Acts 17:16-34 (web)

2nd Missionary Journey


17:16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, 
his spirit was provoked within him as he saw the city full of idols. 
17:17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, 
and in the marketplace every day with those who met him. 
17:18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also{TR omits "also"}
were conversing with him. Some said, "What does this babbler want to say?" 
Others said, "He seems to be advocating foreign deities," 
because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. 
17:19 They took hold of him, and brought him to the Areopagus, saying,
"May we know what this new teaching is, which is spoken by you? 
17:20 For you bring certain strange things to our ears. 
We want to know therefore what these things mean." 
17:21 Now all the Athenians and the strangers living there 
spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing. 

17:22 Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus, and said, 
"You men of Athens, I perceive that you are very religious in all things. 
17:23 For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship,
I found also an altar with this inscription: 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' 
What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I announce to you. 
17:24 The God who made the world and all things in it, he, 
being Lord of heaven and earth, doesn't dwell in temples made with hands, 
17:25 neither is he served by men's hands, as though he needed anything, 
seeing he himself gives to all life and breath, and all things. 
17:26 He made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the surface of the earth, having determined appointed seasons, and the boundaries of their dwellings, 
17:27 that they should seek the Lord, 
if perhaps they might reach out for him and find him,
though he is not far from each one of us. 
17:28 'For in him we live, and move, and have our being.' 
As some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also his offspring.' 
17:29 Being then the offspring of God, 
we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like 
gold, or silver, or stone, engraved by art and design of man. 
17:30 The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked. 
But now he commands that all people everywhere should repent, 
17:31 because he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world
in righteousness by the man whom he has ordained; 
whereof he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead." 

17:32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, 
some mocked; but others said, "We want to hear you again concerning this." 
17:33 Thus Paul went out from among them. 
17:34 But certain men joined with him, and believed, 
among whom also was Dionysius the Areopagite, 
and a woman named Damaris, and others with them. 


vs 16 We should not feel comfortable with the sinfulness in the society. It should provoke us to anger. That is the proper emotional response, just as it provokes God to anger. 

vs 17 "Therefore he disputed" indicates that is was out of anger of the sinfulness he saw in the society that he was provoked to do evangelism in this case. Is there something which can provoke you do to evangelism? We notice once again the Paul starts with the Jews and devout Gentiles. Today the first people to evangelize should be other Christians. For there are many religious people in the Christian community who have yet to apply their faith to life. There are many "Christians" who have yet to come to the saving knowledge of our Lord and Savior and be born of the Spirit. But Paul also met with people in the market place. This would incorporate the non-religious citizens, though being no doubt philosophically minded. 

vs 18 The Epicureans held a philosophy which led them to a lifestyle of the pursuit of pleasure, and did not deny the existence of gods but argued in deistic fashion that they took no interest in the lives of men, while the Stoics held a philosophy which led them to a lifestyle indifference to pleasure or pain and emphasized man's rational abilities and individual self-sufficiency. But Paul offered a message distinct from these humanistic value systems. When preaching to philosophical types we need to not simply debate virtues and vices of certain ideas. As when speaking to anyone concerning the gospel, we need to present the historic facts behind Jesus and his resurrection. Philosophies are one thing, but historic facts are another. It is the historic facts of Jesus and the resurrection that form the foundation of our faith.

vs 19-21 Paul found an open door for the gospel in that it was a new idea among those seeking for new ideas. Rather than trying to drag the reluctant to church to listen to a sermon, how today might we develop people's curiosity so as to motivate them to investigate the gospel further? 

vs 22 He spoke from Mars' hill. Mars was the god of war and here Paul would do battle with the philosophers of the age. The King James says "too superstitious", but the word being used can have a positive or derogatory meaning.  In a good sense in could mean "reverencing god or the gods, pious, religious". In a bad sense "superstitious". Given this ambiguity, it was a good word for Paul to use to express his meaning. 

vs 23 It seems the Athenians were so religious and so polytheistic that they made sure to have an altar to an UNKNOWN GOD, just in case they missed one. But this afforded an opportunity for Paul to relate the gospel with their culture by revealing the true God of whom the Athenians were ignorant. Today many seek for something they don't really understand. For in the search for fulfillment in life they don't realize that what they search for can only be found in Christ.

vs 24 It was appropriate for Paul to start off from where they were at in their thinking rather than speak to them as if they were Jews. Such an approach is only reasonable. So also in speaking to those around us we should correct their misconceptions of God.

At first glance we might see a contradiction between the idea of God not dwelling in temples and the fact that the Temple in Jerusalem was reckoned as God's dwelling place (Matt 23:21). But in the dedication of that temple Solomon prayed, "But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!" 1Kings 8:27 And he speaks much of heaven being God's dwelling place.  But I think Ps 74:7 clarifies this further saying,  "They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name." The temple was the dwelling place of God's name, not the dwelling place of God himself. It represented His presense on earth. Today the equivalent is the Christian community.

1Co 6:19  Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
Eph 2:21  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
Thus we also have the New Testament paradox whereby we declare that God lives in us - the Christians - as His temple and yet is also omnipresent. For such dwelling is speaking in a different sense than what Paul is referring to here.

vs 25 In the same way God is not worshipped by hands and yet is worshipped by hands, if indeed our service to God is our spiritual act of worship (Rom 12:1) But the idolators worshipped their gods by serving them as if their gods were dependent upon them, much as Israel had to carry around the golden calf. It's simply silly to reckon God to be dependent upon us to provide for His needs. Isaiah mocks the idolators in Isaiah 42 saying of the idolator:

He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.  It is man's fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it.  Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm; I see the fire."  From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, "Save me; you are my god."
 vs 26-27 "one blood" (KJV) The word "blood" is missing in manuscripts upon which modern translations are based. But rather than translate it simply "one" many chose to translate it "one man". But Paul's point here is the idea of common origin. The Athenians reckoned themselves superior and unlike other men. Such an attitude is not uncommon among racists throughout history. But the fact is that we all have a common origin. Many Jews were also racists in that they reckoned themselves superior to the Gentiles based upon their genetics. And thus this concept of common origin was a double edged sword.

Paul also speaks of God's sovereignty over when and where we live. Why are you alive in this age and not in another? Why were you born and live in a certain place and not another? It is because given in the circumstances available God chose these for you so that you might seek God and ultimately find Him! What is it about your circumstances that have led you to seek God?

God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him. This is in contrast to the fatalistic philosophies such as what some Christians preach today in conformity to the fatalistic aspects of Reformed Theology in which men are viewed as incapable of seeking God, let alone reaching out for Him, but rather are viewed as mere puppets. Why is it that God had you born at such a time and at such a place? It was so that you would seek God and maybe reach out and find him. A significant point is that God wants you to seek him. If you seek God it doesn't necessary mean that you will find him. "You will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul." Deut 4:29, but not necessarily otherwise. The word in the NIV here is "perhaps". In the NKJV more literally it's "in the hope that". God in his sovereignty limits his sovereignty on this point. (And who are you Calvinists to say that God is not allowed to do that?) God sovereignly grants people free will to seek after Him and to reach out for Him. Reach out and you will find Him.

vs 28 Paul actually quotes a couple of  Greek poets. The first comes from a quatrain attributed to the Cretan poet Epimenides (c.600 B.C.), which appeared first in his poem Cretica and is put on the lips of Minos, Zeus's son, in honor of his father:

    They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one--
    The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
    But thou art not dead; thou livest and abidest for ever,
    For in thee we live and move and have our being
    (M.D. Gibson, ed., Horae Semiticae X
    [Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1913], p. 40, in Syriac; italics mine).
Interesting to note also that Paul uses the first part of this quote in Titus 1:12 saying, "Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.""

The second comes from the Cilician poet Aratus (c. 315-240 B.C.): "It is with Zeus that every one of us in every way has to do, for we are also his offspring [italics mine]" (Phaenonlena 5); which is also found in Cleanthes's (331-233 B.C.) earlier Hymn to Zeus, line 4.

This is of course not to say that he equated God with Zeus nor agreed with these poets on everything. He was simply trying to show them that there were aspects of his message which were not far from their own concepts. Principle of Evangelism: Know your audience. Christians should be familiar with the ideas and reasoning of those we seek to save. For didn't Christ also become a man and minister among sinners? Perhaps some weak in faith would fear the faith would fall apart when faced with the world's philosophy. It doesn't. There isn't an idea or fact which has ever come close to destroying the faith. While other religions like Islam cannot face scrutiny, even making death threats to those who challenge it, Biblical Christianity has stood as a lamb unblemished by the onslaughts of the enemy, being open to skepticism.

By "we are his offspring" Paul is referring to the general relationship of created to Creator, and not to the special relationship inherent in the relationship between God and the Christians as the children of God.

vs 29 We are made in the image of God and the Greeks even affirm this to a degree in their anthropomorphizing of their gods in human form. But logically if man is like God, then he is quite different than substances like silver or gold. I would imagine the Greek philosophers felt a bit patronized at this point as they reckoned themselves philosophically superior and yet were revealed as fools in their overlooking of these basic facts.

vs 30-31 Repentance is an essential aspect of the gospel message. The bad news precedes the good news. But it is interesting the prior to this God in some way overlooked such transgressions. Does he mean that prior to this God didn't hold the Gentiles accountable for their sinfulness, but now he does? Paul is not explicit here on what he means. But I would infer that he means that prior to this God hadn't explicitly made a general call for the Gentiles to repent from their idolatry, as He had spoken to Israel. I would infer further that there are sins which people commit in relative ignorance, their minds having been corrupted by sin. But sin is sin, and subject to judgement. In fact much of the Law of Moses had to do with sins committed in ignorance. It is possible that in the dispensation prior to the gospel going out to the Gentiles, sins of ignorance which Gentiles committed were forgiven, but they would be held accountable for sins committed against their conscience. (deliberate sins) But now God reveals more and thus holds them accountable for more. A similar thing could be said of remarriage after divorce. In the Jewish community prior to Jesus it was allowed. But Jesus revealed it as adulterous and thus Christians are held to a higher standard because of a greater revelation. (See also Knowledge can lead to destruction in the hands of the irresponsible.

When God gives a command it is implied that those whom it is directed are able to obey it. In this case the command is directed to "all people everywhere." Everyone every must repent. And all who hear are capable of repenting. The gospel message is not for the few elect. It is for everyone everywhere. Because judgement is coming upon the whole world, and only those who believe and repent will be spared. It is not God the Father who will judge the world. For he has entrusted all judgement to the Son, who is Jesus Christ, Lord of all. (John 5:22) But he desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

But this is alot of propositional truth. What is the basis upon which people should believe that Jesus Christ is who Paul claims him to be? His resurrection from the dead affirms the gospel. The physical historic fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is an essential part of the gospel message. For God does not expect or demand people to believe from blind faith. He is reasonable. But He affirms the message through miracles, being culminated in the resurrection. 

vs 32-34 However many reject the gospel outright at the very idea of miracles, without any further investigation, being reckoned simply as a tabloid account of falsified information. By their outright rejection and mocking reveals a lack of objectivity one would expect of more serious skeptics. I suspect they were humiliated enough by Paul's argument that they were just waiting for him to say something they could mock. This is often the case when you speak to others about their sinfulness.  For most, no matter how reasonable your argument they will find some reason to mock and reject you.

But it would be a mistake to reckon Paul a failure here. For among these philosophical elite there were those who wanted to hear more. And in fact some came to believe, like Dionysis, a member of the Council. Eusebius later writes of the bishop of church of Corinth who in about 166 ad mentions this Dionysis that he later became an episcopate of the church at Athens. Such a comment is interesting also for the fact that a church indeed became established in Athens. But many who reckon Paul a failure in Athens do so as to discredit his message and  method of evangelism here, which makes some philosophically or apologetically weak Christians uncomfortable. 

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jan 28,2022