corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 17

 

 

Verse 1

4. Founding of the Second European ChurchThessalonica, Acts 17:1-9.

1. Now—Our apostle leaving Luke at Philippi, banished but triumphant, attended by Silas and Timothy, takes the high Egnatian Road westward. In accordance with his plan, rather to plant the Gospel in the greater capitals of the world, he rapidly passes the lesser towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia, lying on the great way. From Philippi to Amphipolis was thirty-three miles; from Amphipolis to Apollonia thirty miles; and from Apollonia to Thessalonica thirty-seven miles. Resting by nights and travelling rapidly by day, the apostle might have been three days upon his journey from Philippi to Thessalonica.

Thessalonica—No city on the great Egnatian Way surpassed THESSALONICA in importance. Under its ancient name of Therma it was the passage way of the great army of Xerxes in his invasion of Greece. It received its new name, Thessalonica, from a sister of Alexander the Great, on being rebuilt by her husband, and this name it still retains in the abbreviated form of Saloniki. The apostle found it the most populous city of Macedonia, and until the founding of Constantinople it was virtually the capital of Northern, if not of entire, Greece.

[image]

A synagogue—Rather, the synagogue. For at Philippi, Amphipolis, and Apollonia there were probably only proseuchae, and here was the synagogue of this region of country. Paul’s own account in his epistles to the Thessalonians interestingly reveals what his entrance was after he had been shamefully entreated at Philippi. He used no flattering words, no cloak of covetousness. Labouring night and day, probably at his handicraft of tent-making, he refused to be chargeable unto any. Holily, and justly, and unblamably living himself, he could enjoin holy living upon others with a boundless authority.


Verse 3

3. Opening—Unfolding two great points in order; namely, there was, according to the Scriptures, to be a suffering, dying, and risen Messiah; and, second, that our Jesus has perfectly filled out that prophetic idea, so that Jesus is truly the long expected Christ-Messiah. To the Jews a glorious Messiah was far more welcome than a suffering. (See note on Matthew 11:3.) A conquering Messiah is, indeed, far most copiously described by the prophets, but a suffering Messiah is shadowed by the entire system of piacular sacrifices.


Verse 4

4. Some of them—Of Jews a small minority; of the Gentiles a multitude became Christians; so that at Thessalonica there was mainly a Gentile Church. “Ye turned from idols,” says he to them, (1 Thessalonians 1:9,) “to serve the living God.”

Devout Greeks—Literally, worshipping Greeks. (See note on Acts 13:16.)

Chief women—(See note on Acts 13:50.) From their gallery or separating lattice these eminent ladies could hear the apostle’s Gospel, and whether Jew or Gentile, like the certain women of Luke 8:2-3, (where see notes,) they accepted the crucified Messiah. Yet while the apostle thus demonstrated a suffering Messiah, he must, as a counterpart, have drawn pictures of the Messiah on his throne of glory (Matthew 25:31) so vivid as to leave a most solemn expectation of an immediate second advent on the minds of the young Church. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.) Of this error, the pernicious effect then, as in all ages, even our own, was great. There were some who neglected the duties of this life, (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12.) and the apostle was obliged to write his second epistle to them in order expressly to correct the conception that that day was at hand. (2 Thessalonians 2:10.)


Verse 5

5. Envy—At seeing the adherence of persons of rank becoming Christian, by which the Jewish influence was undermined.

Lewd fellows—Literally, marketers; vagabonds who hung around the markets or forums, serving for pay in mobs, as in the present instance.

Gathered a company— Significantly expressed by a single Greek compound, οχλοποιησαντες, mob-making.

Jason—Probably a Greek form of Joshua or Jesus.

To the people—More probably, to the demus, public assembly, or town-meeting.


Verse 6

6. Found them not—Probably, anticipating the mob, Paul and his attendants withdrew to some other house.

Rulers of the cityPolitarchs. Among the instances of Luke’s accuracy are the various names he gives of the public officials in the various localities of the world. At Cyprus there is a proconsul, (see note on Acts 13:7;) at Jerusalem the Roman officer is a chiliarch, (note on Acts 21:31;) at Ephesus there are Asiarchs, (note on Acts 19:31;) at Philippi there are pretors and lictors, (note on Acts 16:19-35;) and here, most remarkable of all, there are politarchs.

This word occurs nowhere else in ancient literature; and yet we have a providential proof that it is just the word that Luke should have used. The great Egnatian Way cuts Thessalonica in two; and over this street there still stands an arch bearing an ancient inscription, containing the names of the seven politarchs at the time of its erection. The time was probably near the day of Paul’s visit there; and, singular to say, three of the recorded names happen to be the same as those of three of Paul’s fellow-travellers— Sopater, Gaius, and Secundus.

Upside down—There is more truth in this hyperbole than they suppose. The world is wrong-side up, and needs to be turned upside down to be brought right-side up.


Verse 7

7. Decrees of Cesar—Paul’s unfolding the Messiah in his royal character as son of David and eternal king of Israel enabled the Jews to set Jesus against Cesar. It is the same deception as the Jews used in regard to Jesus before Pilate, and with much the same effect. (See notes on Matthew 27:11; Matthew 27:30; John 18:34-37; John 19:12-13.)


Verse 8

8. Troubled… people… rulers”Judices metuebant tumultum, populus metuebat Romanos,” says Kuinoel: “The politarchs feared a tumult, the people feared the Romans.” Thessalonica is a free city by Roman permission; that is, she is allowed to be a little self-governed republic, electing her own magistrates and passing her own laws, provided there be no sign of rebellion against Rome. A rebellious movement might cost her her freedom, and ruin of unknown extent besides.


Verse 9

9. Taken security—The security was probably a pledge or bail of money, forfeitable if any disturbance occurred. And as the Jews could raise the needed disturbance whenever the apostle again attempted to preach, it was clear that his operations in Thessalonica were at an end. This SECOND EUROPEAN CHURCH has had a distinguished history during the Christian ages.

For centuries Thessalonica was the bulwark against the Turkish assaults, and the lamp whence went forth a Christianizing light over the northern barbarians. The eminence of her bishops, her Christian literature, and her theological science, acquired her the title of “The Orthodox City.”


Verse 10

The Third Church in EuropeBerea, Acts 17:10-14.

10. Paul and Silas—Timothy, as the youngest and least obnoxious, seems to have briefly remained at Thessalonica; but he soon reappears and remains at Berea, Acts 17:14.

Berea—Paul forsakes the Egnatian Road, retiring southwest-ward and seaward to the beautiful village of Berea, about forty-two miles distant, named from its abundance of water streams. It is still a fine town of eighteen or twenty thousand inhabitants under Turkish rule. He finds a Jewish synagogue, and, what he had never found before, save at the single town of Lystra, a body of Jews who would examine the ward of God to see if it predicted the Jesus-Messiah.


Verse 11

11. More noble—The great body of Jews rejected Christ, not only from belief; but even from real examination. It was contempt by anticipation precluding investigation. The Bereans were more noble than this in character and conduct.


Verse 12

12. ThereforeIn consequence of a candid heart and an examining energy many believed. A large Church was arising in a small place. Berea was beautifully promising to be a fair Christian city.


Verse 13

13. Stirred up the people—Paul would gladly now have returned to visit his dear Thessalonian Church, but “Satan” instigating his Jewish foes, “hindered” him, and he diverges still farther to the southeast.


Verse 14

14. As it were—Not that there was any deception, but real doubt whether they should take to the sea or not. Silas and Timothy remain to cherish the infant Church. Yet a charge is left for them to follow, as soon as may be, the apostle to Athens. This they failed to do. Paul had to stand up single and alone in Athens, but was joined by Silas and Timothy at Corinth, (Acts 18:5.) Meantime the loving conductors of Paul see him safe in Athens.

[image]


Verses 15-34

Christianity offered to Athens, Acts 17:15-34.

Sailing from Dium the apostle would look a regretful farewell upon the distant mountain tops of Thessalonica; and, more near, the snowy Mount Olympus, the mythical home of the Homeric gods, would recede from sight. He would sail by Thermopylae, where Leonidas, with his three hundred, died for Grecian liberty; and Marathon, where Miltiades repelled the invading Persian. Finally, after probably about three days’ sail, he sweeps round into the Piraeus, the celebrated harbour of Athens, and debarks to visit her streets. To the cultured mind few passages in the history of the early Church are more interesting or full of suggestions than this contact point between Christianity and classicism. It would have been beyond Luke’s powers to have fabricated so natural a history of so striking an occurrence. A romancer heroizing Paul would have made him more brilliantly successful.

As Paul enters the city from the Piraeus through the gateway, he finds the street lined with marble images, carved by the hand of the rarest genius, idealized into the forms of imaginary gods, Jupiter, Apollo, Minerva, Mercury, and the Muses. He walks the main street to the Agora, forum, or “market,” Acts 17:17.

Standing in the Agora. and facing northward, Paul sees before him, in a sort of semicircle, the pnyx or slope of the town-meeting, the Mars’ Hill or Areopagus, and the tall Acropolis or state-citadel: and behind him the Museum.

The AGORA was margined with colonnades and porticoes, which were adorned with mythological images and statues of the historical great men of Athens, such as Solon, Conon, and Demosthenes. The AREOPAGUS was crowned with the temple of Mars, from whom its height was named. But it was upon the summit of the ACROPOLIS that the genius of Athens had lavished the utmost prodigality of art. Crowning all was the giant image of Athene (Minerva) in full armour, formed of the brazen spoils of the battle of Marathon, holding aloft a brilliant spear and shield, standing in majesty as the patron goddess, from whose Greek appellation, Athene, the city derived its name.

It was the providential mission of majestic Rome to furnish to the world the idea of a well ordered STATE, in which nations should be organized, law be rendered supreme, and order and security reign, down even to the humblest individual. It was the mission of Greece, and especially of Athens, to furnish the ideal of grace, beauty, and intellectual civilization, by which man is to be truly humanized to his noblest character. It was the mission of Israel to maintain the truths of conscience, the divine law, religion, GOD.

Of these three ideas, the political, the esthetical, and the Infinite, the three representative cities were Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem. Accordingly, throughout the New Testament, we find the stern pressure of the Roman power beneficent as well as despotic. But this power is to be softened and subdued by the esthetic; and both are to be subdued, permeated, and spiritualized by the power of the INFINITE and of that INFINITE we now behold Paul standing forth the representative in the Agora of Athens, as he soon will in the Pretorium of Rome.

[image]


Verse 16

16. Paul waited… at Athens—Having left Silas and Timothy, and dismissed his Berean conductors, the apostle treads the streets a pensive solitaire. He who could quote, even here, the appropriate passage from the Greek poets, was doubtless not blind to the perfection with which art had wrought poetry in marble. But he comes with the firmness of a conqueror, not to be subdued by the beauty of his foe. He is the missionary of the Infinite, and he must not be seduced out of his mission by the fascinations of the esthetic. Under all this exterior of gaiety he knows there lurks a sadness, a sensualism, and a despair; for Greece, in forgetting God, has lost her assurance of life and immortality. Groping in vain for truth, she tries in vain to satisfy herself with beauty and voluptuousness.

Stirred in him— Literally, was sharpened. He was impatient at the evidences afforded on every side that the true God was utterly excluded from Athens by a pantheon of false gods, and he was stimulated to assail the system of falsehood by the revelation of the truth.

Given to idolatryκατειδωλον, an expressive term; literally, under-idoled. The soil of the city underlay the images like a stratum. In Athens, it was said, you could oftener find a god than a man. It was almost as thickly peopled with marble statues as with living inhabitants.


Verse 17

17. Synagogue—Paul was not the first Jew in Athens. And wherever there were ten Jews there was likely to be a synagogue. To the synagogue the apostle goes to offer Christ before he presents him to the agora; “to the Jew first,” even in Athens, “and also to the Gentile.”

Devout persons— Athenians inclined to renounce idolatry and adore the true Jehovah.

Them that met with him—To three classes then did Paul open his mission: to the Jews, to the monotheists, and to the accidental Athenians in the agora.

It was peculiarly to this last class and in the same agora that Socrates unfolded those doctrines for which he drank the fatal hemlock.

In the market—In the part of the market or agora nearest the Acropolis was the famous stoa or porch, (called the ποικιλη στοα. or Variegated Porch,) from which the Stoic sect of philosophers was named.


Verse 18

18. Philosophers—Socrates was the first who turned the study of men from mere physics to mind and morals. His more legitimate followers were Plato and Aristotle, the former of whom endeavoured to place man’s immortality and the law of immutable right and truth upon a firm basis of positive reason. Of this class of philosophers none seem to have encountered the apostle.

Epicureans—The essential principle of Epicurus was that man should aim at the greatest possible amount of happiness. This maxim is capable of the highest and best meaning. And it is said that Epicurus used it to show that the highest pleasure required the most perfect virtue. But as Epicurus admitted no future state, the maxim in most men’s minds took an individual application. Each one said, “I have but one life to live, and I must, by whatever means, or at whosever expense, get the most enjoyment out of it for myself.” Hence, sensuality and selfishness, tending to utter beastliness, were the natural result. This philosophy is, in its essence, being revived at the present day by such men as Comte, of France, and John Stuart Mill, of England. Such philosophers may, like Epicurus, give a high version of this philosophy, and may sustain it by their own exemplary conduct; but its prevalence ever marks a sensual age. Sensual men will ever feel a tendency to adopt the doctrine; the doctrine will ever exert an influence to make men sensual.

Stoics—The Stoics, reversing the Epicurean maxim, forbid all regard for pleasure, and require us to act solely for the absolute right. He who so acted, discarding all passion or selfishness, was a wise man, a king, a god. This was a noble philosophy, and some of the noblest men of antiquity belonged to this sect. But, knowing nothing but the energy of human nature to rely upon, it placed a greater strain on fallen humanity than it was able to bear. In endeavouring to make men morally perfect it made them perfectly miserable. While Stoicism would make men perfect by crucifying all man’s passions, Christianity would make them so, through a divine aid, by harmonizing the passions with the right, the true, and the good. Thus it attains for man a higher happiness than Epicurus knew, and a perfect righteousness, a holiness, and a blessedness unknown to Stoicism.

But it was in their doctrine of God and a future state that these philosophers came into collision with the preaching of Paul. The Stoics were pantheists, the Epicureans were atheists, and neither knew any future state. Pantheism teaches that the universe, the great whole, the cosmos, is God. Atheism admits, of course, the existence of the cosmos, but denies the existence of any God. In asserting the existence of a true, living, personal God, who exists in entire independence of the cosmos, and able to live without the cosmos, yet author and creator of the cosmos, Paul’s Christianity was at exterminating war with both. Yet pantheism and atheism are at bottom one. Both alike teach that the cosmos, passing through changes and evolutions by laws inherent within itself, is all the God there is. Pantheism avers that there is no God but cosmos, and atheism only denies that besides the cosmos there is any God. With regard to a future state both Epicureans and Stoics maintained that, whether pleasure or duty is our law, all our calculations are limited to this life. Hence, both these sects were at issue with every step of the apostle’s argument. And when Paul uttered the word resurrection, they were as prompt in their rejection of further discourse as were the Jerusalemite Jews when he uttered the word Gentiles, Acts 22:22.

Some said—We suppose that this first contemptuous question comes from the haughty Stoics.

Babbler—In the Greek the term σπερμολογος signifies, literally, a seed-picker, an epithet applied to birds. It may here mean figuratively a talker who picks up a smatter of petty subtleties to retail. The term was often applied also to loungers and vagrants, who lived about the agora, like birds, on what they could pick up, and so it may have been applied to Paul.

Strange gods—The very same term, foreign gods, was used in the legal indictment against Socrates. Some have supposed that the plural gods was here used because in the phrase Jesus and the (anastasis) resurrection they mistook anastasis for a goddess. Hackett, Lechler, and others, deny that the Athenians could have made such a mistake. And certainly they could not have made it after having heard the speech of Paul. They might, however, have caught such a notion previously, when, by their own account, they but half understood him.

[image]


Verse 19

19. Took him—Not violence, but guidance.

Areopagus—Capriciously rendered by our translators Mars’ hill, in Acts 17:22. The term is compounded of αρειον, belonging to Mars, and παγος, hill, and the place was so named because, according to mythology, on that height the god Mars, having slain the son of Neptune, pleaded his case before the twelve great gods. Here the most ancient and reverend court known in Greece, consisting of the weightiest characters of the state, held its solemn sessions by night alone. Among its duties was the sacred one of judging the lawfulness of any religious rite or dogma. Paul was not arraigned before the court, but only invited by Athenian curiosity to speak in the place. Yet certainly one of the Areopagite judges was present, and, perhaps, others, in their judicial seats.

May we know—Literally, can we know, a most respectful form of request.


Verse 20

20. Strange things—A new form of religion from the East! Something from Syria that even the Jews of Athens do not recognise!


Verse 21

21. Strangers—Including the students of philosophy, who at this age resorted to Athens as the most enlightened school of the world.

Hear some new thing—Long anterior to Luke, Demosthenes, the great orator, rebuked the Athenians for lounging in the agora with their eternal “What is the news?” when they should have been marching against their dangerous enemy, Philip of Macedon.


Verse 22

22. Midst of Mars’ hill—Led by the gentle pressure of the Athenian crowd, the apostle ascends, by a flight of limestone steps, a steep of sixty feet height, and finds upon the summit a broad plateau. This, like all the other places of public assembly in the pure air of Athens, was roofless under the open sky. Hewn in rock are the elevated seats of the venerable Areopagite judges. Around him below is a city of temples, altars, theatres, and statuaries, the works of the greatest human masters of art. He has the bold summit of the Acropolis fronting him, crowned with the Parthenon, and the Parthenon surmounted, above all, by the colossal Athene, goddess alike of wisdom and of war, protecting the philosophy, art, and religion of Athens from the innovator, as well as her power from the invader. In the diminutive but lithe apostolic figure that now stands before her, the goddess faces a foe who pronounces the death-sentence of her own divinity.

Said—In arguing with Jews St. Paul could use all the antecedents of Israel; her history, her sacrifices, her prophecies, and all her hopes, as premises from which to deduce Jesus the Messiah. But in here addressing the centre of intellectual Gentilism, to what antecedents or premises could he appeal? In his own celebrated city of Tarsus, however, he had already doubtless encountered philosophers. and hence his present masterpiece of oratory was not wholly impromptu. He appeals to whatever intuition of the true God he can discover even in their idolatries, (22, 23;) to the proofs of God furnished by the creation, (24-29;) to the sentiment of retribution in the human soul as the basis of an expectation of a judgment day, (30, 31.)


Verses 22-31

Paul’s Speech at the Areopagus, Acts 17:22-31.

Men of Athens—The customary address of Demosthenes, Athenian men.

Too superstitious—It is now generally agreed that the insulting term superstitious is an unhappy rendering of Paul’s Greek word. His word is a generic term which is capable of both a good and a bad meaning, and we doubt not that it was for that reason selected. He could not truthfully commend; he could not respectfully condemn; he therefore selects a term which does not unequivocally do either, while it does express the truth. The Greek word is compounded of δειδω, to fear or reverence, and δαιμων, god, demi-god, or supernatural being, good or bad. The Greek compound has not θεος, God, so as to make it properly God-fearing, and the fear may be either superstitious, or reverential and truly pious. It might, therefore, be strictly rendered, preserving the ambiguity, deity-fearing. Ye are deity-reverencing, and I will tell you what deity to reverence. The apostle uses the comparative degree, more deity-reverencing; that is, than others. This character has been attributed by various authors to the Athenians. No people of pagan antiquity was so completely overruled by their religion, such as it was. Josephus calls them “the most worshipful of the Greeks.” Their own dramatic poet, Sophocles, says, “Piety with you alone of men have I found.”

“The Scriptures here recognise,” says Stier, “a certain religionism of the heathen as something good; and if, in our overpowering zeal, we are not willing to acknowledge this the full force of this discourse of Paul must be hidden from us.” To the Old Testament Hebrew the guilt of idolatry was presented in its most criminal aspect, because it was his special mission to preserve the knowledge and pure and sole worship of the true Creator in the world.


Verse 23

23. Devotions—The Greek word signifies rather the apparatus of worship, such as temples, altars, and the like.

An altar—Amid the countless monuments of idolatry a single altar, alone, seemed to turn from all the deities of the Pantheon, and long for the unknown Infinite. From this pregnant text Paul can deduce God and Christ. “We should make use,”

says Stier, “of that modicum of truth that lies concealed in error.”

The unknown God—Rather, to an unknown God, or to God unknown. How, it is asked, could the apostle truly say that the unknown God was in fact Jehovah? For to him, a preacher of truth and righteousness, no rhetorical license can be allowed. We are told that there were at Athens altars erected to unknown gods. Thus Philostratus says, αθηνησιν ου και αγνωστων θεων βωμοι ιδρυνταιAt Athens, where are built altars to unknown gods. And Pausanias says, in his description of Attica, that altars of unknown gods were in the Phaleric harbour of Athens. The language does not unequivocally decide whether each single altar was devoted to a single unknown god, or to several, or all. But, first, we learn by these passages, at any rate, that the Athenians did erect altars to unknown divine power; and, second, we may then fairly allow the apostle’s word to decide for the singular. We also plentifully know that paganism often felt an anxiety as to what god it had offended, or ought to thank for some providential flavour. So the prayer of Horace: “O deorum quiequid in coelo regit,” (Epist. Acts 5:1,) “O whichever of the gods rules in the sky!” And this passage, addressing a single unknown god, confirms the singular interpretation of the above two Greek quotations. To Horace the apostle might have most truly responded, “Whom you, unknowing him, worship, Him declare I unto you.”

IgnorantlyUnknowing; namely, the God worshipped. In unfolding here the sublimity of the divine attributes there seems to us a triad which has escaped the notice of commentators. From God’s illimitable nature he argues the insufficiency of temples, (Acts 17:24;) from God’s self-sufficiency, the needlessness of offerings, and so of altars, (Acts 17:25;) from the infinite spirituality, the folly of idol statuary, (26-29.) These are attacks on the threefold concrete forms of paganism.


Verse 24

24. God—A personal being; not a blind force or law of nature; not the sum total of nature’s laws personified; but One who exists independently of nature.

Made the world—The world not being a part of Him. nor emanating necessarily from him, nor he from the world; but he being the voluntary Creator of the world.

Dwelleth not in temples—He is limitless, though a person; and, therefore, can be circumscribed within no temples.


Verse 25

25. As though he needed any thing—A fatal blow at the whole system of pagan rituals, which assumed that its sacrifices and incense gratified the appetites and senses of the human-like deities.


Verse 26

26. Made of one blood—The apostle does not here explicitly declare that all men have descended from one pair of parents; though, in the opinion of the best philosophers, he states a fact which implies it. He asserts the unity of the living nature (for “the blood is the life”) of men. One of the greatest proofs of the oneness of man’s nature is the power of intermingling the blood in generation. It is a general, if not universal, test of a species that the sexual union be fertile. All the varieties of man are by this test proved to be the same species; and all other earthly beings are by the same test excluded from humanity. Anatomically, “the missing link” between man and brute has, up to this date, never been discovered; and, spiritually, even Professor Huxley declares that the difference “is practically infinite.”

Times… bounds—God has not abandoned man, like a pile of crawling maggots, to pure random. He has preconstructed for his race a scheme and a history, with predetermined periods of time and boundaries in space.


Verses 26-29

26-29. The argument here is, that God being an all-governing, all-pervading Spirit, all material imaging of him degrades him. Or, more fully, (26,) God has made one human race, (27,) to so appreciate his universal spiritual nature, (28,) being cognate with our own spiritual nature, (29,) as to realize the unworthiness of all statuary to represent him.


Verse 27

27. That—Man is created a social being that he maybe a religious being. He is enabled to form into peoples and nations that he may organically adore the God of all.


Verse 28

28. In him we live—We are surrounded by his pervading Spirit as by an atmosphere; yet, contrary to pantheism, distinct from him. As—This as refers not to the last clause, but back to Acts 17:26, so as to include the whole thought that God has so formed man as that man should realize him.

His offspring—And so cognate with him, and thereby competent to appreciate him. We are the offspring of God only, however, in our spiritual nature. And yet we are so spirit as to be like God, yet not identical with him; there being between the spirit of man and the spirit of God, not only an ineffable sameness, but an ineffable difference.

Your own poets—And here the poets, speaking from our higher and more spiritual nature, are the best authority. More than one Greek poet had expressed this sentiment. The very words are contained in the Hymn of Cleanthes, one of the most sublime, and absolutely the most Christianlike production of pagan antiquity. Nearly the same words are found in Aratus, a poet, born, like the apostle, in Cilicia.


Verse 29

29. Forasmuch—The apostle then draws his inference: if we are God’s offspring, as spirits, and of spirits there can be neither picture nor image, we ought so to appreciate the omnipotent Spirit as to see that he cannot be represented by base marble or metal, with which he is in absolute contrast.

Graven—Carved or sculptured. The Greek word is a noun in apposition with the preceding norms: gold, silver, or stone, the shapement of man’s art and device.”


Verse 30

30. This ignorance—The ignorance expressed in Acts 17:23, and exemplified in the idolatrous scene around him.

Winked at—The Greek word signifies overlooked, that is, permitted to pass on as a temporary dispensation.

But now—The proclamation of the Gospel terminates the period of excusable ignorance. Knowledge, to whomsoever it comes, creates new obligations and destroys ancient excuses.

Repent—Of an ignorance of God and a base idolatry now not only indefensible, but inexcusable.


Verse 31

31. A day—See note on John 11:24.

That man—Crowning the scheme of human history is this judgment-day, at which man, the image and offspring of God, is by man to be judged.

Ordained—As the God of all ages has appointed the day, so he, the God of all nations, hath ordained the man.

Assurance to all—As the day and the man are great world-wide facts, so of them God has sent forth a world-wide announcement.

From the dead—That a common man should be raised from the dead is not credible, for God would not do such a thing. But that a wonderful man, an exceptional man, a miraculous man, the race-born Son of man, ordained by God and set forth by him, should be raised, is credible. And when God has done such a thing, then he furnishes men good reason to believe when he declares that the man raised from the dead will judge the world in righteousness.

These Athenians now hear the fact that a man was raised from the dead, separate from all its miraculous and divine connexions, just as incredulously as we would hear that a man was raised from the dead in some neighbouring country town. They listen to it as a thing not to be listened to. And so, in their peremptory haste, they sink the topmost man of the human race, the topmost event of human history, and the topmost day of human existence, into the ordinary, and so into the false.


Verse 32

32. Some mocked… others said—The whole assembly forthwith divides itself into two classes. The first mocks, but seems inclined to stay. The second smoothly excuses itself and departs, postponing the further hearing indefinitely. Of the two—the uncivil ones who stay, and the civil ones who go—the apostle prefers the latter, and departs also. He soon departs for Corinth, with what feelings Luke does not intimate. But certain it is, from his own account, that for some reason he entered Corinth under a sense of most profound humiliation, 1 Corinthians 2:1-3. He felt at Thessalonica the treatment he had experienced at Philippi; did he feel at Corinth the pressure of his failure at Athens?


Verse 34

34. Dionysius—One eminent man, and one woman sufficiently notable to be named, with a few others nameless, who appear not to have been organized into a Church, were the converts of that day. Unreliable tradition, however, makes Dionysius a future bishop of Athens, and a volume of mythical theology, by some unknown writer, is falsely ascribed to his authorship.

Opposite as were the tempers and causes which produced the rejection of Jesus by the Jews and the Athenians, they were at bottom the same— traditional prepossession. What the Temple, and Moses, and the Old Testament were to the Jew, that the Acropolis, the tutelar Athene, and philosophy, were to the Athenian—a binder of his whole soul to the proud past, filling him with contempt for the innovator. Alike against the Temple and the Acropolis the apostle pronounced the divine protest, and left his irrevocable words of destruction upon both, to be fulfilled by time and Providence.

It was Athens, not Paul, that suffered that day the real defeat. She lost an honourable record in Christian history. She lost the honour of being the Fourth Great European Church. Though repeatedly passed, she was, probably, never revisited by the apostle. She was addressed by no apostolic epistle, received no honourable New Testament mention. When we speak of the Greek Church, we think not so readily of Athens as of Antioch, of Corinth, of Constantinople, or even of St. Petersburg.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Acts 17:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/acts-17.html. 1874-1909.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology