March 11, 2015

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

 

Topic #IV. The Church Advancing to the End of the Earth (Acts 13-28)   

                    

Subtopic C: The Missionary Journey (15:36-18:22)                 

                          

                                                                            

         Lesson: IV.C.6: The Work in Berea (17:10-14)                        

 

 

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 three[1] 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 News[2] 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 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 persecution[3] 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.

 

 

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 evangel[4]?  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 trouble maker 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 himthat 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.” A 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 toThessalonica 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, achedemic, 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.

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