We know that in the Acts period, once a God-given message was given from a God-given herald to an individual with miraculous signs present the individual had only one opportunity to hear the message or else that was it for them (mainly Jews). There is the instance of the Apostle Paul staying on and teaching and instructing believers (like in Corinth). However, when we come to Acts 17 there seems to be a snag when the Bereans search out what he said from the Scriptures and the Athens wanted to hear him again on this issue (verse 32). I’m not sure how this fits into the truth of this period. Any thoughts?
I notice that these men are said to have “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11b) If we ask ourselves, “What things?” we find that the answer is not given in this passage. If we refer to earlier in the chapter, however, we will see what Paul had preached to the Thessalonians, that “Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.’” (Acts 17:2-3) If we assume that the message to the Bereans was the same, then it may be that the fact that they “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” was part of that understanding and convicting of the Holy Spirit that convinced them of the truth of what Paul was saying and led them to the important point of acceptance or rejection. I think we have to understand the concept of “one opportunity” to accept or reject the gospel does not communicate in and of itself how long it takes to bring a person to that “one opportunity.” In some cases, it might be a one-time message of several minutes. In other cases, it might be an ongoing process of several weeks. The Holy Spirit did not have to work in the same way, or at the same speed, with people in that day any more than He does in this. However, the important point is that they were brought to that place, and did receive the opportunity to accept or reject. They may not have gotten there as fast as some did, but they got there. They did not, however, reject Paul the first day he spoke, and decided to accept him the next time. There was a period where they were undecided. Today, however, a person could at one time reject, and then years later in a different situation decide to accept. That could not happen then. But they were just as capable of a period of indecision before making up their minds as we are. Until the Spirit chose to force the issue, that is.
As for the Athenians, Acts 17:21 tells us, “For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.” Paul’s message was a “new thing” to them. Yet it is clear they did not believe it. Their statement that, “We will hear you again on this matter,” (17:32) shows this as clearly as anything could. They would have been happy to have Paul come and speak to them again. They would have listened, and nodded their heads, and acted thoughtful and knowledgeable, and then sent Paul on his way and gone on to something else, just as they did on this day. For these people were not really after truth, but rather sought to appear intellectual to their peers, and to imagine themselves to be so. To them, Paul’s message was just another interesting bit of knowledge that they had collected. They would gladly hear him again to increase their knowledge of it, but that was all they really wanted. No faith entered into the equation at all. The Holy Spirit, and Paul through Him, would have known this, and that is why Paul left them at this time. The Spirit did not give out His truth for the amusement of intellectuals. And notice that though they asked Paul to come back, there is no indication that he ever did. I do not believe that the Spirit had anything more to say to these men. He had already said all He needed to say, and they had rejected it. Their hearts were not open to the truth. Yet there were those there who were open to the truth, and that was why the Spirit had moved Paul to speak there.