Guided by Scripture Alone (Acts 17:10-12)
Topic: One Truth: Your Word is Truth Passage: Acts 17:10–17:12
Guided by Scripture Alone
(One Truth: Your Word is Truth)
September 17th, 2017
I. “Unless I am Convinced”
What is the Diet of Worms. Is it the latest fad in radically healthy eating plans? Is it an answer to the question, “What do toads eat?” Or maybe we're talking about what worms actually do to lose weight.
Well the Diet of Worms (or 'Vorms') that I'd like to talk about this morning has nothing to do with eating or dirt dwellers. Worms is a city in SW Germany, and this diet was an imperial assembly of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1521, this four-month long assembly was called in order to address the issue we talked about last time: the writings and growing influence of an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther.
You may recall that 500 years ago, in 1517, Luther publicly challenged the practices and theology of the Roman Catholic Church. By 1521, Luther was being called by Emperor Charles the Fifth to either renounce or reaffirm his views (interestingly, he had already been excommunicated in early January of that same year). When Luther's questioning at the diet finally came to a head, this is what he announced...
Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason (for I believe in neither the Pope nor councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures that I have adduced, and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God; and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience.
Some accounts have him adding this final phrase: “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.”
What ultimately drove Luther to take the stand he did, in spite of so much pressure to recant, in spite of jeopardizing his own life? The “Holy Scriptures”. Because he was “bound by the Sciptures”. Because his conscience had been “taken captive by the Word of God”.
Keep that idea in mind as we look together this morning at Acts 17:10-12.
II. The Passage: "Examining the Scriptures" (17:10-12)
In our last study, we talked about why the Protestant Reformation that began 500 years ago is so important for us today. Two major reasons: First, this reformation of the church was in fact a restoration of the Western church, bringing back the core gospel principles of the NT. As evangelicals today, we are the spiritual ancestors of these Reformers. Therefore we give thanks to God for their faithful work and celebrate what they recovered.
Second, the Reformation is an important reminder of a principle known as semper reformanda. That Latin phrase means, “always being reformed”. In light of God's word, we understand that each of us must personally guard against spiritual compromise, and by the grace of God, make the necessary reforms whenever convicted of compromise.
But did you hear the first phrase of my last sentence: “In light of God's word”. That points us to the first of five central themes of Reformation beliefs. These are the core gospel beliefs I just mentioned. And as we'll see this morning, they are just as important today as they were 500 years ago. Let's allow those themes drive us back to God's word.
That first principle is evident in a passage like Acts 17:10-12. We learn in this passage that...
The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.  Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.  Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.
Now notice, right off the bat, what verses 10 and 12 tell us about what happened in the city of Berea. This was a city of Macedonia in northern Greece. Verse 10 tells us that Paul and Silas, preachers of the Good News of Jesus came to Berea, and verse 12 tells us that Berea was different after their visit. Verse 12: “many of them therefore believed”, that is, many from (v. 10) “the Jewish synagogue”. And verse 12 adds, “with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.” Jews and Greeks believed the gospel message.
But in verse 11 we learn more about what happened in “the Jewish synagogue”. Let me point out three ideas we find in verse 11. All three of these ideas revolve around the Scriptures. Ready to dig in? So for example, in verse 11 the writer points us to the ideas of...
1. Scripture and Authority (v. 11)
We read in verse 11 that the Jews in Berea “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so”. Now, interestingly, when we pull this passage out of the larger context, it seems incomplete. What do I mean? Well, for example, did you read anything about Paul and Silas preaching? No, it's implied. And it's implied because of the broader context, specifically the opening passage of this chapter. Listen to what we read in 17: 1-3...
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”
So what is implied in verses 10-12 is that Paul did exactly the same thing in the synagogue of Berea. But as we see here, not only did Paul reason “from the Scriptures”; the Bereans also reasoned through the Scriptures in light of what Paul taught.
You see, the Bereans did not judge Paul's statements by checking their personal preferences or with some kind of cultural litmus test. They did not take a survey in the synagogue. They did not consult the Greek philosopher or city officials. They didn't even consult the common traditions or convene a counsel of rabbis.
No, their authoritative standard was God's word. As long as Paul spoke about God's word, the Bereans, on a daily basis, went back to God's word to check what Paul was saying.
Unfortunately in Luther's day, the Roman Catholic Church did not follow this practice. Sure, they agreed that Scripture was authoritative. But alongside Scripture, Rome taught that sacred tradition was equally authoritative. It was through that stream of tradition that things like indulgences, the veneration of Mary, the intercession of the saints, the ongoing sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist, and the whole sacramental system developed.
These practices did not arise from Scripture. And had Christians looked back to the Bible, as the Bereans did, they would have seen how such teachings contradicted the Bible. This is why Luther said, "a simple layman armed with Scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it". He would go on to write, "The true rule is this: God's Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so." But in v. 11 we also find the ideas of...
2. Scripture and Access (v. 11)
Did you notice how the Bereans were able to pick up the synagogue's OT scrolls and 'fact check' what Paul was teaching? They had access to God's word. Sadly, 500 years ago, this was not the case. First, 500 years ago, almost every Bible was in Latin. Second, a church council in 1229 decided the best way to deal with heretical teaching was to ban Scripture...
We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old and the New Testament; unless anyone from the motives of devotion should wish to have the Psalter or the Breviary (a book of Bible readings for the daily liturgy) for divine offices or the hours of the blessed Virgin; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books. (Council of Toulouse, 1229, Canon 14)
In fact, well over a hundred years before Luther, in 1382, the Englishmen John Wycliffe had translated the Bible into English. But the Roman Catholic Church bitterly opposed his work:
"By this translation, the Scriptures have become vulgar, and they are more available to lay, and even to women who can read, than they were to learned scholars, who have a high intelligence. So the pearl of the gospel is scattered and trodden underfoot by swine." (Nice!)
Wycliffe replied, "Englishmen learn Christ's law best in English. Moses heard God's law in his own tongue; so did Christ's apostles." Wycliffe wanted everyone to have access to God's word because he too, like the Bereans, believed in the singular authority of Scripture...
“Holy Scripture is the highest authority for every believer, the standard of faith and the foundation for reform in religious, political and social life … in itself it is perfectly sufficient for salvation, without the addition of customs or traditions.” (Wycliffe)(after hearing that, it makes sense that Wycliffe was called the “Morning Star of the Reformation”)
Of course, the account of the Bereans, along with the general testimony of the NT, also affirms that anyone can understand the Bible (not just religious elites or scholars). In fact, the Reformation led to countless translations of the Bible into the languages of the people. Of course, like so many subjects, that doesn't mean everything in the Bible is obvious to every person. The Bible still requires study. But it isn't written in a spiritual or academic code.
The practice of Bible reading that was restored in the Reformation, and the astounding effects of that practice, went on to prove these very points of access to the Bible and the accessibility of the biblical text. But if we look back at Acts 17:11, we find one more idea, namely that of...
3. Scripture and Antagonism (vs.11; 1-9)
Look again at the opening phrase of verse 11...Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica... What exactly is the writer saying? Why the contrast between the Berean Jews and the Thessalonian Jews. Well, listen to how the Jews in Thessalonica responded to Paul reasoning with them from the Scriptures. Verses 4 and 5...
And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.  But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar...
While there were converts in Thessalonica, the sense is that the majority were antagonistic to both the message and the messengers, even to the point of violence. The writer tells us that what motivated these Jews was jealousy. So instead of listening and debating Paul's use of Scripture, these Jews turned to mob rule. Instead of appealing to God's word, verses 6 and 7 tell us the Jews appealed to the civil authorities.
At different times and in different ways, this antagonism was also seen in the Reformation. During the Council or Trent in 1546, the Roman Catholic Church talked about penalties against those who tried to interpret the Scriptures without the church or arrive at a conclusion contrary to Rome. There were also ecclesiastical restrictions placed on the printing of Bibles.
In general this shouldn't be surprising. We know that in every century and in every culture, the word of God will always face opposition. Why? Because it speaks against me-centeredness and worldly pursuits. Because all of us stand condemned under God's just sentence. But as we know, the Bible says more than that. It doesn't speak of our sickness, without also revealing God's glorious cure.
III. Fueling the Fires of Your Reform
Now at this point it would be good to stop and be clear about a couple things: these ideas about the principle we call sola Scriptura, the principle that God's people are guided by “Scripture alone” as authoritative, this principle does not exclued other related resources.
For example, affirming sola Scriptura does not mean we don't need teachers in the church. God has blessed his people with teachers for a reason. But that reason drives us back to the authority of Scripture. Yes, teachers proclaim the word. But they also must submit to the word.
They should be tested by the word. Any good teacher of God's word will help you to see that what he or she says is based on what God has already said. They will help you “reason”. By extension, it was godly teachers who helped create the accepted creeds and confessions and catechisms of the church. These are tools that, again, point us back to God's word.
We also know that the Bible teaches us that God has a second book: the book of nature or creation. Creation proclaims truth about God. But it speaks in very generic terms and, again, drives us back to the special revelation of Scripture.
Even the concept of tradition is not something incompatible with sola Scriptura. There are profitable things that have been handed down to us, ways of doing things inspired by God's word. But again, these must always be anchored to Scripture, and should drive us to it.
Ultimately, brothers and sisters, this principle of sola Scriptura is meant to be something you cherish as a pillar of your everyday life. It is not just an academic issue. It challenges you and me about why we do what we do; about what influences us, about who I trust, about your North Star.
Are there realities raised up against this idea today? Of course. Remember what we said about the Bereans, that they “did not judge Paul's statements by checking their personal preferences or with some kind of cultural litmus test. They did not take a survey in the synagogue. They did not consult the Greek philosopher or city officials. They didn't even consult the common traditions or convene a counsel of rabbis.” All of those are still temptations today when it comes to right and wrong; about truth; about ultimate truth.
But all those simply drive us back to a deeper danger. Like Luther, we too must contend against the influence of deceptive traditions. Remember what traditions are. They are customs and beliefs handed down or passed on from one generation to the next. Each day, the influence of God's word in your life is challenged by the me-centered habits you and I have cultivated for so long.
You see, often times, we would rather be guided by our customs of comfort and control than be stretched by God's word. We often choose our parent's patterns of conflict management over God's call to humility and forgiveness. Like so many of the Jews in Thessalonica, we are so often driven by things like jealousy, rather than the guiding light of Scripture. And it is these misguided traditions of personal authority, of doing what is right in my own eyes, that eventually lead to the false religions and misgudied theologies and deceptive philosophies that have, and still do attack the sufficiency of Scripture alone. The antagonism against God's word is found in every human heart.
God's encouragement to you this morning is simple: receive [His] word with all eagerness, and as you get pulled by desires on the inside and offered solutions on the outisde examin[e] the Scriptures daily to see if these things [are] so. What would you do if, every morning when you woke up, God simply whispered to you “Sola Scriptura”. What would you do? How would you live from that point on? As we've learned, God's word fuels the fires of reform!
What Christ did for us on the cross allows us to hear that whisper, through the gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of a new heart. Are we listening. We have the privilege of access to His word. Will you enjoy that privilege this week, guided by His word alone?