In the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) we hear that the eunuch is returning from worship (v27), yet later (v31), he declares that he does not understand the scriptures he is reading, ‘how can I, unless someone guides me?’
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means ‘queen of the Ethiopians’). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.
31 ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.’
34 The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?’ 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him. 39 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. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
Acts 8:26-40 (NIV)
We all know that feeling when we don’t fully understand a particular passage from the Bible, but nevertheless we can still worship God from our own less-than-perfect knowledge.
The Holy Habits booklet for the Biblical Teaching habit encourages us to think about where we can go to get help with our understanding of Scripture, and suggests that we are all able to help each other with that. I greatly value the housegroup, of which I’m a member, and all its members. It is great to be able to share ideas together, and to listen to other views that we may not have considered ourselves.
The Guidance of the Holy Spirit
But while I really value our discussions at our housegroup, I think an important aspect that should not be overlooked is the work of the Holy Spirit in our Bible studies. Without Him guiding us, we are in danger of coming up with our own interpretations which may not be right. Professor Keith Fox said at a recent Curious Café evening, at Romsey Methodist Church, that both science and faith lead us to the discovery of the truth – a single truth, that is God. Let us not think that any interpretation of Scripture is equally valid and correct, but instead let us eagerly reach out to the Holy Spirit, so that He would guide and instruct us in our understanding. Let Him who inspired its writing also inspire our understanding.
That is why it is a good idea to carefully consider, or meditate, on passages of Scripture. We would never consider starting a meeting of the housegroup without a time of prayer, and we ask and expect the Holy Spirit to help us in our studies. Having the help of the Holy Spirit means that anyone who listens to Him can open up the Scriptures to others, and so we don’t have to rely on learned biblical scholars to explain it for us.
It was the guidance of the Holy Spirit that we saw in our passage from Acts chapter 8. It was because of the Holy Spirit that Philip was able to use the same piece of Scripture from Isaiah that the eunuch was reading to tell him the good news about Jesus. And it was the same Holy Spirit who then inspired the eunuch to be baptised.
It’s Not Always Easy!
Don’t get me wrong, it is not always easy to interpret the meaning of some Bible passages. Perhaps we are not always “in tune” with what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us, or maybe we are unable to understand it for some other reason. There are still some passages that are open to debate, even when we have asked the Holy Spirit for guidance, and many biblical scholars have sweated over the meaning of some texts.
Sometimes you need to have your wits about you. You may have seen preachers on the TV, or even in person, who have taught dodgy messages such as an abundance of wealth and health for true believers. Paul warned Timothy about such teaching. He wrote,
3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:3-5 (NIV)
Know Your Bible
We need to be well-versed with our Bibles so that we can be aware of these false ideas or half-truths, that are merely scratching itching ears. That is why we are encouraging you to bring your own Bibles to church – not because we are expecting the preaching of false ideas, but so that we can all become better acquainted with the written word of God. We shouldn’t be suspicious of all our preachers, but we should listen discerningly. And to do that we need to have at least a basic level of biblical teaching.
Continued in Part 3, where we look at how our faith (including knowing our Bibles) should affect the way we live…