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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 17

 

 

Verses 1-9

Acts 17:1-9. Thessalonica (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:2).—From Philippi to Amphipolis is a distance of 30 miles, from Amphipolis to Apollonia 29, from Apollonia to Thessalonica 35 miles, all on the Via Egnatia which connected the Adriatic and the Hellespont. Why there was no preaching at Amphipolis and Apollonia, we cannot tell; probably there was no synagogue at either place.

Thessalonica (p. 876), on the Thermaic Gulf, made the capital of Macedonia by the Romans 146 B.C., and a free city after the Second Civil War, had a parliament ("the people"; demos, Acts 17:5) and magistrates (politarchs, 6) of its own. That it had a Jewish population the text shows. Salonika is still a populous city. [Since this was written it has again become famous.—A. S. P.]

Acts 17:2. Sabbaths: read "weeks" (mg.). Paul's own description (1 Thessalonians 1:5 to 1 Thessalonians 2:12) points to a longer stay, and shows him labouring with his hands to support himself amid the manifold efforts and cares the budding church imposed on him. The account here given of his preaching (read "he preached to them from the Scriptures," i.e. the OT) is inadequate, as 1 Th. shows. There is no advance on Peter's sermon in ch. 2. His success (Acts 17:4) is immediate, but only "some" Jews adhered to him; of the Greek frequenters of the synagogue, on the contrary, a large number, and not a few of the leading women. The change to Acts 17:5 is abrupt; nothing is said of the withdrawal of the believers from the synagogue or of the first members of the church. It is the Jews, members of the synagogue where the preaching began, who set up an attack on the missionaries, enlisting a body of loafers and producing an uproar. Paul and others of the preachers are in the house of Jason, and an attempt is made to get them out and place them before the assembly of the citizens. Failing in this they turn to the magistrates; Jason and some of the brethren are produced to them with a vague accusation that they go about the world creating disturbance and that they had another king—Jesus. The latter charge was true; the Christians did refuse to call the Emperor their "Lord." The charge that they do contrary to the decrees of Cæsar means this. It is this that appeals to the minds of the magistrates, and makes them take bail from Jason and the others before letting the missionaries go.


Verses 10-15

Acts 17:10-15. Through Berœa to Athens.—Berœa was a populous place but off the main route. Paul and Silas at once go to the synagogue; by this time we should think they could scarcely look to the synagogue with hopeful eyes. The Berœan Jews, however, were "more noble," i.e. better-behaved, than their brethren at Thessalonica; they did not close their minds to the message, but applied themselves with interest to testing it by Scripture. The new church at Berœa is composed, like that at Thessalonica, of Jews, Greek ladies of position, and men, i.e. Greeks. We hear of Sopater of Berœa in Acts 20:4. The Jews of Thessalonica follow Paul with their hostility and he has to leave Berœa also. As to Silas and Timothy there is a little difficulty. In Acts 18:5 they do not join Paul at Athens as he expected, but at Corinth. But in 1 Thessalonians 3 we read of Timothy having been with Paul at Athens, and having been sent by him from there to Thessalonica. According to 2 Corinthians 1:19 Silas and Timothy acted along with Paul in the early days of the Corinthian church. We are not fully informed as to these movements.


Verses 16-21

Acts 17:16-21. Paul at Athens.—Athens was at this time no longer the intellectual centre of the world, nor the best of the leading schools of philosophy; but the fame of the city drew many to it, and a visit to Athens gave finish to the education of a Roman. With no great seriousness, all matters were discussed there, and it offered no promising soil for the Gospel. See Renan's chapter on Athens in his St. Paul.

Acts 17:16. The images of Athens were multitudinous; the pillaging of Greek masterpieces by Roman magistrates was not yet far advanced, and what Paul saw might have suggested reflections on the magnificent achievements of Greek art. But to his Jewish eye they were the aberrations of men who did not see God in His works but tried to make representations of Him to worship; he would consider they were all there for that purpose (Romans 1:23, 1 Thessalonians 1:9).

Acts 17:17. reasoned: or preached. The Jews and God-fearers in the synagogue did not need to be convinced of the true nature of idols; he had as usual begun with them, but he also preached in the market-place, in the low ground N. of the Acropolis; to those he met with, where all the life of the city, intellectual and otherwise, had its centre.

Acts 17:18. It was a matter of course that he would meet with philosophers there; Epicureans and Stoics (pp. 633ff.) were by no means the only schools in Athens, though they were the oldest, and there is nothing characteristic in their questions and replies (cf. Acts 2:12 f.).—babbler: lit. "seed picker," then of one picking up crumbs of wisdom and applying them without skill. Ramsay renders "bounder" (St. Paul the Traveller, pp. 243ff.).—a setter forth of strange gods: this was the charge brought against Socrates. "He does not count those gods whom the city counts such, but introduces new demons." The new gods Paul introduced were Jesus and Anastasis, i.e. Resurrection; how this was picked from his words we cannot tell, but the resurrection is treated throughout Ac. as Paul's principal doctrine (see Acts 23:6, p. 777). He is taken to the court, not the hill, Areopagus; the court could meet elsewhere, and it also had charge in Roman times of matters of religion and education (p. 614). What follows is not a criminal proceeding but an inquiry. The speech is not calculated for philosophers; it is a popular discourse against idolatry with a Christian conclusion. It is the apparent newness of his doctrine that arouses interest; it is aptly remarked how eagerly new things were sought after at Athens.


Verses 22-31

Acts 17:22-31. Paul's Speech to the Areopagus.—He opens with a compliment to the religiosity of the Athenians. He has walked up and down the city and marked the many objects of worship; he has also found an altar with the inscription "To the Unknown God" (the argument that follows calls for the definite article). There are various instances in antiquity of such an inscription; though always, it is true, in the plural, not the singular number. Jerome says the inscription in the text must have run "To the unknown and foreign gods," and in Pausanias, Philostratus, and other ancient writers such inscriptions are spoken of. In Deissmann's St. Paul (p. 261) an inscription is described which has recently been unearthed at Pergamum, also in the plural. That in our text is the only example in antiquity of the inscription in the singular, and Paul's argument is based on it in that form. It would dedicate the altar on which it appeared to a god of whose name and title the founder was not sure, but whom he took to be a real being. Paul uses the inscription in an opposite sense and makes it refer to the one Supreme God, Maker of the world.

Acts 17:25. That God needs nothing is a commonplace in ancient philosophy and literature.—made of one: AV of one blood, according to an old reading, might refer to the ancient belief, excluded by Genesis, in the autochthonous origin of man. God has settled the order in which each people is to come and the territory it is to occupy; the purpose of the whole is that they should seek for Him; He is not hard to find.—your own poets: the quotation (cf. Titus 1:12) is from a Stoic poet Aratus (Phaenom. 5). Cleanthes, also a Stoic, has a similar sentiment: "For we are his (Zeus's) race." Paul had no need to be familiar with Greek poetry in order to quote a line no doubt well known to every one. In Acts 17:29 he comes back to the images. Athens had many artificers of such things, but if man is of God's race, no human figure in whatever precious metal can express the Divine to which he is kindred. A sentence should follow, condemning the view of God which lies behind idolatry: but the speech hurries to its conclusion. God might have visited earlier the mistaken worship of Him in idolatry (Romans 2:4) but He has not done so. Now, however, the day of judgment is at hand (Psalms 9:8); men are called to repent; the Judge is known, He whom God raised from the dead.

Acts 17:32. Nothing indicates judicial proceedings; the scene ends abruptly with the moderate success secured by Paul. One male convert is named, Dionysius, a member of the court of Areopagus, and one woman, Damaris; and there were others. Of the church of Athens we hear no more; it is perhaps included in 1 Corinthians 1:2.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Acts 17:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/acts-17.html. 1919.

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