The man from Ethiopia (present day Sudan) needed help to understand the Scripture! That much is clear. Some say it was because there was no New Testament to aid him in interpreting the Old Testament text (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) he was reading. It is suggested that if he would have had the complete Bible he could have figured out the meaning of the text before he arrived home. Since his trip back to Meroe was along the order of 1,700 miles, he certainly had lots of time on his hands.
It was William Tyndale, one of the first to translate the Bible into English and a leading figure of the Protestant Reformation who responded to an opponent by saying, “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who drives a plough to know more of the Scriptures than you do.” From this and other sources, some have fashioned the principle that it is the design of God that anyone can sit down with a Bible in hand or on screen and figure out everything God wants us to know.
This is patently false and has a (at least) a couple of damaging repercussions. The first is that while everyone agrees there are some things in Scripture that are simple and straightforward (like reading through Acts and seeing how people responded in becoming followers of Jesus), there are plenty of other things that aren’t so easy to understand and this view ignores that. No less a person than the apostle Peter said so (2 Peter 3:15-16). Then there is the fact that God has given the church teachers (Ephesians 4:11)—which would be quite unnecessary it we can understand everything on our own (goodbye Bible classes!). Finally, this principle is an expression of a false individualism that overlooks the community aspect of learning. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
The other damaging aspect of this is that it inevitably produces a shallow understanding of Scripture. People become masters of the more transparent parts of Scripture but fail to venture into the more challenging sections. A diet of all milk and no meat does not produce mature disciples.
On the other hand, when we embrace the principle that we need each other’s help to understand the Scripture there are some very positive things that happen. The first is that it that encourages humility. It’s hard (but not impossible) to be a know-it-all when you consistently depend upon the aid of others to help you arrive at spiritual truths. Another benefit is that such humility enhances unity (Ephesians 4:2-3) and helps us to appreciate each other and the different insights we bring.
Maybe what we should see in the Ethiopian is a humble seeker of God. Although he is a man of significant status—the CFO of the queen and in possession of an Isaiah scroll while traveling in a chariot driven by someone else and large enough to accommodate another passenger, he displays no shame, embarrassment or hesitation in asking for help to understand God’s word. Furthermore, that help is provided to him by God. All of this sounds like another great example from the book of Acts.