The Bereans

After a brief service in Thessalonica, Paul travelled to Berea due to Jewish resistance. Over he went to the synagogues of the Jews. This time he was affectionately welcomed: “Jewish unbelievers in Berea were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily, to find out whether these things were so.”

The Bereans were free of bigotry; they were judicious chaps and vigorous in their dealing. And how can we know these? Because unlike the Jews of Thessalonica, they received Paul and listened to him. They also read the Scriptures every day, examining it to see if what Paul had instructed them was true.

Berea was a town in greater Macedonia. Macedonia was home to some of the World’s most distinguished philosophers of all time. Hermagoras of Amphipolis, Aristotle, Euphantus of Olynthus, Nicomachus (son of Aristotle), Xenophilus. It was a region of prominent thinkers. They could not just swallow your claims hook, line and sinker.

So, we find that Berea was a town painted with thinkers and by thinkers. The Jews in this town acquired this deep heritage of thinkers. They did not turn against claims presented to them emotionally, but rather rationally investigated them to find their veracity.

It seems that Paul met many philosophers in his travails to preach the Gospel. Another example is given in Acts 17:18. Paul met Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers.

The Epicureans were atomistic materialists. Whereas Paul affirmed that we came from Adam, the Epicureans maintained that humans come from atoms. They maintained that we come to know through our sense perceptions (and we formulate and express “concepts” based on those perceptions). Furthermore, the Epicureans were concerned with a life of pleasure and an escape of pain. Theologically, they understood that the gods exist, but they are utterly uninvolved in the world (a view slightly mirroring the deistic perspective). There is no such thing as an active, involved divine providence. According to the Epicureans, religion is deleterious in that it produces an unhealthy dread of post-mortem uncertainties and absorption with the prying, meddling gods, which browbeats humans and ruins their happiness. In terms of eschatology, there is no final judgment; death is the definitive word.

The Stoics were materialistic pantheists (e.g., Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus). According to them, the divine permeated everything and (in the form of fate) governed all. God was deemed the Soul of the universe and the universe as the body of God. Unlike Epicurean pursuit of pleasure, the Stoics sought self-preservation through meditative, practical, and rational reason. There was for them a kind of divine providence, but no real judgment. At death, the individual soul was reabsorbed into the ever-living Fire.

Take-home

God wants us to listen thoughtfully and critically to Bible teaching, taking care to evaluate the teaching based on personal examination of Scripture.

This does not mean that the Bereans continually questioned the Scriptures to prove or disprove what they were learning. However, they had access to the Old Testament, the Bible of their time. They could review the words Paul and Silas spoke and decide if they were really in line with the Old Testament teaching. They could also see the way that these men handled their lives. How these men taught the Word of God and the evidence they gave were pretty important to the Bereans.

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