Paul is still on his second missionary journey, along with his team, minus Luke, who will rejoin them in Troas (20:5). The Bereans were nobler than the Thessalonians because the Berans searched the Scriptures. Paul preaches his famous discourse to the Areopagus council.
As I write in every introduction:
The translation and commentary are mine, just so I can learn. I also offer quick word studies. If you would like to see the verses in many translations, please go to biblegateway.com. And if you would like to study Greek with a short lexicon, go to biblehub.com, and click on the interlinear tab.
At the end of each passage and this post, I offer observations for discipleship. How can we apply these truths to our lives?
Links are provided for further study.
Arrival at Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9)
1 After going through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they went to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 As was his custom, Paul went to them and for three Sabbath days discussed with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and setting them side by side that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead; “This Jesus whom I proclaim to you is the Messiah.” 4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, and a large number of devout Gentile Greeks, and not a few leading women.
5 But the Jews were jealous and recruited bullies with bad characters hanging out at the marketplace and formed a mob and stirred up the town and attacked Jason’s house, trying to bring them before the people’s assembly. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brothers to the politarchs, shouting, “These men have overturned the world and are present here, 7 whom Jason harbors! And all of them act against the decrees of Caesar, claiming there is another king, Jesus!” 8 They threw the crowd and the politarchs into confusion when they heard these things. 9 They took bail from Jason and the others and released them.
Reminder: you can look up the towns and regions online at a Bible map. I won’t cover them here. It’s a sure thing that someone has an interactive map for Paul’s second missionary journey.
Here is a table that shows Acts and Paul’s epistles are mutually confirmative.
|Paul is humbled in Philippi||16:22-23||1 Thess 2:2|
|Successful but persecuted ministry||17:1-9||Phil 4:15-16; 1 Thess 1:1, 5-6|
|Paul goes to Athens||17:15-34||1 Thess 3:1|
|Paul goes to Achaia with his team||18:1-18, esp. v. 5||2 Cor 1:19; cf. 1 Thess 3:6|
|Keener, p. 424|
Let’s not forget the passing of time. They walked. We can have no doubt that as they walked, Paul prayed in the Spirit as he walked along, and so did Timothy and Silas. Paul said he spoke in the Spirit very often (1 Cor. 14:18), and it is not possible to believe that Silas and Timothy did not have this gift, too, because they spent time with a man who said he wanted everyone to pray in the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:5).
Paul also implies that he stayed there long enough to work for a living (1 Thess. 2:9).
It was the custom of Paul to visit the synagogue first. Yes, he was called to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7-10), but Jesus spoke to him from heaven that he was also called to the Jews (Acts 9:15), and the Jews get to hear the gospel first (Rom. 1:16).
“discussing”: it is the verb dialegomai (pronounced dee-ah-leh-goh-my), and it means how I translated it: “discussing.” Please feel free to discuss Scripture with people who may not know it or have a deficient understanding of it.
“explaining”: it comes from the verb dianoigō (pronounced dee-ah-noi-goh), which literally means “opening” the Scriptures.
“place side by side”: the phrase comes from one verb parathithēmi (pronounced pah-rah-tee-theh-mee), “place beside, place before” and “demonstrate, point out.” So Paul placed Scriptures next to the facts of Jesus’s life and resurrection, and reached the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah, for he is the only one who fit all the details. I chose a literal translation, but if traditionalists and precisionists prefer “demonstrate,” then that’s fine by me.
The main point is that Paul knew Scripture so thoroughly that he could find the references and explain them to his fellow Jews. He could prove or demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah. This challenges us to know Scripture, if not to prove something to someone else, but for our edification.
“the Messiah had to suffer and die”: this is standard wording in Acts (Acts 3:18; 26:23; Luke 24:26, 46). (See below for “had to.”) The reason he had to suffer and die is that first Scripture had to be fulfilled. And second we needed salvation, someone to take our place in getting our just punishment. Christ took our penalty in our place. This is called the penal substitutionary view of Christ’s death. Substitutionary: Christ took our place; he was a “sub.” Penal: Christ took our penalty. Yes, I elaborated beyond Luke’s idea in v. 3, but it’s a good place to learn about this theory.
Here is a table of Messianic prophecies, with the verses included:
At that link, there is a table of OT and NT quotations. But Jesus’s fulfillment of OT prophecies goes beyond quoted verses, but involves themes and patterns of the OT, like the entire sacrificial system and the way of salvation.
The verbs (discussing, explaining, proclaiming, and so on or their synonyms, like reasoning or presenting evidence) reveal Paul’s methods. Apologists (defenders of the faith) could learn from Paul.
“had to”: It comes from the word dei (pronounced day), and in some contexts it denotes a destiny orchestrated by God, as it does here. (Compare the French il faut, “one must” or “it is necessary,” if you know this language.) The Greek verb means: “it is necessary, one must … one ought or should … what one should do” (Shorter Lexicon). In Luke it often means divine necessity; that is, God is leading things: Luke 2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 12:12; 13:16, 33; 15:32; 17:25; 18:1; 19:5; 21:9; 22:37; 24:7; 24:26, 44; Acts 1:16; 1:21; 3:21; 4:12; 5:29; 9:6, 16; 14:22; 16:30; 17:3; 19:21; 20:35; 23:11; 25:10; 27:21; 27:24, 26. Here God had been leading the events on his Son’s life, to the point of fulfilling Scripture in death.
“leading”: the word men is not in the latter half of v. 4, but they might be included. In any case, Luke is referring to leading women. Picture them having extremely fabulous jewelry and clothing and expensive carriages and servants walking alongside them in an entourage. People cleared the way for them when they walked down the street or more likely rode in their carriages.
Inscriptions and literary references demonstrate beyond doubt that the women were rich in their own right and power, without being subjected to male guardians or tutors. They handled their own money. They contributed to public works from their own wealth in this or that town, and the town in turn honored them with inscriptions. They also occupied high local political offices.
However, Luke omitted those details. Does that mean he suppressed these women and silenced their voices?
No, for three reasons.
First, he was silent on the details about the leading men, too. Second, if he had intended to suppress and silence these women, he could have omitted them completely. Third, when a first-century reader came across the adjective prōtē (pronounced pro-tay), he knew instantly what she was. The reader lived in that environment and saw her every day, if only from a respectful distance. If we wrote a story, would we need to pause the flow of the main storyline to explain what a CEO is? No. Too disruptive and takes away from the hero, in this case Paul and Silas and Timothy. Once again, the book of Acts, like the four Gospels, is elliptical. Luke assumes his first-century readers could fill in the social blanks with social data they understood firsthand.
Please see my 2004 article Lifestyles of the Rich and Christian:
“were persuaded”: this is in the passive voice and one scholar correctly observes that in contexts like these, it is the divine passive. This means that God is the unstated subject of the verb and he works behind the scene to nudge them along (Schnabel, comment on v. 4).
“joined”: it comes from the verb prosklēroō (pronounced pros-klay-roh-oh) is literally “allotted to.” It is used only here in the NT. It seems as if God allotted men and women to join Paul and Silas. That may be true, but don’t draw the opposite conclusion that the others were permanently not allotted. Don’t forget that Paul’s new converts reached out to others and turned them into converts. His two epistles to the Thessalonians indicate a growing church (e.g. 1 Thess. 1:8). We will never work out to everyone’s satisfaction the line between God’s sovereignty and human free will. My own view is that we have enough free will to resist the gospel and God’s call, but not enough free will to strut into his kingdom without his invitation and Spirit working on us. At that time, many converts did not resist, but answered the initial call. Then maybe others who at first heard the gospel and resisted, lowered their resistance and responded later on.
“Not a few”: this means numerous women converted to Christ. The phrasing is known as a litotes (pronounced lih-toh-tees), or an understatement that expresses the affirmative by a negative! Luke likes litotes: Acts 12:18; 14:17, 28; 15:2; 17:4, 12, 27; 19:11, 23; 20:12; 21:39; 26:19; 27:20; 28:2.
“jealous”: we get our word zeal from this Greek word. They had zeal without knowledge and certainly without love. There is nothing wrong with zeal per se, for even God feels it for his people, and so sometimes it is translated as “jealous,” which adds up to God protecting you, in the same way a mother “feels the zeal” to protect her children. These Jews felt zeal to protect Judaism and their understanding of the Torah (first five books of the Bible) and the rest of Scripture, but they did so from a weak, religious position.
“bullies” from the Greek noun agoraios (pronounced ah-gohr-y-ohss), and it meant idlers in the marketplace who had nothing better to do. Ancient Greek literature long before the NT was written records a court case in which a gang of them attacked a young man and severely injured him. They were dragged into court.
“bad characters” come from two Greek words anēr (genitive andros or man and pronounced ah-nair and ahn-drohss) and ponēros (pronounced poh-nay-rohss), and it’s the standard adjective for “bad” or “evil.” Luke really wants to drive home the point that Paul suffered from all sorts of injustice from bad people. Today the term could be translated as “street gangsters” or “street thugs.”
“It is ironic that the Jewish leaders formed a mob and started a riot in the city, but then accused the missionaries of being troublemakers (v. 6)!” (Peterson, comment on v. 5, the italics font quotes Scripture).
“Jason”: He was probably a Jew who adopted a Greek name. Jews often did that in the Greek and Roman world.
“attacked Jason’s house”: attacking property of innocent people is satanic. If any Christian endorsed the summer of burning in America in 2020, he is deceived. Karl Marx said that if the bourgeoisie (middle-class business owners) did not give the proletariat (working class) what the proletariat wanted, the people would burn down their factories. This form of violence is evil. Sit down and negotiate. Go on strike, but without violence. All the while, negotiate and talk.
“people’s assembly”: it was the lower legislative and judicial body, attended by free male citizens. Paul would have loved to have spoken before them. Too bad he was not at Jason’s house.
“politarchs”: that’s a transliteration, and they were authorities high up in the social world and oversaw the city, yet another class of magistrates.
“overturned”: it is the Greek verb anastatoō (pronounced ah-nah-stah-toh-oh), and it could be translated as “disturbed,” trouble,” “upset” or “stir up (sedition).” Ana– is the prefix “up” or “re-” and stat– is connected to standing or stable position. Think of upsetting” an apple cart.
“Jesus is another emperor”: most translations have “king,” but I like what F. F. Bruce says (1990). In Latin and Greek, the emperor took the title basileus, which means “emperor” as well as a “king.” Either one is accurate. The Lordship of Jesus upset the apple cart of political power. The resurrected Lord was the real and new King and Emperor. But he was the King and Emperor over a spiritual kingdom. It is misguided to interpret the OT and impose everything (or nearly everything) from there on to modern society. Instead, we take the moral law and some wisdom and theology (who God is) and the Messianic verses and themes and concepts (salvation, redemption and so on) and apply them to our lives today. But taxes and sacrifices and harsh punishments for private sins and curses and the Sinai covenant itself—leave them in the past.
“threw … into confusion”: it comes from the Greek verb tarassō (pronounced tah-rah-soh), and it means to “stir up,” and also “disturb, trouble, throw into confusion.” When confusion hits your mind, back away from the issue. Go back to what you know. Stay in the clear interpretation of Scripture and in fellowship.
It’s the crowd and magistrates who were confused. The famous mob strikes again. Do not feel pressure to conform to the crowds. It’s called peer pressure. They are very often fickle and very often wrong.
Taking bail or security is a way to ensure that someone will follow the law, in this case, keep the peace. If he did not, then his bail amount was forfeit. It could be seen as a bond or a security. This law has existed for a long time, to our present day.
The Spirit’s absence in Thessalonica? Luke omits the power of the Spirit in the Thessalonian church, but Paul fills in the missing elements in his two epistles to the Thessalonians.
The gospel came with power, the Holy Spirit, and deep conviction (1 Thess. 1:5); this indicates signs and wonders and the fullness of the Spirit, including prophecy.
God gave them his Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 4:8); They were not to quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19), which may parallel the case with the Corinthian church, where Paul will go shortly (Acts 18:1-18), to whom he later wrote not to forbid prayer languages, formerly and archaically called “tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39).
The Thessalonian believers were commanded not to treat prophecies with contempt (1 Thess. 5:20); this is more than just inspired and educated preaching (though that is the baseline), but it also includes prophetic utterances, like personal words from the Lord with predictive elements in it (Acts 11:28; 21:10; 2 Thess. 2:2), and inspired utterances of comfort, exhortation, and edification (1 Cor. 14:3).
The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit was being done (2 Thess. 2:13).
Luke omits these details in his narrative history because he moves his narrative along and trusts the reader to fill in these gaps with the post-Pentecostal perspective and reality (Acts 2:1-4). Everything about his history in Acts is very charismatic and Spirit filled, whether he spells it out repetitively or not, in every section of his writing.
It is like the anointing of Jesus at his water baptism with the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove (Luke 3:31-22; 4:18-19). From then on, Jesus worked miracles of nature and healing and demonic expulsion in the third Gospel, and Luke does not have to announce every time Jesus did those things: “Remember when I wrote that Jesus was anointed with the Spirit? He worked that miracle based on those verses!” Rather, Luke expects us to fill in those omissions with the power of the Spirit. Likewise, in the many cases of Christian witness from town to town in Acts, Luke expects us to fill in the omissions with the same empowerment because of Acts 2:1-4. And so Luke-Acts is all very charismatic, which is normative for the church throughout its history. Spirit-filled empowerment and anointing continues.
It is similar to his omitting water baptism in key places. Often he does say that new converts got baptized: Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-13, 35-38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 18:8; 19:5), Yet in other cases water baptism is not brought up for new converts: Acts 9:42; 11:21; 13:12, 48; 14:1; 17:12, 34. It is difficult to believe, but during Paul’s and Barnabas’s first missionary journey, though many conversions are recorded. Luke does not record one water baptism, but we know that they must have been done because this was standard practice. Luke expects us to fill in these omissions. This is why I have nicknamed Luke the Omitter (or the Condenser).
For systematic theology:
These verses in his first epistle are relevant to Paul’s work in Thessalonica:
8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath. (1 Thess. 1:8-10, NIV)
Those verses say that Paul had many converts from paganism here in Thessalonica.
GrowApp for Acts 7:1-9
A.. Paul enjoyed some success in his ministry, yet jealous opponents attacked him, once again. How about your journey with God? How have friends or family opposed you? What did you do about this?
B.. A jealous mobbed unjustly attacked Jason’s house. What do you believe about protests that destroy property owned by people who have nothing to do with the grievance?
C.. Paul and his team were accused of overturning the world. This is rhetorical hyperbole, but it still expresses the truth about the growth of Christianity. Do you belong to a church that reaches out to the world? How do you support your church? Do you support missionaries? Tell us about this.
Paul and Silas in Berea (Acts 17:10-15)
10 Immediately the brothers at night sent Paul and Silas away to Berea, who arrived and went for the synagogue of the Jews. 11 They were more noble-minded than the Thessalonians. They welcomed the word with all enthusiasm and examined the Scriptures, whether these things may be so. 12 Therefore many of them and not a few prominent Greek Gentile women and men believed. 13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul in Berea, they went there and upset and disturbed the crowds. 14 Then the brothers and sisters immediately sent Paul away to go to the coast, while Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Those conducting Paul brought him to Athens, after receiving instruction for Silas and Timothy that they were to come very quickly, and they left.
They slipped Paul out at night. They did not want any harm to come to him. No doubt Silas and Timothy urged him to do that. Fleeing is sometimes a viable option. Jesus said to do this during persecution (Matt. 10:23). Paul said he had to flee Jerusalem because people there would not accept his testimony (Acts 22:17-18). Discretion and prudence and wisdom is sometimes better than suffering injury.
“brothers”: this speaks of close fellowship among those who follow Christ. Normally I would translate the one Greek noun as “brothers and sisters,” but I am not confident that women went with them at night.
“went their own way”: this refers to the men who escorted Paul to Berea. They must have returned home to Thessalonica, unless they had business in Berea.
“more noble-minded”: it comes from the Greek noun eugenēs (pronounced yew-gehn-ace, and the “g” is hard as in “get”), which literally means “well” (eu-) and “born” (gen-), and it is in the comparative form. It can be translated as “more noble-minded” or “more high-minded” in the good sense of the hyphenated words. Think of a gentleman who has been trained in the art of courtesy. However, in this context it could be better translated “more amenable,” “liberal” (not in a modern American sense), but “openminded” as opposed to narrowminded and restricted; “more generous” or “freer from prejudice.” Culy and Parsons suggest (following Louw and Nida): “willingness to learn and evaluate something fairly.”
“word”: it is the very versatile Greek noun logos (pronounced loh-gohss). As noted throughout this commentary on Acts, it is rich and full of meaning. It always has built into it rationality and reason. It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic.
I have repeated these comments throughout the entire commentary. Though certain Renewalists may not like to hear it, there is a rational side to the Word of God, and a moment’s thought proves it. The words you’re reading right now are placed in meaningful and logical and rational order. The Bible is also written in that way. If it weren’t, then it would be nonsense and confusing, and we couldn’t understand the gibberish. Even your prophecies have to make logical and rational sense on some level. Your Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons have to, also. Paul’s brief speech to the Gentiles, below, also has Bible-based logic and rational argumentation built into it. People need to be ministered to in this way. God gave us minds and brains and expects us to use them. Your preaching cannot always be flashy and shrieky and so outlandishly entertaining that people are not fed in the long term. Movements like that don’t last over the years without the Word. I have observed this from firsthand experience in certain sectors of the Renewal Movement.
People have the deepest need to receive solid teaching. Never become so outlandishly supernatural and entertaining that you neglect the reasonable and rational side of preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible. Yes, the book of Acts is very charismatic, but it is also very orderly and rational and logical.
On the other side of the word word, people get so intellectual that they build up an exclusive Christian caste of intelligentsia that believe they alone can teach and understand the Word. Not true. Just study Scripture with Bible helps and walk in the Spirit, as they did in Acts. Combining Word and Spirit is the balanced life.
“with all enthusiasm”: it is the noun prothumia (pronounced pro-thoo-mee-ah), and it combines the prefix pro- (for or forward) and thum– (spirit or soul or mind). In ancient Greek literature, long before the NT was written, thum– meant a heroic and feisty spirit, as in a Greek hero. It can be translated as “willingness, readiness, and good will.” Picture the Bereans leaning forward with eagerness and enthusiasm.
“examining”: it comes from the Greek verb anakrinō (pronounced ah-nah-kree-noh), and it means to “question, examine,” and in a legal context it can mean “judge, call into account, investigate.” It is perfectly legitimate to question Scripture, which has stood the test of time for thousands of years. Just be sure you interpret it properly. Get Bible helps and stay in fellowship in a church that belongs to the Renewal Movement.
“Therefore”: when the Bible is presented in an orderly and intelligent way in the power of the Spirit, people will believe. In this context the Berean Jews and devout Gentiles and prominent women believed.
“prominent”: it comes from the Greek adjective euschēmōn (pronounced yew-skhay-mohn). It combines eu– (good or positive) and schēma (appearance, outward appearance, form, shape and even way of life, BDAG, p. 981). Here it means “presentable, proper; prominent, of high standing, repute, or noble” (BDAG, p. 414). See v. 4 for a closer look on their social prominence and contributions to a town or province. See also Acts 13:52 for the same word.
Once again, please see my 2004 article Lifestyles of the Rich and Christian:
“believed”: The verb is pisteuō (pronounced pea-stew-oh), and it is used 241 times. It means to “believe, be convinced of something.” In a more specific definition it goes in a direction: “to have faith in Christ or God” (Mounce p. 61). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
Here it is connected to “saved.”
Let’s discuss the verb believe and the noun faith more deeply. It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).
“upset”: it comes from the verb saleuō, and it is literally “shook up,” “cause to move to and fro” or “cause to move back or forth” or “cause to move side to side” or “cause to waver and totter.” Paul was rocking or shaking his known world.
“disturbed”: it comes from the Greek verb tarassō, and see v. 8 for a closer look.
“found out”: it is the verb ginōskō, and see v. 19 for more comments.
Once again Paul gets whisked away, so to speak, from trouble. See v. 10 for a closer look.
Here is the sequence of meeting and separating between Paul, Silas and Timothy and the two Thessalonian letters:
1.. Paul leaves Silas and Timothy in Berea and goes to Athens.
2.. They rejoin him in Athens (1 Thess. 3:1)
3.. Timothy is sent back to Thessalonica (1 Thess. 3:1-5), while Silas goes to an unspecified place in Macedonia (see Acts 18:5).
4.. Paul goes on from Athens to Corinth (Acts 18:1).
5.. Silas and Timothy return from Macedonia and rejoin Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5; see 1 Thess. 1:6).
6.. From Corinth they send two letters to Thessalonians.
Source: F. F. Bruce, (1990) pp. 374-75, who got the timeline and movements from another prominent commentator on Acts.
It must have been tough for Paul to flee and leave Timothy and Silas in Berea. He was just making headway. No doubt Silas and Timothy built up the new church.
Athens was far away, and we should picture Paul, as he was traveling on, praying both with his mind and understanding, and in the Spirit, which bypasses the mind (1 Cor. 14:15). He said to the Corinthians that he prayed in the Spirit often (1 Cor. 14:18). Can we have any doubt that the men who escorted him into Athens also had their prayer language, when Paul was in their company? He said everyone should have their prayer language (1 Cor. 14:5).
“instruction”: it is the noun entolē (pronounced ehn-toh-lay), and it could be translated as “command.” Paul was the leader, and he was going it alone in Athens. He needed Silas’s and Timothy’s support, so he issued the command to come to him as soon as possible.
GrowApp for Acts 17:10-15
A.. The Bereans had better culture and attitude than the Thessalonians, because they searched the Scriptures to verify Paul’s message. Do you search the Scripture to confirm a preacher’s message?
Paul Preaches in Athens (Acts 17:16-21)
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was provoked in him, because he saw the city full of idols. 17 And so then he dialogued with Jews in the synagogue and the devout Gentiles, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicureans and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. And some said, “What does this scrap collector wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities” because he was preaching the good news of Jesus and the resurrection. 19 They got hold of him and brought him before the Areopagus Council, saying, “Can we learn what this new teaching is, which you are talking about? 20 For you introduce strange things to our hearing. We want to know what they may mean.” 21 All the Athenians and the resident aliens spent their leisure time doing nothing other than speaking and hearing the newest things.
“provoked”: it is from the verb paroxunō (pronounced pah-rohx-oo-noh), and from it we get every word that has with parox- in it. It means “urge on, provoke to wrath, irritate, and be aroused.” Paul was a devout Messianic Jew, and his Jewish background could not take all the idols. The island of Rhodes had about 73,000 statues and the Greek cities of Olympia and Delphi had that many or more. Athens had the same or more (Schnabel, comment on v. 16). No wonder a devout Jew was provoked.
“dialogued”: it comes from the verb dialegomai, and see v. 2 for a closer look. The NIV translates it as “reasoned.” Excellent.
Paul was in the market place “every day” or “day after day.” The man was a street evangelist. Sometimes it takes a long time to break through. Never shrink back, pastors and evangelists.
I went on tour to Athens and it has beautiful old temple, like the Parthenon. But for the first-century man, they were real, religious objects and temples. No fooling around. I can’t describe the city better than Bruce does:
Visitors to Athens today who view the masterpieces of the great architects and sculptors of the age of Pericles are free to admire them as works of art: to no one nowadays are they anything more. But in the first century they were not only admired as works of art: they were temples and images of pagan divinities. Temples and images of pagan divinities were not new thing to a native of Tarsus, but this native of Tarsus had been brought up in the spirit of the first and second commandments of the decalogue [ten commandments]. Whatever Paul may have felt in the way of artistic appreciation—and his education had not fostered any capacity for this—the feeling that was uppermost in his mind as he walked here and there through the violet-crowned city was one of indignation: the city was full of idols, dedicated to the worship of gods that were no gods—for “what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God” (1 Cor. 10:20). (comment on v. 16).
The conditional “if” can be translated as a fourth-class conditional: “What would this babbler say, if could say anything that made sense!” (Bock, comment on v. 18, p. 562 referring to grammarian Daniel Wallace).
You can google who these philosophers were. But the web can get complicated. I like to bring on to the web excellent printed commentaries, so here is Bruce brief write-up of the Stoics, who claim the Cypriot Zeno (c. 340-265 B.C) as their founder:
They were called Stoics:
Because they met in the stoa poikilē, the “painted colonnade” in the Agora [main market place], where he habitually taught in Athens. Their system aimed at living consistently with nature, and in practice they laid great ground emphasis on the primacy of the rational faculty in humanity, and on individual self-sufficiency. In theology they were pantheistic, God being regarded as the world-soul. Their belief in a cosmopolis or world-state, in which all truly free souls had equal citizen rights, helped break down national and class structure. Stoicism at its best was marked by great moral earnestness and a high sense of duty. (comment on v. 18).
Bruce on Epicureanism:
The Epicurean school, founded by Epicurus (340-270 B.C.), member of a family of Athenian settlers on Samos, based its ethical theory on the atomic physics of Democritus and presented pleasure as being the chief end [goal] in life, the pleasure most worth enjoying being a life of tranquility (ataraxia), free from pain, disturbing passions, and superstitious fears (including the particular fear of death). It did not deny the existence of gods, but maintained that they took no interest in the life of men and women. (comment on v. 18)
For Epicureans, pleasure,was not drinking parties and sex. It was much more intellectual. Nowadays, however, the ultimate pleasure sought for are about drinking parties and sex.
For this commentary, I would just add that sometimes intellectual strongholds are the hardest to scale and break down. One has to be trained to do it. I heard a popular millennial TV pastor say we don’t need to argue for or defend God, for he can defend himself, so we shouldn’t worry about it. If he meant quarrel, then he’s right. But the thrust of his idea was wrong. He didn’t seem to realize the people have legitimate questions they want answered before their hearts rise with faith. Learning a few philosophical ideas to answer their questions is a good thing. Granted, most people may simply refer the skeptics to an article online or a smart guy at church, but come on! Let’s learn some things so we can give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15). Paul was not afraid to reason with people, nor should we be afraid to do this, either.
(Sometimes I have the feeling that pastors say these things because they themselves don’t study and want others to join their pampered laziness.)
“were conversing”: it is the verb sumballō, which literally means “throw together.” Maybe we should see Paul and the philosophers “thrown together” in the same meeting place dialoguing.
“scrap collector”: it is literally “seed-picker” or what birds do (spermologos and pronounced spair-moh-loh-gohss). Some translations play it safe and have “babbler,” “gossip,” chatterer.” I see these condescending philosophers calling him (in our vernacular) a homeless guy who has a grocery cart (trolley) full of scraps. What Paul (and the homeless guy) says doesn’t make sense, without order or reason.
Parsons and Culy (referring to Louw and Nida) says that this word (1) a person acquires bits and pieces of irrelevant information and pass them on with pretense and show (“ignorant show-off, charlatan”); (2) a person who is unable to say anything worthwhile with his miscellaneous tidbits of information (“foolish babbler”). Then Parson and Culy refer to another commentator who says (3) the person steals ideas from others and uses them as his own (I suggest maybe “babbling plagiarist”). I chose the first definition in my translation, but you can choose the other two.
Bruce suggests “someone who picked up scraps of learning wherever he could” (comment on v. 18, note 35).
“preaching the good news”: as noted in previous verses in Luke-Acts, the phrase is one verb in Greek: euangelizō (pronounced eu-ahn-geh-lee-zoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). Eu– means “good,” and angel means “announcement” or “news”; and izō is the verb form. (Greek adds the suffix -iz- and changes the noun to the verb and we do too, as in “modern” to “modernize”). Awkwardly but literally it means “good-news-ize,” as in “Let’s ‘good-news-ize’ them!”
Yes, Paul reasoned with people, but he did not neglect the simple gospel. He also preached the resurrection, which has all sorts of evidence behind it. (You can go online to study the evidence. I suggest two youtube channels one by Gary Habermas and another one by Inspiring Philosophy.) No doubt Paul told his testimony that he heard and saw the risen Lord, which must have surprised the philosophers. You too can tell your story of how Jesus changed your life.
Sometimes critics today complain that Paul did not preach the gospel, but this summary clause in this verse says he did.
Here are the basics about resurrection in the New Testament:
1.. It was prophesied in the OT (Ps. 16:3-11; Is. 55:3; Jnh. 1:17)
2.. Jesus predicted it before his death (Mark 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:33-34; John 2:19-22)
3.. It happened in history (Matt. 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-8; John 20:1-8)
4.. Power used to resurrect Jesus:
a.. Power of God (Acts 2:24; Eph. 1:19-20; Col. 2:12)
b.. Christ’s own power (John 10:18)
c.. Jesus is the resurrection (John 11:25-26)
d.. Power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:11; 1 Pet. 3:18)
5.. Nature of Christ’s resurrection
a.. The same body that died was raised (Luke 24:39-40; John 20:27)
b.. It was a physical body
(1)) He ate (Luke 24:41-43; John 21:12-13; Acts 10:40-41)
(2)) He could be touched (John 20:27; 1 John 1:1)
(3)) It was a gloried body (1 Cor. 15:42-44; Phil. 3:21)
(4)) He passed through locked door (John 20:19, 26)
(5)) He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9)
c.. It was also a transformed and glorified body
And for a review of the basics, please click on this post:
You can also go to youtube to find out the evidence for it. Look for Gary Habermas or Mike Licona.
For a table of his appearances and other facts, please see:
“strange deities” this term reminds Luke’s (educated) readers of Socrates’s story. He was charged with introducing “strange deities” to Athens (Apology 24B-C). In Paul’s day, the Council of Areopagus was tasked to oversee this issue.
“can we”: it comes from the verb dunamai (pronounced doo-nah-my), and simply “able” or “can.” There’s some irony here. Can they hear it? Will they? Other translations have “may we.”
“know”: the verb is ginōskō (pronounced gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). The verb is so common that it is used 222 times in the NT. (Its cognate epiginōskō, pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh is used 44 times).
“The court of Areopagus … exercised jurisdiction in matters of religion and morals. This aristocratic body, of venerable antiquity, received its name from the Areopagus, the “hill of Ares,” (the Greek god of war), southwest of the Acropolis, on which it traditionally met. At the time with which we are dealing, it held its ordinary meetings in the Royal Colonnade (stoa basileios) in the northwest corner of the Agora” (Bruce, comment on vv. 19-20). During the Roman era it “commanded great respect.” Bock adds that the council had great power, “trying crimes and regulating, for example, city life, education, philosophical lectures, public morality, and foreign cults” (comment on vv. 19-20, p. 563). Some commentators that a public speaker had to get a license, so maybe the council was about to require one, but first they had to give him a fair hearing.
Since he left the council on his own, Paul was not standing trial in a forensic (legal, trial) sense, but to expound his teaching before experts. The council, after all, was in charge of overseeing foreign cults, and the resurrection appeared to some as a deity: the Resurrection. In other words, a door of opportunity was opened to Paul, and he walked through it. He was fearless.
“spent their leisure time doing”: this long clause comes from one verb eukaireō pronounced yew-ky-reh-oh) and is built on eu– (good or positive) and kair– (time or season).
This verse fits the American context perfectly. Our wealth affords us long spells of leisure time, and we are very trendy. This is especially true of the American church. Bible classes or not? But the latest book says streamlined church—so no Bible classes! Plays and musicals and productions? Yes! No! I say the gospel can be preached in all sort of forums and contexts programs. Don’t overanalyze things and follow the latest trends.
“know”: see v. 19 for more comments.
GrowApp for Acts 17:16-21
A.. Paul’s spirit was provoked when he saw Athenian culture’s degradation. Has your spirit been provoked when you saw your own nation’s cultural degradation?
B.. Athenians spent time doing nothing else but engage in idle speculation. How much time do you waste in nonsense? Any way you can cut back and get in the Scripture? How?
Who God Is (Acts 17:22-28)
22 Paul stood up in the middle of the Areopagus Council and said, “Men of Athens! I see that you are very religious in every way. 23 For as I was touring and observing many objects of worship, I even found an altar on which it was inscribed, To an Unknown God. What you devoutly worship without knowledge, this I proclaim to you: 24 God who made the universe and everything in it, he is Lord of heaven and earth, and he does not live in handmade temples; 25 neither is he tended by human hands, as if he needed something. He gave everyone life and breath and everything. 26 He made from one person every nation to inhabit every place on the face of the earth, determining allotted seasons and secure borders for their habitation, 27 to seek God, if they may reach out and perhaps find him. And indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist, as some of your own poets have said:
For we too are of his offspring.
In his comment on v. 22, Bruce warns you and me that there has never been more commentary written about a mere ten verses in Acts than Paul’s Areopagus speech, and then he has a huge bibliography in note 47. And Bruce was writing in 1988. No doubt the bibliography has expanded. I will offer only the basics. I depend heavily here on other commentaries.
“Paul preaches in different ways to synagogue audiences (13:16-47), rural pagans (14:15-17) and cultural members of the urban Greek elite (14:15-17) and cultured members of the urban Greek elite (17:22-31)” (Keener, p. 438).
“very religious”: it is a very long Greek word. It could be translated as “superstitious.” Let’s leave it at that.
“touring”: it is the standard Greek verb erchomai and the prefix dia attached: dierchomai (pronounced dee-air-khoh-my), and it can mean “go from place to place.” I’ve visited Athens, and it is marvelous. I went from place to place or I “toured” the city and the museums and Parthenon and lots of other places. That’s why I chose the more modern translation, but if a traditionalist and precisionist prefer “going from place to place,” then that is accurate too.
“without knowledge”: it could be translated “ignorantly.” Paul finds an inroad, a link, between him and them. Well done, Paul.
“When the gospel was presented to pagans, even cultured pagans like the members of the Court of Areopagus, it was necessary to begin with a statement about the living and true God. The knowledge of God, according to Paul in Rom. 1:19-22, was accessible to all in his works of creation, but the capacity or desire to acquire it had been impaired by idolatry. … The tone of the Aeropagitica is different from that of Romans 1-3, but Paul knew the wisdom of adapting his tone and general approach to the particular audience or readership being addressed at the time” (Bruce, comment on v. 22).
“Unknown God”” Paul latched on to this inscription possibly because he remembered the dialogue of the one true God and the nations who did not know Israel’s God:
5 Truly you are a God who has been hiding himself,
the God and Savior of Israel.
16 All the makers of idols will be put to shame and disgraced;
they will go off into disgrace together.
17 But Israel will be saved by the Lord
with an everlasting salvation;
you will never be put to shame or disgraced,
to ages everlasting.
18 For this is what the Lord says—
he who created the heavens,
he is God;
he who fashioned and made the earth,
he founded it;
he did not create it to be empty,
but formed it to be inhabited—
“I am the Lord,
and there is no other.
19 I have not spoken in secret,
from somewhere in a land of darkness;
I have not said to Jacob’s descendants,
‘Seek me in vain.’
I, the Lord, speak the truth;
I declare what is right.
20 “Gather together and come;
assemble, you fugitives from the nations.
Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood,
who pray to gods that cannot save.
21 Declare what is to be, present it—
let them take counsel together.
Who foretold this long ago,
who declared it from the distant past?
Was it not I, the Lord?
And there is no God apart from me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none but me.
22 “Turn to me and be saved,
all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn,
my mouth has uttered in all integrity
a word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow;
by me every tongue will swear. (Is. 45:15-23, NIV)
Paul was deeply, deeply influenced by Isaiah. Now Paul was about to dialogue with a city-state (Athens) that did not know the true God. They could care less about whoever Isaiah was.
This is biblical theology. God has a temple in Jerusalem, but he does not need it. The entire earth is his footstool, so to speak (Is. 66:1; Matt. 5:35).
“universe”: it comes from the noun cosmos (pronounced cohs-mohss). No doubt when Paul said the word, he gestured in a way that indicated everything that humans of his century could see in the sky at night. Maybe he pointed up and swept his hand and traced the “dome” over the earth. However, we now know the universe is much bigger than what is seen by the unaided eye.
This passage in the Psalms is pertinent:
9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats? (Ps. 50:9-13, NIV)
At Solomon’s dedication of the temple, he prayed a long prayer, including this verse:
27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! (1 Kings 8:27, NIV)
“life”: It is the noun zoē (pronounced zoh-ay, and girls are named after it, e.g. Zoey). BDAG is the authoritative NT Greek lexicon, and it says that it has two senses, depending on the context: a physical life (e.g. life and breath) and a transcendent life. By physical life the editors mean the period from birth to death, human activity, a way or manner of living, a period of usefulness, earning a living. By transcendent life the lexicographers mean these four elements: first, God himself is life and offers us everlasting life. Second, Christ is life, who received life from God, and now we can receive life from Christ. Third, it is new life of holiness and righteousness and grace. God’s life filling us through Christ changes our behavior. Fourth, zoē means life in the age to come, or eschatological life. So our new life now will continue into the next age, which God fully and finally ushers in when Christ returns. We will never experience mere existence or death, but we will be fully and eternally alive in God. Here it means the first definition.
God does not need what we have to offer. This is called in theology aseity (pronounced ah-see-ih-tee or ah-say-ih-tee), which means God is self-sufficient in himself. He did not create the heavens and the earth and everything it in them, including humans, because he was needy. He did this because of his outreaching love. He can exist without us, but we cannot exist without him and his sustaining power (Heb. 1:3).
See the post:
Yes, he gave every living being life and breath and everything else, when he spoke this universe into existence 13.7 billion years ago and it has been moving forward from then to the time we humans and other living beings got here, and into the future. He gave us life and breath by secondary causes; that is, he built into his creation a creative force that animates and enlivens us. As noted, he also sustains all of creation by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3).
“handmade temples”: this continues the theme in Acts of taking down temples, whether the one in Jerusalem or here in Athens, where there was a beautiful temple of Athena on the acropolis and other beautiful ones on the lower levels. Here is Stephen rejecting the holy temple in Jerusalem:
47 But Solomon built a house for him. 48 However, the Most High does not live in things made with hands, just as the prophet says:
49 Heaven is my throne,
And earth is the footstool for my feet;
What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,
Or which place for my rest?
50 For did not my hand make all of these things?” [Is. 66:1-2] (Acts 7:47-50)
Here is Demetrius the silversmith denouncing what Paul had been proclaiming in Ephesus:
26 And you observe and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in nearly all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and led astray a large crowd, saying that the gods who come about by the hands do not exist! 27 Not only does this endanger our line of business, to come to be discredited, but also the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be considered worthless, and she herself, whom all of Asia and the world worship, is about to be brought down with her majesty!” (Acts 19:26-27)
All pagan temples and shrines and church buildings throughout all human history will be wiped out at the Second Coming, for the church will be his holy dwelling place.
Since the church replaces the OT temple, then how much more does the church replace all temples, particularly the pagan ones!
Adam is the one person. Paul interprets an already-existing, authoritative text in Gen. 1-5, in the light he had. I believe Adam (Mankind) and Eve (Living) were real, but they did not have biblical Hebrew names, for biblical Hebrew is a late development in the Semitic family of languages. They lived many centuries, perhaps many millennia, before the Bible was written. They had a special calling to illustrate how humanity is broken and because it broke and still breaks moral law. (In a corollary opposite way, Abram and Sarai, also historical persons, had a calling to set the theme of redemption in motion.)
Paul’s main point is not to quarrel about Adam and Eve, but this is the main point: “Neither in nature nor in grace, neither in the old creation nor in the new, is there any room for ideas of racial superiority” (Bruce, comment on v. 26).
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
when he divided all mankind,
he set up boundaries for the peoples
according to the number of the sons of Israel [or sons of God] (Deut. 32:8, NIV)
It is possible for people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ to find God, even though they lived before he came or far away from Israel (e.g. South America and Australia, 2500 years ago). God was never far from them.
God is immanent or present with us in the created order, in a spiritual and personal sense, though not being found in created things as pantheists teach. The reality finally conveyed by Paul’s message is that, because if human failure to find God as he really is, he can be truly known only through repentance and faith in the resurrected Jesus (vv. 30-31). It is total structure and flow, the speech in Acts 17:22-31 is not all that different from the argument in Romans 1-3. (comment on v. 27)
Some Greek intellectuals tried to steer the populace away from idolatry. “Even some of their own teachers had realized the folly of trying to represent the divine nature by material images, worship it as material altars, how near God was to those who truly sought him” (Bruce, comment on v. 27).
See the post:
As noted, God sustains everyone by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). Quoting a pagan poet was a perfectly legitimate way to build a bridge to the people of Athens. I have heard some Bible teachers quote Shakespeare or Milton or Dickens, and it is very effective. It’s not that these authors were pagans, but they are not Bible characters. Branch out a little bit, pastors and preachers, but only if you know this stuff. Don’t sound fake, just to impress.
This line is said to come from Epimenides the Cretan (c. 600 B.C.). Bruce quotes the line in context:
“They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one [Zeus]—
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!—
But thou art not dead; thou livest and abides for ever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.”
Titus 1:12 says: “One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’”
Then the other quotation is from the fifth line of Phainomena by Aratus (Paul’s fellow Cilician):
“Let us begin with Zeus. Never, O men, let us leave him
Unmentioned. All the ways are full of Zeus,
And all the market-places of human beings. The sea is
Of him; so are the harbors. In every way we have all to do with Zeus,
For we are truly his offspring.
Quoting these pagan poets brings up inspiration of Scripture. Yes, God inspired Scripture, but the inspired authors still had their minds intact. Luke was inspired to write that Paul quoted a pagan poet. Scripture was not dictated, as if the authors were androids.
GrowApp for Acts 17:22-28
A.. In this part of his proclamation, he related to the Athenians on their own terms. What are ways that you can relate to people in your own culture?
Application (Acts 17:29-31)
29 “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we must not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, like an image from the skill and genius of humanity. 30 God, although he overlooked the times of ignorance, now commands every person everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day in which he is about to judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he appointed, granting proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
This is the first and second of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:3-4). Paul was thoroughly a Messianic Jew. But note the context. It is about believing in images in the temple and the gods and goddesses standing behind the images. I see nothing wrong today with a sculptor and painter creating beautiful images, even of Jesus and the “saints.” But let your conscience be your guide.
“skill”: it comes from the noun technē (pronounced tehkh-nay), and it means “skill” or “trade,” and it is used only here and Acts 18:3 and Rev. 18:22.
“genius”: it is the Greek noun enthumēsis (pronounced ehn-thoo-may-seess), and it combines en– (in) and thum– (the spirit or soul of a person), and see v. 11 for a closer look at the thum– stem. It can be translated as “thought, reflection, idea.” It appears only here and in Matt. 9:14; 12:25; Heb. 4:12.
“repent”: it is the verb metanoeō (pronounced meh-tah-noh-eh-oh), and “to repent” literally means “changed mind.” And it goes deeper than mental assent or agreement. Another word for repent is the Greek stem streph– (including the prefixes ana-, epi-, and hupo-), which means physically “to turn” (see Luke 2:20, 43, 45). That reality-concept is all about new life. One turns around 180 degrees, going from the direction of death to the new direction of life.
See my post:
Bruce summarizes this verse well:
We are, then, the offspring of God, says Paul, not in any pantheistic sense but in the sense of the biblical doctrine of man, as beings created by God in his image. There is, indeed, a mighty difference between this relation of men and women to God in the old creation and that redemptive relation which members of the new creation enjoy through faith as sons and daughters of God “in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26). (Bruce, comment on v. 29)
Then Bruce goes on to say that Paul is dealing with pagans who have the responsibility of pagans to give God the honor which is due him. And this honor is not about molded idols.
Repentance is a category Luke often notes as the proper response to God’s message (Luke 3:7-9; see Acts 2:38; 3:19-20; in Paul: 1 Thess. 1:9-10). In this case it appears that Paul is saying that God did little to remedy the direction of the nations as a whole in the past (besides issuing prophetic warnings and calling Israel to be a light to the nations. Acts 14:16 says that God let them go their own way. He largely ignored them. Now, however, God has acted. God calls to all people everywhere to repent. The call to repent matches Acts 14:15 with its call to turn from idols. (Bock, comment on vv. 30-31)
With the coming of Jesus, a new era has dawned, and truth demands a higher, clearer response.
God was merciful to people before they heard the gospel and overlooked their ignorance. Once they hear the gospel and walk away, they put themselves at risk for a stronger judgment.
Once again, see the post:
God is going to judge the world. Let’s not neglect this doctrine in our preaching. It is all well and good to preach that God wants to fulfill your hopes and dreams, but more importantly, God expects you to fulfill his hopes and dreams for your life, which are always better than yours. If you walk outside of his will, he will draw you back, but if a man or woman walks away from the gospel all throughout his or her life, then judgment is coming.
Paul preached the resurrection, and you can go online to great websites that lay out the evidence for it. Or you can just share with people what Jesus—who is alive in your heart—has done for you.
“assurance”: it comes from the very frequent noun pistis (pronounced peace-teace or piss-tiss), and it is the standard word for “faith.” Other translations read “proof” or “confirming,” or “assuring,” or “assurance.” But if someone wanted to say God provided faith by raising Jesus from the dead, then he would not be wrong. You can ground your faith on the bodily resurrection of Jesus, for the evidence that this happened is strong.
Let’s look more deeply at pistis.
It is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross. See v. 12 for more comments.
Bruce, summarizing the whole speech in the council: “The essential content of the speech is biblical, but the presentation is Hellenistic” (comment on v. 31).
Nevertheless, God has now acted in the person and work of Jesus in such a manner as to make idolatry particularly heinous. To reject Jesus, therefore, is to reject the personal and vicarious intervention of God on behalf of humanity and so open oneself up to divine judgment, which will be meted out in the future by the very one who is being rejected in the present (v. 31). For God himself has authenticated the person and redemptive work of Jesus by raising him from the dead. (comment on vv. 39-31)
GrowApp for Acts 17:29-31
A.. God is going to judge the world in righteousness, through the Resurrected One, Jesus. Study 1 John 3:2-3, How do we prepare for his appearance?
Paul’s Speech before Areopagus Council: Response (Acts 17:32-34)
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some sneered, but others said, “We will hear you again about this matter.” 33 And so Paul left the Council. 34 Some men joined Paul and believed, among whom were Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Bruce quotes from a line in Aeschylus’s play Eumenides 647-48: “Once a man dies and the earth drinks up his blood, there is no resurrection” (comment on v. 32, emphasis original). The Greek word there is anastasis, the standard word throughout Greek literature, as it is also used in v. 32.
Critics claim that since Paul got a small response from this one session before the Council, he failed. Why? Because he did not preach the gospel. But this is a sermon summary, and throughout his stay in Athens, he did preach Jesus and the resurrection (v. 18). People were open and wanted to hear from him again. But Paul left Athens before he had a chance to stay there and plant a church and watch God work signs and wonders, which build the church and humble the stubborn.
Very often Luke omits details, as this entire commentary has pointed out. He omits the fact that he got the two named and the other converts baptized and filled with he Spirit, for example, but we can be sure he did, based on many other passages (e.g. 1 Cor. 14:4). That’s why I have nicknamed him Luke the Omitter. (Or he could be called Luke the Condenser.)
“As a member of the town’s highest aristocratic court, Dionysius ‘the Aeropagite’ was a municipal decurion [high member of rulership in the council]. For even one Aeropagite to join the new movement was a great success” (Keener, p. 449).
However, one does get the impression that Athens was a tough nut to crack.
We don’t know who Dionysius, a member of the council who therefore had high status, and Damaris were, but they were important enough for Luke to name them, indicating that they must have been helpful to the growth of Christianity and took important leadership roles. Luke may have even met them at some time, for him to remember their names. Luke likes to pair men and women together. Keener suggests that Damaris might have been a philosopher who accompanied Paul to the council from the market place. Or she might have been a former or current disciple of a philosopher or she was pursuing philosophical interests on her own (p. 449).
“resurrection”: see v. 18 for a closer look.
“believed”: see v. 12 for more comments.
“Too many Christians knew their own message, but understand far too little about how and why others think as they do” (Bock, comments on vv. 32-34). Bock summarizes another commentator (Stott): “This ability to adapt made him [Paul] very effective. Whether in informal conversation or in a formal setting, the ability to set forth the faith at a level appropriate to the setting is a valuable talent (comment on vv. 32-34, p. 573)
GrowApp for Acts 17:32-34
A.. Paul message of the resurrection divided his listeners in two: the one who sneered, and the ones who followed him. Before your salvation, how did you first respond to the gospel? Did you believe immediately, or did you reject it and even mock it? Tell your story.
Observations for Discipleship
At Thessalonica and Berea, Paul had to leave, because persecution was forming. He did the wise thing. It is okay to flee it (Matt. 10:23). Avoid being a martyr if you can help it.
Then he went to Athens, which is a model of America (and western Europe) in these ways:
1.. It was cosmopolitan and worldly wise. New things and trends circulated. The same is true of America.
2.. It was the seedbed of all sorts of outlandish ideas. For example, Epicureanism says pleasure is the best way to find fulfillment. Its promoters did not mean “crazy pleasure,” but that’s how people took it back then. Today, America pursues pleasure—yes, “crazy pleasure.”
3.. Athens was religiously tolerant. Paul did not have to fear being stoned in that city, as he did when he was in other towns. In America today, no one has to fear being stoned to death, for we tolerate other religions, though some of us are nervous about Islam. But let’s not persecute Muslims, please.
4.. Athenians loved to spend the leisure time discussing the latest ideas, much as we like to sit in coffee shops and discuss the latest things. Anything new and trendy is followed.
5.. Philosophy was very strong in Athens, just as it is today in America—more so than in Europe nowadays. Philosophy is not wrong to study, if one does it in the right way. It is best not to get confused about it, if you don’t have a calling.
6.. Athenians were very religious, and so are we. It has been said that our cultural elites and intellectuals are irreligious, and the people are very religious. It seems the Athenians intellectuals were the same, except the god of the philosophers was distant. But all the temples and statues show that the people needed something to fill the void. Paul told them Jesus was (and is) the answer.
Paul preached the good news of the gospel and the resurrection of Jesus to this high-class ancient city two thousand years ago. Surely he told his story about the risen Lord knocking him to the ground and redirecting his life. You can tell your story about how the living Lord caused you to turn 180 degrees to follow him. You can also go online to Christian websites and find the evidence for the resurrection, if you get into a discussion with the intellectuals. Do both. Tell your testimony, and present the historical evidence for the resurrection.
I like Bock’s summary and application:
Sometimes Christians are so angry at the state of our society that all that comes through is the anger and not the love we are to have for our neighbor in need. Those who see this anger and want to represent the faith differently can overreact the other way. Almost pretending as if there is no idolatry as long as the religious search is sincerely motivated. Paul avoids both extremes. He knows how to confront but does so honestly and graciously. Both message and tone are important in sharing the gospel. Here Paul is an example of both. (p. 573)
Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.
Bruce, F. F. Acts. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1988. (I also used his earlier work Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Commentary, Eerdmans, 1951, 1952, 1990, 3rd ed.).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger. United Bible Society, 2014.
Keener, Craig, S. Acts. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Cambridge UP, 2020.
Longenecker, Richard N. Acts. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.
Marshall, I. Howard. Acts. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Tyndale, 1980.
Parsons, Mikeal C. and Martin M. Culy. Acts. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor, UP, 2003.
Peterson, David G. The Acts of the Apostles. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 2009.
Polhill, John B. Acts. New American Commentary. Vol. 26. Broadman and Holman, 1992.
Schnabel, Eckhard, J. Acts. Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2012.