Acts 17:16
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
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(16) His spirit was stirred in him.—The verb is the root of the noun from which we get our “paroxysm,” and which is translated by “sharp contention” in Acts 15:39. Athens, glorying now, as it had done in the days of Sophocles (Œdip. Col. 1008), in its devotion to the gods, presented to him, even after seeing Tarsus and Antioch, a new aspect. The city was “full of idols;” Hermes-busts at every corner, statues and altars in the atrium or court-yard of every house, temples and porticos and colonnades, all presenting what was to him the same repulsive spectacle. He looked on the Theseus and the Ilissus, and the friezes of the Centaurs and Lapithæ on the Parthenon, as we look on them in our museums, but any sense of art-beauty which he may have had (and it was probably, in any case, but weak) was over-powered by his horror that men should bow down and worship what their own hands had made. The beauty of form which we admire in the Apollo or the Aphrodite, the Mercury or the Faun, would be to him, in its unveiled nakedness, a thing to shudder at. He knew too well to what that love of sensuous beauty had led in Greek and Roman life (Romans 1:24-27), when it had thrown aside what, to a Jew, were not only the natural instincts of purity, but the sanctions of a divine command (Genesis 9:22).

Acts 17:16-17. While he waited for them at Athens — Namely, for Silas and Timothy; his spirit was stirred in him — Greek, παρωξυνετο, was disquieted, vexed, filled with grief and indignation; when he saw the city (a city which was thought to be more enlightened than any other, and in which learning and arts were carried to greater perfection than anywhere else in the world) wholly given to idolatry — Greek, κατειδωλον, full of idols, enslaved to idolatry in the most gross and shameful manner. That this was the case, all ancient writers attest. Pausanias says that “there were more images in Athens than in all Greece besides;” and that “they worshipped the gods,” or expressed more piety to them “than all Greece:” and presently adds, as an evidence of their piety, that “they had altars (αιδους, φημης, και ορμης) erected to shame, fame, and desire;” and again, that “they exceeded all in their zeal for the gods.” Sophocles bears the same testimony, observing, “This city exceeds all others in worshipping and honouring the gods.” Hence Ælian called Athens the altar of Greece; and Xenophon said, that “it had twice as many sacred festivals as any other city.” And no wonder, for the Athenians always imported the deities and superstitions of every nation along with their arts and learning; and, as Strabo says, “their hospitality to strangers extended to the gods too, being very ready to receive any strange objects or forms of worship.” So that, as Petronius humorously says, “It was easier to find a god than a man there.” Here then we have a full proof of the insufficiency of science and philosophy to guide men in matters of religion. “The barbarous Scythians, the wild Indians, nay, the stupid Hottentots,” as Mr. Scott observes, “have never deviated further from truth, or sunk into grosser darkness, in respect to God and religion, than the ingenious and philosophical Athenians did!” The apostle, therefore, though, it seems, he had resolved not to begin preaching till Timothy and Silas arrived, yet, seeing the city sunk so low in these various, complicated, and abominable idolatries, could forbear no longer; and therefore, as there was a synagogue of the Jews in Athens, he went to it without delay, and disputed with the Jews and the devout persons — Whom he found assembled there: thus offering the gospel to them, as his manner was, before he preached it to the Gentiles. But not content with this, he afterward discoursed in the market-place daily with those that met with him — Who were chiefly, doubtless, Athenian idolaters. See Dr. Hammond.17:16-21 Athens was then famed for polite learning, philosophy, and the fine arts; but none are more childish and superstitious, more impious, or more credulous, than some persons, deemed eminent for learning and ability. It was wholly given to idolatry. The zealous advocate for the cause of Christ will be ready to plead for it in all companies, as occasion offers. Most of these learned men took no notice of Paul; but some, whose principles were the most directly contrary to Christianity, made remarks upon him. The apostle ever dwelt upon two points, which are indeed the principal doctrines of Christianity, Christ and a future state; Christ our way, and heaven our end. They looked on this as very different from the knowledge for many ages taught and professed at Athens; they desire to know more of it, but only because it was new and strange. They led him to the place where judges sat who inquired into such matters. They asked about Paul's doctrine, not because it was good, but because it was new. Great talkers are always busy-bodies. They spend their time in nothing else, and a very uncomfortable account they have to give of their time who thus spend it. Time is precious, and we are concerned to employ it well, because eternity depends upon it, but much is wasted in unprofitable conversation.Now while Paul waited - How long he was there is not intimated; but doubtless some time would elapse before they could arrive. In the meantime Paul had ample opportunity to observe the state of the city.

His spirit was stirred in him - His mind was greatly excited. The word used here (παρωξύνετο parōxuneto) denotes "any excitement, agitation, or paroxysm of mind," 1 Corinthians 13:5. It here means that the mind of Paul was greatly concerned, or agitated, doubtless with pity and distress at their folly and danger.

The city wholly given to idolatry - Greek: κατέιδωλον kateidōlon. It is well translated in the margin, "or full of idols." The word is not used elsewhere in the New Testament. That this was the condition of the city is abundantly testified by profane writers. Thus, Pausanias (in Attic. 1 Corinthians 1:24) says, "the Athenians greatly surpassed others in their zeal for religion." Lucian (t. i. Prometh. p. 180) says of the city of Athens, "On every side there are altars, victims, temples, and festivals." Livy (45, 27) says that Athens "was full of the images of gods and men, adorned with every variety of material, and with all the skill of art." And Petronius (Sat. xvii.) says humorously of the city, that "it was easier to find a god than a man there." See Kuinoel. In this verse we may see how a splendid idolatrous city will strike a pious mind. Athens then had more that was splendid in architecture, more that was brilliant in science, and more that was beautiful in the arts, than any other city of the world; perhaps more than all the rest of the world united.

Yet there is no account that the mind of Paul was filled with admiration; there is no record that he spent his time in examining the works of art; there is no evidence that he forgot his high purpose in an idle and useless contemplation of temples and statuary. His was a Christian mind; and he contemplated all this with a Christian heart. That heart was deeply affected in view of the amazing guilt of a people who were ignorant of the true God, who had filled their city with idols reared to the honor of imaginary divinities, and who, in the midst of all this splendor and luxury, were going down to destruction. So should every pious man feel who treads the streets of a splendid and guilty city. The Christian will not despise the productions of art, but he will feel, deeply feel, for the unhappy condition of those who, amidst wealth, and splendor, and outward adoring, are withholding their affections from the living God, and who are going unredeemed to eternal woe. Happy would it be if every Christian traveler who visits cities of wealth and splendor would, like Paul, be affected in view of their crimes and dangers; stud happy if, like him, people could cease their unbounded admiration of magnificence and splendor in temples, and palaces, and statuary, to regard the condition of mind, not perishable like marble of the soul, more magnificent even in its ruins than all the works of Phidias or Praxiteles.

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].

His spirit was stirred in him; moved, and sharpened, being highly affected with divers passions:

1. With grief, for so learned, and yet blind and miserable a place.

2. With zeal, and a holy desire to instruct and inform it.

3. With anger and indignation against the idolatry and sin that abounded in it.

Wholly given to idolatry; or, as the marginal reading hath, full of idols. For we read, that there were more idols in Athens than in all Greece besides; and that it was easier to find a god there (that is, an idol) than a man; their images being as numerous as their inhabitants. Now while Paul waited for them at Athens..... That is, for Silas and Timotheus:

his spirit was stirred in him; not only his soul was troubled and his heart was grieved, but he was exasperated and provoked to the last degree: he was in a paroxysm; his heart was hot within him; he had a burning fire in his bones, and was weary with forbearing, and could not stay; his zeal wanted vent, and he gave it:

when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry; or "full of idols", as the Syriac and Arabic versions render it. So Cicero says (x) that Athens was full of temples; and Xenophon (y) observes that they had double the feasts of other people; and Pausanias (z) affirms, that the Athenians far exceeded others in the worship of the gods, and care about religion; and he relates, that they had an altar for Mercy, another for Shame, another for Fame, and another for Desire, and expressed more religion to the gods than others did: they had an altar dedicated to twelve gods (a); and because they would be sure of all, they erected one to an unknown god; in short, they had so many of them, that one (b) jestingly said to them, our country is so full of deities, that one may more easily find a god than a man: so that with all their learning and wisdom they knew not God, 1 Corinthians 1:21.

(x) De responsis Aruspicum. (y) De Athen. Polit. (z) Attica, p. 29, 42. (a) Thucydides Bell. Peloponness. l. 6. (b) Petronius.

{9} Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was {f} stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to {g} idolatry.

(9) In comparing the wisdom of God with man's wisdom, men scoff and mock at that which they do not understand: and God uses the curiosity of fools to gather together his elect.

(f) He could not forbear.

(g) Slavishly given to idolatry: Pausanias writes that there were more idols in Athens than in all Greece; yea they had altars dedicated to Shame, and Fame, and Lust, whom they made goddesses.

Acts 17:16. Παρωξύνετο] was irritated (1 Corinthians 13:5; Dem. 514. 10 : ὠργίσθη καὶ παρωξύνθη) at the high degree of heathen darkness and perversity (Romans 1:21 ff.) which prevailed at Athens.

τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ] comp. John 11:33; John 11:38.

The genitive θεωροῦντος, mentally attached to αὐτοῦ (see the critical remarks): because he saw.

κατείδωλον] fall of images, of idols, not preserved elsewhere in Greek, but formed according to usual analogies (κατάμπελος, κατάδενδρος, κατάχρυσος, κατάλιθος, al.).

Athens, the centre of Hellenic worship and art, united zeal for both in a pre-eminent degree, and was—especially at that period of political decay, when outward ritual and show in the sphere of religion and superstition flourished among the people alongside of the philosophical self-sufficiency of the higher scholastic wisdom among people of culture—full of temples and altars, of priests and other persons connected with worship, who had to minister at an innumerable number of pompous festivals. See Paus. i. 24. 3; Strabo, x. p. 472; Liv. xlv. 27; Xen. Rep. Ath. iii. 2; and Wetstein in loc.Acts 17:16. ἐκδεχομένου, cf. 1 Corinthians 11:33; 1 Corinthians 16:11, rare in classical Greek in this sense.—παρωξύνετο: “was provoked,” R.V., only found elsewhere in N.T. in St. Paul’s own description of ἀγάπη, 1 Corinthians 13:5; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:39 (see note) and Hebrews 10:24 for the cognate noun, see on the latter, Westcott, in loco. In LXX both verb and noun are used for burning with anger, or for violent anger, passion, Hosea 8:5, Zechariah 10:3, Deuteronomy 29:28, Jeremiah 39 (32):37; cf. Dem., 514, 10; ὠργίσθη καὶ παρωξύνθη (Meyer-Wendt).—τὸ πνεῦμα: expression principally used in Paul, cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11, Romans 1:9; Romans 8:16, etc. Blass calls it periphrasis hebraica, and cf. Luke 1:47.—θεωροῦντες: “beheld,” R.V., as of contemplation in thought, Latin, contemplari.—κατείδωλον: “full of idols,” R.V.—the rendering “wholly given to idolatry” was not true, i.e., idolatry in the sense of worshipping the innumerable idols. If the city had been sincerely devoted to idol worship St. Paul might have had more to appeal to, “verum monumenta pietatis reperiebat Paulus, non ipsam, quæ dudum evanuerat,” Blass. A.V. follows Vulgate, “idololatriæ deditum”. The adjective is found only here, but it is formed after the analogy of κατάδενδρος, κατάμπελος, so Hermann, ad Vig., p. 638 (1824), “κατείδωλος πόλις non est, uti quidam opinantur, simulacris dedita urbs, sed simulacris referta”. No word could have been more fitly chosen to describe the aspect of Athens to St. Paul as he wandered through it, a city which had been described as ὅλη βωμός, ὅλη θῦμα θεοῖς καὶ ἀνάθημα, see below on Acts 17:17. Before he actually entered the city, as he walked along the Hamaxitos road, St. Paul would have seen altars raised at intervals to the unknown gods, as both Pausanias and Philostratus testify, see “Athens,” F.C. Conybeare, in Hastings’ B.D. “He took these incomparable figures for idols,” writes Renan (Saint Paul, p. 172) as he describes the beautiful sculptured forms upon which the eyes of the Apostle would be fixed, but the man who could write Romans 1 must have been keenly alive to the dangers which followed upon “the healthy sensualism of the Greeks”.16–21. Paul, provoked by the prevalence of idolatry at Athens, first addresses the Jews and then the Gentiles. Some of the philosophers question him on his teaching, and bring him to the areopagus that they may hear him more at full

16. his spirit was stirred in him] But the stirring was of the sharpest. The verb is akin to the noun which in Acts 15:39 is used of the paroxysm of contention between Paul and Barnabas. His spirit was provoked within him, till he could not forbear to speak, could not wait till Timothy and Silas arrived.

when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry] Better (with R. V.) “as he beheld the city full of idols.” This, the marginal rendering of the A. V., appears, from the analogy of similar words, to be the closer meaning, and it agrees somewhat better with the facts. What St Paul beheld was the numerous statues erected some to one god, some to another. That the city was wholly given to idolatry was the inference from this abundance of idols. The mutilation of the busts of Hermes before the Sicilian expedition in the Peloponnesian war shews how numerous were the statues erected to one divinity only. Time had added many to the number before St Paul’s visit.Acts 17:16. Ἐκδεχομένου, whilst Paul was waiting for them) He had not intended to speak immediately at Athens; but nevertheless presently, without waiting for his companions, stimulated by a remarkable and extraordinary zeal, this soldier of Christ commences the action at once. So he often carried on the Christian warfare alone: Galatians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 4:16.—[παρωξύνετο, was stirred up with zeal) He was impatient that idolatrous practices should prevail, and still he had not at the time as yet a handle for attacking them.—V. g.]—κατείδωλον) crowded with idols. Κατάκαρπος and κατάσκιος are compounds of the same form.Verse 16. - Provoked within for stirred in, A.V. (παρωξύνετο: see Acts 15:29, note); as he beheld for when he saw, A.V.; full of idols for wholly given to idolatry, A.V. The Greek κατείδωλος occurs only here, either in the New Testament or elsewhere. But the analogy of ether words similarly compounded fixes the meaning "full of idols" - a description fully borne out by Pausanias and Xenophon and others (Steph., 'Thesaur.;' Meyer, etc.). Was stirred (παρωξύνετο)

Better, as Rev., was provoked. See on the kindred word contention (παροξυσμὸς), Acts 15:39.

Saw (θεωροῦντι)

Better, beheld. See on Luke 10:18.

Wholly given to idolatry (κατείδωλον)

Incorrect. The word, which occurs only here in the New Testament, and nowhere in classical Greek, means full of idols. It applies to the city, not to the inhabitants. "We learn from Pliny that at the time of Nero, Athens contained over three thousand public statues, besides a countless number of lesser images within the walls of private houses. Of this number the great majority were statues of gods, demi-gods, or heroes. In one street there stood before every house a square pillar carrying upon it a bust of the god Hermes. Another street, named the Street of the Tripods, was lined with tripods, dedicated by winners in the Greek national games, and carrying each one an inscription to a deity. Every gateway and porch carried its protecting god. Every street, every square, nay, every purlieu, had its sanctuaries, and a Roman poet bitterly remarked that it was easier in Athens to find gods than men" (G. S. Davies, "St. Paul in Greece").

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