Questions From Readers
● How could the Ethiopian eunuch be brought into the Christian congregation before Cornelius, especially in view of Deuteronomy 23:1?—I. H., United States.
The Ethiopian was returning to his homeland after a trip to Jerusalem to worship, which shows that he was a Jewish proselyte, worshiping with the Jews at the temple. There were many of such proselytes, and had been since the beginning of the nation, the law covenant even making provision for them. They were not uncircumcised Gentiles like Cornelius. On the basis of their conversion to the Jewish religion the good news could be preached to them and they could and did become a part of the early Christian congregation, without waiting for the message to go to uncircumcised Gentiles. So the Ethiopian eunuch could be brought into the Christian congregation in view of his previous conversion to the Jewish religion.—Ex. 12:38, 48, 49; Lev. 24:17-23; Num. 15:15, 16; 35:15; Acts 8:5, 14, 27-39.
Deuteronomy 23:1 (NW) states: “No man castrated by crushing the testicles or having his male member cut off may come into the congregation of Jehovah.” But this would not affect entry into the Christian congregation, since the law covenant that prohibited this was no longer valid. However, when it was valid in the Jewish system of things would it not have forestalled the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch? Yes, if the Ethiopian was a eunuch in the fleshly way mentioned at Deuteronomy 23:1. But the word “eunuch” (Hebrew, sa·risʹ) in a broad or special sense also meant an officer, as at Genesis 39:1, where an officer of Pharaoh, Potiphar, a married man, is called a sa·risʹ. It is in this sense of the word that we view the Ethiopian that Philip met and baptized, for the Ethiopian was obviously a Jewish convert or proselyte and he was also an officer, “a man in power under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, and who was over all her treasure.” (Acts 8:27, NW) Had he been an actual eunuch he would not have been a proselyte, and if not a proselyte Philip would not have baptized him before the good news had gone to the uncircumcised Gentiles.
● Why is Jacob called a Syrian at Deuteronomy 26:5?—V. H., United States.
Deuteronomy 26:5 (NW) reads: “My father was a perishing Syrian, and he proceeded to go down to Egypt and to reside there for a while with very few in number, but there he became a great nation, mighty and numerous.” An American Translation says: “A nomad Aramean was my father.” This refers to Jacob. He sojourned in Aram with his Aramean father-in-law Laban for so long, twenty years, that he could easily come to be called an Aramean or Syrian, just as an Italian living in the United States for twenty years might be called an American. Moreover, Jacob’s mother was an Aramean, having been brought from there to marry Isaac. Jacob never actually settled there permanently, and would have left sooner if he had been allowed by Laban to do so.
Other renderings of Deuteronomy 26:5 make it read that Laban was the Syrian, and some that Jacob abandoned or left Syria, but these are not the accepted renderings. First Samuel 1:1 (AS) speaks of Elkanah as an Ephraimite, but according to his descent as given at 1 Chronicles 6:22-28 he was a Levite. He was called an Ephraimite because he had settled in the territory of Ephraim. For the very same reason Jacob was called a Syrian.