Wednesday, March 6

Word vs. The Word

17:1 After they passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2As usual, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and rise from the dead: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.” 4Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a large number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women.

5But the Jews became jealous, and they brought together some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city. Attacking Jason’s house, they searched for them to bring them out to the public assembly. 6When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, 7and Jason has welcomed them. They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king—Jesus.” 8The crowd and city officials who heard these things were upset. 9After taking a security bond from Jason and the others, they released them.

10As soon as it was night, the brothers and sisters sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. Upon arrival, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11The people here were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, since they received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men. 13But when the Jews from Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul at Berea, they came there too, agitating and upsetting the crowds. 14Then the brothers and sisters immediately sent Paul away to go to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed on there. 15Those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving instructions for Silas and Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible, they departed.

16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God, as well as in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.18Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also debated with him. Some said, “What is this ignorant show-off trying to say?”

Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

19They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you are presenting? 20Because what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these things mean.” 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.

22Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth—does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man[d] he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.’ 29 Since we are God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.

30“Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him, but others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” 33So Paul left their presence. 34 However, some people joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Act 17 (CSB)

Three different cities. Three different reactions.

In Thessalonica, both Jews and Gentiles believe in Jesus and join Paul and Silas, but jealousy incites other Jews not merely to oppose them but to get them in legal trouble. Because the Jews are clever, they do not argue Jewish belief—they charge the believers with proclaiming another king, because while the Roman Empire gave pretty liberal reign to varying religious practices among the subject peoples, it was not so lenient with varying political allegiances or civic unrest.

After the riot and late-night escape in Thessalonica, the scene in Berea is downright tranquil. The Bereans are one of the most famous groups to whom Paul preached because they received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. They did not naïvely accept Paul’s message nor did they intolerantly reject it. They searched the Scripture. They didn’t just sit around and talk about these new ideas; they didn’t consult another ‘expert’s’ opinion; they tested everything Paul and Silas preached against the Word of God. 

Trouble pursued Paul, though, and he ended up in Athens. Athens was the zenith of philosophy and rhetoric, and Paul’s speech on the Areopagus (also known as Mars Hill) is famously within that tradition. These Greek philosophers wanted to hear Paul as an amusement, though, not out of genuine religious searching, because, as Luke says, all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new. Like talking heads on a cable news channel, the Athenians were purely interested in argument for argument’s sake, but none of their debating resulted in actual action or change.

Jealousy. Searching. Discussion.

These are timeless reactions, and all too true of our reactions today. When we hear a message that makes us uncomfortable or confronts our beliefs, we often react out of jealousy and anger before taking our reaction to the Lord and to His Word. We do not like to face the reality that we do not know everything and sometimes we are actually wrong. We lack humility and would rather continue in arrogance and ignorance rather than admit error of thought or deed.

Or, sometimes, we listen to others and engage the issue in conversation. Endlessly. We post on social media and get lost in comment threads. We listen to our favorite author/podcaster/teacher/friend until they become our expert, and their words the mantras we live by, without ever filtering their human words through The Word, and without ever allowing that Truth to transform into action. Our culture gives us endless opportunities to learn this skill, including even Netflix and the broader culture’s promotion of teachers such as Rachel Hollis (If you are not a 20-40 something woman, you likely have no idea whom I just mentioned, but it is equally likely that there is a celebrity figure preaching a message that makes your stomach uneasy). 

The Bereans have earned their proud place in Church history because they did what we all must: take it back to Scripture. This can include consulting others—friends, pastors, and published works. We do not and cannot understand the Word rightly by ourselves. It was always meant to be read and discussed in community, and we have an embarrassment of resources. The danger is when we listen to only one voice or one community. The danger is when we listen to people who call themselves ‘Christian,’ but whose use of Scripture is cherry-picked to support their particular point, which is actually unsupported by the whole message of Scripture.

Smooth speech and convincing arguments are as old as Athens, but Scripture is timeless Truth from the One who created time. Scripture, not Mars Hill, is the hill we must live and die on.


Do you fall prone to responding out of jealousy or are you prone to doing nothing but ‘telling or hearing something new’? What practical steps can you take to test every idea against Scripture, rather than personal pride or the court of public opinion?


Lord, give us a deep love for Your Word. Help us to study it and search it. Give us wisdom to seek out teachers and resources that You have given us to aid our understanding and application of the Bible. Remove us from echo chambers that are unified in their message, yet grossly unbiblical. May we be people of the Word, searchers of Scriptures, because Your Word is the only lamp for our feet. Amen

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Megan NessonComment