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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Acts 17

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Verses 1-9

Act 17:1-9


Acts 17:1-9

1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis—Paul and Silas left Philippi and “passed through Amphipolis and Apollonian They journeyed southwest from Philippi about thirty- three miles and came to Amphipolis, which was a Roman military station; Apollonia was about thirty miles farther on, in the district of Macedonia known as Mygdonia, and was about thirty-seven miles from Thessalonica. It seems that Paul and his company did not stop very long in these cities; some think that it was not wise for them to remain so near Philippi as Apollonia. In neither city was there a synagogue as a center of worship; these cities could be evangelized better from Philippi and Thessalonica. Thessalonica was the largest city in Macedonia; the article before “synagogue” implies that this was the chief, if not the only, synagogue of the district; hence, it is concluded that the other towns passed through had no synagogues.

2-3 and Paul, as his custom was,—Paul followed “his custom” of going to the Jews first. Later he wrote: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16.) Paul preached the gospel “to the Jew first” and then to the Gentiles. The Jews met in their synagogue and, since Paul was a Jew, he had access to the synagogue and went there and preached Christ; he used the Jewish center of worship as a place from which to radiate the gospel to the Gentiles. Here he remained “for three sabbath days,” and reasoned “from the scriptures,” the Old Testament, and proclaimed Jesus as the Christ unto them. It is to be understood that Paul and his company were busy the other days of the week preaching from house to house the unsearchable riches of Christ. “Opening” and “alleging” mean that he made plain what was before announced and asserted with reasons for his assertion. He showed from the scriptures that it was necessary for Christ to suffer, to be crucified, buried, and raised from the dead; hence, it was no reproach on Christ that he had been crucified; the prophets had foretold this.

4 And some of them were persuaded,—Some of the Jews believed or were convinced by Paul’s reasoning. It seems that Paul’s teaching was by arguments which they were unable to refute. Those who believed “consorted with Paul and Silas.” “Consorted” is from the Greek “proskleroo,” which means “to assign by lot”; hence, those who believed were given to Paul and Silas by the grace of God. These believers cast in their lot with Paul and Silas and decided to be associated with them. A few of the Jews were convinced, but a great number “of the devout Greeks,” proselytes of the gate, believed; these were heathen by birth who had embraced a part of the Jewish faith. They did not have the religious prejudices which clung so closely to the Jews. Many of “the chief women” also believed. Many women of the highest social standing became believers here as they did at Philippi and Berea. There seem to have been four classes who were converted at this place: (1) Jews; (2) Greek God-fearing proselytes; (3) other Greeks; (4) honorable women.

5 But the Jews, being moved with jealousy,—This means the unbelieving Jews. Our English words “zeal” and “jealousy” are from the same Greek word “zelos.” These unbelieving Jews were filled “with jealousy.” They did not like to see so many drawn away from their own party; they were jealous of Paul and Silas as the Jews were jealous of the leadership of Christ. They knew how to raise a mob; they went to “certain vile fellows of the rabble” and raised a mob and “set the city on an uproar.” It is strange that the Jewish rabbis would resort to such base methods of opposing the truth; it is also strange how such ones could excite the people so as to cause an uproar in the city. “Vile fellows of the rabble” mean those who had no calling, but lounged around the market place in the hope of picking up a chance living, and who were ready for anything bad or good that might present itself. There must have been many Jews in Thessalonica. This mob, excited by religious prejudice and jealousy, made an attack on the “house of Jason.” It seems that he was the host of Paul and Silas; we know nothing more of him than is revealed here. The name is found in the list of those whom Paul speaks of as his “kinsmen,” but this may be quite a different person. (Romans 16:21.) They sought to bring Jason and his guests out to the people who were infuriated and ready to do them violence.

6-7 And when they found them not,—Paul and Silas were not found; it is not known where they were. They then seized Jason and “dragged” him and “certain brethren before the rulers.” Their failure to find Paul and Silas augmented their anger, and they sought to take vengeance on Jason and any other Christians whom they could lay hands on. They brought them before the city officials; Thessalonica was a free city. During these three weeks Paul and Silas had made many disciples and a congregation or church had been formed. They preferred the charge against Paul and Silas that they had “turned the world upside down,” or had disturbed the peace wherever they had gone. “The world” means the inhabited earth, and especially the whole Roman Empire, which embraced a very large portion of the known world. Perhaps their accusation was exaggerated, as men moved by the spirit of jealousy do not correctly represent their enemies. They furthermore charged Jason with having received these disturbers of the peace. Jason was charged with aiding and plotting with Paul and Silas as traitors. They specify before the rulers that they were teaching and acting “contrary to the decrees of Caesar.” Paul in preaching Jesus preached him as a King; these grossly prejudiced accusers did not understand the nature of his kingdom or the sense in which Jesus was King. This was the same charge with which the Pharisees and Herodians had attempted to catch Jesus. (Mark 12:14.) It is the same charge that the Sanhedrin made against Jesus to Pilate. (Luke 23:2.) The Jews here, as before Pilate (John 19:15), renounced their hope of a Messianic King.

8-9 And they troubled the multitude—These Jews, by bringing Jason and other Christians before the rulers, caused more disturbance than Paul and Silas had caused; they created confusion; when the rulers heard the accusation they were disturbed. They were ignorant of many of the facts, nevertheless they were troubled about the matter. They would not let Jason and the brethren go until they had put them under bond not to disturb the peace. The exact point of this guarantee is not stated; however, it is implied that they did not want preached that which had caused the disturbance; they may have requested that Paul and Silas leave the city. The charge that they brought against the brethren was serious, but the proof was meager, so all that could be done was to take security of the brethren.

Verses 1-34

Act 17:1-34



Notes For Lesson Sixteen:

The Second Missionary Journey - Part Two

(Acts 17:1-34)

After a difficult beginning, Paul’s second missionary journey led him to Philippi, where some memorable conversions took place. Now, he continues to several other cities in Greece, preaching the gospel in places that had long secular histories of their own.

Ministry in Thessalonica - A Familiar Pattern (Acts 17:1-9)

Paul now moves on to a new city, as part of a tour that will take him across Greece. His stop in Thessalonica featured several now-familiar kinds of developments. These accounts from various cities help us to see a pattern that so often accompanies the preaching of the gospel. The details will certainly differ with time and place, but the general themes so often are similar, whether in Paul’s day or in our own experience.

Before opposition to their message arose, the missionaries were able to have a fruitful ministry in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-4). This town, less than 100 miles west of Philippi, was a logical stop, after they had passed through a couple of smaller towns*. Thessalonica had a synagogue, and thus Paul and the others began their ministry there. While some of the Jews in the synagogue accepted the gospel, they had far more success here among the Gentiles, and Luke also records that many of the prominent women of the town accepted the gospel.

Philippi (Paul’s previous stop) was connected with all of the towns mentioned in verse 1 - Amphipolis, Apollonia, and Thessalonica - by the Via Egnatia, one of the main highways across the Roman Empire.

Whether because of the enthusiastic Gentile response, or because of the message itself, a group of Jews who had rejected the gospel decided to stir up trouble (Acts 17:5-9) . The Acts narrative states that jealousy was their primary motive, and not for the first time in the New Testament do we see the powerful effect that jealousy can have, as these reprobates quickly cause a violent commotion, using physical force and intimidation as well as false legal charges against the Christians. It is ironic that they accuse the believers of ’causing trouble’ when in fact it is the unbelievers who are causing an entirely unnecessary disturbance. The same is so often true today. At times when Christian values are out-of -synch with contemporary worldly values, Christians are often accused of being divisive or other such things, but most of the time Christians simply speak the truth in love (and in fact often do so more timidly than is necessary). Just as was the case in Thessalonica, when unbelievers react to the gospel with aggression or hostility, this much more to do with their own insecurity than with any deficiency of the church.

For Discussion or Study: To some extent, the events in Thessalonica follow a familiar pattern. What general lessons can we learn from this stop on the missionary journey?

Ministry in Berea - Believers of Noble Character (Acts 17:10-15)

After the turmoil in Thessalonica*, Paul and Silas moved farther west to the town of Berea. In a well-known description, Luke’s narrative praises the Bereans for their response to the gospel. Yet here too, it is not long before Paul’s ministry is disrupted by trouble-makers. The combination of enthusiastic response from some listeners, along with hostility and opposition from others, is a running theme throughout Acts and particularly the accounts of the missionary journeys.

Shortly after the hurried departure from Thessalonica, Paul sent them the epistle we know as 1 Thessalonians, followed later by a second epistle to the same group. Thus 1 Thessalonians became the first of the many epistles sent by the apostle Paul, being written in approximately AD 51.

The ministry to the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12) is the source of one of the most well-remembered verses in Acts. Beginning once again with a ministry in the synagogue, which had led only to marginal success in their previous stop in Thessalonica, Paul finds here a praiseworthy response. It is interesting that in this, one of the few times when Luke gives praise to an audience, the praise is not for a quick acceptance of the gospel but rather for their commitment to seeking the truth according to God himself. Many of the Jews in Berea realized that the Scriptures had foretold a Christ (Messiah), and now eagerly studied to see if he had indeed come as Paul was claiming. Not only did this led to a successful ministry in Berea, but it seems certain that it also helped them to build a strong foundation for their spiritual future.

But before long, agitators arrive from Thessalonica (Acts 17:13-15). This is not the first time in Acts (see Acts 14:19) that the opponents of the gospel were not content with chasing Paul out of their own city, but went out of the way to follow him to a new town. This kind of pattern again reveals the insecurity and other problems in the minds of the more stubborn unbelievers. This type of hardened, determined hostility to the gospel comes from weakness, not strength. Yet this crude form of opposition can still be very effective, and these agitators create enough turmoil that the believers decide to have Paul leave town, leaving Silas and Timothy to minister in Berea.

For Discussion or Study: What should we learn from the praise given to the Bereans for their approach to the truth? What can we learn from the opposition that the gospel once again faced in Berea? Are there any lessons for us, as opposed merely to critiquing those who refuse to obey the gospel?

Ministry in Athens - Greek Culture Meets the Gospel (Acts 17:16-34)

Paul’s next stop was in one of the ancient world’s most important and illustrious cities, Athens. Paul found himself alone for a time in this city, after his sudden departure from Berea, and chose - as we would expect - to use his time as best he could to teach about Christ. Here in the seat of Greek culture he taught the gospel, and while the ministry here was not one of the most successful mission stops in terms of mere numbers, the Acts account is interesting, and Paul’s lesson here is significant in several respects.

The setting alone, with the illustrious apostle in such a renowned city, is quite interesting (Acts 17:16-21). The city of Athens by this time was past its era of greatest glory, but its citizens were at all times conscious of its great cultural and historical past. While there were still many signs of the classical Greek religion and its pantheon of ’gods’, these were not as important to most Greeks as were their philosophers*. As is quite evident from the Acts account alone, the Athenians were passionate about philosophical debate and discussion. At the same time, they maintained the worship of a wider array of gods, often with great fervor and always with a keen awareness of the many myths and legends that Greek culture had produced. In speaking to this audience, Paul was thus contending with a far more sophisticated (in worldly terms, that is) and certainly more well-educated group of listeners than any he had encountered elsewhere in the Gentile world, while at the same time he had to contend with many odd preconceptions. They were accustomed to discussing even the most important issues in a detached, intellectual manner, and so they treat Paul’s exposition of the gospel in the same way. While mildly dismissive of what he is saying, there is enough of interest for them to invite him to speak in the assembly at the Areopagus.

Acts specifically mentions philosophers from two of the leading schools, the Epicureans and the Stoics. The Epicureans were skeptical of all forms of religion, and believed in maximizing one’s satisfaction in the present. Some Epicureans believed in atomism, a rudimentary form of what today is called the Theory of Evolution. The Stoics emphasized reason and logic, and usually believed in a "world soul", that is, a naturalistic or pantheistic form of deity. Like their founder, Zeno, they believed in self-sufficiency and a strong sense of responsibility.

The Areopagus (literally the "hill of Ares", or "Mars Hill"), used to be the site of an ancient Greek judicial and legislative assembly. By the time of Acts, it was still used for public assemblies, but of a more informal nature.

Conscious of his audience, Paul adapts his approach without changing the heart of his message. Paul’s speech to the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-31) begins with his well-remembered proclamation of the unknown God. The Athenians had a practice of erecting an altar "to the unknown god", along with their many altars and temples to their own various ’gods’, because they were afraid they may have overlooked a god somewhere. Paul uses this irony to describe the living God whom, in fact, the Athenians have not known until now. His message stresses several major distinctions between their concept of God and the truth about the living God. There are, of course, many differences between Christianity and human -made religion. But there are three especially important basic distinctions that separate the living God not just from the Greeks’ concept of gods, but from any human attempt to define God with our own reason and will. If you compare any human-made religion with genuine Christianity, it will differ in at least one, and usually more than one, of these respects.

First, the true God is not "served by human hands"; he was not invented by humans, nor is he limited to our physical universe (as were the Greek gods, who lived a life of luxury and intrigue on Mount Olympus), or to our time and space. He is a transcendent God. Second, he wants us to seek him, unlike the Greek gods for whom humans were generally considered a nuisance. Paul’s description of this aspect of God’s nature is almost poignant, when he says that God does everything so that we will seek him and "perhaps" find him. Finally, the living God gives life, both spiritually and physically, and also gives many other blessings as a result of his grace. We do not and cannot earn anything from God. While Paul doesn’t go into much detail in this talk about God’s grace, this is one of the most vital of all distinctions between God as he actually is, versus human conceptions of him. The impulse to justify ourselves by our own works or wisdom is so deeply ingrained in us that almost every philosopher or religious leader who tries to design his or her own system of salvation inevitably relies on some form of self-justification. Note finally that Paul mentions one particular proof of all this: the resurrection. Even among the philosophical, sneering Athenians, the resurrection is proclaimed as a key part of the gospel message.

The reaction to all this is mixed, as Paul probably expected (Acts 17:32-34). The Athenians were a tough crowd, and many took a condescending attitude towards this "foreign god". Even those who invited Paul to speak again may well have done so out of curiosity or out of a desire to be entertained. But it is also encouraging that even here there were a few hearts who wanted to known the truth, and even one of the members of the Areopagus was persuaded to believe in Jesus.

For Discussion or Study: What preconceptions would have been especially strong in this audience? How does Paul adapt his approach without compromising the truth? Consider the distinctions he draws between the Greeks’ religion and the truth about God and Jesus. What are some of the ways that these distinctions also apply to the forms of religion that we encounter in our own experience?

- Mark W. Garner, June 2002

Verses 10-14

Act 17:10-14


Acts 17:10-14

10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas—Berea was about fifty miles southwest of Thessalonica. Paul’s labors had not been in vain in Thessalonica; he had established a church there. (1 Thessalonians 1:7 f 1 Thessalonians 2:13 1 Thessalonians 2:20.) Two of the brethren, Aristarchus and Secundus, later accompanied Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4), and Aristarchus finally went with him to Rome (Acts 27:2). The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas from Thessalonica. They left at night, and Timothy either left with them or soon followed them, for we find him at Berea. (Verse 14.) Paul was not able to return to Thessalonica, but later sent Timothy back to the church there. (1 Thessalonians 3:2.) Paul found a synagogue at Berea and immediately began preaching there. We are not told how long they were on the way coming to Berea.

11 Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica,—This is a great commendation of the Jews at Berea. “More noble” is applied first to nobility of birth, but here it applies to character. They received Paul’s preaching “with all readiness of mind,” but they examined “the scriptures daily” to ascertain whether he was preaching the truth. Evidently Paul had used the Old Testament scriptures, and they were examining these to verify what Paul preached. It does not appear how long they continued searching the scriptures, but evidently long enough to satisfy their own minds as to the truth. It is refreshing to find that the people of Berea exercised greater candor, more openness of mind, and intelligence than those at Thessalonica. Paul expounded the scriptures daily in Thessalonica, but the Bereans, instead of resenting his interpretation, examined the scriptures for themselves.

12 Many of them therefore believed;—As a result of their fair-mindedness, their honesty of heart, and their faithful searching of the scriptures, many believed. Among the number that believed were some “Greek women of honorable estate.” These were women of rank; they were influential, and may have been the wives of the chief citizens. The work of the apostles here as elsewhere extended beyond the synagogue.

13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica—The persecution that had begun at Thessalonica was now carried fifty miles away to Berea. When the Jews in Thessalonica heard that Paul and Silas had gone to Berea and had proclaimed the gospel there, they “came thither likewise, stirring up and troubling the multitudes.” Paul and Silas had left Thessalonica by night, which implies that they secretly left Thessalonica, and the Jews did not know where they had gone; but as soon as they learned, they became active and went to Berea and caused trouble there. They “stirred,” shaking the crowds like an earthquake, and “troubled” the multitude like a disturbing tornado. The Jews had been successful in Thessalonica, and this gave them courage to go to Berea and oppose Paul there. We do not know how long Paul had been in Berea when they came; he had been there long enough to establish a church. Progress was being made until these Jews came from Thessalonica; then a whirl of excitement disturbed the labors of Paul and Silas.

14 And then immediately the brethren sent forth Paul—They acted with haste and sent Paul away, while Silas and Timothy remained in Berea. We are not told what charges were preferred against Paul, but probably the same ones that were made at Thessalonica. Paul was to go “as far as to the sea,” which means the Aegean Sea. This gives the impression that the movement was a feint in order to baffle the pursuers, while Paul went in another direction. Silas and Timothy were not exposed to the danger that Paul was; hence, they could abide in Berea. Paul was the leader and was in the greater danger; Silas and Timothy could bring the news to Paul when they left Berea to go to Paul.

Verses 15-34

Act 17:15-34


Acts 17:15-34

15 But they that conducted Paul—Some of the brethren accompanied Paul as a guide and for partial protection. He went as far as Athens. We do not know who escorted him; neither do we know whether he went by land or by sea. It is generally thought that he went by sea. The distance between Berea and Athens by land is about 250 Roman miles; this would take about twelve days to make the journey, whereas three days would have been sufficient for the voyage by sea; hence, the conclusion by many that he went by sea. After reaching Athens, Paul commanded his escorts to tell Silas and Timothy that they should come to him “with all speed.” Without delay they departed. Paul was alone in Athens and would not be able to go about his work until they came. Later history shows that they were unable to reach him at Athens, but joined him at Corinth. (Acts 18:5.)

16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens,—Athens has a very interesting history; it has been called one of the most beautiful cities in the world; it was situated about five miles inland northeast of the Saronic Gulf, an arm of the Aegean Sea; four famous mountains lie around it, and four still more famous hills were within the city; the first one was Lycabettus, the Acropolis, the Areopagus, or Mars’ Hill, the Pnyx, on which the assemblies of the people were held and Demosthenes spoke his oration. The name of Athens was synonymous with the most graceful conceptions of art and the profoundest study of philosophy. While Paul waited here, “his spirit was provoked within him” as he saw that the city was “full of idols.” Athens was wholly given to idolatry. It is said that Athens had more idols or images than all the rest of Greece. Pretonius satirically said it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens; Xenophon calls the city one great altar, one great offering to the gods. This was enough to stir Paul to preach the gospel to them.

17 So he reasoned in the synagogue—While waiting for Silas and Timothy, Paul was busy. He went into the synagogue and there reasoned with the Jews and “the devout persons”; we must know that since Paul’s spirit was “provoked within him” that he must have preached the gospel with great power. Such a mind as Paul’s, freighted with such a message as his, could not begin to move in such an atmosphere without soon encountering opposition. Wherever he could find people, in the synagogue, at idol worship, in the market place, he preached Christ to them. Two classes are found here—the native Jews and Gentile worshipers, whether proselytes or not, we do not know. He had access to the Gentile world through these devout persons, while his first appeal was yet to the Jews. “The marketplace” is generally supposed to designate the great place known as the ancient “forum,” or old market place. It was a famous place, because Socrates taught there, and all the great philosophers taught or discoursed to the people there.

18 And certain also of the Epicurean and Stoic—In Paul’s day there were two systems of philosophy prominent throughout the Roman world; they are regarded as conflicting, though in many points they resemble each other. “Epicurean” is named from its founder, Epicurus; he lived 342-270 B.C. His disciples were known as the school of the “garden,” from the garden in Athens where the master instructed them, in distinction from the disciples of the “porch” or the academy where the Stoics met. Epicurus taught that the end of living was pleasure; he taught that the enjoyment of tranquil pleasure was the highest end of human existence. “Stoic” philosophers were the advocates of the theory founded by Zeno. “Stoic” was derived from “Stoa,” “a porch.” Zeno taught that God was the soul of the world, or the world was God; that everything was governed by fate, to which God himself was subject; they denied the immortality of the soul. The Stoic philosophers taught that virtue was its own reward, and vice its own punishment; that pleasure was no good, and pain no evil. Both classes of philosophers were in Athens and encountered Paul. They asked: “What would this babbler say?” “Babbler,” as used here, means a “seed picker”; it was applied to a bird that picks up seeds as food; hence, Paul is called a “seed picker,” or has picked up some crumbs of knowledge. In contempt they compared him to the small bird that fed on small seeds, and said that he preached a strange religion, “because he preached Jesus and the resurrection.” Little did they understand what this meant at that time.

19-20 And they took hold of him, and brought him unto the Areopagus,—This does not mean that they used force or arrested him; they constrained him, or escorted him to “the Areopagus”; this place also bears the name “Mars’ Hill.” Here had often assembled the noblest blood of Athens, the politicians of highest rank, the best orators, and the most profound philosophers. It was at this place that Socrates was arraigned and condemned. “The Areopagus,” as used here, was not the hill, but the council of the Areopagus, which sat in some hall in the market place. We are to think of Paul as being surrounded by philosophers and professors of the Athens University, and lecturers who occupied chairs in the university. They asked Paul concerning “this new teaching” of which they had heard. They added that he had brought “certain strange things” to their ears. Hence, they would like to know more about these things. They make a polite request of him that he tell them more about his “new teaching” or “strange gods” which he set forth. They must be commended for their de-sire to know; they are different from the Jews and others at Thes- salonica and Berea, who ran Paul out of the cities.

21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers)—Luke, the historian, has put in this historical explanation of the Athenians; it shows why they were eager to hear Paul. These men of Athens were so eager to hear or learn something new that they took Paul, a stranger, to the great place of discussion to hear him. They were ready to hear anything that was new. The natives of Athens and the strangers who sojourned there alike were eager to hear the new things. They spent their leisure time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear something “new,” something later than the latest notion that they had learned. It seems that they had leisure time and they devoted or spent their time in hearing and telling what is new. Demosthenes in his first great Philippic orations says the same thing of them: “Tell me, do you, going round, still wish to ask in the market, is there any news? Can there be any-thing newer than that a Macedonian?” etc. Novelty was their life’s pursuit; so without having any regard for the importance of the teaching, they were ready to listen because it was new.

22 And Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus,—There was a crowd of spectators and philosophers present, and Paul seized the opportunity to preach Christ to this strange audience, as he did in Caesarea later before Herod Agrippa and the crowd of prominent people gathered by Festus. Paul did not speak as a man on trial, but as one attempting to get a hearing for the gospel of Christ. He “stood” that he might be heard by all. He addressed them according to their accustomed way of being addressed. “In all things I perceive that ye are very religious.” The Authorized Version says “superstitious,” but here we have “religious.” The Greek is “hos deisidaimonesterous”; “Deisidaimon” is a neutral word from “deido,” to fear, and “daimon,” deity. The Greeks used it either in the good sense of pious or religious or the bad sense of superstitious. Thayer suggests that Paul used it “with kindly ambiguity”; while others think that Luke uses the word to represent the religious feeling of the Athenians which bordered on superstition. In Acts 25:19 Festus uses the term “deisidaimonia” for “religion.”

23 For as I passed along, and observed—Paul introduced his speech by an observation which he had made while sojourning in Athens and waiting for Silas and Timothy to come there. He had observed “the objects” of their worship; he had observed the idols which they worshiped, as well as their worshiping their idols. Paul has been described as standing on an elevated platform, surrounded by the learned and the wise of Athens, the multitude being perhaps on the steps and in the vale below. Paul had directly before him the far-famed Acropolis with its wonders of Grecian art, and beneath him on his left the majestic Theseum, the earliest and still most perfect of the Athenian structures, while all around other temples and altars filled the entire city. He had passed along the streets and had given attention to their devotion in prayer and worship; he had noticed their altars, images, and inscribed names of their gods. He had also observed their inscription, “To AN UNKNOWN GOD.” Some think that Paul referred to Jehovah whom the Jews worshiped, and who was unknown to these Athenians. Others think that the inscription read “to the unknown gods.” “Unknown” is from the Greek “agnostos.” The Athenians acknowledged by their inscription that they did not know the God that Paul preached; hence, Paul’s opportunity to declare unto them the God and Father of our Lord the Christ. They worshiped in ignorance, but Paul would have them know the true God.

24 The God that made the world—Jehovah God was not to be confused with any of their numerous gods save with this “Unknown God.” Paul declares Jehovah God as the one who “made the world and all things therein.” He is the creator of all things. He was no Epicurean god, who dwelt apart and in constant repose ; nor was the world a thing of chance as the Athenian philosophers taught. He was the creator of the world and everything in it; he is also “Lord of heaven and earth,” and being such a God, he dwells not in temples made by hands, but fills the earth.

25 neither is he served by men’s hands,—Jehovah God is not served by human hands, as if he needed help like man; he was not made by the hands of men, and does not need the assistance of men to exist. He is the author of all life, and of all things. The heathen clothed their gods with costly garments, overlaid them with silver and gold, carried them in state, installed them at banquets, and brought them costly offerings of food and drink. The God that Paul served, and the one that he now declares or makes known to these Athenians, gives life, sustains it, and gives every good thing that man enjoys.

26 and he made of one every nation of men—God created Adam and then formed Eve, and from this one pair has come all the nations of earth. The nations and races of men have a common origin; God made them all, and hence is their creator. The Greeks, like the Jews, thought themselves of finer nature, a superior race in origin, character and destiny. Paul instructs them of the brotherhood of man; this was indeed strange to Greek ears; they had an idea of different origins, different gods, different religions for different nations. Paul thus starts to reason with them about one God, Creator of all, and deduces from it one religion, one origin for all, one brotherhood, one salvation for the race. God had fixed the limits of their territory as he had determined the duration of their existence. It was this God who had given their seasons, spring, summer, fall, and winter; he had ordained seedtime and harvest and prepared the earth for man’s habitation.

27 that they should seek God,—All things which God has given to man should encourage man to seek to know his Creator, and to know him as his great Benefactor. The gift of this bountiful earth, with its teeming productions and supplies for human need, coupled with its beautiful and wise adaptations to man’s well-being, should move man to seek after more and higher knowledge of the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Paul here pictures the blind groping of the darkened heathen mind after God to ‘‘find him.” “Feel after him” is a vivid picture of the darkened and benighted condition of those who thought themselves to be wise. The evidences of God were round about them; yet they did not know him. “He is not far from each one of us” in his blessings and gifts.

28 for in him we live, and move,—The proof of God’s nearness, not Stoic pantheism, but real existence of God, was evident and surrounded man, is that man is said to exist in God. This shows how near God is to us, and how vitally and intimately we are connected with him. We are entirely dependent upon him for life and for everything that sustains life; there should be no difficulty in finding him if one is inclined in heart to know him. Paul declares further that “for we are also his offspring.” He is our Creator; he is our origin; we exist in him; we are dependent upon him; we must look to him for everything. Paul here quotes one of their poets; his quotation is from Aratus of Soli in Cilicia; he lived about 270 B.C., and was a Stoic philosopher. Cleanthes, a Stoic philosopher, who lived 300 to 220 B.C., has the same words in his “Hymn to Zeus.” Possibly Cleanthes used the words first. The passage reads: “For we all greatly need Jupiter, for we are his offspring—full of grace, he grants men tokens of favor.”

29 Being then the offspring of God,—Paul uses tact and skill here. “We,” including himself, ought not to have such a low conception of “the Godhead”; they had formed too low a conception, and Paul would refine and elevate their conception of God. “Godhead” literally means “the divine.” It comes from the Greek, “to theion,” and means the divine nature like “theiotes” in Romans 1:20. Paul uses in Colossians 2:9 the Greek “theotes.” Some think that Paul used “to theion” here to get back behind all their notions of various gods to the real nature of God. The divine nature of God cannot be like “gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man.” The “Godhead” includes God the Creator, Christ the Savior, and the Holy Spirit; these cannot be represented by any material thing.

30 The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked;—“The times”; that is, before a revelation of God was given through Christ; this was a period of “ignorance,” “agnoias.” The past history of the heathen world was a history of idolatry, involving the grossest ignorance of God, and of all that was truly good. These Athenians confessed their ignorance by their inscription of an altar to “An Unknown God.” These long times of heathen ignorance God overlooked, passed over, “winked at”; the time has now come when he will not overlook such ignorance, but “commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent.” Things have changed now since Christ has come with a full knowledge of God and has revealed God’s will to man. The command to repent implies their guilt of sin in their idolatry. The universal duty of repentance Paul enforces by the consideration of the judgment. All have sinned and all must repent; this is true not only of the Athenians, but of all men in every generation.

31 inasmuch as he hath appointed a day—This day of judgment had been appointed long ago, but through Christ it has been made known with greater clearness. All who know Christ now know that God has raised him from the dead; by his resurrection all are to know that they are to be judged by him. Paul’s argument has advanced through different stages; he has spoken first of God as the Creator of the world and of man; then he argued that man should exalt God above all things that he has made; this should lead them to seek after him. Now the days of God’s revelation through nature are at an end, and he has spoken through his Son whom he raised from the dead, to prove that he was the Son of God. Now through him God will judge the world; hence, all men should prepare themselves for the judgment by repentance.

32-33 Now when they heard of the resurrection—It may be that these Athenians who had brought Paul to the Areopagus to hear him stopped his speech and would let him proceed no further. Neither party among his hearers would have any sympathy with the doctrine of the resurrection and the final judgment. “Some mocked” just as did some men on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:13.) The Epicureans believed that this life was all there was to life; the Stoic teachers taught that all would finally be absorbed in the Godhead; hence, they would not believe in the resurrection from the dead. It seems most likely that the Epicureans would be the ones who mocked Paul, and perhaps it was these “others” who said; “We will hear thee concerning this yet again.” This reminds one of Felix’s decision. (Acts 24 Acts 25.) Paul “went out from among them.” This shows that he was not on trial nor under any judicial restraint. He had presented them the truth of God; they had understood him; he had nothing more to offer them; hence, he left them to seek others more favorably inclined to hear the truth.

34 But certain men clave unto him,—There were three classes among Paul’s hearers; (1) the Epicureans who mocked the truth; (2) those who procrastinated and promised to hear him again; (3) those who believed him. Among those who believed was “Dionysius the Areopagite.” There were several men and at least one woman of position who accepted his teaching. Dionysius was a member of the great Athenian Council; his position, influence, and learning caused his name to be mentioned here. It is thought that Dionysius had some supervision of the entire public administration. The woman who believed was named “Damaris.” We are not told for what she was noted; she must have been a woman of distinction and power since her name is given. Tradition has it that a church was founded here later, and the Parthenon became a Christian temple.

Questions on Acts

By E.M. Zerr

Acts Chapter 17

  • · At what city did Paul and Silas stop?

  • · What institution was here?

  • · Tell what Paul’s manner was.

  • · Why reason out of the "scriptures"?

  • · State the subject of this reasoning.

  • · Do the "scriptures" say an:,:thing about that?

  • · Cite an instance.

  • · Tell what effect Paul’s preaching had.

  • · What moved some Jews to oppose?

  • · To whom did they resort in their conspiracy?

  • · Why attack the home of Jason?

  • · Where did they take Jason?

  • · State the charge they brought against him.

  • · Was any part of this charge true?

  • · What was now done with Paul and Silas?

  • · Name their next stop.

  • · How did the Bereans show their better breeding?

  • · State results of Paul’s preaching here.

  • · From where did he have opposition?

  • · Upon this what did Paul and his party do?

  • · To what city did Paul go?

  • · State orders the brethren took back to Berea.

  • · What stirred the spirit of Paul?

  • · With whom did he dispute?

  • · In what place did he have the disputes?

  • · In which place was this done daily?

  • · Why not daily in the synagogue?

  • · Who encountered him?

  • · What did some say he was setting forth?

  • · On what did they base this idea?

  • · To what place did they take him?

  • · State the importance of this place.

  • · Ten what information they asked of Paul.

  • · How did Athenians spend their time?

  • · What had Paul perceived?

  • · Tell what led him to this conclusion.

  • · Whom did they worship ignorantly?

  • · How can such worship be done?

  • · Why does Goa not dwell in man made temples?

  • · Why is he not worshipped by man’s hands?

  • · How many kinds of human blood?

  • · Does this include all colors and races?

  • · Where is man expected to dwell?

  • · What has becn determined?

  • · What should man seek and find?

  • · Name the sphere of man’s life and action.

  • · What authority does Paul cite to corroborate this?

  • · Why not cite the scriptures as he usually did?

  • · How being "offspring of God" excludes use of gold?

  • · State God’s former attitude toward ignorance?

  • · What is it now?

  • · How many judgment days appointed?

  • · Who is the judge?

  • · How has he been qualified?

  • · How did mention of this affect the hearers?

  • · Was the speech wholly fruitless?

Acts Chapter Seventeen

Ralph Starling

Paul and Silas traveled to Thessalonica

To preach in the synagogue was to Paul’s liking.

For three Sabbath days he preached the “Good News”

Among the believers were chief women not a few.

The unbelieving Jews had the city in an uproar.

This kind of teaching they would tolerate no more.

So they took Jason for security,

But gave Paul and Silas their liberty.

Berea was the next city to choose,

And again to asynagogue of the Jews.

More nobel than Thessalonians were the Bereans,

They searched the scriptures to see it it was real.

“Therefore, Bereans and Greeks believed not a few”

For they were convinced this was God’s news.

The Thessalonica Jews hurried to Berea in haste,

For they were hearing what was taking place.

The brethren sent Paul away to the sea.

They sent Timothy and Silas to Athens with all speed.

At Athens Paul saw a city full of idols,

He was so stirred he could not remain idle.

His preaching was heard by certain Philosophers.

What they heard to them it was bothersome.

Talking about strange gods and other such things,

They asked Paul to explain what it all means.

Now we have Paul’s famous sermon on Mars’ Hill.

That has stirred people to this day still.

Others wanted to hear more what he had started,

But Paul decided against it and departed.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Acts 17". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/acts-17.html.
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