When I was a kid, I had a sticker displayed in my room that read, “Let your
conscience Bible be your guide.” I don’t remember when I received the sticker, but I do recall family conversations around the dinner table during which my parents taught my siblings and me how dangerous relying on our own thinking is and how vital reading and meditating daily on God’s Word is to our spiritual lives.
No group is more famous for their commitment to daily interaction with Scripture and applying it to their thinking than the Bereans (Acts 17:10–15).
The context in which we meet the Bereans is fascinating. The apostle Paul was eager to return to the people and places he visited on his first journey (15:36). On his second trip, the Spirit supernaturally guided him to change course (16:6–8). Then, after Paul received a vision of a Macedonian man asking for help (vv. 9–10), he set out to bring the gospel to Macedonia.
The Good News Paul and his companion Silas proclaimed when they arrived in Thessalonica was joyfully received by a number of Jewish and Greek residents (vv. 14, 29–31) and fiercely opposed by others (vv. 22–24; 17:4–5). When a jealous mob (17:5) gathered against Paul and Silas, the believers in Thessalonica sent the two men away under the cover of night to Berea (v. 10).
Berea is located about 40 miles (65 km) southwest of Thessalonica. The persecution meant to thwart God’s plan actually brought the gospel message deeper into Macedonia.
Paul’s custom when entering a new city was to enter the local synagogue and demonstrate from Scripture that the Messiah had not only to suffer, but to rise from the dead, proclaiming, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ” (vv. 2–3). When he entered the Berean synagogue, the people’s reaction to the gospel stood in stark contrast to the hostile response Paul and Silas encountered days before in Thessalonica.
Unlike the Thessalonians, the noble Bereans reacted reasonably and with open-mindedness. They listened eagerly to the apostle’s message, but they were not naïve. The Jewish community of Berea did not fear Paul’s words and, like Paul, understood that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, His preaching was empty and nothing to be feared (1 Corinthians 15:14).
The hearts of the truth-seeking Bereans reflect the kind of humility that causes the Lord to draw near.
The Bible says, “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” (Psalm 145:18). The hearts of the truth-seeking Bereans reflect the kind of humility that causes the Lord to draw near. The jealous crowds in Thessalonica were not interested in calling upon God but, rather, in the preservation of their ways.
In fact, some of the Thessalonians were so enraged that they traveled the two-day journey to Berea to pursue Paul and Silas and stir up the Berean crowds (Acts 17:13). In great disparity, prefigured by Paul’s vision of a call for help from Macedonia (16:9–10), the Bereans prepared their hearts to receive the Good News, eager to know the truth. God was drawing near to them. The Bereans didn’t focus on protecting their long-held religious traditions but were ready to call on God in truth, and He made Himself known through the proclamation of the gospel (Romans 10:17).
Listening and Studying
Paul was changed dramatically by the Good News of the gospel, going to synagogues throughout his journeys and demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. The Bereans, like all ancient people, did not have personal copies of Scripture. Rather, they met in the synagogue to verify that what Paul was teaching was biblical. They did so daily with enthusiastic curiosity when they heard the gospel presented by Paul.
Marvelously, many in Berea, both Jews and Greeks, came to faith, believing that Jesus came as the promised Messiah of Israel and that He was crucified, buried, and resurrected, making atonement for sin (1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 John 2:2).
The wise approach of the believing Bereans teaches us that we should be eager to learn what the Scripture says and to verify that every thought, idea, and belief we hold reflects the Bible’s teaching.
Greek and Roman thinking strongly influenced 1st-century Berea. The Jews and Greeks in Berea valued open-mindedness and investigative study. They were willing to listen to Paul, but they also wanted to authenticate what he was teaching for themselves by carefully examining the Scriptures. The wise approach of the believing Bereans teaches us that we should be eager to learn what the Scripture says and to verify that every thought, idea, and belief we hold reflects the Bible’s teaching.
Much more significant than the sticker I owned that reminded me to stay in God’s Word is the St. Paul Monument located in Veria, Greece (ancient Berea). On the left side of the monument is an illustration of Paul receiving the vision to visit Macedonia (Acts 16:9–10). On the right side is an image of Paul speaking to the Bereans as they open the Scriptures for themselves—an enduring visual reminder of their faithful commitment to studying the Word.
The Bereans’ approach reminds me of the words of Nicodemus, who had visited Jesus under cover of darkness and later said to the Pharisees, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” (John 7:50–51). May we follow the Berean model and balance open-mindedness with humility and an eagerness to know God’s Word.
Photo: Edal Anton Lefterov, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons