A Commentary by John Stott
Acts. 17:10-15. The mission in Berea.
*As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea*, smuggling them out of Thessalonica under cover of darkness, in order to ensure no further public disturbance. *On arriving there*, following a fifty-mile journey in a south-westerly direction, though no longer on the Egnatian Way, the missionaries again *went first to the Jewish synagogue* (10), in order to share with its members the good news of Jesus. Now these Jews whom Luke calls *the Bereans, were of more noble character* (more ‘open-minded’, JB, BAGD) *than the Thessalonians*, that is, their co-religionists in Thessalonica, *for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day*, meeting Paul for a daily dialogue and not just a weekly one on the Sabbath, *to see if what Paul said was true* (11). Luke obviously admires their enthusiasm for Paul’s preaching, together with their industry and unprejudiced openness in studying the Scriptures. They combined receptivity with critical questioning. The verb for ‘examine’ (*anakrino*) is used of judicial investigations, as of Herod examining Jesus (Lk.23:14-15), the Sanhedrin Peter and John (4:9), and Felix Paul (24:8). It implies integrity and absence of bias. Even since then, the adjective ‘Berean’ has been applied to people who study the Scriptures with impartiality and care.
The Bereans’ listening and studying did not result, however, in a unanimous acceptance of the gospel. As in Thessalonica, there was a division. *Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men* (12), who probably included Sopater son of Pyrrhus (although he is not named until 20:4). At the same time, *when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God in Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up* (13). This time *the brothers* did not wait and risk another public furore, but *immediately sent Paul to the coast, while Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea* (14) for the time being. *The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens*, presumably by sea, a voyage of more than 300 miles, *and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible* (15).
4). Some concluding reflections.
Luke chronicles the Thessalonian and Berean missions with surprising brevity. Yet one important aspect of them, to which he seems to be drawing the readers’ attention, is the attitude to the Scriptures adopted by both speakers and hearers, as evidenced by the verbs he uses. In Thessalonica Paul ‘reasoned’, ‘explained’, ‘proved’, ‘proclaimed’ and ‘persuaded’, while in Berea the Jews eagerly ‘received’ the message and diligently ‘examined’ the Scriptures. It was inevitable in Jewish evangelism that the Old Testament Scriptures should be both the textbook and the court of appeal. What is impressive is that neither speaker nor hearers used Scripture in a superficial unintelligent or proof-texting way. On the contrary, Paul ‘argued’ out of the Scriptures and the Bereans ‘examined’ them to see if his arguments were cogent. And we may be sure that Paul welcomed and encouraged this thoughtful response, he believed in doctrine (his message had theological content), but not in indoctrination (tyrannical instruction demanding uncritical acceptance). As Bengal wrote about verse 11, ‘a characteristic of the true religion is that it suffers itself to be examined into, and its claims to be so decided upon’. Thus Paul’s arguments and hearers’ studies went hand in hand. I do not doubt that he also bathed both in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit of truth to open his mouth to explain, and his hearers’ minds to grasp, the good news of salvation in Christ.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts: Becoming a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.