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Bible Commentaries
Acts 17

Concordant Commentary of the New TestamentConcordant NT Commentary

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Verses 1-18

1 Luke seems to have remained behind at Philippi, for the narrative now proceeds in the third person. Timothy also tarried, for no one was more genuinely solicitous of the welfare of the infant ecclesia ( Php_2:20 ). Later on he rejoins Paul and Silas and is found at Berea ( Act_17:14 ). But Luke may have remained there until Paul's next missionary journey, when he returns through Philippi to Troas ( Act_20:6 ) .

1 Instead of stopping at the smaller towns, Paul and Silas make their way to the most populous city of the province as a base of operations for the whole country. Thessalonica, the present Saloniki, became, in a few months, the center from which the word of the Lord was sounded forth, . . . in Macedonia and Achaia ( 1Th_1:8 ). For the first three weeks he seems to have made a special effort to win the Jews in the synagogue, but only some of the Jews were persuaded, though many of the proselytes were won for Christ. Meanwhile many of the Uncircumcision must have been reached, for the apostle writes to them as converts from idolatry, rather than from Judaism. They turned to God from idols ( 1Th_1:9 ).

3 The evangel of the kingdom, as Paul proclaimed it in the synagogues, is concisely set forth here. The suffering and resurrection of Messiah and Jesus as the One foretold by the prophets, are the leading points. Beyond this he gave them much else concerning the kingdom and the events which precede its coming, including the unveiling of the man of lawlessness ( 2Th_2:6 ). Paul's evangel was what is sometimes called "a teaching gospel."

5 The malice of the Jews is apparent from their charge against the apostIes. They, too, believed that Messiah would destroy the kingdoms of the nations, yet they bring this charge, hoping to rouse the power of Rome against them. They, themselves, gather a mob and raise a tumult, yet they accuse them of it. Not finding the apostles, they took Jason and some other brethren, but the civil magistrates did not act like the officers at Philippi, but took the legal course. Instead of imprisoning them, they made them give bail, which probably ended the matter when the apostles left the city.

10 As it was unwise to excite the mob in Thessalonica further, and the apostles did not wish to cease their labors, they slip away to Berea, probably one of the nearest synagogues. Here the Jews give them a hearty reception and eagerly examine the ancient Scriptures to see if Paul's message is in accord with their predictions. Consequently many of them believe and the proselytes also, from among the Greeks, receive the word of the Lord.

11 Paul's success among the noble Jews of Berea is clearly the result of their examination of the Scriptures. Here, doubtless, as elsewhere, current Jewish tradition, the teaching of the elders, had largely replaced the divine record, just as today the traditions of the church supersede the truths of Scripture. The truest nobility lies in ignoring current dogma and accepting only what is in closest accord with holy writ. This is the path that leads to real and substantial blessing.

14 The Jews seem to have concentrated their hate on Paul, hence it was not necessary for Silas and Timothy to leave.

15 Paul has now fulfilled the Macedonian call, and leaves that province for Greece, which was then named Achaia. Athens was, in some ways, the principal city, and it had a Jewish meeting place. Hence he went thither and took his usual course, speaking to the Jews in the synagogue, and to the others in the market place. We are not informed of his reception by the Jews, but they do not seem to have persecuted him.

18 The Epicurean philosophy was virtually Atheism. Like modern scientific theorists it denied creation, teaching that the universe was formed by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, and continued to function without the intervention of God. There was no moral government, so there was no judgment and no resurrection. Their highest aim was self-gratification.

18 The Stoics had many gods. They cultivated an austere apathy and held reason to be the only good. Stoicism developed a class of philosophic Pharisees who needed no Saviour, and acknowledged no sin. Zeno, its founder, died by his own hand.

18 "Rook" was popular, picturesque Athenian slang based upon the habits of birds who pick up seed and scraps, and applied to men who pick up scraps of learning and who lack a thorough knowledge of their subjects.

18 "Demons" was used of good as well as evil divinities in profane Greek.

Verses 19-34

19 The hill called the Areopagus (Latin, Mars' Hill), just a few steps above the Market Place, was a most fitting forum for the folly of God to defeat the wisdom of the world. At Rome Paul's weakness overcame the power of the world; at Ephesus he overthrew its religion; at

Athens his foolish talk about the resurrection confounded the philosophies that made Greece famous.

21 While the Epicureans derided him, both they and the Stoics, as well as the many Athenians who had returned from foreign travel, all were eager to hear anything that was novel, even if they could not agree with it. The resurrection was unheard of amongst them, so they wish to know more of it.

23 Paul is too wise to begin offensively by telling his hearers that they were too superstitious. His words are rather complimentary, at least so they would understand them. To dread demons was a virtue, the essence of their religion.

23 By this happy introduction the apostle manages to conciliate the pretense to knowledge which the philosophers affected. Instead of charging them directly with ignorance of God he introduces the inscription, to an unknown god, which they doubtless all had seen. Then he pursues a course of reasoning; which they could follow, showing the illogical basis of their philosophies as to creation, God's continued activity in providence, and His desire that men should use these evidences in groping for Him-as they were. He is careful to make every possible concession to the philosophers, yet boldly attacks their error. In the midst of marvelous temples. and elaborate ritual, he does not hesitate to declare their uselessness to the God Who needed nothing, but was the Giver of all things. He asserts His supremacy in time and space. He acknowledges the partial truth in the Stoic philosophy by proclaiming His presence and immanence.

28 Paul not only appeals to the measure of truth in their philosophies, but strengthens his cause with them by showing that even their own poets have stumbled on the truth he is about to deduce. The exact words "For of that race also are we" occur in a poem by Aratus, of

Cilicia, Paul's native province. "The race" refers to the race of the gods, who were merely deified men. Cleanthes of Lystra also, in a hymn to Zeus, says, "for we are of your race."

29 Paul then does away with their idols, leaving nothing of their religion but the unknown God, Who knows their ignorance and bears with it, but now charges them to change their minds in view of future judgment, which is assured by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Paul wisely begins the evangel to them by announcing the resurrection, for it alone could dispel the error of their philosophies and bring them to a realization of the necessity for a Saviour.

32 The resurrection involves the death of Christ, and this the manner and necessity of His death for sin, but Paul was not allowed to proceed, though he doubtless did unfold the evangel to those who followed him when he left the Areopagus. Here we have a marvelous model for the preaching of the evangel to the wise of this world. No appeal is made to Scripture; for it would be useless. Every concession is made to the dim perceptions of truth which they held, and they are led as far as human reason can bring them up to the greatest fact of the evangel-the resurrection. But alas! Not many wise are called, for God chooses the stupid of the world to disgrace the wise ( 1Co_1:26 ). No persecution drove Paul away, yet no flourishing ecclesia followed his labors. Indifference is deadly.

1 Paul's plan, in leaving Athens, was doubtless to found another center for the evangel in Achaia, as Thessalonica was for Macedonia. Corinth was the logical place, a large mercantile city, whence the evangel could spread in all directions.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Acts 17". Concordant Commentary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/aek/acts-17.html. 1968.
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