Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
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
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
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
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
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
gathered a company--rather, "having raised a mob."
assaulted the house of Jason--with whom Paul and Silas abode
one of Paul's kinsmen, apparently
and from his name, which was sometimes used as a Greek form of
the word Joshua [GROTIUS], probably a
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
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
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
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.
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
with sincere desire to be taught aright (see
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"
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
and from Thessalonica
How long he stayed at Berea we know not; but as we know that he longed
and expected soon to return to the Thessalonians
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
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"
he immediately adds that he "sent Timotheus to establish and comfort
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
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"
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
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 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
His subject is not, as in the synagogues, the Messiahship of Jesus, but
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 it.
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
dwelleth not in temples made with hands--This thought, so familiar to
Isa 66:1, 2;
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;
it would pour a flood of light upon any candid heathen mind that heard
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
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
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
27. That they should seek the Lord--That is the high end of all these
arrangements of Divine Power, Wisdom, and Love.
if haply they might feel after him--as men groping their way in the
and find him--a lively picture of the murky atmosphere of Natural
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"
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 Tarsus.
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,
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 Himself).
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
and see on
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;
--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
Lu 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"
by that man whom he hath ordained--compare
Joh 5:22, 23, 27;
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"
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
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
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"
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 again" [HOWSON].