Of Whom Speaketh The Prophet This? -- By: Edward J. Young

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 11:2 (May 1949)
Article: Of Whom Speaketh The Prophet This?
Author: Edward J. Young

Of Whom Speaketh The Prophet This?

Edward J. Young

ONE of the most beautiful incidents recorded in the book of Acts is to be found in the account of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. To this eunuch fell the privilege of asking — and it is the first recorded instance of the question being asked — of whom the prophet in the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah was speaking. And to Philip was granted the privilege of giving a definite answer to the eunuch’s question.

In recent times R. S. Cripps has written, “It is not recorded that Philip gave a direct answer to the question upon a point of history; nor may we be able to do so, but, none the less, like the deacon, we may ‘from the same scripture’ preach unto the Jews and unto the world Jesus and His vicarious, redemptive, work”.1 This, however, is to minimize the importance of the identity of the Servant, for it assumes that we, even though we do not know of whom the prophet was speaking, may use his words for our preaching of Jesus. Furthermore, it seems to imply that Philip also did not regard the question of the Servant’s identity as particularly important, but merely took the passage as a sort of starting-point or springboard from which to begin his preaching.

For our part, we regard this statement of Cripps as entirely too cavalier. Let us, therefore, examine more closely the passage in Acts in order to learn precisely what did happen. In the first place, we may note that Philip was sent by an angel, and the Spirit commanded him to join the eunuch.2 By this introduction the importance and solemnity of the event are stressed and emphasized. Furthermore, the religious character of the eunuch is thus brought to the fore. He had

been to Jerusalem for the purpose of worship, and on the homeward journey was reading the prophet Isaiah. Nor was he reading in any hurried, careless fashion, but aloud, evidently that he might the better understand the meaning.3 Philip recognized the passage and asked the eunuch if he understood what he was reading. Now, in the light of Philip’s solemn commission to approach the eunuch, it is unthinkable that he would have asked such a question unless he himself had been in a position to explain the passage. The mere uttering of this question, therefore, makes it clear that Philip was ready, not to preach a general sermon about Jesus but rather to expound this particular passage of Isaiah the prophet.

In such a manner also did the eunuch understand Philip’s question, for he asserted his need of one to e...

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