“Behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority … who had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, Go near and overtake this chariot. So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, Do you understand what you are reading? And he said, How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:27-31)
This passage illustrates the problem that many people have with the Bible. They simply don’t understand what they are reading. The Ethiopian eunuch was wise enough to know that he needed someone to guide him or literally, to show him the way. The question is, “Who?”
There is great danger in depending on the wrong guide or guides. In Matthew chapter 15, the scribes and Pharisees came from Jerusalem to see Jesus and said to Him, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” Jesus answered them by saying, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” He further told them, “You have made the commandment of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” The disciples were concerned because the Pharisees were offended by what Jesus said to them, but Jesus responded by saying, “Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:1-14).
There are several key points to notice about this passage. First, these Jewish leaders were more concerned with the traditions of men than they were with the Word of God. By “traditions” we do not mean simply established ways of doing things. These “traditions” were contrary to the Word of God because they caused the scribes and Pharisees to “transgress the commandment of God” (verse 3). The Pharisees concentrated so much on Jewish traditions that they “made the commandment of God of no effect” (verse 6). These types of traditions are dangerous teachings.
Too many people today are following the teachings and traditions of men rather than studying what God’s Word says. Even though the men they follow may be “religious” leaders, too many are like the Pharisees; people who draw near to God with their mouths and honor Him with their lips, but whose hearts are far from God. Their “religious” worship of God is vain and empty, because it is insincere. The real harm in following these men is that they teach the commandments of men as substitutes for the truths of God’s Word.
Jesus called these people “blind leaders of the blind.” The scribes and Pharisees were blind in that they did not even know God. They were spiritually blind and were leading others astray with their false teaching. The result, Jesus said, is that, “both fall into a ditch” (verse 14). We can see that Satan is at the root of this problem, for it is he who blinds men’s minds to the truth of God’s Word (II Cor. 4:3-6).
Just as the Ethiopian eunuch, we need a guide to show us the way, but we must be careful that our guide is not a false teacher; a hypocrite who does not even know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This is the danger of following the teachings of men.
You may ask, “But wasn’t Philip the one who guided the eunuch and showed him how to understand God’s Word? Don’t we read that ‘Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him'” (Acts 8:35)? Yes, Philip was certainly used of God to help this man understand the Scriptures.
Throughout history, God has chosen to use men as His instruments to preach and teach His Word. In the Old Testament, God spoke through the prophets. In the New Testament, God spoke through His Son and through the apostles. Even today, though there are no apostles and prophets, God has given men to be evangelists and teaching pastors to faithfully proclaim His Word (Eph. 4:11). These men preach and teach so that the saints may be equipped for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the church, the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12).
Certainly we can benefit from the teaching and preaching of godly pastors and teachers, just as the Ethiopian eunuch benefited from Philip’s preaching, but we must take careful notice of three things. First, Philip preached Jesus Christ to the eunuch. A faithful preacher or teacher is one who preaches and glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, Philip preached to the eunuch from the Scriptures, not from the traditions of men. Third, if you look at the complete account in Acts 8, Philip was led by the Holy Spirit of God.
In Acts 8:26 we read, “Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Philip obeyed and found the Ethiopian eunuch sitting in a chariot reading the Scriptures. In verse 29, “the Spirit said to Philip, Go near and overtake this chariot.” After the eunuch believed the Word of God concerning Jesus, and was baptized in water, when they came out of the water, “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more” (verse 39).
These verses make it clear that the Holy Spirit of God led Philip to preach Jesus to the eunuch from the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit was the one who really showed the eunuch the way and gave him an understanding of the Scriptures. This One who guided the Ethiopian eunuch is the same guide we need today.
“But as it is written: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (I Cor. 2:9-13)
The Bible records the things which God has prepared for those who love Him, but they are only revealed to us by His Holy Spirit. It is not the teaching of man’s wisdom which is important, but the teaching of the Holy Spirit. He must be our guide, because these things are only discerned spiritually (I Cor. 2:14).
When Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit, He called Him “the Spirit of Truth” and told His disciples that “when He has come, He will guide you into all truth. … He will tell you things to come. … He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-15).
The Bible cannot be received and understood by man apart from God. It must be spiritually discerned. The “someone” the Ethiopian eunuch needed to guide him was the Holy Spirit. The “someone” we need today to “guide us into all truth” is that same Holy Spirit of God. Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that God would give them “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph. 1:17). He prayed for the Colossians that they might be “filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9).
We need to spend more time studying the Word of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and spiritual understanding, and less time depending on the teachings and traditions of men. We must be careful to heed the warning of Colossians 2:8.
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”