In the Churches of Christ, there has been a great admiration for the Bereans. We have admired these Bereans for their “back to the Bible” legacy and for good reason. In Acts 17.11-12 we read:
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. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.*
For clarification sake, it should be noted before going any further that the scriptures these Bereans were examining was what we Christians refer to as the Old Testament. There wasn’t any such thing as the New Testament yet.
So this passage in Acts 17 has been the oft cited proof-text encouraging the examination of the scriptures to test whether what is being preached is truth. Like I said, there is good reason for carrying on the legacy of these Bereans and I want to encourage every one of us to read the Bible, study the Bible, and let the Bible reveal the living God and his will to us.
However, it also seems that this passage has been cited for the wrong reasons at times too–not all the time, just sometimes. Here is what I am getting at. While praising the legacy of the Bereans for their examination of scripture, there has been a tendency to overlook the disposition of the heart with which the Bereans examined the scriptures. Let’s read our passage again but pay attention to what else it tells us (which I have emphasized in italics):
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. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
These Bereans were both listening to the message being preached by Paul and Silas as well as examining the scriptures with an open mind and open heart. That is why they were able to receive the message “with great eagerness” and “As a result” come to belief. This means they were not examining the scriptures just to prove Paul wrong.
As a Christian, I believe we should be reading our Bible’s but I also believe it should be done with an open mind and heart. That is the legacy of the Bereans. However, I fear that this passage is sometimes cited–and I’ve heard it cited nearly all of my life–to justify an approach to scripture that simply seeks to prove others wrong. If this is our approach to scripture, I think we will succeed in accomplishing our goal every time we try. One of the things I’ve learned over time is that when we open our Bible just to prove something or someone wrong, in almost every instance we will find what we are looking for whether the Bible really says it or not.
Thus, as I said in my last post, “As Christians we can be people who have a strong faith in Jesus Christ but are humble enough to remain learners and know that some of our views regarding the Christian faith might be wrong. This requires us to never become complacent about what we’ve learned or where we are at in the way we live in the footsteps of Jesus. It requires an openness to God’s work through the Holy Spirit as we pray, read scripture, join in fellowship with other Christians, and listen to other voices so that we can hear a word from God that we have yet to hear.”
This is what it is to honor the way of the Bereans. So yes, be like the Bereans, reading and studying our Bibles but also be like the Bereans, reading and studying our Bibles with an open mind and heart.