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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Acts 17

 

 

Verse 1

1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:

Ver. 1. Where was a synagogue of the Jews] Who did much hurt there by their crossness, neither pleasing God nor profiting men, 1 Thessalonians 2:15.


Verse 2

2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,

Ver. 2. Out of the Scriptures] Wherein they were wondrously expert. Quilibet nostrum de lege interrogatus facilius quam nomen suum recitat, saith Josephus. We have the Scriptures at our fingers’ ends.


Verse 3

3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.

Ver. 3. Alleging] Or laying it so plain before their eyes ( παρατιθεμενος), that they could not but see it, unless they were of those qui festucam quaerunt unde oculos sibi eruant, as Bernard hath it, who seek straws to put out their own eyes also.


Verse 4

4 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.

Ver. 4. Consorted with Paul] Were knit unto them in the straitest bonds, as man and wife, brother and sister: Sanctior est copula cordis quam corporis. No such bond as religion, προσεκληρωθησαν.


Verse 5

5 But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

Ver. 5. Of the baser sort] Viles et venales, saith one, Vagi, otiosique, saith another, such as had little to do but to walk the streets and run on errands, the rascality and sink of the city.

Set all the City on an uproar] Quia perturbato statu melius consequi valent quod volunt. The devil loves to fish in troubled waters. When he hath set all on a hurry, as in Saul, then he can the sooner enter and play his pranks. So can his instruments.


Verse 6

6 And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;

Ver. 6. Turned the world, &c.] αναστατουντες. So Elias was called the troubler of Israel, Luther the trumpet of rebellion. It is not the gospel, but men’s corruption, that breeds the trouble; as it is not, the sea, but the foulness of men’s stomachs, that makes them seasick.


Verse 7

7 Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.

Ver. 7. Whom Jason hath received] υποδεδεκται. Clanculum excepit, so Erasmus well rendereth it, hath closely and covertly entertained them, as Obadiah did the Lord’s prophets.

Contrary to the decrees of Caesar] Unicum crimen eorum, qui crimine vacabant. Tacit. The only crime of them who were without offense.


Verse 8

8 And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.

Ver. 8. And they troubled the people and the rulers] The devil and his agents, as they are of turbulent spirits, like Ishmael, Pope Urban (who was therefore called Turban, from his troublesomeness), and the Jesuits; so they love to fish in troubled waters, and to set all on a hurry by incensing rulers against the people of God, and seeking to persuade them that they are antimagistratical. Hence the devil again casteth some of them into prison, Revelation 2:10; sc. by his imps and instruments armed with authority.


Verse 9

9 And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.

Ver. 9. When they had taken security] It was happy that security would be taken, till the heat was over. For,

" Ut fragilis glacies frangitur ira mora." Ovid.


Verse 10

10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.

Ver. 10. Went into the synagogue] As he had done before at Thessalonica, and had sped so ill. Heroic spirits are no wit dismayed with difficulties; but rather whetted on thereby to more diligence in duty. And the servant of the Lord must not despond or desist, but be apt to teach, "patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves, if peradventure God will at any time give them repentance," &c., 2 Timothy 2:24-25.


Verse 11

11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Ver. 11. Thee were more noble] Better gentlemen ( ευγενεστεροι). Virtue is instead of a thousand escutcheons. {a} "Since thou hast been precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable," Isaiah 43:4. The nobles of Israel made their staves (the ensigns, haply, of their honour) instruments of the common good, Numbers 21:18; when the nobles of Tekoah are blemished in their blood for this, that they "put not their necks to the work of their Lord," Nehemiah 3:5. The Biscanies vaunt of themselves among the Spaniards that they are the right Hidalgoes, that is, gentlemen, as the Welshmen do here. But Christian nobility is the best and truest where God himself is the top of the kin, and religion the root; in regard whereof all other things are but shadows and shapes of nobleness. The Jews of Berea were more neble, or of better descent, Non per civilem dignitatem, sed per spiritualem dignationem, as one saith: Not by civil descent, but by spiritual advancement.

{a} The shield or shield-shaped surface on which a coat of arms is depicted; also in wider sense, the shield with the armorial bearings; a sculptured or painted representation of this. ŒD


Verse 12

12 Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

Ver. 12. Therefore many of them believed] There are certain abilities and actions we have, and may perform without special grace; in the employment whereof we are to expect the effectual work of the Spirit. See it in these noble Bereans; they brought their bodies to the assembly, took the heads of Paul’s sermons very truly, repeated and examined the notes they had taken, and yet were unconverted, as appears by this verse. Now if any, of us do hide the like talent, we are not to expect the Spirit of sanctification. As our liberty in external acts (as to come to church to hear, &c.) is still some, so must our endeavours be answerable.


Verse 13

13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.

Ver. 13. They came thither also] Thus they pleased not God and were contrary to all men; wherefore "wrath is come upon them to the utmost," 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16.


Verse 14

14 And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.

Ver. 14. To go as it were to the sea] This was a high point of wisdom, not to send Paul the next way to Athens, but about by the sea for avoiding of danger.


Verse 15

15 And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed.

Ver. 15. Brought him unto Athens] The eye of Greece, but woefully now bemisted with the fog of superstition, as our universities also have been of late. Athens was a pleasant and ancient city. Cecrops is said to have been king of it in Moses’s time. It was anciently called κοσμος κοσμου, "the ornament or glory of the world." But Gregory Nazianzen reports of it that it was the plaguiest place in the world for superstition; and he aeknowledgeth it a great mercy that he and Basil were preserved from those infections.


Verse 16

16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

Ver. 16. His spirit was stirred] The word παρωξυνετο signifies, he was almost beside himself (such was his zeal) to see the idolatry of the Athenians. So was William Gardiner, an English merchant and martyr in Portugal, who, when the cardinal, in a mass before the king, began to take the ceremonial host, to toss it to and fro round about the chalice, making certain circles and semicircles, he not being able to suffer any longer, went to the cardinal, and in the presence of the king and all his nobles and citizens, with the one hand he snatched the cake from the priest, and trod it under his feet, and with the other hand overthrew the chalice, &c. See the like history of William Flower, who wounded the mass priest at Westminster, &c. (Acts and Mon. fol. 1430.) There are those who tell us that this book of the Acts is discerned to be written by Luke, by his physician’s language here, παρωξυνετο, he "was in a fever fit," and Acts 15:39, εγενετο ουν παροξυσμος, "the contention was so sharp between them." The word signifies such sharpness as is in vinegar; and it is used by physicians to denote the sharpness of the feverish humour when it is acting in a fit. It troubled St Paul, that the fountain was so troubled, the eye of Greece so darkened, {a} the "ornament of the world" so slurred with "abominable idolatries," as St Peter expresseth it, 1 Peter 4:3.

Wholly given to idolatry] Pausanias reckons up more idols almost in Athens than in all Greece besides. And Xenophon saith that the Athenians kept double the holy days and festivals to what others did. "Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone," q.d. there is no hope of him, Hosea 4:17. They that make them are like unto them, so are all they that worship them, as blockish as those Balaami-blocks they worship. No Church could be founded at Athens; they for their idolatry were given up to strong delusions, vile affections, just damnation. They were too wise to be saved by the foolishness of preaching.

{a} τηςελλαδος σφθαλμος. Diod.


Verse 17

17 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

Ver. 17. With them that met with him] If anybody would but lend him a little audience, he would preach to them, such was his zeal. The word must be preached in season, out of season, &c., volentibus, nolentibus.


Verse 18

18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.

Ver. 18. Certain philosophers, &c.] The deep theorems of philosophy (said King James) make one learned, but seldom better, and oftentimes worse, mere atheists. There is an Arabic proverb, Cum errat eruditus, errat errore erudito. When a learned man goes astray, he goes astray by learned deception. And Indocti rapiunt caelum, The unlearned are snatched off to heaven, saith Aug. Melior est humilis rusticus qui Deo servit, quam superbus Philosophus, &c., Better is the lowly peasent obeys God than the proud philospher, said a devout Dominican. (Erpen. Cent. 2 Proverbs 28:6)

What will this babbler say?] Seminilega, σπερμολογος, by a metaphor from little birds, that yield neither good meat nor good music, but only pick up grain, and live by other men’s labours. Master Rogers (our late proto-martyr) interpreteth it a prater, trifler, news-carrier, that tells whatsoever men will have him for gain; that will for a piece of bread say what you will have him.

A setter forth of strange gods] Rogers renders it, a preacher of new devils.

Jesus and the resurrection] Anastasis, or the resurrection, they took for some new goddess, saith Œcumenius.


Verse 19

19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?

Ver. 19. Brought him unto Areopagus] A cruel court where Socrates lost his life for the very same crime that St Paul is here charged with; viz. an endeavour to introduce new deities. (Laertius.) That the apostle came off not only with safety, but some success (for Dionysius, one of the judges, was converted), see a sweet providence. Paul wanted a place to preach in; they brought him to Areopagus as a delinquent, where he hath an opportunity of doing God a great deal of good service. So Charles V, emperor, sent the confession of the Protestant Churches to divers princes of Europe to ask their opinions; hereby the gospel was exceedingly spread and propagated; which gave occasion to Luther to deride Pontificiorum stultam sapientiam, the foolish wisdom of the Papists, in a certain epistle to the elector of Saxony. (Scultet. Annal. 274.)


Verse 20

20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.

Ver. 20. For thou bringest certain strange things] Or, new, never heard of, ξενιζοντα. Yet now so new neither as they thought for; see Romans 11:2-4; Romans 16:25-26. Papists upbraid us with the novelty of our religion, and ask us where it was till Luther’s time? We answer (as one once did), "In the Bible, where their religion never was." See Catalog. Test. verit., and Mr Bernard’s Look beyond Luther, Dr Featlie’s Conference with Fisher, &c. They boast much of antiquity, as once the Gibeonites did of old shoes and mouldy bread. We refer them to Alex. Cook’s Abatement of Popish Brags, and Guild’s Popish Boasting of Antiquity; besides abundance of other good authors.


Verse 21

21 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)

Ver. 21. For all the Athenians, &c.] The self-same truth is testified by Demosthenes, in an answer to Philip’s letter. ημεις ουδεν ποιουντες ενθαδε καθημεθα πυνθανομενοι ει τι λεγεται νεωτερον. We (saith he to his countrymen of Athens), to speak truth, sit here, doing nothing but trifling out our time, and listening what news abroad. This their national itch after novelties, made them the more willing to hear Paul speak. It is not amiss to hearken how it goeth with the Church, that we may rejoice with those that rejoice, and weep with those that weep; Cum, singulis pectus meum copulo, saith Cyprian. Eli sat to hear what became of the ark; which when it was taken, it is hard to say whether was first broke, his heart or his neck.


Verse 22

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

Ver. 22. You are too superstitious] You are fearers of evil spirits; so one renders it; and Paul elsewhere tells the Corinthians that what they sacrificed to idols they sacrificed to devils, 1 Corinthians 10:20.

Beza renders ως δεισιδαιμονεστερους, quasi religiosiares (as if the apostle had used an euphemismus), {a} somewhat superstitious, or rather religious; the better to insinuate, for the Athenians had tender ears, and loved to hear toothless truths; which made Demosthenes call upon get their ears healed. ( Orat. de Ord. Civ.)

{a} That figure of speech which consists in the substitution of a word or expression of comparatively favourable implication or less unpleasant associations, instead of the harsher or more offensive one that would more precisely designate what is intended. ŒD


Verse 23

23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

Ver. 23. I found an altar] A high altar, βωμος, seems to come from במה a high place. St Paul, as he preached without a pulpit, Acts 17:17, so he takes his text off one of their altars. Anything serves turn, so he may do good.

To the unknown God] That uncertainty that attends idolatry caused those mariners to call every man to his God, Jonah 1:5. And lest they might all mistake the true God, they awaken Jonas also to call upon his God. Hence these Athenians worship an unknown God; and hence, the heathens generally closed their petitions with Diique Deaeque omnes. All gods and godesses. (Serv. in Georg. i.)

Pausanias (in Attic.) mentioneth this altar, To the unknown God. Lucian saith the neighbour countries would swear by him unknown at Athens. The cause of erecting this altar some affirm to have been a fearful vision appearing to Philippides (sent ambassador to the Lacedaemonians concerning aid against the Persians), and complaining that he (that is, the great god Pan) was neglected and other gods worshipped, promising likewise his help. They therefore being victorious, and fearing the like event, built a temple and altar to the unknown God. Others say, that the plague being hot at Athens, and no help to be had from their gods, they surmising some other power to have sent and set on the disease, set up this altar, on which was written, To the gods of Asia, Europe, and Africa, to the unknown and strange God. (Justin Martyr, Oecumen. θεοις ασιας και ευρωπης και λιβυης, θεωαγνωστωκαιξενω..


Verse 24

24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;

Ver. 24. Dwelleth not in temples] {See Trapp on "Acts 7:48"}


Verse 25

25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;

Ver. 25. Neither is worshipped] Colitur vel delinitur, collogued with, or complimented. Colendi verbum απο του κολακευειν, dictum volant eo quod plerunque Dei hominumque cultus cum adulatione et hypocrisi est coniunctus. Sic a λατρευειν, Gallicum flatter. Some derive the word here used, θεραπευω, of the Hebrew Taraph or Teraphim, idols or images, Genesis 31:30; 17:5. God is not so worshipped. (Stuchius de Sacrif. Gentil.; Avenarius; Ainsworth.)


Verse 26

26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

Ver. 26. And hath made of one blood] This our brainsick diggers do much beat upon, and would therefore lay all level, and have all things common. One of their progenitors came to the Emperor Sigismund, and calling him brother, asked him for means; because he was his brother, and one of the same blood. He gave him a tester, and told him, if all his brethren would do the like for him, he should soon become a rich man.


Verse 27

27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:

Ver. 27. They might feel after him] Grope after him, as blind men, ψηλαφησειαν. The apostle dealing here with philosophers, disputes philosophically, showing them, most learnedly and divinely, the true use of natural philosophy, which they were utterly ignorant of. Crucifer oft contemplated the footsteps of God in the creature, saying with Paul, that God was so near unto us that he might be almost felt with hands.

Though he be not far] Not so far as the bark is from the tree, the skin from the flesh, or the flesh from the bones. Deus intimior nobis intimo nostro. He is nearer to us than we are to ourselves, though we see him not. (Bugentag.) Like as if one hear a preacher by night, though he see him not, yet he knows he is there present; so in this case.


Verse 28

28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

Ver. 28. For in him we live, &c.] The heathen could say,

" Est Deus in nobis, agitante calescimus illo."

We move] Understand it as well of the motions of the mind as of the body.

And have our being] As the beams have their being in the sun, and an accident in the subject. Scholastici dependentiam creatorum a Creatore partita luci, quae in aere remote Sole extinguitur, partita vasculo aquam contentam circumscribenti, partim sigillo in aqua impresso comparant.

As certain also of your own poets] Note that the apostle nameth not Aratus, whom he citeth, though he were his own countryman, a Cilician; notwithstanding the piety of that poet’s beginning, εκ διος αρχωμεσθα, or the divineness of his subject, the heavens, a more sublime and pure matter than useth to be in the wanton pages of other poets. Some sentences of heathenish authors are found in Scripture, as the Egyptian spoils furnished the Israelites, and David helped himself with Goliath’s sword: so the Holy Ghost strikes the heathens with their own weapons, Propriis pennis configimur, as Julian the Apostate complained, and therefore forbade the Christians to send their children to the heathen schools, lest they should be wounded with their own weapons.


Verse 29

29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.

Ver. 29. That the Godhead is like] Qui primi deorum simulachra induxerunt, errorem auxerunt, metum dempserunt, saith Varro, as Calvin cites his words. Plutarch saith it is sacrilege to worship by images. They were atheists by night that worshipped the sun and atheists by day that worshipped the moon, as Cyril wittily speaketh.


Verse 30

30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

Ver. 30. God winked at] Regarded not. God accounted the times of paganism before Christ (for all their knowledge), even times of ignorance, and looked over or beyond them (as the word υπεριδων here signifieth), having respect only to the times of Christianity.


Verse 31

31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

Ver. 31. Because he hath appointed a day] Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, and the dreadfulness of that great day, "what manner of men ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness," 2 Peter 3:11; breaking off our sins by repentance, and being abrupt in the work, since the very next moment thou mayest hear that summons that Pope Julius II did, and was found dead the next day, Veni miser in iudicium, Come, thou wretch, receive thy judgment. (Jac. Renig.) Hence Austin professed that he would not, for the gain of the world, be an atheist for half an hour; because he knew not how suddenly Christ might come to judge him. Aut poenitendum aut pereundum. Either displeasing or perishing.


Verse 32

32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.

Ver. 32. Some mocked] Three sorts of hearers, some derided, others doubted, a few believed, as Dennis and Damaris, but no Church here founded. They were too wise to go to heaven. Not a scholar in Oxford would look upon the good Bishops Ridley and Cranmer, prisoners in Bocardo, that college of the quondams or disposed, as it was then called.


Verse 33

33 So Paul departed from among them.

Ver. 33. So Paul departed] They said they would hear him again at better leisure εις αυριον τα σπουδαια, as that trifler said), but they never had another opportunity: procrastinators seldom speed better; it fareth with them as Plutarch writes of Hannibal, that when he could have taken Rome he would not, when he would he could not. See Jeremiah 14:19.


Verse 34

34 Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Ver. 34. Dionysius the Areopagite] Not the astrologer, as some have made him, nor the author of the Heavenly Hierachy made by some superstitious monk; but a senator or judge in that court of Mars’ Hill in Athens, crowned with martyrdom for the Christian religion, in the year of grace 96, as Trithemius writeth.

And a woman named Damaris] Damaris as well as Dennis. Souls have no sexes. In Christ "there is neither male nor female, bond nor free," Galatians 3:28. It is easy to observe, saith a grave divine, that the New Testament affords more store of good women than the Old. In the preceding chapter, when Paul came first to Philippi, he had none that would hear him, but a company of good women, Acts 16:13.

 


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Bibliography Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Acts 17:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/acts-17.html. 1865-1868.

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