J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on ActsActs 17
Verses 2, 3
Luke now drops the pronoun of the first person, in which
he has spoken of the apostolic company since they left Troas, and resumes
the third person, which shows that he remained in Philippi after
the departure of Paul and Silas. He also speaks of the these two brethren
as if they constituted the whole company, until they are about to
leave Berea, when Timothy is again
mentioned. [Acts 17:14.]
This leads to the
presumption that Timothy remained with Luke, to still further instruct
and organize the infant congregation in Philippi. Leaving the
cause thus guarded behind them, Paul and Silas seek another field of
(1) "And having passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia,
they went into Thessalonica, where was the synagogue of the Jews."
distance from Philippi to Amphipolis was thirty-three miles; from
Amphipolis to Apollonia, thirty miles; and from Apollonia to Thessalonica,
thirty-seven miles; making just one hundred miles to the
next city which the apostles undertook to evangelize. The whole of
this distance was over one of those celebrated military roads built by
the Romans, and elegantly paved with
flag-stones. [Life and Ep., vol. 1, pp. 317, 318.]
At Philippi there was no synagogue, and the swift passage of Paul
and Silas through Amphipolis and Apollonia indicates that there was
none in either of those cities; hence the synagogue in Thessalonica
was the only one in a large district of the country, for which reason it is
styled "the synagogue of the Jews." The existence of a synagogue in
a Gentile city was always an indication of a considerable Jewish population.
Thessalonica, on account of its commercial importance, was
then, and continues to be, under its modern name Salonica, a great
resort for Jews. [Life and Ep., vol. 1, p. 325.]
It was a knowledge of this fact, no doubt, which
hastened Paul to this city, anticipating, through the synagogue, a more
favorable introduction to the people than he had enjoyed at
(2) "And according to Paul's custom, he went in to them, and for
three Sabbath days disputed with from the Scriptures,
them, and setting forth that it was necessary that the Christ should suffer,
and arise from the dead, and that this Jesus whom I preach to you is the
This was certainly a well-chosen course of argument. One
of the chief objections which the Jews urged against Jesus during his
life was his humble and unpretending position in society, which was
inconsistent, in their estimation, with his claims to the Messiahship.
And since his resurrection, the preaching of the Christ as crucified
was, to the mass of the Jews, a scandal, because it appeared an impeachment
of the prophets to proclaim the despised and crucified Jesus
as the glorious Messiah whose coming they had predicted. But Paul
begins his argument with the Thessalonian Jews, by showing that the
writings of the prophets themselves made it necessary that the Messiah
"should suffer and arise from the dead." Having demonstrated
this proposition, it was an easy task to show that "this Jesus whom
I preach to you is the Christ." It was well known that he had suffered
death, and Paul had abundant means of proving that he had
risen again. This proof was not confined to his own testimony, as an
eye-witness of his glory, though we may well suppose that he made
use of this, as he did on subsequent
occasions. [22:8; 26:15.]
But he gave ocular
demonstration of the living and divine power of Jesus, by working
miracles in his name. This we learn from his first epistle to the
Church in this city, in which he says: "Our gospel came to you not
in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much
assurance; as you know what manner of men we were among you for
your sake." [1 Thessalonians 1:5.]
The power of the Holy Spirit, working miracles before
them, gave an assurance of the resurrection and glory of him in whose
name they were wrought, which the "word only" of all the men on
earth could not give. Without such attestation, the word of man in reference
to the affairs of heaven has no claim upon our confidence; but
with it, it has a power which can not be resisted without resisting God.
This course of argument and proof occupied three successive Sabbaths.
During the intervening weeks the two brethren carefully
avoided every thing which might raise a suspicion that they were governed
by selfish motives. They asked no man in the city for even their
daily bread. [2:9.]
They received some contributions to their necessities
from the brethren in
Philippi, [Philippians 4:16.]
but the amount was so scanty as to
still leave them under the necessity of "laboring night and
day." [1 Thessalonians 2:9.]
The effect of arguments and demonstrations so conclusive, accompanied
by a private life so irreproachable, was quite decisive.
(4) "Some of them believed, and adhered to Paul and Silas; of the devout
Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few."
this description the parties are distributed with great exactness. The
expression "some of them" refers to the Jews, and indicates but a
small number. Of the "devout Greeks," who were such Gentiles as
had learned to worship God according to Jewish example, there was
a "great multitude," and not a few of the "chief women," who were
also Gentiles. The great majority of the converts, therefore, were
Gentiles; and Paul afterward addresses them as such, saying, "You
turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true
Such a movement among the devout Gentiles, whose presence
at the synagogue worship was a source of pride to the Jews, was
exceedingly mortifying to those Jews who obstinately remained in unbelief.
Their number and popular influence in Thessalonica enabled
them to give serious trouble to Paul and Silas.
(5) "But the unbelieving
Jews, being full of zeal, collected certain wicked men of the idle
class, and raising a mob, set the city in an uproar. And rushing to the
house of Jason, they sought to bring them out to the people.
(6) But not
finding them, they dragged Jason and certain brethren before the city
rulers, crying out, These men, who have turned the world upside down,
have come hither also;
(7) whom Jason has received; and they are all
acting contrary to the decrees of Cæsar,
saying that there is another king,
(8) And they troubled the people and the city rulers, when they
heard these things;
(9) and having taken security of Jason and the others,
they released them."
In the accusation preferred by the Jews there were two specifications,
each one of which had some truth in it. Nearly everywhere
that Paul and Silas had preached, there had been some public disturbance,
which was in some way attributable to their preaching.
But their accusers were at fault in throwing the censure on the wrong
party. The fact that angry excitement follows the preaching of a
certain man, or set of men, is no proof, either in that day or this, that
the preaching is improper, either in matter or manner. When men
are willing to receive the truth, and to reject all error, the preaching
of the gospel can have none but peaceful and happy effects. But
otherwise, it still brings "not peace, but a
sword," [Matthew 10:34.]
and is the "savor
of death unto
death." [2 Corinthians 2:16.]
The apostolic method was to fearlessly
preach the truth, and leave the consequences with God and the
The other specification, that the brethren acted contrary to the decrees
of Cæsar, saying that there was another king, Jesus, shows that
Paul, while opposing the Jewish idea that the Messiah was to be an
earthly prince had not failed to represent him as a king. He represented
him, indeed, as the "King of kings, and Lord or lords."
the accusation contained a willful perversion of his language; for
these Jews knew very well, as their predecessors before the bar of
Pilate knew, that Jesus claimed to be no rival of Cæsar. If he had,
they would have been better pleased with him than they were.
One reason why the Gentiles and city rulers were so readily excited
by this accusation was the fact that the Jews had then but recently
been banished from Rome, as we learn from a statement below in
reference to Priscilla and
Aquila. [Acts 18:2.]
The unbelieving Jews in Thessalonica,
anxious to prove their own loyalty, adroitly directed public
odium toward the Christian Jews, as the real disturbers of the public
peace, and enemies of Cæsar.
Such was the state of feeling in the city that Paul and Silas
saw no prospect of accomplishing good by further efforts, while the
attempt would have been hazardous to the lives of brethren.
"Then the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night, to
Berea; who, when they arrived, went into the synagogue of the Jews."
This city lies about sixty miles south-west of Thessalonica. It contains,
at the present day, a population of fifteen or twenty thousand,
and was, doubtless, still more populous
then. [Life and Ep., vol. 1, pp. 339-341.]
Here again the apostles
find a synagogue, and make it the starting point of their labors.
We have now, at last, the pleasure of seeing one Jewish community
listen to the truth and examine it like rational beings.
these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, who received
the word with all readiness of mind, searching the Scriptures daily to see
if these things were so."
Their conduct can not be too highly commended,
nor too closely imitated. The great sin of the Jews was a
refusal to examine, candidly and patiently, the claims of the gospel.
Having fallen into error by their traditions, they resisted, with passion
and uproar, every effort that was made to give them additional light,
or to expose their errors. Their folly has been constantly re-enacted
by religious partisans of subsequent ages, so that the progress of truth,
since the dark ages of papal superstition, has been hedged up, at every
onward movement, by men who conceived that they were doing God
service in keeping his truth from the people. If such men live and
die in the neglect of any duty, their ignorance of it will be so far
from excusing them that it will constitute one of their chief sins, and
secure to them more certain and more severe condemnation. There
is no greater insult to the majesty of heaven than to stop our ears
when God speaks, or to close our eyes against the light which he
causes to shine around us. The cause of Christ, as it stands professed
in the world, will never cease to be disgraced by such exhibitions of
sin and folly, until all who pretend to be disciples adopt the course
pursued by these Jews of Berea; search the Scriptures, upon the presentation
of every thing claiming to be God's truth, and "see whether
these things are so." Unless the word of God can mislead us, to
follow implicitly where it leads can never be unacceptable to its
If the claims of Jesus are false, an honest and thorough investigation
of them is the best way to prove them so. If they are true,
such an investigation will be certain to convince us and to bless us.
With the Bereans, the logical result of a daily investigation is stated
(12) "Therefore, many of them, and not a few of the honorable men
and women who were Greeks, believed."
It was not here, as in Thessalonica,
that "some of them" and "a great
multitude of Greeks" believed;
but it was "many of them," and "not a
few of the Greeks."
That they believed, is distinctly attributed to the fact that they
"searched the Scriptures;" showing again, that faith is produced by
the word of God.
Verses 13, 14
There seemed to be no serious obstacle to the gospel in
Berea, and the disciples may have begun to flatter themselves with
the hope that the whole city would turn to the Lord, when an unexpected
enemy sprung upon them from the rear.
(13) "But when the
Jews of Thessalonica knew that the word of God was preached by Paul
in Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.
the brethren immediately sent Paul away, to go as if to the sea; but Silas
and Timothy remained there."
There was always sufficient material
for a mob, in a the rude heathen population of a city as large as Berea,
and there was always sufficient appearance of antagonism between
the gospel as preached by Paul, and the laws and customs of the
heathen, to enable designing men to excite the masses against it.
Hence, the easy success of these embittered enemies from Thessalonica,
who, in addition to other considerations, could ask if Bereans
would tolerate men who had been compelled to fly by night from
The statement that the brethren sent Paul away to "go as if to the
sea," certainly implies some disguise of his real purpose. The only
supposition answerable to the phraseology employed is, that he started
in the direction of the sea, and then turned, so as to pursue the land
route to Athens, [See Olshausen and others on the passage.]
which was the next field of labor. Mr. Howson,
who insists that he went by sea, does not display his usual ability in
question. [Life and Ep., vol. 1, p. 342. Note.]
Paul once traveled from Corinth to Berea by
and why not now from Berea through Athens to Corinth? The
fact that it was the more tedious and less usual route, being two hundred
and fifty miles overland, is a good reason why he should have
chosen it the more certainly to elude pursuit.
Whether by land or by sea, the apostle now leave Macedonia, and
starts out for another province of ancient Greece. He has planted
Churches in three important cities of Macedonia. Of these, Thessalonica
occupied the central position, with Philippi one hundred miles
to the north-east, and Berea sixty miles to the south-west. Each of
these becomes a radiating center, from which the light of truth might
shine into the surrounding darkness. We have the testimony of Paul
himself, that from at least one of them the light shone with great intensity.
He writes to the Thessalonians: "From you has sounded out
the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in
every place your faith toward God is spread abroad, so that we have
no need to say any
thing." [1 Thessalonians 1:8.]
There was no need of Paul's voice at any
more than central points, when he could leave behind him congregations
such as this. No doubt much of their zeal and fidelity were
owing to the fostering care of such men as Silas and Timothy, and
Luke, whom the apostle occasionally left behind him.
(15) "Now they who conducted Paul led him to Athens; and
having received a commandment to Silas and Timothy that they should
come to him as quickly as possible, they departed.
(16) And while he
was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was roused within him, when
he saw the city given to idolatry.
(17) Therefore, he disputed in the synagogue
with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market-place daily
with those who happened to be there."
In the ancient world there were two distinct species of civilization,
both of which had reached their highest excellence in the days of the
apostles. One was the result of human philosophy; the other, of a
divine revelation. The chief center of the former was the city of
Athens; of the latter, the city of Jerusalem. If we compare them,
either as respects the moral character of the people brought respectively
under their influence, or with reference to their preparation for
a perfect religion, we shall find the advantage in favor of the latter.
Fifteen hundred years before, God had placed the Jews under the influence
of revelation, and left the other nations of the earth to "walk
in their own ways."
By a severe discipline, continued through many
centuries, the former had been elevated above the idolatry in which
they were sunk at the beginning, and which still prevailed over all
other nations. They presented, therefore, a degree of purity in private
morals which stands unrivaled in ancient history previous to the
advent of Christ. On the other hand, the most elegant of the heathen
nations were exhibiting, in their social life, a complete exhaustion of
the catalogue of base and beastly things of which men and women
could be guilty. [SeeRomans 1:22-32.]
In Athens, where flourished the most profound
philosophy, the most glowing eloquence, the most fervid poetry, and
the most refined art which the world has ever seen, there was the most
complete and studied abandonment of every vice which passion could
prompt or imagination invent.
The contrast in reference to the preparation of the two peoples to receive
the gospel of Christ is equally striking. In the center of Jewish
civilization the gospel had now been preached, and many thousands
had embraced it. It had spread rapidly through the surrounding
country; and even in distant lands, wherever there was a Jewish synagogue,
with a company of Gentiles, who, by Jewish influence, had
been rescued from the degradation of their kindred, it had been gladly
received by thousands of devout men and honorable women. But
nowhere had its triumphs penetrated far into the benighted masses
outside of Jewish influence. The struggle now about to take place
in the city of Athens is to demonstrate still further, by contrast, how
valuable "a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ"
had been the law
and the prophets.
Walking along the streets of a city whose fame had been familiar to
him from childhood, and seeing, in the temples and statues on every
hand, and the constant processions of people going to and from the
places of worship, evidence that "the city was given to idolatry;"
though a lonely stranger, who might have been awed into silence by
the magnificence around him, Paul felt his soul aroused to make one
mighty struggle for the triumph, even here, of the humble gospel
which he preached. His first effort, as usual, was in the Jewish synagogue.
But there seem to have been none among the Jews or devout
Gentiles there to receive the truth. The pride of human philosophy,
and the debasement of refined idolatry had overpowered the influence
of the law and the prophets, so that he fails of his usual success. He
does not, however, despair. Having access to no other formal assembly,
he goes upon the streets, and places of public concourse, and discourse
to "to those who happened to be there."
By efforts so persistent he succeeded in attracting some attention
from the idle throng, but it was of a character, at first, not very
(18) "The certain of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered
him, and some said, What will this babbler say? And others, He
seems to be a proclaimer of foreign demons; because he preached to them
Jesus and the resurrection."
The persistency with which he sought the
attention of every one he met suggested the epithet "babbler," and
the prominence in his arguments of the name of Jesus and the resurrection
suggested to the inattentive hearers that these were two foreign
demons whom he was trying to make known to them.
The two classes of philosophers whom he encountered were the
antipodes of each other, and the practical philosophy of each was antipodal
to the doctrine of Paul. The Stoics taught that the true
philosophy of life was a total indifference to both the sorrows and
pleasures of the world; while the Epicureans sought relief from life's
sorrows in the studied pursuit of its
pleasures. [For a more complete account of these two sects, see Life and Ep., vol. 1, pp. 366-370.]
In opposition to
the former, Paul taught that we should weep with those who weep, and
rejoice with those who rejoice;
and in opposition to the latter, that we
should deny ourselves in reference to all ungodliness and worldly lusts.
Notwithstanding the contempt with which Paul was regarded
by some of his hearers, he succeeded in arresting the serious attention
of a few.
(19) "And they took him and led him to the Areopagus, saying,
Can we know what this new doctrine is, of which you speak?
For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. We wish to know,
therefore, what these things mean.
(21) For all the Athenians, and the
strangers dwelling there, spent their time in nothing else than telling or
hearing something new."
The Areopagus was a rocky eminence, ascended
by a flight of stone steps cut in the solid rock, on the summit
of which were seats in the open air, where the judges, called Areopagites,
held court for the trial of criminals, and of grave religious questions.
The informal character of the proceedings on this occasion
shows that it was not this court which had summoned Paul, but that
those who were interested in hearing him selected this as a suitable
place for the purpose. This is further evident from the note of explanation
here appended by Luke, that the Athenians and strangers
dwelling there, spent their time in nothing else than telling and hearing
something new. It was more from curiosity, therefore, that they
desired to hear him, than because they really expected to be benefited
by what they would hear.
After persevering, but necessarily disconnected conversational
efforts on the streets, Paul has now an audience assembled for the special
purpose of hearing him, and may present his theme in a more
formal manner. He has now an audience of Jews and proselytes,
but an assembly of demon-worshipers. He can not, therefore, open
the Scriptures, and begin by speaking of the long-expected Messiah.
The Scriptures, and even the God who gave them, are to them, unknown.
Before he can preach Jesus to them, as the Son of God, he
must introduce to them a true conception of God himself. It was this
consideration which made the following speech of Paul so different
from all others recorded in Acts. We will first hear the whole discourse,
and then examine the different parts in their connection with
(22) "Then Paul stood up in the midst of the Areopagus, and said:
Men of Athens, I perceive that in every respect you are devout worshipers
of the demons.
(23) For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your
worship, I found an altar with this inscription,
Whom, therefore, you worship without knowing him, him I
announce to you.
(24) The God who made the world, and all things which
are in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with
(25) Neither is he served by the hands of men, as though he
needed any thing, for it is he who gives to all men life and breath and all
(26) and has made from one blood all nations of men, to dwell upon
the whole face of the earth, having determined their prearranged periods,
and the boundaries of their habitations,
(27) that they should seek the
Lord, if haply they might feel after him and find him, although he is not
far from each one of us.
(28) For in him we live, and move, and have
our being; as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also his
(29) Being, then, the offspring of God, we ought not to think
that the Deity is similar to gold or silver, or stone graven by the art and
device of man.
(30) Now the times of this ignorance God has overlooked;
but now he commands all men everywhere to repent,
(31) because he has
appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by a
man whom he has appointed, of which he has given assurance to all by raising
him from the dead."
The excellence of an argumentative discourse is measured by the degree
of adaptation to the exact mental condition of the audience, and
the conclusiveness with which every position is established. It would
be difficult to conceive how this discourse could be improved in either
of these particulars.
The audience were worshipers of demons, or dead men deified.
Nearly all their gods were supposed to have once lived on the earth.
They regarded it, therefore, as an excellent trait of character to be
scrupulous in all the observances of demon worship. Paul's first remark
was not that they were "too
superstitious," [Common version.]
nor that they were
"very religious;" [Bloomfield and others.]
though both of these would have been true. But
the term he employs, deisedaimonestirous, from
to fear, and
a demon, means
given to the worship of demons. This
was the exact truth in the case, and the audience received the statement
of it as a compliment. The second remark is introduced as a
specification of the first: "For, as I passed along and observed
the objects of your worship, I found an altar with this inscription,
GOD." After erecting altars to all the known gods,
so that a Roman
satirist, [Petronius. Life and Ep., vol. 1, p. 363.]
said it was easier to find a god in Athens
than a man, they had extended their worship even to such as might
be in existence without their knowledge. No specification could have
been made to more strikingly exemplify their devotions to demon
worship. The commentators have suggested many hypotheses by
which to account, historically, for the erection of this altar, all of
which are purely conjectural. It is sufficient to know, what the text
itself reveals, that its erection resulted from an extreme desire to render
due worship to all the gods, both known and unknown.
Having spoken in this conciliatory style, both of their worship in
general, and of this altar in particular, Paul next excites their curiosity,
by telling them that he came to make known to them that very
God whom they had already worshiped without knowing him. They
had, by this inscription, already confessed that there was, or might
be a God to them unknown; hence they could not complain that he
should attempt to introduce a new God to their acquaintance. They
had also rendered homage to such a God while they knew him not;
hence they could not consistently refuse to do so after he should be
revealed to them. Thus far the course of the apostle's remarks was
not only conciliatory, but calculated, and intended, to bind the
audience in advance to the propositions and conclusions yet to be
He next introduces the God to whom he refers as the God who
made the world, and all things in it, and who is Lord of both heaven
and earth. That there was such a God, he assumes; but the assumption
was granted by a part of his audience, the Stoics, and the Epicureans
found it difficult to account to themselves for the fact that the
world was made, without admitting that there was a God who made it.
He endeavors to give them a just conception of this God, by presenting
several points of contrast between him and the gods with whom they
were familiar. The first of these is, that, unlike them, "He does not
dwell in temples made with hands." All around the spot where he
stood were temples in which the gods made their abode, and to
which the people were compelled to resort in order to communicate
with them. But that the God who made heaven and earth does not
dwell in temples made by human hangs, he argued from the fact that
he was "Lord of heaven and earth;" which implies that he could not
be confined within limits so narrow. This was enough to establish
his superiority to all other gods in power and majesty.
The next point of contrast presented has reference to the services
rendered the gods. His hearers had been in the habit of presenting
meat offerings and drink offerings in the temples, under the superstitious
belief that they were devoured by the gods. But Paul tells them
that the unknown God "is not served by the hands of men as though he
needed any thing; for it is he who gives to all men life and breath, and
all things, and has made from one blood all nations of men," and
appointed beforehand their periods, and the boundaries of their habitations.
These facts demonstrate his entire independence of human
ministrations, and exhibit, in a most striking manner, the dependence
of men upon him. They not only sustain the point of contrast presented
by Paul, but they involve an assumption of the most special
providence of God. By special providence, we mean providence in
reference to individual persons and things. If God gives to all men
life and breath and all things, he acts with reference to each individual
man, to each individual breath that each man breathes, and to
each particular thing going to make up all the things which he
gives them. Again, if God appoints beforehand the "periods" of the
nation (by which I understand all the great eras in their history,) and
the "boundaries of their habitations," he certainly directs the movements
of individual men; for the movements of nations depend upon
the movements of the individual men of whom they are composed.
Sometimes, indeed, the movements of one man, as of Christopher Columbus,
determine the settlement of continents, and the destiny of
mighty nations. In view of these facts, we must admit the most
special and minute providence of God in all the affairs of earth. It
would never, perhaps, have been doubted, but for the philosophical
difficulty of reconciling it with the free agency of men, and of discriminating
between it and the working of miracles. This difficulty, however,
affords no rational ground for such a doubt, for the method of
God's agency in human affairs is above human comprehension. To
doubt the reality of an assumed fact, the nature of which is confessedly
above our comprehension, because we know not how to
reconcile it with other known facts, is equivalent to confessing our
ignorance at one moment, and denying it the next. It were wiser to
conclude, that, if we could only comprehend that which is now incomprehensible,
the difficulty would vanish. While the uneducated swain
is ignorant of the law of gravitation, he could not understand how the
world can turn over without spilling the water out of his well; but
the moment he apprehends this law the difficulty disappears.
The incidental statement that God made from one blood all the nations
of men, is an inspired assertion of the unity of the race, and accords
with the Mosaic history. To deny it because we find some
difficulty in reconciling it with the present diversity in the types of
men, is another instance of the fallacy just exposed. It is to deny
an assertion of the Scriptures, not because of something we know, but
of something we do not know. We do not know, with certainty, what
caused so great diversity among the races of men, and, because of this
ignorance, we deny their common paternity. Such a denial could not
be justified, unless we knew all the facts which have transpired in
human history. But much the larger portion of human history is
unwritten and unknown; and, at the same time, we are dependent, for
all we do know of the first half of it, upon the word of God. The
only rational course, therefore, which is left to us, is to receive
its statements in their obvious import as the truth of history.
In arguing this last proposition, Paul interweaves with his proof a
statement of God's purpose concerning the nations, "that they should
seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him." He
here has reference to those nations who were without revelation; and
means, I think, that one purpose of leaving them in that condition
was to make a trial of their ability, without the aid of revelation, to
seek and feel after the Lord so as to find him. It resulted in demonstrating
what Paul afterward asserted, that "the world by wisdom knew
not God," and that, therefore, "it pleased God, by the foolishness of
preaching, to save those who
believe." [1 Corinthians 1:21.]
From this reference to the efforts of men to find God, a natural association
of thought led the speaker to assert the omnipresence of God:
"Although he is not far from each one of us; for in him we live, and
move, and have our being; as also some of your own poets have said,
For we are also his offspring." The connection of thought in this
passage is this: We are his offspring, as your own poets teach, and
this is sufficient proof that he is still about us; for he certainly would
not abandon the offspring whom he has begotten.
From the conclusion that we are the offspring of God, Paul advances
to the third point of contrast between him and the gods around him:
"Being then, the offspring of God,
we ought not to think that the Deity
is similar to gold, or silver, or stone, graven by the art and device of
man." This was a strong appeal to the self-respect of his hearers.
To acknowledge that they were the offspring of God, and at the same
time admit that he was similar to a carved piece of metal, or marble,
was to degrade themselves by degrading their origin.
The argument by which he revealed to them the God who had been
unknown is now completed. He has exhibited the uselessness of all
the splendid temples around him, by showing that the true God dwells
not in them, and that he is the God who made the earth and the
heavens and all conceivable things. He has proved the folly of all
their acts or worship, by showing that the real God had no need to any
thing, but that all men are dependent on him for life and breath and
all things. He has exhibited the foreknowledge; the providence, general
and special; the omnipresence, and the universal parentage of this
God; and has made them feel disgusted at the idea of worshiping, as
their creator, any thing similar to metal or marble shaped by human
hands. Thus their temples, their services, and their images are all
degraded to their proper level, while the grandeur and glory and paternity
of the true God are exalted before them.
The speaker next advances to unfold to his hearers their fearful
responsibility to God now revealed to them. The times of ignorance,
in which they had built these temples and carved these images,
he tells them that God had overlooked; that is, to use his own language
on another occasion, he had "suffered the nations to walk in their own
ways." [Acts 14:16.]
"But now, he commands all men everywhere to repent; because
he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in
righteousness, by a man whom he has appointed, of which he has
given assurance to all by raising him from the dead." This was evidently
not designed for the concluding paragraph of the speech, but
was a brief statement of the appointment of Jesus as judge of the
living and the dead, preparatory to introducing him fully to the audience.
But here his discourse was interrupted, and brought abruptly
to a close.
Verses 32, 33
(32) "And when they heard of a resurrection of the dead, some
mocked; but others said, We will hear you again concerning this matter.
(33) So Paul departed from among them."
There are two strange features
in the conduct of this audience. First, That they listened so
patiently while Paul was demonstrating the folly of their idolatrous
which we would expect them to defend with zeal. Second,
That they should interrupt him with mockery when he spoke of a resurrection
from the dead,
which we would have expected them to welcome
as a most happy relief from the gloom which shrouded their
thoughts of death. But the former is accounted for by the prevailing
infidelity among philosophic minds in reference to the popular worship,
rendering formal and heartless with them a service which was
still performed by the masses with devoutness and sincerity. Their
repugnance to the thought of a resurrection originated not in a preference
for the gloomy future into which they were compelled to look,
but in a fondness for that philosophy by which they had concluded
that death was an eternal sleep. Their pride of opinion had crushed
the better instincts of their nature, and led them to mock at the hope
of a future life, which has been the dearest of all hopes to the chief
part of mankind. Thus the devotees of human philosophy, instead of
being led by it to a knowledge of the truth, were deceived into the forfeiture
of a blessed hope, which has been enjoyed by ruder nations,
amid all their ignorance and superstition.
Although his discourse terminated amid the mockery of a portion
of his audience, the apostle's effort was not altogether fruitless.
(34) "But certain men followed him and believed; among whom were
Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with
We find, however, no subsequent trace of a Church in Athens
within the period of apostolic history, and these names are not elsewhere
mentioned. We are constrained, therefore, to the conclusion,
that the cold philosophy and polished heathenism of this city had too
far corrupted its inhabitants to admit of their turning to Christ, until
some providential changes should prepare the way.