Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many believed… (Acts 17:11-18, NIV)
The Bereans are famous as the people who checked up on Paul. As he preached Christ in the Jewish Synagogue there, they looked in their Bibles (our Old Testament) to see if what the Apostle said corresponded with, and fulfilled, what they read there. And they found that it did! Jesus really is God’s “yes” to His ancient promises.
That is Luke’s main point as he writes this section of Acts. But there is an observation we can make on the side. It is this: ordinary people can read the Bible and understand it. Indeed, they can understand it well enough to test an Apostle!
There is no evidence that the Bereans were anything other than a group of synagogue members. Quite likely they were reading their Bibles in translation - the Greek version of the Old Testament. And yet they could understand its original message clearly.
Our Christian forebears called this the “perspicuity” of Scripture - or we could say its “clarity”, if we want to be clearer! That is not to say that everything in the Bible is easy to understand; but we do not need to understand everything in order to be able to understand the main things.
As chapter 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) says, All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
This is not to diminish the importance of Bible scholarship, or the learning of Biblical languages. Preachers need to be educated and we should all treasure, and learn from, the huge contribution that Christ-honouring academics can make. But at the same time every generation seems to be troubled by a sense that Scripture is baffling, and only experts can decode it. This puts us in a dangerous position, where we lack confidence in the plain meaning of what we see on the page. Many problems in today’s churches are traceable to making the Bible the sole preserve of the “experts” (some of whom can bamboozle us by making the text appear to say something quite different from what it actually says).
In view of this, the aim of good preaching is not to elevate the preacher as expert, so that we all think “how clever”. No, it’s to point out what’s already there, so we come out of hearing a sermon thinking “That’s obvious - of course that’s what it says!” A good preacher is there to give people the Bible, not take it from them.
So be a Berean. Keep reading the Bible for yourself. Come to our monthly “Grill the Preachers” and exercise your Berean privileges. For the Bible is YOUR book - and mine!
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