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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 17

 

 

Verses 1-34

From Philippi Paul and his company travelled westward in Greece to Thessalonica (also in Macedonia). A Jewish synagogue being there, they attended this for three sabbath days, reasoning with the Jews from their own scriptures, showing from these that the Messiah promised of God must necessarily first be a sufferer before He could reign; in fact must suffer death and be raised again. The scriptures were definitely clear about this matter; and Paul goes further to declare that Jesus was this Messiah (Christ), for certainly His history fulfilled the Jewish scriptures in perfection.

Some of the Jews believed, but also a great number of devout Greeks, for these did not have the same preconceived misconceptions as did the Jews generally. Not a few women of prominence are specifically mentioned.

The unbelieving Jews, however, not only refused the message, but through envy enlisted the help of the lowest type of ruffians to incite a virtual riot. They made the house of Jason their target, for Paul and Silas had been welcomed there. Not finding them there, they arrested Jason and other believers with him and took them to the rulers of the city. Their accusation is that Jason has received the men who had turned the world upside down. As to their accusation against Paul and Silas, they claim they were contravening Caesar's decrees (not that the accusers had any regard for Caesar, but they adopted the same contemptible tactics that the Pharisees had in accusing the Lord Jesus). Their only specific charge is that that these men say there is another king, Jesus.

When the Jews bring Jason before the rulers charging him with harboring Paul and Silas in his home, the rulers were troubled, but not so cruelly unjust as the Philippian rulers were in having Paul and Silas beaten. They only take security from Jason and the others and release them. The Lord had seen fit that Paul and Silas were not found by their persecutors. The brethren considered it unwise that Paul and Silas should remain at the time, however, and sent them away by night to avoid further trouble. We know from Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians that the assembly left in Thessalonica suffered serious persecution after this; but though so young in the faith, they maintained an exemplary witness to Christ and the gospel apart from the presence of Paul and Silas to encourage them (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10).

Traveling westward they came to Berea, and again entered the synagogue to teach. The Jews in this case were more honorable than those in Thessalonica, for rather than rejecting the message out-of hand, they listened to the word spoken, and searched the Old Testament scriptures daily to find Out if the message was substantiated by God's Word. Therefore many of them believed. Here again women of prominence are mentioned (Greeks) and men also, not a few. In this case, as in Thessalonica, though the work began in the synagogue, it was by no means confined to Jews. The Spirit of God has not deemed it necessary to inform us, however, as to how the work progressed in Berea later.

How long they were there we are not told, but it was evidently only a short time before the militant Jews of Thessalonica, hearing of the Word preached in Berea, came there to stir up the people against the Lord's servants. They not only rejected the message of grace themselves, but were determined that others must not even hear it.

Again wisdom dictates that Paul should leave Berea: he went toward the sea with others who evidently knew the territory, but left Silas and Timothy behind. It may be that they considered it best to go by way of the seacoast to Athens, some distance south of Berea. Paul's guides, however, returned back to Athens, with instructions from Paul for Silas and Timothy to come soon to Athens.

Alone in this idolatrous city, Paul's spirit was profoundly stirred by the sight of people's devotion to Satanic delusions. Therefore, he disputed with Jews in the synagogue: evidently they were guilty of entertaining idolatry; but he also disputed with others of a devout character in the markets, anyone who would be willing to meet with him. His message concerning Christ was so strange and new to the learned philosophers who encountered him that they wanted to find out more of what he was talking about. Epicureans were followers of Epicrus, who taught that the object of men should be happiness and pleasure, and forget about absolute truth. They are the hedonists of our own day. Stoicks, on the other hand, were at the opposite pole, fatalists who say that what is to be will come, and therefore we should just grit our teeth and take it. They recognize there is a God, but have no knowledge whatever of His love.

Paul's preaching Jesus and the resurrection was therefore totally strange to them, so novel that they asked him to address them at Areopagus, the highest court in Athens. Athens prided itself on its philosophy, with people spending all their time in telling or hearing something new. Their condition is aptly described in 2 Timothy 3:7 : "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." At least on this occasion they were willing to listen to truth that is absolute, which calls for the full submission of faith on the part of all people.

Paul's opening words are not however as weak as the King James version translates them. Rather, he says, "I perceive that in all things ye are given up to demon worship" (v.22--J.N.D.). This is the very essence of idolatry. They knew they had many gods, and Paul knew that behind all of these so-called "divinities" was demon influence. He made use then of an inscription on one of their altars, "To the Unknown God." How pathetic is the gross ignorance of intellectual men! Admittedly not knowing God, they invent fictitious gods of every kind! They did give the unknown God the honor of an altar, but they did the same for idols too. The One they ignorantly worship Paul boldly declares to them. Some would say that He is not only unknown, but unknowable; but sober, thinking people would surely have their interest awakened.

The God unknown to the Athenians is the Creator of all things, the Lord of heaven and earth. Men's temples are nothing to Him: He is certainly not confined in them. Nor is He worshiped by means of the works of men's hands, as though He depended on man for His sustenance. On the contrary, He is the great Giver, not only of material things such as engage people's most serious attention, but of life and breath, the fundamental entities of our very existence.

More than this, He has made of one blood all nations of mankind, though He has distributed the nations in different quarters of the earth according to the times and boundaries He has before appointed. Jews and Gentiles are fundamentally the same, all nations on the same level; but human blood is totally different than that of other creatures, as their flesh is different (1 Corinthians 15:39). But God has dealt as He has with men that they might seek the Lord, if it may happen that they will feel after Him and find Him. Paul adds that He is not far from every one of us, indicating that if one honestly seeks God, God will reveal Himself.

In fact, man's very existence is bound up with God, however little he realizes it. "In Him we live:" He is the source of our life; "and move:" He sustains all of our activities; "and have our being:" our existence is totally dependent upon Him. Paul quotes a Greek poet as saying, "For we are also His offspring."

From the viewpoint of creation, this is true: therefore it was foolish to think of God as compared to gold, silver or stone images, the work of human artistry. If men -- living, animate, intelligent beings -- are God's offspring, then certainly God is at least as living and intelligent as they!

Yet for centuries God has, in wonderful patience, overlooked human ignorance in worshiping idols. Now, however, He is dealing in a direct and serious way with mankind, commanding all everywhere to repent. For He has manifested His truth and justice toward man in the Man whom He has ordained. Paul does not speak of the atoning death of the Lord Jesus here, but of the startling fact of His resurrection from among the dead. This stands as a striking proof of the fact that this same Jesus is the One by whom God will judge the world in righteousness. More than this, God had already appointed the day.

Paul does not speak of salvation, but of repentance, for it was this message that the Athenians manifestly needed. The repentant jailor in Chapter 16:30 was concerned about how to be saved, and received his answer; but these in Athens must be awakened to a serious sense of their need: otherwise salvation would have no meaning to them.

Some mocked at the report of the resurrection of Christ; yet others delayed their decision, indicating they would hear Paul again. There was no direct persecution at Athens, however, for the city was tolerant of everything as a rule, and Paul had evidently not had any Jewish audience. The grace of God did nevertheless work in some hearts, both a man and a woman mentioned by name, and others too believing, though not named. Yet we do not read of any further work at Athens or of any assembly being established there. Thessalonica stands in refreshing contrast to Athens, a devoted persecuted assembly being sustained of God there.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Acts 17:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/acts-17.html. 1897-1910.

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