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Bible Commentaries

Vincent's Word Studies

Acts 17



Verse 3

Opening and alleging

The latter word is rather propounding, or setting forth ( παρατιθέμενος )See on set before, Luke 9:16; and commit, 1 Peter 4:19. Bengel remarks, “Two steps, as if one, having broken the rind, were to disclose and exhibit the kernel.”

Verse 4

Consorted with ( προσεκληρώθησαν )

Only here in New Testament. More strictly, “were added or allotted to.”

Chief women

The position of women in Macedonia seems to have been exceptional. Popular prejudice, and the verdict of Grecian wisdom in its best age, asserted her natural inferiority. The Athenian law provided that everything which a man might do by the counsel or request of a woman should be null in law. She was little better than a slave. To educate her was to advertise her as a harlot. Her companions were principally children and slaves. In Macedonia, however, monuments were erected to women by public bodies; and records of male proper names are found, in Macedonian inscriptions, formed on the mother's name instead of on the father's. Macedonian women were permitted to hold property, and were treated as mistresses of the house. These facts are borne out by the account of Paul's labors in Macedonia. In Thessalonica, Beroea, and Philippi we note additions of women of rank to the church; and their prominence in church affairs is indicated by Paul's special appeal to two ladies in the church at Philippi to reconcile their differences, which had caused disturbance in the church, and by his commending them to his colleagues as women who had labored with him in the Lord (Philemon 4:2, Philemon 4:3).

Verse 5

Of the baser sort ( ἀγοραίων )

From ἀγορά , the market-place; hence loungers in the market-place; the rabble. Cicero calls them subrostrani, those who hung round the rostra, or platform for speakers in the forum; and Plautus, subbasilicani, the loungers round the court-house or exchange. The word occurs only here and Acts 19:38, on which see note.

Gathered a company ( ὀχλοποιήσαντες )

Rev., better,a crowd. Only here in New Testament.

Verse 6

Rulers of the city ( πολιτάρχας )

Another illustration of Luke's accuracy. Note that the magistrates are called by a different name from those at Philippi. Thessalonica was not a colony, but a free city (see on colony, Acts 16:12), and was governed by its own rulers, whose titles accordingly did not follow those of Roman magistrates. The word occurs only here and Acts 17:8, and has been found in an inscription on an arch at Thessalonica, where the names of the seven politarchs are mentioned. The arch is thought by antiquarians to have been standing in Paul's time.

Verse 7

Contrary to the decrees of Caesar

The charge at Philippi was that of introducing new customs; but as Thessalonica was not a colony, that charge could have no force there. The accusation substituted is that of treason against the emperor; that of which Jesus was accused before Pilate. “The law of treason, by which the ancient legislators of the republic had sought to protect popular liberty from the encroachments of tyranny, … was gradually concentrated upon the emperor alone, the sole impersonation of the sovereign people. The definition of the crime itself was loose and elastic, such as equally became the jealousy of a licentious republic or of a despotic usurper” (Merivale, “History of the Romans under the Empire”).

Verse 9

Security ( τὸ ἱκανὸν )

See on Luke 7:6. Bail, either personal or by a deposit of money. A law term. They engaged that the public peace should not be violated, and that the authors of the disturbance should leave the city.

Verse 11


Or examined. See on Luke 23:14.

Verse 12

Honorable women

See on Acts 17:4, and Mark 15:43.

Verse 15

They that conducted ( καθιστῶντες )

Lit., brought to the spot. Note the different word employed, Acts 15:3(see note there).

Verse 16

Was stirred ( παρωξύνετο )

Better, as Rev., was provoked. See on the kindred word contention ( παροξυσμὸς )Acts 15:39.

Saw ( θεωροῦντι )

Better, beheld. See on Luke 10:18.

Wholly given to idolatry ( κατείδωλον )

Incorrect. The word, which occurs only here in the New Testament, and nowhere in classical Greek, means full of idols. It applies to the city, not to the inhabitants. “We learn from Pliny that at the time of Nero, Athens contained over three thousand public statues, besides a countless number of lesser images within the walls of private houses. Of this number the great majority were statues of gods, demi-gods, or heroes. In one street there stood before every house a square pillar carrying upon it a bust of the god Hermes. Another street, named the Street of the Tripods, was lined with tripods, dedicated by winners in the Greek national games, and carrying each one an inscription to a deity. Every gateway and porch carried its protecting god. Every street, every square, nay, every purlieu, had its sanctuaries, and a Roman poet bitterly remarked that it was easier in Athens to find gods than men” (G. S. Davies, “St. Paul in Greece”).

Verse 18


Disciples of Epicurus, and atheists. They acknowledged God in words, but denied his providence and superintendence over the world. According to them, the soul was material and annihilated at death. Pleasure was their chief good; and whatever higher sense their founder might have attached to this doctrine, his followers, in the apostle's day, were given to gross sensualism.


Pantheists. God was the soul of the world, or the world was God. Everything was governed by fate, to which God himself was subject. They denied the universal and perpetual immortality of the soul; some supposing that it was swallowed up in deity; others, that it survived only till the final conflagration; others, that immortality was restricted to the wise and good. Virtue was its own reward, and vice its own punishment. Pleasure was no good, and pain no evil. The name Stoic was derived from stoaa porch. Zeno, the founder of the Stoic sect, held his school in the Stoa Poecile, or painted portico, so called because adorned with pictures by the best masters.

Babbler ( σπερμολόγος )

Lit., seed-picker: a bird which picks up seeds in the streets and markets; hence one who picks up and retails scraps of news. Trench (“Authorized Version of the New Testament”) cites a parallel from Shakespeare:

“This fellow picks up wit as pigeons peas,

And utters it again when Jove doth please.

He is wit's pedler, and retails his wares

At wakes, and wassails, meetings, markets, fairs.”

Love's Labor's Lost, v., 2.

Setter-forth ( καταγγελεὺς )

See on declare, Acts 17:23. Compare 1 Peter 4:4, 1 Peter 4:12.



Verse 19


The Hill of Mars: the seat of the ancient and venerable Athenian court which decided the most solemn questions connected with religion. Socrates was arraigned and condemned here on the charge of innovating on the state religion. It received its name from the legend of the trial of Mars for the murder of the son of Neptune. The judges sat in the open air upon seats hewn out in the rock, on a platform ascended by a flight of stone steps immediately from the market-place. A temple of Mars was on the brow of the edifice, and the sanctuary of the Furies was in a broken cleft of the rock immediately below the judges' seats. The Acropolis rose above it, with the Parthenon and the colossal statue of Athene. “It was a scene with which the dread recollections of centuries were associated. Those who withdrew to the Areopagus from the Agora, came, as it were, into the presence of a higher power. No place in Athens was so suitable for a discourse upon the mysteries of religion” (Conybeare and Hewson).

Verse 20

Strange ( ξενίζοντα )

A participle: surprising. Compare 1 Peter 4:4, 1 Peter 4:12.

Verse 21

All the Athenians

No article. Lit., “Atheniansall of them.” The Athenian people collectively.

Strangers which were there ( οἱ ἐπιδημοῦντες ξένοι )

Rev., more correctly, the strangers sojourning there. See on 1 Peter 1:1.

Spent their time ( εὐκαίρουν )

The word means to have good opportunity; to have leisure: also, to devote one's leisure to something; to spend the time. Compare Mark 6:31; 1 Corinthians 16:12.

Something new ( τι καινότερον )

Lit., newer: newer than that which was then passing current as new. The comparative was regularly used by the Greeks in the question what news? They contrasted what was new with what had been new up to the time of asking. The idiom vividly characterizes the state of the Athenian mind. Bengel aptly says, “New things at once became of no account; newer things were being sought for.” Their own orators and poets lashed them for this peculiarity. Aristophanes styles Athens the city of the gapers (“Knights,” 1262). Demades said that the crest of Athens ought to be a great tongue. Demosthenes asks them, “Is it all your care to go about up and down the market, asking each other, 'Is there any news?'” In the speech of Cleon to the Athenians, given by Thucydides (iii., 38), he says: “No men are better dupes, sooner deceived by novel notions, or slower to follow approved advice. You despise what is familiar, while you are worshippers of every new extravagance. You are always hankering after an ideal state, but you do not give your minds even to what is straight before you. In a word, you are at the mercy of your own ears.”

Verse 22

I perceive ( θεωρῶ )

I regard you, in my careful observation of you. See on Luke 10:18.

Too superstitious ( δεισιδαιμονεστέρους )

This rendering and that of the Rev., somewhat superstitious, are both unfortunate. The word is compounded of δείδω , to fear, and δαίμων , a deity. It signifies either a religious or a superstitious sentiment, according to the context. Paul would have been unlikely to begin his address with a charge which would have awakened the anger of his audience. What he means to say is, You are more divinity-fearing than the rest of the Greeks. This propensity to reverence the higher powers is a good thing in itself, only, as he shows them, it is misdirected, not rightly conscious of its object and aim. Paul proposes to guide the sentiment rightly by revealing him whom they ignorantly worship. The American revisers insist on very religious. The kindred word δεισιδαιμονία occurs Acts 25:19, and in the sense of religion, though rendered in A. V. superstition. Festus would not call the Jewish religion a superstition before Agrippa, who was himself a Jew. There is the testimony of the Ephesian town-clerk, that Paul, during his three years' residence at Ephesus, did not rudely and coarsely attack the worship of the Ephesian Diana. “Nor yet blasphemers of your goddess” (Acts 19:37).

Verse 23

As l passed by ( διερχόμενος )

More strictly, “passing through ( διά )” your city, or your streets.

Beheld ( ἀναθεωρῶν )

Only here and Hebrews 13:7. Rev., much better, observed. The compound verb denotes a very attentive consideration ( ἀνά and down, throughout)Devotions ( σεβάσματἀ )

Wrong. It means the objects of their worship - temples, altars, statues, etc.

An altar ( βωμὸν )

Only here in New Testament, and the only case in which a heathen altar is alluded to. In all other cases θυσιαστήριον is used, signifying an altar of the true God. The Septuagint translators commonly observe this distinction, being, in this respect, more particular than the Hebrew scriptures themselves, which sometimes interchange the word for the heathen altar and that for God's altar. See, especially, Joshua href="/desk/?q=jos+22:10&sr=1">Joshua 22:10, Joshua 22:11, Joshua 22:16, Joshua 22:19, Joshua 22:23, Joshua 22:26, Joshua 22:34); and the legitimate altar, θυσιαστήριον (Joshua 22:19, Joshua 22:28, Joshua 22:29).

To the unknown God ( ἀγνώστῳ Θεῷ )

The article is wanting. Render, as Rev., to an unknown God. The origin of these altars, of which there were several in Athens, is a matter of conjecture. Hackett's remarks on this point are sensible, and are borne out by the following words: “whom therefore,” etc. “The most rational explanation is unquestionably that of those who suppose these altars to have had their origin in the feeling of uncertainty, inherent, after all, in the minds of the heathen, whether their acknowledgment of the superior powers was sufficiently full and comprehensive; in their distinct consciousness of the limitation and imperfection of their religious views, and their consequent desire to avoid the anger of any still unacknowledged god who might be unknown to them. That no deity might punish them for neglecting his worship, or remain uninvoked in asking for blessings, they not only erected altars to all the gods named or known among them, but, distrustful still lest they might not comprehend fully the extent of their subjection and dependence, they erected them also to any other god or power that might exist, although as yet unrevealed to them … .Under these circumstances an allusion to one of these altars by the apostle would be equivalent to his saying to the Athenians thus: 'You are correct in acknowledging a divine existence beyond any which the ordinary rites of your worship recognize; there is such an existence. You are correct in confessing that this Being is unknown to you; you have no just conceptions of his nature and perfections.'”

Ignorantly ( ἀγνοοῦντες )

Rather, unconsciously: not knowing. There is a kind of play on the words unknown, knowing not. Ignorantly conveys more rebuke than Paul intended.

Declare I ( καταγγέλλω )

Compare καταγγελεὺς ,setter-forth, in Acts 17:18. Here, again, there is a play upon the words. Paul takes up their noun, setter-forth, and gives it back to them as a verb. “You say I am a setter-forth of strange gods: I now set forth unto you (Rev.) the true God.”

Verse 24


With the article: “the God.”

The world ( τὸν κόσμον )

Originally, order, and hence the order of the world; the ordered universe. So in classical Greek. In the Septuagint, never the world, but the ordered total of the heavenly bodies; the host of heaven (17:3; Isaiah 24:21; 40:26). Compare, also, Proverbs href="/desk/?q=pr+17:6&sr=1">Proverbs 17:6, and see note on James 3:6. In the apocryphal books, of the universe, and mainly in the relation between God and it arising out of the creation. Thus, the king of the world (2 Maccabees 7:9); the creator or founder of the world (2 Maccabees 12:15). In the New Testament: 1. In the classical and physical sense, the universe (John href="/desk/?q=joh+17:5&sr=1">John 17:5; John 21:25.; Romans 1:20; Ephesians 1:4, etc.). 2. As the order of things of which man is the centre (Matthew 13:38; Mark 16:15; Luke 9:25; John 16:21; Ephesians 2:12; 1 Timothy 6:7). 3. Humanity as it manifests itself in and through this order (Matthew 18:7; 2 Peter 2:5; 2 Peter 3:6; Romans 3:19). Then, as sin has entered and disturbed the order of things, and made a breach between the heavenly and the earthly order, which are one in the divine ideal - 4. The order of things which is alienated from God, as manifested in and by the human race: humanity as alienated from God, and acting in opposition to him (John 1:10; John 12:31; John 15:18, John 15:19; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 1 John 2:15, etc.). The word is used here in the classical sense of the visible creation, which would appeal to the Athenians. Stanley, speaking of the name by which the Deity is known in the patriarchal age, the plural Elohim, notes that Abraham, in perceiving that all the Elohim worshipped by the numerous clans of his race meant one God, anticipated the declaration of Paul in this passage (“Jewish Church,” i., 25). Paul's statement strikes at the belief of the Epicureans, that the world was made by “a fortuitous concourse of atoms,” and of the Stoics, who denied the creation of the world by God, holding either that God animated the world, or that the world itself was God.

Made with hands ( χιεροποιήτοις )

Probably pointing to the magnificent temples above and around him. Paul's epistles abound in architectural metaphors. He here employs the very words of Stephen, in his address to the Sanhedrim, which he very probably heard. See Acts 7:48.

Verse 25

Is worshipped ( θεραπεύεται )

Incorrect. Render, as Rev., served. Luke often uses the word in the sense of to heal or cure; but this is its primary sense. See on Luke 5:15. It refers to the clothing of the images of the gods in splendid garments, and bringing them costly gifts and offerings of food and drink.

As though he needed ( προσδεόμενος )

Properly, “needed anything in addition ( πρός ) to what he already has.”

Verse 26

Before appointed ( προτεταγμένους )

The Rev., properly, omits before, following the reading of the best texts, τεταγμένους assigned.

Bounds ( ὀροθεσίας )

Only here in New Testament. The word, in the singular, means the fixing of boundaries, and so is transferred to the fixed boundaries themselves.

Verse 27

Might feel after

See on handle, Luke 24:39. Compare Tennyson:

“I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope

And gather dust and chaff, and call

To what I feel is Lord of all.”

In Memoriam, lv.

Verse 28

We are also his offspring

A line from Aratus, a poet of Paul's own province of Cilicia. The same sentiment, in almost the same words, occurs in the fine hymn of Cleanthes to Jove. Hence the words, “Some of your own poets.”

Verse 29

The Godhead ( τὸ θεῖον )

Lit., that which is divine.

Like to gold, etc

These words must have impressed his hearers profoundly, as they looked at the multitude of statues of divinities which surrounded them.

Graven ( χαράγματι )

Not a participle, as A. V., but a noun, in apposition with gold, silver, and stone: “a graving or carved -work of art, etc.

Verse 30

Winked at ( ὑπεριδὼν )

Only here in New Testament. Originally, to overlook; to suffer to pass unnoticed. So Rev., overlooked.

Verse 32


This word was the signal for a derisive outburst from the crowd.

Mocked ( ἐχλεύαζον )

From χλεύη , a jest. Only here in New Testament, though a compound, διαχλευάζω , mock, occurs, according to the best texts, at Acts 2:13. The force of the imperfect, began to mock, should be given here in the translation, as marking the outbreak of derision.

In this remarkable speech of Paul are to be noted: his prudence and tact in not needlessly offending his hearers; his courtesy and spirit of conciliation in recognizing their piety toward their gods; his wisdom and readiness in the use of the inscription “to the unknown God,” and in citing their own poets; his meeting the radical errors of every class of his hearers, while seeming to dwell only on points of agreement; his lofty views of the nature of God and the great principle of the unity of the human race; his boldness in proclaiming Jesus and the resurrection among those to whom these truths were foolishness; the wonderful terseness and condensation of the whole, and the rapid but powerful and assured movement of the thought.

Verse 34


See on Luke 10:11; and Luke 15:15; and Acts 5:13.

The Areopagite

One of the judges of the court of Areopagus. Of this court Curtius remarks: “Here, instead of a single judge, a college of twelve men of proved integrity conducted the trial. If the accused had an equal number of votes for and against him, he was acquitted. The Court on the hill of Ares is one of the most ancient institutions of Athens, and none achieved for the city an earlier or more widely spread recognition. The Areopagitic penal code was adopted as a norm by all subsequent legislators” (“History of Greece,” i., 307).


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The text of this work is public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vincent, Marvin R. DD. "Commentary on Acts 17:4". "Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament". Charles Schribner's Sons. New York, USA. 1887.

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