Acts 13:45 – But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.
As the early Christians traveled through the Roman Empire preaching the message of Christ they spoke with people of diverse cultures, ethnicities, education and heritage. The book of Acts provides insight into how many of these people reacted to hearing the gospel. The passage quoted above (Acts 13:45) is the reaction of many of the Jews who lived in Antioch (in Pisidia). Unfortunately, their reaction is not based on an evaluation of truth but on their emotions. Paul and Barnabas were garnering a lot of attention from the people in Antioch. Backing up into verse 43, it says almost the whole city had come to listen to them preach. When these individuals saw the attention Paul and Barnabas were receiving they became envious. Their reaction to the gospel was now based on their emotions and not an objective evaluation of the things being taught by Paul and Barnabas.
This is not the first time envy had blinded people from accepting the truth of the gospel. In fact envy was what ultimately drove the leaders of the Jewish people to put Jesus to death. In John 11:48 these leaders lamented of the influence Jesus was amassing and the impact it would have on their position of power and prominence. In John 11:48 it reads, “If we let Him (Jesus) alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away our place and nation.” Then in Matthew 27:18 is states Pilot knew the Jews had delivered Jesus to the Roman authorities out of envy. Their reaction to Jesus’ message was the same as would later be seen by many of the Jews in Antioch. They were not basing their reaction towards Jesus on the evaluation of truth. They were basing their reaction on the envy because as Jesus’ prominence grew among the people their power and influence diminished.
Envy is just one example in the scriptures of an emotion or bias that pushed people away from the truth. Although not expressly stated, it is implied in Luke 18:18-23 the man commonly referred to as the rich young ruler did not accept Christ because Jesus had told him he must sell all his goods to give to the poor. He walked away from Jesus because of his selfish love of earthly possessions.
There are many emotions and biases that can obstruct peoples’ ability to objectively evaluate the truth. It may be envy, a love for possessions, an unwillingness to change, the desire to be right about current beliefs, or maybe even the love one feels for others that obstructs people from seeing truth. But these things have no actual bearing on truth. Truth exists outside of our own emotions, biases, experiences, and beliefs. Contrary to popular belief, truth is not in the eye of the beholder. Truth is absolute.
Acts 17:10-12 provides an example of people who removed emotion and bias, and gave Paul and Silas’ message an objective evaluation. In verse 10 of that chapter Paul and Silas arrive in Berea where the Jews there were more ‘fair minded’ and ‘searched the scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.’ These men and women were not caught up in emotion. They were not plagued with the envy that seemed so common amongst those hearing the gospel for the first time. They simply opened up the word of God and evaluated the teachings of Paul and Barnabas against the only authoritative source of truth – the Bible. This is the example we need to follow.
This is much easier to do in theory then it is in practice. It is difficult to remove emotions and biases when evaluating religion. Religion has always been, and likely will always be, an emotionally charged subject. Its significance is paramount to anything else. But this highlights how important it is to identify and remove emotions and biases in the interpretation of the word of God. The Jews in Antioch in Acts 13 allowed their emotions to obstruct their evaluation of truth. Unlike the Jews in Berea, they were not looking in the scriptures to evaluate Paul and Barnabas’ message. They were blinded from truth because they were uncomfortable with its result. What we have to realize is though the truth may reveal an uncomfortable reality, the acceptance of truth will ultimately lead to a beautiful reality.