Ac 17:1-15. At Thessalonica
the Success of Paul's Preaching Endangering His Life, He Is Despatched by Night to Berea, Where His Message Meets with Enlightened
Acceptance—A Hostile Movement from
Thessalonica Occasions His Sudden Departure from
Berea—He Arrives at
1. when they had passed through
Amphipolis—thirty-three miles southwest of Philippi, on the
river Strymon, and at the head of the gulf of that name, on the
northern coast of the Ægean Sea.
and Apollonia—about thirty miles
southwest of Amphipolis; but the exact site is not known.
they came to Thessalonica—about
thirty-seven miles due west from Apollonia, at the head of the Thermaic
(or Thessalonian) Gulf, at the northwestern extremity of the Ægean
Sea; the principal and most populous city in Macedonia. "We see at once
how appropriate a place it was for one of the starting-points of the
Gospel in Europe, and can appreciate the force of what Paul said to the
Thessalonians within a few months of his departure from them: "From
you, the word of the Lord sounded forth like a trumpet, not only in
Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place,"" (1Th 1:8) [Howson].
where was a synagogue of the
Jews—implying that (as at Philippi) there was none at
Amphipolis and Apollonia.
2-4. Paul, as his manner was—always to
begin with the Jews.
went in unto them—In writing to the
converts but a few months after this, he reminds them of the courage
and superiority to indignity, for the Gospel's sake, which this
required after the shameful treatment he had so lately experienced at
Philippi (1Th 2:2).
3. Opening and alleging that Christ must needs
have suffered, &c.—His preaching, it seems, was chiefly
expository, and designed to establish from the Old Testament Scriptures
(1) that the predicted Messiah was to be a suffering and dying, and
therefore a rising, Messiah; (2) that this Messiah was none other than
Jesus of Nazareth.
4. consorted—cast in their lot.
with Paul and Silas—Compare 2Co 8:5.
of the chief women—female proselytes
of distinction. From the First Epistle to the Thessalonians it appears
that the converts were nearly all Gentiles; not only such as had before
been proselytes, who would be gained in the synagogue, but such as up
to that time had been idolaters (1Th 1:9, 10). During his stay, while Paul supported
himself by his own labor (1Th 2:9; 2Th 3:7-9), he received supplies once and again
from the Philippians, of which he makes honorable acknowledgment (Php 4:15,
5-9. the Jews … moved with
envy—seeing their influence undermined by this stranger.
lewd fellows of the baser sort—better,
perhaps, "worthless market people," that is, idle loungers about the
market-place, of indifferent character.
gathered a company—rather, "having
raised a mob."
assaulted the house of Jason—with whom
Paul and Silas abode (Ac 17:7), one
of Paul's kinsmen, apparently (Ro 16:21), and from his name, which was sometimes
used as a Greek form of the word Joshua [Grotius], probably a Hellenistic Jew.
sought to bring them—Jason's
6. And when they found them not, they drew Jason
and certain brethren unto the rulers—literally, "the
politarchs"; the very name given to the magistrates of Thessalonica in
an inscription on a still remaining arch of the city—so minute is
the accuracy of this history.
crying, These that have turned the world upside
down—(See on Ac 16:20).
7. all do contrary to the decrees of
Cæsar, &c.—meaning, probably, nothing but what is
specified in the next words.
saying … there is another king, one
Jesus—(See on Joh 19:12).
9. And when they had taken security of Jason and
of the other—"the others"—probably making them deposit
a money pledge that the preachers should not again endanger the public
10-12. the brethren immediately sent away Paul and
Silas by night—for it would have been as useless as rash to
attempt any further preaching at that time, and the conviction of this
probably made his friends the more willing to pledge themselves against
any present continuance of missionary effort.
unto Berea—fifty or sixty miles
southwest of Thessalonica; a town even still of considerable population
11. These were more noble than those in
Thessalonica—The comparison is between the Jews of the
two places; for the triumphs of the Gospel at Thessalonica were mostly
among the Gentiles. See on Ac 17:2-4.
in that they received the word with all
readiness of mind—heard it not only without prejudice, but
with eager interest, "in an honest and good heart" (Lu 8:17), with sincere desire to be taught
aright (see Joh 7:17).
Mark the "nobility" ascribed to this state of mind.
searched the scriptures daily whether those
things were so—whether the Christian interpretation
which the apostle put upon the Old Testament Scriptures was the true
12. Therefore many of them
believed—convinced that Jesus of Nazareth whom Paul preached
was indeed the great Promise and Burden of the Old Testament. From this
it is undeniable, (1) that the people, no less than the
ministers of the Church, are entitled and bound to search the
Scriptures; (2) that they are entitled and bound to judge, on
their own responsibility, whether the teaching they receive from the
ministers of the Church is according to the word of God; (3)
that no faith but such as results from personal conviction ought to
be demanded, or is of any avail.
of honourable women which were Greeks, and of
men—which were Greeks.
not a few—"The upper classes in these
European-Greek and Romanized towns were probably better educated than
those of Asia Minor" [Webster and Wilkinson].
13. the Jews of Thessalonica … came thither
also—"like hunters upon their prey, as they had done before
from Iconium to Lystra" [Howson].
14. immediately the brethren—the
converts gathered at Berea.
sent away Paul—as before from
Jerusalem (Ac 9:30), and
from Thessalonica (Ac 17:10).
How long he stayed at Berea we know not; but as we know that he longed
and expected soon to return to the Thessalonians (1Th 2:17), it is probable he remained some weeks
at least, and only abandoned his intention of revisiting Thessalonica
at that time when the virulence of his enemies there, stimulated by his
success at Berea, brought them down thither to counterwork him.
to go as it were to the sea—rather,
perhaps, "in the direction of the sea." Probably he delayed fixing his
next destination till he should reach the coast, and the providence of
God should guide him to a vessel bound for the destined spot.
Accordingly, it was only on arriving at Athens, that the convoy of
Berean brethren, who had gone thus far with him, were sent back to bid
Silas and Timothy follow him thither.
Silas and Timotheus abode there
still—"to build it up in its holy faith, to be a comfort and
support in its trials and persecutions, and to give it such
organization as might be necessary" [Howson]. Connecting this with the apostle's leaving
Timothy and Luke at Philippi on his own departure (see on Ac 16:40), we may conclude that this was his fixed plan
for cherishing the first beginning of the Gospel in European
localities, and organizing the converts. Timotheus must have soon
followed the apostle to Thessalonica, the bearer, probably, of one of
the Philippian "contributions to his necessity" (Php 4:15, 16), and from thence he would with
Silas accompany him to Berea.
15. Silas and Timotheus to come to him with all
speed—He probably wished their company and aid in addressing
himself to so new and great a sphere as Athens. Accordingly it is added
that he "waited for them" there, as if unwilling to do anything till
they came. That they did come, there is no good reason to doubt (as
some excellent critics do). For though Paul himself says to the
Thessalonians that he "thought it good to be left at Athens alone"
3:1), he immediately adds
that he "sent Timotheus to establish and comfort them" (Ac 17:2); meaning, surely, that he despatched
him from Athens back to Thessalonica. He had indeed sent for him to
Athens; but, probably, when it appeared that little fruit was to be
reaped there, while Thessalonica was in too interesting a state to be
left uncherished, he seems to have thought it better to send him back
again. (The other explanations which have been suggested seem less
satisfactory). Timotheus rejoined the apostle at Corinth (Ac 18:5).
Ac 17:16-34. Paul at
16, 17. wholly given to
idolatry—"covered with idols"; meaning the city, not the
inhabitants. Petronius, a contemporary writer at Nero's court, says
satirically that it was easier to find a god at Athens than a man. This
"stirred the spirit" of the apostle. "The first impression which the
masterpieces of man's taste for art left on the mind of St. Paul was a
revolting one, since all this majesty and beauty had placed itself
between man and his Creator, and bound him the faster to his gods, who
were not God. Upon the first contact, therefore, which the Spirit of
Christ came into with the sublimest creations of human art, the
judgment of the Holy Ghost—through which they have all to
pass—is set up as "the strait gate," and this must remain the
correct standard for ever" [Baumgarten].
17. Therefore disputed—or,
he in the synagogue with the Jews—The
sense is not, "Therefore went he to the Jews," because the Gentile
Athenians were steeped in idolatry; but, "Therefore set he himself to
lift up his voice to the idol city, but, as his manner was, he began
with the Jews."
and with the devout persons—Gentile
proselytes. After that,
in the market—the Agora, or
place of public concourse.
daily with them that met with him—or
"came in his way."
18-21. certain … of the
Epicureans—a well-known school of atheistic
materialists, who taught that pleasure was the chief end of human
existence; a principle which the more rational interpreted in a refined
sense, while the sensual explained it in its coarser meaning.
and of the Stoics—a celebrated school
of severe and lofty pantheists, whose principle was that the
universe was under the law of an iron necessity, the spirit of which
was what is called the Deity: and that a passionless conformity of the
human will to this law, unmoved by all external circumstances and
changes, is the perfection of virtue. While therefore the Stoical was
in itself superior to the Epicurean system, both were alike hostile to
the Gospel. "The two enemies it has ever had to contend with are the
two ruling principles of the Epicureans and Stoics—Pleasure
and Pride" [Howson].
What will this babbler say?—The word,
which means "a picker-up of seeds," bird-like, is applied to a gatherer
and retailer of scraps of knowledge, a prater; a general term of
contempt for any pretended teacher.
a setter forth of strange
gods—"demons," but in the Greek (not Jewish) sense of
"objects of worship."
because he preached Jesus and the
resurrection—Not as if they thought he made these to be two
divinities: the strange gods were Jehovah and the Risen
Saviour, ordained to judge the world.
19. they took him, and brought him to
Areopagus—"the hill where the most awful court of judicature
had sat from time immemorial to pass sentence on the greatest
criminals, and to decide on the most solemn questions connected with
religion. No place in Athens was so suitable for a discourse on the
mysteries of religion" [Howson]. The
apostle, however, was not here on his trial, but to expound more
fully what he had thrown out in broken conversations in the Agora.
21. all the Athenians … spent their time in
nothing else but to tell or hear some new thing—literally,
"newer thing," as if what was new becoming presently stale, they craved
something still more new [Bengel]. This
lively description of the Athenian character is abundantly attested by
their own writers.
22. Then Paul stood … and
said—more graphically, "standing in the midst of Mars' hill,
said." This prefatory allusion to the position he occupied shows the
writer's wish to bring the situation vividly before us [Baumgarten].
I perceive that in all things ye are too
superstitious—rather (with most modern interpreters and the
ancient Greek ones), "in all respects extremely reverential" or "much
given to religious worship," a conciliatory and commendatory
introduction, founded on his own observation of the symbols of devotion
with which their city was covered, and from which all Greek writers, as
well as the apostle, inferred the exemplary religiousness of the
Athenians. (The authorized translation would imply that only too
much superstition was wrong, and represents the apostle as
repelling his hearers in the very first sentence; whereas the whole
discourse is studiously courteous).
23. as I passed by and beheld your
devotions—rather, "the objects of your devotion," referring,
as is plain from the next words, to their works of art consecrated to
I found an altar … To the—or,
unknown god—erected, probably, to
commemorate some divine interposition, which they were unable to
ascribe to any known deity. That there were such altars, Greek writers
attest; and on this the apostle skilfully fastens at the outset, as the
text of his discourse, taking it as evidence of that dimness of
religious conception which, in virtue of his better light, he was
prepared to dissipate.
Whom therefore ye ignorantly
worship—rather, "Whom, therefore, knowing Him not, ye
worship," alluding to "The Unknown God."
I unto you—This is like none of his
previous discourses, save that to the idolaters of Lycaonia (Ac
14:15-17). His subject is
not, as in the synagogues, the Messiahship of Jesus, but THE Living God, in opposition to the materialistic
and pantheistic polytheism of Greece, which subverted all true
religion. Nor does he come with speculation on this profound
subject—of which they had had enough from others—but an
authoritative "announcement" of Him after whom they were groping not
giving Him any name, however, nor even naming the Saviour Himself but
unfolding the true character of both as they were able to receive
24, 25. God that made the world and all …
therein—The most profound philosophers of Greece were unable
to conceive any real distinction between God and the universe. Thick
darkness, therefore, behooved to rest on all their religious
conceptions. To dissipate this, the apostle sets out with a sharp
statement of the fact of creation as the central principle of
all true religion—not less needed now, against the transcendental
idealism of our day.
seeing he is Lord—or Sovereign.
of heaven and earth—holding in free
and absolute subjection all the works of His hands; presiding in august
royalty over them, as well as pervading them all as the principle of
their being. How different this from the blind Force or Fate to which
all creatures were regarded as in bondage!
dwelleth not in temples made with
hands—This thought, so familiar to Jewish ears (1Ki
8:27; Isa 66:1, 2; Ac 7:48),
and so elementary to Christians, would serve only more sharply to
define to his heathen audience the spirituality of that living,
personal God, whom he "announced" to them.
25. Neither is worshipped
with—ministered unto, served by
men's hands, as though he needed
anything—No less familiar as this thought also is to us, even
from the earliest times of the Old Testament (Job 35:6, 8; Ps 16:2, 3; 50:12-14; Isa
40:14-18), it would pour a
flood of light upon any candid heathen mind that heard it.
seeing he—He Himself.
giveth to all life, and breath, and all
things—The Giver of all cannot surely be dependent for aught
upon the receivers of all (1Ch 29:14).
This is the culminating point of a pure Theism.
26, 27. and hath made of one blood all nations of
men to dwell on all the face of the earth—Holding with the
Old Testament teaching, that in the blood is the life (Ge 9:4;
Le 17:11; De 12:23), the
apostle sees this life stream of the whole human race to be one,
flowing from one source [Baumgarten].
and hath determined the times before appointed,
and the bounds of their habitation—The apostle here opposes
both Stoical Fate and Epicurean Chance, ascribing the periods
and localities in which men and nations flourish to the
sovereign will and prearrangements of a living God.
27. That they should seek the Lord—That
is the high end of all these arrangements of Divine Power, Wisdom, and
if haply they might feel after him—as
men groping their way in the dark.
and find him—a lively picture of the
murky atmosphere of Natural Religion.
though he be not far from every one of
us—The difficulty of finding God outside the pale of revealed
religion lies not in His distance from us, but in our distance from Him
through the blinding effect of sin.
28. For in him we live, and move, and have our
being—(or, more briefly, "exist").—This means, not
merely, "Without Him we have no life, nor that motion
which every inanimate nature displays, nor even existence
itself" [Meyer], but that God is the
living, immanent Principle of all these in men.
as certain also of your own poets have said, For
we are also his offspring—the first half of the fifth line,
word for word, of an astronomical poem of Aratus, a Greek countryman of
the apostle, and his predecessor by about three centuries. But, as he
hints, the same sentiment is to be found in other Greek poets. They
meant it doubtless in a pantheistic sense; but the truth which
it expresses the apostle turns to his own purpose—to teach a
pure, personal, spiritual Theism. (Probably during his quiet retreat at
9:30, revolving his special
vocation to the Gentiles he gave himself to the study of so much Greek
literature as might be turned to Christian account in his future work.
Hence this and his other quotations from the Greek poets, 1Co 15:33;
29. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God,
we ought not to think—The courtesy of this language is
worthy of notice.
that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver,
or stone, graven by art and man's device—("graven by the art
or device of man"). One can hardly doubt that the apostle would here
point to those matchless monuments of the plastic art, in gold and
silver and costliest stone, which lay so profusely beneath and around
him. The more intelligent pagan Greeks no more pretended that these
sculptured gods and goddesses were real deities, or even their actual
likenesses, than Romanist Christians do their images; and Paul
doubtless knew this; yet here we find him condemning all such efforts
visibly to represent the invisible God. How shamefully inexcusable then
are the Greek and Roman churches in paganizing the worship of the
Christian Church by the encouragement of pictures and images in
religious service! (In the eighth century, the second council of Nicea
decreed that the image of God was as proper an object of worship as God
30. the times of this ignorance God winked
at—literally (and far better), "overlooked," that is, bore
with, without interposing to punish it, otherwise than suffering the
debasing tendency of such worship to develop itself (compare Ac 14:16, and see on Ro
but now—that a new light was risen
upon the world.
commandeth—"That duty—all along
lying upon man estranged from his Creator, but hitherto only silently
recommending itself and little felt—is now peremptory."
all men every where to repent—(compare
Col 1:6, 23; Tit 1:11)—a tacit allusion to the narrow
precincts of favored Judaism, within which immediate and entire
repentance was ever urged. The word "repentance" is here used (as in
13:3, 5; 15:10) in its most
comprehensive sense of "repentance unto life."
31. Because he hath appointed a day in the which
he will judge the world—Such language beyond doubt teaches
that the judgment will, in its essence, be a solemn judicial assize
held upon all mankind at once. "Aptly is this uttered on the
Areopagus, the seat of judgment" [Bengel].
by that man whom he hath
ordained—compare Joh 5:22, 23, 27; Ac 10:42.
whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in
that he hath raised him from the dead—the most patent
evidence to mankind at large of the judicial authority with which the
Risen One is clothed.
32-34. when they heard of the resurrection of the
dead, some mocked—As the Greek religion was but the
glorification of the present life, by the worship of all its most
beauteous forms, the Resurrection, which presupposes the vanity of the
present life, and is nothing but life out of the death of all that sin
has blighted, could have no charm for the true Greek. It gave the death
blow to his fundamental and most cherished ideas; nor until these were
seen to be false and fatal could the Resurrection, and the Gospel of
which it was a primary doctrine, seem otherwise than ridiculous.
others said, We will hear thee again of
this—"an idle compliment to Paul and an opiate to their
consciences, such as we often meet with in our own day. They probably,
like Felix, feared to hear more, lest they should be constrained to
believe unwelcome truths" (Ac 24:25;
and compare Mt 13:15)
[Webster and Wilkinson].
33. So Paul departed—Whether he would
have opened, to any extent, the Gospel scheme in this address, if he
had not been interrupted, or whether he reserved this for exposition
afterwards to earnest inquirers, we cannot tell. Only the speech is not
to be judged of as quite complete.
34. Howbeit certain men clave unto
him—Instead of mocking or politely waiving the subject,
having listened eagerly, they joined themselves to the apostle for
further instruction; and so they "believed."
Dionysius the Areopagite—a member of
that august tribunal. Ancient tradition says he was placed by the
apostle over the little flock at Athens. "Certainly the number of
converts there and of men fit for office in the Church was not so great
that there could be much choice" [Olshausen].
a woman named Damaris—not certainly
one of the apostle's audience on the Areopagus, but won to the faith
either before or after. Nothing else is known of her. Of any further
labors of the apostle at Athens, and how long he stayed, we are not
informed. Certainly he was not driven away. But "it is a serious and
instructive fact that the mercantile populations of Thessalonica and
Corinth received the message of God with greater readiness than the
highly educated and polished Athenians. Two letters to the
Thessalonians, and two to the Corinthians, remain to attest the
flourishing state of those churches. But we possess no letter written
by Paul to the Athenians; and we do not read that he was ever in Athens