Paul and Silas in Berea
That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men. But when some Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God in Berea, they went there and stirred up trouble. The believers acted at once, sending Paul on to the coast, while Silas and Timothy remained behind. Those escorting Paul went with him all the way to Athens; then they returned to Berea with instructions for Silas and Timothy to hurry and join him.Acts 17:10-15
What is the important point that many people miss about the encounter in Berea? It’s that the open-minded Bereans who listened eagerly to Paul’s message were Jews not Gentiles. Picture it. Paul and Silas and the team travel to Berea over a number of days at the very least the journey would have taken two but most likely three days and as soon as they arrive Paul and Silas head for the synagogue. Who do you find in synagogues; you find Jews and a few God-seekers who have attached themselves to the Jewish community. These are the kind of people Paul has been visiting first everywhere he goes, if there was a synagogue in the town or city. This is the first time in all of Peter and Paul’s preaching that either of them were favourably received by a synagogue full of Jews en masse. This was a highly significant moment.
It was here in Berea that Paul finds Jews of a different disposition. They were nicer, honourable, more open-minded, broad minded, receptive, well mannered, free from prejudice, willing to treat people with new ideas better. Some versions say liberal and the bulk of versions follow the King James in using noble. The word used is [prothumia]. The meaning is all of those adjectives used above in the various versions. But less appropriate is the use of the word liberal. There was no way these Berean Jews were liberal. Especially in the way they reacted to what Paul told them. Open-minded yes. Willing to receive new teaching yes. But then they spent the time checking out what Paul told them against the Book of Books. Their plumb line was still the Word of God. So liberal is not a good word to use. Noble was a good word to use back in 1611 because it could be used as an adjective then to describe a person who was well-mannered and of fine noble character in their treatment of others – the character of a nobleman. However, it is not being used here to mean people of noble birth or nobility as two of you asked me. It’s the character of noble kinds of people that is in focus, not their birth credentials. Those who gave honour to other people and were accepting and welcoming of all people (honourable in the sense of giving honour to others).
These Jews listened intently and were eager to learn but then spent the time checking out what Paul said against the Scriptures. Some others asked if I thought these Bereans would have taken notes. The simple answer is no. If they were of the nobility in the sense of high birth and wealthy they may have been able to read and write. But the issue is not so much that but more if they had the paper to write on. Parchment or vellum used at that time to write on was not readily available and writing was not something done on the move back then. It was a careful methodical process which in the case of the Jews was largely left to the scribes, those specifically trained. The issue was more likely to be what to write on.
Back in those days the scribes produced palimpsest writings. These are the documents of the New Testament found where there two documents or portions of writing on the same paper, one written over the other. How is that possible? One piece of writing would have been written in portrait format. Then later that document would have been washed to the best of their ability and then the parchment or vellum (leather) used again. Only the second time the document would to be written in landscape format to distinguish it from the writing below it. Many of these kinds of documents have been found making up about 20% of the manuscripts (hand scripted copies) of the New Testament. That shows how precious the material to write on was at that time. So no, the Bereans were not likely sitting in the synagogue writing down what Paul was saying. But these were people who were used to remembering things by rote. This was an oral society, where people had to commit to memory the things they heard. There was no problem with that.
Now look at what Luke tells us. These people searched [anakrino] the Scriptures [graphē] day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. The words used here reveal something to us. They search what was written or the writings (graphē) to see what was recorded there to check it against Paul’s words. Graphē is not a reference to the Jewish Writings (the Kethuvim) but rather to the documents they had written down. This refers to the collections of scrolls with the truth on it – the Scriptures in the strict sense of the word.
Paul was teaching from the Jewish TANAKH, the Law, the Prophets and the Writings, and connecting the dots for them to show that this Jesus was indeed the one to whom the Jewish writings were pointing in reference to the coming Messiah. So they checked it against the original words of God.
The way they searched it is interesting. We are told they anakrino’ed it – yes I know I am mixed the forms of different languages – deliberately. [Anakrino] means to question or examine a written document in this case, up and down, back and forth. Examining it thoroughly, making a careful and exact examination of a body of writing by sifting it carefully to test what was written as though it were a legal or binding contract. It could be used as legal term in the courts before passing judgement. This was used in classical Greek as a judicial term for an investigation of a legal document. The examination these Bereans put Paul’s teaching to was thorough and painstaking. They searched the TANAKH – the Law, the Prophets and the Writings – back and forth to see if what Paul had told them from their scrolls was correct.
Do you do that? If it was good enough for the Bereans to apply this level of checking to what PAUL had to say, then it must certainly be something we ought to do what we hear the Word of God preached today. We will examine more about what made the Bereans more honourable than the Thessalonians in the next Gem. This Gem has already grown to be longer than I planned.
When trying to understand the Word of God, we stand on the shoulders of the rabbis, teachers and mentors who have gone before us from past generations.Ian Vail
Our understanding of God is collective understanding built up over generations of interacting with His Word.Ian Vail
I am grateful to my teachers and mentors through the years: Reg Ackland, Dick Hemmings, Bill Osborne, Basil Brown, David Pawson, Gordon Fee, Jacob Prasch and many others.Ian Vail
The standard we live by as we follow God isn’t immediate perfection but continual progress.Deron Spoo
Value obeying God more than you value understanding Him.Ian Vail
Well look at that. I couldn’t have planned this better if I tried. In actual fact I didn’t even think about until I went to post this on the Berean Insights website and saw the number of this Gems is 1711 and I am talking about Acts 17:11. Incredible! Thank you Lord.
That truly was a serendipitous God thing. Wow!