At Berean Bible Society, we often hear the question, “What is a Berean?” We get this question from many people in different situations, such as those who call in to sign up for our magazine, or when we place an order and give the name of our organization, or even when a driver stops in to drop off a delivery. But this gives us the opportunity to talk about the Scriptures and explain what our ministry is all about. Acts 17:10-12 explains what a Berean is.
People from Berea in Macedonia
“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews” (Acts 17:10).
In Acts 9, the Apostle Paul had to flee persecution in Damascus under the cover of night (Acts 9:23-25). In Acts 17, for the second time in his ministry, Paul had to flee a city, this time the city of Thessalonica, under the cover of darkness. Following a riot in Thessalonica, “the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea” (v. 10).
Berea is a city of Macedonia located about 50 miles southwest of Thessalonica and 190 miles north of Athens. Berea was “off the beaten path” and not on a main route. The city lies in a remote region on the western foot of the Vermio mountain range.
The first answer to the question, “What is a Berean?” is that they were people from a city called Berea in Macedonia in northern Greece. Like those who live in Wisconsin are called Wisconsinites, the people who lived in Berea were called Bereans. And the city of Berea still exists today, but under the name of Veria. The reason some ministries, such as ours, are named “Berean” is due to the ancient Bereans’ attitude toward the Scriptures: they had respect and love for God’s Word, and out of that love and respect, they searched and studied it.
When Paul came to Berea, he followed his usual habit of going “into the synagogue of the Jews” (v. 10). He would do so because there he would find Jews and devout Gentiles (Acts 14:1) who had an interest in spiritual things and some knowledge of God’s Word. The synagogue was a good jumping-off point for Paul in a new location to reach both Jews and Gentiles.
One Who Receives the Word
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind…” (Acts 17:11a).
Regarding our question, “What is a Berean?” here is the first of three answers, all beginning with the letter “R” to help you remember. First, a Berean is one who RECEIVES the Word with all READINESS of mind.
A Berean is one who is openminded to the truth. The Bereans had an openness to the Word preached to them. They had an anticipation, an expectancy to learn and grow. The Greek word translated as “received” means to receive favorably, to give ear to, to grant access to a visitor, and, in this context, to take up the thing offered in speaking, teaching, and instructing. This was the attitude the Bereans had toward the Word as it was proclaimed to them.
“The Word of God” (Acts 18:11), “the Word of His grace” (20:32), “the Word of the Lord Jesus” (19:10), “the Word of the gospel” (15:7), “the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), “the Word of life” (Phil. 2:16) was taken up and received favorably. The Bereans did not lose their ears to the Word; they gave their ears to it, giving it an honest, interested hearing.
The Bereans had a readiness and willingness to receive the Word. “Readiness of mind”
speaks of eagerness, zeal, inclination—having a ready, willing mind. Out of their respect for the Word and their desire to receive it, they leaned in, as it were, listening with rapt attention to what was taught from it.
The Bereans did not immediately close their minds to further light. On the contrary, they granted access to the Word and gave Paul an enthusiastic hearing, listening with open minds to what he had to say.
Their eager acceptance was like the psalmist in Psalm 119:33: “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.” There was an eager interest in the Word and readiness of mind to receive more truth. And the Holy Spirit ascribes nobility to this state of mind.
A Berean attitude is a humble understanding that there is always room for refinement and growth in one’s knowledge of the Word of God. Having a ready mind means allowing our minds to be open to understand what we didn’t understand before.
Founder of Berean Bible Society, Cornelius R. Stam, wrote this of the important quality of receiving the Word with all readiness of mind: “How sorely this Berean lesson is needed in the professing Church today! So many among God’s people, yes, and even among their leaders, lack this quality of true spiritual greatness. Their first thought is to conform to accepted beliefs rather than to conform to the written Word of God. Their desire to stand well with the popular leaders is greater than their desire to know the truth and to make it known. They would rather be orthodox than Scriptural.”
Many refuse to open their minds to the necessity of rightly dividing the Word of truth, of a dispensational approach to properly interpreting and understanding God’s Word. They will not consider the truth of Paul’s unique apostleship to the Gentiles, and God’s message of grace for us, the Body of Christ, found in his letters. Most would rather hold tight to the long-held traditions of their denomination.
God has a twofold purpose in His Word: (1) an eternal plan and purpose for the earth through God’s program of prophecy with Israel; (2) an eternal plan and purpose for the heavens through God’s program of the mystery with the Body of Christ. This is the key that unlocks understanding and proper application of the Scriptures.
The attitude of a Berean is one of readiness of mind, eager to receive the truth but then always to go back to the Scriptures to see if it is so. We want people to look at Scripture as the Bereans did—in light of the dispensations, Paul’s apostleship and message, and God’s overall, twofold purpose—to be open-minded toward it and then go to the Word to see if it is so.
One Who Researches the Word
“…and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11b).
As we continue to answer the question, “What is a Berean?” first, a Berean is one who RECEIVES the Word with all READINESS of mind. Second, a Berean is one who RESEARCHES the Word.
The Bereans were eager to receive, but not gullible. They had an open mind but also a cautious heart, and they were not willing to accept what Paul said just because he said it. The reason that they researched the Word is that, for a Berean, the Scriptures are our first and final authority in all matters of the faith and practice.
The Bereans would not accept Paul’s teaching without checking for themselves. The Bereans’ attitude was, “That’s interesting! But are these things really so? Is this the truth? We need to search the Scriptures to find out.”
Christian editor Dave Branon wrote, “‘A deadly jungle spider has migrated to the US and is killing people.’ This was the story sent to me and to others on my friend’s email list. The story sounded plausible—lots of scientific names and real-life situations. But when I checked it out on reliable websites, I found it was not true—it was an Internet hoax. Its truth could only be verified by consulting a trusted source.
“A group of first-century believers living in Macedonia understood the importance of confirming what they were hearing.”
As the Bereans listened to Paul, their reaction was to confirm that what he was saying was the truth, and so they consulted the most trusted source, the Word of God.
When Paul went to this synagogue in Berea, we can be sure that he taught them the same things from Scripture that he had taught shortly before in the synagogue in Thessalonica. Verses 2-3 of Acts 17 state,
“And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.”
As Paul reasoned with the Bereans out of the Scriptures, and he opened the Word to them and alleged that Christ needed to suffer, die, and rise again, the Bereans realized that they needed to verify that for themselves. They listened intently to Paul and considered what he said, but they would not concede until they checked the Scriptures themselves that the truth had been preached. They exhibited the spirit of Isaiah 34:16: “Seek ye out of the Book of the Lord, and read….”
The strength of the Bereans was that they kept close to the Word. When confronted with some doctrine they had not heard before, they gave it an interested hearing but then “searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
If the Scriptures agreed with what Paul taught, then it was accepted. But had they found anything in Paul’s message which contradicted the Scriptures, they would have immediately and wisely rejected it. This was how they operated, because the Bible was their only authority and guide; it is a book of truth and the arbiter by which it can be determined what is true and what is false.
The Bereans encourage individual, personal Bible study. The Bereans were open-minded to truth, yet—and stop and think about this—they would not accept the word of even an apostle of God, the Apostle Paul, without subjecting what he said to personal examination of the Scriptures. And for this, the Holy Spirit commended them and called them “noble”! If the Bereans didn’t accept the word of even an apostle of God, that tells us we should not accept everything we hear from pastors and teachers today, even from ones we trust.
The Bereans further teach us that it doesn’t take a theologian, pastor, or teacher to interpret the Word of God for us. The Bereans believed they could open the Scriptures and read, study, understand, and discover the truth from the Bible for themselves. And God has given each of us the Holy Spirit to help us understand His Word and to apply it (1 Cor. 2:7-13).
For these noble Bereans, it was not man’s word which they were to act upon, but God’s revealed, written Word. Thus, when Paul came to them, speaking to them from the Scriptures, they eagerly listened, but they did not let Paul do their thinking for them. The Bereans saw themselves as individually and personally responsible before God to search out Paul’s teaching from the Scriptures and to see if it was consistent with the revelation of the Bible.
Likewise, every preacher should expect and want his teaching to be so examined, and he should thank God for those who do it. It is a troubling sign when a preacher resents the examination of his teaching by his hearers. Every preacher and teacher is fallible. Man is not the authority. God’s Word is our authority, and the Bereans show us not to blindly follow spiritual leaders who are very capable of making mistakes.
Richard DeHaan wrote this, “My wife and I were driving to church one Sunday when we came to a red traffic light, so we stopped. There was only one car in front of us. While I waited, my mind began to wander. When the car ahead started to move, I was far away in thought and absentmindedly followed right along without even glancing up at the light. Only after I had driven through the intersection did I realize that I had blindly followed the leader. If the other driver had moved ahead before the light had turned green, my following along might have caused a serious accident.
“As I reflected on my carelessness, I thought about people who blindly follow their religious leaders. Many are attracted to speakers who have dynamic personalities, the ability to communicate effectively, and an air of authority. They accept and do everything these preachers say without ever thinking for themselves. In sharp contrast, the Christians in Berea ‘received the Word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so’ (Acts 17:11).
“Blindly following the leader can be dangerous. That’s why we must test everything by what the Bible says.”
The Greek word translated “searched” in verse 11 is a legal term. It means to interrogate, investigate, examine, question, scrutinize. The term gives you the sense of a witness on the stand in a court of law being cross-examined and put through a rigorous line of questioning. The same term was used of Pilate in his examination and questioning of the Lord. Luke 23:13-14 reads,
“And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, HAVING EXAMINED Him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse Him.”
“Having examined” is translated from the same Greek word as “searched” in Acts 17:11. Like the great detail and care that is given to judicial examinations, that is how thoroughly and carefully the Bereans pored over the Scriptures. Before the Bereans would render a final verdict on Paul’s preaching, they carefully sifted through the Scriptures, and examined, cross-checked, and compared what Paul had said against the teaching of the Word of God. All of us are encouraged to imitate these Bereans by being people of the Word who faithfully test the messages we hear against the truth of the Scriptures.
Not only did the Bereans search and examine the Scriptures, they did so “daily.” They were not only earnest in their desire to receive the Word, but they were diligent in their pursuit of verifying the truth. It was worth it to these people to work hard at it and investigate what the Word of God said, and how Paul’s teaching matched up with it. They did so because, again, they believed in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. And like the Bereans and the Reformers, we are to be Sola Scriptura!
One Who Responds to the Word
“Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few” (Acts 17:12).
Back to our question of what a Berean is: First, a Berean is one who RECEIVES the Word with all READINESS of mind. Second, a Berean is one who RESEARCHES the Word. And third, a Berean is one who RESPONDS to the Word.
In response to receiving the Word and then researching the Word, the Bereans responded to the Word. And they responded by faith: “Therefore many of them believed,” verse 12 says. The “many” here are many Jews. In verse 4, we see that only “some” Jews believed in Thessalonica. In contrast, among the noble Bereans, many Jews believed. Similar to those in Thessalonica, however, “not a few” (vv. 4,12) honorable, prominent Gentile women believed, and quite a few Greek men believed as well. We see the impact of Paul’s gospel in Berea on both Jews and Gentiles.
In the account of Paul’s third missionary journey, we learn the name of one of the Greek men from Berea who believed and who assisted Paul on that journey:
“And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea…” (Acts 20:4).
When Paul went to Berea and preached the Word, Sopater was one of the Bereans who would have been leaning forward in the synagogue, open-minded and eager to hear the Word as it was taught. Sopater then researched and checked the Scriptures daily to see if the things Paul taught him were so. And then, Sopater responded by believing Paul’s message. Sopater’s Berean response also involved him giving his life to further the gospel, which he found to be true, and being available in the cause of Christ.
Another response characteristic of a Berean is what Paul challenges the church to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” The church today is filled with error and confusion. This is all the more reason that, like the Bereans, we must “prove all things,” or examine and evaluate everything we hear, carefully measuring all things by the standard and truth of God’s Word.
Once we’ve proved, tested, verified, and made sure things are in harmony with the teaching of Scripture, then it’s imperative that we carry out the next part of that verse: “hold fast that which is good.”
“Hold fast” means to keep firm possession of, to keep secure, to hold back from going away. When you find something that is true, you hold onto it and keep firm possession of it, and you don’t let go. It is the believer’s responsibility to test or examine everything in the light of the Word of God, and to hold to that good, stand for it, and live it out.
My wife and I had the privilege to visit Berea in Greece. And there was a small plaque near a statue of Paul and a mosaic depicting his visit to Macedonia. It contains Acts 17:11 and a poem, very powerful and true:
“The Word of God is a power
Neither hell nor sin gainsay;
Fruit and blessing abound
In that life where it holds sway.”
This is a good Berean response to the Word, to allow the Scriptures to hold sway in our lives and to live out the Word in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Fruit and blessing abound when we do!