1 Corinthians 1:17 – 2:5

Click here to read the passage.

This is an incredibly powerful passage that we probably all know quite well. Paul is writing to a community that was divided by boasting about who was the wisest: specifically they argued about which teacher was the best with words, and therefore that those who followed him were the best educated and the wisest. Paul wants to smash that kind of thinking by turning the whole idea of wisdom upside down.

First of all, he says that his communication of the gospel in Corinth was not about wise words. In contrast, he says he was not eloquent or persuasive, but weak and afraid. Getting better at preaching, or learning some formula for communicating the message, will not necessarily mean more people coming to the Lord. It is the cross of Jesus which saves, not smart thinking or clever preaching. Faith thus rests on the power of God, not the wisdom of men.

This appears ridiculously foolish to the wise and intelligent of this world. Some days when I post from this blog onto facebook I cringe with anxiety about what my non-believing friends might think of me. I want to show them that following Jesus, believing in God, reading the Bible is all rational and helps us lead a better life. I want them to see signs, and discover wisdom; they are just like the Jews and the Greeks of Paul’s age. But there are days when I know that my facebook friends will think that I am foolish and crazy. Those are the days when I need to trust that Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

And that God’s wisdom has trumped humanity’s wisdom. As Isaiah prophesied, wisdom and intelligence are annulled in the context of God’s judgment (Is 29:14). It was God’s plan, Paul argues, that humans could not find him by their own wisdom. If they could, it would unfairly privilege the naturally intelligent, those who have access to education, those who are born in good families. It would also allow those people to boast about who they are and what they have, as if salvation was dependent on themselves. But in God’s wisdom, he chose that which is foolish, those who are weak, people who have no family. Then there can be no boasting, for those people know they are saved only because of God’s amazing grace and favor.

It is only because of God that we exist in this relationship with him. Nothing we have done, nothing we are doing, nothing we will do earns us the right to be in Christ. In our feelings of failure and weakness, in our fears of looking foolish and even being foolish, Jesus is wisdom for us, and righteousness, and powerful redemption. The power to save is his, not ours. We are holy in him, as despised and rejected as we might feel ourselves to be. All we need do, in God’s wisdom, is believe.

Prayer: God, your ways are inscrutable to me! Trusting you doesn’t always make sense. I hate looking foolish, Lord, but if that’s who I am, so be it. Your foolishness is wiser than the world’s wisdom. Thank you for choosing me, in my foolishness and weakness, and even my struggle to trust you.

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

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In this passage Paul gets to the issue at hand: bickering groups within the Christian community. It almost seems we can stop there, with verse 10 alone, and have plenty to apply to our own situations. But let us go on. We will find that the text here also runs into the next section (verses 17 and following), but we will leave that until tomorrow.

It has been made clear to Paul that there are quarrels among the brothers (and also the sisters, presumably). This was conveyed to him by people connected with Chloe; perhaps they were part of a house church that met in Chloe’s house, but we have no extra evidence about this in the Bible or in extra-biblical church history. The quarrels stemmed from each person associating him or herself with different church leaders: Paul, Peter (Cephas), Apollos (cf Acts 18:24 – 19:1), and even Christ Jesus himself. We have seen this kind of thing happen throughout church history (eg Pelagians vs Augustinians, or Calvinists vs Lutherans), and on into modern times too. How can this be? Paul asks, with a series of rhetorical questions. Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified, or were you baptized into the name of Paul? Of course not! Paul despises this idea as ridiculous.

Paul did do some baptizing: Crispus, Gaius, the household of Stephanas, perhaps a few other people whose names he can’t remember. But baptizing people was not the focus of his ministry. He wasn’t sent to baptize, but to evangelize – to announce the reign of Jesus, the lord of the earth, whose mission brings healing and restoration to all people who turn to him in faith. In the name of this Lord, Jesus Christ, Paul encourages the brothers and sisters in Corinth to all speak the same, to be restored or mended so that they have the same mind, and in the same opinion. Under the one Lord, there should be no dissenting divisions.

Am I a member of a clique which disagrees with a different clique? Do I follow after one particular leader or teacher? Do I create or foment division within the Christian communities of which I am part? In truth, it is impossible, in today’s reality, for all of us to think the same. Some of us will differ in how we understand some aspects of church order and practice, baptism, gender roles, divorce and remarriage, and many other issues. But we must agree on the essential truth that the Lord Jesus is our King and Savior, and we are all obedient to him. May that truth be at the centre of our relationships with Christian brothers and sisters.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me for the petty disagreements which divide me from brothers and sisters for whom you have died. Help us to be of one mind in those things which really matter.

1 Corinthians 1:4-9

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This short section is the traditional thanksgiving portion of the introduction to Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church. Almost all of Paul’s letters have a thanksgiving section like this (except Galatians, 1 Timothy, and Titus) and it was a cultural norm to begin in this way, after listing the writer and recipients of the letter.

Paul is thankful for the grace of God given to the Corinthians. It is helpful to understand the connections throughout this section (and indeed the whole letter) made through the use of the word root, charis, which we lose in the English translation. ‘Give thanks’ is eucharisto. ‘Grace’ is charis. ‘Gift’ (verse 7) is charisma. If we join these ideas together in one sentence, we read ‘Eucharisto because of God’s charis given to you … as a result of which you do not lack charisma‘. (I give thanks because of God’s grace … as a result of which you do not lack gifts.)

Another significant word in this passage which we lose in some of the English translations is bebaio, which is found in verses 6 (usually translated as ‘confirm’) and 8 (translated as ‘confirm’ by some, but in others as ‘sustain’, ‘strengthen’, ‘keep firm’, etc). In verse 6, the idea of ‘the testimony about Christ having been confirmed in you’ in this context is probably related to the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles, and the gifts God gives as a result. Just as we learned while studying Acts 15 that the baptism in the Spirit on the Gentiles confirms their inclusion in the covenant of God with his people, so here their spiritual gifts confirm the grace they have experienced through Christ. And thus in verse 8, it is that same grace which has confirmed their status as legally blameless, until the day when the Lord Jesus Christ is revealed at the end of time as we know it. Anengkletos is a judicial word which indicates that someone on trial cannot be convicted in court. The Lord Jesus, by his grace, will confirm that the believer is accounted blameless in the final day of judgement.

As if that is not enough already to be thankful for, while they wait for that day they have every spiritual gift available, having been made rich in all speech (logos) and in all knowledge. A case could be made for translating logos as ‘reason’, in parallel with knowledge. Given what we know of the problems in the church at Corinth, both are applicable. As we will discover, there were disputes in the church about who was [most] wise and who was [most] gifted. Here Paul is affirming, perhaps a touch ironically, that the church is rich in both wisdom and gifts, as a result of God’s grace.

His final word, before getting onto the matter at hand, is about God rather than the believers. Yes, they have been called into the fellowship (or the communion) of God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; this is significant especially in light of the divisions the church is experiencing. But what is more important here, foregrounded by the order of the words, is that God is faithful. God will not let them go, despite their sinfulness and bickering while they wait for that great day, that is, despite their own unfaithfulness to the covenant. God is faithful.

This is a word we need to hear. Human nature has not changed. We still see divisions in our churches, and between our churches. We still see ‘haves’ lording it inappropriately over ‘have-nots’, and ‘have-nots’ grumbling and feeling jealous because they are missing out. But we must be reminded about God’s grace, that in him we have been made rich and that we do not lack gifts. More importantly – because surely it is clear that some people have more than others – God in his grace has given us the great gift of blamelessness and he is faithful to the end.

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes it feels my ground is shaking, and if I look at others I feel my own lack. Help me to believe and take hold of your great grace, to trust you in your faithfulness to present me as blameless on that last day. Thank you for the gifts you have given me, and help me to use them for your glory.

1 Corinthians 1:1-3

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The section of Acts we have read over the last week (Chapter 18) is a great introduction to studies in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. There we learned about Paul’s ministry in the synagogue and the house next door, with Priscilla and Aquila, plus Silas and Timothy, by his side. Many people, both Jews and Gentiles, believed in the Lord Jesus and were baptised because of Paul’s teaching and preaching over eighteen months. There was opposition to Paul, but he was kept physically safe. The synagogue leader Sosthenes, however, was beaten up, though it is not clear whether this was by the Jews (because he had become a Christian) or by the Greeks (because he was wasting the proconsul’s time by prosecuting Paul). Later, the Alexandrian Apollos, after being instructed by Aquila and Priscilla, arrived in the church at Corinth for a powerful ministry of the word.

It was probably in about 51 AD that Paul was in Corinth, and scholars guess that this letter was written two or three years later, while he was stationed at Ephesus. It seems that Paul has heard that the church needs correction (1 Co 1:11), and also that he has received a letter containing questions from them (1 Co 7:1). Perhaps the same synagogue leader, Sosthenes, having become a Christian, brought the letter to Paul and is staying with him for some time.

Now Paul is writing in response, and he identifies himself as called by the will of God [to be] an apostle of Christ Jesus. The recipients of the letter he identifies as:

  • the church of God in Corinth
  • made holy in Christ Jesus
  • called to be holy
  • (along with everyone in every place who calls on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ)

The most interesting part of this is that they are both already made holy and also called to be holy. Being holy means being set apart, or consecrated, for a special task or relationship. The word also implies difference or ‘otherness’. By virtue of following Jesus, believers are already holy, different, set apart, from the rest of the world. We are also called to continue in that holiness. In a few other Pauline passages we learn that Paul associates holiness with purity, blamelessness (e.g. Eph 1:4; 5:27; Col 1:22) and righteousness (1 Thess 2:10; Tit 1:8), but mostly he uses the word to talk about set-apartness. We are called for a special purpose.

Finally in the greeting, Paul uses a typical formula of blessing: grace and peace. How I need those things in my life! It is very easy to ignore those words, over-used as they can be. But take a moment to receive right now peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus. You are set apart for him. Whatever your circumstance, breathe in that peace which is not as the world gives.

Prayer: God of all grace, thank you that you grant us your peace. I praise you for setting me apart to be yours, and ask your Holy Spirit to fill me and enable me to continue to be holy as you have called me to be.

Acts 18:24-28

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Luke shifts his focus from Paul in Galatia and Phrygia back to Ephesus, where he had left Aquila and Priscilla. The effect on us as readers is both extending the time frame, and also demonstrating how the church continues to grow and develop regardless of the presence of Paul. Although this was not Luke’s intention, it also serves to set the stage for Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (which we will study from tomorrow).

The main character in this story is Apollos, who is more roundly described than most New Testament minor characters: a Jew, a native of Alexandria, eloquent, and able in the Scriptures. Alexandria was well-known as a centre of learning, with the best library in the known world, and was most likely the location where the Jewish scriptures were translated into Greek (the Septuagint). Luke notes that Apollos was taught the way of the Lord and was zealous in the Spirit, speaking and teaching carefully about Jesus. But there was a problem: he understood only John’s baptism. The implication is that he had not been baptised in the Holy Spirit and fire like the other disciples of Jesus (cf Acts 2:4; 10:44-48).

When he came to Ephesus and began to preach boldly in the synagogue, Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and laid out the way of God accurately. Again we can infer, although it is not explicit, that they explained about being baptised into Jesus. (We will learn further about this in 19:1-7, when Paul discovers a similar problem among a group of Ephesians.) I wish I could have been in that little Bible study group. How amazing it might have been to be in the presence of such wise and learned Bible teachers. I would like to know how Apollos reacted to being instructed by Priscilla and Aquila. Luke leaves it to our imagination.

After some time, Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the region of which Corinth was the capital. He was urged on by the believers in Ephesus and they wrote a letter to the church in Corinth (presumably, based on reason and Acts 19:1) to receive him. When he arrived there he helped the believers, especially by vigorously refuting the Jews publicly, proving through the scriptures that the Christ is Jesus.

I am encouraged by this passage that being an effective minister of the word doesn’t mean always being perfect. Apollos wasn’t perfect and needed to be corrected. On the other hand, God used him in teaching and speaking accurately and fervently. On the other hand, Priscilla (a woman and wife, no less!) and Aquila are not described in such glowing terms, but rather they are noted simply as tent-makers, and yet they are able to provide careful explanation to a great Bible scholar like Apollos. Whether you are feeling like you have made mistakes and don’t know enough, or like you are not qualified, God can still use you in powerful ways.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for your grace. You can use me, even me, to communicated your power and love to people. Help me to be open to correction like Apollos, and fervent in spirit.

Acts 18:18-23

Click here to read the passage, and there is another map below to see the journey.

This passage is the last section of Paul’s second missionary journey, and also begins the third missionary journey. Before starting this blog, I had read and heard all about Paul’s journeys, the places he went to, and the experiences he had, but personally I feel like I have come to grasp it all much more fully. Before I couldn’t have told you which city was in which region, but now I can visualize the map as a result of having studied in so much depth. I hope it has helped you too! Thank you for reading with me.

As Luke already told us in verse 11, Paul spent a long time in Corinth. But now it is time to say goodbye, probably about 52 AD. He is on his long way home after a few years, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. There is no mention of Silas or Timothy going too, but they may have been members of the traveling party. Before sailing out of the province of Achaia, Paul has his head shaved to fulfil a vow. This may have been some kind of version of a Nazirite vow (cf Num 6:1-5); it is likely he made a promise that as long as God kept him safe in Corinth, he wouldn’t cut his hair and this marks the end of the vow period.

The first port in the sea-journey was Ephesus, in the province of Asia, where Paul left his companions, but not before going into the synagogue to dialogue with the Jews. Though asked to stay longer in Ephesus, presumably by the Jews with whom he was talking, Paul declined, but he did say he would come back if it was God’s will (which clearly it was in just the next chapter). Paul sails on, a very long journey to Caesarea, in the province of Judea. He went up and greeted the church, probably indicating the church in Jerusalem, although this is not explicit in the text. Then he went ‘home’ to Antioch, 500km north by land.

Luke does not tell us anything about Paul’s time in Antioch, but we can guess that he preached in the church, visited supporters, and had a rest. The focus of the narrative is Paul’s movements, and the third journey starts here already, in verse 23. We do not hear about any new destinations yet, just a return to the churches Paul had already planted in Galatia and Phrygia (that is, in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch) to strengthen the disciples there. We meet Paul again in Ephesus on his third journey in Acts 19:1, but next there is a side-story about Apollos which we will look at in our next reading.

For me the most interesting point in this passage is that Paul declines staying longer in Ephesus at this stage of the journey. I think if I was there, I would dance to the tune of my audience. But Paul is committed to his plan to return to Syria at this time. He is not afraid of missing the opportunity but is confident that if God wants him to come back, he will. I also note that he is as committed to strengthening the disciples in the church, if not more so, than evangelizing those who have not yet heard.

Prayer: God of power and might, heal me of my Fear-Of-Missing-Out. Help me to trust you always, and to be committed to doing your will and seeing your people grow in faith. Give me strength to battle through each leg of my journey, though it may be long and arduous.

What happened on Paul's second missionary journey?

Acts 18:12-17

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This is the last story about Paul in Corinth before he begins his return journey back to Antioch, but it is not really about Paul, who doesn’t even have the opportunity to speak. Luke gives us a time indication by mentioning Gallio as proconsul of Achaia, the province of which Corinth was the capital. Gallio had this position in 51 AD according to extra-biblical records. Being proconsul means that Gallio was the Roman administrator, much as we understand a consul in modern times, except it is a more important position because of the status within the empire.

At some stage during Paul’s time in Corinth, the Jews, united in passion, attacked Paul and led him to the judgment seat. Unpacking these words of Luke, we understand that this was not a physical attack, but that the Jews brought Paul to Gallio’s court. Their accusation is fascinating: “This man is persuading people to worship God!” but it is prefaced by the phrase, “para the law”. Para doesn’t usually mean ‘against’, but is rather ‘beyond’ or ‘beside’ (cf parachurch), and by extension ‘differently’. I find it quite mind-blowing that the Jews were so angry about Paul ‘persuading people to worship God’, in any way, that they brought him to court.

Gallio clearly also thought it was a foolish suit that he wasn’t willing to listen to. If Paul was involved in some unrighteousness or evil he would admit a charge, but to him, this was some inquiry about words, names, and the Jews’ own law. Paul was a Jew, and they were Jews; couldn’t they sort this matter out themselves? Gallio was not willing to be a judge in this context and drove them away.

Sadly, the synagogue leader Sosthenes was beaten up as a result. Why? Early scribes were also confused about this point, and later editions of the text introduce a subject so that the sentence reads “The Greeks seized Sosthenes”. A few other manuscripts tried to correct this assumption and introduced a different subject so that it was “The Jews” who seize Sosthenes. Neither of these help to solve the question of why Sosthenes gets beaten up: why would the Greeks get involved in this? or why would the Jews beat up their own synagogue leader (unless maybe Sosthenes is another name for Crispus, or the next synagogue leader Sosthenes also became a Christian)? Clearly these scribes were trying to solve the mystery according to their own understanding of what may have happened. Commentators also differ strongly, with some asserting that the Jews beat up the converted Sosthenes (cf 1 Cor 1:1), and others that the Greeks beat him up as the leader of this Jewish rabble who would presume to trouble the consul. Nothing of this, writes Luke, concerned Gallio.

Luke’s point is probably simply to draw attention to the fact that it wasn’t Paul that was beaten up this time. This was in fulfillment of God’s promise in verse 10: “no one will lay a hand on you”. There is just a mild suggestion in this context that even Gallio is one of God’s people in this city, in the same way that Cyrus was God’s instrument five hundred years previously. The Jews were not able to convince a Roman official to pronounce the new Christian sect as illegal.

What of this for us? Firstly, we see another example of God fulfilling his promise. Secondly, God can use anyone, even government officials with no interest in our affairs, to promote or protect his will being done. Finally, God’s opponents can be completely blind to even the good that he is doing. Instead of rejoicing that the Gentiles were coming to worship and honor their God, the Jews could see only that they weren’t doing it in the right way (according to their understanding). We should be careful that we are not on the side of the opponents in this matter.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see the good that you are doing, and to be open to worship that may not look like how things have been done in the past. Thank you that you can use anyone to do your will, and please protect me from those who would seek to harm me.

Acts 18:1-11

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In today’s passage, Paul arrives in Corinth from Athens (a couple of days’ journey, about 90km), where he will stay for 18 months, probably the longest he stayed anywhere without being under arrest. (Next week we will start studies on Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.) For some reason he didn’t wait for Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens before moving on, but it seems they found him easily enough (v5).

Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla in this passage too. They were refugees from Italy after Emperor Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome. However, Luke notes that Aquila’s native place is actually Pontus, which is north-east of Galatia, quite far from western Italy, Greece or Macedonia. Perhaps Aquila was one of the Jews from Pontus that heard Peter on the Day of Pentecost (cf Acts 2:9), repented and was baptized. In fact, Luke does not actually mention that Aquila and Priscilla are followers of Jesus, but we can infer it from their close relationship with Paul (cf Acts 18:18), their later teaching (Acts 18:26), and Paul’s letters (Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19). In this passage, the thing that binds them together is not their faith (either as Jews or as Christians) but their work as tentmakers, literally. It seems that making tents is how Paul supported himself financially.

At the same time as working with his hands, Paul was also continuing to preach. Every Saturday he went to the synagogue to dialogue with both Jews and Gentiles, testifying that the Christ is Jesus. Luke describes him as ‘holding fast’ to the word (v5). Many believed and were baptized, including the leader of the synagogue, Crispus and his whole household. But some resisted and blasphemed (cf Acts 13:45), with the result that Paul shook the dust from his garments and went to the Gentiles, as he had done at Antioch in Pisidia (cf Acts 13:51). Paul acknowledges that he had done his part and the guilt rested on their own heads. Thus he continued his ministry at the house of Titius Justus, a God-fearing Gentile, ironically just next door to the synagogue.

Paul was able to stay teaching the word of God in the city of Corinth for a long time because he received a special vision from the Lord. He told Paul: “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you, for I have many people in this city”. What an incredible encouragement for Paul! This is only the second time it is recorded in scripture that God spoke directly to Paul, the first being at his conversion and not particularly pleasant (Acts 9:4,6). ‘Do not be afraid’ is one of the most common commands in the Bible, and the reason for it is frequently that ‘I am with you’ (eg Gen 26:24; Is 41:10; 43:5; Jer 1:8; 46:28). Joshua was also told to be courageous, for the Lord was with him (Josh 1:9). The other encouragement is that the Lord has many people in this city, implying that Paul is not alone, there are many people to support him, and also that the Lord envisages a great harvest in Corinth.

Often we need to be reminded of this great truth, that God is with us. In Matthew’s Gospel, “I am with you” is the very last thing that Jesus said to his disciples, right in the context of being sent out for a ministry of teaching and disciple-making. Especially in situations of fear or uncertainty, let us remember also that he is with us and that he has provided like-minded friends for us.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your promise to be with me. Help me not to be afraid, especially in times of fear and uncertainty. I am so thankful that I can trust you to be there with me, right in those moments, and also that you have provided others to be with me.

Acts 17:16-34

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This section is one of the most famous parts of Acts. While Paul is waiting for Silas and Timothy in Athens, his spirit is cut, seeing all the idols in the city. He calls them objects of worship, and the Athenians as fearful of demons (a literal translation of deisi-daimon-esterous). I can imagine Paul feeling similarly overwhelmed walking down the street in Thailand or in India. There are shrines everywhere, indicating how religious the people are. The altar Paul describes in 17:23 is inscribed ironically “agnosto theo“, for an unknown god. The Athenians were keen to make sure they had all the bases covered, that there was not a god that was not appeased. How very relatable for those of us who live in Asia.

Having been invited to share in the Areopagus (Ares Hill, an open space used as a court) after demonstrating his intellectual worth through dialogue in the synagogue, and in the marketplace, among Jews, Gentile God-fearers, and Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, Paul takes his opportunity once more to preach the gospel. Luke notes that those who lived in Athens, both locals and immigrants, spent their time speaking and listening to new ideas and they wanted to understand what Paul was teaching.

Paul does not chastise or criticize the Athenians for their forms of worship (even though that may be what he feels like doing). Rather, he fills in the blanks for them, even using their own poetry and beginning from their own starting point. What they are agnostic about, or what they do not know, he proclaims: God made everything and does not live in spirit houses made by hands. God made every race of humanity, their times and lands, so they would seek him and reach out and find him, but not in gold or silver or stone idols. He has overlooked their agnosticism, their ignorance, but now God commands repentance, a changing of minds and attitudes so that they are set towards him. The day of judgment is coming, and the judge has been appointed as faithful, raised from the dead.

It is at this point that Paul starts to lose some of his audience, when he refers to the resurrection. Again, how relatable today! Although some start to mock him, others want to hear more, including an member of the Areopagus and a woman named Damaris, among others, who join him and believe.

There is a huge treasure-house in this passage for how we should speak with unbelievers today. I feel I am unworthy to comment when so much has already been written on this passage, but for what it’s worth, here are some thoughts. First of all, respect people in the place that they are. Secondly, fill in their blanks, the things they don’t know and want to know more about. Thirdly, although in time this takes priority, wait to be asked so that people are listening. In order for this to happen, you may have to prove your credentials beforehand in a smaller audience. Finally, don’t neglect the truth of God’s word, but explain who he is: creator, judge, and giver of life. He deserves the worship of those he has created.

Prayer: Lord God, give me insight into who you are, and also into the thoughts of those who don’t know you. Help me, even though I may be overwhelmed by the differences between us, to see where we have common ground, and to stand there and proclaim your truth.

Acts 17:10-15

Click here to read the passage and see the map below to understand the journey.

In yesterday’s reading we learned that Paul and Silas were sent away from Thessalonica by the Christians there, to safety in Berea, about 70 km west and therefore probably two days’ journey if they were on foot – although given they started at night, they may have travelled it in one 24 hour period with only brief rests on the way. Is it any surprise they went into the synagogue when they arrived, having just escaped the rabble-rousing Jews in Thessalonica? Probably not, as that would be the community that Paul and Silas recognize as their own in the absence of any church yet established. Luke chooses an interesting verb here: rather than simply ‘they went’ into the synagogue, he writes that they ‘went out’ or ‘departed’ into the synagogue, thus suggesting an exit to a new place; out of persecution and into safety, perhaps?

Certainly, the Berean Jews are described as ‘well-born’, to translate directly. The English versions struggle to represent this word effectively: noble, noble-minded, open-minded, fair-minded, nicer, receptive … Luke compares them positively against the Thessalonian Jews who had rejected Paul (remember that some of them joined him); in contrast, they receive the word eagerly, daily investigating the scriptures regarding the things Paul was saying. As a result, many of the Berean Jews believed, along with influential Greek women and men. I find it fascinating that Luke keeps referring to these prominent and influential women who believe; he had also done the same in his Gospel (cf Lk 8:1-2; 23:49; 24:10; Acts 13:50; 16:13; 17:4). In Luke-Acts there are 22 references to women in general, compared with 11 in Matthew, Mark and John combined.

But the Thessalonian Jews came to know that Paul had gone to Berea proclaiming the word of God and they also went there, shaking up and disturbing the crowds as they had at home. Before anything worse could happen, the Christians immediately sent Paul out east towards the Aegean Sea. It is not clear how far he went initially, but he ends up in Athens, about 250km away, accompanied by Berean brothers. After bringing Paul to Athens, they return back home with instructions that Silas and Timothy, who had stayed in Berea, should come to him quickly. They had probably already spent about a week traveling, and now Paul needs to wait for two weeks before Silas and Timothy would join him (allowing a week’s journey each way). I guess Athens isn’t a bad place to have to spend two weeks waiting for one’s friends, but we will hear more about that tomorrow.

I like the Bereans. It’s a pity we don’t have more information about how their church developed. As an Australian, with our deep culture of flat equality, I’m not sure I believe in this ‘nobility’ stuff, that someone can be ‘born well’ and that makes them a better person and thus better positioned to receive God’s word. But I certainly appreciate their willingness to listen and to test what they were hearing against the Old Testament scriptures. Clearly perceptive and well-educated, they didn’t just believe without thinking, but subjected the message to thorough scrutiny. Then their church was built of both Jews and Gentiles, women and men. Their quick thinking might have saved Paul’s life for one more mission. Larkin (1995) comments: “To be a believer also means to engage our critical faculties in testing the gospel’s truth claims. For postmoderns who will bow to no authority but what they have tested and approved, this is an essential step if faith is to have integrity.”

Prayer: God, give me an open and receptive mind to receive your word, study it, and see how it fits together. Help me to be a good thinker so that I know and do your will. Enable me also to be patient when I need to wait.