Acts 17 - Uproar in Thessalonica (2008)

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Uproar in Thessalonica

Acts 17:1-15

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 Christa had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,b” 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.

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.c 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.

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.

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.

c Or the assembly of the people

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.) (Ac 17:1-16). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.



Paul and Silas continue on their missionary journey. Paul preaches a sermon in Athens.

I.     Paul and Silas in Thessalonica (17:1–9)

A.     The faithfulness of the missionaries (17:1–3): For three Sabbaths in a row, Paul preaches the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in the Jewish synagogues.

B.     The fruits of the missionaries (17:4) : Some Jews and many Gentile men and women are saved.

C.     The foes of the missionaries (17:5–9)

1.     The assault (17:5) : A mob rushes into Jason’s house, where Paul and Silas are staying, in search of the missionaries.

2.     The arrest (17:6a): Unable to find Paul and Silas, the mob drags Jason before the city council.

3.     The accusations (17:6b–9)

a.     Paul and Silas are charged with troublemaking, and Jason is charged with allowing them to stay in his home (17:6b–7a).

b.     Paul and Silas are charged with treason (17:7b–9): “They profess allegiance to another king, Jesus.”

II.     Paul and Silas in Berea (17:10–15)

A.     The openness to Gods Word (17:10–12)

1.     The Bereans research it (17:10–11): They listen eagerly and check the Scriptures.

2.     The Bereans receive it (17:12) : Many Jews believe, as do some of the Greek men and women.

B.     The opposition to Gods Word (17:13–15)

1.     The demonstration against Paul (17:13) : Some Jews from Thessalonica come to Berea and instigate a riot.

2.     The departure of Paul (17:14–15): He leaves for Athens.

III.     Paul (Only) in Athens (17:16–34): On Mars Hill, Paul preaches his most famous sermon, identifying the Lord as the “unknown God” the Atheneans have been worshiping.

A.     The need for this sermon (17:16–17): The entire city is filled with idols.

B.     The audience for this sermon (17:18–21)

1.     Their identity (17:18a): The crowd consists of two philosophical groups, the Epicureans and the Stoics.

2.     Their insults (17:18b): They accuse Paul of babbling or advocating some strange foreign religion when he speaks of Jesus’ resurrection.

3.     Their idleness (17:21) : They spend all their time in useless discussion about the latest ideas.

4.     Their invitation (17:19–20): To their credit, however, Paul is invited to address them.

C.     The introduction to this sermon (17:22–23)

1.     Pauls observation (17:22–23a): “I notice that you are very religious, for as I was walking along I saw your many altars. And one of them had this inscription on it—‘To an Unknown God.’ ”

2.     Pauls revelation (17:23b): “You have been worshiping him with-out knowing who he is, and now I wish to tell you about him.”

D.     The points in this sermon (17:24–31): Paul reviews the works of the true God in the past, present, and future.

1.     Regarding the past (17:24–26, 28–29): He created all things, as testified by:

a.     The Hebrew account (17:24–26): He is the maker of everything.

b.     Their own account (17:28–29): One of their own poets said, “We are his offspring.”

2.     Regarding the present (17:27, 30): He desires to save people if they will do two things:

a.     Reach out (17:27) : He wants people to seek after him.

b.     Repent (17:30) : They are to turn from idols and turn to him.

3.     Regarding the future (17:31) : God will someday judge the world through Jesus Christ, whom he raised from the dead.

E.     The reaction to this sermon (17:32–34)

1.     Some mock (17:32a).

2.     Some delay (17:32b): They want to hear more later.

3.     Some believe (17:33–34).[1]

The Witness in Thessalonica 17:1–9

17:1–4 Journey to Thessalonica; Synagogue Ministry

The party of three pass through Amphipolis and Apollonia on their way to Thessalonica (17:1), traveling on the Egnatian Way (see on 16:11). Since these towns have no synagogues and are spaced a day’s journey apart (thirty to thirty-five miles), they are listed simply as overnight stops. Like Philippi, Thessalonica is an old city given new life under the Greeks and Romans. In 316 b.c. it was named from Thessalonike, wife of King Cassandra, daughter of Philip of Macedon, and stepsister of Alexander the Great. Before long it became the chief seaport of Macedonia and was made the seat of administration of the province two years after the Romans took over in 148 b.c. By the time of Paul, it is a thriving walled city, with the Egnatian Way running through it from southeast to northwest. Just north of that highway near the middle of the city is the agora (forum).

Three features of the place are important for understanding the story in Acts. First, the ruling authorities are called politarchs, a name found only in Macedonia and ascribed to them by Luke (17:6, 8, note). Not until the nineteenth century were inscriptions found to confirm this title and prove the author’s accuracy here. Second, the city has a large synagogue, providing a base for Paul’s preaching and teaching (17:1). Third, extensive dockyards provide ruffians to be easily found and incited to mob action in the marketplace (17:5).

Luke’s story of the mission is brief and highly selective. Paul goes into the synagogue and for three successive Sabbaths presents the gospel from the Hebrew Scriptures (17:2). Since readers have already been given an example of such preaching in 13:16–41, all that is needed now is a short summary. Here again the kerygma consists of showing the necessity of Christ’s suffering, followed by his resurrection (17:3; cf. Luke 9:22; 17:25; 24:26, 46; Acts 3:18–20), and the proclamation that such a Messiah can be none other than Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 9:22; 13:23–38). This is the crucial issue for Jews, and some of them are convinced (17:4). Though a minority, they are enough to provide a Jewish Christian base for the new group of believers.

Most who accept the gospel, however, are devout Greeks, Godfearing Gentiles like Cornelius (10:1–48) and Lydia (16:14–40), a great many of them. Then Luke mentions a third group worth noting in the Thessalonian situation: leading women, including both upper-class women of influence and possibly also wives of leading men of the city. They are not a few in number, that is, quite a few (17:4). Although they also belong to the devout Gentile class, they are distinctive enough to be mentioned separately. There is a clear contrast here with Pisidian Antioch, where women of high standing were used to stir up opposition against the apostles (13:50). The Philippian church had notable women like Lydia and her friends (16:13–15, 40), and a good many Greek women and men of high standing will be mentioned among the converts at Berea (17:12). Hence, this would seem to be a special characteristic of the Macedonian congregations.

This first phase of the mission in Thessalonica, within the synagogue, is said to last only three weeks (17:2). But the situation reflected in Paul’s two letters to them suggests a much longer stay in the city. In 1 Thessalonians 2:9–11, he speaks of a period of toiling with his hands to support himself, and in 4:1–12 he refers to instruction which would need to be given over a considerable time. Moreover, a reasonably long ministry is suggested in the greatly telescoped text of 17:5–9. The seeming discrepancy is resolved, however, when it is noted that these verses in Acts indicate the length of time spent in the synagogue, after which the new Christian fellowship leaves and moves to the house of Jason, where the work continues.

17:5–9 Disturbance; Release of Paul and Silas

After an interval perhaps of weeks, unbelieving Jews from the synagogue, like those in Pisidian Antioch (13:50), are jealous and take action against this newly proselyted group of Christians. They find ruffians in the marketplace who are easily persuaded to stir up a mob and attack the headquarters of the group (17:5). Their aim is to seize Paul and his men and bring them to justice before the politarchs. But, not finding them at home, they drag Jason and some other converts into court. This is the same kind of rough treatment that Paul and Silas received at Philippi (16:19–24).

The charge against the men is that they have taken in these well-known disturbers of the peace (17:6). The colorful rendering of the NRSV, that they are people who have been turning the world upside down, is attractive but introduces an idiom not found in the Greek. It is more accurate to say, causing trouble all over the world (NIV) or upsetting the world (NASB). Judging by what follows, it seems likely that Jason is a man of some importance, and for him to be harboring such dangerous men is serious business.

Even more threatening is the charge that they are all proclaiming another king named Jesus (17:7). This would include Jason and the other converts, as well as the evangelists. Just what decrees of the emperor they are violating is not clear, unless it is mistakenly thought that Christians are predicting a change in rulers, something strictly forbidden by several imperial edicts. Actually, there is an element of truth in the charge, just enough to make it effective. These new believers are indeed worshiping Jesus instead of Caesar and regarding Jesus as Lord, a title to be applied only to the emperor. What their attackers do not understand is that they are not advocating the overthrow of the Roman government, but obedience to it as long as it is in harmony with God’s law (Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Pet. 2:13–17). They have brought a peaceful revolution accomplished by the transformation of lives (Luke 3:10–14; 12:25–27; Acts 2:38; 9:1–18; Rom. 12:1–2).

The uproar of the mob and these emotionally charged accusations are enough to upset both people and rulers and force some kind of action against the Christians (17:8). Again, there is no formal trial, but this time the magistrates are much more restrained than at Philippi (cf. 16:22–24) and arrange a settlement by which the accused may go unmolested if Jason and the church will post bail (17:9). Luke says nothing of the terms of this “peace bond,” but it is likely a sum of money guaranteeing that the party will leave town at once and not return in the foreseeable future. This explains the problem Paul later has of desperately wanting to return to Thessalonica but being unable to do so without bringing persecution upon the church (cf. 1 Thess. 2:17–20 and his statement, “We wanted to come to you, … but Satan blocked our way”).

The Witness in Berea 17:10–14

Luke’s story of the mission in Macedonia, like his treatment of the journey into Galatia, follows a pattern of accounts of decreasing lengths. In each case there is first a long, fairly detailed narrative (on Philippi in 16:11–40; cf. Pisidian Antioch in 13:13–52), then a shorter one or two accounts (on Thessalonica, with which compare Iconium and Lystra), and now this four-sentence report of events at Berea (matching an even briefer one about Derbe).

In spite of the peaceful settlement with the Thessalonian authorities, Jason and company take no chances and send the missionary team off by night to their next place of service. They travel west along the Egnatian Way for a short distance and then turn south on the road from Thessaly, climbing in elevation until they reach Beroea or Berea (NIV), forty-five miles away. There they find themselves in a summer resort area with pleasant streams and distant snow-capped mountains, a town that still exists, known as Verria and famous for its fine climate.

They seek out the synagogue (17:10) and are met by a receptive group of Jews (lit., more noble, RSV), who welcome their message eagerly. With no large commercial trade or tough Roman establishment as in the previous two centers, Berea is an ideal place for evangelistic work. Luke tells how they study the Scriptures daily in their zeal for the gospel (17:11). The result is a large ingathering of both men and women, mostly Gentiles who are devout and of high social standing (17:12). Little wonder that Christians through the centuries have used the name Berea for Bible classes, congregations, and religious institutions. Even the unbelieving Jews of the city seem to cause no trouble. Here at last would appear to be the fulfillment of the Macedonian mission!

Luke does not say how long such a favorable situation continues. Characteristically, he jumps to the conclusion of the matter. Enemies of the faith from Thessalonica hear of their success. The kind of people who stirred up the crowd in that city (17:5) now come to Berea and launch a bitter persecution (17:13), an echo of 14:19, when the angry Jews from Antioch and Iconium traveled all the way to Lystra to put an end to the evangelistic work. Again the Christian believers rally around the evangelists (cf. 16:40; 17:10) and get them out of danger. This time Paul is in the most risk, and his converts send him off before he is mobbed.

The best Greek manuscripts say they send Paul off as far as the sea (17:14, CF), but this is a bit strange when 17:15 says he is personally escorted all the way to Athens. The Byzantine text underlying KJV reads, to go as it were to the sea. This allows for the possibility that Paul’s friends pretend they are taking him to the coast in order to throw off pursuers but actually send him southward toward Athens (for example, Bruce: 347). Since such a strategy cannot be proved, it is best to take the text as translated in NASB, NIV, and NRSV simply to mean that the Christians act quickly enough to get Paul out of Berea on his way to the sea and from there to Athens. All texts agree that Silas and Timothy, not being objects of the attack, can safely remain behind awhile to care for matters so abruptly brought to an end (17:14).

The Witness in Athens 17:15–34

17:15 Journey to Athens

Paul is quickly escorted to the sea by converts and then on to Athens two hundred miles to the south and slightly west by some unmentioned route. Luke says nothing of the mode of travel nor details of the journey, but a sea voyage is the most likely. His main interest is to get the apostle to the cultural capital of Greece as swiftly as possible and record his ministry there. Some scholars have conjectured that because Paul is taken there personally, he must be suffering another attack of illness (as in Gal. 4:13–14). But the unusual devotion of the Berean Christians would account for this loving service and make such a theory unnecessary. It is safer to travel as a group, and with Silas and Timothy left behind, others conduct Paul.

Paul puts his friends under strict orders (a command, RSV) to arrange for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible (17:15). These two do later rejoin Paul at Athens, and he sends them back to Macedonia—Timothy to Thessalonica and Silas likely to Philippi (1 Thess. 3:1–6). After that they will return to him yet another time after he has begun his work in Corinth (18:5).

17:16–21 Encounters with Jews and Philosophers

The author assumes that his readers know the city of Athens, the cultural center of the Greco-Roman world. Here, for over five centuries, its art, architecture, philosophy, and scientific studies have come to be recognized as among the highest achievements of the Western world. Though in Paul’s day the city is no longer of political importance and is living on past glories, it is still revered for its former magnificence. The Romans have left it free to carry on its own traditions and institutions.

Yet the wonderful sculpture and architecture of the city, though without equal in the world of his day, mean only one thing to Paul: idolatry, and that on a wide scale. It is not that he is unfamiliar with Greek art. Having spent his early life in Tarsus, a Greek university city, and having returned there for several years as a mature man (cf. 9:30; 11:25), he is at home with structures of beauty and grace. But as a Jewish Christian, he sees behind all this cultural achievement a worship of false gods, idols. Instead of being filled with admiration for the great works of art he sees on every hand, he is deeply distressed (17:16, NIV, NRSV), his spirit … provoked within him (RSV, NASB).

All this happens while Paul is alone, looking around and waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him. Then Luke uses the strong therefore (CF; Greek: men oun) to introduce his attending the local synagogue and engaging in discussions there (17:17a). Perhaps in his mounting indignation over all the false gods, he goes to the synagogue to vent his feelings about idolatry to fellow believers in the one true God and stays on to preach Christ. Out of this ministry likely come some of the converts mentioned in 17:34. During the weekdays the apostle spends time in the ever-busy agora or marketplace, the center of city life. Here—amid shops, public buildings, and porches—he has many opportunities to meet Gentiles of all kinds and to address crowds. Here Socrates once engaged in public dialogue and, after him, centuries of other philosophers and wandering teachers.

During these days it is possible that Silas and Timothy have joined him and have been sent back to Macedonia (1 Thess. 3:1–5; see notes on 17:15), but Luke says nothing of this. The important thing now is Paul’s contact with some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, representing the two most influential schools of Greek thought of the times (17:18). Epicurus (ca. 300 b.c.) taught that happiness is the highest good and is to be attained by living a life free from excesses of all kinds, getting rid of fear and of love for others. By Paul’s time, however, this philosophy is often equated with the seeking of pleasure, a reputation that has persisted to our own day.

Stoicism, begun by Zeno (ca. 300 b.c.), taught that there is a great Purpose shaping all nature and humankind toward good ends. As people conform to this Purpose, they fulfill their destiny. What actually happens to a person is not as important as the pursuit of goodness for its own sake. From this view has come the popular use of the term stoic today to indicate the grim endurance of any kind of hardship.

Both of these philosophies, at their best, have points in common with Christianity. But as Paul’s encounter with their followers shows, there are also some basic unbridged differences. With real contempt they call Paul a babbler (lit., seedpicker, a bird that feeds on fragments, a person who has no original ideas but passes on second-hand scraps of information). Others remark that he seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities, for they have heard him speak of Jesus and Anastasis (Greek for resurrection). No doubt they think this must be another pair of male and female gods (17:18).

The debate is no casual matter for these philosophers. They take Paul and bring him to the Areopagus, where they may further investigate his views (17:19). This literally means the hill of Ares, the Greek equivalent for the Roman god of war, Mars (hence the Mars hill of KJV). In earlier times the supreme judicial and legislative body of the city met here. By Paul’s time, this Areopagus council, stripped of its civil powers but continuing to control religion and education, no longer meets on the hill. Instead, it assembles in an open building at the marketplace known as the Stoa Basileios (according to most scholars). What now takes place is not so much a trial as an open hearing so this group in charge of public lecturers may scrutinize the new teaching.

Meeting in council, the authorities inquire about the strange new religion and ask Paul to explain it to them (17:19–20). At this point Luke adds a comment about the habit of Athenians and their many visitors of spending their time obsessively talking about the latest novelties (17:21). Other Greeks said this about them as well. For example, Demosthenes, the orator of Corinth, criticized the Athenians for running around looking for what was new instead of guarding their liberties (Orat. 4.10–11, cited by Neill: 190).

17:22–31 Paul’s Message at the Areopagus

This speech and the short message at Lystra (14:15–18) are the two examples in Acts of the apostle’s approach among people with no Jewish background or knowledge. This one, by far the longer of the two, provides a theological base for the coming ministries at Corinth and Ephesus, where the apostle goes far beyond the synagogue in the delicate task of appealing to Greek culture. As Tannehill suggests (2:212–213), we have here a universalized version of preaching the whole counsel of God, which Paul will tell the Ephesian elders has been his aim in the Greek mission (20:27, RSV).

Luke now paints the scene of Paul standing in front of the Areopagus, before the council and others gathered here. He addresses them as do the orators of the day, Athenians/Men of Athens (NRSV/RSV), and proceeds to make an observation that will lead into his message. He compliments them: how extremely religious you are in every way (17:22). In view of what follows, this seems to be truer to his intention than superstitious (KJV), since it is their yearning for God that he goes on to emphasize. To illustrate this point, he tells how, among their many objects of worship, he has found an altar inscribed to an unknown god.

No altar with this exact inscription has been found, nor is it quoted by the ancients. But church fathers and pagan writers mention Athenian altars “to unknown gods” or “unnamed gods,” and such an inscription has been found at Pergamos. One pagan writer does tell of a sacrifice to “the god concerned in the matter,” to cleanse the Athens from pestilence and pollution (Cadbury, 5:240–246, note by K. Lake). Possibly Paul does see an inscription to an unknown god, or with similar words (Bruce: 356; Marshall: 286). Some commentators, however, conclude with Jerome that Paul takes the liberty of changing the reference to fit his monotheistic message: from “unknown gods” to an unknown god (ABD, 6:753–755). Whatever the case, Paul is not implying that they have already been unknowingly worshiping such a god, but rather that what they do not know about the supreme deity, Paul will now make known to them.

Like a philosopher, the apostle begins with the First Cause, the God who made the world and everything in it. He proceeds to show that such a one does not live in temples made by hands and does not need people to serve him (17:24). This echoes a point made by Stephen (7:48–50). Thus he skillfully summarizes the best in Jewish and Christian thought in language acceptable to the Epicureans: God is self-sufficient. Then he makes a statement which the Stoics can approve, a free quotation of Isaiah 42:5b to the effect that God gives all humankind their life and breath (17:25). Since this, like all the speeches in Acts, is a brief digest, Paul no doubt elaborates further on these opening statements about God in his actual message.

Next Paul emphasizes the unity of humankind by creation, drawing heavily on Genesis 1 and 2. He uses terms that would appeal to the Stoics, who also stress this (17:26). Then he notes God’s sovereign management of the world. This shows the goodness of the Lord, who allots to the nations their times of existence (as in Dan. 2:36–45; cf. Luke 21:24b) as well as their boundaries (Deut. 32:8). All of this is designed to inspire people to seek after God with the hope of finding him. While talking the language of the philosophers about the human search for the infinite, Paul is really making the biblical appeal to search for God (Isa. 55:6; 65:1; Ps. 14:2; Prov. 8:17). On the human side, people grope for God, and this comes close to revelation, for God is available, not far from each one (17:27). The Stoics can also accept such teaching. However, for them there is no personal God, while for Paul this is the living Lord of Israel, always near at hand (Ps. 145:18; Jer. 23:23–24).

To clinch his argument, the apostle now quotes from the Greek poets. First comes a line adapted from Epimenides of Crete, that in God we live and move and have our being (17:28a). The second is found in several writers and in Phaenomena by Aratus of Cilicia (Paul’s home province), who borrowed it from A Hymn to Zeus by Cleanthus, stating that we are indeed God’s offspring (17:28b). Paul does not mean that Zeus is the same as the Christian God, nor that we are children of God in the way the poets view it. These quotations are points of contact from which he can proceed to preach the good news in Jesus.

From this point on, Paul begins to show the difference between the gospel and Greek philosophy. If we are God’s children, then the divine nature cannot be represented in gold, or silver, or stone (17:29), a truth proclaimed in Scripture (Deut. 4:28; Ps. 115:4–8; Isa. 40:18–20; 44:9–20) and accepted by the more enlightened philosophers of the day. Moreover, God is willing to overlook the ignorance and idolatry of the past if people will now repent (17:30). This is necessary because (1) there is a day on which God will have the world judged, (2) through a man whom he has appointed and (3) approved as Lord and Judge by raising him from the dead (17:31). While Jesus’ name is not mentioned in Luke’s summary, there can be no question that he is the one with whom all must come to terms.

17:32–34 Responses to Paul’s Message

The reported speech ends on this note of the resurrection of the dead, and to this Paul receives two main responses. As on the day of Pentecost, there are some who scoff (cf. 2:13), but others are open (cf. 2:12) and say they want to hear more about it (17:32). Many educated Greeks of the times believe in the immortality of the soul, but they think absurd the claim that a dead person once actually came to life again. Typical of this view is the statement put in the mouth of the god Apollo in the drama Eumenides by Aeschylus, celebrating this very Areopagus: “Once a man dies and the earth drinks up his blood, there is no resurrection” (Bruce: 364–365). Of all the Greeks, the more materialistic Epicureans are most likely to sneer at Paul’s mention of a Christ risen from the dead.

Those who wish to hear Paul again are more polite, whether believing or not. There seems to be no further presentation of the gospel in the Areopagus. The sincere among them, as well as any converts from the synagogue and the marketplace (17:17), now join him and begin a small fellowship of believers (17:34). Luke mentions only two such by name. Dionysius the Areopagite is a member of the council and becomes the first bishop of Athens, according to later tradition. Then Luke lists a woman named Damaris. Chrysostom (On the Priesthood 4.7), seems to misunderstand this passage and takes her to be the wife of Dionysius. Ramsay regards her as likely a notable foreign woman, since no ordinary Greek female would attend the Areopagus meeting (1896:252). Perhaps she is a convert from the synagogue, as Bruce suggests (364). Luke then mentions others and abruptly ends his account of the mission at Athens, important for the cultural encounters and the speech, but not pivotal for Paul’s continuing mission.


Uncertainty and Faith in Fulfilling a Call

Paul received a distinct call to come to Macedonia and was sure that God meant for him and his party to preach the gospel there (16:9–10). Yet when they arrived at Philippi, the first city, they found only a handful of people available and made few converts (16:13–15). This was soon followed by a vicious attack, a night in jail, and a hurried exit from the city (16:16–40). Must Paul not have wondered what God was really doing in calling him to Macedonia?

This is reminiscent of Abram’s call to go “into a land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1) and his unquestioning response: “By faith … he went out, not knowing were he was to go” (Heb. 11:8). The initial Macedonian mission was followed by years of hardship, uncertainty, and the testing of Paul’s faith before the work was done.

Thus Paul and his team were not to have an easy time in fulfilling what they were sure was the call of God. Only after the perspective of time can the apostle see that the enterprise has been successful. Within the following year, he will come to understand that the new church he planted in Thessalonica has survived and become dear to him (1 Thess. 1:2–3:10). Then later, while raising his offering among the Gentile Christians to take to Jerusalem, he can praise all the Macedonian churches for being unusually generous in giving both themselves and their means in the midst of great affliction (2 Cor. 8:1–5). Still later, in his letter to Philippi from prison, he can speak of them as one of his most beloved congregations and rejoice greatly in them (1:3–8; 4:1, 10–18).

Prayer and Praise in Life’s Darkest Hours

Paul and Silas pray and sing hymns at midnight (16:25). This echoes two striking OT stories that both had been brought up on: the deliverances of Daniel and of his three friends from similarly desperate situations. Daniel had the practice of praying to Yahweh on his knees three times a day, and for doing so was thrown into a den of lions (Dan. 6:10–12). Thus, like Paul and Silas, he was locked in a fearsome place overnight with little hope of escape. Though no mention is made of his praying and singing at that time, it may be assumed that he did not cease to look to the Lord all that night. The deliverance, though not accompanied by an earthquake, was just as dramatic, for the mouths of the lions were sealed shut (Dan. 6:22).

In the case of Daniel’s three friends, there was a still more unusual deliverance. Though thrown into a blazing hot furnace for defying the emperor’s command to bow down and worship his statue, they were able to walk about untouched (Dan. 3:19–25). Even those who threw them in were killed by the heat. Again, nothing is said about them praying during the ordeal, but no doubt they, like their friend Daniel, were faithfully lifting their petitions to the Lord. Two additional features marked their experience. Though assured ahead of time that their God was able to deliver them, they replied that even if he did not, they would not change their convictions (3:17–18). A fourth person (probably an angel of the Lord) could be seen even by the unbelieving Nebuchadnezzar to be walking with these three faithful witnesses (3:25).

Kings in Conflict

Paul and Silas are accused of proclaiming Jesus as king in an empire where all recognize Caesar as the supreme ruler (17:7). This sounds a note common in the OT and reaching a climax with the early Christians. It is essentially the conflict between the worship of the one true God and of any earthly ruler. Samuel was reluctant to anoint a king over Israel because it could mean the rejection of the Lord as their supreme ruler (1 Sam. 8:6–8). From that time on, the “good kings” acknowledged the rule of Yahweh over them with themselves as stewards (cf. 1 Sam. 10:25). The “bad kings” often behaved as though God were not in control of their lives or their nation. Manasseh and Amon actually brought in the worship of foreign gods (2 Kings 21:2–9, 20–22). During the exile, however, under the yoke of foreign rulers, the problem came into sharpest focus. The classic case is that of Daniel and his three friends, who struggled to maintain the supremacy of Yahweh in the face of commands to worship the emperor (Dan. 3:1–30; 6:1–28).

Matthew, the book placed first in the NT canon, most effectively dramatizes this conflict and the victory of the heavenly king. The magi come seeking the one born “King of the Jews,” whom the earthly king Herod tries to kill. But God provides his escape and his return to preach the kingdom of heaven after that earthly king is dead (Matt. 2). Luke’s handling of the theme comes at the end of Jesus’ active ministry as the members of the Sanhedrin accuse him before Pilate. They present Jesus’ statements about being the Christ (22:67–69) as him setting himself up in opposition to Caesar (23:2–5). Then the Roman governor pronounces him innocent of that charge and wishes to release him, a position he finds confirmed by Herod Antipas (23:4, 14–16).

Thus when Paul and Silas are accused of proclaiming a new king, they are simply sounding the deep biblical conviction that God is King above all kings and that the Son of God is—what he will later be called—“King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16). Paul himself affirms this to other Macedonians when he writes that God has highly exalted Jesus and given him “the name that is above every name,” that before his name “every knee should bend” (Phil. 2:6–11).


Rough Treatment from the Authorities

The persecution of Paul and Silas and the beating they received by order of the magistrates at Philippi (16:20) was a kind of treatment often inflicted on the early Anabaptists. Menno Simons wrote about some of the so-called Christian authorities of his day:

When I think to find a magistrate who fears God, who performs his office correctly and uses his sword properly, then verily I find as a general rule nothing but a Lucifer, an Antiochus, or a Nero, for they place themselves in Christ’s stead so that their edicts must be respected above the Word of God. (298–299)

While the forms of persecution have changed from century to century and culture to culture, illegal action against Christians still continues. And often it is those in high office who permit such outrages or subtly encourage and engage in them.

Witnessing Through Suffering

Believers singing hymns and praying while their backs are bruised and bleeding is no new phenomenon in Christian history. Said Tertullian of this passage, “The legs feel nothing in the stocks when the heart is in heaven” (To the Martyrs, quoted in Bruce: 337). Again and again in Martyrs Mirror, reflecting the sufferings of true witnesses from earliest times on through the rise of the Anabaptists, the ability of Christians to keep on praising the Lord even under torture made a profound impact upon their persecutors. The latter would gain a new respect for persons who demonstrated the unconquerable joy of suffering for Christ (cf. Rom. 5:3; 1 Pet. 5:5).

Which King to Serve?

Early Anabaptists and Brethren were strong on the kingship of Jesus. Wrote Menno Simons, “That Christ is the King of all the earth is abundantly testified to by the Scriptures …. He testifies of Himself that He is the mighty King, saying: All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (35).

The critical question of which king to serve is well illustrated by the story of John Naas, Brethren leader in Germany and colleague of Alexander Mack. John was a large, athletic man, a head taller than most of his contemporaries, attracting attention wherever he went. A recruiting officer of the King of Prussia, who ruled Crefeld, where Naas was preaching, seized him and urged him to enlist in the army. When he refused, he was tortured and finally hung upside down by his left thumb and right big toe. When he still would not give in, he was finally released and dragged by force to the royal presence.

The king asked why he would not yield. He replied, “Because I cannot, as I have long ago enlisted in the noblest and best army and I cannot become a traitor to my King.” “Who is your captain?” asked the king. “My Captain,” answered John Naas, “is the great Prince Immanuel, our Lord Jesus Christ. I have espoused His cause and cannot and will not forsake Him.” “Neither will I then ask you to do so,” answered the King of Prussia, handing him a gold coin in recognition of his fidelity. After that, the ruler released him and permitted him to continue his evangelistic work (Brumbaugh: 103–105).

Bible Study, Berean Style

Because of the character of the people of Berea as more noble or more receptive than others and giving themselves to the daily examination of the Scriptures, this name has become a symbol for eager, thorough, and regular Bible study. Berea might well be taken by the believers church tradition as a model. This kind of study of the Word gave rise to the Anabaptist and Brethren movements and, at their best, has characterized them to this day. The original Bereans did three things that distinguished them: (1) They received or welcomed the word eagerly, as taught by the apostles. (2) They examined the Scriptures daily to test these teachings. (3) They believed and acted upon what they learned (16:11–15).

For the early Anabaptists, the Bible was the final authority for doctrine and life, for worship and service, and for church regulations and discipline. They held to sola scriptura (Scripture alone), in contrast on one hand to those who appealed to church tradition, and on the other hand to those who looked to dreams, visions, and special revelations. They regarded the NT as the fulfillment of the Old. The OT is the shadow, and the NT brings the reality. The OT lays the groundwork for the building to which the NT witnesses. Where the two testaments differ, they held the NT to be the perfect revelation for which the OT was a preparation (Wenger, in Bender: 167–179). The late A. C. Wieand, cofounder of Bethany Bible School (Theological Seminary), often stated a Brethren formulation of this same principle: “We take everything in the OT in the light of the New, and everything in the NT in the light of Jesus Christ.”

In order to base all individual and corporate Christian life on the Bible, Anabaptist-Brethren people need a Berean type of study of the Scriptures characterized by the three points listed above.



Ac 17:1–15. At Thessalonica the Success of Paul’s Preaching Endangering His Life, He Is Despatched by Night to Berea, Where His Message Meets with Enlightened Acceptance—A Hostile Movement from Thessalonica Occasions His Sudden Departure from Berea—He Arrives at Athens.

1. when they had passed through Amphipolis—thirty-three miles southwest of Philippi, on the river Strymon, and at the head of the gulf of that name, on the northern coast of the AEgean Sea.

and Apollonia—about thirty miles southwest of Amphipolis; but the exact site is not known.

they came to Thessalonica—about thirty-seven miles due west from Apollonia, at the head of the Thermaic (or Thessalonian) Gulf, at the northwestern extremity of the AEgean Sea; the principal and most populous city in Macedonia. “We see at once how appropriate a place it was for one of the starting-points of the Gospel in Europe, and can appreciate the force of what Paul said to the Thessalonians within a few months of his departure from them: ‘From you, the word of the Lord sounded forth like a trumpet, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place,’ ” (1Th 1:8) [Howson].

where was a synagogue of the Jews—implying that (as at Philippi) there was none at Amphipolis and Apollonia.

2–4. Paul, as his manner was—always to begin with the Jews.

went in unto them—In writing to the converts but a few months after this, he reminds them of the courage and superiority to indignity, for the Gospel’s sake, which this required after the shameful treatment he had so lately experienced at Philippi (1Th 2:2).

3. Opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered, &c.—His preaching, it seems, was chiefly expository, and designed to establish from the Old Testament Scriptures (1) that the predicted Messiah was to be a suffering and dying, and therefore a rising, Messiah; (2) that this Messiah was none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

4. consorted—cast in their lot.

with Paul and Silas—Compare 2Co 8:5.

of the chief women—female proselytes of distinction. From the First Epistle to the Thessalonians it appears that the converts were nearly all Gentiles; not only such as had before been proselytes, who would be gained in the synagogue, but such as up to that time had been idolaters (1Th 1:9, 10). During his stay, while Paul supported himself by his own labor (1Th 2:9; 2Th 3:7–9), he received supplies once and again from the Philippians, of which he makes honorable acknowledgment (Php 4:15, 16).

5–9. the Jews … moved with envy—seeing their influence undermined by this stranger.

lewd fellows of the baser sort—better, perhaps, “worthless market people,” that is, idle loungers about the market-place, of indifferent character.

gathered a company—rather, “having raised a mob.”

assaulted the house of Jason—with whom Paul and Silas abode (Ac 17:7), one of Paul’s kinsmen, apparently (Ro 16:21), and from his name, which was sometimes used as a Greek form of the word Joshua [Grotius], probably a Hellenistic Jew.

sought to bring them—Jason’s lodgers.

6. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers—literally, “the politarchs”; the very name given to the magistrates of Thessalonica in an inscription on a still remaining arch of the city—so minute is the accuracy of this history.

crying, These that have turned the world upside down—(See on Ac 16:20).

7. all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, &c.—meaning, probably, nothing but what is specified in the next words.

saying … there is another king, one Jesus—(See on Jn 19:12).

9. And when they had taken security of Jason and of the other—“the others”—probably making them deposit a money pledge that the preachers should not again endanger the public peace.

10–12. the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night—for it would have been as useless as rash to attempt any further preaching at that time, and the conviction of this probably made his friends the more willing to pledge themselves against any present continuance of missionary effort.

unto Berea—fifty or sixty miles southwest of Thessalonica; a town even still of considerable population and importance.

11. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica—The comparison is between the Jews of the two places; for the triumphs of the Gospel at Thessalonica were mostly among the Gentiles. See on Ac 17:2–4.

in that they received the word with all readiness of mind—heard it not only without prejudice, but with eager interest, “in an honest and good heart” (Lu 8:17), with sincere desire to be taught aright (see Jn 7:17). Mark the “nobility” ascribed to this state of mind.

searched the scriptures daily whether those things were so—whether the Christian interpretation which the apostle put upon the Old Testament Scriptures was the true one.

12. Therefore many of them believed—convinced that Jesus of Nazareth whom Paul preached was indeed the great Promise and Burden of the Old Testament. From this it is undeniable, (1) that the people, no less than the ministers of the Church, are entitled and bound to search the Scriptures; (2) that they are entitled and bound to judge, on their own responsibility, whether the teaching they receive from the ministers of the Church is according to the word of God; (3) that no faith but such as results from personal conviction ought to be demanded, or is of any avail.

of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men—which were Greeks.

not a few—“The upper classes in these European-Greek and Romanized towns were probably better educated than those of Asia Minor” [Webster and Wilkinson].

13. the Jews of Thessalonica … came thither also—“like hunters upon their prey, as they had done before from Iconium to Lystra” [Howson].

14. immediately the brethren—the converts gathered at Berea.

sent away Paul—as before from Jerusalem (Ac 9:30), and from Thessalonica (Ac 17:10). How long he stayed at Berea we know not; but as we know that he longed and expected soon to return to the Thessalonians (1Th 2:17), it is probable he remained some weeks at least, and only abandoned his intention of revisiting Thessalonica at that time when the virulence of his enemies there, stimulated by his success at Berea, brought them down thither to counterwork him.

to go as it were to the sea—rather, perhaps, “in the direction of the sea.” Probably he delayed fixing his next destination till he should reach the coast, and the providence of God should guide him to a vessel bound for the destined spot. Accordingly, it was only on arriving at Athens, that the convoy of Berean brethren, who had gone thus far with him, were sent back to bid Silas and Timothy follow him thither.

Silas and Timotheus abode there still—“to build it up in its holy faith, to be a comfort and support in its trials and persecutions, and to give it such organization as might be necessary” [Howson]. Connecting this with the apostle’s leaving Timothy and Luke at Philippi on his own departure (see on Ac 16:40), we may conclude that this was his fixed plan for cherishing the first beginning of the Gospel in European localities, and organizing the converts. Timotheus must have soon followed the apostle to Thessalonica, the bearer, probably, of one of the Philippian “contributions to his necessity” (Php 4:15, 16), and from thence he would with Silas accompany him to Berea.

15. Silas and Timotheus to come to him with all speed—He probably wished their company and aid in addressing himself to so new and great a sphere as Athens. Accordingly it is added that he “waited for them” there, as if unwilling to do anything till they came. That they did come, there is no good reason to doubt (as some excellent critics do). For though Paul himself says to the Thessalonians that he “thought it good to be left at Athens alone” (1Th 3:1), he immediately adds that he “sent Timotheus to establish and comfort them” (Ac 17:2); meaning, surely, that he despatched him from Athens back to Thessalonica. He had indeed sent for him to Athens; but, probably, when it appeared that little fruit was to be reaped there, while Thessalonica was in too interesting a state to be left uncherished, he seems to have thought it better to send him back again. (The other explanations which have been suggested seem less satisfactory). Timotheus rejoined the apostle at Corinth (Ac 18:5).

Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Ac 17:1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.



Paul and Silas continue on their missionary journey. Paul preaches a sermon in Athens.

I.     Paul and Silas in Thessalonica (17:1–9)

A.     The faithfulness of the missionaries (17:1–3): For three Sabbaths in a row, Paul preaches the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in the Jewish synagogues.

B.     The fruits of the missionaries (17:4) : Some Jews and many Gentile men and women are saved.

C.     The foes of the missionaries (17:5–9)

1.     The assault (17:5) : A mob rushes into Jason’s house, where Paul and Silas are staying, in search of the missionaries.

2.     The arrest (17:6a): Unable to find Paul and Silas, the mob drags Jason before the city council.

3.     The accusations (17:6b–9)

a.     Paul and Silas are charged with troublemaking, and Jason is charged with allowing them to stay in his home (17:6b–7a).

b.     Paul and Silas are charged with treason (17:7b–9): “They profess allegiance to another king, Jesus.”

II.     Paul and Silas in Berea (17:10–15)

A.     The openness to Gods Word (17:10–12)

1.     The Bereans research it (17:10–11): They listen eagerly and check the Scriptures.

2.     The Bereans receive it (17:12) : Many Jews believe, as do some of the Greek men and women.

B.     The opposition to Gods Word (17:13–15)

1.     The demonstration against Paul (17:13) : Some Jews from Thessalonica come to Berea and instigate a riot.

2.     The departure of Paul (17:14–15): He leaves for Athens.

Willmington, H. L. (1999). The Outline Bible (Ac 17:14-15). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.


Acts 17

As we continue traveling with Paul on his second missionary journey, we see him in three different cities, and we see three different reactions to the Gospel.

I.     Thessalonica: Opposing the Word (17:1–9)

Thessalonica was a busy city situated on the main highway to Rome. There were many Jews in the city, so Paul started (as was his policy) in the synagogue, reasoning with them for three weeks. He opened the Scriptures to them, which is the duty of all who teach or preach the Word. (See Luke 24:32.) Some Jews believed; a multitude of Greeks (Jewish proselytes) believed; and many of the leading women. But, as is always the case, Satan brought opposition from the unbelievers.

The Jews used “the rabble” from the marketplace to oppose Paul. The apostles had been staying with one Jason, so it was on his house that the mob centered its attack. If he is the same Jason mentioned in Rom. 16:21, then he was a kinsman to Paul, which would explain his hospitality and the reason for the attack. Note that their false accusation parallels the one made against Christ in Luke 23:2. If you read 1 and 2 Thessalonians (which Paul wrote from Corinth a little while later) you can see what a broad scope of doctrine Paul had given these people in just a few weeks. He told them of the coming kingdom of Christ, the rise of the man of sin, and many other important matters. We must never feel that new believers are too immature to receive the whole counsel of God. Paul’s ministry must have been very effective, for the enemy accused him of turning the world upside down!

II.     Berea: Receiving the Word (17:10–14)

That night, Paul, Silas, and Timothy (v. 14) set off for Berea, forty miles away. They left behind a local church that continued to witness for Christ. In fact, Paul congratulated them for getting the Gospel out so effectively (1 Thes. 1:6–10). This is the true NT pattern: win converts, teach them (1 Thes. 2), and challenge them to win others.

Berea was “on the byway” instead of the highway, but it was where God wanted the missionaries to go. How refreshing it must have been to meet Jews such as those in Berea! God knew that Paul and his company needed encouragement and refreshment, and they found both at Berea. We today should follow the example of the Bereans: (1) they received the Word; (2) they were of ready mind, prepared for the Word; (3) they searched the Scriptures and tested what the preacher said; (4) they studied the Word daily. Note the “therefore” in v. 12. When people have the attitude spoken of in v. 11, they cannot help but believe the Word! This is the attitude we should always have.

While the Thessalonian Christians were busy sending out the Gospel, Satan was busy stirring up trouble; and he sent some of his own “missionaries” to Berea. How Satan hates the simple preaching of the Word of God! Paul departed for Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy behind to strengthen the brethren. The two men did not come to minister with him at Athens as planned, but joined him later at Corinth (18:5). Paul’s leaving at this time was not cowardice. Silas and Timothy could teach the church there while Paul carried the message on ahead.

Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (322). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.



OutlinePlaceFinderJERUSALEMSAMARIAGENTILESWORLDIMPRISONMENTBACKto Outline Chapter summary. Paul’s party continues to Thessalonica, where again an enthusiastic response from Gentiles arouses the fierce jealousy of the Jews. These create so much disturbance that the apostle is urged to leave the city (17:1–9). But in nearby Berea the Jewish population is enthusiastic and responsive to the Gospel. Then hostile Jews from Thessalonica arrive and again stir up a riot (vv. 10–15). Paul is the focus of the hostility, so while the others stay on in Berea the apostle travels to Athens. There Paul cannot keep silent and soon finds himself preaching a unique sermon on that city’s Mars Hill. This carefully crafted evangelistic sermon does not quote an Old Testament unfamiliar to pagan Greeks, but uses a philosopher’s approach to lead hearers to the central truth of Paul’s message: the resurrection of Jesus (vv. 16–31). The idea of resurrection, totally foreign to his audience, brings ridicule. But, as always, some believe (vv. 32–33).Key verse. 17:31: Bad news can be good news.Personal application. Suit your approach to your audience. But don’t change the Gospel to make it more “respectable.”Key concepts. Creation » Isaiah 40. Resurrection » Daniel 11-12, Romans 1, 1 Thessalonians 4.


Thessalonica. This city of some 200,000 lay about 100 miles from Philippi along a major Roman highway. It had a large Jewish population, and Paul went first to the synagogue, as he always did (Acts 13, Acts 13).

Jewish evangelism (17:1–3). Paul’s preaching strategy in the synagogue context is defined here: He told about Jesus, showed that His death and resurrection were in harmony with O.T. prophecy, and urged belief in Him as the promised Christ.

“Greeks” (17:4). The “God–fearing” Greeks and prominent women were Gentiles who had been attracted to Judaism. When they responded to Paul’s message, Jewish jealousy was intense. First–century Jews took great pride in winning converts and in influencing non–Jews.

“Another king” (17:7). Paul’s preaching of Christ did involve mention of “the kingdom of God” (cf. 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). His enemies distorted this and brought a patently false accusation of treason against him.

Don’t expect people who are hostile to you and the Gospel to be fair.

“More noble character” (17:11). The Berean Jews were “more noble” because they valued truth and so daily tested Paul’s teaching against their standard of truth, the O.T. The Thessalonian Jews had been more concerned with the number of Greeks who showed respect for Judaism! than with truth.

You and I are “more noble” when we too set aside personal considerations in order to discern, and do, God’s will.

Gentile evangelism (17:22–31). Paul’s address was before Athens’ “Council of Ares,” the government of this Gk. city–state. His strategy was: (1) seek a point of contact, which here was an altar dedicated to an “unknown god,” vv. 22–23; (2) discuss the nature of God and His relationship to the creation, showing that even Gk. poets and philosophers have glimpsed the truths Paul now presents, vv. 24–28; and (3) affirm that God, who calls on all to reject idolatry and repent, has not only appointed a day of judgment but has proven His intervention in human affairs by the resurrection of Jesus, vv. 29–31.

While the form of Paul’s sermon is philosophical and ideally suited for its context, the content remains totally biblical. We can change approach to suit an audience. We can never change the message itself.

Judgment day (17:31). One basic element in the Christian message is that God, though more intent on repentance than punishment, will judge human beings (cf. 1 Peter 4:5; Heb. 10:30). As Rom. 2:8 says, “For those who are self–seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” The fact is that as sinners every human being is already condemned, already under the wrath of God. Only trust in Christ can provide forgiveness and acquittal on judgment day.


17:1–9 Paul and Silas in Thessalonica. 1 Travelling along the great Roman highway in this area, the Via Egnatia, Paul and Silas passed through several other important Macedonian cities and arrived at the capital of the province, where, unlike Philippi, there was a Jewish synagogue. 2–3 As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue first of all, despite his earlier rejections in synagogues in other communities (see e.g. 13:33–48). Luke’s claim that he reasoned with them rather than merely ‘preaching at them’ is upheld by the two-step argument: first, that according to the Scriptures, the Messiah (or ‘Christ’ in Gk.) would have to suffer and rise from the dead, and secondly, that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact the Christ. 4 Some Jews were won over, as were some God-fearers (see on 10:2) and some of the prominent women, but the more influential members of the Jewish community (the Jews in contrast to some of the Jews in the previous verse; see 13:43, 45) became jealous of their success. Their plan was secretly to begin a small riot with some bad characters they rounded up for the purpose, so that they could accuse the Christians, including Jason, with whom Paul and Silas were staying, of causing civil unrest. The opponents’ knowledge of the story so far, which they twisted slightly in their presentation (6–7), probably came out of their conversations with Paul and Silas in the synagogue. 9 The result of the meeting was less agreeable than it may look to a modern reader. By putting Jason and the others on bail is probably meant that these local Christians were forced to give security and pledge Paul and Silas’ departure or be subject to severe penalties. It is probably this decision that he refers to as the work of Satan in 1 Thes. 2:17–18, ‘But, brothers, when we were torn away from you … we made every effort to see you … we wanted to come to you … but Satan stopped us.’

17:10–15 Paul and Silas in Berea. The pattern of 17:1–7 repeats in Berea, except that the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, not because they all agreed with Paul and Silas, but because those who did not agree did not act out of jealousy, but examined the Scripturesto see if what Paul said was true. And as before, the word planted bore fruit. 13 The opposition of the Thessalonians reached into Berea, however, and their agitating the crowds led the Christians to send the ‘chief trouble-maker’, Paul, away. Silas and Timothy stayed for a time in Berea.

17:16–35 Paul in Athens. This episode, especially the great address on Mars Hill (or the Areopagus), is often pointed out as a brilliant example of missionary strategy. Paul, who used the OT so masterfully in speeches to the Jews (see 13:16–41; 17:2), now quoted from pagan poetry to prove some of his points (28). Some, indeed, fear that he appeared to be arguing that the living God was identical to one of the gods worshipped in Athens and commemorated with a statue (23). It has even been argued that Luke meant to show that this attempt by Paul to use worldly strategies and worldly wisdom was a failure, and that Paul changed his style in the next city he visited, Corinth. This would put a very particular emphasis on the freshness of the decision mentioned in 1 Cor. 2:2, ‘For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’ But far from endorsing paganism, this speech is actually a very strong and very Jewish attack on the smug complacency of the Athenians. Paul used his knowledge of Athens and its culture not in order to agree with them, but to point out their failings all the more clearly.

16–17 Paul broke his usual pattern of going first to the synagogue (9:20–25; 13:5, 14, 46; 14:1; 17:1–2, 10; 18:4, 19; 19:8) because he was greatly distressed that the city was full of idols. Thus he pursued a parallel course: reasoning in the synagogue as well as in the market-place (the natural gathering place for those who would discuss such matters as philosophy or listen to the debates). 18 And so it was that Paul found himself in a dispute with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. These had very different practical approaches to life. Epicureans taught that one should pursue fulfilment and actively avoid displeasure. The role of the gods in a person’s life was seen as strictly marginal. The Stoics thought that one attained fulfilment by accepting the course of events, including pain and suffering. These should be endured quietly, almost gratefully, since they are part of nature and are controlled by an impersonal divine necessity or ‘fate’. Neither school was bound up with the many gods and idols, and monotheism (though not full-blown Judaism) would not have been regarded as unlikely in theory by either philosophy.

The debates in the market-place led to more misunderstanding than enlightenment. At best, Paul was regarded as a babbler, or more literally, ‘someone who collects scraps’, since they would have found echoes of bits and pieces of their systems in his beliefs. At worst, Paul was accused of a serious crime: advocating foreign gods (see, however, on v 21). This was the very crime of which the great philosopher Socrates had been accused, also in Athens, some 450 years earlier, and which led to his death. The Athenians in the market-place misunderstood Paul’s message fundamentally: they thought that ‘Jesus’ and ‘resurrection’ referred to two gods, perhaps interpreting these terms as ‘Healing’ and ‘Restoration’. 19–20 They took him is a good translation of the original, which carries the hint of force—the polite phrasing of the question that follows is belied by the fact that his appearance at the meeting was not in the nature of an invitation but a command. The Areopagus is Greek for ‘Mars Hill’. It is a place-name in the first instance, but was also the term for the council which met there. Thus we speak of ‘Washington’s’ response to some crisis, using a place-name for the institutions it houses. Paul probably did not appear before the council meeting in its formal and official capacity, since the public (including women) seem to have been present (33–34). 21 Despite the seriousness of the charge of ‘preaching foreign gods’ (18), the Athenians were more interested in being titillated by this exotic teaching than in preventing its spread. It is they who were ‘collectors of scraps’ (cf. v 18).

22–23 Paul’s speech is best regarded as a reply to the charge of ‘preaching foreign gods’ (18) rather than as an initial presentation of the gospel (which had already happened; 17–18). Such a defence would normally have begun with a positive statement, intended to put the listeners in a friendly frame of mind (see e.g. the opening of Tertullus, a professional speaker, 24:2–4), but Paul used very guarded and ambiguous phrases, and on reflection even his introduction becomes a veiled attack. The observation in every way you are very religious was in itself a neutral one, and could bear either the meaning of ‘religious’ in a positive sense, or more negatively, along the lines of ‘superstitious’.

The altar with the inscription to an unknown god and the legend behind its establishment provided the backdrop for the entire speech. Once, legend had it, there was a terrible plague in the city of Athens, and attempts to appease the gods and stop the plague had no effect. One of the wise men of the day brought a flock of sheep to the top of Mars Hill and released them. Wherever these sheep stopped, an altar was set up to an ‘anonymous god’ and the animal was sacrificed. This course of action was allegedly effective and the city returned to health.

When Luke records that Paul said that what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you, it appears to some readers he was saying that these pagans were doing well—that, in their ignorance, they were worshipping the right God all along and didn’t know it. This is, however, far from the intent, and three points should be borne in mind. First, this forms Paul’s first line of defence to the charge against him, for how can he be accused of preaching a foreign god contrary to their religions, if their religion itself incorporates worship to gods they do not know? Secondly, the translation is misleading. The emphasis in the sentence is not on the identity of the ‘unknown god’ but on the ignorance of the worship. Paul, in the city of ‘the lovers of wisdom’, focused on the ignorance they admitted about the identity of God. Thirdly, although this first paragraph of the speech seems to have a positive thrust, it must be taken in the context of the rest of the speech; Paul was in effect saying, ‘Yes, but … ’.

24–29 The second part of the speech shifted more obviously to the attack on idol-worship, using arguments which find their parallels in Jewish thought and writing on the matter. Paul moved on from their admitted ignorance about the true God’s identity, to arguing that they were also ignorant about where God dwells (24), they were wrong about what kind of worship God wanted from them (25–27), and they were wrong about how God can be thought of or represented (28–29). In short, everything about their ‘religiousness’ was in error except for their admission of ignorance.

Paul’s statement that God’s intention is that people would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us again might look as though the pagan has only to reach out and touch God. In fact, the language is that of tragedy. The grammar reinforces that this is God’s wish, rather than what happens. The word used for the ‘seeking’ is a very graphic one, often translated ‘groping’ in the sense of ‘blindly feeling about for’. The negative result is clearly seen in the final clause: ‘though he is not far’ rather than ‘since he is not far’. The point being made is not ‘he is close, so people can find him’ but rather, ‘people cannot find him, but that isn’t because he is far away’. A more literal translation of this passage might thus be: ‘they should seek after God, as if perhaps they might grope around to find him, even though he is not far from each of us.’

Although the niv sets it in inverted commas, the phrase ‘in him we live and move and have our being’ may be more of a pagan stock phrase than an exact quotation, since words to this effect are found in several pagan writers. The phrase we are his offspring seems most likely to be from a poem to Zeus by the astronomer Aratus, although it is possible that Paul came by this quotation in the work of a Jewish apologist. Paul’s point is not that the pagan poets knew a lot about what was right, but rather that pagan thought and practice were inconsistent and self-contradictory.

30–31 The final part of the speech can only be seen correctly in the context of the whole dispute. It is not intended primarily as a theological outworking of the difficult question of the status of those who had never heard the gospel. The speech purports to concern primarily the altar to the ‘unknown god’ (see on vs 22–23). This altar was used as a sort of precautionary worship; service was offered to this unknown god in order that the city might be spared from catastrophe. Faced with a man who argued that all these precautions were in error and therefore presumably ineffective, any good pagan would have demanded, ‘If we are so wrong, then why is there no catastrophe, no plague?’ It is this question to which the speech responds. That there was no catastrophe was not due, as they thought, to the effectiveness of their idol-worship, but rather to God’s mercy in overlooking their ignorance (note the return to the theme of their ignorance). God now wants all people everywhere to repent; the catastrophe will not be held back for ever: he has set a day when he will judge. The somewhat limited description of Jesus as a man he has appointed is probably an attempt to avoid the impression that Jesus was just another god (see on v 18). Thus, too, rather than using the abstract noun, resurrection, Paul clearly spelled out what he meant by it—all too clearly, it seems.

32 Once the Athenians understood what Paul really meant by ‘resurrection’, hecklers brought his address to an abrupt halt. The immortality of the divine soul was one thing, but that anyone could believe in the resuscitation of corpses would have seemed to most Greeks simply naïve and absurd; thus, some of them sneered. We will hear you again on this subject may have been genuine or sarcastic, but there was another famous incident in which the Areopagus council avoided making a decision in a murder case by temporarily adjourning the trial—for 100 years! 34 A few people did respond positively, however, among them a member of the council, Dionysius.


17:17 Public Debates

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.

The marketplace was not only a place for buying and selling, for hiring and being hired (see Matthew 20:3 Marketplace), it was also a public resort for all who wished to acquire news or hold disputations. For this reason, the Pharisees loved to go there, because amid the crowds assembled they would receive the ceremonious salutations in which they delighted. See also Matthew 23:7; Mark 12:38; Luke 11:43; 20:46.

17:18 Epicureans - Stoics

A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him.

1. Epicureanism was a philosophy that emerged in Athens about 300 b.c. It was developed by Epicurus, who was born in 341 b.c. on the Greek island of Samos. Epicurus founded his school, “The Garden,” in Athens. Epicurean thought had a significant impact on the Hellenistic (of or relating to post-classical Greek history and culture from the death of Alexander the Great to the accession of Augustus) world and later, Rome. The philosophy advanced by Epicurus considered happiness, or the avoidance of pain and emotional disturbance, to be the highest good.

2. The Stoics were a sect of Greek philosophers at Athens, so called from the Greek word stoa (a “porch” or “portico”), which was their principle meeting place. They have been called “the Pharisees of Greek paganism.” The founder of the Stoics was Zeno, who flourished about 300 b.c. He taught his disciples that a man’s happiness consisted in bringing himself into harmony with the course of the universe. They were trained to bear evils with indifference, and so to be independent of externals. Materialism, pantheism, fatalism, and pride were the leading features of this philosophy.



17:1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.

5 But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.
6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.
7 Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.”
8 And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. 9 So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

—Acts 17:1–9

Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke left Philippi more convinced than ever that Christ only was their essential message. They made their way through the mountains of Macedonia along the Egnatian Way, through the cities of Amphipolis and Apollonia to the capital city of Macedonia. That is an arduous winding road through rugged mountain passes. As I drove over it, I reflected on the anticipation the four missionaries must have felt as they considered the strategic city that lay ahead. I imagine that Paul and Luke pooled their information. Luke knew that the flourishing commercial seaport city was one of the major trading and shipping centers of the world. Among the population were tough-minded, rugged southern Europeans, seamen from all over the world, and merchants known for their sharp-dealing methods. Thessalonica was a “free city” with its own constitution and magistrates called politarchs. Paul was aware that Thessalonica had a thriving population of Jews and a strong synagogue. What the Holy Spirit knew was that He had a crucial ministry ahead for the four men that would focus a message of conversion and give birth to a strong church.

After the arduous journey through the mountains, Paul and his friends entered the city with confident anticipation and began ministry in the synagogue. (Reading 1 and 2 Thessalonians along with this portion of Acts heightens what Paul said and what happened there.)

This was the place where opponents of the itinerant evangelists gave them the accolade, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too “(v. 6). The news had preceded the evangelists from Philippi, but also seamen had brought the word about the Christians from Palestine and Syria, as well as wherever the followers of Jesus Christ had made their impact on the then-known world. Paul could be called one who turned the world upside down because of what he preached and the results from Thessalonica alone. In his first epistle to the Thessalonians, he says, “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:8–9).

Paul turned the world upside down because of the people who responded and turned to the Lord. There are two different words used in the Greek in the Acts and the Thessalonian passages. In Acts 17:6 the word for “turned” is anastatṑsantes, from anastatóō, to stir up, unsettle, or excite. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9, however, the word for “turned” is epestrépsate, from epistréphō, to turn to, or turn again, and it is in the aorist tense, indicating an immediate and decisive turn as a part of a deliberate decision. The preaching of the gospel does stir up, excite, and unsettle old values and securities demanding a decision, a turn around.

This background helps us to appreciate the radical (to the roots) kind of message Paul was led to preach. He reached the deepest needs of people in Thessalonica with the preaching of Jesus Christ as the only basis of abundant life now and eternal life forever. Acts 17:4 indicates that some of the Jews were persuaded; but a great multitude of the devout Greeks, including some of the leading women, turned around through a liberating conversion experience. The pivot of life must be turned from self-control to Christ, or there is no real beginning. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to grow in a life one has not really begun.

All that we’ve said about the Spirit-filled life must begin with an incisive confrontation of the real self with the living Christ. We may ease into the preparation for that, which may take years, but there has to be that point when we give as much as we know of ourselves as we know at that time of Christ as Lord. Everyone who claims to be a Christian ought to be able to point to that time, or it is still ahead. I believe this accounts for the great numbers of church people today who are claiming to have been “born again” or to have had experiences of being “baptized by the Holy Spirit.” Up to that point their faith was bland or dull. Often they find their new experience difficult to explain to fellow church members and friends. What happened is that for the first time they were turned by an upset of their settled security, and at the same time were turned around by Christ from a life in their own direction to a life under the direction of His Spirit. This passage in Acts, when considered along with the Thessalonian epistles, gives the expositor a powerful opportunity to graciously confront any of his or her listeners with the absolute necessity of a U-turn conversion. Also, a church that requires a period of instruction before people join the church, even for transfers of membership, can discover and help those people who need a decisive liberation of the will to turn around.

Paul’s message not only brought conversion but hostility. Again, envy among the Jews in the synagogue was the cause. They gathered a mob from the marketplace next to the docks of the port. They were the agoraíōn from the word agorá, meaning marketplace. These were bartering sailors and drifters. They set the city in an uproar.

Two summers ago, as a part of my preparation for writing this commentary, I spent a prolonged period of my study time in Thessalonike (modern Thessalonica) and observed the same type of men around the docks. It was difficult to win their trust or even a conversation. I would not have wanted to be the target of an organized effort of these men to put me out of the city. But that’s exactly what the Jews had in mind when they gathered the mob to assault the apostle Paul.

One of the U-turn converts of the ministry was a man named Jason. Apparently his home had become a kind of base of operations for the newly formed church. When the mob could not find Paul and his fellow missionaries, they dragged Jason and some of the other converts to the magistrates. These politarchos were local magistrates dependent upon cooperation with the Romans in the management of the “free city.” The charge brought against Paul and his fellow workers, and secondarily against Jason for harboring them, was not only that they were upsetters of the world, but that they claimed Jesus, and not Caesar, was king. The status of Thessalonica as a “free city” would be threatened if that went on. The mob had been carefully trained by the Jews about what to say. But since they had not been able to find Paul and the others, the magistrate could dp nothing but take a security bond from Jason, thus making him responsible for the missionaries’ future actions.

With that Luke’s account of the ministry in Thessalonica comes to an abrupt close. Paul and Silas were secretly sent on their way by a firmly established church. But these new and beloved converts were never off the apostle’s mind. That’s the reason he wrote what I believe to be the first of his epistles to the new church in Thessalonica from Corinth a brief time later. The letters review Paul’s essential message: the Lordship of Christ, conversion, the blessing of His Spirit, how to pray, and how to live in the spontaneity of the Spirit without quenching His inner fire.


10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. 14 Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed.

—Acts 17:10–15

Sixty miles away, the Holy Spirit had a receptive city waiting, to balance for a brief time the rejection of the Jews at Thessalonica. There Paul and Silas, along with Timothy and Luke, found fair-minded people with a readiness to receive the Good News of the gospel. Luke paid them quite a compliment by using a Greek word, eugenésteroi, from eugenḕs, meaning “noble,” “generous,” “free from prejudice,” or, as in the case of the nkjv, “fair-minded.” This was expressed in a readiness to listen and search the Scriptures to see if what Paul was saying was true. The name “Berean” has meant just that ever since. We have a class in our congregation called “The Bereans,” made up of young adults who display these same qualities.

The apostle’s pleasant experience with the Bereans was short-lived. The envious Jewish leaders from Thessalonica dogged his steps and disrupted the receptivity. The brief respite before they came gave Paul time to collect his strength and be ready for the vigorous demands of the challenge of Athens, then the intellectual capital of the world. He went on with Luke, for the account in Athens reads as if Luke had been an eye-witness, while Timothy and Silas remained in Berea for a time and then went back to Thessalonica to strengthen the church there. It is interesting that in the cities where there was the greatest resistance, some of the strongest churches were born, a fact that frees us of the misconception that a sign of the Holy Spirit’s power is ease and lack of conflict. A strong church grew in Thessalonica in adversity, whereas none was born in Berea.


16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. 18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?”

Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.” 21 For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:


Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope 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 also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’
29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” 33 So Paul departed from among them.
34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

—Acts 17:16–34

In Athens, the center of culture, religion, and philosophy, Paul was not troubled by the leaders of the Jews or by Judaizers. He did, however, discover the difficulties of confronting the intellectual community with the gospel, and in particular, the Resurrection. He resisted the temptation of diluting his message. He was disturbed by the idols of the city, particularly one called “To the Unknown God.” Though he began his ministry with the Jews and Gentile proselytes, it wasn’t long before Paul caught the attention of the philosophers. His preaching in the agora, the marketplace, soon had the intellectual community’s interest and strong reaction.

Two philosophic schools dominated the city’s thought. The Epicureans asserted that happiness and pleasure were the two principal aims of a tranquil life. They believed that everything happened by chance; the gods were remote and uninvolved, so there was no need for concern or anxiety. Life was to be lived free of passion, pain, and fear of any kind. Three cardinal words focus their lifestyle: eat, drink, and be merry. The Stoics, who took their name from the Stoa Poikile (the Painted Porch), where their founder Zeno taught, could not have been more opposite. For them, all of life was determined by the gods. It had to be lived according to the laws of nature completely free of emotional involvement. The Stoics’ goal was to accept nature and live in it without intensity. They were pantheistic, seeing all as an expression of their gods.

Now we can see why Paul’s preaching of Jesus and the Resurrection (v. 18) caused such a stir in Athens. Their charge against him must have troubled the highly intellectually trained Paul. They called him a “babbler” and a “proclaimer of foreign gods.” The word “babbler,” which translates spermológos, meaning “seed-picker,” comes from Athenian slang referring to birds which flitted about picking up seeds. That idea was applied to people who hung around the marketplace picking up scraps of information. At this time, it meant one who picked up bits of knowledge from lectures, but had no clearly developed thought of his own. It was a synonym for an undisciplined plagiarist.1

No accusation could have been more demeaning to Paul’s intellectual integrity—except to have said that he was a proclaimer of foreign gods. For him, Jesus Christ was the revelation of the only true God, the Lord of all creation and the author of all truth.

The accusations were wide of the truth on both accounts. Paul was not a gatherer of bits of thought, but a man with one central thought. We admire his openness to the Holy Spirit to stick to his message of Jesus and the Resurrection. So often Christian intellectuals make such an effort to establish their scholarly credentials that they try to out-intellectualize the intellectuals.

Paul was brought before the Areopagus, the same court that had tried and condemned Socrates to death centuries before. Now in democratic Athens, the power of the courts was limited to being a sort of philosophic review board for the intellectual and moral quality of the city. It had the authority to control who lectured in the city and to bring any lecturer before the philosophers to pass on his credentials and content. Before the court which met on Mars Hill, Paul used the opportunity to communicate in a very dynamic way.

He began where the philosophers were. Taking the altar of the Unknown God as his metaphor and his authority, he proceeded to tell the intellectuals who this God really is: He is the Creator and source of all life—the one who guides all history and on whom all life depends. By grace He is not the object of mankind’s search but the One in search of His people. He is the one in whom “we live and move and have our being” (v. 28). Paul exposed the extent of his classical training by quoting from one of their own poets, as he used for his own purposes a phrase from Minos’s address to his father Zeus, “Thou art risen and alive for ever, for in thee we live and move and have our being.” And the “and we are also His offspring” comes from a work of Epimenides the Cretan. Paul knew his literature!

With these references he moved on to his target—Jesus Christ in whom the living God has been revealed. Through Him the world will be judged. His authority has been validated in having been raised from the dead. Paul got as far as the Resurrection, but that was more than his hearers were willing to consider. Luke tells us that “all the Atheneans and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing” (v. 21). This was too new, and too specific for either the Epicureans or the Stoics. Some mocked; others put him off, saying, “We will hear you again on this matter” (v. 32). The brilliant, converted, and Christ-filled Pharisee was too much for them when he talked of judgment and Resurrection.

Before Paul departed, the seemingly unproductive time with the philosophers had not been without some results. Dionysius, a member of the Areopagan court, became a believer. Given the erudite and intellectual haughtiness of the court, that’s not a bad average. Luke tells us that a woman by the name of Damaris also became a believer along with others in the city. All was not lost. A church began to grow from that meager beginning. Paul had not compromised his message and had been guided by the Spirit’s freedom and flexibility to communicate differently to people with very different grids of resistance over their minds.


17:1–9 A three-week revival brings trouble. In Thessalonica, Paul led both Jews and Greeks to Christ (17:1–4). As usual, however, some Jews stirred up trouble, accusing the apostles of turning “the world upside down” and defying Roman law.

17:10–15 Berean Bible students. Paul and Silas left Thessalonica by night for Berea, where they found the people more interested in the Scriptures than those in Thessalonica. Once again Paul’s stay was cut short because of trouble with the Jews. Leaving Berea, he headed for Athens.

17:16–21 The preacher and the philosophers. After a lively encounter with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens, Paul was invited to discuss Jesus and his resurrection at their public forum, called the Areopagus or “Mars’ hill” (17:22, KJV). The followers of Epicurus (341–270 b.c.) believed that while God existed, he had no interest in humankind, and the main purpose of life was pleasure. The Stoics believed God was the world’s soul, and life’s goal was to rise above all things, showing no emotional response to either pain or pleasure. Both groups took a dim view of Paul’s theology, calling him a “babbler” (Greek spermologos, 17:18, which described birds making their nests).

17:22–34 Paul’s message from Mars Hill. Paul began his address to the philosophers by mentioning all the altars he had seen in Athens, each bearing the name of a different false deity. Recalling one altar dedicated “To an Unknown God,” he presented to them the true God, Creator and Controller of all things, final Judge of all humanity, and Redeemer of all who would repent (17:22–31). When Paul climaxed his sermon by telling of Christ’s resurrection, some of his hearers believed, others mocked, and some weren’t persuaded but still had an open mind (17:32–34).



[1]H. L. Willmington, The Outline Bible (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), Ac 17-18.

NRSV New Revised Standard Version

NIV Holy Bible, New International Version

NASB New American Standard Bible

RSV Revised Standard Version Bible

KJV The Holy Bible, King James Version

notes Explanatory Notes

ABD The Anchor Bible Dictionary

OT Old Testament

NT New Testament

[2]Chalmer Ernest Faw, Acts, Believers church Bible commentary (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1993), 188.

[3]Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed. (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1991; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996), 724.

Gk. Greek

OT Old Testament

cf. compare

niv New International Version

[4]D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, Rev. Ed. of: The New Bible Commentary. 3rd Ed. / Edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Ac 17:1-16.

[5]James M. Freeman and Harold J. Chadwick, Manners & Customs of the Bible, "Rewritten and Updated by Harold J. Chadwick"--Cover.; Includes Index., Rev. ed.]. (North Brunswick, NJ: Bridge-Logos Publishers, 1998), 529.

1 W. M. Ramsay, Saint Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprint 1949), p. 246.

[6]Lloyd J. Ogilvie and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, vol. 28, The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 28 : Acts, Formerly The Communicator's Commentary, The Preacher's Commentary series (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1983), 247.

[7]H. L. Willmington, Willmington's Bible Handbook (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1997), 644.

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