Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
— Acts 8:36-38
The book of Deuteronomy tells us—in no uncertain terms—that eunuchs will never be accepted into the Jewish faith: No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.1
It's right there in black and white. Or is it? Later in the Old Testament Isaiah writes:
...neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.2
Small wonder then that the eunuch in our story is reading the book of Isaiah when Philip meets him on the road between Jerusalem and Ethiopia. And it is no mere chance that he is between these places. As a (presumed) proselyte he is no longer part of his Ethiopian community, yet not fully accepted (if accepted at all) into the Jewish community. The eunuch is not quite man, not quite Ethiopian, not quite Jew. Oh, and of course hailing from Ethiopia, he is black. As high as his rank might be in the queen's court, he doesn't really belong anywhere. Until this meeting.
It's fairly clear that a point is being made here about the all-embracing nature of the fledgling faith of Christianity. The eunuch is held up as an example of an outsider, in multiple respects, and yet all he needs to do is believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and he will have a home in this world.3 It is wholly understandable that socially responsible Christians, especially those within the transgender community,4 would latch on to this particular story as evidence of Christianity's inclusivity. The story encapsulates in a few short verses exactly the paradigm shift that Jesus began with his own ministry.
The story of Philip and the Eunuch is almost propaganda for the new faith. It tells the reader, who may him/her/themself be feeling like an outsider that he/she/they have a home in the new kingdom. All they must do is believe.5 All of us have a great need to belong, a need of community. For many at the time this need was denied them by Judaism with all its rules and laws designed to keep more and more people out, counter to God's original intent. It was this hypocrisy that Jesus called out, and his disciples decide to confront head on through this program of conversion.
1 Deuteronomy 23:1 (NRSV)
2 Isaiah 56:3b-5
3 Later, the gospels emphasise the acceptance of eunuchs in particular with the justification that there are many different kind of such (transgender) people: For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. — Matthew 19:12
4 E.g. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch: Early church welcomed queers in Bible story by Kittredge Cherry, Q-Spirit 11/10/2021
5 This is not to say that I advocate "just believing" but I wrote about that earlier in reflection 296, Belief, quoting John 3:16.