Be a Berean

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“Be a Berean.” This command references the Bereans response to the Gospel message they heard when Paul and Silas preached to them in the synagogue of the Jews. The Jews in the synagogue heard the message and responded by going away and studying Scripture. “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). When we issue this command to people, we are asking them to be discerning about what they hear and make sure the teaching is inline with Scripture. But there is more at play here needing to be seen.

wrong usage

Unfortunately some people now use this verse to explain a personal interpretation shared by no one else. A person will dig in and say, “I’m being a Berean. This is what Scripture says.” At this point, the Berean verse has become a self-justifying excuse for error. This would be a wrong application to this verse. Many say this passage is descriptive, not prescriptive meaning we cannot derive from it a practice. This may be true, but even if it is prescriptive, the context will not allow for a personal interpretation.

Key word

There is a key word needing emphasis in Acts 17:11, “they.” Reread the passage and note who did the examining? “They received the word with great eagerness.” This was not one individual going back to his own closet to examine the text. This was the synagogue of the Jews looking at it together. This is a community. These people did it together. This is important. One person didn’t discover or affirm something all by himself and “no one else in the world saw it coming.” These people looked at the Scripture.

Why did they look at the Scripture? Because this is what Paul is preaching. Paul preached using the Word, in season and out of season, the same Word the Bereans had in their hand. But what text? Paul didn’t have a bound Bible like ours today with all 66 books of the Bible. But he did have what we call the Old Testament. He preached Christ from the Old Testament. Being in their synagogue, he probably used their copy of the text. Although we do not know what text he used, the point here draws out the Gospel Paul preached derived from the OT text. The Bereans had the same OT text to see if this was true. [1]

So how do we be a Berean?

I

First, use Scripture. This used to be Captain Obvious, but times have changed. Use Scripture and recognize Scripture is the authority. Do not trust dreams, “visions,” or personal messages from the Lord in your sleep or prayer time. Make sure the message originates from the Bible. Every teacher should treat the Bible as authoritative.

II

Second, rely on your pastors and elders. We study Scripture to grow to be more like Christ and worship Him. Worship requires service. The Lord gave us pastors and teachers to equip us for every good work (Ephesians 4:11-12). Rely on them to teach you. Allow them to direct you, teach you, and listen to them as they instruct you. Go to them with your questions. Listen to their direction. When they tell you something is or isn’t important, listen to them and find out why. Remember, interpretation is a community event. (I don’t mean this in the postmodern sense).

III

Third, read other scholars and authors. Again, studying the text is not just a “me” thing. Rely on qualified men who can lead you to better understand the text. Look to scholars who have studied the text. For example, if studying Ephesians, it would be wise to consider Harold Hoehner’s Commentary. It is his magnum opus work and a phenomenal study through the book. Find good books on the historical context as well. Do not just know the text, know the context to the text too.

IV

Fourth, read and listen to those who disagree with you. Everyone of us has blindspots. Even communities grow blind spots together. Listening to your critics allows you to confront your blind spots and consider the validity of your understanding. I’ve incorporated this discipline lately. It is beneficial and humbling. I want to go find people I agree with and agree with me. On the internet, we can find other wacko’s like I want to be. Find those who articulate why they disagree with you and listen to them. Really listen. Do not just listen to pick a fight, listen to learn. Learning from them can help you evaluate what God says. They war against our blind spot, we need to consider their criticism. “He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise” (Prov. 14:31). My confessional friends will tell you, this is what makes a confession valuable. It prevents us from going astray. I see their point, but think their concerns can be addressed in other valid ways.

V

Finally, listen to church history. We do not live with the Lord in a vacuum of time. The Spirit is alive and works throughout history. The Lord used men before us and the same Spirit resides in them. Glorious to think we’ll meet Athanasius in heaven! When it comes to articulating the Trinity, we do well to give heavy weight to those who debated it early in church history. If we depart from church history, why?┬áChrist will have a Millennial Kingdom. The Reformers did not see this. Do not rush reaching this conclusion without listening to them. Although I believe we are right, it is still valuable to understand why we disagree. I want to have an articulated defense regarding my conclusions. I do not want to rush to conclusions without considering what others said before me.

[1] This is why I do not buy in Luke 24 Christ taught a Christological hermeneutic. The Bereans would have had to buy into that hermeneutic before “checking” Paul’s use of Scripture. But this is for a different post.

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