The Ethiopian's Bible

Acts 8 relates the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. It is a familiar account. The last time I read it I got to thinking about one detail: the Ethiopian’s Bible. Consider that. . .

He had one. We seldom give it much thought, but the very fact that this man had a copy of Scripture is noteworthy. Books were handwritten in those days; that means they were rarer and more expensive than we think of them. The Ethiopian’s Bible must have been important to him.

He knew where it was. Years ago an elder and I visited a sister who seldom attended worship. She assured us that although she was rarely at church, she regularly prayed and read her Bible. The elder asked her to get her Bible so we could all read a few passages together (I was fairly certain which ones he had in mind). Ten minutes later she finally located it! The Ethiopian, in contrast, kept his Bible with him.

He read it. The Ethiopian had been to Jerusalem to worship, “and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah” (v. 28). I assume he had either stopped for a break or else he had a driver! The point is, he did not own a Bible just to say he had one. He read it!

He read from the prophets. Did you notice what he was reading? The prophet Isaiah. Not his favorite story or his favorite psalm. There is nothing wrong with rereading those sections we especially love, but the Ethiopian was also interested in what can be the more challenging parts of Scripture.

He wanted to know its meaning. The Ethiopian was reading what has now become a familiar text: Isaiah 53, a prophecy of Jesus’ death. At his point of knowledge, however, he did not understand the reference. But he wanted to, and he was glad to listen while Philip explained it to him. He knew the joy of gaining insight into God’s marvelous plan.

He acted on its message. Philip preached what Isaiah had prophesied—Jesus crucified for our salvation. That is the theme of the Bible. It is a message that calls for action on our part, acceptance of God’s offer of salvation by becoming Jesus’ disciples. That includes both faith in Jesus (v. 37) and baptism into Him (vv. 36, 38). The Ethiopian was anxious to act immediately on what he learned. He ordered the chariot to stop and was baptized at that moment.

His story became part of our Bible. Obviously, the Ethiopian’s Bible was limited to the Old Testament. For some reason, the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to include his story in the book of Acts, part of the New Testament, which is God’s revelation to all mankind for the rest of time. Why? The Ethiopian’s story, along with so many others, illustrates how to be saved, how to become Jesus’ disciple. Perhaps it was also included because it teaches us proper regard for the Bible.

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