Here’s my latest Credo article that appeared in yesterday’s Newark Advertiser
In my last Credo column I referred to a Bible story found in Acts chapter 8. I want to return to it as I think there’s something else it can teach us.
A reminder of the story:
A high-ranking Ethiopian is travelling home from Jerusalem. He’s the court treasurer and he’s also a eunuch. He’s been to Jerusalem to worship and, on his way home he’s reading the Old Testament book of Isaiah, but struggling to understand it.
Philip, one of Jesus’s followers, is told to go over to the Ethiopian and he explains the passage to him – telling him that it is all about Jesus. The Ethiopian is convinced by the explanation and is immediately baptised.
Last time I wrote about what the passage has to tell us about how we ‘do church’.
This time I want to focus on what it tells us about using the Bible.
The passage deals with two Old Testament passages; one that is included in the story and the other that is not directly referred to.
Firstly the scripture the Ethiopian is reading – it’s from Isaiah chapter 53. Phillip, who has come to know Jesus is in a position to reinterpret what the Isaiah passage means in the light of his experience of Jesus. His explanation of it to the Ethiopian is that though it was written hundreds of years previously it’s all about Jesus.
Secondly there is a passage not directly referred to which explains why it’s important to notice this story is about a eunuch and not just any Ethiopian. Deuteronomy 23 verse 1 says:
“No man who has been castrated … may be included among the Lord’s people.”
Of course that’s what a eunuch is – a man who has been castrated. So, if you go back to the Old Testament laws, the eunuch must be treated as an outsider. Despite the fact that he’s a believer who is clearly trying to understand more about the Jewish faith he can’t be allowed into the fellowship.
What does Phillip do in the light of this Old Testament rule? He ignores it. He’s happy to baptise the Ethiopian; a sign of acceptance into a faith community.
The importance of this is clear to me – we need to interpret the scriptures in the light of Jesus Christ.
Just as Phillip was happy to interpret the Isaiah’s writings as being fulfilled by Jesus he was also clear that the rule in Deuteronomy was no longer valid in the light of Jesus’ message and actions, which were all about including people, particularly people on the margins, not excluding people.
In my view we can learn a lot from this in relation to other Old Testament texts that people in churches still use to exclude those who I am sure Jesus would welcome.