When did the Ethiopian Eunuch become a bona fide “Believer”?

   August 07, 2017 by Dale
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 Now before we start, I must direct the reader to the article on the use in the Scriptures of the terms believer and unbeliever entitled Identity Problems in the Bible. It is that understanding that I mean to perpetuate here in the use of the term believer.

Because I am trying to tweak our old way of thinking, I must use the old paradigm to set the stage for our discussion. In our old way of thinking, we were taught that at the moment a person believed in God in the OT (and most people were taught to add to this a belief in God’s coming Messiah as well) or in Jesus in the NT, he was saved and guaranteed a place in heaven. So my question is simple: “At what point did the Ethiopian Eunuch, as far as we know from the information given to us in the Scriptures, become a believer, one that would have been saved, using the old paradigm’s terminology, and guaranteed a place in heaven?” If you’re not familiar with Acts 8:26-40, go back and meditate on it.       

This eunuch was a court official of Candace, the Queen of the Ethiopians. Luke tells us in Acts 8:27 that he had traveled from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship the God of the Jews. He was on his way home, reading the Book of Isaiah, when Philip was supernaturally led to his side by an angel of the Lord and then by the Holy Spirit. Of course, Isaiah was a major prophet in Israel in the eighth century B.C., predicting both the coming Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom and rule over the earth.

Did the eunuch already possess a scroll of Isaiah, or did the religious leaders in Jerusalem give him a copy of the prophet’s message? Copies of the Scriptures were not owned by the masses at this time in history since they were all meticulously hand copied and in short supply. But the eunuch had a copy however and whenever he may have obtained it.

The text clearly tells us that he traveled to Jerusalem to worship. Since the Jews only believed in one God, there is no doubt about the object of interest. Furthermore, the Book of Isaiah that he was reading, whether he had brought it with him or whether he had obtained it in Jerusalem, tells us that the object of his pursuit was the worship of the God of Israel. How long he had stayed in Jerusalem, worshipping God or how intensely he had been instructed in the worship of Israel’s God, the text does not tell us.

We don’t know whether he had already begun to worship God in Ethiopia or if, for whatever reason, he wanted to wait until after he had arrived in Jerusalem to begin his worship. Maybe he wanted to make sure he was worshipping correctly. Or maybe he was simply seeking more information about the God he had already begun to worship. Or maybe he had learned about Israel’s God from a Jew or Jewish proselyte living in Ethiopia near him. Since he was apparently competent in Hebrew, he could have gained an understanding of Israel’s God by reading about Him in their Hebrew texts. Or he could have gained his knowledge of the Lord God by reading the Greek translation of the Hebrew texts that had been around for over 200 years. Since Greek was the lingua franca of this period, it is possible that this court official had a knowledge of it if not of Hebrew as well.

We just don’t know from the Scriptural data that we have how long he had been worshipping the God of Israel or how his belief in and worship of Israel’s God had come about. But we can conclude from the events that took place on his way home that God was in it and was seeking him[1] just as much as he was seeking God.[2]

Now according to orthodox Christian theology, a person is saved at initial faith in the God of Israel or at initial faith in Jesus. (At this point, he is also supposedly justified by God once-for-all ~ that is, permanently ~ gaining a place in heaven for all eternity as a result.) So we are led to ask some questions:

If the Ethiopian eunuch had begun believing in the God of Israel, which orthodox Christian theology believes is the true God, was the eunuch saved before he ever left Ethiopian to travel to Jerusalem to worship God in Israel’s temple? He would certainly be like most OT saints in having a faith in God with very little, if any, knowledge of God’s promised Messiah.

And if he was saved then, what benefit did he receive when he believed in Jesus on his way home? And if he wasn’t saved back in Ethiopia when he first began to believe in God, how can we be sure that the people in the OT were saved when they, in exactly the same way as the Ethiopian, believed in God? We know that they believed in God, but we don’t have a verse that says they were saved by that belief.

Or was he saved after he arrived in Jerusalem to worship Israel’s God? And if he was, does this not require us to see all the Jews in Jerusalem who taught the eunuch about their faith as believers too?[3] And if he was saved in Jerusalem, what need was there or what benefit was there to believe in Jesus on his way home for salvation?

Would he have remained saved if he had never heard of Jesus at all after his salvation in Jerusalem? Would he have lost his salvation if Jesus was subsequently preached to him and he rejected Jesus? Of course, we know that he didn’t reject Jesus when Philip preached Jesus to him. But we know that he could have rejected Jesus even though he had believed in the true God because that was the reality of the majority of Jewish people, including their religious leaders, during the time of Jesus’ personal ministry in the first century. They believed in the one true God and in this God’s coming Messiah, but rejected Jesus when He began His ministry, announcing that He was their promised Messiah. If the Ethiopian eunuch was in the same situation that the religious leaders were in, then are we saying that these religious leaders in the Gospels were saved even though they later rejected Jesus as Messiah?

Or was the Ethiopian eunuch saved only after he believed in Jesus on the way home? If he could be saved only at that time, doesn’t that require us to believe that none of the people in the OT, even though they believed in the God of Israel and in the coming of His promised Messiah, could have been saved apart from believing in Jesus? You see, you can’t have it both ways! Either the eunuch could be saved apart from believing in Jesus or he couldn’t be. If he couldn’t be, then none of the OT people could be either. If believing in the coming Messiah was the same as believing in Jesus when He actually came, why did the people in the NT need to believe in Jesus at all since they had already believed in the coming Messiah. Was their belief somehow contingent? That is what it sounds like the old way of thinking does to me.

If you haven’t been able to follow all of this, it is understandable. The reason for your confusion involves a rather shocking admission, however. All of this demonstrates how arbitrary our orthodox Christian theology really is.

Finally, let’s focus on one last point. When the Ethiopian asked Philip for help in understanding the passage he was reading, he happened to be considering the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. This is, of course, the classic OT passage on the death of Messiah, a passage that is left out of the Jewish yearly liturgy because they simply don’t know what to do with it because they do not understand it. Most Jews have never read that passage even once. When they do read it, they are usually quick to say that someone has tampered with their Hebrew Scriptures because the likeness to Jesus and His death on the cross is too close to miss.

Is the use of Isa. 53 here meant to teach us that a person must believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection for them to be saved? If so, how could the apostles have been saved before they believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus? The Gospels are crystal clear that they were saved before they believed in either the death or the resurrection of Jesus.

All the confusion is based upon a false presupposition. It has been assumed, because our orthodox Christian theology requires this understanding, that to have a relationship with God is to be saved (and to be justified permanently as well). But if the Scriptures are allowed to be sufficient, apart from the arbitrary systematizing of it by our orthodox Christian theologies, we find that those presuppositions are simply not true. No one who had a relationship with God in the OT was saved in the same sense as a person can be saved in the NT. There simply is no basis for such an idea. Furthermore, justification has nothing to do with some permanent status or standing before God. It has to do with a person’s walk; it has to do with God’s approval of his attempted walk of faith.

So when did the Ethiopian eunuch become a bona fide believer in Israel’s God. The moment he received the revelation that Israel’s God was giving to him, whatever it included. Being a believer is not a class of persons; it is a response that is being given.

And when was the Ethiopian eunuch actually saved? The moment he believed in Jesus since salvation has to do with the reception of eternal life and the Holy Spirit and not at all about heaven or hell. The moment a person believes in Jesus he is given Jesus’ life and God’s Spirit. Now it is up to him to use those resources to experience Jesus’ salvation from all the temptations he might ever encounter.

And just as interesting as all these questions are, it is also striking that neither when the Ethiopian eunuch began following (or believing in) Israel’s God or when he first trusted in Jesus does Luke ever describe him as a convert. The eunuch neither converted to Judaism nor to Christianity.

Conversion? Another one of those words filled with unbiblical ideas.

This eunuch was a believer enjoying fellowship with God quite some time before he was ever saved. Those are the facts.

Different? Yeah. But definitely Biblical.

[1] John 4:23-24; Acts 8:26, 29.

[2] Acts 8:27.

[3] Cf., Acts 10:1-22 where the same situation is encountered.

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