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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 36: Acts, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Acts 8:32-35

32. Furthermore, the sentence of Scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to be slain, and as a lamb dumb before the shearer, so opened he not his mouth. 33. In his humility his judgment is exalted. Who shall declare his generation? because his life is taken from the earth. 34. And the eunuch answering Philip said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself, or of some other? 35. And Philip opening his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.


32. The sentence of Scripture. It is properly a text or period. Let us know that he lighted not upon this place by chance but that it came to pass by the wonderful providence of God, that Philip should have a proposition or principle from which the whole sum of Christianity might be set.  551 Therefore, first, he hath matter of full instruction brought to his hand by the secret direction of the Spirit; secondly, the form is plainly applied to the ministry of man. This is an excellent prophecy of Christ, and above all others to be remembered; because Isaiah saith plainly there  552 that such should be the manner of redeeming the Church, that the Son of God do by his death purchase life for men, that he offereth himself in sacrifice to purge  553 men’s sins, that he be punished with the hand of God, and that he go down even unto the very hell, that he may exalt us unto heaven, having delivered us from destruction. In sum, this place teacheth plainly how men are reconciled to God, how they obtain righteousness, how they come to the kingdom of God, being delivered from the tyranny of Satan, and loosed from the yoke of sin; to be brief, whence they must fetch all parts of their salvation.

Notwithstanding, I will only expound those things which Luke here citeth, and there be, indeed, two members. In the former, he teacheth that Christ, to the end he may redeem the Church,  554 must needs be so broken, that he appear like to a man which is cast down and past hope. Secondly, he affirmeth that his death shall give life, and that there shall a singular triumph issue out of great despair. Whereas he compareth Christ to a lamb, which suffereth itself to be led and slain, and to a sheep, which offereth herself meekly to be shorn; his meaning is, that the sacrifice of Christ shall be voluntary. And surely this was the way to appease God’s wrath, in that he showed himself obedient. He spake, indeed, before Pilate, (John 18:34, 36,) but not to save his life, but rather that he might willingly offer himself to die,  555 as he was appointed by the Father, and so might bring that punishment upon himself which was prepared for us. Therefore the prophet teacheth both things, that Christ must needs have suffered that he might purchase life for us, and that he was to suffer death willingly, that he might blot out the stubbornness of men by his obedience. And hence must we gather an exhortation unto godliness,  556 as Peter doth; but that doctrine of faith which I have already touched is former  557 in order.

33. In his humility his judgment. The eunuch had either the Greek volume, or else Luke did set down the reading which was then used, as he useth to do. The prophet saith that Christ was exalted out of sorrow and judgment, by which words he signifieth a wonderful victory, which immediately ensued his casting down. For if he had been oppressed with death, there could nothing have been hoped for at his hands.

Therefore, to the end the prophet may establish our faith in Christ, after that he had described him to be stricken with the hand of God, and to be subject to be slain,  558 he putteth upon him a new person now; to wit, that he cometh up out of the depth of death as a conqueror, and out of the very hell, being the author of eternal Life. I know, indeed, that this place is diversely expounded. Some there be which understand by this, that he was carried from the prison to the cross; other some there be who think that to be taken away doth signify as much as to be brought to nought. And, indeed, the signification of the Hebrew word, לחה (lachah) is doubtful,  559 as is also the signification of the Greek word αιρεσθαι. But he which shall thoroughly weigh the text, [context,] shall agree with me in that which I have said, that he passeth now from that doleful and unseemly sight which he had set before our eyes, unto the new beginning of unlooked-for glory. Therefore the Greek interpretation differeth not much from the words of the prophet in the sum of the matter. For Christ’s judgment was exalted in his humility or casting down; because at such time as he might seem to be cast down and oppressed, the Father maintained his cause. After this sort judgment shall be taken in this place (as in many other) for right. But it signifieth condemnation in the Hebrew text. For the prophet saith, that after that Christ shall be brought into great straits, and shall be like unto a condemned and lost man, he shall be lifted up by the hand of the Father. Therefore the meaning of the words is, that Christ must first have suffered death, before the Father should exalt him unto the glory of his kingdom; which doctrine must be translated unto the whole body of the Church; because all the godly ought wonderfully to be lifted up with the hand of God, that they be not swallowed up of death. But when God appeareth to be the revenger of his, he doth not only restore them to life but also, getteth to them excellent triumphs of many deaths, as Christ did triumph most gloriously upon the cross; whereof the apostle maketh mention in the Colossians 2.

His generation. After that the prophet hath set forth the victorious death of Christ, he addeth now that his victory shall not last only for a small time, but shall go beyond all number of years. For the exclamation of the prophet importeth as much as if he should deny that the perpetuity of Christ’s kingdom can be expressed by the tongue of men. But interpreters have wrested this place miserably. Whereas the old writers have endeavored hereby to prove the Eternal Generation of the Word of God against Arius, it is too far dissenting from the prophet’s mind. Chrysostom’s exposition is never a whit truer, who referreth it unto the human generation. Neither do they understand the prophet’s meaning, which suppose that he inveigheth against the men of that age. Other some think better, who take it to be spoken of the Church, save only that they are deceived in the word generation, which they think doth signify a posterity or issue. But the word דר, (dor,) which the prophet useth, signifieth, amongst the Hebrews, an age, or the continuance of man’s life. Therefore, undoubtedly this is the prophet’s meaning, that Christ’s life shall endure for ever, when as he shall be once delivered by his Father’s grace from death; although this life, which is without end, appertaineth unto the whole body of the Church; because Christ rose, not that he may live for hlmself, but for us. Therefore, he extolleth now in the members  560 the fruit and effect of that victory which he placed in the Head. Wherefore every one of the faithful may conceive sure hope of eternal life out of this place; secondly, the perpetuity of the Church is rather avouched in the person of Christ.

Because his life is taken from the earth. This is, to look to, (to be) a very absurd reason, that Christ doth reign with such renown in heaven and earth, because he was cut off. For who can believe that death is the cause of life? But this was done by the wonderful counsel of God, that hell should be a ladder, whereby Christ should ascend into heaven; that reproach should be unto him a passage into life; that the joyful brightness of salvation should appear out of the horror and darkness of the cross; that blessed immortality should flow from the deep pit of death. Because he humbled himself, therefore the Father exalted him, that every knee may bow before him, (Php 2:10,) etc. Now must we bethink ourselves what fellowship we have with Christ, that it may not be troublesome to any to go the same way.

34. The eunuch said to Philip. Here it appeareth what an earnest desire the eunuch had to learn. He wandereth in divers prophecies of Isaiah as through doubtful boughts,  561 and yet he is not weary of reading. And whilst that he arrogateth nothing to himself, he getteth far more, contrary to his hope, even at a sudden, than he could get during his whole life by taking great pains, if he had brought all his quickness of wit. So the Lord will be unto us a Master, though we be but small, if, acknowledging our ignorance, we be not loth to submit ourselves to learn. And as the seed, covered with earth, lieth hid for a time, so the Lord will illuminate us by his Spirit, and will cause that reading which, being barren and void of fruit, causeth nothing but wearisomeness, to have plain light of understanding. The Lord doth never keep the eyes of his so shut, but that so soon as they are once entered, the way of salvation appeareth unto them in the Scripture; but that they profit ever now and then a little by reading. Yet doth he suffer them to stick fast oftentimes, and permitteth their course to be hindered by some bar which is laid in the way, both that he may try patience of faith in them, and also that he may teach them humility, by putting them in mind of their ignorance, that he may make them more attentive after that they have shaken off drowsiness; that he may make them more fervent in prayer; that he may prick them forward to love the truth more dearly; that he may set forth the excellence of his heavenly wisdom, which is otherwise not so esteemed as it ought. But howsoever the faithful do not attain unto the mark of perfect knowledge, yet they shall always perceive that their labor is not in vain, so that they stop not the way before themselves with proud loathsomeness.  562 Let this going forward suffice us until the time of full revelation do come, that even a small taste of knowledge doth drip  563 into us the fear of God and faith.

35. Philip, opening his mouth. To open the mouth is taken in Scripture for, to begin a long speech concerning some grave and weighty matter. Therefore Luke’s meaning is, that Philip began to intreat [discourse] of Christ, as it were, with full mouth. He saith that he began with this prophecy, because there is no one which depainteth out Christ more lively;  564 and it was then brought  565 to his hand. Therefore, after that Philip had showed, by the prophet’s words, after what sort Christ should come, and what was to be hoped for at his hands, he conferred the thing itself afterward, that the eunuch might know that that Christ which was promised was already revealed and given, and that he might understand his power. Where we translate it, that he preached Christ, Luke saith that he preached the gospel. The sense is, that he taught that of Christ which he uttered in his gospel himself, and commanded to be taught; whereby we gather, that when Christ is known, we have the sum of the gospel.



Apte deduci,” aptly deduced.


Sine involucris,” without circumlocution, unequivocally.


Expiandis,” to expiate.


Et restituat in vitam,” and restore her to life, omitted.


In victimam,” as a victim.


Ad patientiam,” to patience.


Praecedit,” precedes.


Et mactationi subjectum,” and subjected to slaughter.


Ambigua,” ambiguous, equivocal.


In membris omnibus,” in all the members.


Per dubias ambages,” through dubious, winding paths.


Superbo fastidio,” by proud disdain, fastidiousness.


Instillat,” instil.


Clarius,” more clearly.


Commode,” conveniently, omitted.

Next: Acts 8:36-40