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The Book of Acts Series

Acts, Chapter 17

John Baugh

December, 2009

Acts 17 (New American Standard Bible)

 

Key events in Acts - Chapter 17

 

1 Ė Paul in Thessalonica

Three weeks teaching in the synagogue
Problems with the Jews
Jason and the Peace Bond

2 - Paul in Berea

3 - Paul at Athens
Sermon on Mars Hill

 

Acts 17

Paul at Thessalonica

 1Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ."

 4And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.

 Did Luke Stay in Philippi?

As quickly as the "we" references to the missionary team begin (Acts 16:10), in Acts 17:1, they end and Luke goes back to his "they" references. There is the possibility that Luke chose to stay (or Paul asked him to stay) in Philippi and minister to the new church there. He will begin using the "we" references later in Acts, but for the moment, he removes himself from the references to the team's activity.

The Team travels to Thessalonica

After leaving Philippi, the team travels westward through Amphipolis and Apollonia. Amphipolis is about 33 miles (53 kilometers) southwest of Philippi on the Via Egnatia. Apollonia is 27 miles (43 kilometers) southwest of Amphipolis. After a journey of about 35 miles (56 kilometers) west ofApollonia, the group arrives in Thessalonica. Each of these cities is about a day and a half to two day (walking) journey from the next. Thessalonica (the modern day city of Salonika) is the capital of the province of Macedonia, and its largest and most prosperous city. At that time, Thessalonica was a large city of perhaps 200,000 people. It was located on the Thermaic Gulf. The Via Egnatia is the main street of Thessalonica, and it is still a major thoroughfare of Salonika.

In Lukeís day, Thessalonica was an important link between the rich Macedonian agricultural interior and land and sea trade routes departing from the Balkan Peninsula.

Paul teaches in the largest cities of the Roman worldóAntioch, Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus and Rome. These cities are seaports and on the main roadways that cross the lands. The churches established in these cities would provide a jumping-off place from which nearby towns and villages across the countryside wouldl be evangelized.

Later, Paul will write to the Church in Thessalonica, "The Lordís message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaiaóyour faith in God has become known everywhere" (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

Paul goes to the Synagogue, as was his custom

When Paul comes to Thessalonica, he goes into the synagogue "as his custom was" and for "three Sabbath days (three weeks) he reasoned with them (the Jews) from the Scriptures" (Acts 17:2). By this time, Paul has developed a consistent strategy for spreading the gospel. When he arrives in a new city, he almost always visits a local synagogue. As Luke reports, this becomes Paul's regular practice (13:14, 44; 14:1; 16:13, 16; 18:4; 19:8).

The synagogue provides a wonderful teaching opportunity for Paul. Here Jews and devout Gentiles gather to read and interpret the Scriptures, or the Old Testament, which they likely have in a Greek translation. In this place, Paul is able to speak to people who already know the true God. They share Israelís hope for a Messiah and the kingdom of God.

At Thessalonica, Paul speaks in the synagogue over a three Sabbath period. Although Luke does not say this in Acts, from 1 Thessalonians, Paul indicates that many of the converts in Thessalonica were gentiles and likely from a pagan background.

 9For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, (1Thessalonians 1:9)

The reference from 1 Thessalonians indicates that Paul was also teaching pagan Gentiles directly. This instruction would have occurred outside of the synagogue. Most likely, the three weeks teaching in the synagogue Luke mentions were only part of Paulís work in Thessalonica, with other efforts during those three weeks spent addressing the gentiles who did not attend synagogue.

Reasoning from the Scriptures

In the synagogue, Paul is "explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead". Luke tells us that Paul followed a methodical presentation in his teaching. He "reasons," "explains," "proves," and "persuades" his hearers.

The preaching of Paul in the Book of Acts generally and at Thessalonica particularly took the form of one who proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ and that his suffering and resurrection were in accord with the Scriptures. In doing this, Paul explained to his listeners that through the earthly ministry and living presence of Christ, men and women can experience the reign of God in their lives.

This is the gospel that Paul preaches from the Hebrew Scriptures. He writes later (to the church in Corinth) of this "good news": "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4).

Some of the Jews in Thessalonica believe this gospel. So do a number of God-fearing Gentiles who attend the synagogue and a few "prominent women" (17:4). These all become disciples as probably do a number of pagan Gentiles. Others surely rejected Paulís teaching. The Ďgood newsí concerning a messiah who died of crucifixion would have been a difficult concept for most Jews to accept. As with other cities, Paulís message of deliverance through Christ Jesus quickly led to problems with the Jews in Thessalonica.

5But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. 6When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, "These men who have upset the world have come here also; 7and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus."

 8They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. 9And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them.

 

Some of the Jews accuse Paul and Silas

Paulís success at presenting the gospel in Thessalonica brings on jealousy from the Jews. Not only is Paul stealing converts from among the Jews who attend synagogue, he is also making proselytes from the Gentile (pagan) community. And so they take measures to stop Paulís evangelizing activities. To accomplish this, they "rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace (perhaps through bribes), formed a mob and started a riot in the city" (17:5). From Luke's report, their intent was to implicate Paul and Silas in a civil disturbance and then to bring charges against them for civil disturbance.

However, they are unable to locate Paul and Silas. The Jews assume the missionaries are in the home of a convert named Jason and they invade his home (which, as with Lydia in Chapter 16, may be the site of the local house church) but find only Jason and some other believers there. When they do not find Paul and Silas there, the crowd drags Jason and some other believers before the city authorities with false claims intended to cause them legal problems. As with the disturbance in Philippi, their intent is to have Paul and Silas thrown into prison. Until that happens, they are content to pursue similar legal problems against Jason and the other believers.

The Jews intent is to bring a charge of disturbing the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome) against Paul and Silas. They claim, "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here" (17:6). The Jews have failed to locate Paul and Silas, but it does not stop them from accusing Jason of being part of the conspiracy when he allows Paul and Silas to operate out of his home or to use it as a home-church for worship gatherings. The Jews also bring a second charge, accusing the missionary team of "defying Caesarís decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus" (17:7). Both of these are serious charges. If proven true, they are sufficient to result in a sentence of death for Paul and Silas.

The authorities in Thessalonica are "thrown into turmoil" when the Jews make these accusations (17:8). As those who are assigned the job of keeping the peace, they do not want riots in their city, especially knowing that they will be held responsible for any civil unrest, or if any imperial Roman decrees are violated.

But it seems that the authorities see through the Jewsí plot and recognize the accusations as without merit.

Perhaps as a compromise, the authorities force Jason and those arrested with him to post a bond (what we would know as a 'peace bond'), assuring them that there would be no more disturbances. This probably meant that Paul and Silas had to leave Thessalonica and not come back, lest their friends be forced to forfeit their peace bond.

Paul at Berea

 10The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.

 11Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

 12Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.

 13But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds.

 14Then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there.

 15Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left.

 

To Berea

Evidently, the Jews in Thessalonica are still looking for Paul and Silas, so as soon as night comes, the disciples arrange his escape from the city and send them to Berea. Once again, Paul is forced to make a hasty and humiliating departure, as he did from Damascus (9:23-25), Jerusalem (9:30), Antioch of Pisidia (13:50-51) and Lystra (14:20).

Berea (the modern day city of Verria) is about 50 miles (81 kilometers) southwest of Thessalonica. This would be a three walk. Berea is considered an out-of-the-way place, of little historical or political importance. Paul again goes into the synagogue to preach and is given an unusually warm reception by the Jews. Luke presents the Jews in Berea as open-minded individuals, writing:

 11Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

These Jews apparently meet with Paul every day (not just on the Sabbath) to examine the Scriptures. Luke implies that they are zealous to understand the truth. Luke writes that many of them believe the gospel, as do some prominent Gentile men and women.

Luke emphasizes that the converted Gentiles are "prominent," perhaps in social standing. However, the antagonistic Jews of Thessalonica learn that Paul is teaching in Berea. They send some agents to stir up the crowds there. The Berean disciples take immediate action and take Paul away to Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy behind until he sends for them.

Some commentators speculate that Paul has not really planned to teach in Athens, saying that he would have preferred to follow the Via Egnatia across the Balkan peninsula to Dyrrhachium on the Adriatic, and then cross the sea to Italy, toward Rome. Whatever his intentions, itís clear that Paul comes to Athens mainly to escape persecution.

 16Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.

 17So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.

 

Paul in Athens

When Paul arrived in Athens, he found a city with a thousand year history. Although no longer a shining city, Athens was known to be the foundation of democracy and a literary, artistic and philosophical center. Aeschylus, Epicurus, Euripides, Plato, Socrates, Sophocles, Thucydides and Zeno were part of its heritage.

The Romans conquered Athens in 146 B.C., but the city was so notable as a center of learning and thought that it continued to function as a free city, even under Roman rule. However, the city had lost its great wealth and pre-eminent position long before Paul's arrival. Athens, while still a great university town, was living off its history, reputation and ancient glory. Its population during Paulís days was only 10,000.

In Athens, Paul found himself in an intellectual city that was proud of its pagan heritage. Luke writes that while Paul is waiting for Silas and Timothy, "he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols". Paul was troubled by the peopleís ignorance of the true God. In fact, the Athens of Paulís day was a city of many gods.

William Barclay (The Acts of the Apostles, revised edition, The Daily Study Bible Series) wrote, "It was said that there were more statues of the gods in Athens than in all the rest of Greece put together and that in Athens it was easier to meet a god than a man."

In Athens, Paul continued his usual practice of teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, where he reasoned with Jews and God-fearing Greeks, but he also pursues a parallel strategy of going to the Gentiles in the marketplace on weekdays.

The Agora Marketplace

Athens' marketplace is the Agora, which is located west of the Acropolis. It is the center of Athenian social life and serves as its forum and a place where goods are bought and sold. In the Agora, Paul challenges the crowds with the gospel message.

 18And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, "What would this idle babbler wish to say?" Others, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities," because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

Paul soon finds himself challenged by Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who apparently teach in the agora marketplace as well. We would expect to see these philosophers at the agora each day, since Athens was a home base for these rival schools of philosophy and it would have been customary for them to do the same as Paul was doing. The people were at the agora and they would have been there, too.

Epicureanism:

Regarding Epicurean philosophy, Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) said that pleasure is the chief goal of life. "Pleasure," in his view, is the enjoyment of life that comes with freedom from pain, distressing emotions, superstitions, fears, and anxiety about death. To him the greatest pleasure would be the absence of pain, suffering and fear.

Today, Epicureanism is sometimes confused with hedonism, which is indulging in physical pleasures without restraint. But that is not what the Epicureans taught in Paulís day. While they considered pleasure the highest good, it was more of an intellectual detachment from the cares of this life than attachment to physical desire.

Epicurus and those who followed him did not deny the existence of the gods, but they said the notions held by the multitudes were wrong. The Epicureans argued that their gods were "far off," with little or no interest in the ordinary lives of people. Epicureans had little motivation to seek after God or to fear his judgments.

Stoicism:

The Stoic school of philosophy was founded by Zeno (340-265 B.C.), who was from Citium in Cyprus. Stoics emphasized human rational abilities, individual self-sufficiency, moral worth and duty. They stressed reason and logic as principles that should govern the lives of people. The gods of popular mythology were said to be expressions of this Ďuniversal reasoní. The Stoics were pantheists in that they thought of the divine as a kind of "world-soul."

Paul, the babbler:

There is little difficulty understanding why the Epicureans and Stoics disagreed with the gospel of salvation Paul was teaching in the marketplace. The philosophers of those two schools relied on their reasoning to help explain the nature of human existence to help them cope with a world of suffering. The two philosophies tried to explain the plight of humanity apart from any revelation of Godís purpose. In that sense, the gospel message that Paul presented was a great challenge to them. It brought truth and light (Godís truth and light) regarding humanityís purpose, and called into question the usefulness of the philosophies these two groups followed.

To believers in Epicureanism and Stoicism, Paulís "philosophy" sounded alien, foolish and perhaps even dangerous. Itís not strange, then, that upon hearing Paul speak, some of these philosophers would counter with, "What is this babbler trying to say?". The Greek word for "babbler" is spermologos. The word originally described the action of birds picking up grain. It was then applied to scrap collectors searching for junk. Finally, it came to refer to people who sold the ideas of other people without understanding them. The word spermologos described teachers who had only bits and pieces of learning, but who were trying to sound learned.

Paul was contemptuously dismissed by the Stoics and Epicureans of the marketplace as ignorant (1 Corinthians 2:23). Others were less hurtful but more perplexed, saying, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods". They said this because Paul was "preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection". The philosophers seemed to misunderstand what he was talking about. In their minds, Paul was referring to a new (foreign) god (Jesus) and a goddess (Resurrection, or anastasis in Greek). Perhaps the philosophers thought that Paul wanted to have these "new" deities added to the Athenian pantheon. In that respect, they listened to his message, although perhaps not in agreement with it.

 19And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean."

 21(Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)

 

Paul attends the Areopagus

The suspicious philosophers now decide to take Paul to a session of the Areopagus. It is the city council of Athens, and in Roman times it is still the chief judicial body of the city. The court of the Areopagus has perhaps 30 members, and is considered to be a select body. Interestingly, the word "Areopagus" survives today as the title of the Greek Supreme Court.

In those days, the council probably met on the 377-foot hill called the Areopagus, or the Hill of Ares, or Mars Hill. (Ares was the Greek god of war, and was equated with the Roman god Mars.) Mars Hill is just northwest of the Acropolis.

The Areopagus was the town council responsible for culture, education and religion. It also dealt with cases of homicide and had oversight of public morals. The Areopagus also evaluated the competence of visiting lecturers to speak in Athens.

Itís not altogether clear whether the philosophers simply ask Paul to go before the Areopagus or whether they made a citizenís arrest and force him to go. The way Luke presents the proceeding it appears to be more of a curious inquiry rather than a formal hearing, and much less a trial. Since Luke doesnít imply the existence of a legal proceeding, it appears that Paul is asked to present his views before a normal session of the Areopagus. However, the appearance might have been something of a command performance, not to be refused.

The Areopagus would have listened to reports from citizens regarding issues of vital interest to the community in a manner similar to city council meetings today. It would have been the responsibility of the Areopagus to hear and evaluate Paulís "new ideas," even if they seemed strange and far-fetched.

Josephus gives several examples of Athenians being punished for offending the gods of Athens (Against Apion 2.262-269). Among those recently executed, says Josephus, was "a certain priestess, because she was accused by somebody that she initiated people into the worship of strange gods" (2.267). Even under the best of circumstances, an offer to present oneís views about "strange gods" before the council is not to be taken lightly.

It may have been that Paulís defense before the Areopagus was a kind of preliminary hearing to determine whether charges against him for promoting new gods should be filed. If that is true, how he fared before this city court might have determined his fate.

 22So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.

 23"For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD ' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.

 24"The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;

 25nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;

 26and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,

 27that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  28for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.'

Paulís Sermon on Mars Hill

Paul now stands before the Areopagus and the council asks him to speak. "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?" the Areopagus asks, "You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean" (17:20).

In his statement before the Areopagus, Paul tells the court that some pagans and philosophers have an understanding of God that contradicts idolatry. Paul then points out that the philosophers donít go far enough in their understanding of God. Then Paul introduces a new understanding of God and his purpose, and calls on his listeners to abandon their ignorance, and to repent.

Paul seeks out common ground with the court by saying, "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious" (17:22). He doesnít accuse the Athenians of idolatry or any sin, but acknowledges their interest in the divine. Paul builds on their piety and doesnít condemn it. Privately, of course, he is very distressed by the fact that their worship is directed toward idols (17:16).

"The recognition of an unknown god"

Paul next refers to an ignorance of the divine that the Athenians themselves admit. He says, "As I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscriptions: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you".

In his defense, Paul (first of all) does not directly challenge the idolatry practiced in Athens. Since the Athenians admit that they donít know who or what this God is (since he is "unknown"), they are in no position to deny his nature as Paul explains it. Also, Paul is not attacking their gods and leaving himself open to a charge of atheism. The God he is speaking of is a "new" one.

Secondly, Paul does not use anything from the Jewish Scriptures in his speech. Paul is not trying to prove that Jesus is the Messiahóthat would be meaningless for a council whose members were probably followers of the major philosophies of the day and were not seeking a messiah as were the Jews. In light of this, Paul does not begin his address by referring to Jewish history or by quoting Jewish Scriptures because it would make little sense to refer to the history of a nation no one knew or argue the fulfillment of prophecy no one was interested in, or quote from a book no one had read or accepted as authoritative.

Thirdly, Paulís address to the Athenians is an excellent example of Paulís willingness to "become all things to all people" in order to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:22). To those like the pagan Athenian council members, or "those not having the law", Paul "became like one not having the law" to win them over to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21).

Paulís speech shows his approach to preaching to pagan Gentiles.

God made the world

Paulís next point is to establish that "the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth" (verse 24). Here, Paul tells the Athenians that God is Creator, the maker of all things, not one who can be created by hands. God is not detached from his creation, and the world did not come to exist by chance, but by design. Paul points out that God guides human history. This statement contradicts the beliefs of some philosophers who insist on a god who has no dealings with or interest in everyday occurrence. He appeals to the Atheniansí experience of the creation around them as something that reveals God.

Someone has said that there are two books about God - the Bible and nature itself. The latter is said to be the basis of a "natural theology," and our observation of nature (the natural world) as a forerunner to faith in God is the way Paul begins to explain who God is to these pagans.

The Jews already believed in the one true God, and in Scripture, so when Paul spoke to Jews, he began his message with "revealed theology" - the statements of Moses, David and the prophets and then moved on to arguments that in Jesus the world saw a fulfillment of the Scriptural requirements of the Messiah.

What Paul says to the Athenians about God as Creator is also a major focus of Scripture as well (Isaiah 40:28; 42:5; 45:12) but he does not state it in that way since they would have no background with Isaiah. To persuade this audience in Athens, Paul cites examples and writings that are accepted by Greek philosophers. Evidently Paul understood when the gospel is presented to pagans it is necessary to first establish who the one true God is and so in his Mars Hill presentation, Paul claims that Godís existence can be glimpsed by rightly understanding the creation.

The Athenians would first have to turn away from idols to God before they would be able to see and appreciate his saving work in Christ. That (knowing who God is) is what Paul was pushing toward in his message.

God does not live in temples built by hands:

Paul then said the true God "does not live in temples built by hands". This is the statement Stephen made in a Jewish context (Acts 7:48-50). Neither in Jerusalemís holy place - nor in any other holy place - will people truly find and worship God.

Even here, Paul is not in conflict with the philosophers of the Areopagus. Stoic philosophers accept the premise that the gods are (and God is) bigger than the temple.

Paul continues his address by saying that "God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else" (verse 25). God needs nothing from us. It is we who need everything from God - even life and breath. This is something that even many pagans understand, so Paul is still on common ground with the Athenians here.

The principle that God is self-sufficient is also basic Hebrew biblical theology (Psalm 50:7-15; 1 Chronicles 29:14). It is interesting that as Paul speaks, he continues to present a parallel message, between the Scriptures and the thoughts of the philosophers.

From one man made nations

Paul next appeals to the idea that our common humanity has a single source, by which he means the one true God. "From one man he [God] made every nation of men," said Paul, "...and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live" (verse 26).

He is not far from us; for in him we live and move

Paul insists that God has a purpose in allowing the rise and fall of nations, and their geographical placement. "God did this so that men would seek him," says Paul, "and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us" (17:27). What Paul means is that people should respond to the longing in their inner being and search for the one true God (Psalm 14:2; Proverbs 8:17; Isaiah 55:6-7; Jeremiah 29:13). The Hebrew Scriptures promise that, "The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth" (Psalm 144:18). Paul is saying, with the prophets, that God is nearby, not far away (Jeremiah 23:23)óand he wants to be discovered. Paul pushes his point that there is a relationship between humanity and Godóthat God wants to be sought and found in a particular way.

It is interesting that although not necessarily stated in scriptural or gospel terms, Paulís speech is thoroughly gospel-oriented and biblical in content. He makes reference to pagan authorities in the same way he cites the giants of Scripture, such as Moses or David, to prove his point about Godís purpose in Jesus.

Paul doesnít condemn the Athenians for seeking understanding of God. He recognizes the common longing of humanity to connect with God. What Paul does in this speech is begin with the knowledge the Athenian philosophers have and then use it to help his hearers leap over their ignorance, and into the truth of Godís purpose in Christ.

 29"Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.

 30"Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,

 31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."

 

God is not like the idol

As he moves to the end of his address, Paul makes his concluding remarks about idolatry: "Since we are Godís offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone". Paul will not avoid the obvious forever. Now is the time to address Idolatry and so he does.

"In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent" (verse 30). Paul is telling the Athenians that from whatever their condition is, they are being called by God to repentance.

While God "overlooks" sin, there is also retribution for people who suppress the truth about his eternal power and divine natureóhe lets sin have its natural results (Romans 1:18-32).

Paul now warns the Areopagus that his speech is not idle philosophical speculation. His call to repentance is serious because God "has set a day when he will judge the world with justice" (verse 31, quoting Psalm 96:13.)

Scripture makes clear in many places that a "day of judgment" is indeed coming. The offer of salvation in Christ is counterpoised with the threat of judgment for those who reject him. (Luke 10:12-15; 12:42-48; Romans 2:5-11, 16; 1 Corinthians 1:7-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10; 2 Peter 3:10-13.)

Proof of resurrection

At the end of his speech, Paul focuses on Christ, him crucified and resurrected. Paul insists that God will judge the world by "the man he has appointed" (verse 31), referring to Jesus, but not mentioning his name. Jesus has been given all power in heaven and earth. This reality is proven, insists Paul, in the fact that God raised him from the dead (verse 31).

Up to this point, Paul has been attempting to demonstrate Godís existence, sovereignty and purpose by things that can be seen. The philosophers might argue about the meaning of nature, but they certainly cannot argue against the fact of its existence.

Now, Paul asserts that a human being Ė Jesus - has been raised from the dead. He is insisting on something contrary to the philosophersí observation of the way the world works. It is also contrary to the views of the popular philosophies of the day.

 32Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this."

 33So Paul went out of their midst.

 34But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

Some are not willing to accept the Resurrection:

Here, Luke describes the generally negative reaction to Paulís teaching: "When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ĎWe want to hear you again on this subjectí" (verse 32). The Greeks accepted the immortality of the soul, but the idea of a person being bodily resurrected from death was more than they were willing to consider.

Some of the Athenian leaders rejected Paulís teaching completely, with open ridicule. Others asked to hear his theories (again) at a later date. In any event, no charges are brought against him and ďhe went out of their midst.Ē

Only a few believe Paulís message and the gospel. Luke says "a few men became followers of Paul" (verse 34). Luke mentions Dionysius by name, a member of the Areopagus, and a woman, Damaris.

And so, Paulís work in Athens ends on less than a splendid note. The New Testament does not mention any church in the city.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2009, by ToBeLikeHim Ministries

 

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