Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 8:5-8, 14-17

Text in red are my additions.

5. And Philip going down to the city of Samaria, preached Christ unto them.

Philip, the deacon (One of the seven deacons introduced in Acts 6:1-7). To the city of Samaria,—rather, “to a city of Samaria”—there is no article in the Greek of most MSS. It is uncertain whether this city was the one then called Sebaste, the capital of Samaria, or some other city of that province. Very
probably it was the capital city, since in the best MSS. (N, A, B) we find the article prefixed to the noun (την πολιν). Patrizi, however, thinks there is question here, not of the city, but of the country of Samaria.  For linguistic reasons Luke Timothy Johnson is of the same opinion as Patrizi.

6. And the people with one accord were attentive to those things which were said by Philip, hearing, and seeing the miracles which he did.

The Greek word here translated as attentive is προσέχω (prosechō), it is used two more times in the account of of Simon the Magician’s preaching (verses 10-11), not part of today’s reading. Philip and Simon are portrayed as being dueling preachers of different doctrines. Simon will be converted by Philip and become attentive to him (verse 13, using the Greek προσκαρτερέω = proskartereō, a synonym of προσέχω = prosechō).  He will later fall into error again (verses 18-24).

7. For many of them who had unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, went out.
8. And many, taken with the palsy, and that were lame, were healed.

Philip is here being portrayed as continuing the excorcising and healing ministries of Jesus and the apostles (e.g., Luke 4:33, 36; 5:17-26; 6:18; 7:22; Acts 3:1-10; 5:15-16).

14. Now when the apostles, who were in Jerusalem, had heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John.

They sent . . . Peter and John; i.e., the Apostles with common consent judged it best to send Peter and John to complete the work begun by Philip in Samaria. The meaning is not that the body of the Apostles was superior to Peter, as we know from many other instances. Philip could baptize, but the conferring of Confirmation and the higher gifts of the Spirit was reserved to the Apostles.

15. Who, when they were come, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost.

Prayer was one of the Apostles chief duties in Acts 6:4. Peter has been prominent throughout the first part of Acts, along with John who, though often mentioned, “remains silently in Peter’s shadow” (L.T. Johnson, ACTS OF APOSTLES, pg. 148).

16. For he was not as yet come upon any of them; but they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

The faithful of Samaria had received the grace of the Holy Ghost in Baptism, but had not yet received the increase of grace which comes with Confirmation. Besides an increase of grace and the imparting of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, which strengthen and fortify the Christian, the Sacrament of Confirmation in early times seemed also to impart a special power of working miracles and speaking with tongues. But see Footnote #5 to this chapter in the NAB.

17. Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

They received the Holy Ghost, in the Sacrament of Confirmation. We have here the following conditions necessary for a Sacrament: (a) the minister, i.e., the Apostles; (b) a sensible sign, i.e., the imposition of hands, doubtless with unction, on the subject, and the prayer or form, which doubtless also accompanied the imposition of hands, as in vi. 6; (c) the effect, i.e., a special communication of the Holy Ghost with His gifts.

The Fathers sometimes speak of the Holy Ghost as given through the imposition of hands; sometimes as communicated through the anointing with oil. But this is only because they regarded these two actions as inseparable, and consequently as forming but one complete action. Cf. TertuUian, Contra Marcionem, de ‘Resurr. cam. viii ; St. Cyprian, Epist. 70, y2.

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One Response to Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 8:5-8, 14-17

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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