Oct 112018

Today is the feast of St Philip the Evangelist also known as St Philip the Deacon, not to be confused with Philip the Apostle. He first appears in Acts 6 as one of “the seven” – men who were chosen to take care of the sick and needy so that “the twelve” (i.e. the Apostles) could devote themselves to prayer and preaching. “The seven” are conventionally treated as the first church deacons, whose duties were more menial than those of the Apostles. The complete text is:

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” [Acts 6:1-4]

You can see the very beginnings of a hierarchy in the church in this statement, which has the ring of truth to it. Paraphrase it as: “We were chosen directly by Jesus, and are too important to do menial things.” Jesus, who washed the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper, would not have approved. But the seeds of the hierarchical structure of so many Christian denominations was sown within that act, and the rot commenced. (Pardon the cynicism of an ordained minister). Any kind of inequality or rank within a church goes against the express teachings and actions of Jesus, and is, therefore, unChristian.

Of “the seven” only Stephen and Philip stand out, and it is not because they were good at waiting on tables. Both were noted for their preaching ability. Stephen was the first Christian martyr, condemned to be stoned to death by the Sanhedrin for blasphemy. Philip gets a whole chapter devoted to his activities (Acts 8), and is mentioned again in Acts 21 as Paul’s host for a few days as he is traveling and preaching. Philip is conventionally called the Evangelist more than the Deacon because he is more noted for his preaching than his ministry to the poor.

In Acts 8 it is noted that Philip traveled to Samaria where he preached and performed miracles. Going to Samaria was itself a noteworthy act because Samaritans and Judeans did not see eye to eye in those days (as you may know from the story of the Good Samaritan). It was quite common for Jews going from Galilee to Jerusalem to make a detour around Samaria.  In Samaria he met and converted Simon, now called Simon Magus, the surname indicating that he was a magician or sorcerer. Subsequently Simon had a clash with Peter which seems to indicate that Simon converted to Christianity because he thought the wonder working of Philip and the Apostles was a marketable skill, and that it could be bought.

Subsequently Acts 8 says that an angel instructs Philip to take the road from Jerusalem to Gaza where he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch (a powerful official), sitting in his chariot and reading from Isaiah. He asks Philip to interpret the passage for him, and in doing so Philip converts him, and then baptizes him in a nearby river. This passage is frequently quoted during adult baptisms in evangelical churches. After he has baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts gets a bit difficult to interpret:

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

However you want to interpret the text, Philip has clearly become an itinerant evangelist. He is not mentioned again until this brief passage in Acts 21:

Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

This is one of the “we” passages in Acts, describing Paul’s travels, and giving the impression that these parts are taken from an actual journal of one of Paul’s companions – although this interpretation is disputed. In any case, at this point Philip appears to be settled in Caesarea Maritima with his four daughters. This is one of the rare cases in the Greek Bible where someone is called “the evangelist” (found in only 2 other places). There are no more references to Philip. He is one of the few male disciples who is not an apostle who gets some coverage. In fact, he gets more attention than many of the apostles.

From a very early period, Philip the Evangelist came to be confused with Philip the Apostle. The confusion was largely due to the fact that Philip the Evangelist was more active than Philip the Apostle.  The designation of “the twelve” is certainly very early, but I suspect it was not Jesus’ doing. It was a construction of the gospel writers, including the author of Luke who wrote Acts as a companion volume.  All the gospels, except Mark, were written after the destruction of the temple in 70, and none were written by eyewitnesses. Having twelve apostles was important to the narrative because it reflects the 12 tribes of Israel narrative (also a construction). The gospel writers cannot even agree on who the 12 were. Some of Jesus’ followers, such as Peter, James, and John, were very important to the early church, but most have faded from history, and Paul, who was not a disciple of Jesus until after his death, is more important to the development of the church than all of the apostles put together because he spread Christianity outside of Jerusalem, and his new churches survived the destruction in 70. Philip does not rival Paul in this respect, but his evangelical work was obviously notable.

A classic Samaritan dish would be appropriate for today’s celebration, but we know no more about actual recipes from ancient Samaria than we do about ancient Judea. Classic ingredients would have been lamb, olives, figs, grapes, dates, lentils and barley, same as Judea. I came across a modern Samaritan dish for potatoes stuffed with lamb that might fill the bill as long as you remember that potatoes are a New World cultigen, and probably did not make it into Middle Eastern cuisine until at least the 17th century or later.

Split baking potatoes in half, and scoop out some of the insides. Sauté some chopped onions in olive oil until lightly colored, then brown ground lamb with them. Moisten with a little broth, and season with salt and pepper to taste, as well as with some parsley, allspice and cinnamon. Pack the lamb stuffing in the hollowed out potato halves and bake in a moderate oven (350°F) for one hour. Bake them on a rack over a baking tray with a little broth in it, so that the baking environment is moist.

 Posted by at 9:03 pm

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