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.” 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, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
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. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed. – Acts 17:1–15 (ESV)
Paul’s standard practice for evangelism was to start with the local Jewish synagogue. There he would find people who were familiar with the Old Testament scriptures whom he could carefully show from those Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. R.C. Sproul writes:
I once asked someone how many numbers one has to get right in the lottery to win the big prize. He told me that six numbers must be given correctly. How much money do you suppose someone would get if they won the big prize ten times – untold riches? No, the winner would likely get nothing but a long sentence in a penitentiary because the only way anybody could get six correct numbers ten different times is if he is crooked. The odds are just too astronomical. In the same way, no one [except God] can predict in advance with exact precision what will happen to our world in the future or in the life of a human being. Yet it is an indisputable fact that over a thousand specific prophesies from antiquity regarding the Messiah were fulfilled – specifically, particularly, and perfectly – in the person of Jesus. If skeptics would take time to look at those prophesies, their mouths would be shut forever about any doubt of the divine origin of the Scriptures and of Jesus.
That was Paul’s approach. He went to the Thessalonians, even as he had done with the Philippians, and later on with the Bereans, and he debated them publicly in the market square [and in the synagogue]. He opened up the Scriptures of the Old Testament and showed them text after text, just as Jesus had done on the road to Emmaus. He showed those people that the Messiah had to suffer and die, which was something that the Jews of that day had utterly forgotten. Paul did not argue in the abstract; he reasoned to the people from the Bible using all the prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament. Would you be able to do that? I would not. I wouldn’t be able to come up with all those prophecies off the top of my head, but Paul could. He was the most educated Jew in Palestine. Paul had mastered the Word of God, and the more people were aware of the Word of God, the greater the response to the preaching. Biblical preaching is what turned the world upside down – expository preaching, not just topical preaching.
My academic background – my education and teaching career – has been in the fields of systematic theology and philosophy. I am not a biblical scholar, technically. I have to pay attention to what biblical scholars write. If I had to do it over again, I would be a biblical scholar rather than a theologian, because there is nothing more I would rather do than give expository preaching of the Scriptures themselves. I love to learn from Augustine, Calvin, Luther, and Edwards, but that is nothing like searching the Scriptures, because “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).”
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 71
71. What is required in the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech and behavior.