Acts 17

17:1 When [after they had been beaten and imprisoned in Philippi] they had passed through [following the Egnatian Way (main highway through Macedonia)] Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica [beautiful city; the crown jewel of Macedonia], where there was a Jewish synagogue.

On Paul’s second missionary journey, God led Paul to Troas where he had a vision of a Macedonian man appealing for help. Paul and his companions concluded that God was calling them to take the gospel beyond Asia. So, they sailed across the Aegean Sea to Philippi where Paul led a merchant woman named Lydia to faith in Christ. Paul and his team were later arrested, beaten with rods, and thrown into prison.

After his release from prison, Paul traveled to Thessalonica, the capital city of Macedonia. When Paul arrived, he went first to the Jewish synagogue. Paul’s strategy was to share the gospel in large cities in the hope that they would become centers for evangelizing the surrounding area.

17:2 As his custom [habit] was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days [note Paul’s three-pronged approach] [1] he reasoned [to revolve in the mind; teach with the idea of intellectual stimulus; question and answer] with them from the Scriptures,

When Paul visited the synagogue at Thessalonica, he first reasoned with the people from the Scriptures. Paul stimulated their thinking by using the Scriptures, asking probing questions, and answering questions. Knowing and using the Scriptures is a key to sharing the gospel.

Earlier in the book of Acts, an evangelist named Philip encountered an Ethiopian man who was reading a passage from the book of Isaiah. Philip took the time to help the man understand the meaning of the passage (Acts 8:30-35).

Peter would later write that Christ-followers should always be ready “to give a defense to anyone who asks” them about why they believe in Jesus (1 Pet. 3:15). Reasoning with others, explaining the meaning of a passage, and giving a defense require that we know the Scriptures.

17:3 [2] explaining [opened OT passages to understanding of listeners] and [3] proving [to present evidence; place illustrations alongside Scripture to strengthen argument] that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. [Paul’s conclusion] “This Jesus I am proclaiming [emphasizes the elevated and solemn style of the proclamation] to you is the Christ, “ he said.

Paul also took the time to explain the Scriptures. The word explaining literally means “opening.” Paul opened or made the passages he was using clear and understandable to his listeners. This is the same thing that Jesus did for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:32). Jesus explained and clarified the Scriptures for them.

It is also important to remember that another way we clarify the message is by living a life consistent with the message. If we are not careful, what others see in us may invalidate or obscure the truth that we want for them to hear from us. Our lives and our words should make the message of the gospel clear to those we seek to reach.

Finally, Paul took the time to present or to show evidence when he shared the message about Christ. To present evidence means to lay down alongside. Paul illustrated his points with Old Testament passages that showed that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. He shared the gospel accurately, clearly, and practically in order to help the Thessalonians understand that Jesus is the Messiah.

Although Paul was with the Thessalonians for a short time, he took the time to build relationships with them and disciple them. And, in spite of opposition (1 Thess. 2:2), he led both Jews and Greeks to faith in Christ, including prominent community leaders. Like Paul, we should know how to share the gospel of Jesus Christ using the Scriptures and look for creative ways to effectively communicate God’s love in today’s world.

17:4 [note three groups attracted to the gospel; what influences one person may not convince the next] [1] Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did [2] a large number of God-fearing [devout, pious] Greeks and not [3] a few prominent [from Gr. word “proton” means “most important” or “first” — or “chief” as in the KJV] women.

17:5 But [opposition to Paul’s work in vv. 5-9] the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up [to accept in the circle of acquaintances] some bad characters [hoodlums, loafers (people they would otherwise disdain)] from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot [uproar, confusion] in the city. They rushed to Jason’s [Gr. name for Joshua; perhaps a Diaspora Jew] house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out [to stand before, to appear] to the crowd.

17:6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials [politarchs], shouting: “These men who have caused trouble [to upset] all over the world have now come here,

17:7 and Jason has welcomed [to receive, to entertain] them into his house. They are all defying [against] Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”

17:8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil [to confuse, to trouble, to stir up].

17:9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond [perhaps signed an agreement guaranteeing that the missionaries would leave and never return; cf. 1 Thess. 2:18] and let them go.

17:10 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea [located about fifty miles from Thessalonica]. On arriving there [Paul kept at the task in spite of troubles], they went to the Jewish synagogue.

17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they [people were sensitive and responsive to the truth] received the message with great eagerness [willingness] and examined [to make careful and exact research as in legal processes] the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true [they did not blindly accept the message].

17:12 Many [compare with “some” in Thessalonica (17:4)] of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent [perhaps wealthy] Greek women and many Greek men.

17:13 When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating [to shake up] the crowds and stirring them up.

17:14 The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea.

17:15 The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible [perhaps because he saw that Athens was a strategic place in which to proclaim the gospel].

17:16 While Paul was waiting for them [Luke (in Philippi) and Silas and Timothy (in Berea)] in Athens, he was greatly distressed [grief, compassion, indignation, exasperation] to see that the city was full [thick with] of idols [images: perhaps memorialized in statues, shrines, temples; Olympian gods].

When Jews from Thessalonica stirred up trouble for Paul in Beroea, some brothers immediately escorted him to Athens. Athens was named for Athene, the goddess of wisdom. This ancient city had been the home of men such as Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle.

While Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him, his spirit was deeply troubled within him. Actually, Paul was infuriated at what he saw in this ancient city. The city of Athens was full of or lined with idols. In fact, one ancient historian satirically remarked that it in Athens it was easier to find a god than a man.

Like Paul, we should open our eyes to the spiritual condition of our own community. Our hearts will never be broken until we clearly see the spiritual danger that the myriads of gods of this present new age have put us in—the terrible effect of what is called pluralism.

Note: In what ways is our world similar to Paul’s world? What idols do people worship today? Like Paul, are we “greatly distressed” at what we see or are we tolerant?

17:17 So [Paul was stirred to action by what he saw] he reasoned [Paul sought to prove from the Scriptures that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (as in Acts 13:16-41)] in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace [the agora or central public square; open place usually in the heart of the city; the place where people mixed and mingled and shopped for their daily needs] day by day with those who happened to be there.

Paul was stirred to action by what he saw. Following his usual pattern when he visited a new city, Paul reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. There he sought to prove from the Scriptures that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. During the week, Paul spent his days in the place where people mixed and mingled and shopped for their daily needs—the agora or central marketplace.

We must not wait for people to come to the holy place to be evangelized but must instead take the gospel to them in the marketplace. We must take the good news to people in the places where daily life takes place.

17:18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler [from Gr. word (spermologos) meaning “seed-picker;” word describes “one who picks up scraps of learning here and there and purveyed them where he could” (Bruce)] trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

Paul differentiated Christianity from the false religions and philosophies of Athens. And he differentiated God from the idols by teaching and preaching about Jesus and His resurrection. Christianity’s uniqueness lies in part in who God is not: He is not an idol, one of many gods, or merely a philosophical idea.

It was not long before some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to argue with Paul. Epicureans believed that pleasure was the chief end of life. Stoics were pantheists who stressed the importance of living in harmony with reason.

Both of these groups called Paul a pseudo-intellectual or babbler—a term that translates a Greek word meaning seed-picker. In other words, they saw Paul as someone who had picked up scraps of ideas here and there but had not really thought them through.

Others who heard what Paul had to say about Jesus and the resurrection suggested that he was preaching about a new foreign deity. We should be neither surprised nor deterred when those who do not understand the gospel insult or make fun of us.

Epicurus was an Athenian philosopher (341-270 BC). Epicureans believed that pleasure was the chief end of life.
Stoics School founded by Zeno about 300 BC; named derived from Gr. word stoa (portico) where Zeno taught; pantheistic philosophy.

17:19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus [an important tribunal (cf. 17:33-34); Hill of Ares, the Greek god of war; Mars was Roman god of war, thus site sometimes called Mars hill (as in KJV)], where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?

The philosophers who disputed with Paul took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus. The Areopagus was the name of a council that was responsible for overseeing religious and educational matters in the city.

The council traditionally met on the hill of Ares, the Greek god of war. Mars was the Roman god of war; hence the site is also called Mars Hill. The Athenians were curious about new teachings (17:21). Therefore it is not surprising that the philosophers who listened to Paul in the marketplace wanted to know more about the new teaching Paul was speaking of.

17:20 You are bringing some strange ideas [to surprise or astonish with something new or strange] to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.”

17:21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest [something newer than what they had heard] ideas.)

17:22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus [an important tribunal (cf. 17:33-34); Hill of Ares, the Greek god of war; Mars was Roman god of war, thus site sometimes called Mars hill (as in KJV)] and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious [ambiguous word that could mean religious or superstitious; use of this word did not alienate audience; Gr. deisidaimonesteros is a combination of Gr. words deido (revere or fear) and daimon (evil spirits), thus to have respect for or fear of the supernatural].

Paul was not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16) and welcomed the opportunity to speak before the meeting of the Areopagus. As a rabbi trained by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), the finest scholar of his day, Paul was knowledgeable and prepared to present his beliefs with clarity and conviction.

Paul wisely began his address by affirming the religious interests of his audience. I see, Paul said, that you are extremely religious in every respect. The phrase translated extremely religious actually means to fear or to have respect for the supernatural. This was not an attempt to flatter his audience, but instead a statement of fact. After all, their city was full of idols.

Like Paul, we too should look for common ground with others that can enable us to share the gospel with them.

Note: Like Paul, do we stand up to share the gospel when we have opportunity or do we sit silent?

Note: Luke recorded Paul’s messages in…
• Acts 13:16-41 — to Jews in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia
• Acts 14:15-17 — to Gentiles on the streets of Lystra
• Acts 17:22-31 — to intellectuals on Mars Hill
• Acts 20:17-38 — to church leaders (the Ephesian elders) at Miletus

17:23 [two steps that indicate how Paul discovered the spiritual state of his audience] For as I [1] walked around and [2] looked carefully [must be observant to effectively communicate the gospel] at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD [perhaps done in effort to avoid offending some deity with which they were not acquainted]. Now what [not “who”] you worship as something unknown I [Paul seized opportunity to introduce Christ] am going to proclaim to you.

Paul had learned about the spiritual state of the Athenians by walking around the city and observing the objects of their worship. We must be observant and knowledgeable about what others believe in order to find ways to more effectively communicate the gospel with them.

Paul had noticed an altar with a particularly interesting inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. For fear of offending some deity with which they were not acquainted, the Athenians had built an altar to something (not “someone”) unknown. Paul used the inscription on this altar to build a bridge between their ignorance and the self-revealed God of the Bible.

17:24 [note four facts about God] [1: He cannot be contained] “The God who made the world [Gr. kosmos] and everything in it [Stoics were pantheistic and did not believe in a divine Creator] is the Lord of [therefore above His creation] heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands [cf. Acts 7:48-50].

Paul began his discourse with the most fundamental of beliefs: the existence of a Creator. The God who made the world and everything that exists stands over His creation as Lord of heaven and earth. He alone reigns as sovereign Lord of all and cannot be contained in shrines made by hands, such as the shrines and temples found throughout Athens.

Paul’s entire argument was rooted in Old Testament thought (see Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:27) and reminds us that we must have more than passion when it comes to witnessing. We must know and use the Scriptures.

17:25 [2: He has no needs] And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else [we desperately need Him].

Paul added that God has no needs. God is the source of everything and does not require anything that men can give in order to maintain His existence. He is entirely self-sufficient. Instead, it is mankind who desperately needs God. God is the One who gives every human being breath and life and everything else needed in order to survive. He is the source of “every generous act and every perfect gift” (James 1:17).

17:26 [3: He has a plan, He guides and governs human history] From one man [Adam] he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined [to appoint, to assign, to prescribe] the times [seasons, historical epochs] set for them and the exact places [national boundaries or habitable areas] where they should live.

Unlike the distant and impersonal gods of the Greeks, God is concerned about humanity. As the Creator, He created all people groups from one man—Adam. This thought must have offended some of Paul’s Greek listeners who believed that the Greeks were racially superior to all other nations—the barbarians! God created humanity to inhabit the earth and is still involved in human affairs. He guides and governs human history and determines the appointed times or the rise and fall of nations and civilizations.

17:27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out [to touch, to feel; “groping after God in the darkness, when the light of His full revelation is not available” (Bruce)] for him and find him, though [and yet] he is not far [God is close to us and knowable; cf. Ecc. 3:11] from each one of us.

The gods of the Greeks lived in seclusion and were impersonal and unapproachable. However, the sovereign God who created everything that exists is not far from each one of us. He is approachable and knowable. God created us to seek Him—the proper response of the creature to the Creator. His desire is that people might reach out and find Him.

The writer of Ecclesiastes said that God has set eternity in the hearts of every human being (see Ecc. 3:11). Something within us longs to know the truth about God and yearns for eternity.

Note: Read “Eternity in Their Hearts” by Don Richardson. Published by Regal Books.

17:28 [4: He is sustainer] ‘For in him we live and move and have our being [quote from poet Epimenides].’ As some of your own poets [poem about Zeus by Aratus, a Greek poet] have said, ‘We are his offspring [in the sense that we are His creation; not in the sense that we share divinity as Paul’s listeners believed].’

Even ancient Greek literature acknowledged man’s relationship to a creator. Paul quoted lines from two Greek poems that originally were directed at Zeus. Paul however, applied these lines to God in whom we live and move and exist. He is the One who sustains life. We are his offspring, Paul said, in the sense that we are His creation.

The fact that Paul quoted from pagan sources likely enhanced his credentials in the eyes of his skeptical audience. We too can use the literature and other elements of our culture in order to illustrate that life apart from Christ is futile and meaningless.

17:29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring [cf. Gen. 1:26], we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone — an image made by man’s design and skill [cf. Ps. 115:4-8].

Therefore since we are God’s offspring and made in His image, it is foolish to fashion gods in our own image. Crafting and bowing to gods made of gold or silver or stone does not make sense. The creature should express true worship directly to the Creator, not to some material representation made by human hands. Idolatry is wrong.

In my travels I have witnessed people bowing and weeping before gold representations of their god. I have watched as animists have offered their gifts to something inanimate. I have listened to individuals seeking guidance from stone representations of gods placed on altars in their homes.

Paul’s message is still relevant today. We must be prepared to help others understand that Christianity’s uniqueness lies in part in who God is: He is the Creator of all, Spirit, Father, Lord over everything, without need of anything from us, and involved in our lives.

17:30 In the past God overlooked [to hold back His divine wrath] such ignorance [cf. Acts 14:16], but now [God had sent a Savior] he commands all people everywhere to repent [and turn to Him].

Paul returned to the theme of ignorance (see Acts 17:23) of which the Athenians were guilty. However piously they had worshiped their pantheon of gods, they had done so in vain. They neither knew nor worshiped the one true God. In the past God had overlooked such ignorance or restrained His divine wrath.

Paul had proclaimed the truth about the one true God to the Athenians. This was no longer an “unknown God” but rather the God who had created them and sent His Son to die for their sins. It is this God who now commands all people everywhere to repent.

17:31 For [if we fail to repent] he has set [appointed] a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man [Jesus Christ: criterion by which people stand/fall, are saved/condemned] he has appointed. He has given proof [validation] of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

Paul concluded by telling the Areopagites that they had a responsibility to act on what they had heard. God was not only their creator; He was the One who had made provision for their salvation through Jesus Christ. Failing to trust the resurrected Christ for salvation would ultimately lead to judgment. The only course open to them was to repent, renounce their worship of false gods, and turn to God—to whom they would one day be accountable.

Christianity is supremely unique because of what God has done through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: He alone makes possible our salvation from final judgment.

17:32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead [note three types of responses to Paul’s gospel presentation], [1] some of them sneered [to scoff; cf. 1 Cor. 1:23-24], but [2] others [unconvinced, but still open] said, “We want to hear you again on this subject [we should continue to work with those who are open].”

17:33 At that, Paul left the Council [civil and criminal matters decided on hill].

17:34 [3] A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius [an Athenian aristocrat; a man of great influence], a member of the Areopagus [an elite and influential group of officials], also a woman named Damaris [probably also a person of influence], and a number of others.

Note: Five factors in Paul’s witnessing.
1. He started where they were (17:22b-23a).
2. He used the familiar to introduce the unfamiliar (17:23b-24a).
3. He developed his theme forcefully and clearly (17:24b-28a).
4. He kept their attention with relevant illustrations (17:28b).
5. He applied the message, personally (17:29-31).
(Swindoll • The Growth of an Expanding Mission)

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