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Off the Beaten Track to Beroea

08 Feb

Although Beroea was the capital of one of the districts of Macedonia, it was on a lesser road off the Via Egnatia and about 50 miles southwest of Thessalonica. Did Paul intend to continue to evangelize the Grecian peninsula, or did he intend to travel further westward on the Via Egnatia and eventually to the Adriatic port of Dyrracium and sail to Brindisi, Italy, and from there to Rome? Of course, we don’t know and Luke doesn’t give us any clear indication of the plans of the missionary team at this point, but later Paul would say in his letter to the Romans that he did intend to visit them on previous occasions but was hindered (Romans 1:13; 15:20-23).[1]

We aren’t certain just how dangerous the circumstances were in Thessalonica. Did the Jewish leaders really intend to take Paul and Silas to the civil authorities or did they rather intend to have the reprobates they employed from the marketplace kill them, just as the Jews tried to do to Paul at Lystra (Acts 14:19). Josephus tells us of similar individuals under the employ of the high priest at Jerusalem who took the tithes by force from the priests, some of whom died, because they were dependent upon those tithes for their daily need (Antiquities 20.8.8 & 9.2). Paul and Silas, we are told, left that very night that Jason posted bond (Acts 17:10), and their choice to go to Beroea instead of continuing westward on the Via Egnatia, may indicate their enemies waited for them there, expecting that to be their intended direction.

In any event, the missionary team did find a synagogue at Beroea (Acts 17:10), and found the Jews there more receptive. Luke does not mean to say the Jews there were ready to believe, but they did look into the Scriptures to verify Paul’s claims about Jesus rather than merely cling to the prevailing doctrine about the expected Messiah. It seems that those who rejected the Gospel did so, at least, out of a misunderstanding of the Scriptures rather than rejecting the Gospel on the basis of favoring what they already believed, as was done in Thessalonica. This more honorable course did result in more Jews believing the Gospel at Beroea (cp. Acts 17:11).

When the Jews in Thessalonica heard what was done by Paul in Beroea, they went there and stirred up trouble for the missionary team, and this may indicate that they were surprised that the team went south, off the beaten track, rather than west on the Via Egnatia. Presumably, had they understood the direction Paul and Silas had taken, they would have at least sent men along to stir up trouble before Paul and Silas had a chance to preach the Gospel there. Luke seems to indicate the troublemakers used the same strategy at Beroea that they found successful in their own city (Acts 17:13), and Paul did leave immediately before the agitators were able to engage help from the civil authorities. Nevertheless, it seems the threat was directed at Paul alone on this occasion, because both Silas and Timothy were permitted to remain at Beroea to encourage and build up the new believers there (Acts 17:14).

Some of the ancient manuscripts at this point suggest the possibility that Paul may have gone to Athens by land, but diverted attention away from the intended route by indicating they seemed to intend to go by sea (Acts 17:14; note the KJV “as it were”). If this is so, it may imply that Paul’s life was again in danger, and the brethren had to put the agitators off track by concealing his real plans. Of course, this is all supposition, but the idea does fit the occasion, because it does seem the Thessalonians were caught off-guard by Paul’s journey to Beroea, and Paul’s notation in Romans that he had intended to visit Rome on previous occasions but was prevented in doing so, could allude to the need for a surreptitious escape from the city.

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[1] This hindrance that Paul speaks of may also have something to do with Claudius’ edict (Acts 18:2), expelling the Jews from Rome. He couldn’t very well evangelize there, if the Emperor forbade him to come into the city, and there is no reason why Paul wouldn’t have known about the edict, especially if it and certain seditious events in Judea are behind the Jews accusation against Paul and Silas in Acts 17:6.

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Posted by on February 8, 2013 in Gospel, Paul's 2nd Missionary Journey

 

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