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Bible Commentaries
Acts 17

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Introduction

Chapter 17 is a continuation of Paul’s second missionary journey. It includes stops at Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. The most notable highlight is Paul’s sermon to the Greek intellectuals on Mars’ Hill in Athens.

Verse 1

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:

Now when they: As has been previously noted (see notes on 16:40), the use of the third person pronoun "they" seems to indicate Luke is no longer in the company of Paul and Silas.

had passed through: The distance between Philippi and Thessalonica is approximately one hundred miles. This journey is divided into a three-day trip with overnight stays at Amphipolis and Apollonia.

Amphipolis: Following the famous Roman road, the Egnatian Way, the disciples cover the first thirty- three mile leg of their journey to Thessalonica, arriving in the city of Amphipolis. Amphipolis is the capital of the eastern province of Macedonia. It is a Roman military station situated in a bend of the Strymon River about three miles from the Aegean Sea.

and Apollonia: The following day the disciples continue another thirty miles down the Egnatian Way to the city of Apollonia. Little is known about the exact location of this city or of its contribution to history. The city is not in existence today.

they came to Thessalonica: After another journey of thirty-six miles on the great Roman highway, Paul and Silas arrive at what appears to be the object of their travel, the great city of Thessalonica.

Situated on a bay of the Aegean Sea, called the Thermaic Gulf, the city had for its original name Therma and was called Thessalonica after the sister of Alexander the Great. It was the metropolis of Macedonia and under the name of Saloniki is a "strategic Balkan metropolis" today; present population is about 200, 000. ...from its position on the much used Roman road, the Via Egnatia, and as a port it was an important trade center ... (De Welt 230).

where was a synagogue of the Jews: Apparently, Paul went directly to the city of Thessalonica instead of stopping at the first two cities because there "was a synagogue of the Jews" in Thessalonica. Paul’s reason for passing through these first cities should not be misunderstood. It is not that they did not need salvation. On the contrary, Paul realizes that by taking the gospel into a major city of commerce with a large Jewish population as well as a large number of Gentiles, the gospel can get a "jump start" and quickly begin to spread to surrounding areas (see additional notes on 6:9).

Vine defines "synagogue" as: "Sunagoge, properly a bringing together (sun, together, ago, to bring), denoted (a) a gathering of things, a collection, then, of persons, an assembling, of Jewish religious gatherings ..." (Vol. IV 100).

Verse 2

And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,

And Paul, as his manner was: It is the modus operandi of the Apostle Paul to take advantage of the audience the synagogue provides to preach the gospel (see notes on 13:14; 14:1).

went in unto them, and three sabbath days: This phrase indicates the period of time Paul has the opportunity to preach in the synagogue. During the two weeks between the three Sabbaths, the disciples are very careful not to leave the impression that they preach for material gain. They work most likely at the job of tent making in order to support themselves. Paul later says, "...ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto to you the gospel" (1 Thessalonians 2:9).

Was Paul a Sabbatarian (see notes on 13:14)?

reasoned with them out of the scriptures: The scriptures used by Paul to convince these Jews are the prophetic passages from the Old Testament that foretell the coming of the promised Messiah. The Jews of the first century missed Jesus as Messiah for the very same reason the majority will miss Jesus as Savior once again, an ignorance of the scriptures!

Verse 3

Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.

Opening and alleging: Using the Old Testament, Paul preaches Jesus. "The word ’opening’ means to explain or unfold the meaning. Paul unfolded the meaning of the scriptures to his audience. ’Alleging’ means to lay down the proposition, or maintain that it must be so" (Reese 460).

that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ: The content of Paul’s message is the same as used by Peter on Pentecost (2:22-37), by Philip in the conversion of the Ethopian (8:30-38), and earlier by Paul at Pisidian Antioch (13:17-41). The sermon contains the basic elements of the suffering, death, burial, and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. May all modern soul winners take note: the "social gospel" of today does not save souls. It is Jesus who saves: we must preach Jesus! The above information must be the theme of all successful soul winners. What Old Testament passages Paul may have used is not indicated. He could and probably did use the following and others: Isaiah 53; Psalms 16:10).

Verse 4

And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.

And some of them believed: "Some" indicates few of the devout Jews are willing to accept the gospel. This rejection now seems to be the norm rather than the exception among the Jews. As in Antioch in Pisidia, these Jews judged themselves "unworthy of everlasting life" (13:46).

For a complete explanation of the part belief plays in salvation, see notes on Acts 10:43.

and consorted with Paul and Silas: Those "some" who accepted the gospel, "consorted with, " literally "cast their lots, " with Paul and Silas.

and of the devout Greeks a great multitude: A vast number of the interested Gentiles are obedient to the gospel.

and of the chief women not a few: Among the "multitude" of converts are many of the "chief women" (see notes on 13:50 for information on "chief women").

Verse 5

But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy: As is always the case when the gospel is preached, there are those who become believers, and sadly there are those who resist the word. In this case, these die-hard Jews are envious of the success of the Apostle Paul. In a space of about three weeks, the preaching of Christ has moved "a great multitude" to obedience.

took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar: These unbelievers of the synagogue are quick to retaliate against the disciples by gathering a mob of shiftless rabble to do their evil deeds. Barnes has the following to say about these "lewd fellows":

The forum, or market-place, was the place where the idle assembled, and where those were gathered together that wished to be employed, Mat. xx. 3. Many of these would be of abandoned character–the idle, the dissipated, and the worthless, and, therefore, just the materials for a mob (481).

and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people: This impromptu mob of social misfits descend upon the "house of Jason" in hopes of catching Paul and Silas. It appears the disciples are making their home with Jason (verse 7). It is also very probable this Jason is Paul’s kinsman (Romans 16:21).

Verse 6

And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;

And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city: Unable to find Paul and Silas, this mob, inspired by the jealousy of the Jews, seems to be willing to take their wrath out on Jason and other incidental brethren. The mob brings these brethren before "the rulers of the city."

The Greek word here is politarchs, which is not found anywhere in classical Greek literature; and, of course, there was a time when the radical critics were baying the moon about ’Luke’s error’; however, the excavation of one of the arches that led to the ancient city has exposed an old inscription which uses the very title Luke employed... Having been proven correct where all the evidence seemed to be against him, Luke’s accuracy is again, as invariably, certified (Coffman 328).

crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also: What a dramatic charge these enemies of Christ make against Jason. "These that have turned the world upside down" are here! The disciples are accused of being guilty of insurrection against the Roman government.

One must remember the kingdom of Christ is a spiritual kingdom. Jesus says, "My kingdom is not to this world" (John 18:36). The Lord’s church has no business involving herself in politics as has become the policy of the denominational world; their pulpits often are no more than political platforms. The only way the church of the New Testament is concerned about "turning the world upside down" is in a spiritual sense, by the preaching of the gospel.

Verse 7

Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.

Whom Jason hath received: The charge is that this band of insurgents have been staying with Jason.

and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar: Understanding that treason against a Roman Caesar will not be tolerated but rather severely punished, the Jews deceitfully accuse the disciples of political transgression.

saying that there is another king, one Jesus: It can be assumed that these Jews understand perfectly that the kingdom of Jesus is a spiritual kingdom, but they are willing to misrepresent the teaching of Paul for their own benefit. There is a most important point that must be drawn from this verse: these preachers of the gospel are preaching the kingdom of Jesus is in existence now with King Jesus reigning!

Many have the mistaken notion that we must wait for the second coming of Jesus before He will establish His kingdom. The kingdom of Jesus is established during the lifetime of the apostles (Mark 9:1) in the city of Jerusalem on Pentecost day (2:36-47). One cannot have a kingdom without a king; thus, at the same time the kingdom (the church, Matthew 16:18-19) is established, Jesus begins to reign as king (see notes on 8:12). Jesus will reign in His kingdom as long as men are dying!

For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

Verse 8

And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.

Although the charges brought against Jason and his associates are not minor enough to be ignored, it seems the evidence is scanty; and the best that can be charged is that they housed Paul and Silas.

Verse 9

And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.

The authorities require that Jason and the others post a bond or "bail, either personal or by a deposit of money. A law term. They engaged that the public peace should not be violated, and the authors of the disturbance should leave the city" (Vincent 538). Because of this guarantee given by Jason, Paul and Silas have to leave the city. Paul later expresses a desire to return to Thessalonica but explains he cannot because "Satan hindered us" (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

Verse 10

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night: One can feel the urgency of getting Paul and Silas out of this hostile environment. They make their flight under the cover of darkness. In spite of the apparent retreat of the apostles, it should be remembered the seed has been planted; and now a church of Christ spreads its roots among the honest hearts of Thessalonica.

unto Berea: The city of Berea lies about fifty miles to the southwest of Thessalonica. Conybeare and Howson give the following description of this one-time beautiful city:

Berea, like Edessa, is on the eastern slope of the Olympian range, and commands an extensive view of the plain which is watered by the Haliacmon and Axius. It has many natural advantages, and is now considered one of the most agreeable towns in Rumili. Plane-trees spread a grateful shade over its gardens. Streams of water are in every street. Its ancient name is said to have been derived from the abundance of its waters; and the name still survives in the modern Verria, or Kara-Verria (293).

who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews: The population of Berea is sufficient to have a synagogue; thus, as is the usual manner of Paul in beginning a work, he goes straight to this gathering place of the Jews. One must wonder if by now Paul has any trepidation about preaching in a new and strange location. If he does, it certainly does not show; he launches into the work at hand.

Verse 11

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Not only can it be said that the Bereans are more "noble" than those at Thessalonica in their reception of the word of God but also they leave a noble example for all true disciples today. The nobleness of the Bereans is in their readiness to receive and investigate, to study and search for themselves, whether the new teaching is or is not in accordance with the will of God. Sadly, there are many today who are ignorant of the truth because they are content to listen to some preacher and because he professes to be a teacher of God’s will, they swallow what he is teaching without question as if he were dispensing "gospel pills." All who profess to be disciples of Christ should recognize the need to "search the scriptures daily" to see whether or not the things they are taught are from God. The salvation of our souls depends upon it.

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).

Verse 12

Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

Therefore many of them believed: Because the Bereans are willing to hear the word and study the scriptures, "many of them believed."Here is vivid evidence of the power of the word and proof of the doctrinal concept that the word produces faith."So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). (For addition notes on the part belief plays in salvation, see 10:43).

also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few: Many of the leading members of society in Berea are converted to Jesus Christ. (For notes on "honourable women," see 13:50).

Verse 13

But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.

One can be assured if the cause of Christ is enjoying some success, the devil is not far away ready to disrupt the progress. So it is here; the malicious spirited Jewish zealots pursue Paul from Thessalonica to Berea just as the hostile Jews of Iconium chased him to Lystra (14:19). Do you suppose, as Paul is being pursued by these enemies of Jesus, that he thinks of his own days as a pursuer of Christians. Paul surely must have remembered his own "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" as he hurries down the Damascus road to bind and persecute any who are "of this way" (9:1-2).

Verse 14

And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.

And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul: The bonds produced by Christianity are quick and strong. Already these new brothers and sisters are concerned about Paul’s safety. They risk drawing the ire of the Jews upon themselves by assisting Paul to escape. Some of these new converts accompany him all the way to Athens.

to go as it were to the sea: Some scholars try to read more into this phrase than is probably there. It is very likely that Plumptre is correct in the following statement:

The English version conveys the impression that the movement was a feint in order to baffle the pursuers. Many of the better MSS., however, give"as far as the sea, "and this is probably the meaning ... (112).

but Silas and Timotheus abode there still: Silas and Timothy are left in the city of Berea while Paul makes about a seventeen-mile journey to the sea and then on to Athens.

Verse 15

And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed.

And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: Paul does not travel alone from Berea to Athens, but several of the noble Bereans serve as his guides not just to the sea coast but all the way to Athens.

Hurlbut gives the following geographical description of the famous city of Athens:

Athens, one of the most famous cities of the ancient world, was situated five miles northeast of the Saronic Gulf, between the two little streams Cephissus and Ilissus, and connected by long walls with its two seaports, the Piraeus and the Phaleric Gulf, where probably Paul landed. Around it stand mountains noted in history, and within its walls rise four important hills: the Acropolis, surmounted by the Parthenon, the most perfect specimen of Greek architecture; the Areopagus, northwest of the Acropolis, where Paul delivered his memorable discourse; the Pnyz still farther west; and, on the south, the Museum. In Paul’s time Athens was no longer the political capital, but was still the literary center, not only of Greece, but of the civilized world (119).

To appreciate fully the events that are about to transpire, it is necessary to understand the social and educational climate of the Athenians. McGarvey makes the following observations:

In the ancient world there were two distinct varieties of civilization, which had reached their culmination in the days of the apostles. One was the result of human philosophy; the other, of a divine revelation. The chief center of the former was the city of Athens; of the latter, the city of Jerusalem. If we compare them with respect either to the moral character of the peoples brought under their influence respectively, or with reference to their preparation for the perfect religion of Christ, we shall find the advantage in favor of the latter. Fifteen hundred years before, God had placed the Jews under the influence of revelation, and left the other nations of the earth to "walk in their own ways." By a severe discipline, continued through many centuries, the former had been lifted out of the idolatry in which they were sunk at the beginning, and which prevailed over all other nations. ... On the other hand, the most elegant of the heathen nations were now exhausting in their social life, as Paul testifies in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans, the catalogue of base and beastly practices of which men and women can be guilty. In Athens itself, where flourished the most profound philosophy, the most glowing eloquence, the most exquisite poetry, and the most refined creative art which the world has ever seen, there was the most complete and studied abandonment to every vice which passion could prompt or imagination invent. ... The struggle now about to take place in Athens is to demonstrate still farther, by contrast, how successful a "schoolmaster to bring us to Christ" had been the law and the prophets. Paul knew well the reputation of Athens, but he could not have realized, until he saw it, the extent to which it was given to idolatry (Vol. II 117-119).

and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed: The Bereans who accompany Paul to Athens now return home with the urgent message to have Silas and Timothy join Paul as soon as possible.

Verse 16

Now while Paul waited for them in Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him: Paul is not at all impressed by the glory of idolatry the city of Athens literally lives and breathes; all Paul can see is the darkness of heathenism, its ignorance, and its utter shame. Paul’s righteous indignation rises to the surface; his "spirit is stirred."

when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry: It is doubtful we can understand the degree to which idolatry consumed Athens."Athens was wholly given to idolatry. It is said that Athens had more idols or images than all the rest of Greece. Pretonius satirically said it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens; Xenophon calls the city one great altar, one great offering to the gods" (Boles 276).

Verse 17

Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

As is the custom with Paul, he begins his preaching in the city of Athens by disputing (reasoning ASV) first with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles and then with the Gentiles, in this case the pagan Greeks.

Verse 18

Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.

Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him: It was inevitable that Paul would eventually encounter some of the famous "philosophers" of Athens. The Epicureans and Stoicks are the most popular of the many philosophers found in the city.

"Epicureans" got their name from their master teacher one Epicurus who lived from 342-270 B.C. The followers of Epicurus were known as the school of the garden because it was in a garden that Epicurus did his teaching. Basically they were atheists, giving God no credit for the creation of the world and having no belief in the eternal existence of man."Thus their view of the soul was materialistic. At death it was dissolved and dissipated in the elements thus ending forever the existence of man. Life, therefore, was not regulated by higher moral or spiritual interests; its highest aim was gratification:..." (Lenski 712).

"Stoicks" are disciples of the master teacher Zeno who lived from 340 to 265 B.C. The name Stoick is derived from stoa, a porch." Zeno, ... held his school in the Stoa Poecile, or painted portico, so called because it was adorned with pictures by the best masters" (Vincent 539). The basic belief of the Stoicks is that God is in everything.

God was merely the Spirit of Reason of the universe; matter was inseparable from this deity, and he was conceived as impressing order and law upon it since he regulated it as an inner principle. The soul was corporeal, at death it was burnt or absorbed by God. ... pleasure was no good, pain no evil; reason was guide and decided what was good and what was evil. He who followed reason was perfect and sufficient in himself. When reason saw no more in life, it dictated suicide as the most reasonable thing. Its first two leaders died by their own hand, ... Stoicism was the philosophy of human pride" (Lenski 713).

To sum up the differences in these two philosophies, it can be said the Epicureans believe in no God (atheism) while the Stoicks believe everything is God (pantheism).

...the Epicureans believed that the highest good from life could only be secured in pleasure. ... The Stoics on the other hand held that the highest good could be found in a complete self-discipline amounting to the denial of the natural and necessary desires of man. One philosophy produced degenerates, the other suicides (De Welt 238).

It is plain that the godless, humanistic, fatalistic philosophies of the Greeks are in stark opposition to the "good news of Jesus Christ." The resurrection of Jesus, the immortality of the human soul, and the recognition of God as Creator and Ruler of the universe stand in direct contradiction to these pagan philosophies. This is but a short introduction of what the Apostle Paul has to deal with. This range of human reasoning is not unlike some of the ludicrous reasoning that one encounters when he attempts to teach the word of God to the liberal, atheistic, pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-scientific, humanistic, psycho-babblers of today. The students of Zeno and Epicurus are alive and well.

And some said, What will this babbler say: One can almost feel the contempt these arrogant intellectuals have for the Apostle Paul. They refer to him by the insulting term of "babbler." Vincent defines this term as: "Lit., seed-picker: a bird which picks up seeds in the streets and markets; hence one who picks up and retails scraps of news" (539-540).

other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods because he preached unto them Jesus: Paul’s proclamation of Jesus is considered by the Athenians as the declaration of a "strange" or "foreign" god because Jesus is not known by them.

and the resurrection: The idea of a "resurrection" truly must have been "foreign" to these "live for the day for tomorrow we die" Stoicks and Epicureans.

Verse 19

And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?

And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying: According to Coffman, the term "Areopagus" "may stand either for the Hill of Mars, simply as a locality, or for the Court which sat there, the oldest and most revered tribunal in Athens" (336).

May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is: Always ready to hear "some new thing" (verse 21), these curiosity seekers request Paul to speak.

Verses 20-21

For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)

One can easily see the mindset of Paul’s audience. They are interested only in some novel philosophy of which they have never heard. This will be a difficult group to teach the gospel of Christ. They think they already know everything, and they are too intelligent for the gospel. This sounds like some of our modern humanistic intellectuals.

Verse 22

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill: Vincent has the following to say about "Mars’ hill":

The Hill of Mars: the seat of the ancient and venerable Athenian court which decided the most solemn questions connected with religion. Socrates was arraigned and condemned here on the charge of innovating on the state religion. It received its name from the legend of the trial of Mars for the murder of the son of Neptune. The judges sat in the open air upon seats hewn out in the rock, on a platform ascended by a flight of stone steps immediately from the market-place.... No place in Athens was so suitable for a discourse upon the mysteries of religion (540).

And said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious: The words "too superstitious" are perhaps better understood to mean "very religious" as they are translated in the American Standard Version. This comment by Paul cannot be perceived to be either a compliment or a rebuke but rather a means of gaining the attention of his audience.

Verse 23

For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD: In this city of more than three thousand idols, shrines, temples, and other assorted objects of worship, the Athenians make one last-ditch effort to appease all the "gods" by having one last altar to the "UNKNOWN GOD" in case they have missed anyone! The religious condition of these people is made clear by this observation by Lenski: "By erecting this strange altar and by the worship connected with it the Athenians were worshipping something about which they knew nothing whatever" (724).

Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you: What a great opening for a gospel sermon! The inspired genius of Paul takes hold of the opportunity and wastes no time in revealing this "UNKNOWN GOD" whom they "ignorantly" worship as being Jehovah, THE GOD of the universe.

Verse 24

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;

God that made the world and all things therein: Here begins a great sermon that will quickly show the majesty of Almighty God as Creator and Benefactor in comparison to dead idols composed of "gold or silver or stone" (verse 29).

seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands: Paul quickly contrasts the differences between the heathen idols of their religious imaginations and makes it clear that the God of the Universe is not to be found living in the multiplicity of temples they have been so careful to construct.

Verse 25

Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;

Paul continues his revelation of God Almighty by asserting that God is not dependent upon man for anything, but rather the reverse is the case: man depends on God for "all things," including his next "breath." Without reservation the God of Creation owns it all:

I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof (Psalms 50:9-12).

Verse 26

And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth: From the original man Adam and his wife Eve sprang the entire human race. Regardless of the superior attitudes and snobbish prejudice held by these Greek scholars, the same blood that flows in their veins also flows in the veins of every other human being. The brotherhood of humanity is declared, and we dare not forget this same principle is true today (10:34-35).

and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation: At first glance one might be satisfied to read into this statement simply the fact that God has determined the seasons and has limited the areas of the existence for man; but, upon a closer look we can see that much more is involved. These words indicate a much larger grand scheme in which all should find consolation. This earth does not fly through space without rhyme or reason; it is not left to the quirks of happenstance but rather God is in control. God’s hand has been and forever will be in the affairs of men.

And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings... (Daniel 2:21).

Verse 27

That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

That they should seek the Lord: The supreme purpose of God is for man to seek after Him. For this reason He has orchestrated the affairs of nations and countries that in some way man might be compelled to "seek the Lord."

The purpose of God’s exalting some races or nations for a season, and then debasing them and raising up others, is revealed as a device for bringing them to faith in God. Repeatedly throughout history, nations in the ascendancy forgot God and turned their backs upon his word; whereupon God cast them down and raised up others. We may only pray that America heeds this fact before it is too late (Coffman 339).

if haply they might feel after him, and find him: God does not want to remain the"UNKNOWN GOD"in the minds of these Greeks or in the mind of any man. The words"feel after"express strictly the act of groping in the dark. The subjects in Paul’s audience have been doing just that, but now they have the chance to come to the light.

though he be not far from every one of us: The availability of God is set forth by this statement. It is a wonderful concept to know that God loves every human being to the extent that"He gave His only begotten Son"that man might be saved (John 3:16)."God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). The only problem is a vast number of men are not willing to repent. Here is an everlasting tragedy: God is ready and able to save, and man rejects salvation.

Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear (Isaiah 59:1-2).

Verse 28

For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

For in him we live, and move, and have our being: Paul begins to close his sermon with what might be considered a summary. Man depends upon God for his very existence. This conclusion must have flown into the face of both the Epicurean and Stoick scholars who both embrace the basic philosophy that man and not God is the ruler of life.

as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring: When Paul quotes the heathen poets, it is probably a shock to his audience. They perceive him to be an illiterate Jew, but the amazing apostle shows himself to be a man of culture and education.

Paul here quotes one of their poets; his quotation is from Aratus of Soli in Cilicia; he lived about 270 B.C., and was a Stoic philosopher. Cleanthes, a Stoic philosopher, who lived 300 to 220 B.C. has the same words in his "Hymn to Zeus" (Boles 282).

Lenski further explains the quotation: "In his famous hymn to Zeus, he (Cleanthes) identifies himself with the whole human race and even all mortal beings that live and crawl on earth and declares: ’for from him we are offspring’" (733).

Verse 29

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.

This inspired logic from the Apostle Paul strikes directly at the idols of Athens. The reasoning must have been painfully obvious to these scholars. There is a basic rule of science that says life comes only from that which is alive. Thus, it follows since we, living, breathing, human beings are the "offspring of God, " the God who created us must also be alive! This is in direct opposition to the cold, dead gods of the Athenians, those made of "gold, silver or stone" as crafted by men. The secondary thought that should have occurred to these idolators is this: is not the creator greater than that which is created? How is it possible for a man to create his own supreme being?

Verse 30

And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

And the times of this ignorance God winked at: This is a similar statement to the one the apostle gives to the pagans at Lystra (see notes on 14:16). There was a period of time, when God gave no written revelation to the Gentiles. During this time, He "suffered all the nations to walk in their own way." He "winked at" or "overlooked" (ASV) the sins of the Gentiles.

but now commandeth all men every where to repent: "Overlooking the ignorance of the pagans" is no longer the policy of God. In the clearest language available, Paul sets forth the indelible conclusion that "ALL MEN EVERY WHERE" must now "repent" and submit to the true knowledge of God that is now available.

One should note Paul does not teach the false concept of salvation by "faith only." Rather ... "he used ’repent’ in exactly the same manner as he often used ’believe’ that is, as a synecdoche for all of the things required of the alien sinner, namely, faith, repentance and baptism" (Coffman 340).

The reader will find more information on the need for repentance in the notes on Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19.

Verse 31

Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world: Judgment day–what a strange concept this must have been to these Stoicks and Epicureans who live only for the humanistic lust of the moment! The day here referred to is the final judgment of all humanity "small and great." The fact of the "JUDGMENT DAY" should be strong motivation for "ALL MEN EVERY WHERE" to "REPENT."

There are at least two possibilities as to the meaning of "appointed a day." Coffman says:

The fact of the judgment’s being scheduled for a day already "appointed" suggests that God has a timetable for the accomplishment of all things intended by his providing salvation for men. If this is the case, it will occur on time, exactly as scheduled... (341).

Reese offers a second possibility:

Appointed a day may mean no more than that God has absolutely determined that there will be a judgment day. In the light of 2 Peter 3:12, whether the actual day has been set, or whether it is flexible, is a moot point (474).

in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained: The judgment of a righteous God will be righteous. It will be a judgment that all men will acknowledge as just. Here is the first attempt Paul makes to introduce Jesus to this crowd. Jesus, the "man whom he hath ordained" (appointed) is to be the judge (Matthew 25:31-33; Romans 2:16).

whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead: The logic follows, as surely as God raised Jesus from the dead, He has also appointed Him as the righteous judge.

Verse 32

And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.

It is impossible for us to imagine the mental condition of Paul’s audience by now. Their precious idols have been exposed as mere gold, silver, and stone. Their live-for-the-moment humanism has been threatened with a "day of accounting." Now their religious senses are again assaulted with the notion of a "resurrection of the dead." This is too much for these egotistical, would-be theologians. They have had enough of these barbs to their beliefs for one day. Some begin to "mock" while others are satisfied to take the "Felix" approach, postpone learning the truth of God (24:25). McGarvey holds out this hope for some of these Athenians:

Still, those who said, "We will hear thee concerning this yet again, " began, perhaps, to feel a rekindling of their better instincts; and let us hope that some of these may yet be found among the sons of light (Vol. II 131).

Verse 33

So Paul departed from among them.

Thus, Paul’s sermon ends on this note. These idolators are willing to listen as Paul illustrates the folly of their idols, but they will not accept the teaching that would lift the gloom that shrouds their belief that man’s destiny ends at the grave. Perhaps the thoughts of a resurrection and judgment day are taking their toll upon the previously anesthetized consciences of these men. "The wicked man must be made afraid to continue in sin, before the goodness of God can lead him to repentance..." (McGarvey, Vol. II 129). The fear of judgment and eternal punishment should not be the primary motivation for obedience to the gospel; but the preacher who does not, on occasion, reveal the judgment scene and swing the souls of his audience over the pits of hell so they can feel the heat and smell the sulphur is preaching a toothless gospel and has not declared "... all the counsel of God" (20:27).

Verse 34

Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: The efforts of Paul are not totally fruitless. There are those whose hearts are touched by the gospel.

among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite: Only two of Paul’s converts receive special mention. The first is Dionysius, whose title ("the Areopagite") indicates he is one of the judges of the Areopagus and as such a man of high official standing in Athens.

and a woman named Damaris: Nothing more is revealed about this woman in divine writ. It is pure speculation to advance any theories as to how she happens to be in Paul’s audience. But it can be said, without contradiction, Jesus Christ did more to elevate women to their proper status in life than anyone who ever lived or shall live, including all the modern efforts of"woman’s liberation."

and others with them: Unnamed "others" also submit their lives to the gospel. There is some discussion as to whether or not a church is established at Athens. The general consensus is that a church is established."History says that the church in Athens was one of the strongest congregations of the empire in the second and third centuries" (De Welt 243).

How many converts there are at Athens we do not know. It seems obvious the results are small in number compared to the three thousand of chapter two or the five thousand of chapter four. The results could not even be described as "many" or a "multitude." Luke simply says, "certain men clave unto him, and believed."What do we suppose is wrong with Paul’s efforts at Athens? Is the problem the preacher? Preachers can have their off days. This is not the case here: Paul is a great preacher, and besides that he is led by the inspiration of God. Is the problem the sermon? Note the elements of Paul’s sermon:

  • God is declared as Creator and Sustainer of the world.

  • A Savior is reveled, who is"not far from every one of us."

  • Paul calls for"all men everywhere to repent."

  • The reality of resurrection and judgment is made known.

What a great sermon! The sermon is not the problem. Dear reader, the problem and reason for the few conversions are the audience! Paul is faced with a group of curiosity seekers who are interested in hearing "some new doctrine" (verse 19). This audience is of the same ilk that could lie around all day and debate the number of angels who might stand on the head of a pin.

This type of audience is quite common in modern times. The gospel preacher of today should take heart in this episode in Paul’s life. Preach the pure gospel without fear or favor. Be prepared and preach to the very best of your ability. If the results are sometimes discouraging, the problem is not the preacher, not the message, but the audience.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Acts 17". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/acts-17.html. 1993-2022.
 
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