Acts 17 Commentary

Through Macedonia to Athens (17:1-15)

In recording the groups’ departure from Philippi and subsequent movements, the writer uses ‘they’ rather than ‘we’, indicating that Luke stayed behind in Philippi. The others moved on to Thessalonica, where over the next three Sabbaths their preaching in the synagogue brought good results (17:1-4). (If this visit to Thessalonica was the one referred to in Philippians 4:16, they probably stayed longer than three weeks, since the Philippians twice sent gifts to him there.)

As usual the missionaries’ successes stirred up the jealousy of the Jews. With the help of some hooligans, the Jews caused an uproar and attacked the house of Jason where Paul had been staying. When they discovered that Paul was not at home, they seized Jason instead and took him to the city officials.

They accused Jason of helping a group of Jewish rebels who were planning to set up their own king,


Jesus, in rebellion against Caesar. When no one could find Paul and his party, the officials held Jason responsible to see that there was no further trouble. The payment of money that they took from Jason may have involved a guarantee that Paul would leave the city and not return (5-9; cf. 1 Thess 2:18). (Although Paul did not visit Thessalonica again on this journey, he may have visited it on his next journey; see 20:1- 2.)

At Berea the story of Jewish opposition was much the same (10-13). Paul was forced to depart, leaving Silas and Timothy behind while he went on to Athens. From Athens he sent a message telling them to rejoin him at once (14-15). After they met him in Athens, Paul sent them back to Macedonia, Timothy going to Thessalonica and Silas probably to Philippi (see 1 Thess 3:1-2; cf. Acts 18:5).

Paul in Athens (17:16-34)

Athens was in the province of Achaia, the southern part of present-day Greece. It was the chief centre of learning in the Roman Empire, a place where philosophy, religion and politics were taught and discussed freely. When some local philosophers heard Paul preaching in the public places of the city, they invited him to give an account of his religion to the council of philosophers known as the Areopagus. This was an ancient council that exercised control over those who lectured publicly in Athens. When Paul preached, he so often linked the name ‘Jesus’ with the word ‘resurrection’ (Greek: anastasis) that the philosophers thought he was introducing them to two gods, Jesus and Anastasis (16-21).

The Areopagus was divided largely between two schools of Greek philosophers, the Epicureans and the Stoics (v. 18). The Epicureans believed that because nothing in the world is lasting or stable, people should not become too involved in the affairs of life. They should seek contentment through living calmly, and should try to avoid all pain, desire, unpleasant feelings and superstitious fears. This was how the gods lived, and for this reason they took little interest in human affairs. The Stoics believed that everything is determined by a universal Mind or Reason. Therefore, people should accept whatever they meet in life without fear or complaint, and adjust their lives to fit what nature has determined for them. Self-discipline was essential; reason was always to have control over feelings.

Paul confidently announced to the members of the Areopagus that he would explain to them the nature of the God whom they did not know (22-23). This God was the Creator and Controller of the universe and the Lord of all humankind. Yet he was a God whom human beings could know, for they


were made in his image (24-28). In former ages God had been patient with the ignorance of a sinful human race, but now that Jesus had come he held people responsible for their acceptance or rejection of him. Forgiveness was available to those who repented of their sin, but punishment faced those who refused to repent. By raising Jesus from death, God showed that Jesus was the one through whom he would deal with people, whether in forgiveness or in punishment (29-31).

The Epicureans would have agreed with Paul that God needs nothing from human beings (v. 25). The Stoics would have agreed that there is a supreme God who is the source of all life and who determines when and where the peoples of the earth should live (v. 24-26,28). But both alike found that Paul’s teaching about the resurrection was not worthy of serious consideration. Not all Athenians, however, rejected Paul’s message (32-34).

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