So I’ve been wrestling with the eighth chapter of Acts for the past few weeks, trying to figure out what was going on then, and what that could mean for Jesus’ followers today. The story is pretty bizarre to be honest. A guy named Phillip is swept up by the Spirit (whatever that means) and is taken to meet an Ethiopian Eunuch, a man who’s in a high political position, who’s driving a chariot back to Africa.
Sounds like the beginning of a George Lucas movie, I know.
The Eunuch is a man who’s made quite a few sacrifices to get where he’s going. And he’s made it to the top, but now, and this is my imagination, he’s looking for more. He’s now returning from a visit to Jerusalem to visit a foreign God, and a foreign Temple.* And on his way home, he runs into a hitchhiker wanting to have a Bible study.
A few centuries ago, Scripture was really taking a pounding. The institutional church leaders had a monopoly on who could or couldn’t read the Bible (not to mention most of the culture was illiterate) and so the ruling theocracy of the day interpreted the implications of Scripture to the masses. And sometimes they added a little something in there for their own gain. They pork-barreled the Bible like it was a bill.
They had all these addendum’s about what God wanted, and some of them were meant with good intentions, while some of them were just religiously veiled attempts at furthering their own agenda.
Enter Martin Luther. Here’s a guy, who for all his flaws, saw what was going on with the corruption of the religious establishment, and decided the best way to end the corruption was by getting the Bible out there. Into the hands of the people.
One of the central principles of the Reformation movement was Sola Scriptura, which means Only Scripture. The idea behind it is that we don’t need people’s additions, or interpretation about what the Scripture is saying, just give the people the Bible. And that is a good idea, started with great motives.
The problem is it’s not Biblical.
Because if the Ethopian Eunuch would have been a Protestant, when Philip would have come jogging along side of him, asking do you understand what you’re reading there. The Eunuch would have responded by saying “Of Course, I’m literate. I have no problem understanding this.”
But he doesn’t.
Instead he tells Phillip something I think is interesting. He says, “How can I? Unless someone explains it to me?”
Worked into the Bible itself is the Bible pointing beyond itself. As if it’s incomplete, looking for a body. This is not to diminish the Bible. It’s to say what Jesus himself said in John 5, that Scripture points externally to the person of Jesus.
Which just happens to be what Phillip does from there.
He interprets the passage the Eunuch was reading from Isaiah to be about Jesus as the Messiah.
Over the years, I’ve had people say little comments to me that reflect this kind of worldview about the Scriptures. I’ve had good friends tell me I read too many other books, or that I just need to stick with the Bible. Which, ironically enough, is probably an idea that they got from other books, or at least people who read them. I’ve had people dismiss me because I read scholarly books for school. (To be clear I don’t claim that I’m a scholar or the son of a scholar).
But their argument is just let us read the Bible. The problem with that is we probably can’t. I doubt very many people in our pews would get much out of it if we just plopped down several large stacks of Greek or Hebrew codices. We are already the beneficiaries of someone else wrestling to interpret Scripture for us.
One of the unintended consequences of this kind of view of Scripture is that it can keep us isolated. It’s the product of a culture of individualism that is relatively new. And when we baptize that approach to Scripture, the one thing people rarely point out is that it’s not in Scripture.
We weren’t made to read the Bible by ourselves, in fact that is a pretty new phenomenon. Not that it’s bad, I happen to read the Bible often by myself and like that way better than say, you reading it to me. But there’s also a reason I blog, and read other people’s blogs. Or have conversations, with people on page and in person. There’s a reason that I like Bible studies, small groups, or whatever other name you want to put on it.
I want to see what God is doing in other lives besides my own.
Because maybe God’s showing you something he didn’t show me. Or maybe he showed me something he didn’t show you.
The Scriptures are this story spanning thousands of years, written by dozens of authors.
If God took that kind of process to write it, is it possible He’s trying to say something about how to read it.
Maybe it’s time to let someone else on the chariot.