us eunuchs as he explains the meaning of so many Isaiah passages (see 1 Ne. 19-22; 2 Ne. 10-20).

Acts 8:31 How can I, except some man should guide me?

Thomas S. Monson

"Each of us knows those who do not have sight. We also know many others who walk in darkness at noonday. Those in this latter group may never carry the usual white cane and carefully make their way to the sound of its familiar tap, tap, tap. They may not have a faithful seeing-eye dog by their side nor carry a sign about their neck which reads, 'I am blind.' But blind they surely are. Some have been blinded by anger, others by indifference, by revenge, by hate, by prejudice, by ignorance, by neglect of precious opportunities.

"Of such the Lord said, '. . . their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.' (Matthew 13:15.)

"Well might such lament, 'It is springtime, the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored, and yet I am blind.' Some like the friend of Philip of old call out, 'How can I [find my way] except some man should guide me?' (Acts 8:31.) Others are too shy, too fearful to ask for needed help that their precious vision might be restored.

"Those who have felt the touch of the Master's hand somehow cannot explain the change which comes into their lives. There is a desire to live better, to serve faithfully, to walk humbly, and to live more like the Savior. Having received their spiritual eyesight and glimpsed the promises of eternity, they echo the words of the blind man to whom Jesus restored sight: '. . . one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.' (John 9:25.)" (Pathways to Perfection [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1973], 188 - 190)

Elder Levi Edgar Young

"Every man to be educated on any rung of the ladder must have a teacher, not necessarily in the schoolroom, but he must be taught by a good book, a good friend, a leader. Let us not be accused as were the Stoics of ancient times that 'The nourishment of religion was drawn from the shallow springs of their own intelligence.' That is our trouble today." (Conference Report, October 1951, Second Day-Morning Meeting 65.)

Jeffrey R. Holland

"President David O. McKay once said, 'No greater responsibility can rest upon any man [or woman] than to be a teacher of God's children.' We are, in fact, all somewhat like the man of Ethiopia to whom Philip was sent. Like him, we may know enough to reach out for religion. We may invest ourselves in the scriptures. We may even give up our earthly treasures, but without sufficient instruction we may miss the meaning of all this and the requirements that still lie before us. So we cry with this man of great authority, 'How can [we understand,] except some [teacher] should guide [us]?'

"The Apostle Paul taught: 'For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. [But] how then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?...Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.' (Rom 10:13-17)

"Now, at a time when our prophet is calling for more faith through hearing the word of God, we must revitalize and reenthrone superior teaching in the Church-at home, from the pulpit, in our administrative meetings, and surely in the classroom. Inspired teaching must never become a lost art in the Church, and we must make certain our quest for it does not become a lost tradition.

"President Spencer W. Kimball once pled: 'Stake presidents, bishops, and branch presidents, please take a particular interest in improving the quality of teaching in the Church. ... I fear,' he said, 'that all too often many of our members come to church, sit through a class or a meeting, and ... then return home having been largely [uninspired]. It is especially unfortunate when this happens at a time ... of stress, temptation, or crisis [in their life]. We all need to be touched and nurtured by the Spirit,' he said, 'and effective teaching is one of the most important ways this can happen. We often do vigorous work,' President Kimball concluded, 'to get members to come to Church but then do not adequately watch over what they receive when they do come.' On this subject President Hinckley himself has said, 'Effective teaching is the very essence of leadership in the Church.' May I repeat that. 'Effective teaching is the very essence of leadership in the Church. Eternal life,' President Hinckley continued, 'will come only as men and women are taught with such effectiveness that they change and discipline their lives. They cannot be coerced into righteousness or into heaven. They must be led, and that means teaching.'" ("A Teacher Come from God," Ensign, May 1998, 25)

Acts 8:33 In his humiliation his judgment was taken away

The Savior's humiliating condescension meant that he withheld the use of all the powers inherent to him as the Lord God Jehovah. His mortal ministry was marked by one of the most incredible ironies-that the Great Judge of the quick and the dead-'yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world' (1 Ne. 11:32, note Nephi's incredulous tone). From an onlooker's perspective-as the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate passed judgment on Jesus-it would seem as if his powers, including judgment, had been taken from him. In fact, Christ's judgment was voluntarily given up during first coming so that he could exercise it in vengeance during his second. Mark well his ominous warning, 'in mine own due time will I come upon the earth in judgment' (DC 43:29).

Acts 8:37 If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest

Philip's only requirement for baptism was that the eunuch believes with all of his heart. He was not required to attend a certain number of church meetings, nor was he required to complete a proscribed course of study. B. H. Roberts said:

"The only pre-requisites to receiving this ordinance were sincere faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and sincere repentance of all sin. As soon as the candidate professed these qualifications he was admitted into the church by baptism (Acts 2:41; Acts 8:12, Acts 8:35-40). In a short time, however, the simplicity of this ordinance was corrupted and burdened with useless ceremonies...Baptism was administered in the days of the apostles as soon as profession of faith and repentance were declared, but in the second and third century baptism was only administered twice a year, and then only to such candidates as had gone through a long preparation and trial. According to Schlegel, the so-called apostolic constitution enjoined a three years' course of preparation." (The Falling Away, p. 54-55)

Latter-day revelation has given us a little more information about what the minimum requirements are for baptism (see DC 20:37). These specific requirements differ little from Philip's, for if one believes with all one's heart and repents-as did the Ethiopian eunuch-the other requirements will be met.

Harold B. Lee

"We can know when a person is ready for baptism. The Lord gave us the measure by which we would know when a person is ready to be baptized. In the twentieth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the thirty-seventh verse, the Lord says this: 'And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism-All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.'

"Now, you read that again and again and impress that upon your missionaries. You must not only teach them to know by rote or by listening. You can teach them the lessons, but the matter of conversion depends on the individual and how much he has been inspired to reach out to those spiritual depths to receive in his heart that witness to know. Only then is he a convert and ready." (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 95.)

Acts 8:38 they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him

Orson Pratt

"Immersion is the only mode of baptism sanctioned by the Lord. John, the forerunner of Christ, baptized numerous multitudes 'in the river of Jordan' (Mark 1:5). After Jesus was baptized, 'he went up straightway out of the water' (Matthew 3:16). John also baptized 'in AEnon, near to Salim, because there was much water there' (John 3:23). When Philip baptized the eunuch, 'they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip' (Acts 8:38, 39). If sprinkling and pouring were baptism, John must have been very foolish to have sought out places where there was 'much water,' and then put himself and the candidate to so much inconvenience by going down into the water, and getting their garments disagreeably wet. If a few drops, or a gill of water, sprinkled or poured upon them were sufficient, why did they go where there was much water? Why render their wearing apparel uncomfortable by going into the water?" (Orson Pratt's Works [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1945], 52 - 54.)