When we discuss Acts 8 and the Ethiopian Eunuch we usually spend time on verse 37 and whether is belongs in the text or not – after all, it is not in the oldest manuscripts. However, I wander if we truly understand the previous verse as we should. Philip and the Eunuch come upon water and the Eunuch asks, “What prevents me from being baptized?” Why would he ask this question?
Think about what this man was – he was a eunuch. He worked in the court of a queen and it was common for male servants to be castrated and even dismembered. This prevented this man from being a proselyte. “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 23:1; this is a quote from the NASB, the ESV leaves little to the imagination.) This man wanted to serve God. He was even willing to travel from Ethiopia to Jerusalem to worship God (obviously in the court of Gentiles). Yet there was something preventing him from being a Jew – he was a eunuch.
I read this passage in Deuteronomy 23 and wonder about the justice of the situation – is it fair that he cannot enter the assembly due to his physical situation even though he only desires to serve God? It is interesting that the Eunuch was reading from Isaiah 53 because Isaiah 56 discusses the condition of eunuchs in the Messianic age– “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:3-5).
This eunuch could only be a God-fearer. However, Isaiah prophesied of the Messianic time when eunuchs would be accepted – obviously this acceptance comes with the teaching of the gospel. Imagine the eunuch’s joy to know that there was no physical requirement preventing him from obeying the gospel. He had been ready and willing to serve God, now was the time. As the Psalmist said, “Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God” (68:31).
The Law of Moses prevented the eunuch from being a Jew; only a lack of faith would prevent him from being a Christian.