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Wednesday, June 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Acts 17

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

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Verse 1

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

Arrival at Thessalonica-Success there among the Jews and Gentile Proselytes (17:1-4)

Now when they had passed (or 'traveled') through diodeusantes (G1353).

Amphipolis - 33 miles southwest of Philippi, on the river Strymon, and on the north coast of the AEgean Sea.

And Apollonia - thirty miles southwest of Amphipolis, but the exact site is not known; they came to Thessalonica-37 miles due west of Apollonia, at the head of the Thermaic (or Thessalonian) Gulf, at the northwest extremity of the AEgean Sea-the principal and most populous city in Macedonia. 'We see at once (says Howson, excellently) how appropriate a place it was for one of the starting-points of the Gospel in Europe, and can appreciate the force of what Paul said to the Thessalonians within a few months of his departure from them; "From you, the word of the Lord sounded forth like a trumpet, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place "' (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

Where was a (rather, 'the') synagogue of the Jews - implying that (as at Philippi) there was no synagogue at Amphipolis and Apollonia, and that here were the headquarters of the Jews in northern Macedonia.

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 (always to begin with the Jews), went in unto them. That this was an act which, after the shameful treatment they had received at Philippi, required some courage and superiority to indignity for the Gospel's sake, the apostle himself tells the Thessalonians, when writing to the converts there some months after this: 'We were bold in our God to speak unto you," etc. (1 Thessalonians 2:2).

And three sabbath days reasoned with them [ dielegeto (G1256) autois (G846)] - or, 'continued to discourse to them' "out 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, [ paratithemenos (G3908)] - 'putting before' or 'representing' to them this great truth, as the sum of all the Scriptures quoted and commented on,

That Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead, [ ton (G3588) Christon (G5547) edei (G1163) pathein (G3958) kai (G2532) anasteenai (G450)] - 'that it behoved the Christ (the promised Messiah) to suffer and rise from the dead.'

And that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ - or, 'that this is the Christ, (even) Jesus whom I preach unto you.' His preaching, it seems, was chiefly expository, and designed to establish from the Old Testament Scriptures, first, that the predicted Messiah was to be a suffering and dying, and therefore a rising Messiah; and next, that this Messiah was none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

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, and consorted - [ prosekleerootheesan (G4345 ) or, 'cast in their lot'] with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks - Gentile proselytes, and as such, stated worshippers with the Jews (see the note at Acts 16:14.

A great multitude, and of the chief women (female proselytes of distinction), not a few. But besides this multitude of Gentile proselytes, male and female, who were won to the Gospel in the Jewish synagogue, it would appear-from the remarkable passage in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 - that not a few had been gained to Christ fresh from idolatry. It is possible that the same parties are referred to in both places; or it may be that the missionaries remained somewhat longer than the three sabbaths of their labour in the synagogue. During their stay, however, the apostle tells the Thessalonians that he had laboured for his own support "night and day, that he might not he chargeable to any of them" (1 Thessalonians 2:9), of which he again reminds them in his second Epistle (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9). In both places he speaks of the "toil and trouble" which this involved; but he received considerate supplies once and again from the converts of Philippi, of which he fails not to make honourable acknowledgment in his letter to that church (Philippians 4:15-16).

The unbelieving Jews, enraged at the success of the Gospel, having raised a tumult, in the midst of which they sought the lives of the missionaries, the brethren despatch them by night to Beroea (17:5-10)

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 (or 'jealousy') - seeing their influence likely to be destroyed [Tischendorf omits all these words; but though the manuscripts vary considerably, the three oldest-'Aleph (') A B with E etc.-have the principal part of the clause, and the reasons for its exclusion seem scarcely sufficient] --

Took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, [ toon (G3588) agoraioon (G60) tinas (G5100) andras (G435) poneerous (G4190)] - better, 'certain worthless idlers;' literally, 'worthless market people' ( = subrostrani) - that is, idle loungers about the place of public resort, such as are to be found in all large towns, particularly those of the East, and usually of indifferent character, ready for any excitement.

And gathered a company, [ ochlopoieesantes (G3792)] - 'raised a mob.'

And assaulted the house of Jason - with whom Paul and Silas lodged (Acts 17:7). He appears to be the same as Paul's kinsman of that name, to whom, in his Epistle to the Romans (Romans 16:21), he sends salutation; and as that name (as Grotius remarks) was sometimes used as a Greek form of the word Joshua, he was probably a Hellenistic Jew. At all events, he must have been among the converts of Thessalonica.

And sought to bring them (Jason's lodgers) out to the people - or expose them to the turbulent rabble.

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 - no doubt because they had been warned to keep out of the way,

They drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, [ epi (G1909) tous (G3588) politarchas (G4173)] - 'to the politarchs' (literally, 'city-rulers'). It is remarkable that the word, in this form, occurs nowhere else as a title of civic office; but it occurs (as Howson notes) in an inscription on a marble arch still existing in Thessalonica, on which are the names of the seven politarchs of the city at the time when that archway was erected, the masonry of which consists of blocks of marble six feet thick-so minute is the accuracy of our sacred Historian.

Crying, These that have turned the world upside down. What a testimony to the success of the Gospel, even from its enemies! See the notes at Acts 16:20-21, and Remark 1 at the close of that section.

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 - or 'harboured.'

And these all do contrary to the decrees of Cesar, saying - that is, by saying, for no illegal act was charged against them. All that their enemies pretended was that they were constructive traitors, for the reason next mentioned.

That there is another king, [one] Jesus. As the mention of "Him that was born king of the Jews" alarmed Herod (Matthew 2:2-3), so the regal claims of our Lord alarmed Pilate; and though His explanation of the sense in which He claimed royalty set the mind of Pilate at rest upon that point (John 18:33-38), the reiterated assertions of His enemies, that the claim did involve treason against Caesar, worked so successfully upon Pilate's fears that he was induced by that consideration alone to surrender Him. It is possible that these Jews of Thessalonica really imagined that the "Gospel of the kingdom" involved some political doctrine; but it is more likely that from the very first this bad become a stock argument with the unbelieving Jews against the Gospel when every other failed, and that in this factious sense it was now put before the pagan magistrates, in hopes of working on their loyalty. In this, as will now appear, they were but too successful.

Verse 8

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

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 9

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

And when they had taken security (or 'bail') of Jason, and of the other, [ toon (G3588) loipoon (G3062)] - rather, 'of the rest;' that is, of such others as were charged with countenancing and encouraging this disloyal teaching, they let them go.

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 - for it would have been as useless as rash to attempt any further preaching at that time, and the conviction of this probably made his friends the more willing to pledge themselves against any present continuance of missionary effort. It would appear, however, from the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, that the apostle both earnestly desired and confidently expected soon to return-indeed, that he made several efforts toward a return, 'but Satan hindered him' (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18). The cause of this intense anxiety to revisit them was a fear lest the hot persecution to which they were exposed for the Gospel's sake should shake their constancy in the Faith; and such was the pressure of this apprehension upon his spirit, that when he could neither go to them himself, nor abide longer without tidings from them, he sent Timotheus (of whose motions since he was left at Philippi, see the note at Acts 17:14) "to know their faith, lest by any means the tempter should have tempted them, and his labour have been in vain. But when Timotheus came from them to him, and brought him good tidings of their faith and love, and that they had good remembrance of him always, longing to see him, as he also to see them, he was comforted over them in all his affliction and distress by their faith," etc. (1 Thessalonians 3:5-7.)

Unto Berea - upwards of 50 miles southwest of Thessalonica; a town even still of considerable population and importance. At Berea their message meets with enlightened acceptance-A hostile movement, instigated by the unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica, occasions the sudden departure of Paul-He arrives at Athens (17:10-15)

Who coming there went into the synagogue of the Jews - the first thing after their arrival, as the words imply; an act which, in their circumstances, showed unabated courage and confidence in their message.

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.

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica. The comparison is only between the Jews of the two places, for in Thessalonica the triumphs of the Gospel among the Gentiles were at least as great as at Beroea. At all events, a flourishing and permanent church was established at Thessalonica, which was not the case-so far as we know-at Beroea.

In that they received the word with all readiness of mind - heard it not only without prejudice, but with eager interest, "in an honest and good heart" (Luke 8:15), with sincere desire to be taught aright (see John 7:17). Mark the "nobility" ascribed to this state of mind.

And searched the Scriptures daily whether these things were so - whether the Christian interpretation which the apostle put upon the Old Testament Scriptures were the true one.

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 - convinced that Jesus of Nazareth, whom Paul preached, was indeed the great Promise and Burden of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Also of honourable women - women, that is, of what we call the better or upper class,

Which were Greeks, and of men - that is, men which were Greeks, "not a few." The upper classes in these European Greek and Romanized towns (as Webster and Wilkinson remark) were probably better educated than those of Asia Minor.

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.

But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, [ kai (G2532) en (G1722) tee (G3588) Beroia (G960)] - 'in Beroea too,'

They came there also, and stirred up the people - their blind zeal prompting them to travel above fifty miles to have the missionaries of Christ hunted out of Beroea, as they had been out of their own city. Thus had they of Iconium done, when they followed Paul and Barnabas to Lystra. But O what memories would this bring back to Paul of the time when he verily thought with himself that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, and did them too! (Acts 26:9-10.)

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 - the converts gathered at Berea.

Sent away Paul - as had been done before from Jerusalem (Acts 9:30), and from Thessalonica (Acts 17:10). How long he stayed at Berea we know not; but as we know that he longed and expected soon to return to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 2:17), it is probable he remained some weeks at least, and only abandoned his intention of revisiting Thessalonica at that time when the virulence of his enemies there, stimulated by his success at Beroea, brought them down there to counterwork him.

To go as it were to the sea, [ hoos (G5613) epi (G1909) teen (G3588) thalassan (G2281)]. The precise idea intended to be conveyed by this phrase is not very clear. That it was only a feint (as some critics think) can hardly be the meaning. But whether it means that he was sent only in the direction of the sea, with the view of skirting along the coast by a land journey (as others think), or that he did proceed to Athens by sea (as most understand the phrase) must be left in some doubt. The land journey was certainly a long one (not less than 250 miles), while with a fair wind they might reach Athens in three days. Perhaps it had not been determined, until he should reach the coast, what direction he should next take; and it may have been the mere providence of God, presenting to him a vessel hound for Athens, that fixed him to proceed there. It is in favour of this view that it was not until his arrival at that capital that the convoy of Berean brethren, who had accompanied him thus far, were sent back to Beroea to bid Silas and Timotheus follow him there.

But Silas and Timotheus abode there still - to encourage the converts, and cherish, as at Philippi, the work accomplished, But how came Timotheus to be here at all? We left him at Philippi with Luke, when Paul took his departure (see the note at Acts 16:40). We have seen (at Acts 17:4) that during the apostle's stay at Thessalonica, brief though it was, the Philippians "sent once and again to his necessity" (Philippians 4:16). Their first contribution was probably despatched by Timothy soon after the apostle left them, and merely as a love-token; taking the advantage of Timothy's departure to rejoin his great co-adjutor. But on finding that the very success of the apostle at Thessalonica had so abridged his time for working at his craft, that though he laboured hard he would earn little, it is likely that Timothy returned to Philippi, partly to tell the good news, and partly to represent the temporal circumstances of their father in the Faith; and if they sent him back with a fresh contribution, that would both explain his statement in Philippians 4:16, and show how Timothy came to be at Thessalonica. Whether he went with Paul and Silas to Beroea, or followed them there, is not said. But here he was left with Silas when Paul went 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: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed. The apostle probably wished their company and aid in addressing himself to so new and great a sphere as Athens. Accordingly it is added that he "waited for them" there, as if unwilling to do anything until they came. That they did come, there is no good reason to doubt (as some excellent critics do). For though Paul himself says to the Thessalonians that he "thought it good to be left at Athens alone" (1 Thessalonians 3:1), he immediately adds that he "sent Timotheus to establish and comfort them" (Acts 17:2); meaning, surely, that he despatched him from Athens back to Thessalonica. He had indeed sent for him to Athens; but when it appeared that little fruit was to be reaped there, while Thessalonica was in too interesting a state to be left uncherished, he seems to have thought it better to send him back again. The other explanations which have been suggested seem less satisfactory. Timotheus rejoined the apostle at Corinth (Acts 18:5).

Disputations at Athens (17:16-21)

Verse 16

Now while Paul waited for them at 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, [ parooxuneto (G3947 ), or 'roused'] in him, when he saw, [ theoorounti (G2334), or rather - theoorountos (G2334)] - 'while beholding'

The city wholly given to idolatry, [ kateidoolon (G2712)] - 'covered with idols;' referring to the city, not the citizens. Petronius, a contemporary writer at Nero's court, says satirically, that it was easier to find a god at Athens than a man. The sight of this, in his solitary walks through the city, roused, his spirit.

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.

Therefore disputed (or 'discussed') he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons.

The second "with" here should be omitted; for the Jews and the devout persons assembling together in the synagogue, the discussion was with both at once. The sense is not that he went to the Jews because the Gentile Athenians were steeped in idolatry; but, 'Therefore set he himself to lift up his voice to the idol-city, but, as his manner was, he began with the Jews,' and, perhaps, while congratulating them on their purer Faith, he would chided them for their lack of zeal in allowing, unrebuked, such idolatry around them.

And in the market - or 'market-place,' as the place of public resort,

Daily with them that met with him, [ tous (G3588) paratungchanontas (G3909)] - who chanced to be there, or came in his way.

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 - the followers of Epicurus; a well-known school of atheistic materialists, who maintained that the universe is the product of chance, and that pleasure was the chief end of human existence-a principle which the more sober disciples of this school interpreted in a refined sense, while the sensual explained it in its coarser meaning.

And of the Stoics - the followers of Zeno, an equally celebrated but opposite school of philosophy, essentially pantheistic, whose principle was that the universe was under the law of an iron necessity, the spirit of which was what is called the Deity; and that a passionless conformity of the human will to this law, unmoved by all external circumstances and changes, is the perfection of virtue. While therefore the Stoical was in itself superior to the Epicurean system, both were alike hostile to the Gospel.

And some said, What will this babbler say? [ spermologos (G4691)] This word, which means a picker-up of seeds'-birdlike-is applied to a gatherer and retailer of scraps of knowledge, a prater; a general term of contempt for any pretended teacher.

Other some (or 'others'), He seemeth to be a setter forth, [ katangeleus (G2604 )] of strange gods, [ xenoon (G3581) daimonioon (G1140)] - 'of foreign divinities.' The word 'demons' is here used, not in the Jewish, but in the Greek sense, of 'objects of worship.' In his speech on the Areopagus we shall find the apostle taking up the very term here employed, as the starting-point of his address to the Athenians (see Acts 17:24).

Because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection - not that they took "Jesus" and "the resurrection" as the foreign divinities preached by Paul (as Chrysostom formerly, and some good critics still maintain). The divinities they meant were Yahweh, as the God of Revealed Religion, and Jesus as the risen Saviour and Judge of mankind. This resurrection from the dead would to them be a startling novelty.

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 - that is, 'Mars' hill;' an eminence over against the Acropolis, on the west side of that citadel rock. 'On this hill (as Howson says) had sat the most awful court of judicature from time immemorial, to pass sentence on the greatest criminals, and to decide on the most solemn questions connected with religion. No place in Athens was so suitable for a discourse on the mysteries of religion.' The apostle, however, was not here on his trial (as some formerly thought, and the Tubingen school still allege), as is evident on the face of the narrative. There is nothing of religious fanaticism or intolerance on the part of his questioners. Curiosity, not without a mixture of contempt, alone prompts their inquiries. They merely desired a fuller exposition of what this novel teacher had in broken conversations thrown out in the Agora (G58), marketplace.

Saying, May we know, [ dunametha (G1410) gnoonai (G1097)] - extremely polite, yet half ironical; the questioners, in their Greek pride, being quite satisfied (as Lechler remarks) that they knew all things already, and better than this barbarian Jew could tell them.

What this new doctrine (or 'teaching'), whereof thou speakest, is?

Verse 20

For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.

For thou bringest certain strange things, [ xenizonta (G3579) tina (G5100)] - 'certain foreign-sounding things' "to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean."

Verse 21

(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.)

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, [ kainoteron (G2537)] - literally, 'newer thing;' as if what was new (says Bengel) 'becoming presently stale, they craved something newer still.' This lively description of the Athenian character is abundantly attested by their own writers.

Paul on Mars' Hill (17:22-31)

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, and said - `taking his stand in the midst of Mars' hill (or 'Areopagus'), said.' This prefatory allusion to the position he occupied shows (says Baumgarten) the writer's wish to bring the situation vividly before us.

Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious, [ hoos (G5613) deisidaimonesterous (G1174)] - rather (with nearly all modern as well as ancient Greek interpreters), 'extremely devout,' 'very god-fearing,' 'much given to religious worship;' a conciliatory and commendatory introduction, founded on his own observation of the symbols of devotion with which their city was covered, and from which all Greek writers, as well as the apostle, inferred the exemplary religiousness of the Athenians. The King James translation (though it only follows the Vulgate, Erasmus, and Luther) is here extremely unfortunate; inasmuch as it not only implies that only too much superstition was blameable, but represents the apostle as repelling his bearers in the very first sentence: whereas the whole discourse is studiously courteous. It is true that the word, in classical usage, is capable of either a favourable or an unfavourable sense; but just for that reason ought the nature of the case to decide in favour of the former.

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, [ ta (G3588) sebasmata (G4574) humoon (G5216)] - rather, 'the objects of your devotion,' or 'your sacred things;' referring, as is plain from the next words, to their works of art consecrated to religion.

I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD, [ agnoostoo (G57) theoo (G2316)] - or, 'To an Unknown God;' erected, probably, to commemorate some divine interposition which they were unable to ascribe to any known deity. That there were such altars, Greek writers attest; and on this the apostle skillfully fastens at the outset, as the text of his discourse, taking it as evidence of that dimness of religious conception which, in virtue of his better light, he was prepared to dissipate.

Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, [ agnoountes (G50) eusebeite (G2151)]. "Ignorantly" is too harsh a rendering. It should be, 'Ye worship, not knowing Him' (alluding to the inscription just mentioned).

Him declare I unto you, [ katangelloo (G2605)] - 'Him set I forth unto you;' taking up their own word regarding him (see the note at Acts 17:18). [Lachmann's and Tischendorf's reading - ho (G3739) ... touto (G5124) - 'What therefore ye worship ... that set I forth,' which is that of good manuscripts, and of the Vulgate, would seem to have internal evidence in its favour, though the Received Text is well supported.] How very unlike this is to all his previous discourses-if we except that to the idolaters of Lycaonia! (Acts 14:15-17.) But the reason is obvious. His subject was not, as in the synagogues, the Messiahship of Jesus; but THE LIVING GOD, in opposition to the materialistic and pantheistic polytheism of Greece, which subverted all true Religion. Nor does he come with speculation on this profound subject-of which they had had more than enough from others-but with an authoritative 'announcement' of Him after whom they were groping; not giving Him any name, however, nor even naming the Saviour Himself, but unfolding the true character of both as they were able to receive it.

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. The most profound philosophers of Greece were unable to conceive any fundamental distinction between God and the universe. Thick darkness, therefore, behoved to rest on all their religious conceptions. To dissipate this, the apostle sets out with a sharp statement of the fact of creation, as the central principle of all true religion.

Seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth - holding in free and absolute subjection all the works of His hands; presiding in august Royalty over them, as well as pervading them all as the Principle of their being. How different this from the blind Force or Fate to which all creatures were regarded as in bondage!

Dwelleth not in temples made with hands. This thought-so familiar to Jewish ears (see 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1-2; and Acts 7:48), and so elementary to Christians-would serve only more sharply to define to his pagan audience the spirituality of that living, personal God whom he 'announced' to them.

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;

Neither is worshipped with men's hands - or 'ministered to by human hands' [ therapeuetai (G2323) hupo (G5259) cheiroon (G5495) anthroopinoon (G442) (which is better than anthroopoon (G444))],

As though he needed any thing. No less familiar as this thought also is to us, even from the earliest times of the Old Testament (Job 35:6-8; Psalms 16:2-3; Psalms 50:12-14; Isaiah 40:14-18), it would pour a flood of quite new light upon any candid pagan mind that was able to take it in. It will be observed that these two statements-the one referring to the buildings erected for the worship of their divinities ("dwelleth not in temples made with hands"), and the other to the priests that served in them ("neither is ministered to by human bands") - together make up one grand position, that the Maker of the world and all that is in it cannot stand in need either of the one or the other of these.

Seeing he giveth, [ autos (G846) didous (G1325)] - better, 'since it is Himself that giveth'

To all life, and breath, and all things. The Giver of all cannot surely be dependent for anything upon the receivers of all (1 Chronicles 29:14). This is the culminating point of a pure Theism.

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, [ pan (G3956 ) ethnos (G1484 ), 'every nation'] of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth. Holding, with the Old Testament teaching, that in the blood is the life (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11; Deuteronomy 12:23), the apostle (says Baumgarten) sees this life-stream of the whole human race to be one, flowing from one course. [The shortened reading - "hath made of one" ( ex (G1537) henos (G1520), leaving out the important word "blood") - which is the reading of 'Aleph (') A B, and a few other manuscripts, and of the Vulgate, and one or two other versions, is adopted by Lachmann (who usually follows the Vulgate); but not by Tischendorf, though he usually follows the above manuscripts. The great majority of manuscripts and version, with most of the Greek fathers, have the word "blood" as in the Received Text: and as it is not likely to have been inserted if not genuine, we cannot doubt it is the true reading.]

And hath determined the times [before] appointed, and the bounds of their habitation. But the true reading beyond doubt is, 'fixed the set times, and the bounds of their habitation' [ prostetagmenos (G4367) is the only reading of authority: protetagmenos of the Received Text has next to none]. The apostle here opposes both Stoical Fate and Epicurean Chance, ascribing the periods and localities in which men and nations flourish to the sovereign will and prearrangements of a living God.

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 - ('seek God' is the much better supported reading.) That is the high end of all these arrangements of divine power, wisdom, and love.

If haply they might feel after him - as men groping their way in the dark, "and find him" - a lively picture of the murky atmosphere of Natural Religion.

Though he be not far from everyone of us. The difficulty of finding God outside the pale of revealed religion lies not in His distance from us, but in our distance from Him, through the blinding effect of sin.

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, [ kai (G2532) esmen (G2070)] - more simply, 'live, and move, and exist.' This means, not merely (as Meyer explains it), 'Without Him we have no life, nor that motion which every inanimate nature displays, nor even existence itself:' it means that God is the living immanent Principle of all these in men. It will be observed that the words, "in Him we live, and move, and exist," constitute in themselves a descending series; but viewed in relation to the speaker's purpose, they have (as Lechler notices) all the force of an ascending climax. Life, it is true, is more than motion, and motion more than bare being; but the apostle's thought is, 'Without God-isolated and apart from God-we should have no life; consequently, no motion; and so, no existence.'

As certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. This is the first half of the fifth line, word for word, of an astronomical poem of Aratus, a Greek countryman of the apostle's and his predecessor by about three centuries. It is found also (nearly as here) in a religious hymn of Cleanthes of Troas, a contemporary of Aratus. But, as our speaker hints, the same sentiment is to be found in other Greek poets. They meant it, doubtless, in a pantheistic sense; but the truth which it expresses the apostle turns to his own purpose-to teach a pure, personal, spiritual Theism. Probably during his quiet retreat at Tarsus (Acts 9:30), revolving his special vocation to the Gentiles, he gave himself to the study of so much Greek literature as might be turned to Christian account in his future work. Hence, this and his other quotations from the Greek poets (1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12).

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.

Forasmuch then as we and the offspring of God, we ought not to think (the courtesy of this language is worthy of notice) that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device - rather, 'graven by the art or device of man.' One can hardly doubt that the apostle would here point to those matchless monuments of the plastic art in gold, and silver, and costliest stone, which lay so profusely beneath and around him. The more intelligent Pagan Greeks no more pretended that these sculptured gods and goddesses were real deities, or even their actual likenesses, than Romanist Christians do their images; and Paul doubtless knew this: yet here we find him condemning all such efforts to represent visibly the invisible God. How shamefully inexcusable, then, are the Greek and Roman Churches in paganizing the worship of the Christian Church by the encouragement of pictures and images in religious service. In the eighth century the second Council of Nicea decreed that the image of God was as proper an object of worship as God Himself.

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, [ huperidoon (G5237)] - literally, and better, 'overlooked;' that is, bore with, without interposing to punish it otherwise than by suffering the debasing tendency of such worship to develop itself. Compare Acts 14:16, "Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways;" and see the note at Romans 1:24, etc.

But now - now that a new light has risen upon the world,

Commandeth: q.d. 'That duty-all along lying upon man, estranged from his Creator, but hitherto only silently recommending itself and little felt-is now peremptory.'

All men every where - (compare Colossians 1:6; Colossians 1:23; Titus 2:11). There is here a tacit allusion to the narrow precincts of favoured Judaism, within which immediate and entire repentance was ever urged. The word 'repentance' is here used (as in Luke 13:3; Luke 13:5; Luke 15:10) in its most comprehensive sense of 'repentance unto life.'

Verse 31

Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom 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, [ kathoti (G2530) is better supported than dioti (G1360) of the Received Text]

He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge. 'Aptly (says Bengel) is this uttered on the Areopagus, the seat of judgment.' But how different, in every feature of it, from any pagan conception of divine judgment is that here announced!

The world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained - compare John 5:22-23; John 5:27; and Acts 10:42.

Whereof he hath given assurance (that is, ground of assurance) unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead - the most patent evidence to mankind at large of the judicial authority with which the Risen One is clothed.

The Result (17:32-34)

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.

And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. As the Greek religion was but the glorification of the present life, by the worship of all its most beauteous forms, the Resurrection-which presupposes the vanity of the present life, and is nothing but life out of the death of all that sin has blighted-could have no charms for the true Greek. It gave the death-blow to his fundamental and most cherished ideas; nor, until these were seen to be false and fatal, could the Resurrection, and the Gospel of which it was a primary doctrine, seem otherwise than ridiculous.

And others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.

Verse 33

So Paul departed from among them.

So Paul departed from among them. Whether he would have opened, to any extent, the Gospel scheme in this address, if he had not been interrupted, or whether he reserved this for exposition afterward to earnest inquirers, we cannot tell: only the speech is not to be judged of as quite complete.

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 (or 'attached themselves') unto him, and believed. Instead of mocking or politely waiving the subject, having listened eagerly, they joined themselves to the apostle for further instruction, the consequence of which was that they "believed."

Among the which was Dionysius, [ kai (G2532) Dionusios (G1354)] - even Dionysius, the Areopagite,

a member of that august tribunal. Ancient tradition says be was placed by the apostle over the little flock at Athens. Certainly (as Olshausen says) the number of converts there, and of men fit for office in the church, was not so great that there could be much choice.

And a woman named Damaris - not certainly one of the apostle's audience on the Areopagus, but won to the Faith either before or after. Nothing else is known of her. Of any further labours of the apostle at Athens, and how long he stayed, we are not informed. Certainly he was not driven away. But (as Howson admirably says) 'it is a serious and instructive fact that the mercantile population of Thessalonica and Corinth received the message of God with greater readiness than the highly educated and polished Athenians. Two letters to the Thessalonians, and two to the Corinthians, remain to attest the flourishing state of those churches. But we possess no letter written by Paul to the Athenians; and we do not read that he was ever in Athens again.'


(1) What wonderful powers of adaptation to different classes of minds does the apostle show in his proceedings at Thessalonica and Berea, on the one hand, and on the other at Athens! At Thessalonica, having common ground with the Jews and with the Gentile proselytes, in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, he takes these as his starting-point, establishing the great position that the predicted Messiah was to be a suffering and glorified, a dying and rising Redeemer, and that Jesus of Nazareth, whom he came to proclaim to them-since He alone answered to this character-must be the Christ of God. Having for three successive sabbaths discoursed in this strain, he carried conviction not only to some of his Jewish hearers, who at once attached themselves to the missionaries, but to a great multitude of proselyte Greeks, including not a few women of superior station-not to speak of conquests beyond this circle (1 Thessalonians 1:9). At Berea the same course was pursued, and with the like success, the audience there daily searching the Old Testament Scriptures, to see whether the sense put upon them, and the positions founded on them, were correct. Even at Athens, 'in the synagogue of the Jews, he disputed,' probably much as he had done at the two former places. But in the Agora (G58) (or marketplace) and on the Areopagus, how different his line of procedure! How he dealt with the comers and goers in the place of public concourse we only know from the remarks of his motley hearers: some of them calling him a "babbler," or contemptible teacher, while others thought he was holding forth the merits and claims of some new deities. But from this we may gather that he had confined himself to a simple proclamation of the great facts of Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

Entirely different from both these methods was the line of discourse on the Areopagus, where he had to deal with speculative thinkers, who "by wisdom knew not God;" having speculated themselves out of the first principles of all religious truth, and been for ages wandering in endless mazes of error and uncertainty. In dealing with such minds he first lays down, in a few great strokes, the fundamental truths of all Theism: the personality of God; the relation of the universe to Him as the work of His hands, and every moment upheld, beautified, and blessed by Him; His consequent independence of His creatures, but their absolute dependence upon Him; their need of Him, and obligation to feel after Him as their chief good-with the folly and wickedness of attempting to represent this glorious Being in a visible form by statuary of any kind done by the hands of men. Having done this in a strain of studied courtesy and calm sublimity, he goes on to say that as God had borne with such unworthy treatment only because of the darkness that until then had brooded over men's minds, so the time for such endurance had come to an end, with the new light that had at length burst upon the world by the mission and work, the death and resurrection, of Jesus Christ, and the appointment of Him to be the Righteous Judge of the world.

Now that three stupendous events have taken place-leaving men without excuse-God will endure their estrangement from Him no longer, but requires all men, on hearing these glad tidings, to repent and turn unto Him from whom they have wandered so far astray, and who, by that Man whom He hath ordained, will at length bring them into righteous judgment. Not an illusion is there here to the Old Testament Scriptures, on which he had based all his reasonings and appeals to the Thessalonians and Bereans of the Synagogue; nor does the apostle feed the Athenian pride by indulging in speculative reasoning and rhetorical appeal, which would but have left them where they were. A simple and positive statement of the great fundamental truths of all religion, a brief outline of the facts of the Gospel, and a respectful intimation of the urgency of the matter and the awful responsibility of all who heard such truths, is the substance of this memorable discourse. And who can fail to observe the versatility of the apostle's mind-his rare power of adapting the same truths to every variety of audience he had to address.

And yet one common principle reigns in all his addresses. Though the difference between the Jewish and the Greek point of view, in approaching religious truth, was extreme, the supernatural and authoritative character of the Gospel provision for man's spiritual recovery is that feature of it which to both is made most prominent. Self-commending as the truths of the Gospel are, reasonable in itself as is the service which it requires, soul-satisfying and ennobling as all have found it to be who have made trial of it, it is not on these grounds alone-nor primarily-that the apostle presses the Gospel of Christ upon either Jew or Gentile. It is as the story of a Person divinely gifted to the world, and supernaturally accredited; it is as a series of indisputable facts, supernaturally attested; it is as God's gracious interposition in behalf of a world perishing through estrangement from Himself; it is as His message from heaven, inviting us back to Himself by Jesus Christ. Wonderful, indeed, is the suitableness of the Gospel to our felt necessities, and never does the soul close with it but in the view of this. But as it would be no cure at all for our spiritual maladies, were it not seen to be direct from God Himself, so it is as a message from heaven that the soul in every case embraces it; and in this light did Paul ever hold it forth both to the sign-seeking Jews and the wisdom-loving Greeks.

(2) It will be observed that at Thessalonica the proportion of "Jews" who were won over to the Gospel was much smaller than of the devout Greeks," and that the riot which brought the new converts before the magistrates, and obliged them to despatch Paul and Silas by night to Beroea, was instigated by Jews, out of hatred to the Gospel. To this the apostle alludes in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16) in a tone of melancholy, which, while it gives remarkable confirmation to the history (to which Paley adverts, Horae Paulinae, 9: 5), shows that he regarded it as a premonitory symptom of "the wrath that was coming on them to the uttermost." But the point here specially calling for notice is the contrast between bodies of men who have proved unfaithful to high privileges and those who, with little light, have begun to value and improve what they have. The Jews first manifested the degeneracy into which they had long been sinking by the rejection and crucifixion of their promised Messiah; and from that time their character as a nation rapidly declined-their fanatical adherence to the most distorted conceptions of their own Religion begetting in them intense hatred of spiritual and evangelical truth, and stimulating them to acts of turbulence, which at length intense hatred of spiritual and evangelical truth, and stimulating them to acts of turbulence, which at length brought upon them national destruction.

Those few of them who in almost every place embraced the Gospel-the "remnant according to the election of grace" - were but the exceptions which prove the rule. How different was it with the Gentiles! Those of them who had already taken the important step of embracing the light of the Jewish Faith were the readier to recognize and rejoice in the still brighter light of the Gospel; and so the majority of the earliest disciples of the Lord Jesus (after the first few years of the Gospel) consisted probably of those who had before been proselytes to the Religion of the Old Testament. And the same principle will be found in operation still; and nations, churches, families, and individuals will find that "to him that hath shall be given, but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have."

(3) From what is said of the mode in which the Beroeans tested the preaching of Paul, three things undeniably follow: First, That the people at large, as well as the ministers of the Church, are both entitled and bound to search the Scriptures-implying both the careful and continuous reading of them, and the exercise of a discriminating judgment as to the sense of them; Secondly, That they are both entitled and bound to try the teaching which they receive from the ministers of the Church, whether and how far it accords with the Word of God; Thirdly, That no faith but such as results from personal conviction that what is taught is truth, according, to the Word of God, ought to be demanded, or is of any avail. Tried by these three tests, what is the Church of Rome but a gigantic Apostasy from the apostolic Faith; withholding, as it does systematically, the Scriptures from the common people, demanding from them, instead, implicit faith in its own teaching, and anathematizing-not to say punishing, even to imprisonment and death, when it can-all who persist in reading the Scriptures for themselves, and trying even its teaching by that standard?

(4) The record of Paul's proceedings at Athens, here given, bears on its face the clearest marks of historic truth, not only in outline, but in detail. Who that knows anything of the Athens of that time is not struck with the lively description of his first impressions of the idolatrous city, of his disputations in the Agora, and of the eagerness of that novelty-hunting people to get a speech from him on the Areopagus? Above all, is not the discourse itself stamped with a Pauline courtesy and frankness; a characteristic breadth, depth, and grasp; a lining off of the dispensation of forbearance, by reason of the darkness in which men had to grope their way to truth, and of the dispensation of peremptory demand for universal and immediate repentance, by reason of the light which has now burst upon the world-all bespeaking the mind and mouth of that one man whose image and superscription are so familiar to the intelligent readers of the New Testament? Yes, the authenticity of the facts, and the truth of this record of them as they stand, carry their own vouchers here.

(5) The impressions produced upon a thoughtful mind by such a scene as that which presented itself to the eye of Paul in Athens and on the Areopagus, are the very best test of its predominant tone and character. That one of such intelligence should be able to survey such a scene without admiration, and to discourse on it without complimenting-without even alluding to-the high culture and exquisite genius stamped upon its architectural forms, and the life that breathed in its statuary-will seem to those who look at such things only in themselves to be evidence of a hard mind, a dull soul, a want of aesthetic culture and poetic sentiment, a want, in short, of all refinement; evidence of a one-sidedness which can see nothing good in anything beyond its own narrow range of vision. But what it proves is simply this, that the perversion of genius, even by the most exquisite creations of art designed to minister to the dishonour of God, so weighed down the apostle's spirit and distressed his soul, that it left neither room nor heart for admiration of the prostituted gifts that gave birth to such productions.

'The' apostle Paul (says Lechler admirably), while he views the works of art in Athens, cannot separate the artistic designs from the thoughts which are expressed by them, and the purposes for which they were made. The beautiful temples, the glorious statues, etc., are essentially the creations of the pagan spirit and the instruments of polytheistic worship; the city adorned with works of art is a "city wholly covered with idols." And therefore the sight of this world of art awakens in him a moral indignation at the error and sin against the living God which is contained therein. The Spirit of God never permits a judgment entirely apart from religion and morality.' Yes, 'the one-sideness' is not Paul's-the 'narrow range of vision' is not his; but it is that of those who look at such things from a sublunary point of view. As objects which appear great when one is close by them dwindle into insignificance when seen from a great height, and in their relation to other objects before unperceived, so those works of art which, when viewed purely as human productions, bespeak transcendent genius and fill the mind with only a feeling of admiration, are, when seen in the light of the dishonour to God to which they were designed to minister, regarded only as evidences of moral obliquity, and produce only an all-absorbing feeling of pain. When David sang,

"One thing have I desired of the Lord, That will I seek after: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life," etc.,

He might be called one-sided-some would say, narrow-minded-but only in that highest and noblest sense which puts every object and every pursuit into its right place and keeps it there, bringing all that is subordinate and fleeting into captivity to that which is primary and enduring. When Mary is commended for "choosing the good part which shall not be taken from her," it was just this all-absorbing, all-consuming "desire of one thing" which is held up to her praise, and He who so commended her made it evident how HE would have regarded the polytheistic creations of Athenian genius; nor will any whose minds and hearts have been steeped, as Paul's was, in the spirit of Christ, think and feel otherwise than in entire unison with the great apostle on this occasion.

(6) It can never be too deeply impressed upon the students of classical literature and ancient philosophy that the idea of Creation is nowhere to be found in it, and was utterly unknown alike to the pagan people and the profoundest thinkers of antiquity. (See Ritter's 'History of Philosophy.' Havernick's 'Introduction to Pentateuch,' and similar works.) With the absence of all idea of Creation-the confusion of nature and of God-there must of course have been the absence of all proper conception of divine rule and human duty, of sin, and of future retribution; nor could the unity of the human family and the history of the world be properly conceived. What a flood of light, then, must have been thrown upon any pagan mind, earnest enough to follow it, and capable of taking it in, by this brief discourse of the great apostle; and how much does the world owe to that "day-spring from on high" which hath visited it, giving light to them that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide their feet into the way of peace! And, as if to show how entirely we are dependent on Revelation for all the Religious Truth which we possess, it is worthy of notice how prone men are, as soon as they depart from Revealed Truth as their standard of faith, to sink-even under the Gospel-into the very errors of Heathenism. Do we not find the Church of Rome, on the one hand, setting up an elaborate system of image-worship-thus paganizing that which abolished Paganism-while, on the other hand, a subtle Pantheism among metaphysicians, and a gross Materialism among the students of physical science, are undermining in many the sense of a LIVING GOD: a God, that is, having consciousness and personality, the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, and in the exercise of His rectoral authority at once inviting and demanding the subjection and love of all his reasonable creatures.

(7) What thoughts are suggested to the thoughtful mind by that inscription, "to the unknown God!" Multitudes have gods many and lords many, which they "know" well enough, and on whose altars they worship their favourite pursuit-to which they sacrifice time, strength, thought, affection-all that constitutes their proper selves. But what heart is there of all these that has not another altar to Him whose their breath is and whose are all their ways-Whom their conscience craves, though in vain-Who is yearning after them, but finds no response-to Whom they look not as a Friend, and Whom they know not as a Father-Whom they never take into their plans of life, and with Whom they would rather have nothing to do-the "Unknown" God! But far though they are from Him, how near is He to them, "for in Him they live, and move and exist." He is as near to thee (says a German preacher, quoted by Lechler) as the law of the Holy One in thy conscience, as the longing after salvation in thy soul, as the involuntary cry for help and the ceaseless sighing after peace in thy heart and mouth.

(8) What is called. The General Judgment, or a judgment of all mankind at one and the same time, stands out so clearly in this discourse on the Areopagus that one should think it impossible for any Christian to gainsay it. And yet a considerable class of intelligent and warm-hearted Christians of our day contend against it, because it will not harmonize with their view of the relation of Christ's Second Coming to the Millennium-in other words, with their view of the purposes for which Christ is to come the second time. Controversy with such devoted friends of the Gospel is unpleasant, and here, at least, would be out of place. But to fix the proper sense of the text of Scripture is the business of a commentator on it; and in discharge of that duty, let us invite the reader's attention, first, to the objects of this judgment-the world-that is, as the word denotes, 'the inhabited world' [ teen (G3588) oikoumeneen (G3625)], which only prejudice can deny to mean, 'the world of mankind at large;' and next, to the time of this judgment - "He hath appointed a day" for doing it. To reply that a day in Scripture does not necessarily mean a day of twenty-four hours, is to miss the point of the argument for a general judgment from the phrase in question. Nobody thinks of a day of 24 hours when he reads this verse, nor ever naturally inquires what length of time will take to complete this great transaction. What everyone understands by "a day" here is just 'a certain definite time,' on the arrival of which this judgment will begin, and from and after which it will continue uninterruptedly to its close. 'One continuous uninterrupted transaction' is what the words naturally express, and 'the judgment of the whole inhabited world' is that continuous uninterrupted transaction. How consonant this is to the general tenor of Scripture, to the instincts of our spiritual nature, and to all that is august in the divine procedure, let the reader judge.

(9) It is impossible not to be struck with the little fruit which the Gospel had in the metropolis of Greek culture, as compared with commercial communities and rural populations. And as if to invite us to inquire whether there be not a principle in this, history tells us that some of the most sublime writers of the Neo-Platonic school-who wrote hymns in praise of the Godhead, or the great principle of motion, life, and love in the universe, though they lived in the midst of Christians, and had every facility for studying Christianity-never yielded themselves to it, and lived and died outside its pale. The truth is, that where speculation is prosecuted for its own sake-the intellect restlessly active, but the heart and life all neglected-pride only is engendered, and in this state the sharp, definite realities and dread certainties of revealed truth are neither intellectually apprehended nor morally appreciated. On the other hand, the men of action and enterprise, and those of simple purpose, more naturally sympathize with the earnest character and practical aim of Gospel truth. In short, the reception of the Gospel is the grand test of the simplicity of the heart. It is hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes. We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but unto them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Acts 17". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/acts-17.html. 1871-8.
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