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The Bereans and Sola Scriptura (Acts 17)

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

By Luke Lancaster

Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters will make the claim that the Bereans followed the principle of Sola Scriptura in Acts 17:11. There are holes in this argument, though, for the Bereans simply analyzed whether Paul was quoting Scripture correctly, and privately analyzing Scripture does not automatically lead to the correct interpretation.


Paul had preached to the Jews who lived in the city of Thessalonica (Ac. 17:2), but instead of peacefully accepting the Messiah, they rebelled. So, Paul went on to the city of Berea and preached to them. The people of Berea accepted Paul's preaching, and made sure that what he was saying was in Scripture.

It says, "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so" (Acts. 17:11). Protestants see themselves in the shoes of the Bereans, taking every doctrine and holding it up to the light of Scripture. If the doctrine is taught explicitly according to their interpretation, then it is accepted. But if it does not agree with Scripture, they reject it. There's a problem with this interpretation, however.

The Bereans were told by Paul the passages from Scriptures concerning the coming Messiah, and how it was fulfilled in Jesus's death which had just recently occurred. Paul probably quoted passages such as 2 Samuel 7:12-16, which states that the Messiah would be of Davidic ancestry, or Micah 5:2, which states that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Jesus fulfilled these prophecies. The Bereans did not listen lukewarmly, but went to their scrolls of Scripture and looked up the passages Paul was quoting them (remember that the Jews did not have convenient chapter and verse markings, but rather whole scrolls!).

Argument #1

Looking up whether somebody is quoting Scripture correctly is not Sola Scriptura. If a Protestant says that John 3:16 says, "For Paul so hated the world that he condemned sin" and I go and look up John 3:16 and it says something different, I did not practice Sola Scriptura! The Bereans were praised as being "more noble" than the Jews in Thessalonica because many of the Thessalonians reacted poorly. They rioted and tried to attack him (Ac. 17:5). The Thessalonians and their bad conduct towards Paul is contrasted with the Bereans and their good conduct towards Paul.

Argument #2

Finally, we should realize that simply searching the Scriptures does not help us, for we very easily could dismiss the truth based on a faulty reading from Scripture. Many of the Thessalonian Jews rejected Paul's preaching about the Messiah based on their private interpretation of Scripture (Sola Scriptura!). We need to read Scripture through the lens of Tradition, which is the proper interpretation of it.


As we have seen, searching up what somebody claims does not indicate Sola Scriptura. Plus, even if Scripture were sufficient for finding all doctrines, we would need Tradition to guide us to the proper interpretation. The Bereans did not practice Sola Scriptura.

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