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Ethiopian baptism

Jesus loves the "not-quite-normal"

In the Bible, there are warm words spoken of eunuchs, those people who did not quite fit into the male/female division of humanity. One such is the Ethiopian official (Acts 8:26-40), who had probably been castrated as a boy without his consent. 

We find this worshipper of the Jewish God returning home from Jerusalem. His blemished status under Jewish law must have made his pilgrimage an unsatisfying experience. However, he still holds a scripture scroll in his hands on his way home, presumably purchased in Jerusalem. He is reading aloud, in Greek, a passage that describes someone who had suffered the injustice of a shearing, like a passive sheep, humiliated and with no prospect of descendants. 

The Jewish faith he had adopted had no consensus about an afterlife. So, as someone who was unable to have children, what meaning did the eunuch’s sterile life hold in the face of mortality? It was natural for him to feel sorry for himself as “just a dry tree”, like the eunuchs of Isaiah 56:3. The verses he was reading seemed so relevant to the sadness of his own life that the man in the chariot could have wondered if the prophet might be talking about eunuchs.

The verses he was reading seemed so relevant to the sadness of his own life

However, this Ethiopian, whom the law supposedly kept from joining the assembly of God’s people, was so precious that God sent a servant, one who He had used to speak to crowds (Acts 8:6), into the desert, alone and on foot, simply to bring a message to him. It was a message of acceptance, love and understanding. The passage the Ethiopian is puzzling over speaks of the Messiah himself, who had experienced something that somehow put Him alongside this eunuch, having “chosen to live like a eunuch” (Matt 19:12). The official, whose sense of loss had not been eradicated by the temple ceremonies in Jerusalem, now undergoes a hasty baptism by the road and goes on his way rejoicing, no longer reflecting on his misfortune.

The New Testament gives this African, who had felt excluded, the honour of being the first person from outside Judea and Samaria to be recorded as receiving the good news of repentance and faith. This story should encourage others who feel they don’t quite fit our culture’s gender norms.

This article was originally published in the spring 2022 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the spring 2022 edition of Ascend