The Work in Berea: Part 2 of 2
by John Lowe
The people of Berea heard the Gospel and as a result, many of them believed.
12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
The Berean Jews were of more noble character, and many of them found out for themselves that Paul’s claims were true and so they believed. Many Greeks also believed, not just men but prominent Macedonian women as well, just as in Thessalonica (17:4). Some of these may have been worshippers of God and attended the synagogue. Some may not have been. The upper classes in these European-Greek and Romanized towns were probably better educated than those of Asia Minor.
One would assume that Paul would not neglect his witness to Gentiles of pagan background, especially in a situation like Berea, where the synagogue was so unusually open to his message, and where the women had minds and hearts open to the Gospel message. These conditions helped to create a revelation of the glory and beauty of the Gospel. “What comfort was there for a Greek woman in the cold gray eyes of Athene, or the stereotype smile of the voluptuous Aphrodite?” What was there in Greek religions or philosophic thought for a woman? I am not surprised to read that these Greek women turned readily to the great Gospel. What is there in the world today for womanhood other than this great evangel4? Let there be no undervaluing of the meaning of this. The women of high and noble estate, the convinced daughters of Greek culture sick at heart because of the degradation of womanhood as the result of Greek philosophy, turned to this great evangel with its broad and spacious outlook, with its light flashing and shining upon them. These were great victories.
But the Greek men also listened to the message announced by the missionaries, and were eager; because their religion was dead. In the times in which Paul lived there were Greek proselytes turning to Judaism by the hundreds. They were tired of false religion, tired of the philosophies that couldn’t satisfy the soul. They had turned to Judaism because it brought them the doctrine of one God; but they were without the Jewish prejudice and pride, and when this great Word came to them, the word of the one God, and the one God became obvious and manifest, and the one God winning victory by death, some of the profound secrets of their own mysteries were drawn into the light and revealed for what they were. The greatest triumphs of the Gospel today are not won among the people who are religiously proud and prejudice. The hardest place in which the Gospel has to win its victory is a congregation hardened to its message, and satisfied with its external forms of religion. With what perfect understanding one reads that there were occasions when Paul turned from the people of religious pride and prejudice, to teach the people with hearts and minds hungry and ready for the Gospel.
The people of Berea heard the Gospel and as a result, many of them believed. Thus the intellect and the will (but also the heart and, of course, the Holy Spirit) were involved in the response of those who came to believe in Christ.
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.
Even the Jews who did not believe were “more noble” than most, in that they did not interfere with Paul and the others—unless, of course, it was they who reported their activities to the Thessalonians. The ideal situation, however, did not last forever. It was soon broken by some ill-tempered, unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica (sent by Satan) who were infuriated when they heard of Paul’s successes in Berea. They marched 60 miles down the road, bent on silencing Paul’s preaching, determined to repeat the tactic that had been so successful in Thessalonica—to incite a riot against Paul. They stirred up “the crowds” in the city against Paul, evidently not the Jews of the city but the general Gentile populous, just as they had done at Thessalonica. Evidently this time the main attack was on Paul, the primary preacher of the word, since Silas and Timothy did not have to leave town with him (17:14).
How did these men hear that Paul and Silas were ministering in Berea? Perhaps the growing witness of the Berean believers reached as far as Thessalonica, or it may be that some troublemaker took the message to his friends in Thessalonica. Satan also has his “missionaries” and they are busy (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
What was it these Jews had heard about Paul that infuriated them so much? He was preaching the Word of God. That is what infuriated them. They did not want it themselves, nor did they want anyone else to have it, and that is what spurred them on against Paul. They would have gladly received him as a scholar or philosopher, but because he came preaching God’s word with grace and power, they hated him. So the Thessalonian Jews set about agitating the crowds and stirring them up, doubtless alleging as before that the Christians were traitors to Rome (see 17:5-7).
14 The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea.
When Paul arrived in Berea he did not know a soul. It was a city of strangers. Now he had “brethren” there, brothers in Christ, those who loved him. Such is the family of God, and such is the salvation of God. It puts us into the family, a wonderful family, a worldwide family, a family that embraces earth and heaven.
The members of Paul’s new family were concerned for his safety, and they hustled him out of town. He was the obvious target, but the allegations put all the believers at risk. It was against him that the hatred of the Jews was directed, rather than at Silas and Timothy. It is clear that Paul had to flee Berea and finally he wound up in Athens. How he got there is another question. If one follows the Western text of Acts, he traveled to Athens by sea. The most reliable manuscripts, however, have Paul going “as far as the sea.” (The NIV translation has him going “to the coast.” The third group of manuscripts (the Byzantine text) reads that Paul was sent “as to the sea.” This latter text has been followed by a number of commentators who argue that Paul was using a “diversionary tactic”—making it appear that he was going by sea but then hurrying down to Athens by way of the coastal road. A number of Bereans traveled with him to the coast where Paul sent them back with instructions for the other missionaries to join him as soon as possible. Probably he delayed deciding upon his next destination until he had reached the coast, and the providence of God would guide him to a vessel bound for the distant place. In any event, whether he traveled from the coast by sea or by land is obviously not a serious matter. The outcome was that he passed out of Macedonia into Achaia. Once more, Paul had to leave a place of rich ministry and break away from people he had come to love. Silas and Timothy remained in Berea for what amounted to a few weeks to build it up in its holy faith, to be a comfort and support in its trials and persecutions, and to give it the organization that might be needed. Silas and Timothy later joined Paul in Athens, and then Timothy was sent to Thessalonica to help the saints there (1 Thessalonians 3:1-6). Silas was also sent on a special mission somewhere in Macedonia (Philippi?), and later both men met Paul in Corinth (see Acts 18:1-5). A new chapter in his missionary experience was about to begin, a chapter that has much to say to us living in a sophisticated, academic, modern world.
1 There may have been two; Paul and Silas.
2 Good News—Gospel
3 In our time Christians are persecuted (even killed) in China, India, the Middle East, and South America, just to name a few places.
4 Evangel—the good tidings of the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ; the gospel.