Attention!
Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Acts 17:26

and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Athens;   Gentiles;   God;   Life;   Man;   Mars' Hill;   Paul;   Predestination;   Readings, Select;   Religion;   Zeal, Religious;   Thompson Chain Reference - Brotherhood of Man;   Destiny;   Ruler of Destiny;   Social Life;   The Topic Concordance - Children;   Man;   Nations;   Predestination;   Seeking;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Blood;   Man;   Providence of God, the;   Time;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Areopagus;   Thessalonica;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Areopagus;   Athens;   God;   Humanity, humankind;   Mission;   Nation;   Paul;   Predestination;   Providence;   Race;   Revelation;   Sin;   Stoics;   Time;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Amos, Theology of;   Predestination;   Providence of God;   Religion;   Time;   Charles Buck Theological Dictionary - Beneficence;   Ordination;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Adam;   Areopagus;   Blood;   Mars Hill;   Predestination;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Acts of the Apostles;   Adam (1);   Creation;   Epicureans;   Genealogy;   Mediator;   Paul;   Roman Empire;   Tongues, Confusion of;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Acts;   Art and Aesthetics;   Athens;   Greece;   Preaching in the Bible;   Predestination;   Revelation of God;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Epicureans;   Heredity;   Idolatry;   Man;   Predestination;   Sacrifice and Offering;   Thessalonians, First Epistle to the;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Adoption;   Alpha and Omega (2);   Eunuch ;   Gentiles;   God;   Inspiration and Revelation;   Nationality;   Oneness;   Predestination;   Simon Magus;   Unity;   Wisdom;   World;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Adam ;   Man;   Philosopher, Philosophy;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Areopagus;   Athens;   Jason;   Mars;   Smith Bible Dictionary - Mars' Hill,;   Paul;   Roman Empire;   Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types - Blood;   Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary - Division of the Earth;  
Encyclopedias:
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - Saul of Tarsus;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Anthropology;   Bounds;   Brother;   Doctrine;   Fall, the;   Father, God the;   Foreordain;   Philosophy;   Kitto Biblical Cyclopedia - Adam;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Purity of Race;  
Devotionals:
Every Day Light - Devotion for October 8;  

Clarke's Commentary

Verse Acts 17:26. Hath made of one blood — In AB, some others, with the Coptic, AEthiopic, Vulgate, Itala, Clement, and Bede, the word αιματος, blood, is omitted. He hath made of one (meaning Adam) all nations of men; but αιμα, blood, is often used by the best writers for race, stock, kindred: so Homer, Iliad, vi. ver. 211:

Ταυτης τοι γενεης τε και αἱματος ευχομαι ειναι.

I glory in being of that same race and blood.

So Virgil, AEn. viii. ver. 142, says;

Sic genus amborum scindit se SANGUINE ab uno.

Thus, from one stock, do both our stems divide.


See many examples of this form in Kypke. The Athenians had a foolish notion that they were self-produced, and were the aboriginals of mankind. Lucian ridicules this opinion, Αθηναιοι φασι τους πρωτους ανθρωπους εκ της Αττικης αναφυναι, καθαπερ τα λαχανα. The Athenians say that the first men sprung up in Attica, like radishes. Luc. Philo-pseud. 3.

To dwell on all the face of the earth — God in his wisdom produced the whole human race from one man; and, having in his providence scattered them over the face of the earth, by showing them that they sprang from one common source, has precluded all those contentious wars and bloodshed which would necessarily have taken place among the nations of the world, as each in its folly might have arrogated to itself a higher and more excellent origin than another.

And hath determined the times before appointed — Instead of προτεταγμενους καιρους, the times before appointed, ABDE, and more than forty others, with both the Syriac, all the Arabic, the Coptic, AEthiopic, MS. Slavonian, Vulgate, and Itala, read προστεταγμενους καιρους, the appointed times. The difference between the two words is this: προτασσειν signifies to place before others; but προστασσειν is to command, decree, appoint. The προστεταγμενοι καιροι, are the constituted or decreed times; that is, the times appointed by his providence, on which the several families should go to those countries where his wisdom designed they should dwell. See Genesis 10:5-1.10.32; and see Pearce and Rosenmuller.

And the bounds of their habitations — Every family being appointed to a particular place, that their posterity might possess it for the purposes for which infinite wisdom and goodness gave them their being, and the place of their abode. Every nation had its lot thus appointed by God, as truly as the Israelites had the land of Canaan. But the removal of the Jews from their own land shows that a people may forfeit their original inheritance, and thus the Canaanites have been supplanted by the Jews; the Jews by the Saracens; the Saracens by the Turks; the Greeks by the Romans; the Romans by the Goths and Vandals; and so of others. See the notes on Genesis 11:1-1.11.32.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/acts-17.html. 1832.

Bridgeway Bible Commentary


Paul in Athens (17:16-34)

Athens was in the province of Achaia, the southern part of present-day Greece. It was the chief centre of learning in the Roman Empire, a place where philosophy, religion and politics were taught and discussed freely. When some local philosophers heard Paul preaching in the public places of the city, they invited him to give an account of his religion to the council of philosophers known as the Areopagus. This was an ancient council that exercised control over those who lectured publicly in Athens. When Paul preached, he so often linked the name ‘Jesus’ with the word ‘resurrection’ (Greek: anastasis) that the philosophers thought he was introducing them to two gods, Jesus and Anastasis (16-21).

The Areopagus was divided largely between two schools of Greek philosophers, the Epicureans and the Stoics (v. 18). The Epicureans believed that because nothing in the world is lasting or stable, people should not become too involved in the affairs of life. They should seek contentment through living calmly, and should try to avoid all pain, desire, unpleasant feelings and superstitious fears. This was how the gods lived, and for this reason they took little interest in human affairs. The Stoics believed that everything is determined by a universal Mind or Reason. Therefore, people should accept whatever they meet in life without fear or complaint, and adjust their lives to fit what nature has determined for them. Self-discipline was essential; reason was always to have control over feelings.
Paul confidently announced to the members of the Areopagus that he would explain to them the nature of the God whom they did not know (22-23). This God was the Creator and Controller of the universe and the Lord of all humankind. Yet he was a God whom human beings could know, for they were made in his image (24-28). In former ages God had been patient with the ignorance of a sinful human race, but now that Jesus had come he held people responsible for their acceptance or rejection of him. Forgiveness was available to those who repented of their sin, but punishment faced those who refused to repent. By raising Jesus from death, God showed that Jesus was the one through whom he would deal with people, whether in forgiveness or in punishment (29-31).
The Epicureans would have agreed with Paul that God needs nothing from human beings (v. 25). The Stoics would have agreed that there is a supreme God who is the source of all life and who determines when and where the peoples of the earth should live (v. 24-26,28). But both alike found that Paul’s teaching about the resurrection was not worthy of serious consideration. Not all Athenians, however, rejected Paul’s message (32-34).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/acts-17.html. 2005.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

And he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation.

Wesley and others have supposed that Paul here referred merely to seasons of climate and to such natural boundaries as "mountains, seas, rivers, and the like";[40] but we believe much more is intended, namely, that there is a providence with regard to races and nations of men. Certainly there was a providence in the ascendancy of Israel in the long pre-Christian ages; and there skill is, the continuity of the secular majority who rejected Christ until "the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" being prophetically promised (Romans 11:25), this fact alone demanding the view of a providence regarding Israel even at the present; and what is true of Israel is true of all.

Made of one every nation ... No matter how one reads it, whether "one race," "one blood," or "one family," the meaning is the same: all men are descended from a single ancestor. "Eve was the mother of all living" (Genesis 3:20); and the proof of this is evidenced by many things, one of these being the ability of a man of any race to provide a blood transfusion for a man of any other race. The oneness and brotherhood of the whole human race are affirmed here; and this was a principle as far above anything the Greek philosophers ever dreamed of as the sun in heaven is above the dwelling place of their gods on Mount Olympus. Of course, the physical oneness of all men is the unity in view here.

Paul thus challenged the snobbishness of every major division of ancient civilization. The Jews classified all men as Jews and Gentiles; the Romans classified them citizens and non-citizens; and the Greeks viewed the whole world as either Greeks or barbarians. All of these classifications were the same, meaning " US and everyone else!"

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/acts-17.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

And hath made of one blood - All the families of mankind are descended from one origin or stock. However different their complexion, features, or language, yet they are derived from a common parent. The word blood is often used to denote “race, stock, kindred.” This passage affirms that all the human family are descended from the same ancestor; and that, consequently, all the variety of complexion, etc., is to be traced to some other cause than that they were originally different races created. See Genesis 1:0; compare Malachi 2:10. The design of the apostle in this affirmation was probably to convince the Greeks that he regarded them all as brethren; that, although he was a Jew, yet he was not enslaved to any narrow notions or prejudices in reference to other people. It follows from the truth here stated that no one nation, and no individual, can claim any pre-eminence over others in virtue of birth or blood. All are in this respect equal; and the whole human family, however they may differ in complexion, customs, and laws, are to be regarded and treated as brethren. It follows, also, that no one part of the race has a right to enslave or oppress any other part, on account of difference of complexion. No one has a right because:

He finds his fellow guilty of a skin

Not colored like his own; and having power

T’ enforce the wrong, for such a worthy cause to

Doom and devote him as his lawful prey.

For to dwell ... - To cultivate and until the earth. This was the original command Genesis 1:28; and God, by his providence, has so ordered it that the descendants of one family have found their way to all lands, and have become adapted to the climate where he has placed them.

And hath determined - Greek: ὁρίσας horisas. Having fixed, or marked out a boundary. See the notes on Romans 1:4. The word is usually applied to a field. It means here that God “marked out,” or “designated in his purpose,” their future abodes.

The times before appointed - 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.

And the bounds of their habitation - Their limits and boundaries as a people. By customs, laws, inclinations, and habits he has fixed the boundaries of their habitations, and disposed them to dwell there. We may learn:

  1. That the revolutions and changes of nations are under the direction of infinite wisdom;
  2. That people should not be restless and dissatisfied with the place where God has located them;
  3. That God has given sufficient limits to all, so that it is not needful to invade others; and,
  4. That wars of conquest are evil.

God has given to people their places of abode, and we have no right to disturb those abodes, or to attempt to displace them in a violent manner. This strain of remark by the apostle was also opposed to all the notions of the Epicurean philosophers, and yet so obviously true and just that they could not gainsay or resist it.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/acts-17.html. 1870.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

26. And he hath made of one blood. Paul doth now show unto the men of Athens to what end mankind was created, that he may by this means invite and exhort them to consider the end of their life. This is surely filthy unthankfulness of men, seeing they all enjoy the common life, not to consider to what end God hath given them life; and yet this beastly blockishness doth possess the more part, so that do not consider to what end they be placed in the world, neither do they remember the Creator of heaven and earth, whose good things they do devour. Therefore, after that Paul hath intreated of the nature of God, he putteth in this admonition in due season, that men must be very careful to know God, because they be created for the same end, and born for that purpose; for he doth briefly assign unto them this cause of life, to seek God. Again, forasmuch as there was not one kind of religion only in the world, but the Gentiles were distract into divers sects, he telleth them that this variety came from corruption. For to this end, in my judgment, tendeth that when he saith, that all were created of one blood. For consanguinity and the same original ought to have been a bond of mutual consent among them; but it is religion which doth most of all join men together, or cause them to fly one another’s company. Whereupon it followeth, that they be revolted from nature who disagree so much in religion and the worship of God; because, wheresoever they be born, and whatsoever place [clime] of the world they inhabit, they have all one Maker and Father, who must be sought of all men with one consent. And surely neither distance of places, nor bounds of countries, nor diversity of manners, neither any cause of separation among men, doth make God unlike to himself. In sum, he meant to teach that the order of nature was broken, when as religion was pulled in pieces among them, and that that diversity, which is among them, is a testimony that godliness is quite overthrown, because they are fallen away from God the Father of all, upon whom all kindred dependeth. −

To dwell upon the face of the earth. Luke doth briefly gather, as he useth to do, the sum of Paul’s sermon; and it is not to be doubted, but that Paul did first show that men are set here as upon a theater, to behold the works of God; and, secondly, that he spake of the providence of God, which doth show forth itself in the whole government of the world. For when he saith, that God appointeth the times ordained before, and the bounds of men’s habitations, his meaning is, that this world is governed by his hand and counsel, and that men’s affairs fall not out by chance, as profane men dream. And so we gather out of a few words of Luke, that Paul did handle most weighty matters. For when he saith that the times were ordained before by him, he doth testify that he had determined, before men were created, what their condition and estate should be. When we see divers changes in the world; when we see realms come to ruin, lands altered, cities destroyed, nations laid waste, we foolishly imagine that either fate or fortune beareth the swing in these matters; but God doth testify in this place by the mouth of Paul, that it was appointed before in his counsel how long he would have the state of every people to continue, and within what bounds he would have them contained. But and if he have appointed them a certain time and appointed the bounds of countries, undoubtedly he hath also set in order the whole course of their life. −

And we must note, that Paul doth attribute to God not only a bare foreknowledge and cold speculation, as some men do indiscreetly, but he placeth the cause of those things which fall out, in his counsel and beck. For he saith not that the times were only foreseen, but that they were appointed and set in such order as pleased him best. And when he addeth also that God had appointed from the beginning those things which he had ordained before his meaning is, that he executeth by the power of his Spirit those things which he hath decreed in his counsel according to that: −

Our God is in heaven; he hath done whatsoever he would,” ( Psalms 115:3.) −

Now, we see, as in a camp, every troop and band hath his appointed place, so men are placed upon earth, that every people may be content with their bounds, and that among these people every particular person may have his mansion. But though ambition have, oftentimes raged, and many, being incensed with wicked lust, have past their bounds, yet the lust of men hath never brought to pass, but that God hath governed all events from out of his holy sanctuary. For though men, by raging upon earth, do seem to assault heaven, that they may overthrow God’s providence, yet they are enforced, whether they will or no, rather to establish the same. Therefore, let us know that the world is so turned over through divers tumults, that God doth at length bring all things unto the end which he hath appointed. −

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/acts-17.html. 1840-57.

Smith's Bible Commentary

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews ( Acts 17:1 ):

Now Luke passes that off in one verse. From Philippi to Amphipolis was thirty miles. Another thirty miles on to Apollonia. And another thirty-seven miles on to Thessalonica. So it, no doubt, took them several days to travel almost a hundred miles to Thessalonica.

And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them [that is into the synagogue], and reasoned them for three sabbath days out of the scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ [that is the Messiah] must needs to have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is the Messiah ( Acts 17:2-44.17.3 ).

Now Paul took their scriptures and out of their scriptures he pointed out and showed to them the necessity of the Messiah dying. No doubt he was using Isaiah 53:0 as his text and Psalms 22:0 and the other scriptures where there is that type of the death of Christ. And so he was reasoning to them out of their own scriptures, showing them what the Messiah needed to suffer and die. And Jesus, the one we are preaching to you, is the Messiah.

And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude ( Acts 17:4 ),

So some of the Jews believed, but a great multitude of the Greeks and of the chief women not a few. A very strong church was established at Thessalonica. And for super extra credit you can read Paul's two epistles to the Thessalonians, which grew out of this ministry. And, of course, if you will read the epistles in conjunction with your reading of Acts, it really begins to put it together, and you begin to really tie the scriptures together, and it's a very helpful thing.

But the Jews which believed not, were 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. 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 here also ( Acts 17:5-44.17.6 );

I like the charges that were made against Paul and Silas. Earlier the charges were made against Peter by the high priest that he had filled the city of Jerusalem with the doctrine of Jesus Christ. What a glorious charge! Oh, that we could be arrested in that charge made against us. We have filled Orange County with the doctrine of Jesus Christ. How I wish I could say guilty as charged. That would be great! Here's another interesting charge: these men who have turned the world upside down. Oh, how I wish that I could be charged with turning Orange County upside down for Jesus Christ. But in reality, I would dispute this charge. I believe Orange County is upside down and needs to be turned right side up.

And so this charge isn't quite right. They should have said, "These men who have turned the world right side up have come hither." Men have their priorities all wrong. Men who are living after the flesh are not living as God intended men to live. They're living a life that is upside down, topsy turvy. They need to be turned right side up and the mission of the church is to turn men right side up, that they might have a right relationship with God, get their priorities straight.

Now Jason has received them into his house: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, a fellow by the way of Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. And when they had taken security of Jason ( Acts 17:7-44.17.9 ),

That is, Jason had to post bail.

and of the others, they let them go. And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming there went into the synagogue of the Jews ( Acts 17:9-44.17.10 ).

Those guys just don't quit, do they?

Now those in Berea 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 ( Acts 17:11 ).

In Thessalonica Paul reasoned with them for three weeks. When Paul came to Berea he began to reason with these people, but they were more noble than those in Thessalonica. They went home and did their homework. They read Galatians and first and second Thessalonians. They went home and studied the scriptures to see if what Paul was saying was true.

I strongly encourage that. I have heard more junky garbage on television being passed off for doctrine by some of these evangelists that it's just disheartening. For people take some of these weird, far out ideas that these guys say and they just run with them. They don't search the scriptures to see if it be so. "After all, he said the Greek and I don't know Greek, so it must so." You know.

One of these evangelists was recently talking about Paul's thorn in the flesh. And he said, "Now where else in the Bible do we find the word thorn? What was Paul's thorn? People say a physical infirmity. But where else in the Bible do we find thorn? Going back in Matthew, the parable of the sower. And some fell among the thorns, but what were the thorns in Matthew's gospel? They were the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches and the lust of other things. And so Paul's thorn was the cares of this life. He had taken too much on himself."

Great biblical exposition. But get your concordance and you'll find out that the thorn that Paul talked about in his flesh was literally a tent stake. Where the thorn referred to in Matthew was a little thorn that you might run into in a rose bush. One is a tent stake. Different Greek word entirely, but you know, this evangelist is espousing his doctrine that nobody should ever be sick. And if that is true, then Paul could not have been sick. "And it is never God's will that a child of God should ever suffer. Suffering is never according to the will of God." What did they do with Jesus?

And what do they do with 1 Peter 4:19 ? "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God" ( 1 Peter 4:19 ). Oh, wait a minute, but you just told me nobody ever suffers according to the will of God. Well, Peter, why did you write that? Didn't you know? Hey, don't just take what they say. Search the scriptures and see if these things be so. Because a lot of things are being proclaimed as scriptural which are not scriptural.

Be like the Bereans, more noble than they of Thessalonica. Go home and search the scriptures and prove all things and hold fast that which is good. And I encourage you, don't just take what I say. Prove all things. Hold fast that which is good.

Therefore many of them believed ( Acts 17:12 );

Why? Because they searched the scriptures and saw that it was so. They saw the scriptures were confirming.

also of honorable women who were Greeks, and of men, not a few ( Acts 17:12 ).

Again, a good work was established in Berea.

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. And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still. And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and received a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed ( Acts 17:13-44.17.15 ).

So these brethren brought Paul, they accompanied him down to Athens while Timothy and Silas continued there in Berea to strengthen the brethren. But when Paul came to Athens, these fellows that brought him down said, "When you get back, tell Timothy and Silas to get here in a hurry." So they left Paul in Athens.

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred ( Acts 17:16 ),

Provoked, literally.

as he saw a city wholly given over to idolatry ( Acts 17:16 ).

It would be the feeling that you would get perhaps in going to portions of Hollywood or San Francisco. When you see an area given over completely to sensual lust. It just provoked him. He was stirred inside.

Therefore he disputed in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him ( Acts 17:17 ).

So Paul started meeting in the market daily with a group of fellas and started sharing the truth about Jesus Christ.

Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him ( Acts 17:18 ).

Epicurus actually lived from 342 to 271 B.C. This was happening in 53 A.D. So it had been over 300 years since the death of Epicurus. And in this period of time, his philosophy had degenerated. Originally, Epicurus said that the chief good was pleasure. But he went beyond that. He declared that pleasure came from a simple life. That the more complex our lives become, the more we have to bother with the details. The more possessions we have, the more we have to worry about taking care of them. So if a man can just live a very simple life, that is the key to pleasure, and pleasure is the chief good.

Diogenes, who was following the Epicurean philosophy, was very content and happy to possess nothing more than just a tub to sit in. And Alexander the Great was so totally impressed by Diogenes, because Alexander the Great had conquered the world and was still restless. He vowed to be a disciple of Diogenes for life. Upon which Diogenes handed him two fish and he said, "Carry these around for two weeks and you will then be my disciple." And Alexander the Great became incensed and went off mumbling to himself about the stupidity of this man. Diogenes just shook his head and said, "What a shame. Such great devotion dissipated over two smelly fish."

But the simplicity of life. But that is not the way the Epicurean philosophy was now being interpreted. By this time, they had said the chief good of life was pleasure, thus you are to pursue after pleasure above everything else. And as the result, they had given themselves over to sensual lust.

The Epicurean philosophy was expressed in the Roman orgies where you would eat at these feasts all that you could hold of the first course. Savoring and enjoying every bite. And then between courses go out and forcefully regurgitate so you could eat all that you could hold at the second course. And eating for the pleasure of eating. And seeking to measure the intensity of pleasure each taste brought to you. So they were busy measuring degrees and intensity of pleasure.

This degrading of the Epicurean philosophy ended in the pantheism, the worship of everything, anything. The Stoics said that the chief good was virtue. But a man cannot know virtue who is emotionally involved. Therefore, you are not to have feelings, and they sought to become totally unfeeling. To not feel pain, not feel grief, not feel joy, not feel anything, to just be stoic about everything, untouched, unmoved in your emotions about anything. And this lead to an atheism. These are the two philosophies that Paul encountered in Athens.

And some said, What will this babbler say? [The word babbler in Greek is seed picker or cotton picker.] and other said, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he is preaching about Jesus, and the resurrection. And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof you speak, is? For you are bringing certain strange things to our ears: we would like to know what these things mean. (For all the Athenians, and strangers which were there, spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.) ( Acts 17:18-44.17.21 )

The Athenians, not committed, just want to listen to anything novel and new.

Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill ( Acts 17:22 ),

Areopagus is about, oh half way up from the Agura marketplace, to the acropolis, the top of the hill where stands the Parthenon. And almost up to the Parthenon, maybe two thirds of the way up is this outcropping of rock where was known the stone of impudence, where men would go to espouse their philosophies and all their ideas. And these guys would sit around in their robes, and here's the Parthenon above them and the Agura below them and all and there they're getting into all these philosophical debates and discussions and all. And so Paul is sitting on this stone of impudence and there, "Give your spiel."

So Paul said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious ( Acts 17:22 ).

Now the words too superstitious are a poor translation. The American Authorized has a better translation. It translates it, "You are very religious." Paul was not insulting these fellas to begin his speech. That's no way to persuade people. And Paul was going to try to persuade them to his belief in Jesus Christ. And so he said, "I perceive that you are very religious." Which indeed was evidence in the city of Athens.

There were travelers to the city of Athens who said there were more gods than people in the city. That every street corner had its god and then along the block there were all of these gods. Marble, silver, gold, carved images, idols that were worshipped by the people. Many great temples, which some of them the ruins still stand as magnificent wonders today.

For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions ( Acts 17:23 ),

Watching these people stop and pray to these various gods. It's always interesting to watch the devotions of people. I find it fascinating. In Mexico I find it fascinating to see the veneration that is given to the saints where the mummies and all are in these caskets in the cathedrals. And to watch the people coming on their knees and dropping on their knees and crying and weeping as they're praying to this saint for some miracle to take place. I find it interesting to watch the Muslims wash their feet, get out their little rugs, and bow towards the East. And Paul was observing their devotions and he said,

I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD ( Acts 17:23 ).

Now, two hundred years later there was an explorer who passed through Athens who was also a historian. Pasolineus And he writes in his books of the number of idols in Athens, and it is he who made the statement, "There are almost more gods than people." And in describing the city of Athens in his history book, he also speaks of this altar to the unknown god. In fact, he speaks of three of them that he observed in Athens.

Now the Greeks had deified just about everything they could think of. They had deified the forces of nature, they had deified the various emotions of man, they had deified various concepts. There was the god of the arts, the god of the carpenters, the god of the masons, and gods for everything. The god of war, the god of peace, the god of love, the god of hate, the god of jealousy, the god of anger. Gods for everything.

And some fellow, no doubt, though, "Well, we may have forgotten one and it would be a shame to slight one of them. He might get angry with us, so why don't we build an altar to him? And since we don't know him, we'll just inscribe it to the unknown god just so we're not slighting him in getting angry with us." And Paul said, "I saw this altar with the inscription to the unknown god."

Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you ( Acts 17:23 ).

Interesting how Paul begins right where they are. "You're very religious people. I've observed that. And here in the Agura down there, I passed by this one little altar to the unknown god. That's the God I'd like to talk to you about." And what did he tell them about the unknown God? He said, "You worship Him ignorantly."

How many people today are still worshipping God in ignorance? You remember Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth" ( John 4:24 ). But men are still worshipping Him ignorantly.

God that made the world and all things therein ( Acts 17:24 ),

He is not a creation of man; He is the Creator of man. He is not made of marble or gold or silver or things found in the earth. He created these things. He is vastly superior to the gods that you are worshipping, for He is the Creator. Oh, that people would realize that today. You see, I would say that though the polls show that the majority of the people in the United States believe in God, I would dare venture that though the majority of the people in the United States may believe in God, the majority of the people in the United States worship materialism. Now, they may believe in God, but they don't worship God. They worship the creation of man, the created things by man rather than worshipping God. And so the unknown God, whom you are ignorantly worshipping is the one that made the world and everything that is in it.

seeing that he is Lord of heaven and eaRuth ( Acts 17:24 ),

This unknown God rules over all. He is the Lord over the heaven and the earth.

He doesn't dwell in temples made with hands ( Acts 17:24 );

Directly below Paul from Mars' Hill, at that end of the Agura, was a thesium That glorious Doric temple that still stands pretty much in tact today as a magnificent demonstration of the perfection of architecture. At the far end of the Agura, a block and a half, two blocks away, that great temple to Juneau which ruins are still pretty much in tact today. Above Paul there in the Parth, that great temple to the Athena the goddess, and those marvelous temple structures there on the Acropolis. Paul said, "God, the unknown God, He doesn't dwell in these temples."

It is interesting when Solomon built a temple for God, that as Solomon dedicated the temple, he said, "Oh, God, we know that the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. We understand how that You fill the universe. So we haven't really built this for You to dwell in." In other words, it isn't that God is going to dwell here exclusive of someplace else. He dwells in the universe. He fills the universe. "The heavens of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this house that I have built. But God, meet us at this place. Let this be the place where we can come and meet You."

We, all of us, in a measure are guilty of thinking of God in a locality as being more in one place than another. Like truly God must be more here tonight than He is the bar down the street. Not so. God is just as much in the bar down the street as He is here. We can't escape the presence of God. No matter where you are, you're surrounded by Him. And God is never limited to locality.

Now when I was a little kid in Sunday school, I was taught that if I went to a movie the Lord wouldn't go in with me. And so if I decided to go in and watch that show, I had to leave the Lord outside and just hope that He would be waiting for me when I came out. But I wasn't assured of that. So I was taught a localized God. There were places where He was and there was places where He wasn't. Not so. I can't escape Him. So he declared unto them that He doesn't dwell in temples made with hands.

Neither is he worshipped with man's hands ( Acts 17:25 ),

Or with man's handiwork. He isn't worshipped through idols. He isn't worshipped through images. Not all of the churches believe that today, do they? And yet, this is what Paul is declaring. He's not worshipped with ornate altars overlaid with gold. He's not worshipped in fancy buildings. Careful, that cost eighteen million dollars. You can worship God out there under that tree. You can worship God beside your bed at home. You can worship God sitting at the kitchen table. You can worship God sitting on the sand at the beach. In fact, I find sitting on the sand at the beach a very great environment to worship God. He isn't worshipped by the works of man's hands.

as though he needed any thing ( Acts 17:25 ),

As though God needed from me to give Him something. What a ridiculous idea. "Oh, Chuck, I need for you to really give to me this week because I'm almost broke. And my program won't be able to go on another week unless you bail me out, Chuck, and help me out. Please! I'm desperate! I know I've sent letters like this before, but this time I mean it!" As though He needed anything.

What can I give to God that He needs? That is the biggest problem. What do you give to someone who's got everything? David said, "What shall I render unto God for all His benefits toward me?" ( Psalms 116:12 ) And you know what he decided he could do? The only thing I can render unto God is just to pray. I'll call upon the name of the Lord. There's nothing I can give to God that He needs. As though He needed anything. He's complete. My giving to God doesn't really benefit God; it benefits me.

I'm the one who benefited by my giving my life to God; God didn't benefit by that. So many times we want to make a big deal about our gifts to God. You know, we want men to say, "Oh, aren't you marvelous. What you gave to God. That's so glorious." And we have that kind of a mentality developed of exalting the man who has given to God, as though God needed something. As though He needed anything.

seeing he giveth ( Acts 17:25 ),

It's not what I give to God; it's what God has given to me. That's what's glorious.

for he has given to all life, and breath, and all things ( Acts 17:25 );

So our emphasis should not be on what we should be giving to God, but the emphasis should be on what God has given to us. And the ministry should not be emphasizing what you should do for God; we should be emphasizing what God has done for you. What can you do for God?

We're so weak in these areas, and yet, we hear that as the constant emphasis in ministry. "You ought to be doing this; you ought to be doing that. Now get out and do this, brothers; now do that, brothers." And extolling the man who has done it rather than extolling what God has done for us. You see, when I realize what God has done for me then I want to respond to God. We make a tragic mistake in thinking I can do something for God and then God is going to respond to me.

"Now, if you'll just fast for two weeks, then God will start giving you visions and you'll start doing this and you'll get this and this and this. On a fast, do this for God and God will respond to you. Now, if you'll just start the praising the Lord. Lift your hands and praise the Lord because you want God to bless you tonight, and God will bless you when begin to praise Him. The Lord inhabits the praises of His people. So lift your hands! Praise the Lord that you might get a blessing!" And they whip people into these hand-raising, praising experiences that I might be blessed. "Oh yes, God, respond to me, God! Don't you see my hands are up! Respond, God, respond! Bless me! Look what I'm doing for You." Not so.

The true praise isn't, you know, "Okay, God, give me now." But the true praise is, "God, You have given so much. How can I thank You? Oh, Lord, You're so good to me." And it is that which arises spontaneously from the recognition of what God has done for me. That's true praise. So we need to know, not what we can do for God, but what God has done for us. And then the love of Christ constrains me and I'm responding to that love. I'm responding to that goodness. I'm responding to those blessings. And my life is so rich, my life is so blessed, my life is so full just trying to respond to God as I'm learning more and more the grace and goodness and the love of God that He's bestowed upon my life.

I'm getting to the place where I can hardly take it. I'm going to be translated one of these days soon. God's just going to translate me right into glory. His blessings and His goodness upon my life, so rich, so full. And I just am overflowing as I'm trying to respond to Him. Seeing He has given to all life and breath and all things.

And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the eaRuth ( Acts 17:26 ),

God has made us all one. There's neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian, scythian, bond or free, male or female. Jesus is all and in all. He's made us all one.

and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation ( Acts 17:26 );

God sets the limits for our lives. My life is totally bounded by God. He has set the boundaries of my existence. He knew the time of my birth long before my mother ever conceived me. He knows the day of my departing from this tent. He knows the circumstances by which I will depart from this tent. My life is totally bounded by Him.

That they should seek the Lord, if by chance they might feel after him, and find him ( Acts 17:27 ),

You know, a lot of people have sought the Lord on just purely a maybe basis. They really didn't have many promises to hold onto, but just, who can tell? You remember when Jonah preached to the Ninevites. There was no message of repentance. There was no message of hope, no message of grace, no message of salvation. Jonah preached the message of doom and gloom. He said, "Forty days and comes your destruction." And the people all repented in sackcloth and ashes. And they said, "Who can tell? Maybe God will be merciful and spare us." No promise of mercy, but just a maybe, if by chance you might really feel God and find God.

though he be not far from every one of us ( Acts 17:27 ):

And now he deals with the doctrine of the eminence of God--that all-prevailing presence of God everywhere within His universe that David spoke about in the Psalms. "Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me" ( Psalms 139:5 , Psalms 139:7-19.139.10 ). For He is not far from any of you.

For in him we live, and move, and have our being ( Acts 17:28 );

I am totally surrounded by God. I depend upon God for my very existence. In Him I live. God sustains my life. I'm dependent on Him. I move, wherever I move, He is there. I exist in Him, by Him.

as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring ( Acts 17:28 ).

Now this is found also in the writing of Aerates and Aclenthes, two of the Greek poets, who declared that we are God's offspring. Now Paul affirms that these poets were right.

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 ( Acts 17:29 ).

We are God's offspring. God is not our offspring. We cannot really create our own gods, though man does that. Man is an offspring of God. In the beginning when God created man, He made man in His likeness and after His own image. But man fell, and thus, man is fallen from the image of God. And as we look around today we see man in his fallen state. He was made in the image of God; he was made in the likeness of God, but he has fallen from that.

God made us to be spiritual beings. God made us to live after the Spirit and be ruled by the Spirit. But man fell from that and man followed after the flesh and was ruled by his flesh. And being a body-conscious being, he became as the animal, which is a body-conscious being, and so man looked around for identity and he says, "Oh, there goes my uncle, swinging from that tree!" Because all he thinks about is eating and existing. He has a body-conscious life. And all I need is a place to live and something to eat, you know. And so this body-conscious life, and thus, I relate to the animals. That's wrong. We are God's offspring. And I can never have a satisfactory relationship with the animal kingdom. I must relate to God to find myself. I will never find myself in the animal kingdom. I will only find myself as I am relating again to God.

Now, I was created in the image of God. I fell from that image of God, but Jesus came in order that He might restore me into the image of God as I yield my life to Him. "So beloved, now are we the sons of God. It doesn't yet appear what we're going to be: but we know when he appears, we're going to be like him" ( 1 John 3:2 ). For He is restoring us into that image. "For we with open face are beholding the glory of the Lord and we are being changed from glory to glory into the same image" ( 2 Corinthians 3:18 ), because the Spirit of God is conforming me into the image of Christ. And thus, through the work of God's Spirit, that which man lost through the fall is being restored to Jesus Christ as man is being restored back into the image of God.

And when the Holy Spirit has completed His work in my life, I will be fully restored back into the image of God, and I will stand in His presence faultless with exceeding joy. So this is God's work. I am God's offspring. The Greek poets recognized that. Therefore, I should not think of God as some lifeless statue that cannot see, that cannot speak, that cannot walk. Made of marble or gold or silver that is standing here on the corner that men come by and pray to and bow to and worship. You should not think of God in that term, because you're God's offspring, the living God.

Now in times past God winked at ( Acts 17:30 );

Or overlooked the ignorance. Paul said, "You're worshipping Him ignorantly. And at one time, God overlooked the ignorance of man concerning Himself, but no more."

but now he has commanded all men every where to repent ( Acts 17:30 ):

When the revelation of God was limited to the nation of Israel, God overlooked the pagan's ignorance of Himself. But no longer will God overlook man's ignorance. You have no excuse to be ignorant of God. The agnostic has no excuse for his position. God is knowable. It is just he doesn't want to know God or he rejects God's revelation of Himself. But God is knowable, and a position of an agnostic is not an intelligent position. For no man of true intelligence can rest in ignorance. And the word agnostic in Greek translated into Latin is ignoramus.

God may at one time have overlooked the ignorance of man, but not now. God is knowable. God has revealed Himself through Jesus Christ. That revelation has been made known to you, therefore you're inexcusable. You can know God; you should know God. There's no excuse for not knowing God. Knowing God is, no doubt, the greatest bit of knowledge man can ever attain. The most important knowledge man can ever attain.

You may be studying various subjects, but the most important subject any of you could ever study would be theology, to know God, to know the truth of God. He is knowable. At one time He overlooked the ignorance of man, but no more, and now God has commanded men everywhere to repent. That is, to turn. To turn from their own selfish ways unto Him.

Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained ( Acts 17:31 );

God has appointed a day of judgment. The judgment will be overseen by Jesus Christ, the man that He has ordained for that purpose.

whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead ( Acts 17:31 ).

God has declared and then proved His point through the resurrection. And thus, that day of judgment is coming for all men, and thus, God has said, "Repent, turn."

And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter ( Acts 17:32 ).

These are two common responses to the Gospel. There are those who mock at the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and then there are those who procrastinate. "Well, interesting. I'll listen to you again sometime." Putting off that repentance, putting off that decision. But beware, lest you put it off too long. For God has commanded now that men everywhere should repent. Because a day is coming in which God is going to judge men through Jesus Christ.

So Paul departed from among them ( Acts 17:33 ).

Now it is interesting where Paul was persecuted, where they threw him in jail, where they beat him, he was ready to go right back to continue preaching. But to this attitude of, "Well, interesting," but that noncommittal attitude, Paul had no further words to say. He wasn't going to cast the pearls before swine. "I've given you the message. I've borne witness; that's it."

I think that one of the worst attitudes is that of complacency. Really a person who is really upset and yelling at you because you've witnessed to them about the Lord is far closer to salvation than the person who says, "Well, I think that's very nice for you and I'm glad that you found something that makes you happy." That complacent attitude towards Christ is one of the most difficult to deal with. Better the person get stirred, better the person get upset if it shows that it's getting to him than just that complacency.

Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman name Damaris, and others with them ( Acts 17:34 ).

So there were a few and, of course, as church history goes, we do find that there was a church established in Athens and some of the early church leaders came from the church in Athens. But Paul established no real work in Athens on this visit. But he moves on to Corinth, and if you want to really get a background to next Sunday night, you can read Corinthians, too, this week. And then we find him going to Ephesus by the end of the chapter, and so the Ephesian epistle would help you there. So you're going to have to watch a few less soaps and get a little bit more into the Word this week, I guess. But it won't hurt you.

Isn't it a shame how much time we waste in front of that stupid tube. I think that that's one of the greatest contributors to mediocrity in the world today, to dull people, to uncommunicative people. It's done more to destroy communication, relationships. Man, all the guy can relate to is the T.V. tube. What a shame. He doesn't learn to converse any more. He doesn't learn the art of conversation or relationships. We waste so much time. I hate to be radical, but you know, I dare say that if you left the T.V. off this week and when you're tempted to flip it on and instead just flip open your Bible and read the Corinthian epistles and the Galatian epistle, the Thessalonian epistle and the Ephesian epistle. I would say that next Sunday you would find yourself in such great spiritual spirits, you know.

I'd say that you'd probably come to church just bubbling over. You'd probably have one of the better weeks of the year, and then you wonder, "How is it that this week is going so great?" You'll never guess. You've been feeding the Spirit instead of the flesh. And if you're feeding the Spirit, then of the Spirit you're going to reap life everlasting. If you feed the flesh, of the flesh you're going to reap corruption. Oh, well, it was a thought anyhow. You can hail me before the magistrates, beat me, do what you will; it was still a good idea. Why don't you try it? You might like it.

May the Lord be with you. May God bless you. May He just fill you with the knowledge and the understanding of Himself. That you may come to know Him in a deeper, fuller, richer way. That your life this week might just be enriched in all things in Jesus Christ. And growing up in Him to maturity you might come into that measure of the stature of the fullness of the image of Christ. As God by His Spirit restores that which was lost because of the fall. So God bless you in your walk and in your relationship with Him this week. May it get better than it ever was before. "



Copyright Statement
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/acts-17.html. 2014.

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Ministry in Athens 17:16-34

This section of Luke’s narrative contains three parts: the experiences of the missionaries that resulted in Paul preaching to the pagan Greeks there, the sermon itself, and the results of the sermon.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/acts-17.html. 2012.

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Paul’s sermon to the Athenians 17:22-31

Luke probably recorded Paul’s address (Acts 17:22-31) as a sample of his preaching to intellectual pagans (cf. Acts 13:16-41; Acts 14:15-18; Acts 20:18-35). [Note: See Dean W. Zweck, "The Areopagus Speech of Acts 17," Lutheran Theological Journal 21:3 (December 1987):11-22. See also Witherington, p. 518, for a rhetorical analysis of this speech.] In this speech Paul began with God as Creator and brought his hearers to God as Judge.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/acts-17.html. 2012.

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

The Greeks, and especially the Athenians, prided themselves on being racially superior to all other people. Still Paul told them that they, like all other people, had descended from one source, Adam. This fact excludes the possibility of the essential superiority of any race. God also determines the times of nations-their seasons, when they rise and fall-and their boundaries. In other words, God is sovereign over the political and military affairs of nations. The Greeks liked to think that they determined their own destiny.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/acts-17.html. 2012.

Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Chapter 17

IN THESSALONICA ( Acts 17:1-9 )

17:1-9 When they had taken the road through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Paul, as his custom was, went in to them and, for three Sabbaths, he debated with them from the scriptures, opening the scriptures to them and presenting the evidence that Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, "and this man," he said, "is the Christ, Jesus whom I proclaim to you." Some of them believed and threw in their lot with Paul and Silas. Thus it was with many of the worshipping Greeks and with a considerable number of women who belonged to the most influential ranks of society. The Jews resented this. They got hold of some of the low characters who haunted the market place and they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. They surged up to Jason's house and kept demanding that they should bring them before the people. When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brethren to the city magistrates, shouting, "These men who have upset the civilized world have arrived here too; and Jason has received them as his guests. These are all teaching against the decrees of Caesar for they say that there is another emperor Jesus." They disturbed the mob and the chief magistrates as they heard this. So they took surety from Jason and the others and let them go.

The coming of Christianity to Thessalonica was an event of the first importance. The great Roman road from the Adriatic Sea to the Middle East was called the Egnatian Way; and the main street of Thessalonica was actually part of that road. If Christianity was firmly founded in Thessalonica it could spread both east and west along that road until it became a very highway of the progress of the kingdom of God.

The first verse of this chapter is an extraordinary example of economy of writing. It sounds like a pleasant stroll; but in point of fact Philippi was 33 Roman miles from Amphipolis; Amphipolis was 30 miles from Apollonia; and Apollonia was 37 miles from Thessalonica. A journey of over 100 miles is dismissed in a sentence.

As usual Paul began his work in the synagogue. His great success was not so much among the Jews as among the Gentiles attached to the synagogue. This infuriated the Jews for they looked on these Gentiles as their natural preserves and here was Paul stealing them before their very eyes. The Jews stooped to the lowest methods to hinder Paul. First they stirred up the rabble. Then, when they had dragged Jason and his friends before the magistrates, they charged the Christian missionaries with preaching political insurrection. They knew their charge to be a lie and yet it is couched in very suggestive terms. "Those," they said, "who are upsetting the civilized world have arrived here." (King James Version: "these men who have turned the world upside down"). The Jews had not the slightest doubt that Christianity was a supremely effective thing. T. R. Glover quoted with delight the saying of the child who remarked that the New Testament ended with Revolutions. When Christianity really goes into action it must cause a revolution both in the life of the individual and in the life of society.

ON TO BEROEA ( Acts 17:10-15 )

17:10-15 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away to Beroea by night. When they arrived there they came into the synagogue of the Jews. These were men of finer character than those in Thessalonica and they received the word with all eagerness. They daily examined the scriptures to see if these things were so. Many of them believed, as did a considerable number of well-to-do Greek women and men. When the Jews of Thessalonica knew that the word of God was preached by Paul in Beroea they came there too in an attempt to stir up and disturb the people. The brethren then immediately sent Paul away as far as the sea coast, while Silas and Timothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and, when they had received an order to tell Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they went away,

Beroea was 60 miles west of Thessalonica. Three things stand out in this short section. (i) There is the scriptural basis of Paul's preaching. He set the people of Beroea searching the scriptures. The Jews were certain that Jesus was not the Messiah because he had been crucified. To them a man who had been crucified was a man accursed. It was no doubt in passages like Isaiah 53:1-12 that Paul set the people of Beroea to find a forecast of the work of Jesus. (ii) There is the envenomed bitterness of Jews. They not only opposed Paul in Thessalonica; they pursued him to Beroea. The tragedy is that undoubtedly they thought that they were doing God's work by seeking to silence Paul. It can be a terrible thing when a man identifies his aims with the will of God instead of submitting his aims to that will. (iii) There is the courage of Paul. He had been imprisoned in Philippi; he had left Thessalonica in peril of his life, under cover of darkness; and once again in Beroea he had had to flee for his life. Most men would have abandoned a struggle which seemed bound to end in arrest and death. When David Livingstone was asked where he was prepared to go, he answered, "I am prepared to go anywhere, so long as it is forward." The idea of turning back never occurred to Paul either.

ALONE IN ATHENS ( Acts 17:16-21 )

17:16-21 When Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was deeply vexed as he saw the whole city full of idols. He debated with the Jews and the worshippers in the synagogue and every day he talked in the city square with everyone he met. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers took issue with him. Some of them said, "What would this gutter-sparrow of a man be saying?" Others said, "He seems to be the herald of strange divinities." This they said because he told the good news of Jesus and the resurrection. So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus saying, "May we know what is this strange new teaching you are talking about? For you are introducing things which sound strange to us. We want therefore to know what these things mean." (All the Athenians and the strangers who stay there have no time for anything other than to talk about and to listen to the latest idea).

When he fled from Beroea, Paul found himself alone in Athens. But, with comrades or alone, Paul never stopped preaching Christ. Athens had long since left behind her great days of action but she was still the greatest university town in the world, to which men seeking learning came from all over. She was a city of many gods. It was said that there were more statues of the gods in Athens than in all the rest of Greece put together and that in Athens it was easier to meet a god than a man. In the great city square people met to talk, for in Athens they did little else. Paul would have no difficulty in getting someone to talk to and the philosophers soon discovered him.

There were the Epicureans (see Epikoureios G1946) . (i) They believed that everything happened by chance. (ii) They believed that death was the end of all. (iii) They believed that the gods were remote from the world and did not care. (iv) They believed that pleasure was the chief end of man. They did not mean fleshly and material pleasure; for the highest pleasure was that which brought no pain in its train.

There were the Stoics. (i) They believed that everything was God. God was fiery spirit. That spirit grew dull in matter but it was in everything. What gave men life was that a little spark of that spirit dwelt in them and when they died it returned to God. (ii) They believed that everything that happened was the will of God and therefore must be accepted without resentment. (iii) They believed that every so often the world disintegrated in a conflagration and started all over again on the same cycle of events.

They took Paul to the Areopagus ( G697 -- the Greek for Mars' Hill). It was the name both of the hill and the court that met on it. The court was very select, perhaps only thirty members. It dealt with cases of homicide and had the oversight of public morals. There, in the most learned city in the world and before the most exclusive of courts, Paul had to state his faith. It might have daunted anyone else; but Paul was never ashamed of the gospel of Christ. To him this was another God-given opportunity to witness for Christ.

A SERMON TO THE PHILOSOPHERS ( Acts 17:22-31 )

17:22-31 Paul stood up in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I see that in all things you are as superstitious as possible. As I came through your city and as I saw the objects of your worship. I found amongst them an altar with the inscription, 'To the Unknown God.' So then, what you worship and do not know, this I preach to you. God, who made the universe and everything in it, this God is Lord of heaven and earth and does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is he served by the hands of men, as if he needed anything, but he himself gives to all life and breath and all things. He made of one every race of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and he fixed the appointed times and boundaries of their habitations. He made men so that they might search for God, if they might perchance feel after him and find him; and indeed he is not far from any one of us. For by him we live and move and are. As some of your own poets have said, 'We too are his offspring.' Since then we are the offspring of God we should not think that the Divine is like gold or silver or stone, engraved by the art and design of man. So then God overlooked the times of ignorance but now he gives orders to men that all men everywhere should repent. Thus he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he ordained for that task, and he has given proof of this by raising him from the dead."

There were many altars to unknown gods in Athens. Six hundred years before this a terrible pestilence had fallen on the city which nothing could halt. A Cretan poet, Epimenides, had come forward with a plan. A flock of black and white sheep were let loose throughout the city from the Areopagus. Wherever each lay down it was sacrificed to the nearest god; and if a sheep lay down near the shrine of no known god it was sacrificed to "The Unknown God." From this situation Paul takes his starting point. There are a series of steps in his sermon.

(i) God is not the made but the maker; and he who made all things cannot be worshipped by anything made by the hands of man. It is all too true that men often worship what their hands have made. If a man's God be that to which he gives all his time, thought and energy, many are clearly engaged in worshipping man-made things.

(ii) God has guided history. He was behind the rise and fall of nations in the days gone by; his hand is on the helm of things now.

(iii) God has made man in such a way that instinctively he longs for God and gropes after him in the darkness.

(iv) The days of groping and ignorance are past. So long as men had to search in the shadows they could not know God and he excused their follies and their mistakes; but now in Christ the full blaze of the knowledge of God has come and the day of excuses is past.

(v) The day of judgment is coming. Life is neither a progress to extinction, as it was to the Epicureans, nor a pathway to absorption to God, as it was to the Stoics; it is a journey to the judgment seat of God where Jesus Christ is Judge.

(vi) The proof of the preeminence of Christ is the resurrection. It is no unknown God but a Risen Christ with whom we have to deal.

THE REACTIONS OF THE ATHENIANS ( Acts 17:32-34 )

17:32-34 When they heard of a resurrection of dead men, some mocked and some said, "We will hear about this again"; but some attached themselves to him and believed. Amongst these were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman called Damaris. together with others.

It would seem on the whole that Paul had less success in Athens than anywhere else. It was typical of the Athenians that all they wanted was to talk. They did not want action; they did not even particularly want conclusions. They wanted simply mental acrobatics and the stimulus of a mental hike.

There were three main reactions. (i) Some mocked. They were amused by the passionate earnestness of this strange Jew. It is possible to make a jest of life; but those who do so will find that what began as comedy must end in tragedy. (ii) Some put off their decision. The most dangerous of all days is when a man discovers how easy it is to talk about tomorrow. (iii) Some believed. The wise man knows that only the fool will reject God's offer.

Two converts are named. There is Dionysius the Areopagite. As already said, the Areopagus was composed of perhaps not more than thirty people; so that Dionysius must have been one of the intellectual aristocracy of Athens. There was Damaris. The position of women in Athens was very restricted. It is unlikely that any respectable woman would have been in the market square at all. The likelihood is that she turned from a way of shame to a way of life. Once again we see the gospel making its appeal to all classes and conditions of men and women.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/acts-17.html. 1956-1959.

Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Chapter 17

IN THESSALONICA ( Acts 17:1-9 )

17:1-9 When they had taken the road through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Paul, as his custom was, went in to them and, for three Sabbaths, he debated with them from the scriptures, opening the scriptures to them and presenting the evidence that Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, "and this man," he said, "is the Christ, Jesus whom I proclaim to you." Some of them believed and threw in their lot with Paul and Silas. Thus it was with many of the worshipping Greeks and with a considerable number of women who belonged to the most influential ranks of society. The Jews resented this. They got hold of some of the low characters who haunted the market place and they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. They surged up to Jason's house and kept demanding that they should bring them before the people. When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brethren to the city magistrates, shouting, "These men who have upset the civilized world have arrived here too; and Jason has received them as his guests. These are all teaching against the decrees of Caesar for they say that there is another emperor Jesus." They disturbed the mob and the chief magistrates as they heard this. So they took surety from Jason and the others and let them go.

The coming of Christianity to Thessalonica was an event of the first importance. The great Roman road from the Adriatic Sea to the Middle East was called the Egnatian Way; and the main street of Thessalonica was actually part of that road. If Christianity was firmly founded in Thessalonica it could spread both east and west along that road until it became a very highway of the progress of the kingdom of God.

The first verse of this chapter is an extraordinary example of economy of writing. It sounds like a pleasant stroll; but in point of fact Philippi was 33 Roman miles from Amphipolis; Amphipolis was 30 miles from Apollonia; and Apollonia was 37 miles from Thessalonica. A journey of over 100 miles is dismissed in a sentence.

As usual Paul began his work in the synagogue. His great success was not so much among the Jews as among the Gentiles attached to the synagogue. This infuriated the Jews for they looked on these Gentiles as their natural preserves and here was Paul stealing them before their very eyes. The Jews stooped to the lowest methods to hinder Paul. First they stirred up the rabble. Then, when they had dragged Jason and his friends before the magistrates, they charged the Christian missionaries with preaching political insurrection. They knew their charge to be a lie and yet it is couched in very suggestive terms. "Those," they said, "who are upsetting the civilized world have arrived here." (King James Version: "these men who have turned the world upside down"). The Jews had not the slightest doubt that Christianity was a supremely effective thing. T. R. Glover quoted with delight the saying of the child who remarked that the New Testament ended with Revolutions. When Christianity really goes into action it must cause a revolution both in the life of the individual and in the life of society.

ON TO BEROEA ( Acts 17:10-15 )

17:10-15 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away to Beroea by night. When they arrived there they came into the synagogue of the Jews. These were men of finer character than those in Thessalonica and they received the word with all eagerness. They daily examined the scriptures to see if these things were so. Many of them believed, as did a considerable number of well-to-do Greek women and men. When the Jews of Thessalonica knew that the word of God was preached by Paul in Beroea they came there too in an attempt to stir up and disturb the people. The brethren then immediately sent Paul away as far as the sea coast, while Silas and Timothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and, when they had received an order to tell Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they went away,

Beroea was 60 miles west of Thessalonica. Three things stand out in this short section. (i) There is the scriptural basis of Paul's preaching. He set the people of Beroea searching the scriptures. The Jews were certain that Jesus was not the Messiah because he had been crucified. To them a man who had been crucified was a man accursed. It was no doubt in passages like Isaiah 53:1-12 that Paul set the people of Beroea to find a forecast of the work of Jesus. (ii) There is the envenomed bitterness of Jews. They not only opposed Paul in Thessalonica; they pursued him to Beroea. The tragedy is that undoubtedly they thought that they were doing God's work by seeking to silence Paul. It can be a terrible thing when a man identifies his aims with the will of God instead of submitting his aims to that will. (iii) There is the courage of Paul. He had been imprisoned in Philippi; he had left Thessalonica in peril of his life, under cover of darkness; and once again in Beroea he had had to flee for his life. Most men would have abandoned a struggle which seemed bound to end in arrest and death. When David Livingstone was asked where he was prepared to go, he answered, "I am prepared to go anywhere, so long as it is forward." The idea of turning back never occurred to Paul either.

ALONE IN ATHENS ( Acts 17:16-21 )

17:16-21 When Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was deeply vexed as he saw the whole city full of idols. He debated with the Jews and the worshippers in the synagogue and every day he talked in the city square with everyone he met. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers took issue with him. Some of them said, "What would this gutter-sparrow of a man be saying?" Others said, "He seems to be the herald of strange divinities." This they said because he told the good news of Jesus and the resurrection. So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus saying, "May we know what is this strange new teaching you are talking about? For you are introducing things which sound strange to us. We want therefore to know what these things mean." (All the Athenians and the strangers who stay there have no time for anything other than to talk about and to listen to the latest idea).

When he fled from Beroea, Paul found himself alone in Athens. But, with comrades or alone, Paul never stopped preaching Christ. Athens had long since left behind her great days of action but she was still the greatest university town in the world, to which men seeking learning came from all over. She was a city of many gods. It was said that there were more statues of the gods in Athens than in all the rest of Greece put together and that in Athens it was easier to meet a god than a man. In the great city square people met to talk, for in Athens they did little else. Paul would have no difficulty in getting someone to talk to and the philosophers soon discovered him.

There were the Epicureans (see Epikoureios G1946) . (i) They believed that everything happened by chance. (ii) They believed that death was the end of all. (iii) They believed that the gods were remote from the world and did not care. (iv) They believed that pleasure was the chief end of man. They did not mean fleshly and material pleasure; for the highest pleasure was that which brought no pain in its train.

There were the Stoics. (i) They believed that everything was God. God was fiery spirit. That spirit grew dull in matter but it was in everything. What gave men life was that a little spark of that spirit dwelt in them and when they died it returned to God. (ii) They believed that everything that happened was the will of God and therefore must be accepted without resentment. (iii) They believed that every so often the world disintegrated in a conflagration and started all over again on the same cycle of events.

They took Paul to the Areopagus ( G697 -- the Greek for Mars' Hill). It was the name both of the hill and the court that met on it. The court was very select, perhaps only thirty members. It dealt with cases of homicide and had the oversight of public morals. There, in the most learned city in the world and before the most exclusive of courts, Paul had to state his faith. It might have daunted anyone else; but Paul was never ashamed of the gospel of Christ. To him this was another God-given opportunity to witness for Christ.

A SERMON TO THE PHILOSOPHERS ( Acts 17:22-31 )

17:22-31 Paul stood up in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I see that in all things you are as superstitious as possible. As I came through your city and as I saw the objects of your worship. I found amongst them an altar with the inscription, 'To the Unknown God.' So then, what you worship and do not know, this I preach to you. God, who made the universe and everything in it, this God is Lord of heaven and earth and does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is he served by the hands of men, as if he needed anything, but he himself gives to all life and breath and all things. He made of one every race of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and he fixed the appointed times and boundaries of their habitations. He made men so that they might search for God, if they might perchance feel after him and find him; and indeed he is not far from any one of us. For by him we live and move and are. As some of your own poets have said, 'We too are his offspring.' Since then we are the offspring of God we should not think that the Divine is like gold or silver or stone, engraved by the art and design of man. So then God overlooked the times of ignorance but now he gives orders to men that all men everywhere should repent. Thus he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he ordained for that task, and he has given proof of this by raising him from the dead."

There were many altars to unknown gods in Athens. Six hundred years before this a terrible pestilence had fallen on the city which nothing could halt. A Cretan poet, Epimenides, had come forward with a plan. A flock of black and white sheep were let loose throughout the city from the Areopagus. Wherever each lay down it was sacrificed to the nearest god; and if a sheep lay down near the shrine of no known god it was sacrificed to "The Unknown God." From this situation Paul takes his starting point. There are a series of steps in his sermon.

(i) God is not the made but the maker; and he who made all things cannot be worshipped by anything made by the hands of man. It is all too true that men often worship what their hands have made. If a man's God be that to which he gives all his time, thought and energy, many are clearly engaged in worshipping man-made things.

(ii) God has guided history. He was behind the rise and fall of nations in the days gone by; his hand is on the helm of things now.

(iii) God has made man in such a way that instinctively he longs for God and gropes after him in the darkness.

(iv) The days of groping and ignorance are past. So long as men had to search in the shadows they could not know God and he excused their follies and their mistakes; but now in Christ the full blaze of the knowledge of God has come and the day of excuses is past.

(v) The day of judgment is coming. Life is neither a progress to extinction, as it was to the Epicureans, nor a pathway to absorption to God, as it was to the Stoics; it is a journey to the judgment seat of God where Jesus Christ is Judge.

(vi) The proof of the preeminence of Christ is the resurrection. It is no unknown God but a Risen Christ with whom we have to deal.

THE REACTIONS OF THE ATHENIANS ( Acts 17:32-34 )

17:32-34 When they heard of a resurrection of dead men, some mocked and some said, "We will hear about this again"; but some attached themselves to him and believed. Amongst these were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman called Damaris. together with others.

It would seem on the whole that Paul had less success in Athens than anywhere else. It was typical of the Athenians that all they wanted was to talk. They did not want action; they did not even particularly want conclusions. They wanted simply mental acrobatics and the stimulus of a mental hike.

There were three main reactions. (i) Some mocked. They were amused by the passionate earnestness of this strange Jew. It is possible to make a jest of life; but those who do so will find that what began as comedy must end in tragedy. (ii) Some put off their decision. The most dangerous of all days is when a man discovers how easy it is to talk about tomorrow. (iii) Some believed. The wise man knows that only the fool will reject God's offer.

Two converts are named. There is Dionysius the Areopagite. As already said, the Areopagus was composed of perhaps not more than thirty people; so that Dionysius must have been one of the intellectual aristocracy of Athens. There was Damaris. The position of women in Athens was very restricted. It is unlikely that any respectable woman would have been in the market square at all. The likelihood is that she turned from a way of shame to a way of life. Once again we see the gospel making its appeal to all classes and conditions of men and women.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/acts-17.html. 1956-1959.

Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

And hath made of one blood,.... That is, of one man's blood; the Vulgate Latin version reads, "of one"; and the Arabic version of De Dieu reads, "of one man"; of Adam, the first parent of all mankind, and who had the blood of all men in his veins: hence the Jews u say,

"the first man was דמו של עולם, "the blood of the world";''

and this by propagation has been derived from him, and communicated to all mankind. They also say w, that

"the reason why man was created alone (or there was but one man created) was, on account of families, that they might not be stirred up one against another;''

that is, strive and contend with one another about pre-eminence: and they add,

"that the righteous might not say we are the sons of the righteous, and ye are the sons of the wicked.''

And it is a certain truth that follows upon this, that no man has any reason to vaunt over another, and boast of his blood and family; and as little reason have any to have any dependence upon their being the children of believers, or to distinguish themselves from others, and reject them as the children of unbelievers, when all belong to one family, and are of one man's blood, whether Adam or Noah: of whom are

all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth; for from Adam sprung a race of men, which multiplied on the face of the earth, and peopled the world before the flood; these being destroyed by the flood, and Noah and his family saved, his descendants were scattered all over the earth, and repeopled it: and this is the original of all the nations of men, and of all the inhabitants of the earth; and stands opposed to the fabulous accounts of the Heathens, which the apostle might have in his view, that men at first grew up out of the earth, or after the flood were formed of stones, which Deucalion and Prometheus threw over their heads; and particularly the Athenians boasted that they sprung out of the earth, which Diogenes ridiculed as common with mice and worms. But the apostle ascribes all to one blood:

and hath determined the times before appointed; how long the world he has made shall continue; and the several distinct periods, ages, and generations, in which such and such men should live, such and such nations should exist, and such monarchies should be in being, as the Assyrian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman, and how long they should subsist; as also the several seasons of the year, as seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night; and which are so bounded, and kept so distinct in their revolutions, as not to interfere with, and encroach upon each other; and likewise the several years, months, and days of every man's life; see Job 7:1 to which may be added, the times of the law and Gospel; the time of Christ's birth and death; the time of the conversion of particular persons; and all their times of desertion, temptation, affliction, and comfort; the times of the church's sufferings, both under Rome Pagan and Rome Papal; of the holy city being trodden under foot, of the witnesses prophesying in sackcloth, and of their being killed, and their bodies lying unburied, and of their resurrection and ascension to heaven, Revelation 2:10

Revelation 11:12 the time of antichrist's reign and ruin, Revelation 13:5 and of Christ's personal coming, and the day of judgment, 1 Timothy 6:15 and of his reign on earth for a thousand years, Revelation 20:4. All these are appointed times, and determined by the Creator and Governor of the world:

and the bounds of their habitation; where men shall dwell, and how long they shall continue there the age or distinct period of time, in which every man was, or is to come into the world, is fixed and determined by God; nor can, nor does anyone come into the world sooner or later than that time; and also the particular country, city, town, and spot of ground where he shall dwell; and the term of time how long he shall dwell there, and then remove to another place, or be removed by death. And to this agrees the Ethiopic version, which renders the whole thus, "and hath appointed his times, and his years, how long they shall dwell"; see Deuteronomy 32:8 to which the apostle seems to refer.

u Caphtor, fol. 37. 2. w T. Hieros. Sanhedrin, fol. 22. 2.

Copyright Statement
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/acts-17.html. 1999.

Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible

Paul at Athens.


      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.   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.   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;   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;   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;   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:   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.   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.   30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:   31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

      We have here St. Paul's sermon at Athens. Divers sermons we have had, which the apostles preached to the Jews, or such Gentiles as had an acquaintance with and veneration for the Old Testament, and were worshippers of the true and living God; and all they had to do with them was to open and allege that Jesus is the Christ; but here we have a sermon to heathens, that worshipped false gods, and were without the true God in the world, and to them the scope of their discourse was quite different from what it was to the other. In the former case their business was to lead their hearers by prophecies and miracles to the knowledge of the Redeemer, and faith in him; in the latter it was to lead them by the common works of providence to the knowledge of the Creator, and the worship of him. One discourse of this kind we had before to the rude idolaters of Lystra that deified the apostles (Acts 14:15; Acts 14:15); this recorded here is to the more polite and refined idolaters at Athens, and an admirable discourse it is, and every way suited to his auditory and the design he had upon them.

      I. He lays down this, as the scope of his discourse, that he aimed to bring them to the knowledge of the only living and true God, as the sole and proper object of their adoration. He is here obliged to lay the foundation, and to instruct them in the first principle of all religion, that there is a God, and that God is but one. When he preached against the gods they worshipped, he had no design to draw them to atheism, but to the service of the true Deity. Socrates, who had exposed the pagan idolatry, was indicted in this very court, and condemned, not only because he did not esteem those to be gods whom the city esteemed to be so, but because he introduced new demons; and this was the charge against Paul. Now he tacitly owns the former part of the charge, but guards against the latter, by declaring that he does not introduce any new gods, but reduce them to the knowledge of one God, the Ancient of days. Now,

      1. He shows them that they needed to be instructed herein; for they had lost the knowledge of the true God that made them, in the worship of false gods that they had made (Deos qui rogat ille facit--He who worships the gods makes them): I perceive that in all things you are too superstitious. The crime he charges upon them is giving that glory to others which is due to God only, that they feared and worshipped demons, spirits that they supposed inhabited the images to which they directed their worship. "It is time for you to be told that there is but one God who are multiplying deities above any of your neighbours, and mingle your idolatries with all your affairs. You are in all things too superstitious--deisidaimonesteroi, you easily admit every thing that comes under a show of religion, but it is that which corrupts it more and more; I bring you that which will reform it." Their neighbours praised them for this as a pious people, but Paul condemns them for it. Yet it is observable how he mollifies the charge, does not aggravate it, to provoke them. He uses a word which among them was taken in a good sense: You are every way more than ordinarily religious, so some read it; you are very devout in your way. Or, if it be taken in a bad sense, it is mitigated: "You are as it were (hos) more superstitious than you need be;" and he says no more than what he himself perceived; theoro--I see it, I observe it. They charged Paul with setting forth new demons: "Nay," says he, "you have demons enough already; I will not add to the number of them."

      2. He shows them that they themselves had given a fair occasion for the declaring of this one true God to them, by setting up an altar, To the unknown God, which intimated an acknowledgment that there was a God who was yet to them an unknown God; and it is sad to think that at Athens, a place which was supposed to have the monopoly of wisdom, the true God was an unknown God, the only God that was unknown. "Now you ought to bed Paul welcome, for this is the God whom he comes to make known to you, the God whom you tacitly complain that you are ignorant of." There, where we are sensible we are defective and come short, just there, the gospel takes us up, and carries us on.

      (1.) Various conjectures the learned have concerning this altar dedicated to the unknown God. [1.] Some think the meaning is, To the God whose honour it is to be unknown, and that they intended the God of the Jews, whose name is ineffable, and whose nature is unsearchable. It is probable they had heard from the Jews, and from the writings of the Old Testament, of the God of Israel, who had proved himself to be above all gods, but was a God hiding himself,Isaiah 45:15. The heathen called the Jews' God, Deus incertus, incertum Mosis Numen--an uncertain God, the uncertain Deity of Moses, and the God without name. Now this God, says Paul, this God, who cannot by searching be found out to perfection, I now declare unto you. [2.] Others think the meaning is, To the God whom it is our unhappiness not to know, which intimates that they would think it their happiness to know him. Some tell us that upon occasion of a plague that raged at Athens, when they had sacrificed to all their gods one after another for the staying of the plague, they were advised to let some sheep go where they pleased, and, where they lay down, to build an altar, to prosekonti Theo--to the proper God, or the God to whom that affair of staying the pestilence did belong; and, because they knew not how to call him, they inscribed it, To the unknown God. Others, from some of the best historians of Athens, tell us they had many altars inscribed, To the gods of Asia, Europe, and Africa--To the unknown God: and some of the neighbouring countries used to swear by the God that was unknown at Athens; so Lucian.

      (2.) Observe, how modestly Paul mentions this. That he might not be thought a spy, nor one that had intruded himself more than became a stranger into the knowledge of their mysteries, he tells them that he observed it as he passed by, and saw their devotions, or their sacred things. It was public, and he could not forbear seeing it, and it was proper enough to make his remarks upon the religion of the place; and observe how prudently and ingeniously he takes occasion from this to bring in his discourse of the true God. [1.] He tells them that the God he preached to them was one that they did already worship, and therefore he was not a setter forth of new or strange gods: "As you have a dependence upon him, so he has had some kind of homage from you." [2.] He was one whom they ignorantly worshipped, which was a reproach to them, who were famous all the world over for their knowledge. "Now," says he, "I come to take away that reproach, that you may worship him understandingly whom how you worship ignorantly; and it cannot but be acceptable to have your blind devotion turned into a reasonable service, that you may not worship you know not what."

      II. He confirms his doctrine of one living and true God, by his works of creation and providence: "The God whom I declare unto you to be the sole object of your devotion, and call you to the worship of, is the God that made the world and governs it; and, by the visible proofs of these, you may be led to this invisible Being, and be convinced of his eternal power and Godhead." The Gentiles in general, and the Athenians particularly, in their devotions were governed, not by their philosophers, many of whom spoke clearly and excellently well of one supreme Numen, of his infinite perfections and universal agency and dominion (witness the writings of Plato, and long after of Cicero); but by their poets, and their idle fictions. Homer's works were the Bible of the pagan theology, or demonology rather, not Plato's; and the philosophers tamely submitted to this, rested in their speculations, disputed them among themselves, and taught them to their scholars, but never made the use they ought to have made of them in opposition to idolatry; so little certainty were they at concerning them, and so little impression did these things make upon them! Nay, they ran themselves into the superstition of their country, and thought they ought to do so. Eamus ad communem errorem--Let us embrace the common error. Now Paul here sets himself, in the first place, to reform the philosophy of the Athenians (he corrects the mistakes of that), and to give them right notions of the one only living and true God, and then to carry the matter further than they ever attempted for the reforming of their worship, and the bringing them off from their polytheism and idolatry. Observe what glorious things Paul here says of that God whom he served, and would have them to serve.

      1. He is the God that made the world, and all things therein; the Father almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth. This was admitted by many of the philosophers; but those of Aristotle's school denied it, and maintained "that the world was from eternity, and every thing always was from eternity, and every thing always was what now it is." Those of the school of Epicurus fancied "that the world was made by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, which, having been in perpetual motion, at length accidently jumped into this frame." Against both these Paul here maintains that God by the operations of an infinite power, according to the contrivance of an infinite wisdom, in the beginning of time made the world and all things therein, the origin of which was owing, not as they fancied to an eternal matter, but to an eternal mind.

      2. He is therefore Lord of heaven and earth, that is, he is the rightful owner, proprietor, and possessor, of all the beings, powers, and riches of the upper and lower world, material and immaterial, visible and invisible. This follows from his making heaven and earth. If he created all, without doubt he has the disposing of all: and, where he gives being, he has an indisputable right to give law.

      3. He is, in a particular manner, the Creator of men, of all men (Acts 17:26; Acts 17:26): He made of one blood all nations of men. He made the first man, he makes every man, is the former of every man's body and the Father of every man's spirit. He has made the nations of men, not only all men in the nations, but as nations in their political capacity; he is their founder, and disposed them into communities for their mutual preservation and benefit. He made them all of one blood, of one and the same nature; he fashions their heart alike. Descended from one and the same common ancestor, in Adam they are all akin, so they are in Noah, that hereby they might be engaged in mutual affection and assistance, as fellow-creatures and brethren. Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us?Malachi 2:10. He hath made them to dwell on all the face of the earth, which, as a bountiful benefactor, he has given, with all its fulness, to the children of men. He made them not to live in one place, but to be dispersed over all the earth; one nation therefore ought not to look with contempt upon another, as the Greeks did upon all other nations; for those on all the face of the earth are of the same blood. The Athenians boasted that they sprung out of their own earth, were aborigines, and nothing akin by blood to any other nation, which proud conceit of themselves the apostle here takes down.

      4. That he is the great benefactor of the whole creation (Acts 17:25; Acts 17:25): He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things. He not only breathed into the first man the breath of life, but still breathes it into every man. He gave us these souls he formed the spirit of man within him. He not only gave us our life and breath, when he brought us into being, but he is continually giving them to us; his providence is a continued creation; he holds our souls in life; every moment our breath goes forth, but he graciously gives it us again the next moment; it is no only his air that we breathe in, but it is in his hand that our breath is,Daniel 5:23. He gives to all the children of men their life and breath; for as the meanest of the children of men live upon him, and receive from him, so the greatest, the wisest philosophers and mightiest potentates, cannot live without him. He gives to all, not only to all the children of men, but to the inferior creatures, to all animals, every thing wherein is the breath of life (Genesis 6:17); they have their life and breath from him, and where he gives life and breath he gives all things, all other things needful for the support of life. The earth is full of his goodness,Psalms 104:24; Psalms 104:27.

      5. That he is the sovereign disposer of all the affairs of the children of men, according to the counsel of his will (Acts 17:26; Acts 17:26): He hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation. See here, (1.) The sovereignty of God's disposal concerning us: he hath determined every event, horisas, the matter is fixed; the disposals of Providence are incontestable and must not be disputed, unchangeable and cannot be altered. (2.) The wisdom of his disposals; he hath determined what was before appointed. The determinations of the Eternal Mind are not sudden resolves, but the counterparts of an eternal counsel, the copies of divine decrees. He performeth the thing that is appointed for me,Job 23:14. Whatever comes forth from God was before all worlds hid in God. (3.) The things about which his providence is conversant; these are time and place: the times and places of our living in this world are determined and appointed by the God that made us. [1.] He has determined the times that are concerning us. Times to us seem changeable, but God has fixed them. Our times are in his hand, to lengthen or shorten, embitter or sweeten, as he pleases. He has appointed and determined the time of our coming into the world, and the time of our continuance in the world; our time to be born, and our time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:1; Ecclesiastes 3:2), and all that little that lies between them--the time of all our concernments in this world. Whether they be prosperous times or calamitous times, it is he that has determined them; and on him we must depend, with reference to the times that are yet before us. [2.] He has also determined and appointed the bounds of our habitation. He that appointed the earth to be a habitation for the children of men has appointed to the children of men a distinction of habitations upon the earth, has instituted such a thing as property, to which he has set bounds to keep us from trespassing one upon another. The particular habitations in which our lot is cast, the place of our nativity and of our settlement, are of God's determining and appointing, which is a reason why we should accommodate ourselves to the habitations we are in, and make the best of that which is.

      6. That he is not far from every one of us,Acts 17:27; Acts 17:27. He is every where present, not only is at our right hand, but has possessed our reins (Psalms 139:13), has his eye upon us at all times, and knows us better than we know ourselves. Idolaters made images of God, that they might have him with them in those images, the absurdity of which the apostle here shows; for he in an infinite Spirit, that is not far from any of us, and never the nearer, but in one sense the further off from us, for our pretending to realize or presentiate him to ourselves by any image. He is nigh unto us, both to receive the homage we render him and to give the mercies we ask of him, wherever we are, though near no altar, image, or temple. The Lord of all, as he is rich (Romans 10:12), so he is nigh (Deuteronomy 4:7), to all that call upon him. He that wills us to pray every where, assures us that he is no where far from us; whatever country, nation, or profession we are of, whatever our rank and condition in the world are, be we in a palace or in a cottage, in a crowd or in a corner, in a city or in a desert, in the depths of the sea or afar off upon the sea, this is certain, God is not far from every one of us.

      7. That in him we live, and move, and have our being,Acts 17:28; Acts 17:28. We have a necessary and constant dependence upon his providence, as the streams have upon the spring, and the beams upon the sun. (1.) In him we live; that is, the continuance of our lives is owing to him and the constant influence of his providence; he is our life, and the length of our days. It is not only owing to his patience and pity that our forfeited lives are not cut off, but it is owing to his power, and goodness, and fatherly care, that our frail lives are prolonged. There needs not a positive act of his wrath to destroy us; if he suspend the positive acts of his goodness, we die of ourselves. (2.) In him we move; it is by the uninterrupted concourse of his providence that our souls move in their outgoings and operations, that our thoughts run to and fro about a thousand subjects, and our affections run out towards their proper objects. It is likewise by him that our souls move our bodies; we cannot stir a hand, or foot, or a tongue, but by him, who, as he is the first cause, so he is the first mover. (3.) In him we have our being; not only from him we had it at first, but in him we have it still; to his continued care and goodness we owe it, not only that we have a being and are not sunk into nonentity, but that we have our being, have this being, were and still are of such a noble rank of beings, capable of knowing and enjoying God; and are not thrust into the meanness of brutes, nor the misery of devils.

      8. That upon the whole matter we are God's offspring; he is our Father that begat us (Deuteronomy 32:6; Deuteronomy 32:18), and he hath nourished and brought us up as children,Isaiah 1:2. The confession of an adversary in such a case is always looked upon to be of use as argumentum ad hominem--an argument to the man, and therefore the apostle here quotes a saying of one of the Greek poets, Aratus, a native of Cilicia, Paul's countryman, who, in his Phenomena, in the beginning of his book, speaking of the heathen Jupiter, that is, in the poetical dialect, the supreme God, says this of him, tou gar kai genos esmen--for we are also his offspring. And he might have quoted other poets to the purpose of what he was speaking, that in God we live and move:--

Spiritus intus alit, totamque infusa per artus Mens agitat molem.
This active mind, infus'd through all the space, Unites and mingles with the mighty mass.--Virgil, Æneid vi.
Est Deus in nobis, agitante calescimus illo.
'Tis the Divinity that warms our hearts.--Ovid, Fast. vi.
Jupiter est quodeunque vides, Quocunque moveris.
Where'er you look, where'er you rove 'The spacious scene is full of Jove.--Lucan, lib. ii.

But he chooses this of Aratus, as having much in a little. By this it appears not only that Paul was himself a scholar, but that human learning is both ornamental and serviceable to a gospel minister, especially for the convincing of those that are without; for it enables him to beat them at their own weapons, and to cut off Goliath's head with his own sword. How can the adversaries of truth be beaten out of their strong-holds by those that do not know them? It may likewise shame God's professing people, who forget their relation to God, and walk contrary to it, that a heathen poet could say of God, We are his offspring, formed by him, formed for him, more the care of his providence than ever any children were the care of their parents; and therefore are obliged to obey his commands, and acquiesce in his disposals, and to be unto him for a name and a praise. Since in him and upon him we live, we ought to live to him; since in him we move, we ought to move towards him; and since in him we have our being, and from him we receive all the supports and comforts of our being, we ought to consecrate our being to him, and to apply to him for a new being, a better being, an eternal well-being.

      III. From all these great truths concerning God, he infers the absurdity of their idolatry, as the prophets of old had done. If this be so, 1. Then God cannot be represented by an image. If we are the offspring of God, as we are spirits in flesh, then certainly he who is the Father of our spirits (and they are the principal part of us, and that part of us by which we are denominated God's offspring) is himself a Spirit, and we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device,Acts 17:29; Acts 17:29. We wrong God, and put an affront upon him, if we think so. God honoured man in making his soul after his own likeness; but man dishonours God if he makes him after the likeness of his body. The Godhead is spiritual, infinite, immaterial, incomprehensible, and therefore it is a very false and unjust conception which an image gives us of God, be the matter ever so rich, fold or silver; be the shape ever so curious, and be it ever so well graven by art or man's device, its countenance, posture, or dress, ever so significant, it is a teacher of lies. 2. Then he dwells not in temples made with hands,Acts 17:24; Acts 17:24. He is not invited to any temple men can build for him, nor confined to any. A temple brings him never the nearer to us, nor keeps him ever the longer among us. A temple is convenient for us to come together in to worship God; but God needs not any place of rest or residence, nor the magnificence and splendour of any structure, to add to the glory of his appearance. A pious, upright heart, a temple not made with hands, but by the Spirit of God, is that which he dwells in, and delights to dwell in. See 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 66:1; Isaiah 66:2. 3. Then he is not worshipped, therapeuetai, he is not served, or ministered unto, with men's hands, as though he needed any thing,Acts 17:25; Acts 17:25. He that made all, and maintains all, cannot be benefited by any of our services, nor needs them. If we receive and derive all from him, he is all-sufficient, and therefore cannot but be self-sufficient, and independent. What need can God have of our services, or what benefit can he have by them, when he has all perfection in himself, and we have nothing that is good but what we have from him? The philosophers, indeed, were sensible of this truth, that God has no need of us or our services; but the vulgar heathen built temples and offered sacrifices to their gods, with an opinion that they needed houses and food. See Job 35:5-18.35.8; Psalms 50:8, c. 4. Then it concerns us all to enquire after God (Acts 17:27; Acts 17:27): That they should seek the Lord, that is, fear and worship him in a right manner. Therefore God has kept the children of men in a constant dependence upon him for life and all the comforts of life, that he might keep them under constant obligations to him. We have plain indications of God's presence among us, his presidency over us, the care of his providence concerning us, and his bounty to us, that we might be put upon enquiring, Where is God our Maker, who giveth songs in the night, who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven?Job 35:10; Job 35:11. Nothing, one would think, should be more powerful with us to convince us that there is a God, and to engage us to seek his honour and glory in our services, and to seek our happiness in his favour and love, than the consideration of our own nature, especially the noble powers and faculties of our own souls. If we reflect upon these, and contemplate these, we may perceive both our relation and obligation to a God above us. Yet so dark is this discovery, in comparison with that by divine revelation, and so unapt are we to receive it, that those who have no other could but haply feel after God and find him. (1.) It was very uncertain whether they could by this searching find out God; it is but a peradventure: if haply they might. (2.) If they did find out something of God, yet it was but some confused notions of him; they did but feel after him, as men in the dark, or blind men, who lay hold on a thing that comes in their way, but know not whether it be that which they are in quest of or no. It is a very confused notion which this poet of theirs has of the relation between God and man, and very general, that we are his offspring: as was also that of their philosophers. Pythagoras said, Theion genos esti brotoios--Men have a sort of a divine nature. And Heraclitus (apud Lucian) being asked, What are men? answered, Theoi thnetoi--Mortal gods; and, What are the gods? answered, athanatoi anthropoi--Immortal men. And Pindar saith (Nemean, Ode 6), En andron hen theon genos--God and man are near a-kin. It is true that by the knowledge of ourselves we may be led to the knowledge of God, but it is a very confused knowledge. This is but feeling after him. We have therefore reason to be thankful that by the gospel of Christ we have notices given us of God much clearer than we could have by the light of nature; we do not now feel after him, but with open face behold, as in a glass, the glory of God.

      IV. He proceeds to call them all to repent of their idolatries, and to turn from them, Acts 17:30; Acts 17:31. This is the practical part of Paul's sermon before the university; having declared God to them (Acts 17:23; Acts 17:23), he properly presses upon them repentance towards God, and would also have taught them faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, if they had had the patience to hear him. Having shown them the absurdity of their worshipping other gods, he persuades them to go on no longer in that foolish way of worship, but to return from it to the living and true God. Observe,

      1. The conduct of God towards the Gentile world before the gospel came among them: The times of this ignorance God winked at. (1.) They were times of great ignorance. Human learning flourished more than ever in the Gentile world just before Christ's time; but in the things of God they were grossly ignorant. Those are ignorant indeed who either know not God or worship him ignorantly; idolatry was owing to ignorance. (2.) These times of ignorance God winked at. Understand it, [1.] As an act of divine justice. God despised or neglected these times of ignorance, and did not send them his gospel, as now he does. It was very provoking to him to see his glory thus given to another; and he detested and hated these times. So some take it. Or rather, [2.] As an act of divine patience and forbearance. He winked at these times; he did not restrain them from these idolatries by sending prophets to them, as he did to Israel; he did not punish them in their idolatries, as he did Israel; but gave them the gifts of his providence, Acts 14:16; Acts 14:17. These things thou hast done, and I kept silence,Psalms 50:21. He did not give them such calls and motives to repentance as he does now. He let them alone. Because they did not improve the light they had, but were willingly ignorant, he did not send them greater lights. Or, he was not quick and severe with them, but was long-suffering towards them, because they did it ignorantly, 1 Timothy 1:13.

      2. The charge God gave to the Gentile world by the gospel, which he now sent among them: He now commandeth all men every where to repent--to change their mind and their way, to be ashamed of their folly and to act more wisely, to break off the worship of idols and bind themselves to the worship of the true God. Nay, it is to turn with sorrow and shame from every sin, and with cheerfulness and resolution to every duty. (1.) This is God's command. It had been a great favour if he had only told us that there was room left for repentance, and we might be admitted to it; but he goes further, he interposes his own authority for our good, and has made that our duty which is our privilege. (2.) It is his command to all men, every where,--to men, and not to angels, that need it not,--to men, and not to devils, that are excluded the benefit of it,--to all men in all places; all men have made work for repentance, and have cause enough to repent, and all men are invited to repent, and shall have the benefit of it. The apostles are commissioned to preach this every where. The prophets were sent to command the Jews to repent; but the apostles were sent to preach repentance and remission of sins to all nations. (3.) Now in gospel times it is more earnestly commanded, because more encouraged than it had been formerly. Now the way of remission is more opened than it had been, and the promise more fully confirmed; and therefore now he expects we should all repent. "Now repent; now at length, now in time, repent; for you have too long gone on in sin. Now in time repent, for it will be too late shortly."

      3. The great reason to enforce this command, taken from the judgment to come. God commands us to repent, because he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31; Acts 17:31), and has now under the gospel made a clearer discovery of a state of retribution in the other world than ever before. Observe, (1.) The God that made the world will judge it; he that gave the children of men their being and faculties will call them to an account for the use they have made of them, and recompense them accordingly, whether the body served the soul in serving God or the soul was a drudge to the body in making provision for the flesh; and every man shall receive according to the things done in the body,2 Corinthians 5:10. The God that now governs the world will judge it, will reward the faithful friends of his government and punish the rebels. (2.) There is a day appointed for this general review of all that men have done in time, and a final determination of their state for eternity. The day is fixed in the counsel of God, and cannot be altered; but it is his there, and cannot be known. A day of decision, a day of recompence, a day that will put a final period to all the days of time. (3.) The world will be judged in righteousness; for God is not unrighteous, who taketh vengeance; far be it from him that he should do iniquity. His knowledge of all men's characters and actions is infallibly true, and therefore his sentence upon them incontestably just. And, as there will be no appeal from it, so there will be no exception against it. (4.) God will judge the world by that man whom he hath ordained, who can be no other than the Lord Jesus, to whom all judgment is committed. By him God made the world, by him he redeemed it, by him he governs it, and by him he will judge it. (5.) God's raising Christ from the dead is the great proof of his being appointed and ordained the Judge of quick and dead. His doing him that honour evidenced his designing him this honour. His raising him from the dead was the beginning of his exaltation, his judging the world will be the perfection of it; and he that begins will make an end. God hath given assurance unto all men, sufficient ground for their faith to build upon, both that there is a judgment to come and that Christ will be their judge; the matter is not left doubtful, but is of unquestionable certainty. Let all his enemies be assured of it, and tremble before him; let all his friends be assured of it, and triumph in him. (6.) The consideration of the judgment to come, and of the great hand Christ will have in that judgment, should engage us all to repent of our sins and turn from them to God. This is the only way to make the Judge our friend in that day, which will be a terrible day to all who live and die impenitent; but true penitents will then lift up their heads with joy, knowing that their redemption draws nigh.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Acts 17:26". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/acts-17.html. 1706.

Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible

We now enter on the missionary journeys, as they are called, of the apostle Paul. The work, under the Spirit, opens to the glory of the Lord. Not merely are Gentiles met in grace and brought into the house of God: He had already wrought in their souls individually this we have seen before, in Peter's mission to Cornelius and his household; but grace goes out henceforth in quest not of Jews only but of Gentiles, as the special sphere which was assigned to Paul by God, and this also in co-operation with the other apostles; for thus they had agreed.

But there are preliminary circumstances of no little interest and moment, which the Spirit of God has been pleased to give us before the record of these journeys. I have read at the beginning, of chapter 13 the principal scene of this kind. Saul of Tarsus had already been called, but here we have a formal act of separation. This is the true description of it in scripture. It was in no way what men call "ordination." This he takes particular pains to deny in explicit terms. It was not only that man was in no sense the source of ministry; for this would be, no doubt, disavowed by the godly everywhere; but he employs the strongest words in showing that it was not by men as the channel. As there are cases where man is the channel of conveying both a gift and authority, we can see how artfulness or ignorance can readily enough embroil the entire subject, and thus prepare the way for the building up of the clerical system. There is no ground for it in scripture. Ministry there is, and as a distinct though connected thing, an official charge: both are beyond question. These two things are clearly recognized by the Holy Ghost. Here we have nothing of official charge. So far as the apostle Paul had both a gift and a charge, and he had both (and the apostleship differs from the gift of a prophet as well as the rest in this, that it is not a gift only but a charge), all had been settled between the Lord and His servant. But now it pleased God at this particular epoch to call forth Barnabas, who was a kind of transition link between the twelve, with Jerusalem for their centre and the circumcision for their sphere, and the free and unfettered service of Paul among the Gentiles. It pleased Him to separate these two chosen vessels of His grace for the work to which He was calling them.

Let us look for a moment at the state of things at Antioch before we pass on. "And there were in the church" (or assembly) "that was at Antioch [certain]* prophets and teachers." What is commonly called a stated ministry was there. All should give full weight to facts which if denied or overlooked would only weaken the testimony which God has given.

* The best uncials, cursives, and ancient versions, omit τινὲς , "certain."

It is the continual effort of those who oppose the truth of the church, and who deny the present ruined condition of it, to insinuate against such as have learnt from God to act on His own word, that they set aside ministry, and more particularly what they call "stated ministry." They do nothing of the kind. They deny an exclusive or one-man ministry. They deny that abuse of ministry which would shut out of its own circle the operation of all gifts but one, which is jealous of every other save by its own will or leave, which has no sufficient confidence in the Lord's call or in the power of the Holy Ghost given for profit, which consequently makes a duty of both narrowness and self-importance through a total misunderstanding of scripture and the power and grace of God. Not for a moment do I deny that all who are in any definite measure taught of God as to His will in the service of Christ must disavow clericalism in every shape and degree as a principle essentially and irreconcilably opposed to the action of the Holy Ghost in the church.

But it is important to affirm that none understand the action of the Spirit who expose themselves and the truth (which is still more serious) to the deserved stigma of denying the real abiding-place of ministry. This is not in anywise the question. All Christians who have light from God on these matters acknowledge ministry to be a divine and permanent institution. It is therefore of very great importance to have scriptural views of its source, functions, and limits. The truth of scripture, if summed up as to its character, amounts to this that ministry is the exercise of a spiritual gift. This I believe to be a true definition of it. The minds of most Christians are encumbered with the notion of a particular local charge. Such a charge is altogether distinct from ministry: it is only confusion to suppose that they are the same thing, or inseparable. Ministry in itself has nothing to do with a local charge. The same person, of course, may have both: this might or might not be.

A man, for instance, as we find in the case of Philip and others might have a local charge at Jerusalem, and there we saw the church choosing, because it was that kind of office which had to do with the distribution of the church's bounty. This is the principle of it. What the church gives the church has a voice in. But the Lord gave Philip a spiritual gift, and there the church bows and accepts, instead of choosing. In point of fact the particular gift that Philip received from the Lord was not one that properly finds its exercise within the assembly, but rather without: he was an evangelist. But this establishes what I have been asserting; that is, that you may have a person without a charge who has a very special gift, and this for public ministry.

The elders or bishops, of whom we shall hear more by-and-by, had a still more important charge. It was the office of oversight, or of a bishop, that was found in every fully-constituted assembly where there could be time for the development of that which was requisite in order to it. But whether there were charges or none, whether the due appointment was or was not, the Lord did not fail to give gifts for the carrying on of His own work. Now those persons who possessed gifts exercised them, as they were bound to do; for here was no question of appointment, and indeed their exercise had nothing, whatever to do with the leave, permission, or authority of any, but solely flowed from the Lord's own gift. This was properly ministry in the word. But there never was such an idea broached, still less acted on, as the exclusive ministry which in modern times has been set up, as if it were the only right thing in theory or practice. In point of fact it is thoroughly wrong, not only not defensible by the word of God, but flagrantly opposed to it.

Here, for example, we have the picture of an assembly drawn by the Spirit. It is the more instructive, because it cannot be pretended that here, as in the church at Jerusalem, there were elements which savoured of the anterior or Jewish state of things. It was among the Gentiles. It was where Saul himself laboured; but then there were other servants of the Lord beside Saul, as Barnabas, and Simeon, and Lucius, and Manaen. Nor are these mentioned as if they were the only persons who there exercised the gifts of prophecy and teaching: no doubt they were the more important men. "As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul" (for he is still called Saul, which was his Hebrew name) "for the work whereunto I have called them." It was the Lord that called them.

But there is more than this: the Holy Ghost can also set apart among the servants to a peculiar service. This is emphatically brought in when it was a question of Barnabas and Saul. Not, of course, but that the Holy Ghost had to do with the action of a Peter, or a John, or of any others that have come before us in the previous accounts of this book; but it is expressly said here and not without an admirable reason, and of the deepest interest to us, because God is here preparing the road and instructing His servants as to His ways, more particularly in the church among the Gentiles. Hence, the Holy Ghost comes into a very decided and defined prominence here: "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." The Holy Ghost is in the church; He is personally acting, and not merely as giving power, but in distinct and special call. It is, no doubt, subordinate to the glory of the Lord Jesus, but, nevertheless, as a divine person must who does not abnegate His own sovereignty, so it is said "as he will."

"And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away." This was not to confer authority, which would set one scripture against another. Galatians 1:1 denies such an inference. We shall find, before we have done with the history, what the character of this action was, and wherefore hands were laid upon them: the end of Acts 14:1-44.14.28 explains it to us. It is said there (verse 26) that they sailed to Antioch (which was the starting-point), from whence "they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled." Such, then, was the object and meaning of the hands laid on Barnabas and Saul. It was not the presumptuous thought that men, who were really inferior to themselves spiritually, could confer upon the apostles what they did not themselves possess to the same extent; it was but a fraternal recommendation to the grace of God, which is always sweet and desirable in the practical service of the Lord. "So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost:" nothing can be more distinct than the place that the Spirit of God has assigned Him, nothing more emphatic than the manner in which the inspired writer draws attention to the fact in these commencing verses. All now depends upon His power: He is on earth, the directing power of all that is carried on. That power does not belong to the church, which has indeed responsibility in the last resort in the judgment of evil, but otherwise never can meddle with ministry except to the dishonour of the Lord, its own hurt, and the hindrance of ministry. On the the other hand, ministry never can meddle with what properly belongs to the church. They are two distinct spheres. The same person, of course, may be a minister while he has his place as a member in the body of Christ. But as he is not permitted to use his ministry to override the church in any respect, but rather to subserve its right action, helping it on as far as may be in his power by the Holy Ghost, so on the other hand the church can in nowise rightly control that ministry which flows not from the church, but directly from the Lord.

The present state in nowise alters or modifies the principle: on the contrary, it is an immense comfort that as ministry never did flow from the church, so the present broken state of the church cannot overthrow the place and responsibility of those who minister in the word. The fact is they are quite distinct, although co-ordinate, spheres of blessing.

Barnabas and Saul go forth, then, to Cyprus, the native place of Barnabas; and coming there they preach the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. There is great care, and so much the more because Saul was apostle of the Gentiles, to go to the Jews; and it is lovely to see the ways of God in this respect. Above all others Luke, as we know, brings out the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in His grace towards the Gentiles. Nevertheless there is no gospel so eminently Jewish as Luke's in its commencement, not even Matthew's. We have no such scene in the gospel of Matthew, and still less in Mark's or John's, no such scene of the temple both of the exterior and interior. We have no such account of the godly Jewish remnant. We have no such care in showing the obedience of Joseph and Mary to the requisitions of the law as in the first two chapters of the gospel of Luke. The fact is, that what is shown first in the gospel, then in the Acts, is "to the Jew first and also to the Gentile." And so we find in the service of these blessed men who now go forth.

They had, by the way, also, we are told, John to their minister. We must not make an ecclesiastical institution out of this. No doubt the expression might to ignorant minds convey some such notion. Nor do I pretend to say what might have been the motives of those who translated it so as to give such a colour to the passage. Manifestly, however, the thing were absurd; because it would be, not a ministry to others, but to Paul and Barnabas. Clearly therefore Mark's service lay here, I suppose, in searching out proper lodgings, and getting people to hear the apostles preach, and that kind of care which a young man would be expected to bestow on those whom he was privileged to accompany and attend in the work of the Lord.

On this occasion they met with the deputy of the island, Sergius Paulus, who was besieged by the efforts of a certain sorcerer that sought to exercise and retain influence over the mind of the great man. But the time was come for falsehood to fall before the truth. When he therefore attempted to turn his old arts against the gospel, and those that were the instruments of bringing it to the island, God asserted His own mighty power. For when Elymas withstood Barnabas and Saul, Saul, "who also is called Paul" (the Spirit of God taking this opportunity of bringing forward his Gentile name in a mission that was to be pre-eminently among the Gentiles, although beginning with the Jew according to the ways of God), being then filled with the Holy Ghost, sets his eyes on the evil worker, gives him his true character, searches him through and through, and, more than this, pronounced a sentence, a judicial sentence, from the Lord, which was at once accomplished. As we are told, "Immediately there fell upon him a mist and a darkness, and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand." It was the sad sign of his guilty race, the Jews, who, by their opposition to the gospel of the grace of God, and more particularly among the Gentiles, are now doomed to the same blindness after a spiritual sort. "Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord." Beautiful contrast with Simon Magus! What astonished Simon Magus was the power displayed; what astonished the deputy was the truth. The admiration of Power is natural to man, and particularly to fallen man. He, conscious of his weakness, covets the power that he would like to wield, having still the consciousness of the place to which he was called, but from which he has fallen; for God put every creature under him, and although through sin he is fallen from his estate, he has in nowise abandoned his pretensions, and he would fain have the power that would enable him not to hold up only, but to reverse if possible the sad consequences of the fall. Delight in the truth, a heart for that which God reveals, flows only from the Holy Ghost; and this was the happy portion of the deputy. He believed, and believed after a very different sort, with a divinely exercised conscience by the power of the Spirit,. instead of a merely intellectual credit receiving upon evidence that which approved itself to the judgment of his mind.

Next we read of Paul and his company, for from this moment he takes the chief place, and others are designated because of their companionship with him. Was this place in anywise contrary to the will of the Lord? Was it not thoroughly according to it? We all know that there is sometimes a little jealousy of any such spiritual influence. I cannot but think, however, that the feeling is owing more to the natural independence of the mind, than the simplicity that delights in the working of the Holy Ghost and the sanctioned expression of God's holy word. I say, then, that Paul and his company "loosed from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John, departing from them (for he was not at all in faith up to the level of the work at any rate of Paul), returned to Jerusalem," his natural home.

The others proceed on their way to Antioch in Pisidia, and there they are found on the sabbath-day in the synagogue. "And after the reading of the law and the prophets, the ruler of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on." What a painful contrast with that which is found in Christendom! Even among the poor Jews, spite of all the coldness and narrowness of their system, there was then a greater openness of heart, and a simplicity to receive whatever could be communicated than one sees where there ought to be the rivers of living water, where there should reign the cherished desire among all that belong to the Lord, that the best help at all cost be rendered to every saint of God, as well as to every poor perishing sinner. However, here among these Jews, the rulers were anxious to get all the help possible from others for the understanding of the word of God, and for its just application. Although they knew nothing whatever of Paul and Barnabas (except, of course, that they were Jews, or looked like them), they called on them forthwith to address all. "And Paul beckoning. with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God."

There were proselytes as well as children of Jacob. Many Gentiles had renounced idolatry in all the great cities where Jews were found at this time. Undoubtedly, so far, Judaism had prepared the way for the Lord among the nations of the earth, in whose midst Jews were scattered. Disgust had grown up in the Gentile mind. The abominations of Paganism had risen up to a fearful height. At this very time there were not a few who though Gentiles were not idolaters (and you must bear this in mind), and really did fear God.

To all these Paul addresses himself: "The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it." The history is pursued until he comes to David, as the object, of course, was to bring in the Son of David; for the apostle, led of the Lord, speaks with that considerate skill which love does not fail to use, formed under the Spirit of God. Thus having brought in the Messiah, we are shown how He had been announced by the Baptist. There was no collusion about it. John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. As he fulfilled his course, he acknowledged that he was not the Messiah. Thus God gave an admirable witness of the Messiah that was just at hand. It was no question of a great man, or great deeds, but of God's accomplishing His purpose. Had a particle of ambition influenced John, he, with an immense following among the people, might readily have set up to be the Messiah himself. The truth was, that he was not the Bridegroom but His friend, and the fear of God shut out these base desires, and he felt it his joy and his duty to do the will of God, and be the witness of Him that was coming.

Thus Paul announces the Messiah himself. "Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent." Next he brings boldly forward the awful position in which the Jews had put themselves. "They that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning him." Along with spiritual blindness there was as usual the grossest want of common righteousness. "And though they found no cause of death in him, yet desired they Pilate that he should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre." God was against them, and as for the man whom they had crucified, He "raised him from the dead: and he was seen many days of them which came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are his witnesses unto the people. And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus."

It is not warrantable to say "raised up Jesus again." You may read it either "raised up Jesus," or "raised Jesus again;" but you cannot give both. The word cannot at the same time include both, though it may in certain cases, according to the context, mean either. The proper rendering here is "raised up Jesus." This is the meaning required by the facts. It refers to Jesus given to the Jews as the Messiah according to the prophets. It is also the commonest thing possible for the word to apply to resurrection. But then in itself it takes in a much wider range than simply resurrection. The word "raised up" requires " from the dead " to make it definitely mean resurrection. But this is not the case here, till we come to verse 34. I therefore believe that resurrection is not meant in the earlier text at all, but raising up Jesus as the Messiah, as it is also written in the second Psalm: "Thou art my Son: this day have I begotten thee." This is confirmed, and I think proved by the next verse, where we have the additional statement. "And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead." Thus we have two distinct steps: verse 33 affirms that God had fulfilled the promise in raising up the Messiah in the earth for His people; verse 34 adds that, besides this, He raised Him up from the dead. This is important, because it serves as a key to the true application of the second Psalm, which is often, and I believe mistakenly, applied to the resurrection. The reference is to the Messiah, without raising the question of actual bodily resurrection, which is first introduced distinctly inPsalms 16:1-19.16.11; Psalms 16:1-19.16.11, though implied in Psalms 8:1-19.8.9. So, in the Apostle's discourse, the resurrection from the dead is founded not upon the second Psalm, but on a well known passage in the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 55:3), and also in the sixteenth Psalm already referred to.

But here the apostle (instead of pointing out that God had made the rejected Jesus to be Lord and Christ, which was Peter's doctrine, and, of course, perfectly true) uses it according to his own blessed line of truth, and urges on their souls, that "through this man is preached unto, you the forgiveness of sins; and by him" (not the Jew alone, but) "all that believe are justified from all things from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses." Thus early, vigorously, and plainly did the apostle proclaim this great truth no doubt for all among the Jews who bowed to it, but stated also in terms that should embrace a Gentile believer even as an Israelite. The law of Moses could justify from nothing. "All that believe are justified from all things," The whole is wound up by a solemn warning to such as despise the word of the Lord, and this founded on or rather cited from more than one of their own prophets. (Compare Isaiah 29:1-23.29.24 and Habakkuk 1:1-35.1.17)

"And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath. Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God." This stirred up the Jews: it was a new element, and kindled their jealousy at once. We have had the irritation and the murderous opposition of the Jews in Jerusalem. We can understand that they disliked what they considered a new religion, which claimed to come with the highest sanction of the God of Israel, more particularly as it made them feel to the very quick their own sins, their present and past resistance of the Holy Ghost, as well as their recent slaughter of their Messiah. But a new feature comes out here which the Spirit of God lets us see henceforth in all the journeys and labours of the apostle Paul; that is, the hatred which the unbelieving Jews felt at the preaching of the truth to the Gentiles. "When the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy." The scene now lay outside among the nations whom they despised, If the gospel were a lie, why feel so acutely? It was not love or respect for Gentiles. But Satan stirred up, not now simply their religious pride but their envy, and, filled with it, they "spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming."

The law had never wrought such a change among men. It might correct the grossness of idolatry and condemn its folly, thereby some here and there might fear God; but it never did win hearts after such a sort. Thus the evil of their own hearts was brought out among the Jews, and the more in proportion as the might of the grace of God proved itself in attracting souls to the Lord. "Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you." How wondrous and how beautiful the ways of divine love! "But seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life" how solemn to judge oneself unworthy of everlasting life, as every unbeliever does! "lo, we turn to the Gentiles."

This was spiritual wisdom; but was it simply instinct? It was not. There may have been those that turned to the Gentiles from no deeper or more defined reason, as we saw last night. There were those who perceived that the gospel was too great a boon to be confined to the ancient people of God, that it was adapted to the universal need of men, and that it became God's grace to let it forth to the Gentiles; and they acted on their conviction, and the Lord was with them, and many believed. But it was not spiritual instinct here: it was a still holier and lowlier thing, yet higher and more blessed. It was intelligent obedience, where it might not be supposed that one could find a sufficiently clear direction. But the eye of love can discern; it is ever on the alert to obey from the heart.

"For so," says he, "hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles." What had this to do with Paul and Barnabas? Everything. Beyond controversy Christ is directly in view of the prophet, and perhaps some would be disposed to shut up the words only to Christ; but not so the Holy Spirit, who therefore extends its bearing to Paul and Barnabas. Did not Paul afterwards write "to me to live is Christ"? Christ was all to them. Christian faith appropriates to itself what was said to Him. What a place is this! what a power in His name! No doubt it was heretofore a hidden mystery that man should be so associated with a Christ rejected by (and so separated from) the ancient people of God. But what said He to the man despised and set at naught by them? This was the very time when the Messiah, lost to Israel, becomes, in a new and intimate way, the centre for God to associate fully in grace with Him. Thus what belongs to Him belongs to them, and what God says about Him is direction for them. "I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth."

There was no rashness or presumption, but the soundest wisdom in this. Was it only for the Apostles? Is there no principle in this of all importance for us, my brethren? Does it not prove distinctly that it is not merely where we get a literal command that we may and ought to discern a call to obedience? The apostles, as men of faith, were bold about it: "For so hath the Lord commanded us." Yet, I suppose, not two souls besides in the whole earth would have seen a command to them. Unbelief would have asked proof, and have been ill-satisfied; but faith, as evermore, is happy and makes happy. "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the name of the Lord was published throughout all the region." But the Jews were not to give up their envy. The greater the blessing, the more their hearts were vexed with it. "The Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women." They were more open, doubtless, to their efforts; and so were "the chief men of the city." As faith looks to God and the truth, unbelief flies to influence of one kind or another, of females on the one side, and of great men on the other. Thus they raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. "But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost." As the enemy makes good the occasion of evil, so God turns the wickedness of the adversary to the blessing of His own.

The apostles pass thence into another place; they are, as ever, unwearied in their love. There is, perhaps, no feature more noticeable and instructive than the fact, that nothing turns away the heart of Paul from the poor Jews. He loved them with an unrequited affection; he loved them spite of all their hatred and their envy. Into the synagogue he went again here (as in each new place that he visits), and so spake, "that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews". (they were generally just the same to Paul in one place as in another) "stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren. Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles. And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them, they were ware of it, and fled." They thus bowed to the storm. Nothing at all of what men call heroism marked the apostles; there was what is very much better the simplicity of grace: patience is the true wisdom, but God only can give it.

They go accordingly elsewhere, and there preach the gospel. At Lystra, which they visited, the case came before them of a man crippled in his feet, "impotent in his feet," who had never walked. Paul, perceiving that he had faith to be healed, beholds him steadfastly, and bids him stand upright on his feet. The Lord at once answering to the call, the man leaped and walked. "And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men." Accordingly they called Barnabas (who, it is evident, had the more imposing presence) Jupiter; and Paul, because he was the more eloquent of the two, they designated Mercury. "Then the priest of Jupiter", for the city was famous for its devotedness to the so-called father of gods and men, "brought oxen and garlands into the gates and would have done sacrifice." "Which when the apostles,* Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? we also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein."

* So the Spirit of God calls them both; and it is an important point to observe; it is not restricted to the twelve. Here we find the Holy Ghost acted in this manner. We have apostleship entirely apart from the twelve tribes of Israel. And not merely is Paul apostle, but Barnabas was recognized also.

What is notable, I think, especially for all those engaged in the work of the Lord, is the variety in the character of the apostolic addresses. There was no such stiffness as we are apt to find in our day in the preaching of the gospel. Oh, what monotony! what sameness of routine, no matter who may be addressed! We find in scripture people dealt with as they were, and there is that kind of appeal to the conscience which was adapted to their peculiar state. The discourse in the synagogue was founded on the Jewish scriptures; here to these men of Lycaonia there is no allusion to the Old Testament whatever, but a plain reference to what all see and know the heavens above them, and the seasons that God was pleased from of old to assign round about them, and that continual supply of the fruits of His natural bounty of which the most callous can scarce be insensible. Thus we see there was the ministration of suited truth, as far as it went, of what God is, and what is worthy of Him, opening the way for the glad tidings of His grace. How different from the vileness of a Jupiter or of a Mercury, a god devoted to corruption and self-will, and another god devoted to stealing! Was this the best religion and morality of the heathen, making gods just like themselves? Such certainly is not the true God. Who can deny all to be vanity even in the minds of the most civilized and refined of the Gentiles? The true God, although He had suffered all nations to walk in their own ways in times past, nevertheless did not "leave himself without witness in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." This was no more than an introduction for that which the apostle had to say; it was the truth so far rebuking the folly of idolatry. It was in no way the good news of eternal life and remission of sins in Christ; but it was that which either vindicated God, or at least set aside what was undeniable and before all eyes the debasing depravity of their false gods and pagan religion.

"And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead." "And having stoned Paul" how like his Master! How sudden the change! About to be worshipped as a god, and the next thing after it to be stoned and left for dead! Alas! here also the Jews instigated the Gentiles. "Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe." Such is the victory that overcomes the world; such the power and perseverance of faith. They go on undaunted, yea, confirming the souls of the disciples in various places, "exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." Impossible for the world to overthrow those who bear the worst it can do, give God thanks, and wait for His kingdom.

But here take note of another part of their service the confirmation of the souls of those who had already believed. It is not simply bringing souls in, and then leaving them to other people; the apostles would stablish them in the faith as they were taught. But this was not all. "When they had ordained them." Let me take the liberty of saying that "ordained" is a very misleading term, which conveys an ecclesiastical idea without any warrant whatever. Not that "ordained" is an interpolation here as in the first chapter of Acts, but certainly the meaning given is fictitious. The true force of the phrase is simply this, "they chose them elders." In more ways than one it is important; because, as a simple choice takes away "ordination," and with it that mysterious ritual which the greater bodies like, so on the other hand the apostles' choosing for them elders takes away all that gives self-importance to the little churches. For it is neither the smaller bodies choosing for themselves, nor an imposing authority vested in their great rivals, but a choice exercised by apostles; that is, they chose for the disciples "elders in every church."

I am well aware that persons of respectability have not been wanting who have tried to make out that the Greek word means that the apostles chose them by taking the sense of the assembly. But this is mere etymological trifling. There is not the slightest warrant for it in the usage of scripture. It is not requisite for a man to be a scholar in order to reject the thought as false. Thus the word " them " refutes it for any intelligent reader of the English Bible. It is not merely that apostles chose. If it be said that the people must have chosen for them to ordain, the answer is, that the people did not choose at all. This is proved by the simple declaration that the apostles chose for the disciples. Such is the way to fill up the sentence "They chose them elders."* To make out the meaning of what Presbyterians or Congregationalists have contended for, it should have been said that they chose by them, or some phrase meaning that they chose by the votes of the assembly. Here there is no ground whatever for such a sense, but on the contrary that the apostles chose elders for the rest. "They chose them elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, commending them to the Lord, on whom they believed."

* It is scarcely necessary to refute at length the notion of the fathers, and of some moderns like Bishop Bilson (Perpetual Government of Christ's Church, p. 13, Eden's edition, Oxford, 1842), that χειροτονήσαντες here means ordaining by imposition of hands. That the word was so used in later times by ecclesiastical writers is true; that this is its meaning in scripture is palpable error. It is to confound χειροτονία with χειροθεσία (or its equivalent, ἡ ἐπιθεσις τῶν χειρῶν ). On the other hand the idea that χειρονονήσαντες means that the apostles conceded to the disciples the power of selecting by vote, whilst they reserved to themselves the right of approval and institution, is still harsher and' in short unexampled in all Greek writings profane or sacred, ancient or medieval. In the earlier Greek authors who write of their public affairs, the word often occurs in the sense of choosing by suffrage (as opposed to lots); later on it meant appointment irrespective of votes. But it is never used, so far as I know, to express that some appointed on the ground of election by others. And I am glad to say not merely that a candid Presbyterian like Prof. G. Campbell treats Beza's version (per suffragia creassent) with the utmost severity as "a more interpolation for the make of answering a particular purpose," but that the Presbyterian divines of 1645 in the "Jus Divinum" point out the flagrant inconsistency of such an interpretation with the express language of the text. None but Paul and Barnabas chose (whatever the manner); and they chose for the disciples, not by their votes, which would be incompatible with their own choice. Compare Acts 10:41, 2 Corinthians 8:19. In the former case God chose beforehand the witnesses, but others gave no votes; in the latter the churches chose brethren to be their confidential messengers, but they never thought of collecting the suffrages of other people. Scriptural usage in every instance is simply choice.

It is vain to deny or parry the importance of this decision of scripture on the subject of presbyters. Not infrequently there is an attack made on those who really desire to follow the word of God, by men who ask, "Where are your elders? You profess to follow scripture faithfully: how is it that you have not elders?" To such I would answer, "When you provide apostles to choose elders for us, we shall be exceedingly obliged for both." How can we have elders appointed according to scripture unless we have apostles or their delegates? Where are the men now who stand in the same position before God and the assembly as Paul and Barnabas? You must either have apostles, or at the very least apostolic men such as Timothy and Titus; for it is quite evident that merely to call people elders does not make them such. Nothing would be easier than to bestow the title of elders within a sect, or for the law of the land to sanction it. Any of us could set ourselves up, and do the work in name, no doubt; but whether there would be any value in the assumption, or whether it would not be really great sin, presumption, and folly, I must leave to the consciences of all to judge.

Thus we know with divine certainty that the elders were chosen for the disciples by the apostles in every church. Such is the doctrine of scripture, and the fact as here described. It is evident therefore, that unless there be duly qualified persons whom the Lord has authorised for the purpose, and in virtue of their most singular relation to the assembly, unless there be such persons as apostles, or persons representing apostles in this particular, there is no authority for such appointment: it is mere imitation. And in questions of authority it must be evident that imitation is just as foolish as where it is a question of power. You cannot imitate the energy of the Spirit except by sin, neither can you arrogate the authority of the Lord without rebellion against Him. Notwithstanding, I do not doubt that this is often done with comparatively good let us conceive the best intentions on the part of many, but with very great rashness and inattention to the word of God. Hence those are really wrong, not to say inexcusable, who assume to do the work that apostles or their delegates alone could do, not such as content themselves with doing their own duty, and refuse a delicate and authoritative task to which they are not called of the Lord.

What, then, is the right thing? All that we can say is, that God has not been pleased, in the present broken state of the church, to provide all that is desirable and requisite for perpetuating everything in due order. Is this ever His way when things are morally ruined? Does He make provision to continue what dishonoured Him? So far from contrariety in this to the analogy of His dealings, it seems to me quite according to them. There was no such state of things in Israel in the days of the returned captives, as in the days of the Exodus, but Nehemiah was just as truly raised up of God for the return from Babylon, as Moses was for the march out of Egypt. Still the two conditions were quite different, and the mere doing by Nehemiah what Moses did would have been ignorance of his own proper place. Such imitation would have possessed no power, and would have secured no blessing.

It is a precisely similar course that becomes us now. Our wisdom is to use what God has given us, not to pretend to the same authority as Barnabas and Paul had. Let us follow their faith. God has continued everything, not that is needful only, but far over and above it for the blessing, if not for the pristine power and order, of the church of God. There is not the slightest cause but want of faith, and consequent failure in obedience, that hinders the children of God from being blessed overflowingly even in this evil day. At the same time God has so ordered it, that no boast is more vain than that of possessing all the outward apparatus of the church of God. In fact, the louder the vaunt, the less real is the claim to ornaments of which God stripped His guilty people. None can show a display of order and charge so settled and regular, as to bear a comparison with the state of the church as it was founded and governed by the apostles.*

*"But it is a characteristic of the Church system" (says Mr. Litton in his "Church of Christ," p. 636, speaking of sacramentalists) "to be most peremptory and exclusive in its decisions where Scripture supplies the slenderest foundation for them."

Far from thinking that it is not good and wise, I admire the ways of the Lord even in this deprivation of ground for boasting. I believe that all on His part is thoroughly as it should be, and really best for us as we are. Nor is it that we should not feel the want of the godly order as of old; but I need not say that if we feel the want of elders, the value of apostles was incomparably greater. Apostles were far more important than elders, and very much more the means of blessing to the church of God. But the right appointment of elders necessarily lapses with the departure of the apostles from the earth. It is not so with gifts, nor therefore with ministry; for all this is essentially independent of the presence of the apostles, and bound up with the living action of Christ the head of the church, who carries out His will by the Holy Ghost here below.

Now we enter upon another and an important chapter in its way, that is to say, the efforts of the Judaisers, who were now beginning (not to hinder the apostle's work merely, but) to spoil the doctrine which he preached. This is the particular point we may see in Acts 15:1-44.15.41. Accordingly the source of this trouble lay not among unbelieving Jews, but among such as professed the name of the Lord Jesus. "Certain men which came down from Judea, saying, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When, therefore, Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem." Jerusalem, alas! was now the fountain of the evil: it was from the assembly in Jerusalem that this pest emanated. Satan's effort was to pollute the doctrine of the grace of God, who allowed that the authority and the power too of Paul and Barnabas should be entirely ineffectual to stop the evil. This was turned to good account, because it was far more important to stem the tidal in Jerusalem, and to have the sentence of the apostles, elders, and all thoroughly against these evil doers, than simply the censure of Paul and Barnabas. It could not but be that Paul and Barnabas should oppose those that set aside their doctrines; but the question for the Judaisers was, What about the twelve? Thus, the carrying of the question to Jerusalem was a most suitable and wise act. It may not be that Paul and Barnabas at all designed it as such I do not suppose they did: no doubt they endeavoured to put it down among the Gentiles, but they could not do so. The consequence was that perforce the question was reserved for Jerusalem, where Paul and Barnabas go up for what Paul knew involved the truth of the gospel. "And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy unto all the brethren." Thus, you see, going upon this painful controversy, their hearts were filled with the grace of God. It was not the question they were full of, but His grace.

"And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things which God had done with them." There again is uttered what filled their hearts with joy, an important thing. For I am sure that often, where there is any duty of a painful kind, and where the heart of any servant of the Lord, no matter how rightly, gets filled with it, this very earnest pressure becomes really a hindrance. Because such is man, that, if you become thus over-occupied with it, others will infallibly put it down to some wrong object on your part; whereas on the contrary, others do not so oppose where you trust the Lord simply, only dealing with the matter when it is your duty to deal with it and passing on. Meanwhile, your heart goes out to that which is according to His own grace; and there is so much the more power, when you must speak on that which is a matter of pain.

It was thus according to the grace and wisdom given to these beloved servants of the Lord. When the question came before them, "there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed." This is a new feature, it will be observed; that is, it is not merely the envious unbelieving Jews, but the working of legalism in the believing Jews. This is the serious evil that now begins to show itself. They insist "that it was needful to be circumcised, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." In fact they thought that Christians would be all the better for being good Jews. This was their object and their doctrine, if such it can be called. "And the apostles and elders came together to consider of this matter. And when there had been much disputing," etc.

All this leads us into the interior of those days, and proves that the idea of everything being settled just by a word is only imagination; it never was so, not even when the whole apostolic college were there. We find the liveliest discussions among them. "And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men [and] brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; and put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith." Peter we hear on this occasion preaching Paul's doctrine, just as we saw that Paul might among the Jews preach somewhat like Peter: God it put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" not "they shall be saved," nor " they shall be saved even as we." This is probably what we might have said, but it is not what Peter said. "We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, we Jews shall be saved even as they [the uncircumcised Gentiles]."

How sweet is the grace of God, and what an unexpected blow to the pretensions of the Pharisees that believed! And this too from Peter! If Paul had said it, there would have been less to wonder at. The apostle of the Gentiles (so they were prone to think) would naturally speak up for the Gentiles, but how about Peter? what induced the great apostle of the circumcision so to speak? and this in the presence of the twelve in Jerusalem itself? How was it that without the plan of man, and contrary no doubt to the desires of the wisest, the failure of Paul and Barnabas to settle the matter, conciliatory and gracious as they were, only turned to the glory of the Lord? It was the evident hand of God to the more magnificent vindication of His grace.

"Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying (for he now takes the place of proposing or giving a judgment), "Men [and] brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: so that the residue of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord who doeth these things known from eternity."

Thus we see that in James's mind what Peter and Paul and Barnabas had pressed was according to the declarations of the prophets, not in conflict but agreement with them. He does not say more than this; he does not mean that such was their fulfilment; nor is any special application set before us. They teach that the Lord's name should be called on the Gentiles, not when they become Jews. That they should be blessed and recognized, therefore, was in accordance with prophecy. There were Gentiles as such owned of God, without becoming practical Jews by being circumcised, Gentiles upon whom the name of the Lord was called.

This was the argument or proof from Amos; and it was conclusive. "Wherefore my sentence is (or, I judge), that we trouble not them which from among the Gentiles are turning to God: but that we write to them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from the thing strangled, and from blood." This, in the latter part of it, is simply the precepts of Noah, the injunctions that were laid down before the call of Abram, and, again, that which was evidently due to God Himself in regard to the human corruption that accompanies idolatry; so that things were then left in a manner alike simple and wise. There could be no right-minded Gentiles who would not acknowledge the propriety and necessity of that which the. decree insists on.

"Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, having chosen to send men from among them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren."

It will be observed, by the way, that there were leading men among the brethren. Some seem jealous of this; others of hostile mind talk as if it contradicts brotherhood; but according to scripture, as in the nature of things, it is manifestly right. It is only crotchety people who have made a mistake. There must not be any allowance of jealousy where God speaks so plainly. This would be indeed to quarrel with the mercies of God among us. The letter was written, if I may so say, under the seal of the Spirit of God, from "the apostles, and elders, and* brethren," to the brethren of the Gentiles in Antioch, and Syria, and Cilicia. On its contents I need not enlarge: they are familiar to all.

*There is very grave authority (, A, B, C, D, etc.) for dropping καὶ , "and," and so throwing together οἱ πρ . ἀδ . "the elder brethren" (in the sense, however, of "the elders").

"Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren ( i.e., at Antioch) with many words, and confirmed ( i.e., strengthened) them. And after they had tarried there a space, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto those that sent them." (I give more exactly than in the common text.)

It was important to have the presence of men who were themselves competent witnesses of what had been debated and decided at Jerusalem. This was far more than being the mere and cold bearers of a letter. They knew the motives of the adversaries; they were familiar with the spiritual interests at stake, beside knowing the feeling of the apostles, and of the church at large. These men accordingly accompanied Paul and Barnabas. But this led also, in the wisdom of God, to an important point in the journeyings of the great apostle; for Paul and Barnabas, it is said, "continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also." (What largeness and love! How different from the days when an exclusive title protects unfit or haughty men, and money difficulties hamper both teachers and taught!) "And some days after Paul said to Barnabas" (the younger takes the lead), "Let us go again and visit the brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do."

Paul loved the church; he was not only a great preacher of the gospel, but he was deeply interested in the state of the brethren, and he valued their edification. Barnabas proposed to take with them John, who was also called Mark; Paul, however, would not agree to it. "But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other." The Spirit of God takes good care to record this; it was needful that it should be noted. It should act as a warning; and, on the other hand, it would also prepare the minds of the children of God for the fact, that even the most blessed men may have their difficulties and differences. We must not be too much cast down if we meet with anything of the kind. I do not make this remark in any wise to make light of such disagreements, but alas! we know that these things do arise.

But there is more for our instruction "Paul chose Silas." This is a weighty practical consideration. There are persons, I am aware, who think that in the work of the Lord all must be left absolutely without thought of one's own or concert to the Lord Himself. Now I do not find this in the word of God. I do believe in simple-hearted subjection to the Lord. Assuredly faith in the action of the Holy Ghost is of all importance, both in the church, and also in the service of Christ. Yet there is not liberty alone but a duty of conferring together on the part of those who labour. There may be spiritual wisdom in what is often called "arrangement." So far from regarding it as an infringement of scripture, or of what is due to the Holy Ghost, I believe there are cases in which not to do so would be independence, and a total mistake as to the ways of the Lord. It is quite true that Paul would not have an improper person forced on him in the work. He had come to the conclusion that, though Mark might be a servant of the Lord and of course have his own right sphere, he was not exactly the labourer that was suited for the mission to which the Lord was calling himself. Consequently his mind was made up not to take Mark with him. Barnabas, on the contrary, would have Mark with them, and at length so strongly urged this as to make it the necessary condition of his own association with the apostle. The consequence was that the apostle preferred even to forego the presence of his beloved friend and brother and fellow-servant, Barnabas, rather than have an unsuitable person forced upon him.

1 have little doubt that the brethren in general judged, and this spiritually, that Paul was in the right and Barnabas therefore wrong. For the apostle chose Silas and departed, as we are told, "recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God," without a word about the brethren recommending Barnabas and John. Not that one would in the least doubt that Barnabas continued to be blessed of God. And as for John (Mark), we are expressly informed of his ability in the ministry at a later day. The apostle takes particular pains to show his respect and love for Barnabas after this in an inspired epistle (1 Corinthians 9:1-46.9.27); and what is yet more to the purpose, he makes the most honourable mention of Mark in more than one of his later epistles. (Colossians 4:1-51.4.18 and 2 Timothy 4:1-55.4.22) How good of the Lord thus to let us see the triumph of His grace in the end! And what a joy to the loving heart of the apostle to record it!

At the same time the entire history furnishes a most important principle in the practical service of the Lord. We ought not to be in anywise bound by an esprit de corps; where His testimony is concerned, we must be prepared to break with flesh and blood to say to a father and mother, I have not seen them, neither to acknowledge one's brethren, nor to know one's own children. Nor must we think overmuch about the trial; for beyond a doubt many will be grieved by that measure of faithfulness to the Lord which condemns themselves. This we must bear as a part of the burden of His work. On the other hand, need it be said that nothing is more uncomely than a rudely personal and slashing habit with others in carrying out the will of the Lord? There is in it neither grace, nor righteousness, nor wisdom, but self and self-deception; for it looks like zeal this fire of Jehu. At the same time there is such a thing as looking to God to have an exercised judgment, as to your associates no less than your work. The Lord alone can give the single eye with self-judgment which enables us in the Spirit to discern aright whom we ought to decline, and whom to choose, if companions offer or should be sought in the work.

In Acts 16:1-44.16.40 we enter on some fresh points of interest. We have before us the first appearance of Timothy, who was afterwards to figure so much in the history of Paul and the service of the Lord. Here too we find a principle of no small moment for our guidance, and the more so as Paul did that for which, one can conceive, a great many might judge him. It is wonderful how apt people are, and especially those who do not know much, to judge such as know far better than themselves. There is nothing so easy as to form a judgment, but whether there be adequate grounds and a sound conclusion are other questions. Here the apostle is said to have taken Timothy (whose mother was a Jewess and his father a Greek, himself a disciple of good report among the brethren) to go forth with him. But, singular to say, Paul circumcises him. What consternation this must have made amongst the brethren, especially the Gentiles! It was just after the battle of Gentile independence of circumcision had been fought and won. They surely must have thought that Paul was losing his wits himself to circumcise Timothy! Not even a Jew would have gone so far. Could it be that the apostle of the uncircumcision had at length succumbed to the adversary? or that he was swayed by his early prejudices so as to forget all his own past testimony to the cross and death and resurrection of Christ?

Now I do not hesitate to say, that so far from Paul being under legal prepossession in this act, on the contrary he never did anything in his course that showed him to be more completely above it. To circumcise Timothy was precisely what the law would not have done. It is well known that, if there was a mingled marriage (i. e., between a Jew and a Gentile), the law would have nothing to say to the offspring. Legally the Jewish father could not own his own children born of a Gentile mother, or vice versa. (See Ezra 10:1-15.10.44) Now Timothy being the fruit of such a marriage, there could be no claim, even if there was license, to circumcise him; and (just because there was no such claim, he being on the one side sprung of a Greek, though his mother was a Jewess, because it could not be commanded) Paul condescends out of grace to those who were on a lower ground, and stops their mouths most effectually. Grace knows how and when to bend, no less than to be as unflinching as a rock; but this is precisely what even believers in general are least able to understand. Righteousness (that is, consistency with our relationship) is not all. God is gracious, and so may we be by His grace, and thus feel how such as are really on a true and real ground of grace, and in a position according to the word of God, can have the truest sympathy with those who, though of God, are on a totally different ground, doing and saying what must astonish others possessed of little grace. Is not this a thing to be weighed? We may find, there is little doubt, the importance of it before we have got through our little career. It is a question that often comes up in various forms; but I believe there is only one means of solving it. While the heart thoroughly holds fast the truth of God, let us seek at the same time to understand the workings of that truth according to the grace of God.

This was the secret of the apostle's action here, but it did not hinder in the least his use of the decision arrived at in the recent council at Jerusalem. For "as they went through the cities, they delivered to them to keep the decrees that were ordained of the apostles and elders that were at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily."

Then we find another important fact. Paul was stopped in his Asiatic journeyings, as we are told here, and "forbidden by the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia." So completely is the Spirit of God regarded as the directing person in the church. "After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit of Jesus (for such should be the text) suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; there stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us." In various ways, therefore, divine guidance was never wanting.

Accordingly they come to the first spot in Europe that was blessed with the preaching of the great apostle of the Gentiles. They came to Philippi, "which is the first* city of that part of Macedonia, a colony: and we were abiding in the city itself certain days."

* Philippi was not the "chief" city of Macedonia, but Thessalonica; and as Wieseler has shown, even if the subdivisions had been known then of Macedonia Prima, Sec. etc., Amphipolis (not Philippi) was the chief city of that part or district. The literal and correct translation therefore is "first," geographically speaking. Eckhel (iv. p. 477, ss.) copies the coin, COL. AVG. IVL. PHILIP. It was therefore probably a colony founded by C. J. Caesar, and afterwards increased by Augustus.

Here we read of Lydia's heart opened, and of her household. The action of the Spirit as to the family seems to have obtained remarkably among Gentiles; among the Jews, as far as I know, we do not hear of it. We have found already districts among the Jews, as also among the Samaritans, which were powerfully impressed (to say the least) by the gospel; but among the Gentiles families seem particularly visited by divine grace as recorded by the Spirit. Take for example Cornelius the jailor, Stephanas: indeed you find it over and over gain. This is exceedingly encouraging especially to us.

But grace never acts in power without stirring up the enemy, and in ways calculated most to oppose and undermine. His tactics in Europe differed from those in Asia at least in this the first place where the gospel was preached. The earliest case of any one or thing which the word of God names is, as a rule, remarkably characteristic. Applying this to what is in hand, we find that Satan's peculiar method in Europe was not so much by overt opposition but rather by affecting patronage. The maiden with the spirit of divination did not take the method of decrying the servants of the Lord but of applauding them. As it is said here, "she followed Paul and us (for Luke was now with the apostle) with the cry, These men are the servants of the Most High God, which show unto us the way of salvation." This she did many days, for at first the apostle avoided action to give no importance by any assaults of an open kind on the evil spirit. But after no notice was taken for some days, he being grieved at her boldness turns and says to the spirit, "I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." This roused the whole city.

The masters were troubled because the source of their gains was gone; and the magistrates disliked anything that produced an uproar. The result was that the multitude rose up together, the praetors rent off their clothes, and the apostle and his companion were beaten and cast into prison, with a charge to the jailor to keep them safely. There the Lord wrought marvellously. At midnight, while others slept, Paul and Silas in praying were singing the praises of God, who soon answered them. "Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened." The consequence of the truth afterwards presented was in God's grace the conversion of the jailor. It is not now the time to dwell on the details, beautiful as the scene is, and attractive to the heart as it may well be. The praetors were soon forced to acknowledge the wrong they had done in beating Romans uncondemned, contrary to the law of which they were the administrators. Thus the world was rebuked, the brethren comforted, and Paul and his companions departed to other fields of suffering and service.

The next chapter (Acts 17:1-44.17.34) sketches for us the first entrance of the gospel into Thessalonica. It may be noted how remarkably the kingdom was preached there. But those of Berea earned for themselves a still more honourable character, being distinguished not so much by the prophetic style of teaching addressed to them, as by their own earnest and simple-hearted research into the word of God.

Finally, the apostle is at Athens, and there he makes one of the most characteristic appeals preserved to us in this striking book, but an appeal by no means to the credit of human refinement and intellect. For there is no place where the apostle condescends more to the elementary forms of truth, than in that city of art, poetry, and high mental activity. His text is taken, we may say, from the well-known inscription on the altar, "To the unknown God." He would let them know what, in the midst of their boasted knowledge, they themselves confessed they knew not. His discourse was pregnant with suited truth, for he points out the one true God, who made the world and all things therein a truth that philosophy never, acknowledged, and now denies, and would disprove if it were possible.

"God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth" another truth that unbelief disowns that God is not only the maker but the Lord, the master and disposer, of all "He dwelleth not in temples made with hands." Thus the apostle finds himself at issue with both the Gentiles and the Jews. "Neither is worshipped (served) with men's hands, as though he needed anything," contrary to all religion of nature, wherever and whatever it may be. "Seeing he giveth" (such is His character) "to all men life and breath and all things; and hath made of one blood:" here again he is at issue with man's ideas, especially with those of Hellenic polytheism, for the unity of the human race is a truth that goes with that of the true God. It was seen among men that various races had each their own national god, and thus naturally the falsehood of many gods was bound up with and fostered the kindred pretension of many independent races of men. This was a darling idea of the pagan world. They held themselves to have sprung from the earth in some singularly foolish manner, at the same time maintaining that each was independent of the other. On the other hand, the truth which divine revelation discloses is that which man's mind never did discover, but, when propounded, at once brings conviction along with it. Is it not humbling that the most simple truth about the simplest fact should be entirely beyond the ken of the proudest intellects unaided by the Bible? One would think that man ought to know his own origin. It is just what he does not know. He must know God first, and when he does all else becomes plain. "He hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth."

Again, "He hath determined the times before-appointed" (everything is under His guidance and government); "and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him, and find him (" God," it should be here, according to the best authorities: "The Lord" is not in keeping with the teaching in this place. He shows them that God is the Lord, but this is another matter), "though he be not far from every one of us: for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets," etc. Thus he turns the acknowledgment of their own poets against themselves, or rather against their idolatry. Strange to say that the poets, however fanciful, are wiser than the philosophers. How often they stumble in their dreams on things beyond that which they themselves would have otherwise imagined! Thus some of the poets among them (Cleanthes and Aratus) had said, "For we are also His offspring." "Forasmuch, then, as. we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead (the Divine) is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device." How clearly was shown the folly of their boasted reason! What can be simpler or more conclusive? Since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that God can be made by our hands. This is in effect what their practice amounted to. Gods of silver and gold were the offspring of men's art and imagination.

"And the times of this ignorance" (what a way to treat the boasting men of Athens!) "God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent." Manifestly there is a thrust at conscience. This is the reason why he insists here on God's call to repent. It is no use to talk of science, literature, politics, religion. Old or new speculations in philosophy are alike vain. God is now enjoining on all everywhere to repent. Thus he puts the sage down with the savage, because God is brought in as the judge of all. It is evident that divine truth must be aggressive; it cannot but deal with every conscience that hears it throughout the world. The law might thunder its claims on a particular people; but the truth deals with everybody as he is before God. The ground of the appeal too is most serious: "Because he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world." Solemn prospect! This he urges home on them, and in a manner peculiar but suitable to the moral condition of Athens.

God is about to judge the habitable earth ( οἰκουμένην ) in righteousness. He does not here speak of judging the dead. It is the sudden intervention of the man who, raised from the dead, is going to deal with this habitable earth. Such is the unquestionable meaning of the text. The "world" here means the scene dwelt in by man. It is in no way a question of the great-white-throne judgment. Certainly all that he put before them was admirably calculated to arouse them from their mythic dreams to the light of truth, without gratifying their love of the speculative. "He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance to all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead."

The allusion to the resurrection became at once the signal for unseemly jest. "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them." There was but little fruit even for the apostle and from this wonderful discourse. Some, however, did cleave to him, and believed: "among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them."

Acts 18:1-44.18.28. But in the grossly voluptuous state of Corinth the gospel, strange to say, was to take a great and effectual hold on a certain part of the population. Not so at Athens: few were the souls, and comparatively feeble the work there. But in Corinth, proverbially the most corrupt of Grecian cities, how unexpected yet how good the ways of the Lord! He had much people in that city. It was an immense comfort, both in his labours there and afterwards, when the work seemed spoiled. He could still believe, and spite of all look for the recovery of those that had been turned aside. The Lord is ever kind and true; and so Paul went on with good courage, however tried and humbled on their account.

Here take note of another remarkable fact. The apostle does what is proscribed by all ecclesiastical canons, as far as I know, everywhere: that is to say, he works with his hands at the simple occupation of tent-making "And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. And when Silas and Timotheus were come" he takes this as the occasion for testifying to the Jews fully being "pressed" (not exactly in the spirit, as it is said in the common text, but) "in regard of the word," he testifies that Jesus was the Christ. "And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment," with the warning, "Your blood be upon your own head; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles."

Accordingly the work goes on among the Gentiles, though the Lord was not without witness among the Jews. And this leads to a vast deal of feeling and clamour: "and all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat." Here the ruler was not only unwilling to entertain the question, but supercilious, and indifferent to the general disorder.

Just at the same time another remarkable feature appears here. In Cenchrea Paul shaves his head according to a vow. It is plain that, whatever might be the strength of divine grace, there was a certain concession to his old religious habits, even in the greatest of apostles, and the most blessed instrument of New Testament inspiration.

However this may be, the end of the chapter gives another remarkable witness of grace. Apollos is brought before us, taught by Aquila and Priscilla, who "took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." I doubt whether it would have been according to the will of God for a woman to have done so alone; but she, along with her husband, instructed him as they could. Now Priscilla, as I cannot doubt, knew more than her husband; it was therefore desirable that she should contribute her help. Still the Lord's ways are invariably wise; and it is very evident that it was in conjunction with her husband, not independently of him, that this grave task was carried on.

Another important fact opens Acts 19:1-44.19.41. Paul found at Ephesus a dozen disciples, who were in a very ambiguous position; for they were not exactly Jews, and they were certainly not in the true sense Christians: they were in a transition state between the two. Does this appear to you at all startling? It is likely that it may disturb those who are in the habit of thinking, or at least saying, that all persons must be in one of the two states that it is impossible to be in a middle position between them. But this is not the fact. It is always well to face the word of God; and God has written nothing in vain.

I say, then, that these men were recognized at Ephesus as believers, but it is very evident that they were not resting on the work of the Lord Jesus. They had faith, they looked to His person; but they had not intelligently laid hold of His work for the peace of their souls. So when Paul comes there and finds these disciples, he says, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" Not the slightest doubt is started about their believing, but he does raise a very serious question about another thing: "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" Why he asked this it is not for us to say for certain. It is likely that he saw something that indicated to his penetrating eye souls not at rest and in the liberty of grace. In spirit they were still under the law. It is the state described in the latter part of Romans 7:1-45.7.25. Of course I use this description with reference to Romans 7:1-45.7.25 by anticipation, because that Epistle was not yet written. But people were in that state before it was written as well as since; and the object of the epistle was to deliver them out of it.

Paul then enquired, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost." It is not that they did not know the existence of the Spirit of God. Such is not at all the meaning of the text. All Jews had heard in the scripture of the Holy Ghost; and more particularly John's disciples were well instructed in the fact, not only of His existence, but that the Holy Ghost was about to be sent down on believers, or rather that they were going to be baptized with the Holy Ghost. This is what is referred to. Had that baptism taken place? They were not aware of it; they had not yet received the great blessing. Thus it is seen, they were believers, though they had not received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Such is the account that scripture gives of their state.

It is well to note this, because we may find persons now in a state somewhat analogous. There are many souls who are not at all in liberty, not having yet received the Spirit of adoption. Yet are they persons that we can truly accept as born of God; they detest sin; they love holiness; they really adore the Lord Jesus, having no doubt at all as to His glory, and that He is the Saviour. For all this they are not able to what they call "apply" the truth to their own case and settled relationship. They cannot always appropriate the blessing. They are not at ease and at liberty in their souls. We must not put such people down as unbelievers, on the one hand; neither must we rest, on the other hand, as though they had received everything. Those are two errors to which many are prone. Scripture allows neither, perfectly providing for every case. What the apostle did was this: he was far from questioning the reality of their faith, but he showed that it was not yet exercised on the full object of faith. They had not, yet entered into the just results of redemption. Accordingly he enquires how this came to pass to what they had been baptized. They say, To John's baptism. This explains all. John's baptism was only transitional. It was of God, but it was simply in prospect of the blessing, not in possession of it. Such too was the state of these men. The apostle then puts before them the truth. "They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came upon them; and they spake with tongues."

This is highly important to be understood, though (I need not say) still more to be believed. We have the apostle in an exceptional way laying his hands on disciples in this condition, just as Peter and John laid their hands on the Samaritan believers who thereby received the Holy Ghost. Thus God takes particular pains to show that the apostle Paul had the same sign and voucher of his apostleship as attached to Peter and John before. We are not, however, to suppose that a man cannot receive the Holy Ghost except by such an act: this would be a false impression and a misuse of scripture. As I have said elsewhere, and sought to explain long ago, the two general cases of the gift of the Holy Ghost are entirely irrespective of any such act; the special cases, where hands were imposed, owed their existence to peculiar circumstances that do not call for detailed remarks at this late hour.

Then we hear of the mighty spread of the work, not only the power with which God clothed the apostle, but also that which rebuked the superstitious use of the name of Jesus by those who without faith pretended to it. The chapter ends with the tumult at Ephesus.

In Acts 20:1-44.20.38 we learn the definitive usage, which the Spirit sanctions and records for us, of the Lord's day, or the first day of the week, as the fitting time, for the breaking of bread. So we find it among the Gentiles in Acts 20:7. I am aware that there are those who seem to think there is no liberty to break bread on any other day. I cannot but differ from such a conclusion. There appears to me full liberty to break bread any day provided that some adequate or just reason call for it: Acts 2:1-44.2.47 is, to my mind, conclusive authority for this. At the same time, while there is liberty to break bread, wherever there arises a sufficient ground for it in the judgment of the spiritual on any day of the week, it is obligatory, if we may use such a term on such a theme, on all saints walking with the Lord to break bread on the Lord's day, remembering always that the obligation flows from the grace of Christ, and is perfectly consistent with the most thorough sense of liberty before the Lord. In short, then, the regularly sanctioned day for breaking bread among the Gentiles is the first day of the week (not of the month, or quarter, or year); but under special circumstances the early disciples used to break bread every day. This appears to be the true answer to questions raised on this point.

Finally, in the same chapter (without entering into particulars at present), we may note the meeting of the elders* with Paul, and the important truth that they are not thrown upon any successors to the apostle, nor does he speak of any successors in their own office, but "commends them to God and to the word of his grace." This is the more worthy of attention because he warns them of grievous wolves without, and perverse men from within. Thus there was every reason for speaking of succession, if it really possessed the place which tradition gives it, both to apostles on the one hand, and to elders on the other; but there is a marked absence of any such provision. Not only is it not pointed to, but a wholly different comfort is administered.

* It may be observed here that those whom the inspired historian calls "the elders of the church" ( i.e., in Ephesus) the apostle designates overseers, or bishops ( ἐπισκόπους ). They are not in scripture two orders of spiritual rulers but one office. It is not merely that the bishops were styled presbyters (the higher dignity including the lower), but the presbyters Paul calls bishops, which could only be because they are both descriptive of the same men and office. This is supposed also in Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:1-54.3.16, Titus 1:5; Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 5:1-60.5.2. On the other hand presbyters never appointed to that office, though an apostle associated them with himself in laying hands on Timothy when he conferred on him a χάρισμα . But scripture never calls Timothy a presbyter or bishop, but an evangelist, though he was also employed of the Lord in a highly responsible place at Ephesus, and seems to have exercised a quasi-apostolic charge over the presbyters as well as the saints in general there.

I am sorry to add an instructive sample of the blinding influence of ecclesiastical tradition over a pious mind at an early day. It is a citation from Ireneaus' famous work against heresy (III. xiv. 2), or rather the Latin version which alone represents him here: "In Mileto enim convocatis episcopis et presbyteris, qui erant ab Epheso et a reliquis proximis civitatibus, quoniam ipse festinaret," etc. Undeniably there is a double misstatement here:

(1) the bishops and presbyters must be regarded as at least contrary to fact;

(2) they were expressly of the church in Ephesus, not from other neighbouring cities. We cannot wonder that later writers of less integrity and singleness of eye than the martyr bishop of Lyons went farther and without scruple in the effort to justify the growing departure from the normal state of the church, its doctrines, ministry, and discipline, as laid down in God's word. I could not but consider the note of Massuet, the Benedictine editor, a disgrace to a Christian scholar, or even to an honest man, if one did not bear in mind that the eyes of such persons are useless spiritually when they read the Fathers.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Acts 17:26". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/acts-17.html. 1860-1890.