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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Acts 17:10-15 – The gospel comes to Berea

The name of this location has become well-known because of the response of the Jews there to the message of the gospel when they heard it from Paul and Silas. They searched the scriptures daily to see if what they heard was true, which suggests that they heard the message daily. While it is possible that some of the Jews would have had scrolls of Old Testament books it is more likely that they gathered in the synagogue daily to search the Old Testament. Moreover they searched it with eagerness, similar to how a miner searches for gold.

Yet one of the sad features of this group of searchers is that not all of them believed in Jesus – Luke says that many of them did so, which means that some of them did not. So obviously it is not enough to search the Bible with enthusiasm. Maybe some of the ones who did not find the Messiah searched with curiosity rather than with prayer.

It is worth asking how the Jews in Berea came to have this open-minded approach to studying the Bible. Where did the interest in the meaning of Paul’s messages come from? I suppose the answer is that they had been encouraged to search the scriptures whenever they heard it expounded. Whenever people do so, they find out that it is understandable, even if they don’t believe its message about Jesus. There is no need for us to be embarrassed about asking people to search the Bible.

The converts in Berea seem to have included Greek men who were not connected to the synagogue in the way that proselytes were. So somehow the gospel had been taken elsewhere in the city, although we are not told if it was taken by the Bereans or by Paul and his team. Whoever did so found converts.

In addition, Greek women of high status were converted, a feature that Luke mentioned already about the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica, and he will do so later with regard to other churches. It may be that those prominent female converts were like Lydia, having large enough space in their homes for the believers to meet.

Predictably, the hostile Jews in Thessalonica could not keep their animosity within the boundaries of their city. In Thessalonica, they had managed to involve the civil authorities in opposing the church, but did not have a means of doing the same in Berea since the Berean Jews were not hostile to the gospel. This is a reminder that rejection of the gospel does not always have the same intensity.

One assumes that Paul thought it was best for him to leave Berea because the opposition seemed to have focussed on him, and he would have known that Silas and Timothy could provide sufficient teaching to establish the new congregation. We can see the love the Berean converts had for Paul in that they did not let him leave alone, nor did they only go part of the way with him to Athens. If they went by sea to Athens, it was a journey of over three hundred miles. But love is not restrained when it is strong.

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