Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What is meant by “being a good Berean"?

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

In my last question, I answered why Christians should read their Bibles, but it occurs to me that I really did not go far enough, for if I leave off with just reading, I have not really said what I mean to say. It further occurs to me that the verse above, with a good explanation ought to clarify what I mean about reading. I am afraid that I do intend to talk about interpretation quite a lot, for it makes an enormous difference as to how we approach the scripture. Does God really mean the plain sense of what he tells us?

This last question is more important than it seems; many Bible scholars from different ages have interpreted passages symbolically or metaphorically. Nowhere is this done more often than prophecy, and perhaps a brief look at history will explain why. Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D. and the nation of Israel ceased to exist. Much of the prophecy of the Bible tells how God is going to restore the nation of Israel. Many good scholars looked at prophecy, and decided since Israel was out of the picture, Christians must have supplanted all of God’s promises to Israel. But a careful reading of scripture makes it plain that God is not finished with Israel. “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). The plain sense? God is going to write law inwardly on the hearts of the Jewish people. This verse, along with many many other verses in scripture make it plain that God is going to continue to deal with Israel.

The rule for interpretation of the Bible should be as is commonly taught in many Bible universities: when the simple sense makes the best sense, seek no other sense. I would like to suggest a few simple rules to follow when you are reading your Bible. First, notice to whom the passage is speaking. Is it to the nation of Israel? Is it to a church to which Paul is writing? Was it for a specific time and purpose? Next, establish who is doing the writing. What is his motive in writing or speaking? Lastly, what is the plain sense of the passage, considering both who wrote it and to whom it was written? It is only after these steps are studied that we should attempt to take a passage and find application towards our world, or for ourselves. Thus application should always follow sound interpretation, and never the other way around.

What should you do when you find a difficult verse? The first thing I try is a different version and see if the difficulty remains. Sometimes translators do a better job with one version rather than another. Word studies are usually my second option for dealing with that difficult passage. What is the literal sense of the word in the original? Third, I check commentaries that are well known and generally accepted. It helps to know the backgrounds and favorite doctrines of even the well-known commentaries. Last, if the subject and verse is interesting enough, I search through for a book that revolves around the subject. Here I have to be even more careful to know at least a bit about the author, so that I may know he approaches the scripture in the same careful manner.

So with those rules in mind, let’s inspect the verse I began with: “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.” In the context of the passage I note that Paul was thrown out of Thessalonica after a mere three Sabbath days of preaching. I know from my reading that there were many faithful ones reached, and Paul wrote two letters to them later in his life, to encourage them and to clarify doctrine, particularly about the Second Coming. But from this passage in Acts, it is evident there was sufficient evil generated against them to force them to leave Thessalonica and journey to Berea. There Luke (the writer) tells Theophilus (the recipient of the book of Acts) that the Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica. Immediately, I want to know why they were considered more noble.

Luke tells us of two great things that they did. First, they received the word “with readiness of mind”. They were not only ready to hear the gospel, they were ready to receive it mentally, to engage themselves fully in the consideration of all that it might mean. Second, they searched the scriptures daily. They were reading their Bible. Daily. Third, they were checking the scriptures to see whether the things they were hearing about the gospel were true. Now the application: Being a good Berean for us is constantly reading the Bible, and checking the things of Christ out, seeing how they are so. Perhaps a bit wider application would be that we are checking the things of our world, the world views thrust upon us in our time, and comparing them to the Bible, to see both truth and falsehoods in them.

I think, by application, we can see this passage is an encouragement for us to be Biblically centered, and examining everything in our world through the lens of scripture. Little by little we are to develop a world view that closely follows that which God has taught us through the word. When we do that we are changed as Paul elsewhere tells us, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). What could be better than that?

I leave you with a quote from a book I just finished. I think it appropriate because reading your Bible wisely will indeed change your world view. “Christians may preach passionately about the need for a biblical worldview, but unless they are submitting themselves to a continual process of sanctification, they will not have the power to live out that worldview—and they will discredit the very message they are seeking to communicate.”1

1. Pearcey, Nancy (2010-09-01). Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (Kindle Locations 5071-5073). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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