TODAY’S READING: ACTS 16-17
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” – Acts 17:11
Paul and Silas escaped Thessalonica at night and went to Berea. When they got there, Paul and Silas went to the synagogue. The two spoke the word to the Berean Jews. And, the Berean Jews were examining the scriptures daily to see if the word Paul and Silas spoke was true.
Christians make much of these Bereans.
“We need to be like the Bereans, examining the scriptures every day.”
“We should be like the Bereans and read our Bibles every day.”
However, based on how I see many Christians studying the Bible and the beliefs they espouse as a result, I deduce that these Christians are not really examining why the Bereans were examining the scriptures and what they were looking for.
So, why were the Bereans examining the scriptures daily?
Let’s break it down.
The Greek word translated scriptures is graphe, which means a writing, a scripture, a drawing, a letter. Graphe generally means a document. It can mean a picture or a painting. It can even mean an indictment in a public prosecution.
When we see the word scriptures, our minds immediately go to the Bible. However, it is unlikely that any of the New Testament would have been available to the Berean Jews for examining. At best, the Bereans would have been examining the Old Testament.
In Acts 17:11, graphe is plural. Therefore, the Berean Jews were examining the writings, the documents, the scriptures. It is possible that the documents they were examining included documents outside of what we consider scripture today. For example, the Bereans may have been examining documents such as the apocrypha (1 and 2 Esdras, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Wisdom, etc.), the books of Enoch, the midrash, and mishnah.
I point this out to demonstrate that if we are going to examine the scriptures like the Bereans then we cannot bring our presuppositions to the text. We have to dig into the text and look at all the possibilities of what it means.
Now that we know something about the writings, let’s look at how the Bereans were examining them. The Greek word for examining is anakrino. The Greek word krino means to judge, pass judgment on, consider, separate, decide, distinguish, or evaluate. The prefix ana means up or severally, but in compound words it typically implies repetition, intensity, reversal.
The Bereans were repetitively judging, considering, separating, deciding, distinguishing, and evaluating the scriptures.
The Bereans were intensely judging, considering, separating, deciding, distinguishing, and evaluating the scriptures.
The Bereans were judging, considering, separating, deciding, distinguishing, and evaluating the scriptures with a mind towards reversing what they previously believed the scriptures to say.
So, the word anakrino means to scrutinize, investigate, interrogate, examine, judge, criticize. To really understand what anakrino means, perhaps we should look at what these English words mean.
- scrutinize – to examine closely and minutely
- investigate – to observe or study by close examination and systematic inquiry
- interrogate – to question formally and systematically
- examine – to inspect closely, to test the condition of, to inquire carefully into, to interrogate closely, to test by questioning in order to determine progress, fitness, or knowledge
- judge – to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises
- criticize – to consider the merits and demerits of and judge accordingly
The Bereans were examining the scriptures the way I’m doing right now. They looking into the meanings of the words. They were digging deep into the text. They were picking the text apart. They were looking at all the possible meanings, developing premises and hypotheses and testing them to see if they were true. They were questioning the text. They were mulling these things over in their minds.
The Bereans were doing all of this with the intention of reversing what they previously believed about the text.
What were the Bereans not doing in examining the scriptures?
They were not beholden to the literal meaning of the words only.
They were not sticking with the plain meaning only.
They were not going by what someone else told them, what someone else taught them, or the traditions they had grown up with.
They were not hearing the scriptures once a week when they showed up for church.
When they were examining the scriptures, what were the Bereans looking for?
What was their purpose in scrutinizing, investigating, interrogating, examining, judging, and criticizing the scriptures?
The Bereans were seeking to know if the scriptures spoke the word.
The same word that Paul and Silas taught in the synagogue in Thessalonica.
What word was that?
“And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.'” – Acts 17:2-3
Paul had a custom, a pattern that he followed. He reasoned, argued, discussed, conversed, made a speech from the Scriptures to explain and prove that Jesus Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.
The Bereans were examining the scriptures to see if what Paul was saying – that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead – was true. The Bereans were scrutinizing, investigating, interrogating, examining, judging, and criticizing the scriptures to see where, when, and how they said the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.
And, the Bereans were doing this with the intention of reversing what they had previously believed the scriptures said.
The Bereans were not examining the scriptures to prove that the Bible was literally true, that the Bible was inerrant, that the Bible was infallible.
The Bereans were not examining the scriptures to prove that creation was literally created in six days in attempt to fit their scientific understanding with Genesis 1.
The Bereans were not examining the scriptures to know what laws Moses said they should keep and what sacrifices they needed to make.
The Bereans were not examining the scriptures to prove why people should tithe.
The Bereans were not examining the scriptures to prove that everything historical event recorded in the Bible was literally true, word for word.
The Bereans were examining the scriptures for one thing and one thing only.
Did Jesus Christ have to suffer and rise from the dead?
Was Paul correct?
Was this word true?
It is no coincidence that this word, the word that Paul made a custom of teaching in the synagogues, was the same word that Jesus taught the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
“And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – Luke 24:25-27
Jesus showed these two disciples in all the scriptures – from Moses to all the prophets – how he had to suffer and rise from the dead, the same word that Paul made a custom of teaching in the synagogues.
Notice that Jesus had to interpret the scriptures for them. That the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead wasn’t the plain and obvious meaning of the scriptures. It wasn’t the literal meaning of the scriptures.
Jesus did the same thing with all the disciples a short while later.
“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that i spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.'” – Luke 24:44-46
Jesus opened their minds.
The word opened is the same word used in Acts 17:3 to say that Paul was “explaining” from the scriptures to the Thessalonican Jews that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead. Paul was giving the same word that Jesus gave.
Because they were examining the scriptures daily for the word – that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead – we are told that the Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica.
We tend to think of nobility as your social standing due to birth. And, the Greek word used here can mean that. But, the Greek word also means noble in mind, sentiment, character, and morals. It also can have the connotation of being open minded.
Why the Berean Jews were more noble, dare I say more open minded, than the Thessalonican Jews?
Because “they received the word with all eagerness.”
The Greek word eagerness is prothumia. Thymos means passion, as if breathing hard. It is the word for anger, wrath, indignation, fierceness. The prefix pro means before, in front of, prior to.
Think about the implications of prothumia then.
The Bereans’ eagerness for the word implies that they were breathed into before, prior to, hearing the word – that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead – from the Paul. This eagerness for the word was a wrath, an indignation, a fierceness that came upon them. (Think about what this says about God’s wrath.)
Therefore, prothumia means a predisposition, alacrity (promptness in response, cheerful readiness), a forwardness of mind, a readiness of mind, a ready and willing mind.
The Berean Jews were more noble than the Thessalonican Jews because they received the word – that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead – the word that was not literally stated in the scriptures but had to be interpreted, explained, and proved with a predisposition to believing the word.
Therefore, when the Bereans were examining the scriptures they were looking to reverse what they had previously believed about them. The Bereans were eager to change their minds, to repent.
When we get right down to it, the Bereans were examining the scriptures to change their minds about God. They were ready and willing to believe that God suffered for them, that God made himself a sacrifice for them, that God died.
They had to change their minds, reverse the way they understood the scriptures. Because the literal reading of the scriptures said that God killed, murdered, raped, plundered, and utterly destroyed people. The literal reading of the scriptures said that God practiced genocide against those nations in the land of Canaan.
So, yes, let’s be like the Bereans, examining the scriptures daily.
But, let’s not fool ourselves.
We cannot be like the Bereans and come to the scriptures to prove our traditions, to prove what we have been taught, to prove the literal meaning of the scriptures. We cannot be like the Bereans and immediately and continually disagree with our traditions and something that we do not understand. We cannot be like the Bereans and rely on the Old Testament alone, always quoting from it.
Instead, if we want to be like the Bereans and not the Thessalonican Jews, who by the way persecuted Paul and Silas and drove them from the city, then we must come to the scriptures with an eagerness to have our minds changed, reversed. We must come to the scriptures carefully looking for how we repent – change what believe about God. We have to listen to Jesus.
To be look like the Bereans, examining the scriptures daily, we need to study them for one thing and one thing only.
Christ suffered and rose from the dead.