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Bible Commentaries
Acts 17

Godbey's Commentary on the New TestamentGodbey's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

1. The four evangelists bid adieu to the sorrowing saints at the house of Lydia, travel southward, thirty-three miles to Amphipolis, where they do not tarry because there is no Jewish synagogue. Judgment begins at the house of God. Hence they give the preference to the Jews constituting the popular church of their day, always preaching to them first, thus making their start in every city. So the four pedestrians travel on south thirty miles to Apollonia, which they pass for the above reason, arriving at Thessalonica, thirty-seven miles farther south, one hundred from Philippi, where they find a Jewish synagogue.

Verses 2-3

2, 3. They spend three weeks preaching on the streets and in the houses, and in the synagogue on the Sabbath, Paul showing up clearly from the Scriptures that Jesus the Nazarene is the Christ of Israel, the Shiloh of prophecy and the Savior of the world. Quite a host of both Jews and Greeks, including many prominent and influential men and women, are gloriously converted and the work is moving triumphantly.

Verses 5-9

5-9. Meanwhile the unbelieving Jews, mad and jealous of the Gentiles, run round and stir up the uncouth rabble, assault the house of Jason where the apostles were lodging, aiming to kill them, but the Lord having hidden them so they can not find them, they drag out Jason and certain brethren before the rulers of the city, the mob roaring aloud, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, whom Jason has received.” Frequently Satan accidentally tells the truth, as he did in this case. God made the world right side up; the devil turned it over in the Fall, so it has ever since been wrong side up. Therefore the work of the gospel is “to turn the world upside down,” which is the only way to get it again right side up. “All these act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, i. e., Jesus.” Read Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, and you find them full of the Lord’s glorious coming again to reign in righteousness. This is the reason they charged the apostle with preaching that Jesus is King, because he not only preached Jesus the Christ, the Savior of the world, but our glorious coming King. “Receiving satisfaction from Jason and the rest, they released them,” i. e., when Jason and the other brethren whom they had seized satisfied them that they did not have the apostles in their possession nor know where they were, then they released them.

Verses 10-13

10-13. Now leaving Timothy at Thessalonica to continue the meeting, Paul, Silas and Luke continue their journey southward, fifty-seven miles to Berea, also a prominent city, where there is a synagogue of the Jews. Paul invariably began his labors in the Jewish synagogues, always succeeding in the conversion of some of the members to the Christhood of Jesus, and thus dividing the church unless, by the grace of God, he succeeded in capturing it all, as in case of the large synagogue at Berea and the small one at Philippi. They have a glorious time at Berea, where the church unanimously fall in with Paul, receiving with delight his powerful preaching and irresistible prophetical proofs of the Christhood of Jesus. We hear a universal hue and cry against the holiness people for dividing the churches. That has been the case in all ages and will continue till Satan is cast out and the millennium ushers in. Jesus said: “I came not to send peace on earth, but division.” When Satan has a church [and he has many], there is no chance to save the people without separating them from the devil, and thus creating division. The hackneyed clamor, “no division,” just simply means for the devil to have them all. When we can do like Paul at Berea and Philippi, get all to receive our Christ in conversion and sanctification, then of course there is no division; but if we can not save all, let us do our best and save some, not letting the devil have all to avoid division, but rescuing every one we can. A wealthy Methodist congregation in a Southern city, early in the holiness movement, having erected a very costly church edifice, secured your humble servant to hold the first protracted meeting in it, having arranged with Sam Jones to immediately precede me with a number of lectures for the financial relief of the building. Brother Jones finished his work one evening and I began the next. Before the departure of Brother Jones, the official magnates wait on him, interviewing him with reference to the coming evangelist. “Brother Jones, tell us what you know about that man Godbey? Is he not one of those holiness fellows? We are awfully afraid he will split the church.” Brother Jones responds, “Brethren, if you have any idea he can split it, by all means have him come, stand by him and help him. Surely, the only hope for this old dead church is to split a piece off of it and take it to heaven; otherwise the devil will get it all. My great fear is that it is too far gone already, the devil’s gum-log, and Godbey can’t split it.” “The devil is the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4), with all of its fallen churches. Precisely as the apostles went about splitting the fallen Jewish churches; Luther, the Catholic churches; and Wesley, the Episcopal churches, so have the true preachers of the gospel in all ages been enabled, by the grace of God, to divide savable souls from the dead, worldly churches, get them saved and take them to heaven. It is only Satan’s dead-beats that produce no divisions. The only hope of the world consists in plucking people out of the devil’s black grip, whether in the wicked rabble or the fallen churches, thus producing divisions, separating them from the devil to God, and taking them to heaven. Though Paul got the whole Jewish church at Berea, leaving none for the devil to stir up a row, yet he sent them from Thessalonica to run them away from Berea.

Verse 14

14. Timothy had remained back at Thessalonica; now arriving at Berea, he joins Silas, left by Paul in the prosecution of the work in Berea.

Verse 15

15. Now the brethren escort Paul in his journey southward all the way to Athens, the great metropolis of Greece, enjoying Roman freedom and the brightest light of civilization and education, poetry, oratory, philosophy and the fine arts beneath the skies. How significant that when Paul had to run for his life, the brethren sedulously hiding and escorting him away to save his head from the persecutor’s ax, he could leave Timothy and Silas to finish up the work he had begun, though they preached precisely what he did. This was simply because, while those young preachers testified and preached the very same doctrines and experience of Paul, they were incompetent to hit hard licks and stir the devil like Paul. Hence they would run him off and let them stay. I used to carry with me two or three boy preachers, helpers in the evangelistic work. When the mobs got after me, they never bothered them.

Verses 16-33


16-33. While Timothy and Silas prosecute the work in the upper country, Paul and Luke spend the time at Athens, the world’s grand emporium of science, literature, philosophy, and idolatry. While he preaches in the forum all the week and in the synagogue on the Sabbath, his very soul is stirred within him, in contemplation of the city crammed full of idolatry. The scene of those majestic marble temples to Jupiter, Minerva, Theseus, Hercules, Bacchus, Niobe and other divinities thrilled me with curiosity, admiration and edification three years ago, after the roll of eighteen hundred years. so many having perished, been spoliated and transported. What must have been the scene in Paul’s day when the city was at the acme of her magnificence and the Grecian gods at the zenith of their glory! Ever and anon he is confronted in the Forum by the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, the latter absolute fatalists, teaching that even the gods as well as all people were subject to inexorable fate, and the former downright materialists, denying all spirituality. Because Paul preached Jesus and the resurrection, to them utter novelties, they pronounced him “an expositor of strange demons.” This word tells the dark secret that heathen nations always have and this day worship demons, Satan being the god of this world and the air thronged with demons, the idolatrous millions and even the fallen churches drifting away into demoniacal worship.

Verse 19

19. They now lead Paul up to the summit of the Areopagus, that he may stand before that grave assembly of philosophers, orators, poets, statesmen, warriors and sages, recognized by the people as the legitimate custodians of all truth and proper arbiters of every new doctrine, or new religion which might be introduced. When I was there I climbed Mars’ Hill, that I might stand in the footprints of Paul when he addressed the most cultured congregation ever assembled beneath the skies.

Verse 22

22. Paul standing in the midst of the Areopagus, aid: “Athenian men, I perceive that in all things you are very religious,” not, as E. V. says, “too superstitious,” in which case they would have skedaddled him in a hurry.

Verse 23

23. “For going through and seeing your devotions [ i. e., temple, shrines, altars and statues], I also found an altar on which was superscribed, ‘To the Unknown God.’ Therefore, whom you ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” Wonderfully shrewdly did Paul, in this way, approach and touch the sympathies of his highly-cultured audience. No other city on the globe, at that time, was so adorned with the most beautiful and innumerable marble statues, altars, shrines and temples, erected to all the gods with whom they had become acquainted in the universal conquest of the Greeks under Alexander the Great, yet, after all, they were fearful that there might be a god somewhere with whom they had no acquaintance. Hence, profoundly solicitous to secure His favor, they had even built a temple and superscribed on it, “To the Unknown God,” and were thus worshipping him, though they knew neither his name nor his attributes. At this point Paul very adroitly approaches them, certifying boldly to them that he was acquainted with their “Unknown God,” whom they had honored with a temple, and were ignorantly worshipping. Hence he commands their sympathies and appreciative audience while he preaches to them their own “Unknown God.”

Verse 26

26. “And of one [ i. e., one man, Adam; “blood,” as in E. V., not in the original] he made every race of men to dwell upon the whole face of the earth.” Having first expounded to them the God of Providence, filling the world with His benefactions, he astounds them by certifying that He can not be represented by gold, silver or any artistic display, neither does He want a temple to dwell in, thus casting a dark shadow of depreciation over all the wonderful works of art which filled their city with idolatrous worship; proceeding on from an exposition of Providence, delineating the august majesty of the divine administration culminating in the final judgment, for which He proposes to prepare all nations by righteousness purchased for them by His Son, whom He has raised from the dead, thus giving inspiration and gracious possibility to the faith of all the people in the world preparatory to the momentous responsibilities of the final judgment, when all the world must stand before the tribunal of that “Unknown God” and give an account of all the deeds done in the body, whether good or evil. We need not wonder that these profound philosophers revolted at the very mention of the resurrection of the dead, as they had no revelation, and discarded all Jewish miracles as mere superstition. Of course, they were stunned and disgusted at the irreconcilably unphilosophical doctrine of the resurrection. Though Paul approached them so judiciously and favorably, he was forced, finally, to alienate them, thus making the worst failure of his ministry at the world’s literary and philosophical metropolis, illustrating the significant fact that unsanctified learning is always a citadel of Satanic power inimical to God, and sending many smart folks down to hell. The policy of popular churches in educating heathens before they convert them is wrong, as educated people are only the more difficult to save. The true policy is to go for nothing but salvation, until you get them saved, and educate them afterward. It is easier to convert a hundred illiterate, ignorant people than one highly-cultured infidel, as knowledge is a citadel of power, and with the unsaved always occupied by the devil. This accounts for Paul’s failure at Athens, not making converts enough to organize a church.

When I was there my guide showed me the superscription of Dionysius on the very wall of the Areopagus, stating that that was a part of the wall of a church edifice that bore his name, some inferring that this Dionysius, the Areopagite, went on and built up a church at Athens. It is more than likely that the church was organized and the edifice built in some after age and named for Dionysius, the Pauline convert, as there were no church edifices built in the Apostolic churches until A. D. 150.

Bibliographical Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Acts 17". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ges/acts-17.html.
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