Consider them the biblical fact-checkers of their time: A group of people mentioned in Acts 17 has just about become synonymous with the term. These people from Berea, a small town in the province of Macedonia, are mentioned in just one place in the Christian Bible. They remain, however, a model for Christians everywhere.
Thessalonica Not Entirely Friendly
Acts 17 tells part of the story of the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey, sometime between 50 and 54 A.D. One of his stops was Thessalonica. Some people had converted to Christianity there; still, the reception was not entirely friendly. After a riot started by some of the locals broke out, Paul felt it was necessary to travel on to Berea, about 40 miles away.
Acts 17:11 (in the New International Version) reads; “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
Bereans Were Different
The angry Thessalonians had “encouraged” Paul to leave town by inciting a riot, and when they heard he was preaching in a neighboring town, they traveled there to start trouble as well. The Bereans, by contrast, were interested in what Paul had to say and they listened to him intently.
Using Familiar Texts
Paul, a trained student of the Old Testament, visited the synagogues in each town to teach. He used their scriptures, the passages they had always studied, but he used them to teach that Jesus was the foretold Messiah. This would have been a revolutionary concept, and not an entirely welcome one, at least for the Thessalonians.
A Very Different Reaction
Author Craig S. Keener says that, “Judaism regarded nobly those who checked everything against the scriptures and diligently listened to teachers.” So, Paul visiting the local synagogue and teaching something new was not unusual or upsetting. Jesus himself is said to have done this in the fourth chapter of Luke. What was unusual here is that the two cities reacted so differently to the same teaching. The Thessalonians reacted violently and ran Paul out of town. The Bereans listened intently and checked everything Paul said, to see whether he was speaking truth.
The Christian Ideal
The Bereans are considered to be nobler than the Thessalonians because they were willing to listen and look at the evidence Paul presented. The Thessalonians mostly held to their existing beliefs, and largely refused to listen at all. Christians consider that the ideal is to consider the Scriptures daily and listen to teachers carefully, while always checking facts and making wise decisions based on the evidence.
- Catholic Answers: Not by Scripture Alone
- The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament; Craig S. Keener, p. 372.
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