Acts 17:1–15 (ESV)✞: Paul and Silas in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas in Berea
Having just suffered imprisonment in the last passage, Paul and Silas now go to Thessalonica. (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned Silas or not, so far, but he has been showing up in some recent passages so he must have been one of Paul’s regular companions.)
In the city they follow their usual pattern: they go to the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath to explain the Gospel:
2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”
And a number of the Jews believe, along with a number of non-Jewish folks; the passage makes it seem that more non-Jewish people believe than Jewish people.
Not all of the Jews are happy about this, however:
5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
When it says that “the Jews” were jealous, I’m reading this as “Jewish leaders,” not just any Jewish people. The ESV footnote on verse 5 says the same:
Greek Ioudaioi probably refers here to Jewish religious leaders, and others under their influence, in that time; also verse 13
Regardless, Paul and his companions leave Thessalonica and go to Berea and do exactly the same thing: go to the synagogue and explains things to the Bereans through the Scriptures. There seems to be no difference in Paul’s approach in the two cities, but there’s a difference in the response: the Bereans receive the word “with all eagerness,” and examine the Scriptures “to see if these things [are] so” (verse 11 (ESV)✞). Verse 4 (ESV)✞ mentioned that “some” Jews believed the Gospel in Thessalonica, whereas verse 12 (ESV)✞ tells us that “many” Berean Jews believe. (And, just like in Thessalonica, quite a number of non-Jewish people believe, too.)
Unfortunately, the Jewish leaders from Thessalonica hear about the success Paul is having in Berea so they actually go to the trouble of coming to Berea to stir up the crowds against Paul and his companions. So Paul is sent out of the city, though Silas and Timothy remain, presumably to pastor the nascent church there.
One of the main points we take away from this passage is that the people in Berea accept the Gospel more willingly than the people in Thessalonica – however, this obviously isn’t the end of the story! We end up with two letters in the New Testament, 1&2 Thessalonians, being sent to the local church in Thessalonica, so not only did the believers there continue on, they seem to have thrived. (Perhaps I’ll change my mind on the “thriving” part when I blog through those letters! Regardless, the church didn’t just immediately wither and die.)
There aren’t any New Testament letters to the Bereans, though I’m not going to read into that. It doesn’t mean that the Berean church failed while the Thessalonian church continued; it just means that there didn’t happen to be any letters from Paul to the Bereans that were deemed necessary to be included in the canon of Scripture.
Paul’s Approach With His Fellow Jews
It’s interesting to see Paul “in action” in these two sections, and how he approaches sharing the Gospel with his fellow Jews.
First of all, maybe it sounds obvious, but he goes to the synagogue. Paul doesn’t decide that, “we’re Christians now, we’re not going to the synagogue anymore,” he goes there and finds worshipping Jewish people to whom he shares the Gospel. It’s not the only place he goes—we’re told that quite a number of non-Jewish people also believe—but the passage makes it seem like it’s the first place he goes. These are people who already know God, they just don’t know as much about Him as Paul does, so they should be the first people to believe! (That’s a slight oversimplification, of course.)
But once he’s there he also speaks their language. He doesn’t sit down and try to tell them to throw out all that they’ve been studying and become Christians instead, he goes through the Scriptures—what we would call the Old Testament—and uses them to explain Jesus. In fact, not just explain Jesus but prove that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead, in just the way Jesus did; him dying on the cross isn’t evidence against his divinity, it’s evidence for it.
In fact, I’d argue that Paul is not just going to the synagogue and sharing the Gospel, he’s going to the synagogue and worshipping God with his fellow Jews. Yes, he’s sharing the Gospel too, but much of what Paul is doing is exactly what all the people around him are doing.
And this approach works with some of the Thessalonians, who become believers. More importantly, when we compare and contrast the Thessalonians with the Bereans, and Luke tells us that the Bereans are “more noble” than the Thessalonians (verse 11 (ESV)✞), the evidence he gives is that the Bereans go to the Scriptures:
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
In the next passage we’ll see Paul talking to a group that is predominantly non-Jewish, and he will take a very different approach with them, but when he’s speaking with Jews, his message is one of Christianity coming from the Jewish religion, not being a completely different thing. All of Paul’s letters view Christianity this way.