The Work in Berea: Part 1 of 2

by John Lowe
(Laurens, SC)

“Now the Berean Jews . . . received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

“Now the Berean Jews . . . received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

March 11, 2015


Acts of the Apostles


Acts 17:10-14 (KJV)

10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.
11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
13 But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.
14 The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea.


Introduction

When the three1 missionaries left Thessalonica, they also left the Egnatian Way, the route they had been following since they first landed in Macedonia at Neapolis (16:11). This main east-west highway went northwest from Thessalonica to Dyrrachium on the Adriatic. It was the main land route to Rome. At Dyrrachium travelers would take a boat across the Adriatic Sea to Brundisium in southern Italy and from their north to Rome. It has been suggested that Paul might have entertained the idea of taking this route to Rome even as early as this point in his missionary career. In his Letter to the Romans (15:22), he spoke of his having “often” been hindered in coming to them. The hindrance at this time may well have been the news that the emperor Claudius had expelled all the Jews from Rome (18:2). Whatever the case, Paul headed in another direction at this time, going southwest to Berea and well off any main thoroughfare.


Commentary

10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.

About 50 miles from Thessalonica, Berea lay on the eastern slopes of Mt. Vermion in the Olympian mountain range. In a somewhat remote region, Berea was the most significant city in the area, having been the capital of one of the four divisions of Macedonia from 167-148 b.c. It evidently had a sizable population in Paul’s day. The journey from Thessalonica began in the nighttime because of the hasty departure. By foot, it would have taken about three days. They must have hoped to avoid pursuit, and to a degree, that hope was fulfilled. At least they had a breather from their persecutors, during which they were able to follow Paul’s “usual habit” of proclaiming the Good News2 in the synagogue in this city also.

Paul believed that the Jews had first claim to the Gospel, for Jesus was first and foremost their Messiah. He had been born a Jew and had come to fulfill the Jewish Scriptures. So, no matter how bitterly Paul might be persecuted by the unbelieving Jews, there was always the believing remnant, the true Israel of God, awaiting the Good News of the Gospel. In city after city, they (Jewish Christians) became the nucleus of the church. Berea was to be no exception. On the contrary, he was to meet with a refreshingly different reception at the Berean synagogue.

It is not clear whether Timothy was with Paul and Silas at this time; he was probably working in Philippi. Later, he would join Paul in Athens (Acts 17:15) and then be sent to Thessalonica to encourage the church during its time of persecution (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2). Since Timothy was a Gentile, and had not been present when the trouble erupted, he could minister in the city freely. The piece bond could keep Paul out, but it would not apply to Paul’s young assistant.

Undoubtedly the process of preaching was nearly identical in Thessalonica and Berea, but notice the difference pointed out in the next verse.


11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

On arriving in the town, they began to witness in the synagogue, as they had in Thessalonica. The Jews of Berea, however, were of a different breed. Luke describes them as being “more noble” than the Thessalonians. He used a word (eugenesteros) that originally meant high born but came to have a more general connotation of being open, tolerant, generous, having the qualities that go with “good breeding.” Nowhere was this more evident than in their eager willingness to take Paul’s scriptural exposition seriously. He encountered the same eagerness in his Corinthian converts (2 Corinthians 8:11, 12, 19; 9:2). How Paul must have rejoiced to find such a spirit among his beloved Jewish brethren. They did not, however, accept his word at face value, but did their own examination of the Scriptures to see if they really did point to the death and resurrection of the Messiah as Paul claimed (17:3). This was no superficial investigation either, no weekly Sabbath Service, as at Thessalonica. They met daily to search the Scriptures, examining them, and sifting through the evidence. Paul welcomed that. His gospel could stand the test of any amount of critical examination. The example of the Bereans should be followed by everyone. All teaching, no matter how convincing it sounds, no matter how great the personal charisma of the teacher, ought to be subjected to the test of Scripture.

There must have been some great Bible studies going on in home and synagogue during those days. Men and women poured over the Scriptures, to see if this Jesus whom Paul preached was indeed the Christ. Such examination of the Scriptures was bound to bear fruit. No wonder so many contemporary Bible study groups name themselves “Bereans.”

Someone may pose the question, “In what did their nobility consist?” We generally say that they were more noble in that they manifested greater readiness to receive the Gospel message. That is true, but in what did that readiness consist? It is that they were determined to find out if what Paul said was really true; whether the Christian interpretation which the apostle put upon the Old Testament Scriptures was the true one. They did not come to believe the Gospel quickly, for they were skeptical; but their skepticism was accompanied by determined anxiety to find out. The noble here is not the man who immediately says YES to the interpretation of the preacher. The noble here is the man who appeals again and again to the Scriptures themselves to find out if these things are true. That is nobility. It is not the nobility of readiness to believe anything. It is the nobility of being determined to find out if the human interpretation is in accord with the actual Scripture. Paul interpreted the Scripture before the Bereans, and they listened with a skeptical and honest mind, a determination to seek and know and examine, and they made the Scriptures the test of the interpretation. It appears that those in Thessalonica were persuaded, and those in Berea believed. The word used for those in Thessalonica means persuaded by argument. The word used for those in Berea means that fullness of belief which is not only persuasion by argument, but full spiritual apprehension. The men who were not so noble needed persuasion, and came to believe on the ground of persuasion; but the men who examined the Scriptures for themselves, and were skeptical, came to find a larger and fuller faith, and made it their own.

The comparison is between the Jews of the two cities; because the triumphs of the Gospel at Thessalonica were mostly among the Gentiles. You may have expected that these men who were more noble, living in the out-of-the-way, quiet village of Berea, will become a great church, and that we will hear much of them later on. There is never a word! And we might imagine that Thessalonica, with its faith coming by way of persuasion, would never be heard of again! But that was not the case. There are two letters sent to the Thessalonians and Paul declared that the Word sounded out from them through the whole region. Does that mean that the church in Thessalonica was a better-quality church than the one in Berea? Certainly not. Often the people and the churches about which the least is said are the mightiest. It is also interesting to note that the strongest churches arose where the persecution3 was the greatest. One of the troubles today is that the church is not being persecuted. In fact, the church is just taken for granted. The average Christian is just a person to be taken for granted. It wasn’t that way in the first century.

Paul had a tremendous burden for his kinsman. He could say “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Romans 10:1). Nearly everywhere he went he found himself snubbed and rebuffed by the Jewish people as soon as the full implication of his Gospel dawned upon them. Bitterly they banded against him. Jews dogged his steps, subverting churches he had founded and, in the end, Jews would have him arrested, would plot his assassination, and would rejoice that he had been shipped off to Rome to stand before Nero accused of treason.

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