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Bible Commentaries
Acts 17

Luscombe's Commentary on Selected Books of the NTLuscombe's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

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

1. Amphipolis is a city that was on the way to Thessalonica. It was situated on a peninsula with a river on each side of the city.

2. Apollonia is about 20 miles from Thessalonica. There are references to Mark being an elder of the church in Apollonia.

3. Thessalonica is still a thriving city. At the time of Paul there were about 14,000 Jews in this city. There were, of course, many synagogues scattered throughout the Jewish sections of the city.

Verse 2

2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,

1. Custom (habit) is not a bad word. There are many good habits that we should cultivate. Prayer, study, church attendance and eating are also good habits.

2. There are also bad habits that we need to break. But customs, traditions, and habits are developed over time and take time to break them.

3. Paul had a habit of going first to the Jewish community and speaking in their synagogues. In some cities his visit to the synagogue is not mentioned - either because it was not significant; or there was no synagogue in that city.

4. For three Sabbaths Paul met, spoke and reasoned in the synagogues. It would appear that Paul is having some success and conversions. The interest in his teaching remains high. He has not shaken the dust off his feet. He has not been run out of town.

5. His source of teaching - the Scriptures, that is the Old Testament. Paul was well schooled in the teaching of the prophets regarding the Messiah.

Verse 3

3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, " This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ. "

1. Paul was explaining and demonstrating the many prophecies concerning Christ.

2. There are many passages in the Old Testament that predict the suffering, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

3. Paul explains that Jesus (Savior) is the Christ (Messiah).

Verse 4

4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.

1. Some Jews were converted to Christ.

2. There were also many (a great multitude) Greeks who were converted.

3. Many of the leading women - We are now in Greek territory. Women were equal with men and held many prominent positions in local government.

4. Luke, being Greek, makes special note of the prominent women who were converted. (See 5:15; 8:12; 13:50; 16:30; and 17:12.)

5. When they were converted they became followers of Paul and Silas.

Verse 5

5 But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

1. However many Jews were not converted, or convinced by the teaching of Paul.

2. They became envious because of the many converts Paul was making.

3. A plot emerges. They get some men from the marketplace (men just hanging around, talking, with nothing to do) and who have no interest in the religious dispute. These men begin talking to gather a mob.

4. They sent the whole city into confusion.

5. Even today, a crowd will gather where there is any excitement or a stir. Just begin some commotion and others will come out of their houses just to see what the excitement is all about.

6. It would seem that Jason is: a) a convert; b) the host for Paul and Silas. The mob decides to attack the house of Jason and bring out Paul and Silas.

Verse 6

6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, " These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.

1. Paul and Silas were not home. So, they grabbed Jason and some of the other converts and brought them to the city council.

2. The charge - These have turned the world upside down.

1. The Jewish leaders are the ones who turned the city upside down by planning, creating and inciting a riot.

2. The accusation is that Paul and Silas have caused trouble in every place they have gone. Now they have come to our city. Implied - They will cause trouble here, also.

3. From another perspective - We need to turn the world upside down - to get it right-side up. Moral values are upside down. We need to turn our world upside down in order to help people be headed in the right direction.

Verse 7

7 Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king-Jesus. "

1. Now the specific charge against Jason - He housed them. He gave them board and room.

2. They accuse him of being contrary to the law of Caesar by declaring that Jesus is King.

3. This charge would amount to treason against the Roman Empire.

Verse 8

8 And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things.

1. The riffraff trouble-makers stirred up the crowd and the political leaders of the city.

2. The leaders were caught between the crowd and their legal responsibility.

Verse 9

9 So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

1. These leaders found a compromise.

2. They kept Jason and allowed the rest to go free.

Verse 10

10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.

1. Realizing that it was no longer safe for Paul and Silas, they were sent away under the cover of darkness.

2. They came to Berea.

Verse 11

11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

1. The Jewish people in Berea were:

1. More fair minded. They were more receptive. Their minds were open to the teaching of Paul.

2. They listened with a ready mind. They would listen and weigh the evidence presented and decide based on the evidence and argument rather than emotion.

3. They searched the Scriptures to confirm that the teaching of Paul was correct.

2. COMMENT : I believe that most preachers try to teach and explain the truth, as they believe it to be taught in the Bible. But, in judgment, we can not excuse our actions by saying, "My preacher said - - -." We must follow the example of the Bereans. We need to study for ourselves. Listen to the preacher. Look up the passages he quotes. Study the verses and their context.

Verse 12

12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.

1. Many from Berea believed. Not because Paul said it. But because they had confirmed the message and decided for themselves.

2. Also many non-Jews (Greeks) and prominent women were converted.

Verse 13

13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.

1. As word spread that Paul was in Berea and having success in converting Jews, the Jews from Thessolonica went to Berea to create trouble.

2. And what was Paul doing? He "preached the Word" at Berea.

Verse 14

14 Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there.

1. The mission team is now split - three ways. Luke remained at Philippi. Now Silas and Timothy remain at Berea and Paul travels on to Athens.

2. Paul is taken to the seacoast and takes a ship to travel toward Athens.

Verse 15

15 So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed.

1. Some of the brethren from Berea escort Paul to see him off.

2. Paul issues a request - send Silas and Timothy ASAP.

3. The Berean brethren leave to tell Silas and Timothy of Paul's request.

Verse 16

16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.

1. Paul arrives in Athens, Greece and waits for Silas and Timothy to catch up with him.

2. His spirit was troubled at what he saw happening in Athens.

3. The city was almost completely filled with idol worshipers. Idols were everywhere.

4. Idols literally lined both sides of the main streets. B. W. Johnson writes, "The Greek historian Pausanias says that there were more idols in Athens than in all the rest of Greece combined. Many other writers bear the same testimony. Paul would see them wherever he turned his eyes."

5. John Gill adds, "And Petronius (Sat. xvii.) says humorously of the city, that "it was easier to find a god than a man there." See Kuinoel. In this verse we may see how a splendid idolatrous city will strike a pious mind. Athens then had more that was splendid in architecture, more that was brilliant in science, and more that was beautiful in the arts, than any other city of the world; perhaps more than all the rest of the world united."

Verse 17

17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.

1. Paul could not just rest and wait. He saw a troubling situation and needed to speak about it. SO - - -

1. He reasoned, discussed and argued with Jews at the synagogue.

2. He taught Gentile worshipers (where ever he found them).

3. He taught in the marketplace (where everyone went to buy meat and produce).

2. This is called the "shotgun" or "scatter gun" approach. Like the parable in Mat_13:1-58 , the man was just scattering the seed. Some of the seed would fall on open and receptive hearts and produce fruit. Paul was teaching Jews, Gentiles, pagans, athiests, idolaters - anyone, any place, any time.

Verse 18

18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, " What does this babbler want to say? " Others said, " He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods, " because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

1. Epicureans -

1. John Gill describes them - These were so called from Epicurus, the son of Neocles, who was born 342 years before Christ, and taught philosophy at Athens, in his garden; the principal tenets of which were, that the world was not made by any deity, or with any design, but came into its being and form, through a fortuitous concourse of atoms, of various sizes and magnitude, which met, and jumbled, and cemented together, and so formed the world; and that the world is not governed by the providence of God; for though he did not deny the being of God, yet he thought it below his notice, and beneath his majesty to concern himself with its affairs; and also, that the chief happiness of men lies in pleasure. His followers were called "Epicureans"; of which there have been two sorts; the one were called the strict or rigid "Epicureans", who placed all happiness in the pleasure of the mind, arising from the practice of moral virtue, and which is thought by some to be the true principle of "Epicureans"; the other were called the loose, or the remiss Epicureans, who understood their master in the gross sense, and placed all their happiness in the pleasure of the body, in brutal and sensual pleasure, in living a voluptuous life, in eating and drinking, &c. and this is the common notion imbibed of an Epicurean.

2. B. W. Johnson writes that for the Epicureans "a man's best course was to get as much pleasure out of life as possible. With them pleasure was the chief good."

2. Stoics - The Stoics were the opposite.

1. John Gill describes the Stoics - "The author of this sect was Zeno, whose followers were so called from the Greek word "Stoa", which signifies a portico, or piazza, under which Zeno used to walk, and teach his philosophy, and where great numbers of disciples attended him, who from hence were called "Stoics": their chief tenets were, that there is but one God, and that the world was made by him, and is governed by fate; that happiness lies in virtue, and virtue has its own reward in itself; that all virtues are linked together, and all vices are equal; that a wise and good man is destitute of all passion, and uneasiness of mind, is always the same, and always joyful, and ever happy in the greatest torture, pain being no real evil; that the soul lives after the body, and that the world will be destroyed by fire."

2. "The Stoics were fatalists, believers in a sort of pantheism, and insisted on self-righteousness."

3. Luscombe's Summary - The Epicureans believed that what ever brings pleasure is good. In modern vernacular - If it feels good, do it. The Stoics believed that denial of pleasure was the chief virtue. In other words - If it brings pleasure, it is wrong.

4. Paul is called a "babbler" here. The Greek word is for a bird that is a "seed picker." It was used about one who was "lounging about the market place and picking up a substance by whatever may chance to fall from the loads of merchandise." (Thayer's Greek Lexicon)

5. Others just thought he was introducing them to a "new" god, named Jesus. They had heard of hundreds of gods but this was a new one. They were interested, or, at least curious.

Verse 19

19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, " May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak?

1. Paul is brought to the Areopagus. This is the Greek word for Mar's Hill. (Verse 22)

2. They were interested in this "new" doctrine and wanted to know more about this god which was not familiar to them.

Verse 20

20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean. "

1. Thayer explains the meaning of "strange" things that they were hearing. The word "strange" means - "to surprise or astonish by the strangeness and novelty of a thing."

2. These men were really interested in these new teachings of Paul.

Verse 21

21 For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.

1. Luke tells us the many Athenians were "babblers" (seed pickers).

2. They spent their day in doing nothing but telling or hearing from others about some new idea, thought, teaching, philosophy, god, or moral truth.

3. The 21 st century citizens have the same philosophy of life. Whatever is NEW is BETTER. We want the newest car, computer, refrigerator, or TV set. When something new comes along, we feel that the world has left us in the dust and the only way to catch up is the buy the newest, latest, and assumed, best available.

Verse 22

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, " Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious;

1. The King James Version used the word - superstitious. This makes us think that Paul was, in some way, condemning them.

2. The word here is used in a good sense of reverence, pious, religious. Paul was handing out a complement. They were devout, pious, very religious. Paul was glad to be among people who desired to know and live a righteous life.

3. While Paul disagreed with them - He assures them that very few places are filled with some many religious, devotees as Athens. This was a city full of religious people.

Verse 23

23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:

1. Paul discusses the many objects - statues, temples, buildings, relics and other objects of devotion.

2. Now he turns his attention to the one altar with an unusual inscription. "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD."

1. There were in Greek and Roman mythology thousands of gods. There was a god for almost every noun you could think about. There were gods for frogs, ants, grasshoppers, flies, houses, roads, carts, wagons, dogs, horses, barns. You name it - there was a god for it.

2. Then they developed sub-groups - flies in the barn, flies in the house, flies in the market - each had their own god.

3. Then there was a "JUST IN CASE GOD." They were thinking, "What if we missed one of the gods? What if that god becomes angry at us?" So they put up an altar to the god they had not thought about yet.

4. Paul uses this as an introduction. Let me tell you about the one you forgot.

Verse 24

24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.

THE GOD YOU FORGOT ABOUT- - -(sermon outline--see comments on next thre verses for rest of outline)

1. Creator - This God made the world, earth, planets, sun, moon, stars. He also made everything in the earth - rivers and mountains, trees and grass, lakes and seas.

2. Omnipresent - This God is not limited to a place. He is everywhere at once. He does not dwell in a certain place, temple, house, synagogue, or city.

Verse 25

25 Nor is He worshiped with men ' s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.

1. Omnipotent - God does not need men to serve Him. God does not need anything. He gives. He does not need us to meet His needs.

2. Giver - The God of Paul is one who gives, not takes. He gives to all of us:

1. Life - God breathed into us the breath of life - We became living souls.

2. Breath - God supplies the things we need - air, oxygen, water, food, meat. Everything we need to sustain our lives - was supplied by God.

3. All things - Even things that we do not fully understand. God supplied trees and grass to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. We breath out carbon dioxide and the green plants convert that carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. As they say, "Who'd a thunked it?" God thought of it before we knew we needed it.

Verse 26

26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,

1. Interested in Humanity - He made us all - red, yellow, black and white. He made us alike inside.

1. Of one blood - There is no difference in the blood of one race from another race. There are blood types but type A is the same for all men, of all races, colors, and ethnic origins.

2. Pre-appointed times - Some have tried to make this teach the Calvinistic idea of individual predestination. Albert Barnes writes, "This evidently refers to the dispersion and migration of nations. And it means that God had, in his plan, fixed the times when each country should be settled, and the rise, the prosperity, and the fall of each nation. The different continents and islands have not, therefore, been settled by chance, but by a wise rule, and in accordance with God's arrangement and design."

3. On the earth together - We are all here on the planet earth. Some have tried to suggest that God intended the blacks to dwell in one area (Africa), and other races, also, to have their separate areas of the earth. It is suggested that the races should not mingle or cross these boundaries. I believe that the meaning is that some areas of the earth are less habitable (Antarctica or the North Pole, for example) than other areas. God intended for us to live where it was more habitable for us.

Verse 27

27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;


1. We should seek to know this God. God wants us to seek, search, grope for Him.

2. God also wants us to find Him. It is not enough to seek - we must find. We must search AND find God.

3. Omnipresent - God does not dwell in temples made with hands. He dwells in us. He is not some god far away. He is a very present help.

Verse 28

28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring. '

1. We owe our very existence to Him. It is in and through God that we live, have the ability to move, and have our personality, character, and very being.

2. Then Paul quotes a Greek poet. There are several Greek poets that express the thought quoted here. Albert Barnes adds, "This precise expression is found in Aratus ("Phaenom.," v. 5), and in Cleanthus in a hymn to Jupiter. Substantially the same sentiment is found in several other Greek poets. Aratus was a Greek poet of Cilicia the native place of Paul, and flourished about 277 years before Christ."

3. We are his offspring - We come from God. This explains our spirit, our soul, our nature, our origin, and our destiny.

Verse 29

29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man ' s devising.

1. Since we come from God - - -

1. We need to move away from the notion that god is like gold, silver or stone.

2. You can't carve a God that created us. God is not depicted by a painting or a carving.

3. God created man. Man should not create God.

Verse 30

30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,

1. For too long - too many - in too many places - have been living unaware of God. That ignorance about God needs to end.

2. God understood that many were living ignorant of Him. He endured and overlooked that ignorance.

3. NOTE : Ignorance is not an excuse. But God understood that many had not been taught. That is the very purpose in the Great Commission. ( Mat_28:19 ; Mar_16:15 ) We are to take this message to all men, all nations, every creature.

4. Repentance

1. Greek - to change ones mind, to amend for ones past sins

2. Repentance is a simple and compex word.

1. Simple - Change your mind, will, attitude about God and sin.

2. Complex - Repentance is more than a mental exercise. To repent involves a change of mind - which results in a change in direction, a change in behavior, a change in life style. To repent is more than just a decision to stop sinning. We must actually - STOP. We must adopt a new attitude toward sin. We must abhor what we once embraced.

Verse 31

31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. "

1. There is a coming day of judgment. I don't know when that day will be. But it is coming.

2. God will judge the world.

1. His Judgment will be righteous.

2. His Judgment will be by Jesus.

3. His Judgment will follow the resurrection of all men from the dead. ( Joh_5:28-29 )

Verse 32

32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, " We will hear you again on this matter. "

1. Resurrection - The key term that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. Most world religions teach us to live a moral life. To pray. To worship. To obey the law. But only Christianity is based on a resurrected Lord.

2. Once this word came from Paul's lips - the sermon was over.

1. Some mocked - laughed, scorned, and ridiculed Paul.

2. Others expressed an interest in learning more.

Verses 33-34

33 So Paul departed from among them.

34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

1. While some mocked and some wanted to know more - Some believed.

2. Dionysius, a member of the group that governed and oversaw the Areopagus.

3. Also converted was a woman named Damaris.

4. There were others, though unnamed, who believed and were baptized.

5. Paul departed from Athens. His team has not caught up to him yet. They will arrive and be with him in chapter 18.

Bibliographical Information
Luscombe, Manly. "Commentary on Acts 17". Luscombe's Commentary on Selected Books of the NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mlc/acts-17.html. 2021.
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