In the 17th chapter of Acts, were those Paul preached to in the synagogues in Thessalonica and Berea already believers or became believers after hearing Paul?
This is a good and interesting question because it takes us back to the context in which a very familiar scripture is often used. Acts 17:11 says, “These 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.” A majority of the time, we use this scripture to encourage Christians to search the word of God to make sure that what is being taught is true. And there is nothing wrong with making that application of this particular scripture. The original context in which it was written, however, was in regard to non-Christians. Let’s look at Acts 17 and see what the context of this verse is.
In Acts 17:1 Paul and his companions arrived at Thessalonica where a Jewish synagogue was found. Upon finding this place, as was Paul’s custom, he began to preach the gospel to the Jewish people there. Verse 4 says that “some” of the Jews believed; it also says that many of the gentiles believed as well. However, the passage says that of the Jews that did not believe, they stirred up trouble in the city for Paul. Verse 10 finds Paul and Silas being sent away from Thessalonica to the small town of Berea. Here again, as was Paul’s custom, he entered into the synagogue of the Jews and preached the gospel to them. These, however, were more noble than those in Thessalonica. As a result of their nobility, verse 12 says that “many” of them believed. However, the Jews in Thessalonica came to Berea and continued to cause trouble for Paul and Silas.
The question as stated above really answers itself. One cannot become a believer until one has heard the word of God and accepted it, for faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). So whether a person was living in Thessalonica or Berea, he had to hear someone preach the gospel before he became a Christian/a believer. So those in the synagogues were not believers until after they heard Paul preach the gospel.
The questioner, however, already knows this so I am not sure that this is what is being asked. If I remember correctly, the question was originally raised in the context of Acts 17:11. In that verse, a comparison is made between those in Thessalonica and those in Berea. Those in Berea were “more noble” than those in Thessalonica. Perhaps the questioner is asking whether this particular verse is in reference to Christians being nobler than other Christians or unbelievers being nobler than other unbelievers. If this is not true, then the questioner may correct me on this, but I believe that this was the context out of which this question was asked and I would like to address this more specific question.
The comparison between those in Thessalonica and those in Berea more likely refers to unbelievers. The unbelievers in Thessalonica were belligerent with Paul and Silas. The text says, “But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.” This was not the attitude of the Jews at Berea. In contrast, their attitude is recorded in verse 11, “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” So it was not a case of the Bereans studying the scriptures MORE than those in Thessalonica as much as it was the case of their having a completely different attitude toward the word of God. The one not only rejected it, but stirred up trouble; the other received the word and then followed up to make sure the things that were taught were true. Consequently we see a different result in Berea than in Thessalonica. We see in verse 4 that “some” of the Jews believed in Thessalonica. However in verse 12 we read that “many” of the Jews believed in Berea.
So does this passage apply to us today as Christians? Absolutely. The principle is one of a noble attitude toward the preaching of the word of God verses an ignoble or base attitude toward the preaching of the word of God. Christians ought always to have a noble attitude toward the preaching of the word of God. They should receive the word and search the scriptures to see if the things taught are so. Christians should not behave in such a way as the unbelieving Jews in Thessalonica and try to stir up trouble regarding those who are preaching the gospel of Christ. The attitude of the Bereans is going to produce good fruit; the attitude of the Thessalonians is going to produce division. So in that regard, we should be noble like the Bereans and not ignoble like the Thessalonians.