The basis of effective teaching; the Beroeans’ fine example
Based on Acts 17:1-15
1, 2. Who are journeying from Philippi to Thessalonica, and what might be on their minds?
THE well-traveled road, built by skilled Roman engineers, cuts through the rugged mountains. Sounds along that road occasionally mingle—the braying of donkeys, the clatter of chariot wheels on thick flagstone, and the clamor of travelers of all sorts, likely including soldiers, merchants, and craftsmen. Three companions—Paul, Silas, and Timothy—are traveling more than 80 miles (130 km) along this road, from Philippi to Thessalonica. The journey is far from easy, particularly for Paul and Silas. They are nursing the wounds they received in Philippi, where they were beaten with rods.—Acts 16:22, 23.
2 How do these men keep their minds off the long miles that lie ahead? Conversation surely helps. Still fresh in their minds is the thrilling experience they had when that jailer back in Philippi and his family became believers. That experience has made these travelers even more determined to continue proclaiming the word of God. However, as they approach the coastal city of Thessalonica, they may wonder how the Jews in that city will treat them. Will they be attacked, even beaten, as they were in Philippi?
3. How can Paul’s example in mustering up boldness to preach be useful to us today?
3 Paul later made his feelings known in a letter he wrote to Christians in Thessalonica: “Although we had first suffered and been insolently treated in Philippi, as you know, we mustered up boldness by means of our God to tell you the good news of God in the face of much opposition.” (1 Thess. 2:2) Paul thus seems to suggest that he had misgivings about entering the city of Thessalonica, particularly after what happened in Philippi. Can you empathize with Paul? Do you ever find it a struggle to proclaim the good news? Paul relied on Jehovah to strengthen him, to help him muster up the boldness he needed. Studying Paul’s example can help you to do the same.—1 Cor. 4:16.
4. Why is it likely that Paul spent more than three weeks in Thessalonica?
4 The account tells us that while in Thessalonica, Paul preached in the synagogue for three Sabbaths. Does this mean that his visit to the city lasted just three weeks? Not necessarily. We do not know how soon after his arrival Paul first went to the synagogue. Further, Paul’s letters disclose that while in Thessalonica, he and his companions worked to support themselves. (1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7, 8) Also, during his stay, Paul twice received provisions from the brothers in Philippi. (Phil. 4:16) So his stay in Thessalonica was likely somewhat longer than three weeks.
5. In what way did Paul seek to appeal to people?
5 Having mustered up boldness to preach, Paul spoke to those assembled in the synagogue. According to his custom, “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving by references that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying: ‘This is the Christ, this Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.’” (Acts 17:2, 3) Note that Paul did not seek to stir up the emotions of his listeners; he appealed to their minds. He knew that those who attended the synagogue were familiar with and respected the Scriptures. What they lacked was understanding. Paul therefore reasoned, explained, and proved from the Scriptures that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah, or Christ.
6. How did Jesus reason from the Scriptures, and with what result?
6 Paul followed the standard set by Jesus, who used the Scriptures as the basis for his teaching. During his public ministry, for example, Jesus told his followers that according to the Scriptures, the Son of man must suffer, die, and be raised from the dead. (Matt. 16:21) After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples. Surely that alone would show that he had spoken the truth. Yet, Jesus gave them more. Concerning what he said to certain disciples, we read: “Starting with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.” With what result? The disciples exclaimed: “Were not our hearts burning within us as he was speaking to us on the road, as he was fully opening up the Scriptures to us?”—Luke 24:13, 27, 32.
7. Why is it important to base our teaching on the Scriptures?
7 The message of God’s Word has power. (Heb. 4:12) Christians today thus base their teachings on that Word, as did Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles. We too reason with people, explain what the Scriptures mean, and provide proof of what we teach by opening the Bible to show householders what it says. After all, the message we bring is not ours. By using the Bible liberally, we help people to discern that we proclaim, not our own ideas, but the teachings of God. Additionally, we do well to keep in mind that the message we preach is solidly founded on God’s Word. It is completely reliable. Does knowing that not give you confidence to share the message boldly, as Paul did?
“Some . . . Became Believers” (Acts 17:4-9)
8-10. (a) In what ways did people in Thessalonica respond to the good news? (b) Why were some of the Jews jealous of Paul? (c) How did the Jewish opposers act?
8 Paul had already experienced the truthfulness of Jesus’ words: “A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have observed my word, they will also observe yours.” (John 15:20) In Thessalonica, Paul met just such a mixed response—some were eager to observe the word, while others resisted it. Concerning those who reacted favorably, Luke writes: “Some of them [the Jews] became believers [Christians] and associated themselves with Paul and Silas, and so did a great multitude of the Greeks who worshipped God, along with quite a few of the principal women.” (Acts 17:4) Surely these new disciples rejoiced to have the Scriptures opened to their understanding.
9 Though some appreciated Paul’s words, others gnashed their teeth at him. Some of the Jews in Thessalonica were jealous of Paul’s success at winning over “a great multitude of the Greeks.” Those Jews, intent on making Jewish proselytes, had instructed the Greek Gentiles in the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures and looked upon those Greeks as belonging to them. Suddenly, though, it seemed that Paul was stealing these Greeks away, and right at the synagogue! The Jews were furious.
10 Luke tells us what happened next: “The Jews, getting jealous, gathered together some wicked men who were loitering at the marketplace and formed a mob and proceeded to throw the city into an uproar. They assaulted the house of Jason and were seeking to have Paul and Silas brought out to the mob. When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers to the city rulers, crying out: ‘These men who have overturned the inhabited earth are present here also, and Jason has received them as his guests. All these men act in opposition to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus.’” (Acts 17:5-7) How would this mob action affect Paul and his companions?
11. What charges were brought against Paul and his fellow Kingdom proclaimers, and what decree might the accusers have had in mind? (See footnote.)
11 A mob is an ugly thing. It rushes with the fury of a swollen river—violent and uncontrolled. This was the weapon that the Jews employed to try to rid themselves of Paul and Silas. Then, after the Jews had thrown the city “into an uproar,” they tried to convince the rulers that the charges were weighty. The first charge was that Paul and his fellow Kingdom proclaimers had “overturned the inhabited earth,” though Paul and his companions had not caused the uproar in Thessalonica! The second charge was far more serious. The Jews argued that the missionaries proclaimed another King, Jesus, thereby violating the decrees of the emperor. a
12. What shows that the charges against Christians in Thessalonica could have brought serious consequences?
12 Recall that the religious leaders brought a similar charge against Jesus. To Pilate they said: “We found this man subverting our nation . . . and saying he himself is Christ a king.” (Luke 23:2) Possibly fearing that the emperor might conclude that Pilate condoned high treason, he sentenced Jesus to death. Similarly, the charges against the Christians in Thessalonica could have brought serious consequences. One reference work states: “It is hard to exaggerate the danger to which this exposed them, for ‘the very suggestion of treason against the Emperors often proved fatal to the accused.’” Would this hateful attack prove successful?
13, 14. (a) Why did the mob fail in its attack? (b) How did Paul demonstrate Christlike caution, and how can we imitate his example?
13 The mob failed to put a stop to the preaching work in Thessalonica. Why? For one thing, Paul and Silas could not be found. Furthermore, the city rulers were evidently not convinced of the truthfulness of the charges. After requiring “sufficient security,” perhaps in the form of bail, they released Jason and the other brothers who had been brought before them. (Acts 17:8, 9) Following Jesus’ counsel to be “cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves,” Paul prudently kept out of harm’s way so that he could continue preaching elsewhere. (Matt. 10:16) Clearly, the boldness that Paul mustered up did not mean recklessness. How can Christians today follow his example?
14 In modern times, the clergy of Christendom have often incited mobs against Jehovah’s Witnesses. With cries of sedition and treason, they have manipulated rulers to act against the Witnesses. Like those first-century persecutors, modern-day opposers are driven by jealousy. At any rate, true Christians do not court trouble. We avoid confrontations with such angry, unreasonable people whenever possible, seeking rather to continue our work in peace, perhaps returning later when things have calmed down.
They Were “More Noble-Minded” (Acts 17:10-15)
15. How did the Beroeans respond to the good news?
15 For safety’s sake, Paul and Silas were sent to Beroea, about 40 miles (65 km) away. Upon arriving there, Paul went to the synagogue and spoke to those assembled. What a delight to find a receptive audience! Luke wrote that the Jews of Beroea “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they accepted the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:10, 11) Did those words reflect unfavorably on the ones in Thessalonica who had embraced the truth? Not at all. Paul later wrote to them: “We also thank God unceasingly, because when you received God’s word, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but, just as it truthfully is, as the word of God, which is also at work in you believers.” (1 Thess. 2:13) What, though, made those Jews in Beroea so noble-minded?
16. Why are the Beroeans fittingly described as “noble-minded”?
16 Though the Beroeans were hearing something new, they were not suspicious or harshly critical; neither were they gullible. First, they listened carefully to what Paul had to say. Then, they verified what they had learned by turning to the Scriptures, which Paul had opened up to their understanding. Moreover, they diligently studied the Word of God, not just on the Sabbath, but daily. And they did so with great “eagerness of mind,” devoting themselves to finding out what the Scriptures revealed in light of this new teaching. Then, they proved humble enough to make changes, for “many of them became believers.” (Acts 17:12) No wonder Luke describes them as “noble-minded”!
17. Why is the example of the Beroeans so commendable, and how can we continue to imitate it long after becoming believers?
17 Little did those Beroeans realize that the record of their reaction to the good news would be preserved in God’s Word as a shining example of spiritual noble-mindedness. They did precisely what Paul had hoped they would do and what Jehovah God wanted them to do. Likewise, it is what we encourage people to do—to examine the Bible carefully so that their faith is solidly based on God’s Word. After we become believers, though, does the need to be noble-minded come to an end? On the contrary, it becomes ever more important that we be eager to learn from Jehovah and quick to apply his teachings. In that way, we allow Jehovah to mold us and train us according to his will. (Isa. 64:8) We thus remain useful and fully pleasing to our heavenly Father.
18, 19. (a) Why did Paul leave Beroea, yet how did he show perseverance that is worthy of imitation? (b) Whom was Paul to address next, and where?
18 Paul did not stay in Beroea for long. We read: “When the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was also being proclaimed by Paul in Beroea, they came there to incite and agitate the crowds. Then the brothers immediately sent Paul away to the sea, but both Silas and Timothy remained behind there. However, those accompanying Paul brought him as far as Athens, and they departed after receiving instructions that Silas and Timothy should come to Paul as quickly as possible.” (Acts 17:13-15) How persistent those enemies of the good news were! It was not enough to chase Paul out of Thessalonica; they traveled to Beroea and tried to stir up the same sort of trouble there—all to no avail. Paul knew that his territory was vast; he simply moved on to preach elsewhere. May we today prove equally determined to frustrate the efforts of those who want to stop the preaching work!
19 Having borne thorough witness to the Jews in Thessalonica and Beroea, Paul had surely learned much about the importance of witnessing with boldness and reasoning from the Scriptures. We have too. Now, though, Paul was to face a different audience—the Gentiles of Athens. How would he fare in that city? In the next chapter, we will see.
a According to one scholar, there was at that time a decree of Caesar forbidding the making of any prediction “of the coming of a new king or kingdom, especially one that might be said to supplant or judge the existing emperor.” Paul’s enemies might well have misrepresented the apostle’s message as a violation of such a decree. See the box “The Caesars and the Book of Acts.”