Paul and Silas’ next stop was Berea, and though the account is short, it represented a needed time of encouragement for Paul.
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.Acts 17:11-12 (NIV)
This is the only documented group of people in the Bible who went back to the scriptures to verify what Paul and his team were claiming.
Notice where they did not go.
- They did not go to their rabbis and synagogue leaders. Though we are thankful to our spiritual leaders for their tireless (and often thankless) work in shepherding us, teaching us, guiding us, watching over us, and carrying the burden for our spiritual growth, they do not have the last say on what is true.
Yes, they aim to be trustworthy. However, those among them who truly serve the risen Christ would not hesitate in agreeing that searching the scriptures is the best course.
- They did not just talk about it with each other. Though it is a good idea to talk with those whom we value and respect as mature in the Lord, and their counsel, their opinions, hold weight, if they truly are wise in the things of God, they themselves will bring you right back to the scriptures to examine them together.
- They did not open their commentaries and books by favorite authors. They surely recognized that good teaching is important, foundational even, to a strong life of faith. But in order to ascertain if a new teaching is from the Lord, if it has the gravity of God’s voice, the only way to really tell is to compare it to what we know the Lord has already spoken.
If Sola Scriptura means anything, it means final authority lies in the Word of God. That is to say, in the written words of God as they have been preserved and carried down to us today in the Bible, and in the living Word of God Who has given us His Spirit whereby He shares His mind with ours, and illuminates the written words of God for us to understand.
Speaking of which, let us now go back to the Bible ourselves to see something very interesting developing in Luke’s account.
There is a particularly noteworthy phrase in this story that Luke included several times throughout this second missions trip: “and quite a few prominent women.” Listen to how often,
In Pisidian Antioch: But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. (Acts 13:50)
In Philippi: On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. [one of whom was the wealthy and influential Lydia] (Acts 16:13)
In Thessalonica: Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. (Acts 17:4)
And here in Berea: As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
Growing evidence, revealed in the book “Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity,” portrays women in the 1st through 3rd centuries’ church as persons of authority and influence. Recently unearthed, or reexamined funerary inscriptions, tomb art, and burial artifacts display a vivid depiction of women teaching, pastoring, and leading—in fact, the evidence seems to indicate there were more women leaders and teachers than men by perhaps as much as 70%.
Not coincidentally, when Emperor Constantine chose Christianity as the new imperial religion of Rome, and generated the first church councils to solidify and codify Christianity’s doctrines, the beginning of the end of women in church leadership for the next 1,300 years drew near. It was not until the Reformation that church doctrine and practice concerning fully half of the Lord’s “nation of priests” would be systematically reassessed.
Tragically, those who had opposed Paul in Thessalonica were bent on stopping Paul.
But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.Acts 17:13 (NIV)
So, Silas and Timothy stayed with the Bereans, to minister to them, teach them, and establish them in the gospel. In the meantime, Paul was escorted by the Berean believers to Athens where they promised Paul they would send Silas and Timothy on to him as soon as they had returned to Berea.
[Berea | Nathan Gibbs on Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/]