THE CONVERSION OF THE Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) marks an important extension of the Gospel across several barriers.
We need to understand who he was. He was “an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” (Acts 8:27). Candace was a family name that had become a title, quite like Caesar in Rome. In certain matriarchal governments, it was not uncommon for the highest officials, who would have had ready access to Candace, to be eunuchs (whether they were born that way or castrated), for the obvious protection of the queen.
This man was equivalent to U. S. Secretary of the Treasury or the like. But although he was an honored and powerful political figure at home, he would have faced limitations in Jerusalem. Since he had gone up to Jerusalem to worship (Acts 8:27), we must assume that he had come across Judaism, had been attracted to it, and had gone up to Jerusalem for one of the feasts. But he could not have become a proper proselyte, since from the Jewish perspective he was mutilated. The Word of God had seized this man, and he had traveled for several weeks to see Jerusalem and its temple.
In the sheer providence of God, the passage the eunuch was reading, apparently out loud (Acts 8:30 –a not uncommon practice in those days) was Isaiah 53. He asks the obvious question (Acts 8:34): Who is the Suffering Servant of whom Isaiah speaks? “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
Thus the Gospel reaches outward in the book of Acts. All the first converts were Jews, whether reared in the Promised Land or gathered from the dispersion. But the beginning of Acts 8 witnesses the conversion of Samaritans — a certain people of mixed race, only partly Jewish, joined to the mother church in Jerusalem by the hands of the apostles Peter and John. The next conversion is that of the eunuch — an African, not at all Jewish — sufficiently devoted to Judaism to take the pilgrimage to Jerusalem even though he could never be a full-fledged proselyte; a man steeped in the Jewish Scriptures even when he could not understand them.
Small wonder that the next major event in this book is the conversion of the man who would become the apostle to the Gentiles.