Acts 17


This is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.  Paul is in Greece, where he gives a winsome, thorough and excellent presentation of the Gospel.  He understands his audiences well and treats them with respect.  Yet he doesn’t patronize them or water down the message.  Those who are interested in hearing more do so, but many reject it and walk away.  Paul doesn’t run and tackle them to make them hear more.

In Thessalonica

17     When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.

Once again, the focus is always on the evidence and explanation of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  Also note the notation of women joining Paul and Silas.

5 But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.

Christians around the world still suffer from persecution as Jason and his brothers in Christ did.

In Berea

10 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

V. 11 speaks volumes about the Christian faith and helps explode the myth of a “blind faith” and that Christians aren’t open-minded.  The Bereans were lauded for questioning Paul to see if what he said lined up with Scripture.  We should all do the same when we listen to or read anything inside or outside the church.  The false teachers would have much smaller followings if people knew the Bible better.

13 When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. 14 The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15 The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.

In Athens

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.

Are you greatly distressed at all the idols in our culture?

17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

Paul was very well educated and knew how these philosphers thought.  He took that into account with his Gospel presentation but he still preached Jesus and the resurrection. 

 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

Paul could have mocked them for worshiping an unknown God, but he used it to shift to the truth of God.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

That passage is one of the answers to the question of what happens to people who haven’t heard of Jesus.  God is there for everyone.  He knows exactly where each person will live and for how long. 

Paul knew their culture well and even quoted one of their poets.

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Paul didn’t offer cheap grace.  He said that God has commanded that people repent and he preached the death and ressurection of Jesus.  He taught that God will judge the world and resurrect the dead.  We should teach the same things. 


4 Responses

  1. Some interesting side notes from my self-study Bible…

    v. 6 – “city officials” – the Greek term politarch (lit. “city ruler”), used here and in v. 8, is found nowhere else in Greek literature, but it was discovered in 1835 in a Greek inscription on an arch that had spanned the Egnatian Way on the west side of Thessalonica. (The arch was destroyed in 1867, but the block with the inscripltion was rescued and is now in the British Museum in London.) The term has since been found in 16 other inscriptions in surrounding towns of Macedonia, and elsewhere.

    v. 15 – Five centuries before Paul, Athens had been at the height of its glory in art, philosophy and literature. She had retained her reputation in philosophy through the years and still maintained a leading university in Paul’s day.

    v. 18 – Epicurean philosophers originally taught that the supreme good is happiness, but not mere momentary pleasure or temporary gratification. By Paul’s time, however, this philosophy had degenerated into a more sensual system of thought. Stoic philosophers taught that people should live in accord with nature, recognize their own self-sufficiency and independence, and suppress their desires. At its best, Stoicism had some admirable qualities, but, like Epicureanism, by Pauls’s time it had degenerated into a system of pride. “Blabber” – the Greek word meant “seed picker,” a bird picking up seeds here and there. Then it came to refer to the loafer in the marketplace who picked up whatever scraps of learning he could find and paraded them without digesting them himself.

    v. 23 – The Greeks were fearful of offending any god by failing to give him attention; so they felt they could cover any omissions by the label “unknown god.” Other Greek writers confirm that shuch altars could be seen in Athens – a striking point of contact for Paul.

    v. 24 – “The God who made the world.” – Thus a personal Creator, in contrast with the views of pantheistic Stoicism.

    v. 26 – God planned the exact times when nations should emerge and decline. He also planned the specific area to be occupied by each nation. He is God, the Designer (things were not left to Chance, as the Epicureans thought).

    v. 28 – If anyone is interested in the Greek authors and his works that Paul quoted, let me know. I’m just saving myself from typing it now.

  2. Rebecca, thanks for the insights. No need to type them all unless you want to, but I do find it interesting how Paul used the quotes from Greek authors to try to reach these people.

  3. No problem…

    “In him we live and move and have our being,” from the Cretan poet Epimenides (c. 600 BC) in his “Cretica”, and “We are his offspring,” from the Cilician poet Aratus (c. 315-240) in his “Phaenomena,” as well as from Cleanthes (331-233) in his “Hymn to Zeus.” Epimenides was a native of Knossos, Crete, and was held in high esteem by the Cretans. Several fulfilled predictions were ascribed to him.

    Paul quotes Greek poets elsewhere as well in 1 Corinthians 15:33 and Titus 1:12. For him to not be from these areas, it shows how learned a man he was!

  4. Thanks, Rebecca. I’m glad to have the origins for those quotes, because I’ve seen people try to spin that verse to mean something it doesn’t. Paul was just quoting those people to build a bridge with the Athenians.

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