Athenians or Bereans

A. J. Pollock

Sitting on the deck of a steamer I turned to an old lady in response to something she had said, and replied, “Oh, Mrs. P—, you are something like the Athenians; you are wanting something new.”

“No,” she quickly answered, “I want to be like the Bereans; I want what is true.

The world is divided pretty much into these two classes—Athenians and Bereans, seekers of what is new or true.

Let us put side by side the description of the two classes as we find it in Holy Writ:

“For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). 


“These [Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).


The Athenians were wasting their precious time over novelties, unsatisfying vagaries of the human mind. How many today are like them! Irreligious novelty-mongers are the infidels; religious novelty-mongers are the higher critics, and both are present-day Athenians. They have nothing substantial. Gathering husks instead of corn and novelties in place of truth. Chasing after shadows, wind, and smoke when substance is required for the stress and strain of living and dying. We need something solid for a death-bed or for high and holy living.

On the other hand the Bereans are held up to us as worthy of imitation. No less a servant of the Lord than the apostle Paul was their teacher. What attitude did they assume towards him? That of carping critics? Were they incredulous, receiving with caution? No; the truth came to them commended by its freshness and power, and “they received the Word with all readiness of mind.” They acknowledged God’s servant and gave him his place, as given to him of God.

But eminent as that servant was, they did not swallow wholesale, without exercise, all that he ministered. “They received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”

How beautifully balanced these noble hearers were! Their minds were open; without prejudice they listened to Paul, yet they would prove by the Scriptures the truth of what they heard, and would have faith resting on revelation.

How much more we should do so who have now in the New Testament the unfolding of Christianity in connection with the Son of God in glory. The Bereans had only the Old Testament Scriptures. What an interesting and instructive use the apostle must have made of them. From the beginning of his conversion he must have so used them, for we read, “But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.”

How skilfully he must have handled those Holy Writings, so that the Berean hearers were able to confirm the truth in their souls by them. Big as the channel of communication was, they had grace to treat him as a channel, and not as a source. He was but a channel, valued and received by the Bereans as such.

May we emulate the Bereans; may we be possessed by truth, not theories. Thank God, we have “the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture.”

One word more. We must remember that it is only by the Spirit’s power and operation that we can receive truth, and that it is assured to our hearts as such. It is only by Him that the page of Scripture is divinely illuminated and becomes operative in us. Without this practical answer in us it is evident we have not truly received the truth at all, for it has been well said, “We only know what we practise.” Judged by this inexorable standard, how little we know and how small we are!


Simple Testimony 1900