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 (Acts 17:11)What marked the Berean Jews? We read that they were εὐγενέστεροι (eugenesteroi) — literally "better born," but "nobler" is probably is the best translation. Like that English word, the Greek term may have a history referring to lineage, but it has come to denote a high character instead.
"Nobler" than whom? Than "those [Jews] in Thessalonica." What was wrong with them? They were dead-wed to their tradition. Their minds were so fixed on the system they'd been taught, that not even the Word of God could penetrate.
Not their minds, anyway. But it did penetrate some others' minds, and that filled them with seething jealousy. It must have burned their consciences. At some level, they knew they were rejecting the very Word of God so that they could cling to their tradition (cf. Romans 1:18). But here were some rebels, breaking rank! Turncoats! Think how that made the Tradition Rangers look. So these champions of tradition so angrily pursued Paul that he left their town. Were they done with him then? No way! They tracked him down to the next town as well.
But the Berean Jews were of a different sort. They had been brought up in the same tradition, too. But they evidently had clung to the idea that Scripture is and must remain above tradition. However, they were not going to accept just anything. They had to see it for themselves. They had to see it for themselves in Scripture.
This is why Luke commends them as "nobler," because they "they received [welcomed, ἐδέξαντο, edexanto] the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so."
That last phrase intrigues me. It is εἰ ἔχοι ταῦτα οὕτως (ei echoi tauta houtos]. All the English translations basically agree in rendering "to see if these things were so," or something to that effect. But is that a good rendering? Literally it is "if it should have these things thus," or "if these things had it thus." The verb "welcomed," and this description, suggests to me a more positive orientation, as opposed to that of the Jewish rulers.
You see, these Thessalonian religious rulers just knew their tradition could not be wrong — it has such a noble heritage! it had been championed so sacrificially! its list of names was so impressive! — so there was no need to re-examine it. Not seriously, anyway, except to find ways to pick holes in the new upstart challenger. Better to believe tradition, than their lying eyes.
These were the same sorts of leaders as those who watched Jesus closely for the purpose of finding fault, of finding grounds for accusation (cf. Luke 6:7; 14:1ff.; 16:31).
And so this attitude of positive orientation toward the Word is what Luke found praiseworthy in the Bereans. If the Scriptures had it differently than their tradition, these people wanted to know. If the Scriptures had it, they wanted it. But Scripture, and not tradition, was the deciding factor.
For one more-modern application, the Roman Catholic Church's position were true, wouldn't these Bereans in fact be less noble? They are searching, assessing the Scriptures for themselves. If they saw it in Scripture, they'd accept it. But if not — forget it. But, according to the RC position, isn't Luke mistaken in saying they were "nobler" than the champions of tradition? Shouldn't the Bereans simply have submitted their consciences without question to the magisterium, as present in Paul? Besides, how could they search the Scriptures for themselves, using their own private judgment?
Yet Luke praises them for testing even Paul himself by their own search of Scripture. Luke is convinced that this will invariably lead to the Lord. The next verse says that οὖν, oun, therefore — because of this search of Scripture — many came to saving faith. They searched the Scriptures to test Paul's message, therefore they came to saving faith. It is as Luke would have expected, convinced as he was that Scripture did "have these things thus."
Many of us have experienced some of the same challenging, and freeing, power of Scripture. We were Arminian when saved. We heard about the sovereignty of God. Maybe the news repelled us, repulsed us, at first. (It certainly was repellent to me, first time I heard it unvarnished.) And yet, we searched the Scriptures, to see if it had things thus. And we're Calvinists now. Scripture overruled our tradition.
That was the end of the process, right? Our reformation ended with that change, right?
Oh, my brothers, oh, my sisters, these are terrible soul-twisters. Let us beware of merely trading one tradition for another, even if a worse for a better.
This is what I love about being Reformed. If it means anything, sola Scriptura means that Scripture alone is the arbiter of faith and practice. I am free to adopt a creed or a confession, if I am convinced that it expresses what Scripture says. But I do not thereby trade God's voice in Scripture as my master for that creed.
And so, if the confession (or whatever) doesn't line up with Scripture? If 98% of it does, but there's that niggling 2%? What then? Have I traded the primacy of Scripture for my confession, or my new "club rules" and decoder-ring? Am I "dead-wed" to a tradition?
Beware. This is one real danger to which we expose ourselves, if we are more concerned as to whether or not this or that person (or doctrine) gets to wear the "Reformed" or "Calvinist" badge, as if we owned the Reformation.
We ought to care most about the "Biblical" badge.
Or Luke would never say we were "nobler" than Thessalonian Jews, or the Roman Catholics, or any other champions of tradition, whom we criticize.