Acts 17:22
Then Paul stood in the middle of Mars' hill, and said, You men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are too superstitious.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(22) Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill.—Better, Areopagus, as before. The Court sat in the open air on benches forming three sides of a quadrangle. A short flight of sixteen steps, cut in the rock, led from the agora to the plateau where the Court held its sittings. If it was actually sitting at the time, the temptation to have recourse to it, if only to cause a sensation and terrify the strange disputant, may well have been irresistible. As the Apostle stood there, he looked from the slight elevation on the temple of the Eumenides below him, that of Theseus to the east, and facing him on the Acropolis, the Parthenon. On the height of that hill stood the colossal bronze statue of Athena as the tutelary goddess of her beloved Athens, below and all around him were statues and altars. The city was “very full of idols.”

Acts

PAUL AT ATHENS

Acts 17:22 - Acts 17:34
.

‘I am become all things to all men,’ said Paul, and his address at Athens strikingly exemplifies that principle of his action. Contrast it with his speech in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch, which appeals entirely to the Old Testament, and is saturated with Jewish ideas, or with the remonstrance to the rude Lycaonian peasants {Acts 14:15, etc.}, which, while handling some of the same thoughts as at Athens, does so in a remarkably different manner. There he appealed to God’s gifts of ‘rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons,’ the things most close to his hearers’ experience; here, speaking to educated ‘philosophers,’ he quotes Greek poetry, and sets forth a reasoned declaration of the nature of the Godhead and the relations of a philosophy of history and an argument against idolatry. The glories of Greek art were around him; the statues of Pallas Athene and many more fair creations looked down on the little Jew who dared to proclaim their nullity as representations of the Godhead.

Paul’s flexibility of mind and power of adapting himself to every circumstance were never more strikingly shown than in that great address to the quick-witted Athenians. It falls into three parts: the conciliatory prelude {Acts 17:22 - Acts 17:23}; the declaration of the Unknown God {Acts 17:24 - Acts 17:29}; and the proclamation of the God-ordained Man {Acts 17:30 - Acts 17:31}.

I. We have, first, the conciliatory prelude.

It is always a mistake for the apostle of a new truth to begin by running a tilt at old errors. It is common sense to seek to find some point in the present beliefs of his hearers to which his message may attach itself. An orator who flatters for the sake of securing favour for himself is despicable; a missionary who recognises the truth which lies under the system which he seeks to overthrow, is wise.

It is incredible that Paul should have begun his speech to so critical an audience by charging them with excessive superstition, as the Authorised Version makes him do. Nor does the modified translation of the Revised Version seem to be precisely what is meant. Paul is not blaming the Athenians, but recording a fact which he had noticed, and from which he desired to start. Ramsay’s translation gives the truer notion of his meaning-’more than others respectful of what is divine.’ ‘Superstition’ necessarily conveys a sense of blame, but the word in the original does not.

We can see Paul as a stranger wandering through the city, and noting with keen eyes every token of the all-pervading idolatry. He does not tell his hearers that his spirit burned within him when he saw the city full of idols; but he smothers all that, and speaks only of the inscription which he had noticed on one, probably obscure and forgotten, altar: ‘To the Unknown God.’ Scholars have given themselves a great deal of trouble to show from other authors that there were such altars. But Paul is as good an ‘authority’ as these, and we may take his word that he did see such an inscription. Whether it had the full significance which he reads into it or not, it crystallised in an express avowal that sense of Something behind and above the ‘gods many’ of Greek religion, which found expression in the words of their noblest thinkers and poets, and lay like a nightmare on them.

To charge an Athenian audience, proud of their knowledge, with ignorance, was a hazardous and audacious undertaking; to make them charge themselves was more than an oratorical device. It appealed to the deepest consciousness even of the popular mind. Even with this prelude, the claims of this wandering Jew to pose as the instructor of Epicureans and Stoics, and to possess a knowledge of the Divine which they lacked, were daring. But how calmly and confidently Paul makes them, and with what easy and conciliatory adoption of their own terminology, if we adopt the reading of Acts 17:23 in Revised Version {‘What ye worship . . . this,’ etc.}, which puts forward the abstract conception of divinity rather than the personal God.

The spirit in which Paul approached his difficult audience teaches all Christian missionaries and controversialists a needed and neglected lesson. We should accentuate points of resemblance rather than of difference, to begin with. We should not run a tilt against even errors, and so provoke to their defence, but rather find in creeds and practices an ignorant groping after, and so a door of entrance for, the truth which we seek to recommend.

II. The declaration of the Unknown God has been prepared for, and now follows, and with it is bound up a polemic against idolatry.

Conciliation is not to be carried so far as to hide the antagonism between the truth and error. We may give non-Christian systems of religion credit for all the good in them, but we are not to blink their contrariety to the true religion. Conciliation and controversy are both needful; and he is the best Christian teacher who has mastered the secret of the due proportion between them.

Every word of Paul’s proclamation strikes full and square at some counter belief of his hearers. He begins with creation, which he declares to have been the act of one personal God, and neither of a multitude of deities, as some of his hearers held, nor of an impersonal blind power, as others believed, nor the result of chance, nor eternal, as others maintained. He boldly proclaims there, below the shadow of the Parthenon, that there is but one God,-the universal Lord, because the universal Creator. Many consequences from that fact, no doubt, crowded into Paul’s mind; but he swiftly turns to its bearing on the pomp of temples which were the glory of Athens, and the multitude of sacrifices which he had beheld on their altars. The true conception of God as the Creator and Lord of all things cuts up by the roots the pagan notions of temples as dwelling-places of a god and of sacrifices as ministering to his needs. With one crushing blow Paul pulverises the fair fanes around him, and declares that sacrifice, as practised there, contradicted the plain truth as to God’s nature. To suppose that man can give anything to Him, or that He needs anything, is absurd. All heathen worship reverses the parts of God and man, and loses sight of the fact that He is the giver continually and of everything. Life in its origination, the continuance thereof {breath}, and all which enriches it, are from Him. Then true worship will not be giving to, but thankfully accepting from and using for, Him, His manifold gifts.

So Paul declares the one God as Creator and Sustainer of all. He goes on to sketch in broad outline what we may call a philosophy of history. The declaration of the unity of mankind was a wholly strange message to proud Athenians, who believed themselves to be a race apart, not only from the ‘barbarians,’ whom all Greeks regarded as made of other clay than they, but from the rest of the Greek world. It flatly contradicted one of their most cherished prerogatives. Not only does Paul claim one origin for all men, but he regards all nations as equally cared for by the one God. His hearers believed that each people had its own patron deities, and that the wars of nations were the wars of their gods, who won for them territory, and presided over their national fortunes. To all that way of thinking the Apostle opposes the conception, which naturally follows from his fundamental declaration of the one Creator, of His providential guidance of all nations in regard to their place in the world and the epochs of their history.

But he rises still higher when he declares the divine purpose in all the tangled web of history-the variety of conditions of nations, their rise and fall, their glory and decay, their planting in their lands and their rooting out,-to be to lead all men to ‘seek God.’ That is the deepest meaning of history. The whole course of human affairs is God’s drawing men to Himself. Not only in Judea, nor only by special revelation, but by the gifts bestowed, and the schooling brought to bear on every nation, He would stir men up to seek for Him.

But that great purpose has not been realised. There is a tragic ‘if haply’ inevitable; and men may refuse to yield to the impulses towards God. They are the more likely to do so, inasmuch as to find Him they must ‘feel after Him,’ and that is hard. The tendrils of a plant turn to the far-off light, but men’s spirits do not thus grope after God. Something has come in the way which frustrates the divine purpose, and makes men blind and unwilling to seek Him.

Paul docs not at once draw the two plain inferences, that there must be something more than the nations have had, if they are to find God, even His seeking them in some new fashion; and that the power which neutralises God’s design in creation and providence is sin. He has a word to say about both these, but for the moment he contents himself with pointing to the fact, attested by his hearers’ consciousness, and by many a saying of thinkers and poets, that the failure to find God does not arise from His hiding Himself in some remote obscurity. Men are plunged, as it were, in the ocean of God, encompassed by Him as an atmosphere, and-highest thought of all, and not strange to Greek thought of the nobler sort-kindred with Him as both drawing life from Him and being in His image. Whence, then, but from their own fault, could men have failed to find God? If He is ‘unknown,’ it is not because He has shrouded Himself in darkness, but because they do not love the light. One swift glance at the folly of idolatry, as demonstrated by this thought of man’s being the offspring of God, leads naturally to the properly Christian conclusion of the address.

III. It is probable that this part of it was prematurely ended by the mockery of some and the impatience of others, who had had enough of Paul and his talk, and who, when they said, ‘We will hear thee again,’ meant, ‘We will not hear you now.’ But, even in the compass permitted him, he gives much of his message.

We can but briefly note the course of thought. He comes back to his former word ‘ignorance,’ bitter pill as it was for the Athenian cultured class to swallow. He has shown them how their religion ignores or contradicts the true conceptions of God and man. But he no sooner brings the charge than he proclaims God’s forbearance. And he no sooner proclaims God’s forbearance than he rises to the full height of his mission as God’s ambassador, and speaks in authoritative tones, as bearing His ‘commands.’

Now the hint in the previous part is made more plain. The demand for repentance implies sin. Then the ‘ignorance’ was not inevitable or innocent. There was an element of guilt in men’s not feeling after God, and sin is universal, for ‘all men everywhere’ are summoned to repent. Philosophers and artists, and cultivated triflers, and sincere worshippers of Pallas and Zeus, and all ‘barbarian’ people, are alike here. That would grate on Athenian pride, as it grates now on ours. The reason for repentance would be as strange to the hearers as the command was-a universal judgment, of which the principle was to be rigid righteousness, and the Judge, not Minos or Rhadamanthus, but ‘a Man’ ordained for that function.

What raving nonsense that would appear to men who had largely lost the belief in a life beyond the grave! The universal Judge a man! No wonder that the quick Athenian sense of the ridiculous began to rise against this Jew fanatic, bringing his dreams among cultured people like them! And the proof which he alleged as evidence to all men that it is so, would sound even more ridiculous than the assertion meant to be proved. ‘A man has been raised from the dead; and this anonymous Man, whom nobody ever heard of before, and who is no doubt one of the speaker’s countrymen, is to judge us, Stoics, Epicureans, polished people, and we are to be herded to His bar in company with Boeotians and barbarians! The man is mad.’

So the assembly broke up in inextinguishable laughter, and Paul silently ‘departed from among them,’ having never named the name of Jesus to them. He never more earnestly tried to adapt his teaching to his audience; he never was more unsuccessful in his attempt by all means to gain some. Was it a remembrance of that scene in Athens that made him write to the Corinthians that his message was ‘to the Greeks foolishness’?Acts 17:22. Then Paul stood (Greek, σταθεις, standing, or being placed, rather, probably on some eminence) in the midst of Mars hill — An ample theatre! said, Ye men of Athens — Giving them a lecture of natural divinity, with admirable wisdom, acuteness, fulness, and courtesy. They inquire after new things: Paul, in his divinely-philosophical discourse, begins with the first, and goes on to the last things, both which were new things to them. He points out the origin and the end of all things, concerning which they had so many disputes, and equally refutes both the Epicurean and Stoic. I perceive — With what clearness and freedom does he speak! Paul against Athens! That in all things ye are too superstitious — This translation does not, it seems, exactly express St. Paul’s meaning; the original expression, κατα παντα ως δεισιδαιμονεστερους, as Dr. Hammond and others have proved, having a good, as well as a bad sense; and here, probably, signifying, as Doddridge and Wesley have rendered it, greatly addicted to the worship of invisible powers. To take it in the sense of our translation, would be to suppose that Paul began his discourse in very offensive language. Whereas, to render it as here proposed, makes him open his sermon, not only in a manner inoffensive, but even conciliating; which common sense would direct him to do, as far as he could with truth. “He introduced his discourse,” says Macknight, “with a handsome compliment to the Athenians in general: he told them that he perceived they were extremely religious; for, lest any god should be neglected by them, he found they had erected an altar to the unknown God; and from this he inferred, that it would not be unacceptable if he should declare to them that God whom they ignorantly worshipped.” For, said he,17:22-31 Here we have a sermon to heathens, who worshipped false gods, and were without the true God in the world; and to them the scope of the discourse was different from what the apostle preached to the Jews. In the latter case, his business was to lead his hearers by prophecies and miracles to the knowledge of the Redeemer, and faith in him; in the former, it was to lead them, by the common works of providence, to know the Creator, and worship Him. The apostle spoke of an altar he had seen, with the inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. This fact is stated by many writers. After multiplying their idols to the utmost, some at Athens thought there was another god of whom they had no knowledge. And are there not many now called Christians, who are zealous in their devotions, yet the great object of their worship is to them an unknown God? Observe what glorious things Paul here says of that God whom he served, and would have them to serve. The Lord had long borne with idolatry, but the times of this ignorance were now ending, and by his servants he now commanded all men every where to repent of their idolatry. Each sect of the learned men would feel themselves powerfully affected by the apostle's discourse, which tended to show the emptiness or falsity of their doctrines.Then Paul - This commences Paul's explanation of the doctrines which he had stated. It is evident that Luke has recorded but a mere summary or outline of the discourse; but it is such as to enable us to see clearly his course of thought, and the manner in which he met the two principal sects of their philosophers.

In the midst of Mars' hill - Greek: Areopagus. This should have been retained in the translation.

Ye men of Athens - This language was perfectly respectful, notwithstanding his heart had been deeply affected by their idolatry. Everything about this discourse is calm, grave, cool, argumentative. Paul understood the character of his auditors, and did not commence his discourse by denouncing them, nor did he suppose that they would be convinced by mere dogmatical assertion. No happier instance can be found of cool, collected argumentation than is furnished in this discourse.

I perceive - He perceived this by his observations of their forms of worship in passing through their city, Acts 17:23.

In all things - In respect to all events.

Ye are too superstitious - δεισιδαιμονεστέρους deisidaimonesterous. This is a most unhappy translation. We use the word "superstitious" always in a bad sense, to denote being "over-scrupulous and rigid in religious observances, particularly in smaller matters, or a zealous devotion to rites and observances which are not commanded." But the word here is designed to convey no such idea. It properly means "reverence for the gods." It is used in the Classic writers in a good sense, to denote "piety toward the gods, or suitable fear and reverence for them"; and also in a bad sense, to denote "improper fear or excessive dread of their anger"; and in this sense it accords with our word "superstitious." But it is altogether improbable that Paul would have used it in a bad sense. For:

(1) It was not his custom needlessly to blame or offend his auditors.

(2) it is not probable that he would commence his discourse in a manner that would only excite prejudice and opposition.

(3) in the thing which he specifies Acts 17:23 as proof on the subject, he does not introduce it as a matter of blame, but rather as a proof of their devotedness to the cause of religion and of their regard for God.

(4) the whole speech is calm, dignified, and argumentative - such as became such a place, such a speaker, and such an audience. The meaning of the expression is, therefore, "I perceive that you are greatly devoted to reverence for religion; that it is a characteristic of the people to honor the gods, to rear altars to them, and to recognize the divine agency in times of trial." The proof of this was the altar reared to the unknown God; its bearing on his purpose was, that such a state of public sentiment must be favorable to an inquiry into the truth of what he was about to state.

22. Then Paul stood … and said—more graphically, "standing in the midst of Mars' hill, said." This prefatory allusion to the position he occupied shows the writer's wish to bring the situation vividly before us [Baumgarten].

I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious—rather (with most modern interpreters and the ancient Greek ones), "in all respects extremely reverential" or "much given to religious worship," a conciliatory and commendatory introduction, founded on his own observation of the symbols of devotion with which their city was covered, and from which all Greek writers, as well as the apostle, inferred the exemplary religiousness of the Athenians. (The authorized translation would imply that only too much superstition was wrong, and represents the apostle as repelling his hearers in the very first sentence; whereas the whole discourse is studiously courteous).

Mars’ hill: See Poole on "Acts 17:19".

Too superstitious; sometimes this word is taken in a good sense; many then, as now, taking superstition to be religion. But it is often taken in a bad sense: thus Theophrastus says, that a truly pious man is a friend of God; ode deisidaimwn kolax yeou, but the superstitious man is a flatterer of God. Now this word being then of a kind of middle signification, the apostle would seem not to bear too hard upon the Athenians, who were devout and religious, according to the measure of their knowledge, and whom he desired to win by love and gentleness. Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill,.... Or of Areopagus, as it is better rendered in Acts 17:19 for it is the same place, and it is the same word that is here used: Paul stood in the midst of that court of judicature, amidst the Areopagites, the judges of that court, and the wise and learned philosophers of the different sects that were assembled together:

and said, ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious; or "more religious", than any other persons, in other places, which has been observed before on Acts 17:16 they had more gods, and more altars, and more festivals, and were more diligent and studious in the worship of the gods, than others. And this manner of addressing them, both as citizens of Athens, and as very religious persons, and who, as such, greatly exceeded all others, must greatly tend to engage their attention to him.

{12} Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too {l} superstitious.

(12) The idolaters themselves provide most strong and forcible arguments against their own superstition.

(l) To stand in too foolish and slavish a fear of your gods.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 17:22. Σταθεὶς ἐν μέσῳ] denotes intrepidity.

The wisdom with which Paul here could become a Gentile to the Gentiles, has been at all times justly praised. There is to be noted also, along with this, the elegance and adroitness, combined with all simplicity, in the expression and progress of thought; the speech is, as respects its contents and form, full of sacred Attic art, a vividly original product of the free apostolic spirit.

κατὰ πάντα] in all respects. Comp. Colossians 3:20; Colossians 3:22.

δεισιδαιμονεστέρους] A comparison with the other Greeks, in preference over whom Athens had the praise of religiousness (see Valckenaer, Schol. p. 551): Ἀθηναίοις περισσότερόν τι ἢ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἐς τὰ θεῖά ἐστι σπουδῆς, Pausan. in Attic. 24. Comp. Soph. O. C. 260; Thuc. ii. 40 f.; Eur. Her. 177. 330; Joseph. c. Ap. i. 12. δεισιδαίμων means divinity-fearing, but may, as the fear of God may be the source of either, denote as well real piety (Xen. Gyr. iii. 3. 58, Agesil. 11. 8) as superstition (Theophr. Char. 16; Diod. Sic. i. 62; Lucian. Alex. 9; Plutarch, and others). Paul therefore, without violating the truth, prudently leaves the religious tendency of his hearers undetermined, and names only its source—the fear of God. Chrysostom well remarks: προοδοποιεῖ τῷ λόγῳ· διὰ τοῦτο εἶπε δεισιδαιμονεστέρους ὑμᾶς θεωρῷ. See on this word, Hermann, gottesd. Alterth. § 8. 6. Mistaking this fine choice of the expression, the Vulgate, Erasmus, Luther, Castalio, Calovius, Suicer, Wolf, and others explained it: superstitiosiores. ὡς: I perceive you as more god-fearing, so that you appear as such. See Bernhardy, p. 333.

ὑμᾶς θεωρῶ] “Magna perspicacia et parrhesia; unus Paulus contra Athenas,” Bengel.Acts 17:22. σταθεὶς, Lucan, see Acts 1:15.—ἐν μέσῳ τοῦ Ἀ. π., i.e., in the midst of the Council or Court of Areopagus, see above on Acts 17:19, cf. Acts 4:7, Peter stood in the midst of the Sanhedrim. Ramsay pertinently remarks that the words “in the middle of Mars’ hill” are far from natural or clear, and those who adopt them usually omit the word “midst,” and say that Paul stood on Mars’hill, justifying the expression by supposing that ἐν μέσῳ is a Hebraism for ἐν, Acts 1:15, Acts 2:22. But whilst a Hebraism would be natural in the earlier chapters referred to, it would be quite out of place here in this Attic scene, cf. also Acts 17:33, Ramsay, Expositor, September, 1895, so too Curtius, u. s., p. 529, in support of the rendering adopted by Ramsay.—Ἄνδρες Ἀθην.: usual way of beginning a speech; strange to allege it as a proof that the speech is not genuine: “according to the best MS. evidence, Demosthenes habitually, at least in some speeches, said ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι without . It is therefore a mistake to note as unclassical the use of the vocative here without , cf. Acts 1:14, Acts 19:35,” Simcox, Language of the New Testament, p. 76, note.—κατὰ πάντα: “in all things I perceive that ye are,” R.V., meaning that wherever he looked he had evidence of this characteristic—the A.V. would imply that in all their conduct the Athenians were, etc. The phrase which is common in classics is only found here, in Acts 3:22, Colossians 3:20; Colossians 3:22, Hebrews 2:5; Hebrews 4:15, in N.T.—ὡς, see Grimm-Thayer, sub v., i., d., Winer-Moulton, xxxv., 4.—δεισιδαιμ.: “somewhat superstitious,” R.V., but in margin, “somewhat religious,” so in Acts 25:19 the noun is rendered “religion,” R.V. (in margin, “superstition”), where Festus, in speaking to Agrippa, a Jew, would not have been likely to call the Jewish religion a superstition. R.V. gives a better turn to the word than A.V. with Tyndale, “too superstitious,” cf. Vulgate, superstitiosiores, as it is incredible that St. Paul should have commenced his remarks with a phrase calculated to offend his hearers. The R.V. has modified the A.V. by introducing “somewhat” instead of “too,” according to the classical idiom by which the comparative of an adjective may be used to express the deficiency or excess (slight in either case) of the quality contained in the positive. But the quality in this case may be good or bad, since the adjective δεισιδαίμων and the cognate noun may be used of reverence or of superstition, cf. for the former Xen., Cyr., iii., 3, 58; Arist., Pol., v., 11; cf. C. I. Gr[311], 2737b; Jos., Ant., x., 32; Polyb., vi., 56, 7, and for the latter, Thcoph., Char., xvi.; Plut., De Superstit., 10; Jos., Ant., xv., 8, 2; M. Aurelius, vi., 30, and instances in Philo, cf. also Justin Martyr, Apol., i., 2 (see Hatch, Biblical Essays, p. 43). Ramsay renders: “more than others respectful of what is divine”; so Renan, “le plus religieux”; Holtzmann, “Gottesfürchtige,” so Weiss, so Zöckler, “religiosiores ceteris Græcis” (Horace, Sat., i., 9, 70), cf. Winer-Moulton, xxxv., 4. In thus emphasising the religious spirit of the Athenians, St. Paul was speaking in strict accordance with similar testimonies from various quarters, cf. Thuc., ii., 40; Soph., O. C., 260; Jos., C. Apion., ii., 11; Pausanias, In Attic., 24; Petronius, Sat., c. 17. The context, Acts 17:24, where εὐσεβεῖτε, religiose colitis (Wetstein), is one result of this δεισιδαιμονία, strengthens the view that the adjective is used here in a good sense; cf. the comment on its good use here by St. Chrys., Hom., xxxviii., and Theophylact. There is therefore no reason to suppose that Paul’s words were an accommodation to the usual practice of Athenian orators to commence with a mere compliment. At the same time it is possible that with delicate tact the Apostle made use of a word of doubtful meaning, verbum per se μέσον, which could not possibly provoke hostility at the outset, while it left unexpressed his own judgment as to the nature of this reverence for the divine “with kindly ambiguity,” Grimm-Thayer.

[311] Greek, or Grotius’ Annotationes in N.T.22. in the midst of Mars’ hill] Better, in the midst of the Areopagus. See on Acts 17:19. There is no need for translating the name in one way there, and in another here.

Ye men of Athens] The language of the Apostle’s address takes exactly the form which it would have assumed in the mouth of one of their own orators. This may be due either to St Paul’s knowledge of Greek literature, and to his desire, everywhere manifest, to find words acceptable to his audience; or it may be that St Luke giving an abstract of the speech has cast the initial words into a form which Demosthenes would have employed. In the latter case it is no mark of unfaithfulness in the author, who clearly in these ten verses can only mean to give a skeleton of what the Apostle really uttered. St Paul spake at length, we cannot doubt, when he stood in such a place and before such an audience. The historian in the Acts gives the barest outline of what was spoken, and cannot be thought to have meant his words to be otherwise accepted, seeing that what he has given us would hardly occupy five minutes in the utterance.

ye are too superstitious] The Greek adjective which the Apostle here employs has two shades of meaning,” superstitious,” as in the A. V., and “religious” in a better sense. At the outset St Paul would not wish to give offence, and so the more complementary sense is to be preferred. As the word is of the comparative degree, this sense may be expressed either by “somewhat superstitious” (as R. V.) or “very religious.” The first would imply only a small shade of the less acceptable meaning, the latter would be an expression of praise of the Athenians above other people. The former is to be chosen, for St Paul did not wish to give praise, but after some slight blame to point out a more excellent way. For a description of the δεισιδαίμων, which exactly answers to what we call “superstitious,” see Theophrastus Charact. c. xvii.

22–31. Speech of St Paul at Athens

Taking notice of the extreme religious scrupulousness, which had led the Athenians to raise an altar to an unknown God, the Apostle declares to them the God whom alone they ought to worship, and whom as yet they did not know. This God was the Maker and Preserver of all things, and the Father of all men, and He desired to bring all to a knowledge of Himself. Athenian poets had spoken of this Fatherhood of God. Such a God is not fitly represented by graven images, and He would have men cease from such ignorant worship, for he will be the Judge as well as Father of men, and has given proof of the reality of the judgment and of the world to come by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.Acts 17:22. Ἐν μέσῳ, in the midst) A spacious theatre. [The one single messenger of Christ in this instance had to encounter the might (strongest sinews) of human wisdom.—V. g.]—ἔφη, said) As among the Lycaonians he set forth natural Theology in the way of instruction (catechetically), so at Athens he set it forth in the way of an address to the ears of a learned audience, with marvellous wisdom, subtilty (refinement), fulness, and courtesy. They ask for new things: Paul, in his apostolico-philosophical speech, begins with what is most ancient and comes to the newest truths; both of which alike were new to them. And he shows them the origin and end of all things, concerning which their philosophers used to discuss so much, and he in a most appropriate manner refutes the Stoics and Epicureans alike.—κατὰ πάντα, in all things) altogether.—ὡς δεισιδαιμονεστέρους) δεισιδαίμων, religiosus, is a word in itself μέσον, of middle signification between good and bad, and therefore has in it an ambiguity conciliatory, and most suitable to this the opening of his speech, wherein, as in the case of the Jews, ch. Acts 22:3, so in this case, the apostle deals gently with the Gentiles here, until in his subsequent declaration, εὗρον γὰρ, for I found, he verges to reproof. Therefore he calls them δεισιδαίμονας, as being persons who in their religion had fear, a feeling not in itself bad, without knowledge; or, in other words, those who ἀγνοοῦντες εὐσεβοῦσιν, worship ignorantly, the Divinity: the foll, verse. The comparative also mitigates the language; and the particle ὡς (as being somewhat too fearful in your religion) explains and softens the expression. Observe, Reader: Impiety and false religions, as many as they are, and as great soever as they may be, as far as concerns the soul, are fears: the Christian religion alone has this peculiarity, that it fully satisfies the noblest faculties and affections of man, and brings with it a calm kind of fear, and confidence accompanying the fear, and love, hope, and joy.—ὑμᾶς θεωρῶ, I perceive you) Great keenness of observation and great freedom of speech. Paul alone against all Athens.Verse 22. - And for then, A.V.; the Areopagus for Mars hill, A.V.; in all things I perceive that for I perceive that in all things, A.V.; somewhat for too, A.V. In the midst is simply a local description. He stood in the midst of the excavated quadrangle, while his hearers probably sat on the scats all round. Ye men of Athena. The Demosthenes of the Church uses the identical address - Ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι ( which the great orator used in his stirring political speeches to the Athenian people. Somewhat superstitious. There is a difference of opinion among commentators whether these words imply praise or blame. Chrysostom, followed by many others, takes it as said in the way of encomium, and understands the word δεισιδαιμονεστέρους ασ equivalent to εὐλαβεστέρους, very religious, more than commonly religious. And so Bishop Jacobson ('Speaker's Commentary'), who observes that the substantive δεισδαιμονία is used five times by Josephus, and always in the sense of "religion," or "piety." On the other hand, the Vulgate (superstitiosiores), the English Versions, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, etc., take the word in its most common classical sense of "superstitious;" and it weighs for something towards determining St. Luke's use of the word that Plutarch uses δεισιδαιμονία always in a bad sense, of superstition, as in his life of Alexander and elsewhere, and in his tract 'De Superstitione' (Δεισιδαιμονία). Perhaps the conclusion is that St. Paul, having his spirit stirred by seeing the city full of idols, determined to attack that spirit in the Athenian people which led to so much idolatry; which he did in the speech which follows. But, acting with his usual wisdom, he used an inoffensive term at the outset of his speech. He could not mean to praise them for that δεισιδαιμονία which it was the whole object of his sermon to condemn. Josephus ('Contr. Apion.,' 1:12) calls the Athenians τοὺς εὐσεβεστάτους τῶν Ἐλλήνων, the most religious of all Greeks (Howson). I perceive (θεωρῶ)

I regard you, in my careful observation of you. See on Luke 10:18.

Too superstitious (δεισιδαιμονεστέρους)

This rendering and that of the Rev., somewhat superstitious, are both unfortunate. The word is compounded of δείδω, to fear, and δαίμων, a deity. It signifies either a religious or a superstitious sentiment, according to the context. Paul would have been unlikely to begin his address with a charge which would have awakened the anger of his audience. What he means to say is, You are more divinity-fearing than the rest of the Greeks. This propensity to reverence the higher powers is a good thing in itself, only, as he shows them, it is misdirected, not rightly conscious of its object and aim. Paul proposes to guide the sentiment rightly by revealing him whom they ignorantly worship. The American revisers insist on very religious. The kindred word δεισιδαιμονία occurs Acts 25:19, and in the sense of religion, though rendered in A. V. superstition. Festus would not call the Jewish religion a superstition before Agrippa, who was himself a Jew. There is the testimony of the Ephesian town-clerk, that Paul, during his three years' residence at Ephesus, did not rudely and coarsely attack the worship of the Ephesian Diana. "Nor yet blasphemers of your goddess" (Acts 19:37).

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