Acts Chapter Seventeen
In the last case it was the power exercised by the enemy over the passions of the Gentiles that caused the persecution of the apostles: at Thessalonica we again find the old and universal enmity of the Jews. Nevertheless many Jews and proselytes received the gospel. After a tumult there also, the apostles go away to Berea. There the Jews are more noble; what they hear, they examine by the word of God. Through this a great number among them believed. Nevertheless the Jews of Thessalonica, jealous of the progress the gospel made, go over to Berea. Paul leaves the city and passes on to Athens. Silas and Timothy remain for the moment at Berea, Paul being the special object of the Jews' pursuit. At Athens, although he resorted to the synagogue, yet, his spirit stirred at the sight of the universal idolatry in that idle city, he disputes daily in public with their philosophers; consequent on these interviews, he proclaims the true God to the chief men of that intellectual capital. He had sent word to Silas and Timothy to join him there.
With a people like the Athenians-such is the effect of intellectual cultivation without God-he has to come down to the lowest step in the ladder of truth. He sets forth the oneness of God, the Creator, and the relationship of man to Him, declaring also that Jesus will judge the world, of which God had given proof by raising Him up from the dead. With the exception of the judgment of this world being put in place of the promises respecting the return of Jesus, we might think it was Peter addressing the Jews. We must not imagine that the historian relates everything that Paul said. What is given is his defence, not his preaching. The Holy Ghost gives us that which characterised the manner in which the apostle met the circumstances of those he addressed. That which remained on the minds of his first hearers was that he preached Jesus and the resurrection. It appears even that some took the resurrection, as well as Jesus, to be a God. It is, indeed, the basis of Christianity, which is founded on Jesus personally, and the fact of His resurrection; but it is only the basis.
I have said that we are reminded here of Peter's preaching. I mean as to the degree of height in his doctrine with regard to Christ. We shall observe, at the same time, the appropriateness of the application of facts in either case to the persons addressed. Peter set forth the rejected Christ ascended on high, ready to return on the repentance of the Jews, and who would establish at His coming all things of which the prophets had spoken. Here the judgment of the world-sanction of the truth to the natural conscience-is presented to the learned men, and to the inquisitive people; nothing that could interest their philosophic minds, but a plain and convincing testimony to the folly of their idolatry, according even to that which the natural conscience of their own poets had acknowledged.
The dishonest gain, to which Satan ministered opportunity, met the gospel at Philippi; the hardness and moral indifference of knowledge that flattered human vanity, at Athens; at Thessalonica, the efforts of Jewish jealousy. The gospel goes on its way, victorious over the one, yielding to the effect of another, and, after laying bare to the learned Athenians all that their condition tolerated, leaving them, and finding, amid the luxury and the depraved manners of the wealthy city of Corinth, a numerous people to bringinto the assembly. Such are the ways of God, and the exercises of His devoted servant led by the Holy Ghost.
We may notice, that this energy, which seeks the Gentiles, never loses sight of the favour of God towards His elect people-a favour that sought them until they rejected it.
── John Darby《Synopsis of Acts》
Paul at Thessalonica. (1-9) The noble conduct of the Bereans. (10-15) Paul at Athens. (16-21) He preaches there. (22-31) The scornful conduct of the Athenians. (32-34)
Commentary on Acts 17:1-9
(Read Acts 17:1-9)
The drift and scope of Paul's preaching and arguing, was to prove that Jesus is the Christ. He must needs suffer for us, because he could not otherwise purchase our redemption for us; and he must needs have risen again, because he could not otherwise apply the redemption to us. We are to preach concerning Jesus that he is Christ; therefore we may hope to be saved by him, and are bound to be ruled by him. The unbelieving Jews were angry, because the apostles preached to the Gentiles, that they might be saved. How strange it is, that men should grudge others the privileges they will not themselves accept! Neither rulers nor people need be troubled at the increase of real Christians, even though turbulent spirits should make religion the pretext for evil designs. Of such let us beware, from such let us withdraw, that we may show a desire to act aright in society, while we claim our right to worship God according to our consciences.
Commentary on Acts 17:10-15
(Read Acts 17:10-15)
The Jews in Berea applied seriously to the study of the word preached unto them. They not only heard Paul preach on the sabbath, but daily searched the Scriptures, and compared what they read with the facts related to them. The doctrine of Christ does not fear inquiry; advocates for his cause desire no more than that people will fully and fairly examine whether things are so or not. Those are truly noble, and likely to be more and more so, who make the Scriptures their rule, and consult them accordingly. May all the hearers of the gospel become like those of Berea, receiving the word with readiness of mind, and searching the Scriptures daily, whether the things preached to them are so.
Commentary on Acts 17:16-21
(Read Acts 17:16-21)
Athens was then famed for polite learning, philosophy, and the fine arts; but none are more childish and superstitious, more impious, or more credulous, than some persons, deemed eminent for learning and ability. It was wholly given to idolatry. The zealous advocate for the cause of Christ will be ready to plead for it in all companies, as occasion offers. Most of these learned men took no notice of Paul; but some, whose principles were the most directly contrary to Christianity, made remarks upon him. The apostle ever dwelt upon two points, which are indeed the principal doctrines of Christianity, Christ and a future state; Christ our way, and heaven our end. They looked on this as very different from the knowledge for many ages taught and professed at Athens; they desire to know more of it, but only because it was new and strange. They led him to the place where judges sat who inquired into such matters. They asked about Paul's doctrine, not because it was good, but because it was new. Great talkers are always busy-bodies. They spend their time in nothing else, and a very uncomfortable account they have to give of their time who thus spend it. Time is precious, and we are concerned to employ it well, because eternity depends upon it, but much is wasted in unprofitable conversation.
Commentary on Acts 17:22-31
(Read Acts 17:22-31)
Here we have a sermon to heathens, who worshipped false gods, and were without the true God in the world; and to them the scope of the discourse was different from what the apostle preached to the Jews. In the latter case, his business was to lead his hearers by prophecies and miracles to the knowledge of the Redeemer, and faith in him; in the former, it was to lead them, by the common works of providence, to know the Creator, and worship Him. The apostle spoke of an altar he had seen, with the inscription, "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD." This fact is stated by many writers. After multiplying their idols to the utmost, some at Athens thought there was another god of whom they had no knowledge. And are there not many now called Christians, who are zealous in their devotions, yet the great object of their worship is to them an unknown God? Observe what glorious things Paul here says of that God whom he served, and would have them to serve. The Lord had long borne with idolatry, but the times of this ignorance were now ending, and by his servants he now commanded all men every where to repent of their idolatry. Each sect of the learned men would feel themselves powerfully affected by the apostle's discourse, which tended to show the emptiness or falsity of their doctrines.
Commentary on Acts 17:32-34
(Read Acts 17:32-34)
The apostle was treated with more outward civility at Athens than in some other places; but none more despised his doctrine, or treated it with more indifference. Of all subjects, that which deserves the most attention gains the least. But those who scorn, will have to bear the consequences, and the word will never be useless. Some will be found, who cleave to the Lord, and listen to his faithful servants. Considering the judgement to come, and Christ as our Judge, should urge all to repent of sin, and turn to Him. Whatever matter is used, all discourses must lead to Him, and show his authority; our salvation, and resurrection, come from and by Him.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Acts》
 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,
And Paul, according to his custom — Of doing all things, as far as might be, in a regular manner, went in to them three Sabbath days - Not excluding the days between.
 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.
Of the principal women, not a few — Our free thinkers pique themselves upon observing, that women are more religious than men; and this, in compliment both to religion and good manners, they impute to the weakness of their understandings. And indeed as far as nature can go, in imitating religion by performing the outward acts of it, this picture of religion may make a fairer show in women than in men, both by reason of their more tender passions, and their modesty, which will make those actions appear to more advantage. But in the case of true religion, which always implies taking up the cross, especially in time of persecution, women lie naturally under a great disadvantage, as having less courage than men. So that their embracing the Gospel was a stronger evidence of the power of him whose strength is perfected in weakness, as a stronger assistance of the Holy Spirit was needful for them to overcome their natural fearfulness.
 These 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.
These were more ingenuous — Or generous. To be teachable in the things of God is true generosity of soul. The receiving the word with all readiness of mind, and the most accurate search into the truth, are well consistent.
 Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.
Many of the — Of the Jews.
And of the Grecian women — Who were followed by their husbands.
 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
While Paul was waiting for the — Having no design, as it seems, to preach at Athens, but his zeal for God drew him into it unawares, without staying till his companions came.
 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosopher — The Epicureans entirely denied a providence, and held the world to be the effect of mere chance; asserting sensual pleasure to be man's chief good, and that the soul and body died together. The Stoics held, that matter was eternal; that all things were governed by irresistible fate; that virtue was its own sufficient reward, and vice its own sufficient punishment. It is easy to see, how happily the apostle levels his discourse at some of the most important errors of each, while, without expressly attacking either, he gives a plain summary of his own religious principles.
What would this babbler say? — Such is the language of natural reason, full of, and satisfied with itself. Yet even here St. Paul had some fruit; though nowhere less than at Athens. And no wonder, since this city was a seminary of philosophers, who have ever been the pest of true religion.
He seemeth to be a proclaimer — This he returns upon them at the 23d verse; Acts 17:23 of strange gods - Such as are not known even at Athens.
Because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection — A god and a goddess. And as stupid as this mistake was, it is the less to be wondered at, since the Athenians might as well count the resurrection a deity, as shame, famine, and many others.
 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
The Areopagus, or hill of Mars, (dedicated to Mars, the heathen god of war,) was the place where the Athenians held their supreme court of judicature. But it does not appear he was carried thither as a criminal. The original number of its judges was twelve; but afterward it increased to three hundred. These were generally men of the greatest families in Athens, and were famed for justice and integrity.
 (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.)
And the strangers sojourning there — And catching the distemper of them.
Some new thing — The Greek word signifies some newer thing. New things quickly grew cheap, and they wanted those that were newer still.
 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.
Then Paul standing in the midst of the Areopagus — An ample theatre; said - Giving them a lecture of natural divinity, with admirable wisdom, acuteness, fulness, and courtesy. They inquire after new things: Paul in his divinely philosophical discourse, begins with the first, and goes on to the last things, both which were new things to them. He points out the origin and the end of all things, concerning which they had so many disputes, and equally refutes both the Epicurean and Stoic.
I perceive — With what clearness and freedom does he speak! Paul against Athens!
 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.
I found an altar — Some suppose this was set up by Socrates, to express in a covert way his devotion to the only true God, while he derided the plurality of the heathen gods, for which he was condemned to death: and others, that whoever erected this altar, did it in honour to the God of Israel, of whom there was no image, and whose name Jehovah was never made known to the idolatrous Gentiles.
Him proclaim I unto you — Thus he fixes the wandering attention of these blind philosophers; proclaiming to them an unknown, and yet not a new God.
 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;
God who made the world — Thus is demonstrated even to reason, the one true, good God; absolutely different from the creatures, from every part of the visible creation.
 Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
Neither is he served as though he needed any thing — or person - The Greek word equally takes in both.
To all — That live and breathe;-in him we live; and breathe - In him we move. By breathing life is continued. I breathe this moment: the next is not in my power: and all things - For in him we are. So exactly do the parts of this discourse answer each other.
 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;
He hath made of one blood the whole nation of men — By this expression the apostle showed them in the most unaffected manner, that though he was a Jew, be was not enslaved to any narrow views, but looked on all mankind as his brethren: having determined the times - That it is God who gave men the earth to inhabit, Paul proves from the order of times and places, showing the highest wisdom of the Disposer, superior to all human counsels.
And the bounds of their habitation — By mountains, seas, rivers, and the like.
 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:
If haply — The way is open; God is ready to be found. But he will lay no force upon man; they might feel after him - This is in the midst between seeking and finding. Feeling being the lowest and grossest of all our senses, is fitly applied to the low knowledge of God; though he be not far from every one of us - We need not go far to seek or find him. He is very near us; in us. It is only perverse reason which thinks he is afar off.
 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.
In him — Not in ourselves, we live, and move, and have our being - This denotes his necessary, intimate, and most efficacious presence. No words can better express the continual and necessary dependence of all created beings, in their existence and all their operations, on the first and almighty cause, which the truest philosophy as well as divinity teaches.
As certain also of your own poets have said — Aratus, whose words these are, was an Athenian, who lived almost three hundred years before this time. They are likewise to be found, with the alteration of one letter only, in the hymn of Cleanthes to Jupiter or the supreme being, one of the purest and finest pieces of natural religion in the whole world of Pagan antiquity.
 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.
We ought not to think — A tender expression especially in the first per son plural. As if he had said, Can God himself be a less noble being than we who are his offspring? Nor does he only here deny, that these are like God, but that they have any analogy to him at all, so as to be capable of representing him.
 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
The times of ignorance — What! does he object ignorance to the knowing Athenians? Yes, and they acknowledge it by this very altar.
God overlooked — As one paraphrases, "The beams of his eye did in a manner shoot over it." He did not appear to take notice of them, by sending express messages to them as he did to the Jews.
But now — This day, this hour, saith Paul, puts an end to the Divine forbearance, and brings either greater mercy or punishment. Now he commandeth all men every where to repent - There is a dignity and grandeur in this expression, becoming an ambassador from the King of heaven. And this universal demand of repentance declared universal guilt in the strongest manner, and admirably confronted the pride of the haughtiest Stoic of them all. At the same time it bore down the idle plea of fatality. For how could any one repent of doing what he could not but have done?
 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.
He hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world — How fitly does he speak this, in their supreme court of justice? By the man - So he speaks, suiting himself to the capacity of his hearers.
Whereof he hath given assurance to all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead — God raising Jesus demonstrated hereby, that he was to be the glorious Judge of all. We are by no means to imagine that this was all which the apostle intended to have said, but the indolence of some of his hearers and the petulancy of others cut him short.
 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.
Some mocked — Interrupting him thereby. They took offence at that which is the principal motive of faith, from the pride of reason. And having once stumbled at this, they rejected all the rest.
 So Paul departed from among them.
So Paul departed — Leaving his hearers divided in their judgment.
 Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Among whom was even Dionysius the Areopagite — One of the judges of that court: on whom some spurious writings have been fathered in later ages, by those who are fond of high sounding nonsense.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Acts》
Chapter 17. The Lord of Heaven and Earth
All Over the World
Cause Trouble for the People
I. In Thessalonica
II. In Berea
III. The Sermon in Athens
── Chih-Hsin Chang《An Outline of The New Testament》
The Athenians (17:16-34)
1. Our next example of conversion is another often overlooked...
a. It is the conversion of "The Athenians", two of whom are
specifically mention by name
b. Yet they are usually not listed in charts showing examples of
c. Again, it likely because little is said, other than that they
"believed" - Ac 17:34
2. But our purpose in this series is to also consider the sermons which
led people to Christ...
a. In this case we have a remarkable sermon by the apostle Paul
b. A sermon proclaimed not to Jews or even Gentile God-fearers (like
Cornelius), but to pagan philosophers and polytheists
3. So our focus in this lesson will be more on the sermon itself, with
a. How Paul addressed those who did not know the God of Israel
b. The themes Paul addressed in this sermon
[We begin our study with a look at...]
I. THE SETTING OF THE SERMON
A. PAUL HAD JUST ARRIVED IN
1. Following a hasty departure from
- Ac 17:13-15 Berea
2. Provoked by the idolatry rampant in the city, he began
preaching at every opportunity - Ac 17:16-17
a. Reasoning in the synagogues with the Jews and Gentile
b. Reasoning daily with any who happened to be in marketplace
B. HE ATTRACTED THE ATTENTION OF SOME PHILOSOPHERS...
1. In particular, certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers
- Ac 17:18
a. Some of which viewed him as a proclaimer of foreign gods
b. Because Paul was preaching of Jesus and the resurrection
2. They brought him to the Areopagus and invited him to speak
- Ac 17:19-21
a. A rocky hill about 370 feet high, not far from the
Acropolis and the Agora (marketplace) in
- Holman Athens
b. As Luke explains, it was a place where Athenians and
visitors spent their time discussing any new idea or thing
that came along
c. Not having heard the doctrine of Christ, they wanted to
[With such an invitation, you can imagine that Paul was delighted to
II. PAUL'S SERMON AT THE AREOPAGUS
A. THE THEME: THE GOD THEY DO NOT KNOW...
1. Acknowledging their religious devotion, he made mention of
one altar in particular - Ac 17:22
a. An altar with the inscription: "To The Unknown God"
b. So devout, they sought to worship a god they did not know
2. He used this as an opportunity to preach concerning the True
God they did not know! - Ac 17:23b
B. THE MAIN POINTS...
1. God is the creator of the universe - Ac 17:24
a. He made the world, He is Lord of heaven and earth
b. As such, He does not dwell in temples made with hands
- cf. 1 Ki 8:22-30
2. God is the sustainer of life - Ac 17:25
a. He gives to all life their breath and what they need
- cf. Ja 1:17
b. Therefore God is not worshipped as though He needs it
3. God is the ruler of all the nations - Ac 17:26-27
a. He has created every nation and determined their rise and
fall - Dan 2:20-21; 4:17
b. Everything is designed to prompt men to seek God, who is
not far from any of us
4. God is the Father of mankind - Ac 17:28-29
a. From God we come; and in Him we live, move, and have our
b. Therefore we should not think that God is like any idol of
gold, silver or stone
5. God is the Judge of the world - Ac 17:30-31
a. What ignorance He may have overlooked in the past, such is
no longer the case
b. He now commands all men everywhere to repent
c. Why? Because of the coming Judgment, in which...
a. God will judge the world in righteousness
b. God will judge the world through Jesus Christ - Jn 5:22,
d. As proof such will occur, God raised Jesus from the dead
-- These five points are from John Stott's book, The Spirit, The
Church, And The World
C. THE RESPONSE...
1. The mention of the resurrection provoked a response - Ac 17:32
a. Some mocked (to many philosophers, the idea of a bodily
resurrection is foolishness)
b. Others were more cordial, offering to listen again at
2. But as Paul left, some joined him and believed - Ac 17:33-34
a. Specifically mentioned are Dionysius the Areopagite, and
Damaris, a woman
b. Others also joined Paul and believed
III. SOME OBSERVATIONS
A. OBSERVATIONS REGARDING PAUL'S SERMON...
1. Paul used tact - Ac 17:22-23
a. He acknowledges their spirituality, though misdirected
b. We should not hesitate to acknowledge the devotion one
might have; if in error, our task is to explain "the way of
God more accurately" - e.g., Ac 18:24-26
2. Paul began with the present spiritual condition of his
audience - Ac 17:23-27
a. They believed in supreme beings, but didn't know the True
b. With the Jews he began with the Law, with the Gentiles he
began with the nature of God; we too should take into
consideration where one is spiritually
3. Paul made use of an accepted authority - Ac 17:28-29
a. He quotes from one of their own prophets to make his point
b. When appropriate, we can appeal to an uninspired authority
accepted by others (when in harmony with God's Word)
4. Paul led his audience to the main themes of the gospel - Ac
a. Such as the need to repent, the coming Judgment - cf. Ac
b. So our ultimate goal in preaching should be the gospel
5. Paul used the resurrection of Jesus as the ultimate proof
- Ac 17:31
a. God has given assurance of the coming Judgment by raising
b. Indeed, if Jesus did rise from the dead, it is proof of:
1) The existence of God
2) The truthfulness of all of Jesus' claims
3) The reality of sin, judgment, and the need to repent
c. This is why we need to develop a strong apologetic for the
resurrection of Jesus
B. OBSERVATIONS REGARDING THE RESPONSE...
1. People responded in three different ways - Ac 17:32-34
a. Some mocked what they heard
b. Some put off making a decision until later
c. Some decided to follow with Paul and believed
-- Since we have no promise of tomorrow, the only safe course
is the last!
2. Of those who responded favorably, it is only said that they
"believed" - Ac 17:34
a. Are we to conclude from this that was all they did?
b. Did they not also "repent", as commanded in Ac 17:30?
c. The term "believed" encompassed more than simply an
acceptance of the facts that had been proclaimed
1) It involved a complete reception of the message preached
2) It included an obedience to whatever conditions had been
proclaimed by the apostles (such as repentance, baptism)
d. Just as faith was not explicitly mentioned in Acts 2, or
repentance in Acts 16, but is fairly inferred from what
we know from other passages, so also with baptism here
1) "There is, indeed, much to be said for the contention,
independently advocated by theologians of varied
schools, that in the New Testament faith and baptism
are viewed as inseparables whenever the subject of
Christian initiation is under discussion, so that if
one is referred to, the other is presupposed, even if
not mentioned." - G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism In The
New Testament, p. 272
2) "Baptism and faith are but the outside and inside of
the same thing" - James Denny (as quoted by
3) "Where baptism is spoken of faith is presumed, and
where faith is spoken of baptism is included in the
thought" - N. J. Engelsen (as quoted by Beasley-Murray,
1. Whether Jew or Gentile, philosopher or simpleton, the gospel of
Christ is for all...
a. Where we begin may vary with the spiritual condition of our
b. Where we end must always be the same:
1) Proclaiming the reality of sin, judgment, and the need for
2) With Jesus as the only way to salvation!
2. When one becomes convicted of their sinful condition and their need
for Jesus, the proper response should also be the same no matter who
a. Faith in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for our sins and was
raised from the dead, whom we are willing to confess before men
b. Repentance from sin
d. Baptism into Christ for the forgiveness of sins through His blood
One's reaction to the gospel will always be one of three ways:
* Rejection ("some mocked")
* Reluctance ("others said, we will hear you again on this matter")
* Reception ("some men joined him and believed")
, people such as Dionysius and Damaris exemplified the proper Athens
response; are you willing to imitate their example?