|Acts Chapter 17|
Translation by William E. Paul
by Charles Dailey
(Black underlined words match words in the Bible text.)
|1) Now when they [ Note: A change from the use of "we" to "they" suggests that the writer Luke remained behind in Philippi at this point ] had traveled through the [Macedonian] towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to [the city of] Thessalonica where there was a Jewish synagogue.|| – The team of Paul and Silas left Philippi and journeyed west on the Egnatian Way, the major East-West highway across northern Greece. It was 33 miles to Amphipolis; 30 to Apollonia; 37 miles to Thessalonica. Evidently synagogues were not located in the first two cities. Thessalonica was the largest city on the highway and the principal city in Macedonia at that time. It was and is (Salonica) a seaport. |
- Walking shortly after a brutal beating must have been painful.
|2) As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, [and] for three Sabbath days [in a row] he taught them from the Scriptures,|| –
Jesus had a custom of going to the synagogue. Luke 4:15. We need make church attendance such a priority that others could say that it is our custom. |
- Scripture here is the Old Testament. The New had only begun to emerge
|3) explaining and declaring that it was necessary for Christ to suffer and [then] rise again from the dead. Paul was saying, "This Jesus, whom I am proclaiming to you, is the Christ."|| –
Faith is based on the reasonable evidence that Paul and Silas were presenting. Psalm 16 is an example.|
- Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) of Israel. Only Jews and proselytes would care about this claim.
|4) Some of the Jews were convinced [that Jesus was the Messiah] and so joined with Paul and Silas. Also, a large number of devoted Greeks [i.e., Gentiles] and leading women [joined their group].|| –
There were some Jews and a larger number of Greeks (who sat in the back of the synagogue and worshiped) that were convinced. They set up their own church meeting. Families were leaving the synagogue. |
- Women had political freedom.
|5) But [other] Jews became jealous and, recruiting certain ungodly riffraff, they gathered a mob and brought the city to near-riot conditions. They [even] attacked Jason's house and attempted to bring Paul and Silas before the [assembly of] people.|| –
While Paul's synagogue presentations covered three Saturdays, yet the team stayed in Thessalonica much longer as implied in Philippians 4:16.|
- Jealousy may have come because families were forming bonds with Paul and Silas and were meeting with them. Also because the majority of this new group were devout Gentiles.
- Any seaport town has its riffraff, men who meander from one port to another with no purpose. They were easy to recruit into a mob.
|6) When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials and shouted, "These men have turned the world upside down [i.e., disrupted society by their preaching] and have [now] come here also [i.e., to do the same thing in our community].|| –
The team must have been quartered at Jason's house.|
- More shouting, more dragging. The reputation of the team was making its way around the Empire. It is a compliment to be charged with turning the world upside down. If only we could have this much impact!
|7) Jason has welcomed them and [now] all of them [i.e., Paul, Silas, Jason and the others] are going against the [Roman] laws of Caesar by saying that someone else is [our] king; that Jesus is [king]!"|| – Perhaps the new church was even meeting at Jason's house.|
- The charge was that these men preached the kingship of Jesus. They were wrong in applying it to the Roman Empire. But the charge sounded loyal and sounded good in court.
- Note that Jesus IS king of His Kingdom, the church, now. It is not solely a future kingdom and it is not a political kingdom.
- Jesus was now King and Lord to Jason.
|8) When they heard [these charges], the crowds and [even] the city officials became very disturbed [by the situation stirred up by the Jews].||– The charge against the team was that it was disrupting, but the Jews were causing the turmoil.|
|9) They made Jason and the others post bail, then released them.||– While the purpose of the bail is not recorded, it is supposed that no more trouble would come from Jason's house or he would forfeit bail.|
|10) The brothers [then] immediately sent Paul and Silas away at night to Berea [i.e., a town in Macedonia]. When they got there they went into the Jewish synagogue.|| – In the time Paul and Silas had worked in Thessalonica, people came to believe the message of the risen Lord and had become brothers. Now these brothers assist them to leave town under cover of night to avoid unnecessary trouble.|
- It was 50 miles to Berea.
- Paul's plan: "To the Jew first." So they went to the first synagogue service.
|11) Now these people [in Berea] had more character than those in Thessalonica because they [not only] received the message with an open mind but [also] examined the [Old Testament] Scriptures every day to see if what they had heard was really true.|| – Listening to God's man is a matter of character.|
- We need to examine the Scriptures every day.
- Paul's word was believed, yet tested against Scripture.
- Either they had copies of the Scriptures at their homes or there was a library at the Synagogue. We think they had them at home. Every Christian home needs to have basic Bible study tools.
|12) Many people therefore became believers [in Christ], including a number of leading Greek women and also a number of men.|| –
Many Jews and Greeks believed.|
- Following his usual pattern, Luke notes the special role of women in the development of this new group.
|13) But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that Paul was proclaiming the message of God at Berea also, they went there too, and incited and upset the crowds.|| –
"Zeal is fit only for wise men but is found mostly in fools."
--Ancient Proverb. If only the people of God had as much zeal as those opposing the message!|
- We have seen this kind of opposition in past locations.
|14) So, immediately the brothers sent Paul clear over to the coast, while Silas and Timothy remained there [at Berea].|| –
Since Paul was the leader in preaching, he was the target of the jealous Jews. He was spirited away before a confrontation this time.|
- Timothy had been left at Philippi, but had now rejoined the team. He would remain there for a while to assist with the newly formed church.
|15) But those who escorted Paul took him to Athens [i.e., in Greece] and, after being directed to have Silas and Timothy join him there as soon as possible, they left.|| –
Athens was some 250 miles south. Whether the group walked or went by sea is uncertain.|
- Paul made it clear the other team members were to join him.
|16) Now while Paul was waiting for them [to arrive] in Athens, he was deeply stirred in his spirit when he saw the city so full of idols.|| –
Paul was left alone in the cultural, philosophical and intellectual capital of the world. But this was no vacation.
Some background on Athens is available on the Internet at:
- The rampant idolatry stirred him deeply.
|17) So, he debated in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing people [i.e., Gentile proselytes], as well as in the open shopping market with others who met with him there.|| –
As usual, Paul began with the synagogue. These people were looking for the Messiah. The problem was they were not looking for one like Jesus of Nazareth.|
- He worked weekdays, too. The shopping malls were the logical place to see large numbers of pagan people.
|18) Also certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers approached him for discussion. Some asked, "What will this know-it-all have to say?" Others said, "He seems to be advocating [a belief in] some different gods." [They said this] because he was proclaiming Jesus and the resurrection [of the dead].|| –
Luke calls attention to two dominant philosophies. The Epicureans said, "Pleasure is the chief end of life; everything happens by chance; death ends it all." The Stoics were "Pantheistic; all is fated by god; we must be independent of externals." They did not believe in life after death, either.|
- Paul had clearly stated teaching and this does not go well with philosopher types.
- Some called him a know-it-all, a seedpicker, a loafer who gathered information and repeated it to those who would listen.
- As always, the resurrection of Jesus was central to Paul's presentation. Any resurrection contradicted the dominant philosophies as neither believed in an afterlife.
|19) So, they led him to the Areopagus [i.e., an elevated assembly place called "the Hill of Mars"] and asked him, "Could we learn [more] about this new teaching you are speaking of?||– While they asked more about Paul's teaching, it was against a backdrop of their many competing systems of belief.|
|20) You are telling us some very unusual things and we would like to know what they mean."||– Some have suggested this was a first step toward a full-scale trial because Paul was proposing a new deity and that was illegal. Paul easily worked around this charge if the charge existed.|
|21) (Now the local people of Athens, along with foreigners who lived there, spent [about] all their time telling about or listening to some new idea.)|| –
Personal stability is sacrificed when we constantly chase new ideas. With some, the satisfaction is in something new.|
- The town was a center for foreign students and tourists.
|22) Then Paul stood up in the Areopagus and said, "You men of Athens, I noticed that you are an extremely religious people in all your ways. [See verse 16]|| –
The Areopagus was both the court and the lecture center. It is doubtful this was a court session because Luke does not even hint of it.|
- Paul was courteous to these pagans. He even complimented them for their interest in religion.
|23) For as I traveled along [your streets] and observed what you are worshiping, I saw an altar with the inscription: [Dedicated] to an Unknown God. So, what you are worshiping ignorantly is what I am telling you about.|| –
He had examined their pagan temples, altars, shrines and statues. The number exceeded 2,000.
- Rather than introduce a new God to them, he tells them about the one they have sought after, but have not found.|
- This answers the "seedpicker" charge made against him earlier. He was not just piecing together what he had been hearing in the streets but was bringing all-new information.
|24) The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in hand-made temples.||– Their deities lived in temples that were located all over Athens. The Unknown God is above Jupiter and all of the gods because He made the world and is too great to live in a temple made by his creatures.|
|25) Neither is He waited on by men's hands as though He needed anything, since it is He who gives to all people their life and breath and everything [they need].||– While their gods had priests that provided food and other needs for the deities, the Unknown God is a giver that continually provides for all people. The provisions include life and breath and everything else people have.|
|26) He made every race of people living throughout the earth from one [family] and determined when [they would rise in history] and where they would live.|| –
The God of heaven created one family — Adam and Eve — and all races have come from them. The implication is that Greeks are not superior to others, as they believed.|
- Who rules and at what times is set by God, not the superior abilities of the Greeks.
|27) He wanted these people to search for God in hope that, by groping for Him, they might [eventually] find Him, even though He is not [really] very far from [any of] us.||– The Epicureans were searching for pleasure and the Stoics were focused on apathy. God wants mankind to search for and find Him. THIS is the great overarching purpose of life.|
|28) For in [the strength of] God we [all] live, move around and have our [personal] identity, just as a certain one of your [Athenian] poets [once] said, 'For we too are His children.'|| –
The God that Paul is proclaiming is both the giver and sustainer of life.|
- With synagogue audiences, Paul could meaningfully quote from Scripture, but this audience does not have that background. Instead he quotes from Phaenomena by Aratus of Cilicia about 270 BC.
- Note that Paul could quote one of their poets from memory.
|29) Since therefore we are God's children, we should not think that the Deity is like gold, silver or stone, to be carved [into an idol] by the design and skill of men.||– If we are in any sense children of God, then God cannot be made of gold, silver or stone. We are descended from the living God, not God being designed and created by men.|
|30) Now God made allowance for the times when people were still uninformed [about His complete will], but now [in the Gospel age] He requires all people everywhere to repent [i.e., change their hearts and lives].|| –
There was a time when God was more lenient with the uninformed because they did not have a written revelation, but now, with new information that we have, God requires universal repentance.|
- The teaching of repentance contradicted the philosophers and is still a major stumbling block for humanity. Many love to hear about Jesus as long as repentance is omitted.
|31) For He has appointed a [certain] day when He will judge the people of the world according to [a standard of] true justice by the man [i.e., Jesus] whom He has appointed [as Judge, See II Tim. 4:8]. [And] He has given assurance to all people [that He will do this] by raising Jesus from the dead."|| –
There is a judgment day coming. This flatly contradicts the philosophers of the Epicureans and Stoics, none of whom even believed in life following death.|
- The Judge for the case has been selected and there will be true justice, not the favoritism they knew so well.
- There is proof that Resurrection and Judgment are coming because the first resurrection has already happened.
- The resurrection was another serious stumbling block for this audience because their belief was that death released them from the body. Paul's teaching was that they returned to the body following the resurrection.
32) Now when the people heard about the resurrection from the dead, some of them made fun of it, but others said, "We would like to hear [more] from you about this again."
33) So, Paul left [the Areopagus].
Some rejected; others procrastinated; some believed. (Verse 34).|
- Paul was effective here at Athens. His previous synagogue audiences had a background in the Old Testament, they understood that God is and what He is like. Here Paul is speaking to those without that mental preparation. He cannot appeal to Scripture because it does not carry any weight with the listeners.
|34) But certain men continued to listen to him and became believers [in Jesus]. Among them was Dionysius, [an official] of the Areopagus, a woman named Damaris and others with them.||– The evidence stood further examination. In a forum of notions, the message of the Risen Savior gained a few adherents. One of the judges believed. Luke frequently points to the involvement of women: Damaris believed.|
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