The strong and courageous folks at the Protestant Church of Christ website Fellowshiprooom.org (this time, Eugene Adkins) try really hard to ignore the blatant Catholic-ness of Acts 17. The mishandling of the passage is one of the most common examples of how the CofC avoids biblical contexts. This essay will show you the full passage — show you what the CofC avoids.
As a proof for “Bible-only” Christianity, the Protestant Church of Christ presents the Bereans from Acts 17 as proper Christians who ranked Sacred Scripture over the Church’s oral teachings. The passage is presented as a proof-text, which reads:
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 (Acts 17:11 NIV).
The Protestant Church of Christ refers to its own commentary about Acts 17, not the actual text, to argue for “Bible-only” Christianity. The commentary is that the Bereans were noble because they examined the Scriptures, and therefore, somehow, presumably, they must be “Bible-only” Christians. Your group understands this verse as a lesson that teaches how Christians should always weigh teachings against Scripture, and if any teaching is not found within the Bible then that teaching is false, thereby establishing a higher rank of authority for Scripture than the Apostles’ teachings (and, evidently, places one’s private interpretation of the Scriptures over the Scriptures). But that is not what the passage reveals, and it becomes clear when we back up and examine its context.
Notice that the verse compares the Bereans to those in Thessalonica. It makes sense, then, to examine what the Jews in Thessalonica were like. If the Thessalonians were of less noble character than the Bereans, in the manner that you infer, then what we should find are Thessalonians who would either accept or deny St. Paul’s teachings without examining the Scriptures. But that is not what we find. Please consider the full context of your proof-text:
When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go. As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 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 (Acts 17:1-11).
When one reads the full passage, it becomes clear that St. Luke was not communicating that the Bereans were of more noble character than those in Thessalonicabecause they examined the Scriptures while the Thessalonians did not examine the Scriptures. Nor were the Bereans of more noble character because they were “Scripture-only” believers, because they accepted both the Old Testament (not the New Testament) Sacred Scriptures and the living Sacred Tradition (teachers and teachings). And St. Luke’s contrast was not with the Bereans who demanded scriptural proof for every teaching with the Thessalonians who did not expect scriptural proofs, but with the Bereans who welcomed the teaching authority of the hierarchy with the Thessalonians who started a riot. The passage ends with:
As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds, and stirring them up. The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea (vs. 12-14).
St. Paul proved to the Bereans that Jesus is the Messiah from the Scriptures, just as he had proved to the Thessalonians that Jesus is the Messiah from the Scriptures. The difference between the Bereans and the Thessalonians, at least within this passage and not your group’s commentary, is that one group was of more noble character and accepted both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and one group accepted only Sacred Scripture. In other words, the Thessalonians were of less noble character and believed in a form of sola Scriptura, and the Bereans were of more noble character because they received the message with great eagerness (v.11), and that message was not from “the Bible”; it was oral, and it was the word of God. Put differently, the Berean Jews were of more noble character becausethey received the message with great eagerness, not because they were “Bible-only” believers, but because they were Catholic. That is what the Bible communicates.
As shown, this passage presents the Berean/Catholic model as more praiseworthy than the Thessalonian/Protestant model, but there are other reasons why this passage is a poor proof for sola Scriptura or “Bible-only” Christianity. The Old Testament provides prophesies that can be examined, absolutely, and both the Thessalonians and the Bereans learned that Jesus is the Messiah because of those prophesies, but is Christianity a Faith that esteems only the Old Testament as Scripture? Is Christianity a “sola Old Testament” Faith? I am asking you, because if your assumption is that Acts 17 teaches sola Scriptura or “Bible-only” Christianity, then you must acknowledge that the “Scriptures” that were examined were those of the Old Testament; and therefore, this passage does not allow any “Bible-only” model to include the New Testament writings within any Sacred Library.
But your problem is worse than that because the Old Testament Scriptures that the Bereans examined every daywere most likely those of the Greek Septuagint (both Berea and Thessalonica were Greek-speaking cities). In other words, if your initial assumption were true, if Acts 17 is a proof for sola Scriptura or “Bible-only” Christianity, then you must accept only the Old Testament as Scripture, and you must come to accept the same Old Testament books that the Catholic Church recognizes.
The passage teaches that the apostolic conduit most accurately interprets Scripture. Noble Christians, of course, search the Scriptures, but we also recognize the fullness of the word of God by accepting Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, which is precisely what St. Paul exhorted those in Thessalonica who became Christians to do: Stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word or mouth or by letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
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