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÷÷ACTS 17

ACTS 17

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Uproar in Thessalonica Preaching Christ at Thessalonica From Thessalonica to Athens In Thessalonica Thessalonica: Difficulties with the Jews
17:1-9 17:1-4 17:1-9 17:1-4 17:1-4
Assault on Jason's House
17:5-9 17:5-9 17:5-9
The Apostles at Beroea Ministering at Berea In Berea Fresh Difficulties at Beroea
17:10-15 17:10-15 17:10-15 17:10-15 17:10-12
17:13-15
Paul at Athens The Philosophers at Athens Paul at Athens In Athens Paul in Athens
17:16-21 17:16-21 17:16-21 17:16-21 17:16-18
Addressing the Areopagus 17:19-21
17:22-28a 17:22-34 17:22-31 17:22-31 17:22a
Paul's Speech Before the Council of the Areopagans
17:22b-23
17:24-28
17:28b-31
17:29
17:30-31
17:32-34 17:32-34 17:32-34 17:32-34

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph, etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

Brief Outline of Paul's Message To Intellectual Greeks in Athens (17:15-34). It is similar to Acts 14:15-18.

A. There is one God, creator of heaven (spirit) and earth (matter)

1. of whom they are ignorant

2. who does not dwell in human temples or idols

3. who is not in need of anything from mankind

4. who is the only source of real life

 

B. He is in control of all human history

1. made all nations from one man

2. fixes the boundaries of the nations

 

C. He has placed in humans a desire to know Himself, and He is not hard to find

 

D. Sin has separated us from Him

1. he overlooked sins in times of ignorance

2. we must repent

 

E. He will judge His creation

1. there is a set day for judgement

2. judgement will occur through the Messiah

3. this Messiah has been raised from the dead to prove His person and work

 

The City of Thessalonica

A. Brief History of Thessalonica

1. Thessalonica was located at the head of the Thermaic Gulf. Thessalonica was a coastal town on Via Ignatia (the way of the nations) the major Roman road, running eastward from Rome. A seaport, it was also very close to a rich, well-watered, coastal plain. These three advantages made Thessalonica the largest, most important commercial and political center in Macedonia.

2. Thessalonica was originally named Therma, derived from the hot springs located in the area. An early historian, Pliny the Elder, refers to Therma and Thessalonica existing together. If this is the case, Thessalonica simply surrounded Therma and annexed it (Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991, p. 11). Yet most historians believe Cassander, one of Alexander the Great's generals, renamed Therma in 315 b.c. after Philip of Macedonia's daughter and Alexander's half-sister and his wife, Thessalonica (Strabo VII Fragment 21). Sometime during the early centuries of the spread of Christianity, Thessalonica came to be nicknamed "the orthodox city" because of its Christian character (Dean Farrar, The Life and Work of St. Paul, New York: Cassell and Company, Limited, 1904, p. 364). Today Thessalonica is known as Salonika and it still is an important city in Greece.

3. Thessalonica was a cosmopolitan metropolis similar to Corinth, inhabited by peoples from all over the known world.

a. Barbaric Germanic peoples from the north were living there, bringing with them their pagan religion and culture.

b. Greeks lived there, coming from Achaia to the south and from the islands of the Aegean Sea, in turn bringing their refinement and philosophy.

c. Romans from the west also settled there. They were mostly retired soldiers and they brought their strength of will, wealth, and political power.

d. Finally, Jews came in large numbers from the east; eventually one third of the population was Jewish. They brought with them their ethical monotheistic faith and their national prejudices.

4. Thessalonica, with a population of about 200,000, was truly a cosmopolitan city. It was a resort and health center because of the hot springs. It was a commercial center because of its seaport, fertile plains and the proximity of the Ignatian Way.

5. As the capital and largest city, Thessalonica was also the central political headquarters of Macedonia. Being a Roman provincial capital and home of many Roman citizens (mostly retired soldiers), it became a free city. Thessalonica paid no tribute and was governed by Roman law, since most Thessalonians were Roman citizens. Thus the Thessalonian rulers were called "politarchs." This title appears nowhere else in literature, but it is preserved by an inscription over the triumphal arch at Thessalonica known as the Vardar Gate (Farrar, p. 371n.).

 

B. Events Leading to Paul's Coming to Thessalonica

1. Many events led Paul to Thessalonica, yet behind all the physical circumstances is the direct, definite call of God. Paul had not originally planned to enter the European continent. His desire on this second missionary journey was to revisit the churches in Asia Minor that he had established on his first journey and then to turn eastward. Yet, just as the moment arrived to turn northeastward, God started closing the doors. The culmination of this was Paul's Macedonian vision (cf. Acts 16:6-10). This caused two things to happen: first, the continent of Europe was evangelized and second, Paul, because of circumstances in Macedonia, began writing his Epistles (Thomas Carter, Life and Letters of Paul, Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1921, p. 112).

2. Physical circumstances that led Paul to Thessalonica

a. Paul went to Philippi, a small town with no synagogue. His work there was thwarted by the owners of a "prophetic," demonic slave girl and the town council. Paul was beaten and humiliated, yet a church was formed. Because of the opposition and physical punishment, Paul was forced to leave, possibly sooner than he had wished.

b. Where would he go from there? He passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, which also had no synagogue.

c. He came to the largest city in the area, Thessalonica, which did have a synagogue. Paul had made it a pattern to go to the local Jews first. He did this because

(1) of their knowledge of the Old Testament;

(2) of the opportunity for teaching and preaching that the synagogue presented;

(3) of their position as the chosen people, God's covenant people (cf. Matt. 10:6; 15:24; Rom. 1:16-17; 9-11);

(4) Jesus had offered Himself first to them, then to the world—so too, Paul would follow Christ's example.

 

Paul's Companions

A. Paul was accompanied by Silas and Timothy in Thessalonica. Luke was with Paul at Philippi and he remained there. We learn this by the "we" and "they" passages of Acts 16 and 17. Luke speaks of "we" at Philippi, but of "they" as traveling to Thessalonica.

 

B. Silas, or Silvanus, was the man Paul picked to go with him on the second missionary journey after Barnabas and John Mark went back to Cyprus

1. He is first mentioned in the Bible in Acts 15:22, where he is called a chief man among the brethren of the Jerusalem Church.

2. He was also a prophet (cf. Acts 15:32).

3. He was a Roman citizen like Paul (cf. Acts 16:37).

4. He and Judas Barsabbas were sent to Antioch by the Jerusalem Church to inspect the situation (cf. Acts 15:22,30-35).

5. Paul praises him in 2 Cor. 1:19 and mentions him in several letters.

6. Later he is identified with Peter in writing 1 Pete (cf. 1 Pet. 5:12).

7. Both Paul and Peter call him Silvanus while Luke calls him Silas.

 

C. Timothy was also a companion and fellow-worker of Paul

1. Paul met him at Lystra, where he was converted on the first missionary journey.

2. Timothy was half Greek (father) and half Jewish (mother). Paul wanted to use him to work with evangelizing the Gentiles.

3. Paul circumcised him so that he could work with Jewish people.

4. Timothy is mentioned in the salutation in: 2 Corinthians, Colossians, I and 2 Thessalonians and Philemon.

5. Paul spoke of him as "my son in the ministry" (cf. 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4).

6. Paul's general tone throughout his letters implies Timothy was younger and timid. Yet Paul has great confidence and trust in him (cf. Acts 19:27; 1 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 2:19).

 

D. It is only fitting in the section on Paul's companions that mention is made of the men who came to Thessalonica and accompanied Paul on his later missions. They are Aristarchus (Acts 19:29; 20:4; 27:2) and Secundus (Acts 20:4). Also, Demas could have been from Thessalonica (Philem. 24; 2 Tim. 4:10).

 

Paul's Ministry in the City

A. Paul's ministry in Thessalonica followed his usual pattern of going to the Jews first and then turning to the Gentiles. Paul preached in the synagogue on three Sabbaths. His message was "Jesus is the Messiah." He used Old Testament Scriptures to show that the Messiah was to be a suffering Messiah (cf. Gen. 3:15; Isa. 53), and not a political temporal Messiah. Paul also emphasized the resurrection and offered salvation to all. Jesus was clearly presented as the Messiah promised of old who could save all peoples.

 

B. The response to this message was that some Jews, many devout Gentiles, and many important women accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord. An analysis of these groups of converts is very meaningful in understanding Paul's later letters to this church.

 

C. Gentiles comprised most of the members of the church, as seen by the absence of allusions to the OT in either of the two epistles. The Gentiles readily accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord for several reasons.

1. Their traditional religions were powerless superstition. Thessalonica lay at the foot of Mt. Olympus and all knew its heights were empty.

2. The gospel was free to all.

3. Christianity contained no Jewish exclusive nationalism. The Jewish religion had attracted many because of its monotheism and its high morals, but it also repelled many because of its repugnant ceremonies (such as circumcision), and its inherent racial and national prejudices.

 

D. Many "chief women" accepted Christianity because of these women's abilities to make their own religious choices. Women were more free in Macedonia and Asia Minor than in the rest of the Greco-Roman world (Sir Wm. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1896, p. 227). Yet the poorer class of women, although free, were still under the sway of superstition and polytheism (Ramsay, p. 229).

 

E. Many have found a problem in the length of time that Paul stayed at Thessalonica:

1. Acts 17:2 speaks of Paul's reasoning in the synagogue on three Sabbaths while in Thessalonica.

2. 1 Thess. 2:7-11 tells of Paul's working at his trade. This was tent-making or as some have suggested working with leather.

3. Phil. 4:16 supports the longer residence, when Paul received at least two monetary gifts from the church at Philippi while in Thessalonica. The distance between the two cities is about 100 miles. Some suggest that Paul stayed about two or three months and that the three Sabbaths refer only to the ministry to the Jews (Shepard, p. 165).

4. The differing accounts of the converts in Acts 17:4 and 1 Thess. 1:9 and 2:4 support this view, the key difference in the accounts being the rejection of idols by the Gentiles. The Gentiles in Acts were Jewish proselytes and had already turned from idols. The context implies Paul may have had a larger ministry among pagan Gentiles than Jews.

5. When a larger ministry might have occurred is uncertain because Paul always went to the Jews first. After they rejected his message, he turned to the Gentiles. When they responded to the gospel in large numbers, the Jews became jealous and started a riot among the rabble of the city.

 

F. Because of a riot Paul left Jason's house and hid with Timothy and Silas, or at least they were not present when the mob stormed Jason's house looking for them. The Politarchs made Jason put up a security bond to insure peace. This caused Paul to leave the city by night and go to Berea. Nevertheless, the church continued its witness of Christ in the face of much opposition.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

÷ACTS 17:1-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ACTS 17:1-9
 1Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ." 4And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women. 5But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. 6When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, "These men who have upset the world have come here also; 7and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." 8They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. 9And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them

17:1 "through Amphipolis and Apollonia" These two cities were located on the Roman highway, Ignatian Way (i.e., the Road of the Nations), a major east-west road of over 500 miles, which linked the eastern and western parts of the empire and which formed the main street of Thessalonica.

▣ "Thessalonica" See Introduction to this chapter.

▣ "where there was a synagogue" This was Paul's pattern and sequence for proclamation (cf. Acts 17:2; 3:26; 13:46; Rom. 1:16; 2:9,10; Acts 9:20; 13:5,14; 14:1; 17:2,10,17; 18:4,19; 19:8), probably because he felt the gospel was first for the Jews (cf. Rom. 1:16) because of OT prophecy. Also, many God-fearers also attended, knew, and respected the Old Testament.

17:2 "for three Sabbaths" This means he spoke in this synagogue on only three Sabbaths. He was probably in the city longer than three weeks (cf. Phil. 4:16), but not for an extended period.

Special Topic: Sabbath (NT)

▣ "reasoned with them from the Scriptures" Paul matched Messianic prophecies with Jesus' life, teaching, death, and resurrection. He took this pattern from Stephen (Acts 7) and his rabbinical training.

Special Topic: Rabbinical Hermeneutical Techniques

17:3
NASB   "explaining and giving evidence"
NKJV   "explaining and demonstrating"
NRSV, NJB   "explaining and proving"
TEV   "explaining the Scriptures, and proving from them"
REB   "Expounded and applied"
Peshitta   "Interpreting and proving"

The first word is dianoigō, which is used of Jesus opening the Scriptures for the two on the road to Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:32,45). It was also used of Jesus opening their eyes so that they recognized Him (cf. Luke 24:31). This same word was used in Acts 16:14 for God opening Lydia's heart to understand the gospel.

The second term, paratithēmi, is used often in Luke's writings for placing food before someone, but here it implies "to place the truth before" or "to commend" (cf. Acts 14:23; 20:32). Twice in Luke (cf. Luke 12:48; 23:46) it is used of entrusting something to another. Paul carefully and meticulously gave to the hearers the gospel (i.e., deposit, parathēkē, 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:12,14). Some responded (some Jews, some God-fearers, and several leading women).

▣ "Christ had to suffer" The term "had" (dei) is an IMPERFECT ACTIVE INDICATIVE, which denotes necessity (see full note at Acts 1:16). A suffering Messiah was predicted in the OT (cf. Gen. 3:15; Ps. 22; Isa. 52:13-53:12; Zech. 12:10), but was never clearly seen by the rabbis. It was forcibly asserted by Apostolic preachers (cf. Luke 24:46; Acts 3:18; 26:23; 1 Pet. 1:10-12). This truth was the major stumbling block to the Jews (cf. 1 Cor. 1:22-23). See note at Acts 3:18.

Special Topic: A Suffering Messiah

▣ "and rise again from the dead" This is a common element in all the sermons of Peter, Stephen, and Paul in Acts (part of the kerygma). It is a central pillar of the gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 15).

Special Topic: The Kerygma

Special Topic: Resurrection

▣ "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ" There are many variations in the Greek manuscripts of the last words of this sentence.

  1. "the Christ, the Jesus" – MS B
  2. "the Christ, Jesus" – some Vulgate and the Coptic translations
  3. "Christ Jesus" – MSS P74, A, D
  4. "Jesus Christ" – MS א
  5. "Jesus the Christ" – MS E and Bohairic Coptic version
  6. "the Christ" – the Georgean version

Many scholars choose the wording of #1 (Vaticanus) because it is so unusual (UBS4 gives it a "C" rating; see Special Topic: Textual Criticism).

In this synagogue setting "the Christ" would mean the promised Anointed One of the OT, the Messiah (see Special Topic: Messiah). There were three anointed offices in the OT: kings, prophets, priests. Jesus fulfills all three of these functions (cf. Heb. 1:1-3). This anointing was a symbol of God's choice and equipping of a ministry task.

The early church acknowledged again and again that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah (cf. Acts 2:31-32; 3:18; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5,28), following Jesus' own clear and repeated affirmations.

Special Topic: Anointing in the Bible (BDB 603)

Special Topic: Christ Jesus As Lord

17:4 "joined" This Greek VERB (AORIST PASSIVE INDICATIVE) is found only here in the NT. It literally means "to assign by lot." In this context it connotes "to follow" or "join with." The "lot" was an OT way of knowing God's will. The implication of

  1. the PREPOSITION (pros)
  2. the root (klēpoō)
  3. the PASSIVE VOICE implies a divine action

God opened their hearts as He did Lydia's (cf. Acts 16:24; also notice similar thought in 1 Pet. 5:3).

▣ "God-fearing Greeks" These were followers of Judaism who had not yet become full converts, which involved

  1. being circumcised
  2. self baptism
  3. offering a sacrifice when possible at the Temple in Jerusalem

▣ "and a number" This is another example of Juke's use of litotes (a purposeful understatement, cf. Acts 12:18; 15:2; 19:11,23,24; 20:12; 26:19,26; 27:20; 28:2), usually in the form of negation. Here the phrase is literally "not a few," placed at the end of the sentence for emphasis.

▣ "leading women" Women had greater freedom in Macedonia (Lydia) than other parts of the Mediterranean world. The pattern set at Pisidian Antioch was repeating itself (cf. Acts 13:43,45,50). The western family of Greek manuscripts adds a phrase in Acts 17:4 asserting that these women were the wives of leading men.

17:5 "the Jews, becoming jealous" Jewish unbelief is sad to me (cf. Acts 14:2), but jealousy (cf. Acts 5:17) is tragic! These were not motivated by religious zeal like Saul's, but jealousy! The number of converts (cf. Acts 13:45), not the content of the preaching, is what bothered them.

Luke uses the term "Jews" often in a pejorative, negative sense (cf. Acts 12:3; 13:45; 14:2; 17:13), as does Paul (cf. 1 Thess. 2:15-16). It becomes synonymous with those who oppose and resist the gospel.

NASB   "some wicked men from the marketplace"
NKJV   "some evil men from the marketplace"
NRSV   "some ruffians in the market places"
TEV   "worthless loafers from the streets"
NJB   "a gang from the market place"
REB   "some ruffians from the dregs of society"
Peshitta   "a band of bad men from the streets of the city"

This term describes one who hangs around the marketplace without working, a lazy good-for-nothing.

▣ "a mob" This word is found only here in the NT and is very rate in Greek literature. It is not found in the Septuagint. "Mob" is the contextually implied meaning. Luke was an educated man with a large vocabulary (i.e., medical, nautical, etc.).

17:6 "dragging Jason" Some speculate that the Jason mentioned in Rom. 16:21 is this same person, but this is uncertain.

▣ "and some brethren" This construction implies that Jason was not yet a believer. Exactly how Jason welcomed the missionary team is uncertain. It is possible that

  1. Paul or Silas worked for him
  2. they rented space from him
  3. they stayed in his home

The VERB welcome in Acts 17:7 means "to receive as a guest" (cf. Luke 10:38; 19:6; James 2:25).

▣ "city authorities" This term "politarch" means city leader. This was the special name for local governmental leaders in Macedonia. It is a very rare word, used only here and in Acts 17:8 in the NT, or in Greek literature and its use shows Luke's knowledge of the area and supports the historicity of Acts (NASB Study Bible, p. 1607, but the word has been found in a Greek inscription on an arch on the Ignatian Way in Thessalonica). Luke was an accurate historian in an age when this was rare. He does have a faith agenda, which believers affirm as inspiration.

NASB   "upset the world"
NKJV, NRSV, NJB   "turned the world upside down"
TEV   "caused trouble everywhere"
REB   "have made trouble the whole world over"
Peshitta   "created disturbances throughout the world"

This implies a charge of sedition (cf. Acts 21:38; also note 16:20; 24:5). This is a very strong term. Note Paul's use of it in Gal. 5:12. We know from 1 Thess. 2:14-16 that this church faced great persecution.

One wonders if this is hyperbole or they knew of the spread of this new sect of Judaism.

17:7 "to the decrees of Caesar" Some think this relates to Claudius' (A.D. 41-54) edict of A.D. 49-50, which outlawed Jewish rituals in Rome. This edict, in effect, caused the Jewish population of Rome to leave. However, I think the context is clear that it refers to their preaching of the gospel. It was illegal for anyone to proselytize a Roman.

▣ "saying that there is another king, Jesus" This charge may be due to

  1. Paul's heavy emphasis on eschatology in his preaching at Thessalonica
  2. the terms the Christians used for Jesus being the same terms that the Romans used of Caesar (king, lord, and savior)

Special Topic: OT Titles for the Special Coming One

17:8
NASB, TEV, Peshitta   "the city authorities"
NKJV   "rulers of the city"
NRSV   "city officials"
NJB   "the city counselors"
REB   "the magistrates"

This is the Greek term politarchs, which were annual appointees in the cities of Macedonia. They were not Roman but local leaders (AB, vol. 5, pp. 384-389).

17:9 "a pledge" Probably this was a large monetary security bond, which was put up by the recent converts (cf. Acts 17:4,6,10), to assure that Paul did not continue to preach in the city. Some relate this to 1 Thess. 2:18.

÷ACTS 17:10-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ACTS 17:10-15
 10The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. 12Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. 13But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14Then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there. 15Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left.

17:10 "Berea" This was a large city in Paul's day about 60 miles west, very close to the Ignatian Highway. It also had a Jewish community, one that was open to listening to Paul and checking his theology from the texts he cited from the OT.

▣ "They went into the synagogue of the Jews" The text implies that soon after they arrived, even after an all-night journey, they immediately went to the synagogue. Maybe it just happened to be the Sabbath or maybe they knew they would be followed by the agitators. Time was of the essence. Modern western believers have lost the urgency and priority of evangelism!

17:11 "these were more noble-minded" This term was used for wealthy, educated, upper class people (cf. LXX, Job 1:3; Luke 19:12). This literal definition does not fit the Jews of Berea; therefore, it is metaphorical for someone more willing to hear new ideas and evaluate them. This open attitude may have been characteristic of the leading citizens of the city who worshiped at the synagogue (cf. Acts 17:12).

▣ "received the word" See Special Topic: Receive

▣ "examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" This is the way to determine truth. Paul's preaching method was to quote the OT and then show how it applied to Jesus.

The phrase ("whether these things were so") contains a FOURTH CLASS CONDITIONAL SENTENCE (i.e., ei with the OPTATIVE MOOD, cf. Acts 17:27; 20:16; 24:19; 27:12), which denotes that which is farthest removed from reality (less likely). Some responded; some did not (the mystery of the gospel).

17:12 "many of them believed" This implies that many of the Jews of the synagogue and many of the "God-fearers" responded.

Special Topic: Faith, Believe, or Trust

▣ "prominent" This term is a compound from "good" and "form" or "appearance." It was used of honorable, reputable, and influential people (cf. Acts 13:50 and Joseph of Arimathea, Mark 15:43).

17:13 This shows the purposeful opposition of Paul's Jewish antagonists. Many of these were sincere Jews acting out of religious motives (as Saul had). However, their methods reveal their spiritual status.

17:14 "as far as the sea" This may mean

  1. Paul traveled to Athens by coastal boat
  2. Paul took the coastal road to Athens

÷ACTS 17:16-21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ACTS 17:16-21
 16Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. 17So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. 18And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities," — because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20"For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean." 21(Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)

17:16 "Athens" This was the greatest city of Greece's past cultural heritage and still the intellectual center of the Roman world. It was steeped in tradition, superstition and immorality.

▣ "his spirit" The Greek uncial manuscripts of the NT did not have

  1. space between the words
  2. punctuation marks
  3. capitalization (all letters were capitals)
  4. verse and chapter divisions

Therefore, only context can determine the need for capitals. Usually capitals are used for

  1. names for deity
  2. place names
  3. personal names

The term "spirit" can refer to

  1. the Holy Spirit (cf. Mark 1:5)
  2. the conscious personal aspect of humanity (cf. Mark 8:12; 14:38)
  3. some being of the spiritual realm (i.e., unclean spirits, cf. Mark 1:23)

In this context it refers to Paul as a person.

There are several places in Paul's writings where this grammatical construction is used to describe what the Holy Spirit produces in the individual believer

  1. "not a spirit of slavery," "a spirit of adoptions, Rom. 8:15
  2. "a spirit of gentleness," 1 Cor. 4:21
  3. "a spirit of faith (faithfulness), 2 Cor. 4:13
  4. "a spirit of wisdom and of revelation," Eph. 1:17

It is obvious from the context Paul is using "spirit" as a way of referring to himself or other humans (1 Cor. 2:11; 5:4; 2 Cor. 2:13; 7:13; Rom. 1:9; 8:16; Phil. 4:23).

Special Topic: Spirit in the NT

NASB   "was being provoked within him"
NKJV   "was provoked within him"
NRSV   "was deeply distressed"
TEV   "greatly upset"
NJB   "was revolted"
REB   "was outraged"
Peshitta   "he murmured threat in his spirit"

This is an IMPERFECT PASSIVE INDICATIVE of paroxunō, which basically means "to sharpen," but here is used figuratively to "stir up." This is the term (in its NOUN form) that is used to describe Paul and Barnabas' fight over John Mark in Acts 15:39. It is used positively in Heb. 10:24.

17:17 Paul was concerned with both Jews ("reasoning in the synagogue") and Gentiles, both those attracted to Judaism (god-fearers) and those who were idolatrous pagans ("those who happened to be present in the market place"). Paul addressed these various groups in different ways: to the Jews and God-fearers he used the OT, but to the pagans he tried to find some common ground (cf. Acts 17:22-31).

17:18 "Epicurean" This group believed that pleasure or happiness was the highest good and goal of life. They believed in no personal, physical afterlife. "Enjoy life now" was their motto (a form of hedonism). They held that the gods were unconcerned with humans. They got their name from Epicurus, an Athenian philosopher, 341-270 B.C., but they overstated his basic conclusion. Epicurus saw pleasure in a wider sense than personal, physical pleasure (i.e., healthy body and tranquil mind). "Epicurus is reported to have said, 'If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches, but take away from his desires'" (The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. IV, p. 153).

▣ "Stoic" This group believed that god was

  1. the world-soul
  2. immanent in all creation (pantheism)

They asserted that humans must live in harmony with nature ( i.e., god). Reason was the highest good. Self-control, self-sufficiency, and emotional stability in every situation was their goal. They did not believe in a personal afterlife. Their founder was Zeno, a philosopher from Cyprus, who moved to Athens about 300 B.C. They got their name from the fact that he taught in the painted stoa in Athens.

▣ "idle babbler" This word was used of sparrows eating seeds in a field. It came to be used metaphorically of itinerant teachers who picked up pieces of information here and there and tried to sell them. The R.S.V. Interlinear by Alfred Marshall translates it as "ignorant plagiarist." The NJB has "parrot."

▣ "proclaimer of strange deities" This is literally "foreign daimōn" used in the sense of spiritual powers or gods (cf. 1 Cor. 10:20-21). These Athenian philosophers were religious polytheists (Olympic pantheon).

  1. It is just possible that these Athenian Greek philosophers took Paul's words as referring to two gods (Jerome Biblical Commentary, vol. 2, p. 199).
    1. goddess of health
    2. goddess of resurrection (i.e., Anastasis)
  2. It is even possible they saw one as
    1. male (Jesus)
    2. female (resurrection is a FEMININE NOUN)
  3. Paul's gospel terminology (cf. NET Bible) itself may be the source of the confusion related to one God in three persons (i.e., the Trinity, see Special Topic at Acts 2:32).
    1. Father
    2. Son
    3. Spirit

▣ "because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection" The stumbling block of the gospel for the Jews was "a suffering Messiah" and for the Greeks it was "the resurrection" (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-25). A personal, bodily afterlife did not fit into the Greek understanding of the gods or mankind. They asserted a divine spark in every person, trapped or imprisoned by a physical body. Salvation was deliverance from the physical and reabsorption into an impersonal or semi-personal deity.

Special Topic: The Kerygma

Special Topic: Resurrection

17:19 "took him and brought him to the Areopagus" The term areopages means the hill of Ares (the god of war). In the Roman pantheon, the war god was named Mars. In the golden days of Athens, it was the philosophical forum of this renowned intellectual city. This was no judicial trial, but an open city forum in the presence of a council of city leaders.

This is a sample of Paul's preaching to pagans, as 13:16ff was to God-fearing Gentiles. Thank God for these synopses of Paul's messages.

▣ "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming" Here is the difference between intellectual curiosity (cf. Acts 17:20-21) and revelation. God has made us curious (cf. Eccl. 1:8-9,18; 3:10-11), but human intellect cannot bring peace and joy. Only the gospel can do this! Paul discusses the difference between human wisdom and God's revelation in 1 Corinthians 1-4.

17:19-20 These words are very socially polite. This was, in a sense, a university setting.

17:21 This verse seems to be an authorial comment. It shows that the politeness of Acts 17:19-20 was not true intellectual inquiry, but a current cultural fad. They just enjoyed hearing and debating. They were trying to relive Athens' past glory. The tragedy is they could not differentiate between human wisdom and divine revelation (and so it is today in our universities)!

÷ACTS 17:22-31

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ACTS 17:22-31
 22So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'to an unknown god.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26and 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, 27that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.' 29Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."

17:22 "you are very religious" This is literally "to fear the gods (daimōn)." This can mean

  1. in a negative sense, "superstitious," as in the King James Version
  2. in a positive sense, "very precise in the practice of religious detail" (NKJV, NJB cf. Acts 25:19)

These men had an intellectual curiosity and respect for religious matters, but only within certain parameters (their traditions).

▣ "all" Notice the number of times in this sermon that Paul uses the inclusive "all" or phrases that parallel it.

  1. "all respects," Acts 17:22
  2. "all things," Acts 17:24
  3. "all life and breath," Acts 17:25
  4. "all things," Acts 17:25
  5. "every nation," Acts 17:26
  6. "all the face of the earth," Acts 17:26
  7. "each one of us," Acts 17:27
  8. "we" (twice", Acts 17:28
  9. "all everywhere," Acts 17:30
  10. "the world" (lit. The inhabited earth), Acts 17:31
  11. "all men," Acts 17:31

Paul's good news was that God loved all humans (i.e., made in His image, cf. Gen. 1:26-27) and has provided a way for them to know Him (i.e., original purpose of creation was fellowship with God, cf. Gen. 3:8) and be forgiven (i.e., from the effects of the fall, cf. Genesis 3).

17:23 "inscription, 'to an unknown god'" The Greeks were afraid they may have forgotten or left out of their worship an important deity who might cause trouble if neglected, so they regularly had monuments of this type (cf. Pausanias, Description of Greece 1:1:4 and Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 6:3:5). It shows their fear of the spiritual realm and their polytheism.

▣ "Therefore what you worship in ignorance" There is a word play between "unknown" (agnōetō) and "ignorance" (agnoountes). We get the English word "agnostic" from this Greek word. Paul was adapting the gospel presentation to pagans who believed in an impersonal world soul.

▣ "This I proclaim to you" Paul is clearly asserting that he is not a "babbler" (Acts 17:18) and that he does know the high God they are ignorant of.

17:24 "The God who made the world and all things in it" Paul's first theological point is God is creator (cf. Gen. 1-2; Ps. 104; 146:6; Isa. 42:5). The Greeks believed that spirit (God) and matter (atoms) were both co-eternal. Paul asserts the Genesis 1 concept of creation where a personal, purposeful God creates both the heavens and the earth (this planet and the universe).

Special Topic: Natural Resources

▣ "does not dwell in temples made with hands" This is a quote from

  1. the OT (cf. 1 Kings 8:27; Isa. 66:1-2)
  2. a Greek philosopher, Euripides, Fragment 968

There are several quotes in this context from Greek writers (cf. Acts 17:25; 28). Paul was also trained in Greek scholastics.

17:25 "as though He needed anything" This same thought is found in

  1. Euripides' Heracles 1345f
  2. Plato's Euthyphro 14c
  3. Aristobulus, Fragment 4
  4. Psalm 50:9-12

The Greek temples were often seen as the place where the gods were fed and cared for.

▣ "since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things" This may be an allusion to Isa. 42:5. This is Paul's theological way of asserting

  1. God's love for humanity (mercy, grace)
  2. God's gracious provision for humanity (providence)

A similar truth was made by Zeno, the founder of the Stoic school, recorded in Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 5:76:1. Notice the "autos," He Himself! What a wonderful truth for Gentile pagans to hear and receive.

17:26 "He made from one" The western family of Greek manuscripts adds "one blood." However, the Greek manuscripts P74, א, A, and B omit the term (the UBS4 gives its omission a "B" rating [almost certain]). If original it refers to Adam. If it is an allusion to Greek philosophy it reflects the unity of humanity from one stock. This phrase and the next one clearly assert the solidarity of all humanity (possibly an allusion from Mal. 2:10, or even the LXX of Deut. 32:8), and theologically it asserts that humans are made in God's image (cf. Gen. 1:26-27).

The rest of this verse may also allude to the Genesis account. Mankind is commanded to be fruitful and fill the earth (cf. Gen. 1:28; 9:1,7). Humans were reluctant to separate and fill the earth. The Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 10-11) shows God's mechanism to accomplish this.

Special Topic: Textual Criticism

▣ "having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation" Paul asserts that God not only created all things, but directs all things. This may be an allusion to Deut. 32:8 (LXX). However, this truth is also asserted elsewhere in the OT (cf. Job 12:23; Ps. 47:7-9; 66:7).

17:27 The first phrase may be another quote from the Greek poet, Aratus.

▣ "if" This is a FOURTH CLASS CONDITIONAL which means the farthest removed from reality. Humans must recognize their need. Both VERBS are AORIST ACTIVE OPTATIVES.

NASB, NKJV, NRSV   "they might grope for Him"
TEV   "as they felt around for him"
NJB   "feeling their way towards him"
REB   "groping after him"
Peshitta   "search after God"

The word means "to touch" or "to feel" (cf. Luke 24:39). This context implies a groping due to darkness or confusion. They are trying to find God, but it is not easy. Paganism is a blinding force which characterizes the fall, as does idolatry and superstition (cf. Romans 1-2), but God is present!

▣ "He is not far from each one of us" What a wonderful truth. God created us, God is for us, God is with us (cf. Psalm 139)! Paul is forcibly asserting God's love, care, and presence with all humans. This is the truth of the gospel (cf. Eph. 2:11-3:13).

Paul may be alluding to Deut. 4:7 or Jer. 23:23-24, but extrapolating it to all humans. This is the hidden secret of the New Covenant!

17:28 "even some of your own poets have said" The previous phrase, "in Him we live and move and exist," is a quote from

  1. Cleanthes' Hymn to Zeus. He was the head of the Stoic school from 263-232 B.C.
  2. Aratus's (from Soli, a city near Tarsus) Phainomena, line 5. Aratus was from Cilicia and lived from 315-240 B.C. This quote emphasizes either
    1. God's immanence (cf. Acts 17:27) or
    2. God's creation of all humans (cf. Acts 17:26)

Paul also quotes the Epicureans in 1 Cor. 15:32 and Menander, Thais, in 1 Cor. 15:33. Paul was trained in Greek literature and rhetoric, probably at Tarsus, which was a major university town.

▣ "For we also are His children" This is another quote, possibly from Epimenides, quoted by Diogenes Laertius in Lives of the Philosophers 1:112.

17:29 This is Paul's conclusion and refutation of idolatry (cf. Ps. 115:1-18; Isa. 40:18-20; 44:9-20; 46:1-7; Jer. 10:6-11; Hab. 2:18-19). The tragedy of fallen humanity is that they seek spiritual truth and fellowship from manmade things that cannot hear, answer, or help!

17:30 "overlooked the times of ignorance" This is a surprising aspect of God's mercy (cf. Rom. 3:20,25; 4:15; 5:13,20; 7:5,7-8; 1 Cor. 15:56). But now they have heard the gospel and are spiritually responsible!

▣ "God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere" This statement asserts

  1. there is only one God
  2. He wants all humans everywhere to repent

It shows the universalism of God's mercy and love (cf. John 3:16; 4:42; 1 Tim. 2:4; Titus 2:11; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 John 2:1; 4:14). This is not universalism in the sense that all will be saved (cf. Acts 17:32-33), but in the sense that God desires all humans to repent and trust Jesus for salvation. Jesus died for all! All can be saved! The mystery of evil is that not all will be saved.

Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan

▣ "repent" The Hebrew term means "a change of action," while the Greek term refers to a "change of mind." Both are crucial. Both schools of philosophy mentioned in Acts 17:18 would have rejected this, but for different reasons.

Special Topic: Repentance (OT)

Special Topic: Repentance (NT)

17:31 "because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world" Paul's message has clearly and repeatedly asserted God's mercy and provision. But this is only half the message. The God of love and compassion is also the God of justice who desires righteousness. Humans made in His image will give an account of their stewardship of the gift of life (i.e., Ps. 96:13; 98:9). The NT theme that God will judge the world (hyperbole on the known world) is recurrent (ex. Matt. 10:15; 11:22,24; 16:27; 22:36; 25:31-46; Rev. 20:11-15).

Special Topic: Judgment in the NT

Special Topic: The Judgment Seat of Christ

▣ "through a Man whom He has appointed" This concept of a Judgement Day based on our faith relationship to a resurrected man, Jesus of Nazareth (YHWH's agent in judgment), was unheard of and incredible to these Greek intellectuals (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23), but the heart of the gospel witness (cf. Acts 10:42; Matt. 25:31-33).

▣ "by raising Him from the dead" This theme is repeated many times in Acts (cf. Acts 2:24,32; 3:15,26; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30,33, 34,37; 17:31). It is the heart of the gospel affirmation that God the Father accepted the life, teaching, and substitutionary death of Jesus. The fullest teaching text on the subject of (1) Jesus' resurrection and (2) the resurrection of believers is 1 Corinthians 15.

Special Topic: Resurrection

÷ACTS 17:32-34

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ACTS 17:32-34
 32Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." 33So Paul went out of their midst. 34But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

17:32 "when they heard of the resurrection of the dead" The Greeks, except the Epicureans, believed in the immortality of the soul, but not of the body. The resurrection was the major stumbling block for the Greeks (cf. Acts 17:18; 1 Cor. 1:23).

▣ "sneer" This term is used only here in the NT, but the intensified form appears in Acts 5:30 and 26:21. Its root (chleusma or chleusmos) is used in the Septuagint several times for "derision" or "mockery" (cf. Job 12:4; Ps. 79:4; Jer. 20:8).

▣ "but others said, 'We shall hear you again concerning this'" Paul's message of God's love and care for all people was so radically new that these hearers were attracted, but not fully convinced.

17:34 "some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius" There are three possible responses to the gospel:

  1. rejection, "some began to sneer" (Acts 17:32)
  2. delayed decision, "we shall hear you again concerning this (Acts 17:32)
  3. belief, "some joined Paul and believed" (Acts 17:34; 1 Thess. 1:9-10)

This parallels the parable of the sower (cf. Matthew 13).

For "believe" see Special Topic: Faith, Believe, or Trust

▣ "Dionysius the Areopagite" He must have been a regular attender of these philosophical discussions on Mars Hill. At least one intellectual became a believer.

Eusebius, Eccl. His. 3:4:6-7 and 4:23:6 says he became the first bishop of Athens or Corinth. If true, what a great transformation! The gospel is in the transformation business!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why did Paul bypass certain larger cities like Amphipolis and Apollonia?
  2. Why was Christ's suffering so upsetting to the Jews?
  3. Why is Berea's response to the gospel so noteworthy and encouraging?
  4. Why was Paul so stirred over Athen's spiritual situation?
  5. Why is Paul's sermon on Mars Hill so significant? (vs. 22-24)

 

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