“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” (Acts 17:11).
Why did God call the Bereans noble? Why did He place them among the spiritual aristocracy of Paul’s day? Wherein lay their true greatness?
I have asked many people this and the answer has generally been the same, “Because they searched the Scriptures.”
This is true, but it is not the whole truth. The Scriptures give us a twofold reason.
1. “They received the Word with all readiness of mind.”
2. “They searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
Let us put first things first.
THEY WERE OPEN-MINDED
They were broad as well as narrow. They were progressive as well as conservative. If they listened to Paul’s strange words with open eyes and open mouths, they at least listened with open minds too. This is the first lesson we must learn from the noble Bereans.
To really appreciate the spiritual greatness of these people, we must remember that they were Jews who met in a synagogue each Sabbath day. This was apparently the very first time that they had heard the gospel of grace proclaimed. It must all have seemed very strange and impossible to them but they were big enough to listen attentively and respectfully. They did not immediately shake their heads in refusal of the message and deem it unworthy of investigation.
It was not so at Thessalonica. There Paul reasoned out of the Scriptures for three Sabbath days with men who were not willing to listen. The result was that “some” of them believed in comparison to “many” at Berea. And while only “some” of the Thessalonian Jews believed, we read that “a great multitude” of the Gentiles believed. The Gentiles had put God’s chosen people to shame.
Thessalonian bigotry not only kept them in spiritual darkness, but moved them to bitter opposition to the truth itself. After persecuting the apostles in their own city they even followed them to Berea to stir up the people against them. This was the natural result of their blind refusal of the apostle’s message. And why should they have acted so? Could they not have given Paul a hearing? Did they not have Bibles too?
Perhaps we need this lesson. Bigotry among God’s people today will have the same effect as it had in that day. Let us never close our minds, to keep error out, for in doing so we will shut out new light as well, and close old errors in. Rather let us receive the words of men and subject them immediately to the Word of God.
And this brings us to the second element of Berean greatness.
THEY BELIEVED GOD’S WORD ALONE
They were not gullible or credulous. They did not just believe whatever they were told. They “received” Paul’s word, but they did not immediately believe it. They listened to him; they gave him an interested hearing, but did not immediately agree with him. First they had to search the Scriptures to see “whether those things were so.” Paul’s word was subjected to God’s Word. The word of man was tested by the Word of God. [Note: At this point in the article, many years later, Pastor Stam added these hand-written words in the margin: “Now all that Paul preached was not to be found in the Old Testament, for Paul had received a further revelation from the Lord. But it all fit right in with the Scriptures they had. None of it was contrary to the Old Testament.”] How God must have rejoiced over this Bible-loving, Bible-honoring group! They, and not the popular leaders of the day, were the truly great ones in Israel.
Picture the scene: A husband comes home saying he has heard strange things in the synagogue from the lips of a visiting rabbi. Reaching for the sacred Scriptures, he begins an intensive search. The rest of that Sabbath day finds him buried in thought over the writings of the prophets. And not only that day, for he continues the search day after day. He hurries home from his daily work. He puts aside the less important things. Untiringly he searches on until he is sure he has the Truth of God.
And he is only one of many. This was the general attitude in Berea toward Paul’s message. “They searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” They were not willing to take his word for granted. They sifted his message carefully and put it to an intense investigation in the light of the Word of God.
Result? “Therefore many of them believed.”
And we may be sure that these Bereans were strong in the faith, for they had an intelligent understanding of the subject. They not only had the “full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22), but the “full assurance of understanding” (Col. 2:2).
How we need to learn this lesson! Thousands of believers today are satisfied with their preachers, so satisfied that they never even check up on what they say. If a minister of the Word is fundamentally sound and has a passion for souls, they feel he is a pretty safe man to follow. But, beloved, we cannot safely follow the teachings of any man. No matter how greatly we may love and respect our spiritual leaders, it is our duty to examine their teachings in the light of the Word of God. Yet how few Christians practice this! How few, after hearing man’s word, go home and diligently search the Scriptures to see whether these things are so!
How much new light, how much fresh, encouraging truth might have been found in the last decade or two if we had all been Bereans! After the wonderful truth of the Lord’s premillennial return was recovered a few decades ago, it seemed that the Bereans began to die off. It seemed that believers were satisfied to stop their searching of the Word, as though they had found all the truth. And, depend upon it, when the Berean spirit dies, the Church loses it’s vitality. But again, praise God, there seems to be an awakening among some, both of Bible searching and true evangelism.
The virtues of the Bereans may at first seem contradictory. They were broad and yet narrow. They were progressive and yet conservative. But these virtues do go together. These are the characteristics of the spiritually great. And, another strange paradox: those who reject new light, refusing even to consider it, are the very ones who accept old errors without even considering them in the light of Scripture. Those who are so suspicious of other preachers are often so credulous of their own.
Beloved, are you a Berean? Do you stand among the nobles of the Church of Christ today? Are you spiritually big enough to give men a hearing, and yet exacting enough to accept only what is in harmony with God’s Holy Word?
Pastor Cornelius R. Stam (1908-2003) was the founder of Berean Bible Society and president for 46 years (1940-1986). He authored over 30 Bible study books, including the classic work, Things That Differ.