Conversion in the Book of Acts – Part Three

Posted on October 17, 2010 by

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The Book of Acts

Since the day of Pentecost, when three thousand souls were added to the redeemed, many more had responded to the preaching of the Gospel. Luke summarizes that “many” who had heard Peter’s sermon after healing a lame man in the temple “believed”. As an explanatory note, he further writes, “the number of the men came to about five thousand” (Acts 4.4 emphasis mine).

Luke again records that many apostolic “signs and wonders” had induced faith among the people of Jerusalem (5.12-16). He further summarizes that, “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (5.14 emphasis mine).

The evangelistic aftershock of seven men called to assist the Apostles in their ministry in Jerusalem is seen in the wording of Acts 6.7:

And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (emphasis mine)

Notice that one’s conversion may be stated in terms of obedience. Luke here summarizes this conversion response; however, the careful reader of Acts understands that these brief conversion stories ought to be understood in light of the more detailed examples of conversion.

The Case of the Samaritans

The prophet Philip arrived in Samaria and began to proclaim Christ and performed signs before them (Acts 8.5-6). As the people saw the genuineness of Philip’s signs, they served to authenticate the validity of his message. Philip preached “good news” regarding “the kingdom of God” and “the name of Jesus Christ”.

The Samaritans could not dismiss the signs or the good news, so they “believed” Philip and his preaching and “were baptized” (Acts 8.12). Luke adds an interesting qualifier: “they were baptized, both men and women.”

Consider the elements of this passage:

(1) The Samaritans were presented with the preaching of the Gospel which involves “the kingdom of God” and “the name of Jesus Christ”.

(2) The Samaritans were impressed with the genuine nature of Philip’s “signs”, acknowledging their Divine origin. Furthermore, they made the connection between the signs and the message.

(3) The Samaritans came to faith (“they believed”) and submitted to baptism.

(4) Those who submitted to baptism were “men and women” (adults), an important point to reflect upon given that many “Christian” groups offer baptism to infants for which there is no scriptural authority nor precedent.

The transparency of the passage is apparent, and only those with a theological agenda are pressed to attempt a plea of ignorance, or a hermeneutical rationalization, in order to escape the importance of the steps of conversion laid out in this narrative.

The Case of Simon, the Would-be Sorceror

Interwoven within the conversion narrative of the Samaritans is the case of a magician whose name is Simon and his conversion (Acts 8.9). Like many contemporary magicians, Simon was quite talented in the art of “sleight of

hand”, and through it was capable to create a following. In fact, he leveraged his talent affirming, “that he himself was somebody great” (8.9).

Even the Samaritans thought of him to be from God and “Great” (8.10-11), but when Simon compared himself to Philip and his signs, Simon revised his views (8.13):

Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed. (8.13 emphasis mine)

Simon the con-artist became Simon the convert. How did he do that? While we are addressing his case separately here, we must understand that Philip’s ministry was sufficient evidence for Simon to conclude that God was with Philip. As a consequence, Simon believed the Gospel and was baptized.

The Case of the Travelling Ethiopian Eunuch

A certain Ethiopian eunuch who served as the treasurer for Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, was on his chariot returning home from Jerusalem where he had gone to worship the God of Israel (8.26-28). This man was reading the prophet Isaiah when he came in contact with Philip. A discussion emerged concerning the nature and scope of one of the passages from Isaiah (8.29-31).

The eunuch wanted to know the “who” of the passage he was reading. Who was on Isaiah’s mind when he spoke of a suffering servant (cf. Isa. 53.7-8). In fact, he asks Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (8.34). Philip used Isaiah 53.7-8 as his starting point to tell “him the good news about Jesus” (8.35). He preached the Gospel starting from Isaiah 53.

Philip’s teaching must have included elements of the Gospel which are not explicitly stated, because the eunuch stopped his chariot at the sight of “water” and demanded baptism (8.36).

And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. (8.38a)

The eunuch knew the appropriate response to demonstrate faith in the Gospel and that he was turning to God. Without labeling his actions, Luke allows us to see the eunuch’s faith, and his desire to turn to the God of Israel, when he zealously submits to baptism in water.

This is the first time in the Book of Acts that baptism is explicitly linked to water; however, the Gospel of Luke makes this connection early on in 3.16 where John the Baptist declares, “I baptize you with water”. For the time being, it is sufficient to note that conversion baptism as evident in the case of the eunuch is a baptism in water, where the penitent believer is immersed in water. This act demonstrates that the penitent is now a convert, a person who has turned to God, having the remission of sins (Acts 2.38).

We should deeply reflect on Acts 8, a detailed narrative of 3 conversions.

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