Black History: 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

In the earliest days of the Christian faith, the Gospel was making its way through the Middle East and to Europe. But it is often left out that it also made its way to Africa. On the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, Egyptians heard the good news proclaimed to them in their own language. In fact a good number of the early Christian theologians were African including Tertullian and Augustine of Hippo. However, deeper in the African continent, God was working on perhaps the first true Christian African nation.

We read in chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles, that there was a high ranking eunuch of “Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” (Candace was really a title, not a name of queens that reigned in the region from about 150 years before Christ). Him being a eunuch (probably not born so, but made so for service to the queen) would have meant that he would have been barred from certain parts of the temple (Deuteronomy 23:1). Yet, he didn’t let this obstacle prevent him from learning about God. As he read the book of Isaiah, God created a yearning in his heart to get to know Him better. And of course, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The Holy Spirit led one of the 12 Apostles, by the name of Philip to the eunuch, who then told him about Jesus and baptized him immediately afterwards.

It is unknown if the unnamed eunuch went back to Ethiopia and started spreading his new faith to his friends and family. However, I do believe that this one man might have planted seeds that will 300 years later become the official state religion of Ethiopia.

This not only has significance when it comes to church history, but with apologetics as well. It often claimed that Christianity is the “White man’s religion” and that Blacks only became Christians after it was first beat into them by their white slave owners. However, this shows a lack of knowledge of history. Christianity was the official faith in Ethiopia for 1300+ years before the first slave landed in America. But some will argue that Ethiopia is on the eastern part of the African continent, the trans-Atlantic slave trade brought Africans from the WESTERN part. Well, there is further evidence that Christianity existed in Mali around 1300 AD (Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History, 2011).

The Gospel arrived in Africa and has flourished in various parts for millennia. God has never left His elect without a way to know Him. In fact God has revealed Himself to all of the world in some way (Romans 1:19-20), whether it be general or natural revelation letting us know there is a God. He also reveals Himself and His redemptive plan for mankind through progressive and special revelation. The Ethiopian Eunuch’s desire to know scripture led to his special revelation and, in time sowed a seed for a thriving African church. Reader, God is revealing Him to you also, how will you respond?

Derrick Stokes
Theologetics.org

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