In my morning Bible reading I just came to Acts 17. Some of the Thessalonican Jews refused to believe Paul, gathered together, and complained to the authorities that Paul and his converts had “turned the world upside down.” A few verses later, Luke states that the Jews in Berea “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” C.H. Reiu’s translation says, “…to verify this new interpretation.”
What is this “nobility” of the Berean Jews?
In a word, humility.
They realized they could be wrong. They recognized the possibility they could have been taught error, knew that their perception of Scripture might be only partly correct. They knew human perceptions and traditions sometimes get in the way of rightly perceiving the heart, the ways, and the words of God. And they bowed to the God of the Word rather than worshiping their perception of the Word.
For many, especially those like me who grew up going to church and reading Bibles, we build a theological superstructure inside our brains that interprets Scripture automatically for us. This means this and that means that – and we read the Bible through in 2002, ripping through it without stopping to ask ourselves the relevant questions: “Am I wrong? Could I have been taught wrongly? What does this passage actually say in a literal sense? And if I take it literally, does that shake up my current paradigm?” Instead, we often go with what seems safe – the interpretations of others.
Don’t take me the wrong way. Part of humility is in listening to the interpretations of others. Luther. Calvin. C.S. Lewis. Our pastors. These are people who have studied diligently and should be heard, and they help balance us out. But we need our theological frameworks broken apart once in awhile, and we need to be humble enough to take it. God will shake what can be shaken, so that which cannot be shaken will remain.
The Bible is a many-layered document; as we age and read it continually with humility it gets deeper and deeper. We need to be Bereans, hearing a new interpretation and then checking it out ourselves with the Word on a daily basis. And that also means being Bereans with the old interpretations as well, even if Luther or Calvin or ______ (insert favorite author) said it.
Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he’s not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin’ on audiences around the world, he’s taking care of his donkey named “Trash” and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.