The Noble Bereans

After the midnight earthquake and the early morning conversion of the jailer and his household, Paul and Silas were returned to the prison for their dismissal by the authorities (Acts 16:35-40). Early that day authorities sent word to the jailer to release Paul and Silas which news was conveyed to Paul. But the rulers had a surprise awaiting them. The men whom they had beaten and imprisoned, not even giving them opportunity to tell their story, were not, as the rulers been led to believe, just despised Jews — they were Romans!

This revelation put a “different twist” on their imprisonment and beating which caused the rulers to tremble. They might treat despised Jews in the fashion they had; but it was a different story with a Roman, for a Roman had rights and privileges which would have spared him from the beating and binding in stocks which had been dealt to Paul and Silas. These authorities were in real trouble so they personally came (as Paul had demanded) and released them from prison, urging them to leave their city. After Paul had spoken with the brethren and said goodbye, they departed the city. And as one reads the narrative, the observant reader will notice that the narrative reverts back to events attributed to others in the third person. Luke the historian is no longer in the company of these brethren. We assume that Luke stayed behind to comfort and to edify the infant church.

The three traveled to Thessalonica where, as they searched it out, found a synagogue and for three Sabbath days Paul reasoned there with them, teaching them that the Scriptures predicted that the Messiah they were looking for would suffer, be put to death; raised to life again, and that the Jesus they preached was that Messiah (Acts 17:3). The response to Paul’s preaching was mixed; some disbelieved, but on the other hand, some of the Jews were converted but of “the devout Greeks a great multitude; and of the chief women, not a few” (Act 17:4). An even larger number of pagan Gentiles were converted, for in his first letter to this church Paul wrote, “For they report concerning you … how that ye turned unto God from idols to serve a living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

The immense success of Paul and his company did not go unnoticed by the unbelieving Jews who heard him, and they stirred up mob action against Paul so that once more he found it necessary to leave a city where he was having so much success. Acts 17:10 records, “So, the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas by night unto Berea”.

The reception Paul and his company received from the Berean synagogue was vastly different from that in Thessalonica: “Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).   

The nobility of the Bereans was composed of two important things. They were willing to listen to the things which Paul and Silas were teaching. After all, their Scriptures had indicated a Messiah was coming to establish His kingdom, and because they believed what the scriptures taught them, they were willing to hear these who claimed the Scriptures had been fulfilled in Jesus.

The Bereans were not gullible, however. They didn’t just accept the word of these strangers who taught them they had been fulfilled in Jesus, the Messiah for whom they looked. They weighed the things the Scriptures said against the things which Jesus had said and done. They took as their final word of proof, the testimony of the Scriptures. One is always on safe ground who has taken the Scriptures as his final voice of authority. The result which occurred from what the Bereans did is recorded in Acts 17:12: “Many of these therefore believed also of the Greek women of honorable estate, and of the men, not a few”. A preacher who encounters a prospective person could hope for no better candidate than this: one who believes the Scriptures to be true and who searches them daily, whether the things the teacher speaks are shown to be true or false by the only standard to measure such things — the Holy Scriptures.

We should pray that those people who consent to study with us are those who believe and accept what the Bible says, and who have a willing spirit to accept what he hears if the Scriptures identify it to be true. How vast will be the number of those who receive the Word if these two qualities are in him!

Jim McDonald