Vol. 7, No. 8
~ Page 17 ~
Here is a passage of Scripture with which we are well familiar: "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). Having disbanded with his partner Barnabas over the disagreement with John Mark, Paul befriended Silas to embark on a second missionary journey through Asia Minor and Greece. After reasoning with Jews in Thessalonian synagogues for some weeks and facing bitter opposition, they were forced to carry on to the city of Berea (Acts 17:2-10a). The city of Berea contained a Jewish synagogue just about sixty miles from Thessalonica; and, as Paul's custom was, he entered in and began expounding from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah of God (Acts 17:10b).
However, something different happened in the Berean Jews that was lacking with the Thessalonian ones: these listened intently and sought for themselves the truth of Paul and Silas' speech (v. 11). Of this context, McGarvey said, "We now have the pleasure of seeing one Jewish community listen to the truth and examine it like rational beings" (115). Another worthy comment is this one: "Their minds were less narrowed by prejudice...the Beroeans...examined the Scriptures themselves, to see if those arguments were justified...[T]hey made this scrutiny of their holy books their 'daily' occupation" (Coneybeare & Hawson 262).
Wouldn't we all like to evangelize the Bereans? Wouldn't we like to sit down and reason with folks about their souls from the Bible? Wouldn't we like to have honest discussions with "Bereans," rather than enraged and blinded "Thessalonians?" Unfortunately, if we are not willing to suffer persecution from the Thessalonians, the Bereans may not be found!
It was not at Paul's discretion (nor ours) who had the right to hear the Gospel. He probably did not know when he entered their synagogue what kind of mentality they had. He likely did not know just sixty miles away (about 2-days journey) they would be so much more sincere. Unfortunately for the receptive Bereans, the Thessalonian Jews apparently drove the missionaries out of Berea within a few days of their arrival (Acts 17:13).
The reality of variant personalities must be dealt with honestly and overcome if we are to evangelize "every man his neighbor." In the case of the Thessalonian Jews, they were narrow and prejudiced; in the case of the Berean Jews, they were more fair and honest. Yet, the evangelism was successful in spite of the nature of the individuals on whom it was imparted (I believe this is what Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 1:17). This is the lesson we must learn, and the course we must pursue patiently in evangelism: sometimes only through suffering the anger and contempt of prejudiced hearers will we be led on to honest ones.
Coneybeare, W.J. and J.S. Hawson. The Life and Epistles of St. Paul. 15th ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.
McGarvey, J.W. New Commentary on Acts. Delight: Gospel Light, n.d.