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Cornelius in Acts chapter 10 is generally cited as the first Gentile convert to Christianity. What then is the status of the Ethiopian eunuch baptised by Philip in chapter 8? Was he a Jew in the service of Candice? If so why did he not understand Isaiah? Was he a proselyte at the door but unwelcome because of his emasculation? Or was he a Gentile? If so, why not recognised as such?

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Which sources state that Cornelius is the first Gentile convert?

Eusebius (263-339 AD) acknowledges the Ethiopian eunuch as the first Gentile convert:

But as the preaching of the Saviour’s Gospel was daily advancing, a certain providence led from the land of the Ethiopians an officer of the queen of that country, for Ethiopia even to the present day is ruled, according to ancestral custom, by a woman. He, first among the Gentiles, received of the mysteries of the divine word from Philip in consequence of a revelation, and having become the first-fruits of believers throughout the world, he is said to have been the first on returning to his country to proclaim the knowledge of the God of the universe and the life-giving sojourn of our Saviour among men; so that through him in truth the prophecy obtained its fulfillment, which declares that Ethiopia stretcheth out her hand unto God [Psalm 68:31]

Church History, II.I.13

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Jews are ubiquitous and have been throughout history. It is often understood that the eunuch of Acts 8 was a gentile but couldn't he have just as easily been a Jew, like Joseph, prospering under less than ideal circumstances in a foreign land? Or a proselyte? He didn't see any reason why he would not be permitted to be baptized.

KJV Act 8:26  And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.  Act 8:27  And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship,  Act 8:28  Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.  Act 8:29  Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.  Act 8:30  And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?  Act 8:31  And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.  Act 8:32  The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth:  Act 8:33  In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.  Act 8:34  And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?  Act 8:35  Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.  Act 8:36  And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?  Act 8:37  And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  Act 8:38  And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.  Act 8:39  And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.  Act 8:40  But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.

From Albert Barnes' "Barne's Notes":

And had come ... - This proves that he was a Jew, or at least a Jewish proselyte. It was customary for the Jews in foreign lands, as far as practicable, to attend the great feasts at Jerusalem. He had gone up to attend the Passover, etc. See the notes on Act_2:5.

Adam Clarke writes:

Had come to Jerusalem for to worship - Which is a proof that he was a worshipper of the God of Israel; but how came he acquainted with the Jewish religion? Let us, for a little, examine this question. In 1Ki_10:1, etc., we have the account of the visit paid to Solomon by the queen of Sheba, the person to whom our Lord refers, Mat_12:42, and Luk_11:31. It has been long credited by the Abyssinians that this queen, who by some is called Balkis, by others Maqueda, was not only instructed by Solomon in the Jewish religion, but also established it in her own empire on her return; that she had a son by Solomon named Menilek, who succeeded her in the kingdom; and, from that time till the present, they have preserved the Jewish religion. Mr. Bruce throws some light upon this subject: the substance of what he says is the following: “There can be no doubt of the expedition of the queen of Sheba; as Pagan, Moor, Arab, Abyssinian, and all the countries round, vouch for it, nearly in the terms of Scripture. Our Savior calls her queen of the south; and she is called, in 1Ki_10:1, etc., 2Ch_9:1, etc., queen of Sheba or Saba; for Saba, Azab, and Azaba, all signify the south: and she is said to have come from the uttermost parts of the earth. In our Saviour’s time the boundaries of the known land, southward, were Raptam or Prassum; which were the uttermost parts of the known earth, and were with great propriety so styled by our Lord. The gold, myrrh, cassia, and frankincense, which she brought with her, are all products of that country. The annals of the Abyssinians state that she was a pagan when she left Saba or Azab, to visit Solomon; and that she was there converted and had a son by Solomon, who succeeded her in the kingdom, as stated above. All the inhabitants of this country, whether Jews or Christians, believe this; and, farther, that the 45th Psalm was a prophecy of her journey to Jerusalem; that she was accompanied by a daughter of Hiram from Tyre; and that the latter part of the Psalm is a prophecy of her having a son by Solomon, and of his ruling over the Gentiles.” Travels, vol. ii. page 395, etc. All this being granted, and especially the Scripture fact of the queen of Sheba’s visit, and the great probability, supported by uninterrupted tradition, that she established the Jewish religion in her dominions on her return, we may at once see that the eunuch in question was a descendant of those Jews; or that he was a proselyte in his own country to the Jewish faith, and was now come up at the great feast to worship God at Jerusalem. Mr. Bruce may be right; but some think that Saba, in Arabia Felix, is meant: see the note on Mat_12:42.

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