Those Noble Bereans

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.

6 responses to “Those Noble Bereans

  1. Good stuff, Rex. I think when people take a de facto critical attitude toward what they are being taught, they aren’t Bereans. I’ve heard the Berean thing used to justify a lot of ungodly attitudes and behavior. It isn’t something to hide behind it’s engaging in biblical study with both eagerness and a willingness to examine. To me, being a Berean means exactly what you’ve stated. Great job.

  2. Rex, About your comment; “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.”

    Why do you, most often it seems, take a negative approach to churches of Christ? Don’t you think it is insulting to many when you automatically assume we are doing everything wrong without any justification for your accusations? We even find ourselves lumped together, by you, with all the denominational Churches, and even with the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church…

    Now, here is just another example of what I am talking about. Are you not implying here that churches of Christ do not read and study our Bibles with an open mind and heart, as the Berreans did? I can tell you that in all my years I have never seen any other faith where the members study and love their Bibles, the Word of God, as diligently as those in the churchs of Christ.

    Acts 17:11 “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” These were more noble. Were willing to honestly investigate. Many of them believed. This would be the natural result.

    The Bible warns us about false teachers and prophets. We don’t search the scriptures, as you say, in order to prove people wrong. We search the scriptures in order that we may be grounded in truth, and that we will be able to share with others what we have found that the Bible, God’s word teaches us. Is it not insulting to hear from you that our faith is nothing more than trying to prove other people wrong? Now, I could say a lot more here, but this post is already a bit long, so I will end it here. –dc

    • Maybe you missed the part in the third paragraph where I said “…not all the time, just sometimes.” I never said the Churches of Christ as a whole do anything, right or wrong. I only implied that some – again, some but not all – Christians, including some within the Churches of Christ, have cited this passage without understanding the full scope of what made the Bereans so noble. So the last paragraph is simply a corrective suggestion to those who have misunderstood.

      But then again, maybe you just come to this blog looking for something you think is wrong…if that’s the case, you’ll probably find it every time you stop by.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

  3. I would suggest that the prevailing Protestant and Restoration movement reads this passage concerning the Bereans through a ‘sola Scriptura’ lens that filters out some important things going on in that passage.
    The Bereans weren’t simply studying the Bible to see what it said, but they were going to Scripture to see if the Apostolic Tradition presented by Paul and Barnabas was congruent with the Old Testament. The could not be doing a sola Scriptura methodology because the Gospel was almost entirely oral tradtion at that time and it was the teaching of the Church, which Paul calls the pillar and ground of the Truth, that was being examined for congruence with Scripture. It is an affirmation, then, that the Faith once delivered is both Scriptural and Traditional and that part of the oral tradition was an understanding of the interpretation of Scripture.

    • I agree…but who gets to say what is the apostolic tradition? It seems we have just as many answers to that question as we have in regards to what scripture itself teaches.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rex

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