Berea and Athens

INTRODUCTION: Paul left Thessalonica because of threats of physical harm after he had declared the gospel among the Jews for several weeks, and he went to Berea and began to witness about Christ in the synagogue. The unbelieving Jews who had threatened him in Thessalonica soon followed him to Berea with the same intent to harm him. Some of the believers quickly escorted him to the seashore and his next stop was Athens where he planned to wait for Silas and Timothy to join him. Paul had considerable interchange with idolatrous Gentiles while in Athens, and this study considers the various reactions to the word of God in both Berea and Athens.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the King James 21st Century Version.


A - PAUL SHARED THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST AT BEREA

Acts 17 "10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea, who arriving there, went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily to see whether those things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, also honorable women who were Greeks, and of men not a few."

COMMENTS: Because many traditional Jews would not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, they were very hostile to any Jews who taught what they believed to be blasphemous about him. When the threat to Paul in Thessalonica was becoming violent because of his reputation and his teaching regarding Jesus, the believers immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night. When Paul arrived at Berea, he began to teach about Jesus in the synagogue of the Jews. His reception in Berea was much different from that in Thessalonica because the people being "more noble" were Superior in nature and character as they were willing to listen carefully and search the well accepted Jewish scriptures to determine if the word that Paul shared was consistent with that scripture. The result was that many Jews believed what Paul taught about Jesus, as well as some prominent Greek women and some Greek men in Berea. Those Greeks were probably proselytes to Judaism since Paul taught in the synagogue. The Old Testament scripture could be the basis for Jew and Gentile alike to recognize Jesus as the Messiah if their hearts were open to the truth.

Jesus had spoken about those who had the Jewish scriptures, but refused to believe the clear evidence about his identity that was yet to be recorded in New Testament scripture for future generations. John 5 "33 Ye sent unto John, and he bore witness unto the truth. 34 But I receive not testimony from man, but these things I say, that ye might be saved. 35 He was a burning and a shining light, and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. 36 But I have greater witness than that of John; for the works which the Father hath given Me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of Me that the Father hath sent Me. 37 And the Father Himself, who hath sent Me, hath borne witness of Me. Ye have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His shape. 38 And ye have not His Word abiding in you; for Whom He hath sent, Him ye believe not. 39 Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and it is they which testify of Me. 40 And ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life!" The initial reaction for many in Berea was that both Jews and Gentiles did search the scriptures and had received the eternal life found in Christ Jesus, and some in Thessalonica had also received Christ.


B - ENEMIES OF THE WORD OF GOD PURSUED PAUL

Acts 17 "13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica became aware that the Word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the people. 14 And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go down to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there still. 15 And those who conducted Paul brought him unto Athens, and, having received direction for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed."

COMMENTS: When the Jews of Thessalonica learned that Paul preached at Berea what they did not accept as the Word of God, they were able to stir up the people when they got there, even though the Bereans had been described as "more noble" than those at Thessalonica. This must not have been any surprise to Paul since he had already many times experienced how the gospel of Christ becomes a strong point of disagreement. Paul had preached in Antioch of Pisidia a very clear message about Jesus which he supported by the Old Testament scripture. Many were converted but the established Jews rejected both Paul and the message about Christ Jesus. Acts 13 "49 And the Word of the Lord was spread abroad throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and honorable women and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their borders."

This division and hostility had been a pattern in the regions of Asia before Paul and his companions went into Macedonia. Acts 14 "1 And it came to pass in Iconium that together they both went into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude of both the Jews and also of the Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and planted evil in their minds against the brethren. 3 A long time therefore they tarried among them, speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of His grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4 But the multitude of the city was divided, and part held with the Jews and part with the apostles. 5 And when there was an assault made both by the Gentiles and also the Jews, with their rulers, to use them spitefully and to stone them, 6 they were aware of it and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about. 7 And there they preached the Gospel."

Paul was not deterred by the extreme divisions and even threats to his safety caused by the preaching of the gospel, and Jesus had said those divisions would even take place within family units. Luke 12 "51 Suppose ye that I have come to give peace on earth? I tell you, nay, but rather division. 52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided: three against two, and two against three. 53 The father shall be divided against the son and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." Silas and Timothy remained in Berea while some of the believers immediately conducted Paul away to the seacoast for safety. When Paul arrived in Athens with his escorts, he sent them back to Berea to have Silas and Timothy join him there. The text does not explain why Silas and Timothy had remained behind, but apparently they were not facing an immediate personal threat as was the case for Paul, and perhaps they were providing further encouragement for the believers there.

There is no further record of Berea in the New Testament except for the mention of one man from there who later accompanied Paul to Asia after Paul had made a second trip into Macedonia and Greece. Acts 20 "3 And there he abode three months. And when the Jews laid wait for him, as he was about to sail for Syria, he purposed to return through Macedonia. 4 And there accompanied him into Asia, Sopater of Berea, and Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and from Asia, Tychichus and Trophimus."


C - PAUL WAS DISTURBED BY THE PUBLIC DISPLAY OF IDOLATRY IN ATHENS

Acts 17 "16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred within him when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. 17 Therefore he disputed in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the marketplace daily with those who met with him. 18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics encountered him. And some said, "What will this babbler say?" And some others said, "He seemeth to be a proclaimer of strange gods," because he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection."

COMMENTS: This is the only visit by Paul to Athens recorded in scripture and what he observed gave clear indication of the widespread idolatry in that important Greek city. There is only a brief statement that he disputed in the synagogue with the Jews, and then all attention is given to his discourse with the philosophers in the city. This begins one of the passages that contain very logical reasoning for intellectuals who have not had much, if any, exposure to sound reasoning about belief in the living God. The Epicureans and the Stoics were followers of centuries old systems of so-called logic and reasoning that was structured to explain the complexities of the universe without acknowledging the existence of the true and living God who is creator of all in the physical realm. They did accept the existence of false gods and foolishly believed in many attributes for them that are more characteristic of humans with extraordinary powers, than the distinctive attributes of the one true God who is creator and sustainer of all humans.

Some years later, Paul wrote about the wisdom of men that keeps them from salvation in Christ. 1 Corinthians 1 "18 For the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who perish; but unto us who are saved, it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe. 22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness, 24 but unto those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."


D - PAUL WAS INVITED TO THE PLACE OF PUBLIC PHILOSOPHICAL DISCUSSION

Acts 17 "19 And they took him and brought him unto the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new doctrine is whereof thou speakest? 20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears, and we would know therefore what these things mean." 21 (For all the Athenians and strangers who were there spent their time in nothing else than either telling or hearing some new thing.) 22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' Hill and said, "Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. 23 For as I passed by and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription: 'To the Unknown God'. Whom therefore ye worship in ignorance, Him I declare unto you. 24 God who made the world and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of Heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands. 25 Neither is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things. 26 And He hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation, 27 that they should seek the Lord, if perhaps they might feel after Him and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us."

COMMENTS: They brought Paul from the common market place to the honored Areopagus which was the highest council of ancient Athens because they wanted a more in depth discussion. Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' Hill, which was the Roman name for the god of war. Paul began by saying that his perception of them was that in all things they were too superstitious. by this he was saying they held irrational and illogical beliefs contrary to reasoning about the evidence available to them. Paul told them that he had seen among the other altars, one to the Unknown God. He said he would explain to them about that one they worshiped without understanding. Paul started by declaring that this God is the creator of the world and everything within, and since he is Lord of Heaven and earth he does not dwell within temples made by man. He also does not need to be worshipped through objects fashioned by men's hands, because he needs nothing from man. . He gave life and breath to all and he provides the things they need. All nations and people on the earth have the same blood in common which denotes a single ancestor, not various independent human generation such as could be attributed to independent evolution, or to offspring from mythical gods. Paul asserted that the true God has determined the times, or the various periods of world history when certain civilizations were in their glory such as with the Greek or the Roman empires which would have been very applicable as he spoke. God, not man, had even set the boundaries of empires for each of those periods and the opportunity was there for them to seek the LORD to perhaps find him, because in fact he is not far from anyone.


E - PAUL REFERRED TO WRITINGS OF GREEK POETS

Acts 17 "28 For in Him we live, and move, and have our being; as also certain of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.' 29 "For inasmuch, then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art and of man's devising. 30 The times of this ignorance God overlooked, but now He commandeth all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He hath appointed a Day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained. Of this He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead."

COMMENTS: Paul used a reference to the writings of certain Greek poets to emphasize how close to the truth their thoughts had been, and he then used that to show how sound reasoning should have carried them even closer to knowing the true God. Since the poets had written that all men were the offspring of God, then it was in God that we had life, and activity, and even our essential being. If we are the offspring of God and we possess these living qualities, then we should not think that God himself can be represented and worshipped through inanimate idols that are the work of man's hand. God has overlooked this ignorant approach to trying to serve deity, but he now commands that there be a clear change of heart because he has set a time when he will judge the world in righteousness by the man he has unalterably appointed. The assurance of this has been given to all people of the earth in that He hath raised Him from the dead.

Paul and Barnabas had an experience some years earlier at Lystra in Asia when the priest of Jupiter for that city was going to offer sacrifice to them as gods because Paul had instantly healed a crippled man. Acts 14 "14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they rent their clothes and ran in among the people, crying out and saying, 15 "Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions as you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all things that are therein, 16 and who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Nevertheless, He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness."" The LORD had always given evidence of his presence to those who would acknowledge him, but the resurrection of Christ Jesus brought irrefutable proof to Jew and Gentile alike that they must worship only the true and living God and no longer go there own way by continuing to ignore the truth.


F - MENTION AGAIN OF THE RESURRECTION DIVIDED THE LISTENERS

Acts 17 "32 But when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked and others said, "We will hear thee again on this matter." 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 However, certain men cleaved unto him and believed, among whom were Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them. 18:1 After these things, Paul departed from Athens and came to Corinth. 2 There he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus and lately come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome. Paul went unto them, 3 and because he was of the same craft, he lodged with them and worked; for by their occupation they were tentmakers. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. 5 And when Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ."

COMMENTS: Paul's emphasis on the resurrection of the dead brought an end to the general discussions at the Areopagus because some mocked him while some others accepted the truth. When Paul departed from them, there were some who followed him. Among those who believed was a man named Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus who had been reached by the truth even though he had been in that select group who held very pagan beliefs with no apparent influence from the Jews of the synagogue in Athens. This is the only mention of Damaris in all of the New Testament so it must be significant that there was a woman who became a believer from among that select group of intellectuals. We don't know the length of time Paul spent in Athens, and there is no indication that any of the Jews there became followers of Christ. We do know that there was no threat of physical harm to Paul in Athens from either Jews or Gentiles.

Paul left Athens and next went to Corinth where he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. He was joined there by Silas and Timothy who came to him from Macedonia. We do know from another passage that Timothy had been with him in Athens, but then Paul sent him back to Thessalonica to establish and comfort the saints. 1 Thessalonians 3 "1 Therefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, 2 and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God and our fellow laborer in the Gospel of Christ, to establish you and to comfort you concerning your faith, 3 that no man should be moved by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that thereunto we are appointed. 4 For verily, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we should suffer tribulation, even as it came to pass, as ye know. 5 For this cause, when I could no longer forbear it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor be in vain. 6 But now that Timothy has come from you unto us, and has brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have a good remembrance of us always and desire greatly to see us (as we also desire to see you), 7 therefore brethren, we were comforted concerning you in all our affliction and distress by your faith; 8 for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord."

Paul reminded the believers at Corinth that those who have been called by the LORD have no reason to boast about themselves. Continuing from my earlier reference, the balance of chapter 1 from HIS first letter to them provides a good close to this study. 1 Corinthians 1 "26 For ye see in your calling, brethren, how not many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 and base things of the world and things which are despised hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But because of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who from God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption, 31 that according as it is written: "He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.""

--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

LORD, the synagogue at Berea was another example of the way you had used the centuries of scattering of the Jews to spread your saving Word, and to also draw Gentiles to that truth. The Bereans received Paul with readiness of mind as they used scripture to verify what he was teaching, and still today this is an essential practice for any group of believers to assure that truth is being taught. Years later one of the believers from Berea was so committed to his faith that he was willing to travel with Paul to spread the word about Christ to other territories. Thank you, LORD, that your Spirit prompted Paul to engage in discussion with individuals who had pride in their membership in an intellectual society with many beliefs that kept them from recognizing the truth about spiritual matters. Paul was well equipped for these discussions as he had a diversified and extensive education, but also had experienced salvation through grace that you had granted to him to overcome his initial rejection of the Christ. I thank you, LORD, that even as I had much exposure to the scientific theories of man devoid of belief in a Creator, you opened my understanding to the wisdom of God found in your Word. I now know that many forms of religion, even some falsely based on the misapplication of your Word, keep people from finding the truth because in their pride they depend too much on their own wisdom. LORD, your omnipresence allows you to be close to anyone who comes to the point of surrender to your Word and your will, and the believer does not need any special location or human intermediary to offer worship and prayer to you. There is nothing that can be fashioned by the hand of man to represent your glory, and there are no material goods that we can offer to gain your favor. Mutual praise, support, and comfort are other blessings you provide when believers gather together. May I worship you with my whole heart, and give all praise to my Creator and Redeemer! Amen.

Published 8 September 2014