Bereans Eat The Fish

Bereans "Eat The Fish, Spit Out the Bone!"

Bereans “Eat The Fish, Spit Out the Bone!”

“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11

Bereans – Eat The Fish, Spit Out The Bone!

A dear and wise friend of mine, Michael Williamson, has told many many times we should “Eat the fish; Spit out the bone.”  These words of wisdom were applied to “spiritual/religious” books, music, lessons, and so on. There are mountains of “Religious/Christian” works out there.  This means we must develop the “noble character” of the Bereans. (cf. Acts 17:11) If we do not have this “noble character” we could end up choking on a spiritual “bone” and be led to believe something that is not biblically sound. The LORD himself warns disciples to “watch out” for “false prophets!” (cf. Matthew 7:15, Matthew 24:11,24, Mark 13:22, and Luke 6:26) Jesus is also recorded in all the synoptic gospels teaching us to “watch out” that we are not “deceived!” (cf. Matthew 24:4, Mark 13:5, Luke 21:8) The “beloved apostle” John also warns us to “test the spirits” and “do not believe every spirit.” (cf. 1 John 4:1) There are also numerous additional warnings from the other New Testament authors regarding “false teachers” and “false prophets” (cf. 2 Peter 2:1) 1 Timothy 4:1 is one of the most pointed warnings in all scripture regarding this concept!

“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 2 Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” 1 Tim 4:1-2

Be Bereans! "...they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what [was] said was true." Acts 17:11

Be Bereans! “…they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what [was] said was true.” Acts 17:11

There of course are several other notable warnings I’m sure are worthy of mentioning, but the salient point is that we must develop the “noble character” of the Bereans. This “noble character” is what it takes to effectively “eat the fish” and “spit out the bone.” We can get spiritual nourishment and insight from the plethora of material out there when we have this disposition. It is as much to say there is great value in some works both secular and “religious.” I’ve learned a lot from some secular works such as “The Friendship Factor” and “Bringing Out The Best In People” (both by Allan Loy McGinnis). I’ve even gleaned things from “fictional” books that make a “nod” to Christian principles – such as Gandalf facing the demon-like Balrog and essentially sacrificing himself for his friends. (cf. John 15:13 & “The Gospel According To Tolkein“) At the end of the day, like the Bereans, we must “examine the scriptures” to see if what is presented is “true!”  In this way, we have the “mind of Christ” and we make “spiritual judgments” about “all things.” (cf. 1 Cor 2:15-16)

Bereans Look For Growth Eagerly!

The house church leaders in our church family here in Phoenix recently went through an amazing work entitled “The Disciplined Life” by Richard S. Taylor. This is a fantastic treatment of discipline and very much through a “Christian” lens. I would encourage anyone to read this book, it’s a very focused treatment and a very sound teaching about discipline and it’s use in the life of anyone striving to imitate Jesus.  There is a lot of “fish” in this book and very little “bone” to my recollection.  For example, “Some people are always on time at church, while other’s never are. …the difference cannot be explained in the greater distance of travel or larger families to hustle. The difference is habit, and habit is character.” (Taylor p24)  There are dozens of “zingers” in this book like this.  Another book we are recommended to read is “The Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert E. Coleman.  All things considered, here is another book that has a great deal of “fish” in it.  When Amy and I were in Eugene Oregon overseeing the Eugene International Christian Church we took the church through “The Master Plan of Evangelism” for our midweek services.  I was particularly encouraged by my brother in Christ Mike J. actually phoned Mr. Coleman and asked him his convictions personally about salvation.  Mike then shared with us at men’s midweek that there were some very serious issues biblically with Mr. Coleman’s theology.  Many of us at the time were assuming that he believed that faith, repentance, discipleship, and baptism were necessary for salvation! (cf. Heb 11:1-6, Luke 13:1-4, Matthew 28:18-20, John 8:31-32, Acts 2:38)  After Mike spoke with him it was clear that this was not the case.  Again – we must learn to be “Bereans” who “eat the fish, spit out the bone!”  Even so, it was certain that the study of Coleman’s work was very helpful to us in our efforts to make disciples and preach the Word in Eugene Oregon!

Currently our leadership group in Phoenix is combing through “Discipling: The Multiplying Ministry” by Milton Jones. This is an incredible book, and I highly recommend anyone pursuing an understanding of discipleship and following Jesus give it the read it deserves. I’ve very much enjoyed his treatment of the concepts of “discipling”, “discipler” and “discipleship.” Chapter 2 has an excellent and very thorough teaching on what it meant to someone back then to be a “disciple” of someone else. There are also strong contrasts in chapter 2 between some translation choices of the word “mathētēs” that Jones masterfully dissects.  A great example of this dissection is Jones’ breakdown of Luke 6:40 which is translated in the NIV84 as “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”  Jones goes on to explain that there is a significant difference linguistically between “pupil/student” and “disciple” in the Greek of the text.  The word “mathētēs” is always rendered “disciple” in the King James version and the word for “teacher” here in the Greek is “didaskalos” which is translated “teacher” or even “master.” But the word “mathētēs” is much more than just “student” or “pupil.”  Jones explains this powerfully on page 16 of his book “Discipling: The Multiplying Ministry” with:

Milton Jones - Contrast and Clarification of Disciple verses Student/Pupil.

Milton Jones – Contrast and Clarification of Disciple verses Student/Pupil.

Clearly there is much more to being a “disciple” than we might want to understand.  Jones drives this home with some great clarity.  This is an example of the great deal of “fish” to be found in Jones’ work.  There are some powerful practical teachings in chapter 3 as well.  These teachings cover three goals of a “discipler” which are “Evangelism”, “Equipping”, and “Edifying” the “disciple.”  All of these goals hinge on the scriptural premise of providing an example to a “disciple” we “disciple” and are striving to help evangelize, equip, and edify. “Making a disciple is a process that begins with a model. Character is caught, not taught.” (Jones p35) (cf. 1 Timothy 4:12)  Jones also brings up the preeminent question, “What kind of disciple will a person be if he imitates my example?”  The way we have put this in our family of churches is “If everyone was like me, what kind of church would this be?”  This brings up another key teaching about imitation and how it results in “Geometric verses Arithmetic Progression” (Jones p41) (cf. “Imitation” from 2006) Jones also illustrates this “Geometric” progression via a chart that is very similar to our ministry’s chart in our “First Principles” bible study “Discipleship.”  Bereans will discern that all of these things are really, really good “fish.”

Bereans Always Check the Cross-Referenced Scriptures!

Although the “Four Phase Following” Jones presents is interesting in chapter 6 – there is some “bone” here in examining the scriptures alongside what is asserted. The “Second Phase” of the “Four Phase following” Jones labels “The Examination.” In this second phase Jesus’ followers were occasional companions at festive times. For example, the wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11 and the Passover feast in John 2:13-23. This is where Jones asserts that they were examining Jesus to determine if they should be completely committed to him. However, there are a few scriptural issues with this assertion. It’s not to say some contemplation was plausible, it’s to say that to isolate and compartmentalize things is pushing the envelope of the scriptures and examples. This kind of thing is a type of eisegesis any of us teaching anything from the scriptures need to be careful of.

Nathanael declares “Rabbi, you are the son of God, you are the king of Israel!” in John 1:49. Additionally it was Phillip who invited Nathanael to join them with Jesus by saying “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45). It would be reasonable to say that they were examining Jesus for the day they spent with him at the behest of John the Baptist in John 1:39. Spending the day with Jesus was of course in response to John the Baptist’s pronouncements of “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God!” and “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:34,36) Certainly these disciples have made a total commitment to Jesus after this day with him – as it was clear to them that Jesus was “the Messiah” (John 1:41). Adjunct to their profession of faith there is no other reasonable expectation except total commitment. You could infer the wedding at Cana was a time of examination because after the miracle of water turning into wine, the scriptures say “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” (John 2:11) They do visit the Passover but this is of course only to see Jesus turn over tables and crack a whip driving out the money changers, the animals, and people selling them! This most certainly forced them to examine the nature of their total commitment to Jesus. We see Jesus take his “disciples” and start with building their faith with a miracle and then setting the standard of zeal by confronting the hypocritical religion of their day at the Passover.

Socrates' disciples were overwhelmed with him and watched everything he did in order to be ready to teach others...

Socrates’ disciples were overwhelmed with him and watched everything he did in order to be ready to teach others…

It is important to note that in Chapter 2 Jones masterfully defines the significance of the term “μανθάνω“ or “mathētēs” which is sometimes translated “pupil” or “student.” Jones gives an incredible historical treatment of this Greek word and its use in other secular contexts during Jesus’ era. Jones himself states: “A disciple became one who conformed all his mind, words, and actions to that of his teacher.” (Jones p16). To say that these men were not totally committed to Jesus by John 2:2 when they were labeled by the scripture as his “disciples” is to contradict even this statement. Additionally when there are scriptural references mentioned in the “Examination Phase” (Jones p70) a few key elements in the referenced scriptures are left out. John 3:22 says his disciples spent time with him while he baptized. John 3:23 says that John the Baptist was also baptizing near them. The pattern the scriptures present is first they believed he was the messiah (John 1:41,49). Second they were labeled as his disciples. Third we see Jesus building their faith at the wedding in Cana. (John 2:11) Fourth Jesus shows them the cost and standard at the confrontation during the Passover. (John 2:13-23) Then Jesus shows them the example of to do by baptizing in front of them (John 3:22) right before they themselves are expected to baptize as he does! (John 4:2)

This account in John 4:2 of the disciples baptizing is another omitted scriptural element. This is because Jesus would not trust these disciples to baptize into his ministry if they were not totally committed to him by this time. “The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.” (John 4:1-2) They were already multiplying disciples by this time being with Jesus as his “disciples.” This is decidedly left out of the description of the “Examination Phase” on page 70. Jesus always expected total commitment of his “disciples” by sheer definition of “disciple” itself. Jesus would not have permitted them to baptize people into his ministry without them making a total commitment to him. This is crystallized by the scriptures referring to these men while at the wedding with Jesus as his “disciples” (Greek: “mathētēs”) We learned from chapter 2 of Jones’ book that “disciple” by definition and example meant total commitment to a “rabbi/master/philosopher/teacher!”

What I learn from these verses is certainly not “…they first began examining Jesus” nor “…they became occasional companions of Jesus.” (Jones p70) However, what I do learn is that he *almost immediately* got them about living out their purpose and multiplying! He had some relational time spending the day with them. Then Jesus had some time where he built their faith. Jesus then showed them what he expected in convictions and life by his actions in the Temple and in baptizing in front of them. And lastly in these verses we see that Jesus expected them to do exactly as he did and multiply. This is to the point they even surpassed John the Baptist’s ministry! (John 4:1-3)!

Disciple = Christian = Saved

This is not the only example in this book of spiritual “bones” that should be spit out. Jones teaches an unbiblical distinction between “disciple” of Jesus and what it is to be a “Christian.” In his view, every “Christian’s” goal should be to match the standard(s) of a “disciple.” He even uses the scripture where both the term “Disciple” and the term “Christian” are placed and in a contradictory fashion tries to say this verse illustrates they do not mean the same thing! Clearly the bible teaches “Disciple = Christian” in Acts 11:26 “…The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Jones says: “’Disciple’ and ‘Christian’ can and should refer to the same person, but their meanings can also be different.” (Jones p9) This statement is completely contrary to the very scripture cited! The only meaning for “Christian” which is “different” than “disciple” is the one the people have contrived to create a “Christian” which is palatable to their preferred life and doctrine! Only by first determining what a disciple is according to Jesus Christ, the Word of God, can we see what kind of person’s lifestyle would earn the nickname “Christian.” Jesus never said the word “Christian.” Jesus only ever defined what his “disciple” was and what it took to be his “disciple.” We like the word “Christian” because we get to define it according to our sensibilities. The word itself came from the pagan’s describing “disciples” of Jesus. Jesus did not say to “go make ‘Christians’ of all nations!” Why? Because pagans came up with that term to describe his followers. Up until Acts 10 (~AD 39) the term the LORD and all his followers used to describe themselves was “disciple.” “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20) Jesus wants everyone on earth to be “disciples.” Jesus used the term “disciple” and the bible teaches us that “disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Therefore the bible teaches us a disciple is a Christian is a saved person. To say otherwise is to merely avoid the acrid conflict rife in many circles of “Christendom” that finds its base with men who want to define conversion on – and with – their own terms. We must instead surrender unconditionally to the terms laid out in the scriptures by Jesus Christ. (Luke 14:25-33)

We should be done with this book by the end of April with the Phoenix leadership. I’m not saying this is not a really good book mind you! I’m just saying we want to “stay alert” spiritually and not just taking someone’s word for it – we need to be Bereans! We must “examine the scriptures everyday” to see if what we are hearing is true according to the scriptures!

In any case, as my brother Michael Williamson always says – “eat the fish, spit out the bone!”

Jeremy Ciaramella, Evangelist

Jeremy Ciaramella, Evangelist



1 Comment

  1. by Alexys Hall on April 20, 2016  2:02 pm Reply

    I thought this was a great article, and a very crucial reminder to not get comfortable in what we hear, read, and see. I think as disciples, we can be so trusting of information that is brought to us because sadly, as we get older spiritually we think we know more. The thing is, Satan is always looking for ways to throw us off of our "A Game", if you will. We know the saying, "There's always room for growth", but I want to change that to "There's always room to be a Berean". Without being a Berean the chances of growth are slim because we would be riding the coattail of someone else's growth.

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