Acts 17:21
(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
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(21) For all the Athenians and strangers.—The restless inquisitiveness of the Athenian character had been all along proverbial. In words which St. Luke almost reproduces, Demosthenes (Philipp. i., p. 43) had reproached them with idling their time away in the agora, asking what news there was of Philip’s movements, or the action of their own envoys, when they ought to have been preparing for strenuous action. The “strangers” who were present were probably a motley group—young Romans sent to finish their education, artists, and sight-seers, and philosophers, from every province in the empire.

Some new thing.—Literally, some newer thing; as we should say, the “very latest news.” Theophrastus (c. 8) uses the self-same word in describing the questions of the loquacious prattlers of society, “Is there anything new? . . . Is there anything yet newer?

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.For all the Athenians - This was their general character.

And strangers which were there - Athens was greatly distinguished for the celebrity of its schools of philosophy. It was at that time at the head of the literary world. Its arts and its learning were celebrated in all lands. It is known, therefore, that it was the favorite resort of people of other nations, who came there to become acquainted with its institutions and to listen to its sages.

Spent their time in nothing else - The learned and subtle Athenians gave themselves much to speculation, and employed themselves in examining the various new systems of philosophy that were proposed. Strangers and foreigners who were there, having much leisure, would also give themselves to the same inquiries.

But either to tell or to hear some new thing - Greek: "something newer" - καινότερον kainoteron. The latest news; or the latest subject of inquiry proposed. This is well known to have been the character of the people of Athens at all times. "Many of the ancient writers I bear witness to the garrulity, and curiosity, and intemperate desire of novelty among the Athenians, by which they inquired respecting all things, even those in which they had no interest, whether of a public or private nature (Kuinoel). Thus, Thucydides (3, 38) says of them, "You excel in suffering yourselves to be deceived with novelty of speech." On which the old scholiast makes this remark, almost in the words of Luke: "He (Thucydides) here blames the Athenians, who care for nothing else but to tell or to hear something new." Thus, Aelian (5, 13) says of the Athenians that they are versatile in novelties. Thus, Demosthenes represents the Athenians "as inquiring in the place of public resort if there were any news" - τι νεώτερον ti neōteron Meurslus has shown, also, that there were more than 300 public places in Athens of public resort, where the principal youth and reputable citizens were accustomed to meet for the purpose of conversation and inquiry.

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. Strangers which were there; which must needs have be a considerable number, Athens being then a famous haven town and university; and these strangers might easily take this itch after news from the natives, who are noted for it by Theophrastus, Demosthenes, &c. For all the Athenians,.... The natives of Athens, who were born and lived there, and were inhabitants of the city, and free of it:

and strangers which were there; who came there from several parts of the world, to get wisdom and knowledge, to learn the several arts and sciences, and to attend the several sects of philosophers they made choice of:

spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing; that is, they did so for the most part; and this was the complexion and taste of the generality of them; and with this agrees what Demosthenes himself says of them (m),

"we, says he (for the truth shall be said), sit here, , "doing nothing"----inquiring in the court, , "whether any new thing is said."''

The character of such persons is given, and they are described in a very lively manner by Theophrastus (n). The Jewish doctors, at this time, were much of the same cast in their divinity schools; the usual question asked, when they met one another, was, , "what new thing" have you in the divinity school today (o)?

(m) Respons. ad Philippi Epistolam. (n) Ethic. character. p. 13. (o) T. Hieros. Taanith, fol. 75. 4. Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 14. fol. 212. 4.

{11} (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)

(11) The wisdom of man is vanity.

Acts 17:21. A remark of Luke added for the elucidation of Acts 17:19-20. But Athenians (Ἀθηναῖοι, without the article: Athenian people) collectively (πάντες, see Fritzsche, ad Marc. p. 12; Kühner, § 685, note 2), and the strangers resident there, had leisure for nothing else than, etc. εὐκαιρεῖν, vacare alicui rei, belongs to the later Greek. Sturz, de Dial. Al. p. 169; Lobeck, ad Phryn. p. 125. The imperfect does not exclude the continuance of the state of things in the present, but interweaves it with the history, so that it is transferred into the same time with the latter; see on John 11:18, and Kühner, ad Xen. Anab. i. 4. 9. Comp. also the pluperfect ἐπεγέγραπτο, Acts 17:23. According to Ewald, Luke actually means an earlier period, when it had still been so in Athens, “before it was plundered by Nero.” But then we should at least have expected an indication of this in the text by τότε or πάλαι, even apart from the fact that such a characteristic of a city is not so quickly lost.

καινότερον] The comparative delineates more strongly and vividly. The novelty-loving (Thuc. iii. 38. 4) and talkative (Wetstein and Valckenaer in loc.) Athenians wished always to be saying or hearing something newer than the previous news. See Winer, p. 228 [E. T. 305]. Comp. Plat. Phaed. p. 115 B; Dem. 43. 7; 160. 2.Acts 17:21. Ἀθην. δὲ πάντες: “now all Athenians,” without any article, a characteristic of the whole people, cf. Acts 27:4, but see Ramsay, Expositor, October, 1895, p. 274, and Blass, Gram., p. 157.—ἐπιδημοῦντες: “sojourning there,” R.V., A.V. takes no notice of the word = resident strangers: “unde iidem mores,” Bengel; on the population of Athens see F. C. Conybeare, “Athens,” Hastings’ B.D.; Renan, Saint Paul, pp. 183, 185, 187.—εὐκαίρουν: “had leisure for nothing else,” R.V. margin, cf. Mark 6:21 (only elsewhere in N.T. in 1 Corinthians 16:12), used by Polyb., Rutherford, New Phrynichus, p. 205. How fatally the more important interests of life were sacrificed to this characteristic (note imperfect tense), restless inquisitiveness, their great orator, Demosthenes, knew when he contrasted this idle curiosity with the vigour and ability of Philip of Macedon, Philippic I., p. 43. The words go to support the interpretation that there was no formal indictment, but they do not destroy the view that there may have been an examinaton into the Apostle’s teaching, Curtius, u. s., p. 529.—καινότερον: certainly there is, as Blass says, “mirus consensus” as to this characteristic of the Athenians; see instances in Wetstein: Dem., Philippic I., 43, and Philipp. Epist., 156, 157; Thuc., iii., 38; Theophr., Char., iii., περὶ λογοποΐας μὴ λέγεταί τι καινότερον; cf. Seneca, Epist., 74. Lit[310], “some newer thing,” something newer than that which had just preceded it as new up to the time of asking. The comparative may therefore indicate more vividly the voracious appetite of the Athenians for news, although it may be also said that the comparative was the usual degree used by the Greeks in the question What news? (usually νεώτερον); indeed their fondness for using the comparative of both νέος and καινός is quite singular (Page, see also Winer-Moulton, xxxv., 4; Blass, Gram., p. 138). The words of Bengel are often quoted, “nova statim sordebant, noviora quærebantur,” but it should be noted that he adds “Noviora autem quærebant, non modo in iis quæ gentilia accidunt; sed, quod nobilius videtur, in philosophicis,” see for a practical and forcible lesson on the words, F. D. Maurice, Friendship of Books, pp. 84, 85.

[310] literal, literally.21. This verse is a parenthesis explanatory of what has gone before. The audience had been struck with the strange teaching, and that it was strange was enough. Novelty was their life’s pursuit. So without having any regard for the importance of the teaching, they were ready to listen because it was new.

strangers which were there] The words will bear a fuller rendering, “strangers sojourning there.” (So R. V.) The place was famous, and all seekers after novelty came there from every quarter.

spent their time] More literally “had leisure for.” But the one sense is the complement of the other. If all the time be spent in one way, there is no leisure left for any thing else. But the word has the further sense of “finding a favourable opportunity.” The Athenians could find time for the pursuit of novelty, but for nothing beside. The imperfect tense of the verb also implies that this was their constant state of mind.

either to tell, or to hear some new thing] This character of the Athenian populace is confirmed by many statements of classical authors. In Thuc. iii. 38 Cleon is represented as complaining of his countrymen that they were in the habit of playing the part of “spectators in displays of oratory, and listeners to the stories of what others had done;” and a like charge is made more than once by Demosthenes in his speeches on the vigorous policy of Philip of Macedon, which he contrasts with the Athenian love of talk and news.Acts 17:21. Ἀθηναῖοι, the Athenians) An elegant and characteristic description of them follows.—ἐπιδημοῦντες) sojourners: who through sojourning among them acquire the same customs.—εὐκαίρουν, used to spend their time) The Preterite, whereby it is implied, what kind of hearers Paul had at that time. Curiosity yields to faith.—λέγειν, to tell: ἀκούειν, to hear) Two classes. [Both unattended with fruit: and in such a way as that always whatever is newer is preferred to what has gone before (former news), even though the latter have been good. A common fault, and one very pernicious.—V. g.]—καινότερον, something more new) New things became immediately depreciated: newer things were sought for. Thence (owing to the prevalence of this feeling) καινότερος is a frequent comparative among the Greeks. Chrysostom do Sacerd. § 418, uses the same concerning Paul, τοὺς καινοτέρους διωγμούς· and Theophr. in the Character of the λογοποιὸς, says, οἷος ἐρωτῆσαι· ἔχεις περὶ τοῦδε εἰπεῖν καινόν; καὶ ἐπιβαλὼν ἐρωτᾶν, μὴ λέγεταί τι καινότερον; Moreover they used to seek for newer things, not merely in the case of the occurrences which daily happen; but what seems nobler, in philosophical matters.Verse 21. - Now for for, A.V.; the strangers sojourning there for strangers which were there, A.V. Spent their time. This gives the general sense, but the margin of the R.T., had leisure for nothing else, is much more accurate. Αὐκαιρεῖν, which is not considered good Greek, is only used by Polybius, and in the sense either of "being wealthy" or of "having leisure" or "opportunity." In the New Testament it occurs in Mark 6:31 and 1 Corinthians 16:12. Some new thing. So Cleon (Thucyd., 3:38) rates the Athenians upon their being entirely guided by words, and constantly deceived by any novelty of speech (καινότητος λόγου). And Demosthenes in his first 'Philippic' (p. 43, 7), inveighs against them because, when they ought to be up and doing, they went about the Agora, asking one another, "Is there any news? (Λέγεταί τι καινόν;)." The comparative καινότερον ix a little stronger than καινόν: "the very last news" (Alford). All the Athenians

No article. Lit., "Athenians, all of them." The Athenian people collectively.

Strangers which were there (οἱ ἐπιδημοῦντες ξένοι)

Rev., more correctly, the strangers sojourning there. See on 1 Peter 1:1.

Spent their time (εὐκαίρουν)

The word means to have good opportunity; to have leisure: also, to devote one's leisure to something; to spend the time. Compare Mark 6:31; 1 Corinthians 16:12.

Something new (τι καινότερον)

Lit., newer: newer than that which was then passing current as new. The comparative was regularly used by the Greeks in the question what news? They contrasted what was new with what had been new up to the time of asking. The idiom vividly characterizes the state of the Athenian mind. Bengel aptly says, "New things at once became of no account; newer things were being sought for." Their own orators and poets lashed them for this peculiarity. Aristophanes styles Athens the city of the gapers ("Knights," 1262). Demades said that the crest of Athens ought to be a great tongue. Demosthenes asks them, "Is it all your care to go about up and down the market, asking each other, 'Is there any news?'" In the speech of Cleon to the Athenians, given by Thucydides (iii., 38), he says: "No men are better dupes, sooner deceived by novel notions, or slower to follow approved advice. You despise what is familiar, while you are worshippers of every new extravagance. You are always hankering after an ideal state, but you do not give your minds even to what is straight before you. In a word, you are at the mercy of your own ears."

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