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  • JAMIESON-FAUSSET-BROWN - ACTS 17
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    CHAPTER 17

    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 ATHENS.

    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, 16).

    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 lodgers.

    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 peace.

    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 and importance.

    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 one.

    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" (1Th 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 ATHENS.

    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, discussed.
    - 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 religion.
    - I found an altar . . . To the--or, "an"
    - 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%%

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