Acts 17:32
And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear you again of this matter.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(32) Some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again.—The word “mocked” implies look and gesture, as well as words, of derision. (See Note on Acts 2:13.) We may venture to assume that the mockers were found chiefly among the Epicureans, and that the inquirers, perhaps putting off the inquiry to a “more convenient season,” were Stoics, who wished to hear more from a teacher with whom they found themselves in sympathy on so many points of contact with their own system. Whether they carried on their inquiry we are not told. The words that follow imply a certain indignation on the part of the Apostle. He would not stay to expose the name or the work of his Lord to the jests of scoffers.

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’?17:32-34 The apostle was treated with more outward civility at Athens than in some other places; but none more despised his doctrine, or treated it with more indifference. Of all subjects, that which deserves the most attention gains the least. But those who scorn, will have to bear the consequences, and the word will never be useless. Some will be found, who cleave to the Lord, and listen to his faithful servants. Considering the judgement to come, and Christ as our Judge, should urge all to repent of sin, and turn to Him. Whatever matter is used, all discourses must lead to Him, and show his authority; our salvation, and resurrection, come from and by Him.Some mocked - Some of the philosophers derided him. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was believed by none of the Greeks; it seemed incredible; and they regarded it as so absurd as not to admit of an argument, It has nor been uncommon for even professed philosophers to mock at the doctrines of religion, and to meet the arguments of Christianity with a sneer. The Epicureans particularly would be likely to deride this, as they denied altogether any future state. It is not improbable that this derision by the Epicureans produced such a disturbance as to break off Paul's discourse, as that of Stephen had been by the clamor of the Jews, Acts 7:54.

And others said - Probably some of the Stoics. The doctrine of a future state was not denied by them; and the fact, affirmed by Paul, that one had been raised up from the dead, would appear more plausible to them, and it might be a matter worth inquiry to ascertain whether the alleged fact did not furnish a new argument for their views. They therefore proposed to examine this further at some future time. That the inquiry was prosecuted any further does not appear probable, for:

(1) No church was organized at Athens.

(2) there is no account of any future interview with Paul.

(3) he departed almost immediately from them, Acts 18:1. People who defer inquiry on the subject of religion seldom find the favorable period arrive. Those who propose to examine its doctrines at a future time often do it to avoid the inconvenience of becoming Christians now, and as a plausible and easy way of rejecting the gospel altogether, without appearing to be rude, or to give offence.

32-34. when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked—As the Greek religion was but the glorification of the present life, by the worship of all its most beauteous forms, the Resurrection, which presupposes the vanity of the present life, and is nothing but life out of the death of all that sin has blighted, could have no charm for the true Greek. It gave the death blow to his fundamental and most cherished ideas; nor until these were seen to be false and fatal could the Resurrection, and the Gospel of which it was a primary doctrine, seem otherwise than ridiculous.

others said, We will hear thee again of this—"an idle compliment to Paul and an opiate to their consciences, such as we often meet with in our own day. They probably, like Felix, feared to hear more, lest they should be constrained to believe unwelcome truths" (Ac 24:25; and compare Mt 13:15) [Webster and Wilkinson].

Some mocked; the Epicureans, whom Paul had spoken against in his doctrine of the resurrection from the dead, and judgment to come.

Others said, We will hear thee again of this matter; it is thought the Stoics, who did not think the resurrection to be impossible, but did acknowledge rewards and punishments in the world to come; yet, though this seem most likely, the grace of God is free and powerful, and can subdue any unto itself. We are sure that there are different soils into which the seed of the word is cast, Matthew 13:1. When they heard of the resurrection of the dead,.... Of a certain man that the apostle said God had raised from the dead, though they knew not who he was:

some mocked; at him, and at the doctrine he preached: these very likely were of the Epicurean sect, who disbelieved a future state; though, as Tertullian observes (b), the doctrine of the resurrection was denied by every sect of the philosophers: it is a doctrine of pure revelation, and what the light of nature never taught men, and by which men being only guided, have declared against, and have treated it with the utmost ridicule and contempt. Pliny (c) reckons it, among childish fancies, and calls it vanity, and downright madness to believe it; as does also Caecilius in Minutius Felix (d), and who even calls it a lie, and places it among old wives' fables; and Celsus in Origen (e) represents it as exceeding detestable, abominable, and impossible.

And others said, we will hear thee again of this matter; some think these were of the Stoic sect, who held a future state, and that the soul would live after the body, and had some notions which looked inclining to this doctrine: however, these thought there might be something in what the apostle said; they could not receive it readily, and yet could not deny it; they were willing to take time to consider of it; and were desirous of hearing him again upon that subject; in which they might be very open and upright; and this might not be a mere excuse to shift off any further hearing at that time, like that of Felix, in Acts 24:1.

(b) De praescript. Heret. c. 7. p. 232. (c) Nat. Hist. l. 7. c. 55. (d) Octav. p. 10. (e) Contra Cals. l. 5. p. 240.

{16} And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.

(16) Men, to show forth their vanity, are affected and moved differently by the very same Gospel, which nonetheless does not cease to be effectual in the elect.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Acts 17:32. As yet Paul has not once named Jesus, but has only endeavoured to gather up the most earnest interest of his hearers for this the great final aim of his discourse; now his speech is broken off by the mockery of some, and by a courteous relegation to silence on the part of others.

ἀνάστασιν νεκρῶν] a resurrection of dead persons, as Paul had just asserted such a case. The plural denotes the category; comp. on Romans 1:4. To take it of the general rising of the dead at the day of judgment, is quite at variance with the context. That, moreover, the οἱ μέν were all Epicureans, and the οἱ δέ Stoics, as Grotius, Wolf, and Rosenmüller supposed, cannot be proved. Calvin, Grotius, Wolf, Rosenmüller, Alford, and others hold ἀκουσόμεθά σου παλ. περὶ τούτου as meant in earnest. But would not Paul, if he had so understood it, have remained longer in Athens? See Acts 18:1.

The repellent result, which the mention of the resurrection of Jesus brought about, is by Baur (comp. Zeller) supposed to be only a product of the author, who had wished to exhibit very distinctly the repulsive nature of the doctrine of the resurrection for educated Gentiles; he thinks that the whole speech is only an effect fictitiously introduced by the author, and that the whole narrative of the appearance at Athens is to be called in question—“a counterpart to the appearance of Stephen at Jerusalem, contrived with a view to a harmless issue instead of a tragical termination,” Zeller. But with all the delicacy and prudence, which Paul here, in this Ἑλλάδος Ἑλλάς (Thucyd. epigr., see Jacobs, Anthol. I. p. 102), had to exercise and knew how to do so, he could not and durst not be silent on the resurrection of Jesus, that foundation of apostolic preaching; he could not but, after he had done all he could to win the Athenians, now bring the matter to the issue, what effect the testimony to the Risen One would have. If the speech had not this testimony, criticism would the more easily and with more plausibility be able to infer a fictitious product of the narrator; and it would hardly have neglected to do so.Acts 17:32. οἱ μὲν ἐχλ.… οἱ δὲ: verb only here in N.T., implies outward gesture as well as words of scorn (χλεύη, χεῖλος, cf. μυκτηρίζω, μυκτήρ). We usually think of the οἱ μέν as the Stoics, and the οἱ δέ as the Epicureans; e.g., Wetstein after describing the Epicureans adds οἱ δέ = Stoici: cf. Cicero, De Natura Deorum, ii., 17, and Plutarch, De Or. Def., 32. But if the Epicureans ridiculed a resurrection and judgment to come, the Stoics also were separated by a wide gulf from the teaching of St. Paul. Even if it may be said that in general they approximated towards the doctrine of personal existence after death, some of their most famous representatives departed from it; Capes, Stoicism, p. 173; Wallace, Epicureanism, p. 121; Ueberweg, Hist. of Phil., i., p. 196; E.T. Rendall, Marcus Antoninus, Introd., pp. 107, 108. “On one point alone were the professors of this school [Stoic] agreed; an external existence of the human soul was out of the question,” Lightfoot, Philippians, p. 323. The idea of retribution beyond the grave would have been equally alien to the Stoic as to the Epicurean, and both Stoic and Epicurean alike would have ridiculed the idea of a resurrection of the body. Zöckler, in loco, while referring the οἱ μέν without hesitation to the Epicureans, thinks that possibly Platonists rather than Stoics may be represented by the οἱ δέ. If St. Paul was addressing not only a philosophical but a popular audience, as we have seen reason to believe, it is quite possible that while the majority would laugh at his closing words, Juvenal, Sat., ii. 149, there may have been others who clung to the popular mythology and its crude conceptions, and the Apostle’s prediction of a judgment to come may have sufficiently interested them to prompt a desire for further disclosures.—ἀκουσόμεθά σου πάλιν (περὶ τούτου, R.V., neuter, we can hardly refer it to the αὐτόν of Acts 17:31). The words are often taken to imply a polite rejection of the Apostle’s appeal, a courteous refusal to hear anything further; or at all events to express a very cold interest in his announcement. But if we adopt the reading καὶ πάλιν (see critical note) “yet again,” R.V., the words rather indicate that a real interest had been excited in some of the hearers (so Calvin, Grotius, Weiss, Alford) and that the marked and defined division of opinion was not merely a dramatic device of the author.32–34. Effect of St Paul’s speech. Some mocked, but others believed

32. some mocked] Just as (Acts 2:13) did some men on the day of Pentecost. To the Epicurean this life was all, and the Stoic’s teaching, that all should finally be absorbed into the Godhead, forbade the belief that the dead should rise again. So of these men the Epicureans would most likely be the mockers, the Stoics might be expected to give more heed; and theirs perhaps would be the decision to hear the Apostle again. The Greek of the best accepted MSS. makes the last clause run, “We will hear thee yet again concerning thisActs 17:32. Ἐχλεύαζον, some mocked) interrupting Paul. They took as a stumbling-block of offence what is the principal motive of faith, owing to the pride of reason; and having thus fastened on this one point, they reject all the rest.—εἶπον, others said) with more readiness of mind.Verse 32. - Now for and, A.V.; but for and, A.V.; concerning this yet again for again of this matter, A.V. Some mocked. Athenian skepticism could not accept so spiritual a truth as the resurrection of the dead; and Athenian levity of purpose deferred to another day the decisive step of accepting the salvation of the risen Savior, just as it had deferred resistance to Philip of Macedon till their liberties were gone and their country enslaved. (For "We will hear thee again," comp. Acts 24:25.) Resurrection

This word was the signal for a derisive outburst from the crowd.

Mocked (ἐχλεύαζον)

From χλεύη, a jest. Only here in New Testament, though a compound, διαχλευάζω, mock, occurs, according to the best texts, at Acts 2:13. The force of the imperfect, began to mock, should be given here in the translation, as marking the outbreak of derision.

In this remarkable speech of Paul are to be noted: his prudence and tact in not needlessly offending his hearers; his courtesy and spirit of conciliation in recognizing their piety toward their gods; his wisdom and readiness in the use of the inscription "to the unknown God," and in citing their own poets; his meeting the radical errors of every class of his hearers, while seeming to dwell only on points of agreement; his lofty views of the nature of God and the great principle of the unity of the human race; his boldness in proclaiming Jesus and the resurrection among those to whom these truths were foolishness; the wonderful terseness and condensation of the whole, and the rapid but powerful and assured movement of the thought.

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