Nine of the ten translations of the Bible on the shelf next to me relegate the 37th verse of the 8th chapter of the book of Acts to a footnote. Even my Greek New Testament includes it only as a footnote citing none of the oldest and most reliable manuscripts. Most (including the one translation that includes it in the text) alert the reader that this verse is a late addition. In 23 words an unknown scribe, perhaps five centuries after Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles and two or three centuries after the oldest and most reliable copies, added a fence to the dramatic and unlimited welcome that Philip had offered to an Ethiopian eunuch.
“Fences make good neighbors.” They set boundaries and provide order to an otherwise unruly world. In his contemplative poem ‘Mending Walls’, Robert Frost disagrees with this adage. Nature he argues even tries to tear down walls as each freeze and thaw dislodges stones from the wall separating his yard from his neighbor’s.
In the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit also disrupts fences. This week’s passage is the middle of three conversion stories. In each instance the Spirit brings people into the Church that a strict reading of the law might exclude. The omitted 37th verse would have added a clear limit for who can be baptized; a limit most of the Church has never strictly observed, although …
The Ethiopian eunuch also made a bold step to welcome Philip. Barbara Brown Taylor* likens this wealthy, well educated, devout, yet humble high ranking Ethiopian official inviting Philip into his chariot as to a Washington D.C. diplomat inviting a street preacher into his new Lexus for a Bible study while driving between appointments.
Since the Spirit brought these two diverse people together, who might the Spirit nudge us into welcoming to God’s house?
I will have more to say about Acts 8:26-40 at 8:15 AM and 10 AM, on Sunday April 29th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.
A Tip for Parents
When I was a child my bedtime prayers ended with a list of people I wanted God to bless. My parents used this prayer as a means to reinforce who I loved.
This Sunday I will write your child’s name on a paper heart to show them that I love each of them. Then I will ask them to add names of people that they love to reinforce the Bible lesson.
Beloved, since God loved us so much,
we also ought to love one another.
— 1 John 4:11
Music this Sunday
Mark Hayes has arranged a traditional American folk hymn, “What Wondrous Love Is This?” adding emotional breath to the first Scripture lesson. Our choir will help you experience this as a prayer sung.