Acts 17:19
And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
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(19) They took him, and brought him unto Areopagus.—The name may stand either for the Hill of Mars, simply as a locality, or for the Court which sat there, and was known as the Court of the Areopagus, and which, as the oldest and most revered tribunal in Athens, owing its origin to Athena, and connected with the story of Orestes and the worship of the propitiated Erinnyes (the Avengers) as the Eumenides (the Gentle Ones), still continued to exercise jurisdiction in all matters connected with the religion of the state, and numbered among its members men of the highest official rank. It had originally consisted only of those who had filled the office of Archon and were over sixty years of age. Its supreme authority had been in some measure limited by Pericles, and it was as the organ of the party who opposed the ideas of freedom and progress of which he was the representative, that Æschylus wrote the tragedy of the Eumenides, in which the divine authority of the Court was impressed upon men’s minds. Here, however, the narrative that follows presents no trace of a formal trial, and hence it has been questioned whether the Apostle was brought before the Court of the Areopagus. Unless, however, there had been some intention of a trial, there seems no reason for their taking him to the Areopagus rather than to the Pnyx or elsewhere; and the mention of a member of the Court as converted by St. Paul’s preaching, makes it probable that the Court was actually sitting at the time. The most natural explanation of the apparent difficulty is, that as the charge of bringing in “strange deities” was one which came under the jurisdiction of the Areopagus Court, the crowd who seized on St. Paul hurried him there, not presenting a formal indictment, but calling for a preliminary inquiry, that his speech accordingly, though of the nature of an apologia, was not an answer to a distinct accusation, and that having heard it, the Court looked on the matter as calling for no special action, and passed to the order of the day.

May we know . . .?—The form of the question, courteous in semblance, but with a slight touch of sarcasm, is eminently characteristic in itself, and shows also that there was no formal accusation, though the words that followed suggested the thought that there possibly might be materials for one. What had been said was “strange” enough to require an explanation.

Acts 17:19-21. And — The crowd increasing to a greater number than could conveniently hear him, in the place where they then were; they took and brought him unto Areopagus — Or, the hill of Mars, dedicated to Mars, the heathen god of war, the place where the Athenians held their supreme court of judicature, of which the original number of judges was twelve, but it was afterward increased to three hundred, who were generally men of the greatest families in Athens, and were famed for justice and integrity. Paul, however, was certainly not carried thither to be tried as a criminal, but to be heard discoursing concerning his new doctrine: for they said, May we know what this new doctrine is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears — Exceedingly different from what we have ever received from any of those many professors, of various learning, which this city has produced: we would know, therefore, what these things mean — And wish to hear them from thine own mouth, rather than by the uncertain report of others. This course, it must be observed, the Athenians took with Paul, not from the love of truth, but from mere curiosity: for, as the historian proceeds to observe, all the Athenians, and strangers sojourning there — And catching their distemper; spent their time in nothing else but either to tell — To others; or to hear — For themselves; some new thing — Greek, τι καινοτερον, literally, some newer thing. New things quickly grew cheap, and they wanted those that were newer still. The apostle, therefore, “being thus called to declare the new doctrine whereof he spake, to an assembly consisting of senators, philosophers, rhetoricians, and statesmen, willingly embraced the opportunity; and, in a most eloquent discourse, prepared his illustrious auditors for receiving that doctrine which appeared to them so strange, by showing them the absurdity of the commonly-received idolatry, and by speaking on that delicate subject with an address, and temper, and strength of reasoning, which would have done honour to the greatest orators of Greece or Rome.” — Macknight.

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.And brought him unto Areopagus - Margin, or "Mars' hill." This was the place or court in which the Areopagites, the celebrated supreme judges of Athens, assembled. It was on a hill almost in the middle of the city; but nothing now remains by which we can determine the form or construction of the tribunal. The hill is almost entirely a mass of stone, and is not easily accessible, its sides being steep and abrupt. On many accounts this was the most celebrated tribunal in the world. Its decisions were distinguished for justice and correctness; nor was there any court in Greece in which so much confidence was placed. This court took cognizance of murders, impieties, and immoralities; they punished vices of all kinds, including idleness; they rewarded the virtuous; they were especially attentive to blasphemies against the gods, and to the performance of the sacred mysteries of religion. It was, therefore, with the greatest propriety that Paul was brought before this tribunal, as being regarded as a setter forth of strange gods, and as being supposed to wish to Introduce a new mode of worship. See Potter's "Antiquities of Greece," book 1, chapter 19; and Travels of Anacharsis, vol. i. 136, 185; ii.-292-295.

May we know - We would know. This seems to have been a respectful inquiry; and it does not appear that Paul was brought there for the sake of trial. There are no accusations; no witnesses; none of the forms of trial. They seem to have resorted thither because it was the place where the subject of religion was usually discussed, and because it was a place of confluence for the citizens, and judges, and wise men of Athens, and of foreigners. The design seems to have been, not to try him, but fairly to canvass the claims of his doctrines. See Acts 17:21. It was just an instance of the inquisitive spirit of the people of Athens, willing to hear before they condemned, and to examine before they approved.

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. The city of Athens was divided into five wards, or parts; one of which was called

Areopagus, from the temple of Mars, which stood upon a hill in it: nigh unto which temple, or in some part of it, was their chiefest court kept; and here they judged of all religious affairs: here they condemned Diagoras, Protagoras, and Socrates; and hither they bring Paul, though rather to inquire of him (there being the resort of learned men) concerning his doctrine, than to condemn him for it.

And they took him,.... Not that they laid hands on him, and carried him away by violence, as a derider of their gods, and an introducer of new ones, in order to punish him; but they invited him to go with them, and they took him along with them in a friendly manner, and had him to a more convenient place for preaching and disputation, and where were many learned men to hear and judge of his doctrine; and this appears from their desire to hear what his doctrine was, and from his quiet departure, after he had ended his discourse:

and brought him unto Areopagus. The Arabic version seems to understand this of a person, rendering it, "and brought him to the most skilful, and the judge of the doctors"; to be heard and examined before him, about the doctrine he preached, who was most capable of judging concerning it; and this might be Dionysius, who is called the Areopagite, and was converted by the apostle, Acts 17:34. The Ethiopic version renders it, "they brought him to the house of their god"; to one of their idols' temple, the temple of Mars, which is not much amiss; for we are told (g), that Areopagus was a street in Athens, in which was the temple of Mars, from whence it had its name; but the Syriac version renders it best of all, "they brought him to the house of judgment, or "court of judicature", which is called Areopagus"; and so it is called "Martium judicium", or Mars's "court of judicature", by Apuleius (h), and "Martis curia", or the "court of Mars", by Juvenal (i), for it was a court where causes were tried, and the most ancient one with the Athenians, being instituted by Cerops, their first king; and is thought to be near as ancient, if not fully as ancient, yea, as more ancient than the sanhedrim, or the court of seventy elders, appointed by Moses among the Jews. It was called Areopagus, because Ares, or Mars, was the first that was judged there (k). The case was this, Alcippe, the daughter of Mars, being ravished by Habirrhothius, the son of Neptune, and caught by Mars in the very fact, was killed by him; upon which Neptune arraigned Mars for the murder, and tried him in this place, by a jury of twelve deities, by whom he was acquitted (l). Hither Paul was brought, not to be tried in a legal manner; for it does not appear that any charge was exhibited against him, or any legal process carried on, only an inquiry was made about his doctrine, and that only to gratify their curiosity:

saying, may we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? for they had never heard of Jesus, nor of salvation by him, nor of the resurrection of the dead; these were all new things to them, and therefore they were the more curious to ask after them, new things being what they were fond of: wherefore they call his doctrine new, not so much by way of reproach, as suggesting it to be a reason why they inquired after it, and why they desired him to give them some account of it; and that it should be a new doctrine with them, or if they reproached it with the charge of novelty, it need not be wondered at in them, when the Jews charged and reproached the doctrine of Christ in like manner, Mark 1:27.

(g) Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 3. c. 5. (h) Milesiarum 10. (i) Satyr. 5. (k) Pausaniae Attica, p. 52. (l) Apellodorus de deorum origine, l. 3, p. 193.

And they took him, and brought him unto {k} Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?

(k) This was a place called, as one would say, Mars hill, where the judges sat who were called Areopagita upon important matters, who in ancient time arraigned Socrates, and afterward condemned him of impiety.

Acts 17:19-20. Ἐπιγαβόμενοι] Grotius aptly says: “manu leniter prehensum.” Comp. Acts 9:27, Acts 23:19. Adroitly confiding politeness. Acts 17:21 proves that a violent seizure and carrying away to judicial examination is not indicated, as Adami (see in Wolf) and others imagined, but that the object in view was simply to satisfy the curiosity of the people flocking to the Areopagus. And this is evinced by the whole proceedings, which show no trace of a judicial process, ending as they did partly with ridicule and partly with polite dismissal (Acts 17:31), after which Paul departed unhindered. Besides, the Athenians were very indulgent to the introduction of foreign, particularly Oriental, worships (Strabo, x. p. 474; Philostr. Vit. Apollon. vi. 7; Hermann, gottesd. Alterth. § 12), provided only there was not conjoined with it rejection of the native gods, such as Socrates was formerly accused of. To this the assertion of Josephus, c. Revelation 2, is to be limited: νόμῳ δʼ ἦν τοῦτο παρʼ αὐτοῖς κεκωλυμένον καὶ τιμωρία κατὰ τῶν ξένον εἰσαγόντων Θεὸν ὥριστο θάνατος,—which, perhaps, is merely a generalization from the history of Socrates. And certainly Paul, as the wisdom of his speech (Acts 17:22 ff.) attests, prudently withheld a direct condemnatory judgment of the Athenian gods. Notwithstanding, Baur and Zeller have again insisted on a judicial process in the Areopagus—alleging that the legend of Dionysius the Areopagite, as the first bishop of Athens (Eus. iv. 23), had given rise to the whole history; that there was a wish to procure for Paul an opportunity, as solemn as possible, for the exposition of his teaching, an arena analogous to the Sanhedrim (Zeller), etc.

Concerning the Ἆρειος πάγος, collis Martins, so called ὅτι πρῶτος Ἆρης ἐνταῦθα ἐκρίθη (Paus. i. 28. 5), the seat of the supreme judicature of Athens, situated to the west of the Acropolis, and concerning the institution and authority of that tribunal, see Meursius, de Areop. Lugd. Bat. 1624; Böckh, de Areop. Berol. 1826; Hermann, Staatsalterth. § 105. 108. On the present locality, see Robinson, I. p. 11 f.; Forbiger, Geogr. III. p. 937 ff.

δυνάμεθα γνῶναι κ.τ.λ.] invitation in the form of a courteous question, by way of securing the contemplated enjoyment.

τίς ἡ καινὴ κ.τ.λ] what (as respects its more precise contents) this new doctrine (namely), that which is being announced by you. In the repetition of the article (Stallb. ad Plat. Rep. p. 407 B) there is here implied a pert, ironical emphasis.

ξενίζοντα] startling. ξενίζω οὐ μόνον τὸ ξένον ὑποδέχομαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐκπλήττω. Thom. Mag. Comp. Polyb. iii. 114. 4 : ξενίζουσα πρόσοψις κ. καταπληκτική, Diod. Sic. xii. 53; 2Ma 9:6; 3Ma 7:3.

εἰσφέρεις] namely, whilst you are here, hence the present.

τί ἂν θέλοι ταῦτα εἶναι] see on Acts 17:18; Acts 2:12, and Tittmann, Synon. N.T. p. 129 f. The plural ταῦτα indicates the individual points, after the collective character of which τί inquires. Krüger, § lxi. 8. 2; Stallbaum, ad Plat. Gorg. p. 508 C, Euthyphr. p. 15 A.

Acts 17:19. ἐπιλαβ.: as to whether we regard this as done with hostile intent, or not, will depend upon the view taken of the meaning of the Areopagus. If the latter means “the Hill of Mars,” to which the Apostle was taken for a quiet hearing and for unimportant discussion, then the former is clearly inadmissible; if, however, the Areopagus meant the Council of Areopagus, then that action would seem to have been indicative at least of malice and dislike. The verb in the N.T. is used only in the middle, with accusative or genitive, and most frequently by St. Luke, five times in his Gospel, seven times in Acts, twice by St. Paul, only once by St. Matthew and by St. Mark. In each case it can be determined by the context whether it is used in a favourable or unfavourable sense. So too in LXX (always with genitive), where it is frequently used, the context alone decides. Certainly Acts 9:27 presents a close verbal parallel in language, as the participle ἐπιλ. is followed as here by ἤγαγον (Weiss), but the context there expresses beyond all doubt a friendly action. Grotius (so Weiss, Wendt, Felten, Zöckler, Bethge) attributes friendliness to the action here, and renders “manu leniter prehensum,” so too F. C. Conybeare, “Areopagus,” Hastings’ B.D., renders it “took Paul by the hand,” but in three of the four parallels to which he refers χείρ is expressed, and for the fourth see above. But the view taken of the following words will help us to decide, Ramsay, St. Paul, p. 245, and Expositor, September, 1895, pp. 216, 217.—ἐπὶ τὸν Ἄ. πάγον, Curtius, Gesammelte Abhandlungen, ii., p. 528, note, and Ramsay, Expositor, u. s., p. 217, point out that ἐπί with accusative would be the correct expression for taking any one before an official court, cf. Acts 9:21, Acts 16:19, Acts 17:6, Acts 18:12—a regular Lucan preposition in this sense—cf. also Herod., iii. 46, 156; viii. 79. But it does not therefore follow that a regular trial was instituted, as Chrys., Theophylact and others have held, since there is nothing in the context to indicate this. But the form of expression certainly does seem to indicate that Paul was taken not to the Hill of Mars, as is generally held, but before a court or council. And there is substantial evidence for believing that the term Areopagus (as Blass admits) was not merely local, but that it was sometimes used as = the Council or Court of Areopagus, cf. Cicero, Ad Atticum, i., 14, 5; De Nat. Deorum, ii., 29; Rep., i., 27. Moreover, there is good reason to believe that the council, although deriving its name from the hill, did not always meet on the hill, and also that it had the power of taking official action in questions bearing upon public teaching in the city (cf. Renan, Saint Paul, pp. 193, 194, and authorities cited). It is therefore not an improbable inference that Paul would be brought before such a court for inquiry into his teaching; beyond this inference perhaps we cannot go; even to call the inquiry a προδικασία (so Curtius) may be to apply a technical term unwarranted by the context, which bears no trace of a criminal procedure, cf. Curtius, u. s., pp. 528, 529; Ramsay, u. s.; Plumptre and Rendall, in loco. But where did the council meet for the discharge of such duties as inquiries into the qualification of teachers, as a public court for the maintenance of public order? Probably in the Stoa Basileios; here Demosthenes informs us that some of its duties were transacted (see Expositor, October, 1895, p. 272, and Curtius, u. s., p. 528), and the scene before us is full of the life of the Agora with the corona of people thronging to listen, rather than of the sacred or solemn associations of the Hill of Mars, or of the quietude of a spot far removed from the busy life of the market-place. So too the name “Areopagus” might have been easily transferred to the council sitting in a place other than the hill, so that ἡ βουλὴ ἡ ἐξ Ἀ. π. might easily become Ἄρειος Πάγος informally and colloquially, and the word as used here by St. Luke may really be another proof that, as in σπερμολόγος, the author catches the very word which the Athenians would use, Ramsay, Expositor, September, 1895, p. 216, and Renan, u. s., p. 194, note. But it has further been urged both by Curtius and Ramsay (so also Renan, u. s.) that the Hill of Mars would be a most inconvenient place for public assemblies and speakers, see Ramsay, u. s., p. 213, and Curtius, u. s., p. 529, and even if the spot had been suitable for such purposes, there would have been a want of fitness in the Athenians taking this σπερμολόγος to harangue them on a spot so inseparably associated with the dignity and glory of their city; see also below on Acts 17:22; Acts 17:33.—Δυναμεθα γνῶναι: like the Latin, Possum scire? the question may have been asked in courtesy, or in sarcasm, or ironically; in the repetition of the article the irony may be accentuated.—ἡ ὑπὸ δοῦ λαλ.: “which it spoken by thee,” R.V., the Apostle was not speaking about the doctrine, A.V., his words were the doctrine (Lumby). Felten regards the question as courteously put, and sees in it a decisive proof that Paul was not put upon his trial, since a man could not be tried on a charge of which his accusers had no knowledge. But this would not prevent a preliminary inquiry of some kind before the court, prompted by dislike or suspicion.

19. And they took him] Better, took hold of him. (As R. V.) But there is no need to suppose that any violence was used or intended. The same verb is used often of taking by the hand to aid or protect (so Mark 8:23; Acts 23:19), and is the word by which the action of Barnabas is described (Acts 9:27) when “he took Paul and brought him to the apostles.” Moreover the whole context shews that the action of the crowd was in no sense that of an arrest, for we read (Acts 17:33) when his speech was done “Paul departed from among them,” evidently having been under no kind of restraint.

and brought him unto Areopagus] More clearly expressed if we read “the Areopagus.” This place, the name of which is translated “Mars’ hill” below in the text and here in the margin of the A.V., was an eminence to the west of the Acropolis at Athens. It was famous in classic literature as the meeting-place of the Athenian council of Areopagus which took its name from the place where it met. To this hill of Mars (Ares) the philosophers led St Paul, probably at a time when it was unoccupied (though some suppose that the court was sitting), that they might the better hear him away from the bustle of the market-place, and that he might more conveniently address a larger audience.

May we know] The verb here rendered “may” = literally “are we able.” But there is no doubt that its force is well given by the A.V. For the literal force “to be able” often merged itself in that of “to wish” or “to be willing.” Cp. Luke 11:7, where the verb is translated “I cannot (= I am not able to) rise and give thee,” but the sense is “I don’t wish to rise,” for after importunity he does arise and do all that is asked. The Stoics and Epicureans were not likely to doubt their own ability to understand all that St Paul might say to them.

what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is] Better (with R. V.), “what this new doctrine is which is spoken by thee.” The sense conveyed by the verb (λαλεῖν) is often in N. T. that of announcing or publishing, and the word is not unfrequently used of messages spoken by God or by his prophets (cp. Luke 1:45; Luke 1:55; Luke 1:70; Luke 24:25; Acts 3:21; Acts 3:24; James 5:10). The Apostle was not speaking to the Athenians about the doctrine, his words were the doctrine.

Acts 17:19. Ἄρειον πάγον) The court of justice was held on a hill (in Greek πάγος) opposite the citadel of Cecrops, outside the city, and received its appellation from Mars (Ἄρης). Thither they brought Paul, almost as if he were one to be put on his trial.—δυνάμεθα γνῶναι) A formula of questioning, as among the Latins, Possumne scire? Moreover it has, in the intention of these Attic questioners, a degree of irony; for a “seed-picker,” such as they supposed Paul to be, is full of chinks [Terence Eun. i. 2, 25, plenus rimarum, one who can keep nothing to himself]: nor did they think that anything could be said to them, which they did not know thoroughly before.—καινὴ) They desire to hear, if he has anything new.—ἡ ὑπὸ σοῦ λαλουμένη, which is spoken of by thee) deliberately and earnestly.

Verse 19. - Took held of for took, A.V.; the Areopagus for Areopagus, A.V.; teaching is for doctrine... is, A.V.; which is spoken by thee for whereof thou speakest, A.V. Took hold of him. The word ἐπιλάβεσθαι means simply to "take hold of" the hand, the hair, a garment, etc. The context alone decides whether this taking held is friendly or hostile (for the former sense, see Matthew 14:31; Mark 8:23; Luke 9:47; Luke 14:4; Acts 9:27; Acts 23:19, etc.; for the latter, Luke 23:26; Acts 16:19; Acts 18:17; Acts 21:30, 33). Here the sense is well expressed by Grotius (quoted by Meyer): "Taking him gently by the hand." The Areopagas. Mars' Hill, close to the Agora ("the market") on the north, was so called from the legend that Mars was tried there before the gods for the murder of a son of Neptune. It is (says Lewin) a bare, rugged rock, approached at the south-eastern corner by steps, of which sixteen still remain perfect. Its area at the top measures sixty paces by twenty-four, within which a quadrangle, sixteen paces square, is excavated and leveled for the court. The judges seem to have sat on benches tier above tier on the rising rock on the north side of the quadrangle. There were also seats on the east and west sides, and on the south on either side of the stairs. The Areopagus (the upper court) was the most august of all the courts at Athens. Socrates was tried and condemned before it for impiety. On the present occasion, there is no appearance of judicial proceedings, but they seem to have adjourned to the Areopagus from the Agora, as to a convenient place for quiet discussion. Acts 17:19Areopagus

The Hill of Mars: the seat of the ancient and venerable Athenian court which decided the most solemn questions connected with religion. Socrates was arraigned and condemned here on the charge of innovating on the state religion. It received its name from the legend of the trial of Mars for the murder of the son of Neptune. The judges sat in the open air upon seats hewn out in the rock, on a platform ascended by a flight of stone steps immediately from the market-place. A temple of Mars was on the brow of the edifice, and the sanctuary of the Furies was in a broken cleft of the rock immediately below the judges' seats. The Acropolis rose above it, with the Parthenon and the colossal statue of Athene. "It was a scene with which the dread recollections of centuries were associated. Those who withdrew to the Areopagus from the Agora, came, as it were, into the presence of a higher power. No place in Athens was so suitable for a discourse upon the mysteries of religion" (Conybeare and Hewson).

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