Acts 17:34
However, certain men joined to him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
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(34) Certain men clave unto him.—The word implies practically both companionship and conversion. There was an attractive power in the Apostle’s character that drew men unto him.

Dionysius the Areopagite.—As the constitution of the Court of the Areopagus required its members to have filled a high magisterial function, such as that of Archon, and to be above sixty, the convert must have been a man of some note. According to a tradition, ascribed by Eusebius (Hist. iii. 4, iv. 23) to Dionysius, Bishop of Corinth, he became Bishop of Athens. An elaborate treatise on the Hierarchy of Heaven, Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Dominations, and the like, is extant under his name, but is obviously of much later date, probably of the fourth or fifth century. The legend of the Seven Champions of Christendom has transformed him into the St. Denys of France. A church dedicated to him stands on the Areopagus of modern Athens.

Damaris.—Chrysostom says that she was the wife of Dionysius, but this is obviously only a conjecture.

And others with them.—The contrast between this and the “great multitude,” the “many” at Thessalonica and Berœa, is very significant. Not less striking is the absence of any reference to Athens in St. Paul’s Epistles. Of all the cities which he visited, it was that with which he had least sympathy. All that can be said is that he may have included them among “the saints which are in all Achaia” (2Corinthians 1:1) in his prayers and hopes. It would almost seem as if he felt that little was gained by entering into a discussion on the great questions of natural theology; and therefore he came to Corinth, determined to know nothing “but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1Corinthians 2:2).

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.Clave unto him - Adhered to him firmly; embraced the Christian religion.

Dionysius - Nothing more is certainly known of this man than is here stated.

The Areopagite - Connected with the court of Areopagus, but in what way is not known. It is probable that he was one of the judges. The conversion of one man was worth the labor of Paul, and that conversion might have had an extensive influence on others.

In regard to this account of the visit of Paul to Athens probably the only one which he made to that splendid capital - we may remark:

(1) That he was indefatigable and constant in his great work.

(2) Christians, amidst the splendor and gaieties of such cities, should have their hearts deeply affected in view of the moral desolations of the people.

(3) they should be willing to do their duty, and to bear witness to the pure and simple gospel in the presence of the great and the noble.

(4) they should not consider it their main business to admire splendid temples, statues, and paintings - the works of art; but their main business should be to do good as they may have opportunity.

(5) a discourse, even in the midst of such wickedness and idolatry, may be calm and dignified; not an appeal merely to the passions, but to the understanding. Paul reasoned with the philosophers of Athens; he did not denounce them; he endeavored calmly to convince them, not harshly to censure them.

(6) the example of Paul is a good one for all Christians. In all places cities, towns, or country; amidst all people - philosophers, the rich, the poor; among friends and countrymen, or among strangers and foreigners, the great object should be to do good, to instruct mankind, to seek to elevate the human character, and to promote human happiness by diffusing the pare precepts of the gospel of Christ.

34. Howbeit certain men clave unto him—Instead of mocking or politely waiving the subject, having listened eagerly, they joined themselves to the apostle for further instruction; and so they "believed."

Dionysius the Areopagite—a member of that august tribunal. Ancient tradition says he was placed by the apostle over the little flock at Athens. "Certainly the number of converts there and of men fit for office in the Church was not so great that there could be much choice" [Olshausen].

a woman named Damaris—not certainly one of the apostle's audience on the Areopagus, but won to the faith either before or after. Nothing else is known of her. Of any further labors of the apostle at Athens, and how long he stayed, we are not informed. Certainly he was not driven away. But "it is a serious and instructive fact that the mercantile populations of Thessalonica and Corinth received the message of God with greater readiness than the highly educated and polished Athenians. Two letters to the Thessalonians, and two to the Corinthians, remain to attest the flourishing state of those churches. But we possess no letter written by Paul to the Athenians; and we do not read that he was ever in Athens again" [Howson].

Clave unto him, in more than ordinary friendship; they were as glued to him; great was their love to the apostle, by whom their eyes were opened, nay, by whose ministry they were raised from the dead.

Dionysius the Areopagite; one of that great council mentioned Acts 17:19, whose conversion might have a great influence on many.

Damaris; who is thought to have been an honourable woman; such are mentioned Acts 17:12: or she might have been specially eminent for some grace or goodness she excelled in, and therefore hath a name upon record in the word of God. Howbeit, certain men clave unto him, and believed,.... There were some who were ordained to eternal life, to whom the Gospel came in power, and they received the love of the truth, and their hearts and affections were knit unto the apostle; and they followed him, and kept to him, and privately conversed with him, and believed his doctrine, and in Jesus Christ, whom he preached unto them; to these the Gospel was the savour of life unto life, when to the scoffers and mockers it was the savour of death unto death: and this is the fruit and effect of the Gospel ministry, wherever it comes:

among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite; a judge in the court of Areopagus: how many judges that court consisted of, is not certain, nor whether there was one who was superior to the rest; if there was such an one, Dionysius seems to have been he, since he is called the Areopagite. The business of this court was not only to try causes of murder, which seems to have been the original business of it; but by these judges the rights of the city were preserved and defended, war was proclaimed, and all law suits adjusted and decided; and they made it their business to look after idle and slothful persons, and inquire how they lived (f): they always heard and judged causes in the night, in the dark, because they would only know facts, and not persons, lest they should be influenced by their afflictions, and be led wrong (g); they were very famous in other nations for their wisdom and skill, and for their gravity and strict justice. Dolabella, proconsul of Asia, having a woman brought before him for poisoning her husband and son, which she confessed, and gave reasons for doing it, referred the matter to a council, who refused to pass sentence; upon which he sent the case to Athens, to the Areopagites, as to judges "more grave" and "more experienced" (h): and hence these words of Julian the emperor (i),

"let an Areopagite be judge, and we will not be afraid of the judgment.''

This Dionysius the Areopagite is said, by another Dionysius, bishop of the Corinthians, a very ancient writer (k), to be the first bishop of the Athenians, which is more likely than that he should be a bishop in France. It is reported of him, that being at Heliopolis in Egypt, along with Apollophanes, a philosopher, at the time of Christ's sufferings, he should say concerning the unusual eclipse that then was, that "a God unknown, and clothed with flesh, suffered", on whose account the whole world was darkened; or, as, others affirm, he said, "either the God of nature suffers, or the frame of the world will be dissolved": it is also related of him that when he was converted by the apostle at Athens, he went to Clemens, bishop of Rome, and was sent by him with others into the west, to preach the Gospel; some of which went to Spain, and others to France, and that he steered his course to Paris, and there, with Rusticus and Eleutherius his "colleagues", suffered martyrdom (l). The books ascribed unto him concerning the divine names, and ecclesiastical hierarchy, are spurious things, stuffed with foolish, absurd, and impious notions, and seem to have been written in the "fifth" century.

And a woman named Damaris; some of the ancients, and also some modern writers, take this woman to be the wife of Dionysius; but had she been his wife, she would have been doubtless called so; however, by the particular mention of her name, she seems to have been a person of some note and figure: the name is a diminutive from Damar, which signifies a wife.

And others with them; with these two, as the Arabic version renders it; that is, with Dionysius and Damaris. These laid the foundation of a Gospel church at Athens. Dionysius, as before observed, was the first bishop, or pastor of it; it is also said that Narcissus, one of the seventy disciples, was bishop of this place; See Gill on Luke 10:1. In the "second" century Publius was bishop of the church at Athens, who suffered martyrdom for Christ in the time of Hadrian; and was succeeded by Quadratus (m), who was famous for a writing he presented to the said emperor, in favour of the churches in common, and the success of it, about the year 128; at the same time, Aristides, a famous philosopher and Christian, flourished in the church at Athens, who wrote an apology for the Christian religion; and also Jovius, a presbyter and martyr, and a disciple of Dionysius; likewise Athenagoras, a man of great learning and piety, who wrote also an apology for the Christians, and a treatise concerning the resurrection of the dead, which are still extant; the former was written to the emperors Antoninus and Commodus: in the "third" century mention is made of the church at Athens; and Origen (n) speaks very honourably of it, as meek and quiet, and desirous of approving itself to God. In the "fourth" century it appears that there were Christians there, since Maximus the emperor stirred up wicked men to molest and distress them; and there was a Christian school there, in which Bazil and Gregory Nazianzen were brought up. In the "fifth" century there was a church in this place; and in the "sixth", a Christian school, in which Boethius Patricius learned the liberal arts; and in the "seventh" century mention is made of a bishop of Athens, who was in the sixth council at Constantinople (o): thus far this church state is to be traced.

(f) Alexander ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 3. c. 13. & l. 4. c. 11. (g) Alexander ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 3. c. 5. (h) A Gellii noctes Attica, l. 12. c. 7. (i) Orat. 2. p. 112. (k) Apud Euseb. Hist. Eccl. l. 3. c. 4. & l. 4. c. 23. (l) Magdeburg. Hist. Eccles. cent. 1. l. 2. c. 10. p. 491. (m) Euseb. Eccl. Hist. l. 4. c. 23. (n) Contra Cels. l. 3. p. 128. (o) Magdeburg. Hist. Eccles. cent. 2. c. 2. p. 4, 17. & c. 10. p. 151, 152, 153. cent. 3. c. 2. p. 3. cent. 4. c. 7. p. 287. & c. 10. p. 539. cent. 5. c. 2. p. 6. cent. 6. c. 7. p. 205. cent. 7. c. 2. p. 5.

Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Acts 17:34. τινὲς δὲ: may contrast the favourable with the unfavourable, or perhaps merely continuous.—κολληθέντες, see above on Acts 5:13, implies close companionship upon which their conversion followed, see additional note.—Διονύσιος ὁ Ἀ.: “quam doctrinam scurræ rejecerunt, Areopagita vir gravis accipit”. Dionysius was a member of the Council, the words can mean nothing less—it is evident, therefore, that this convert must have been a man of some distinction, as an Areopagite would previously have filled the office of Archon. On the honour attached to the term cf. Cicero, Proverbs Balbo, xii., and instances cited by Renan, Saint Paul, p. 209, note. It is not improbable that St. Luke may have received from him the draft of St. Paul’s address. On the other hand the conversion of a man occupying such a position has excited suspicion, and Baur, Paulus, i., 195, considers that the whole scene on the Areopagus is unhistorical, and owes its origin to the tradition that an Areopagite named Dionysius was converted. So Holtzmann holds that the whole scene was placed on the Areopagus, because, according to report, a member of the Areopagus was converted, Apostelgeschichte, p. 393, similarly Weizsäcker. See further, “Dionysius,” B.D.2, Hastings’ B.D., Smith and Wace, Dictionary of Christian Biography, i., p. 846; Felten, Apostelgeschichte, p. 337 and notes below.—Δάμαρις: perhaps Δάμαλις, a heifer, a name popular amongst the Greeks, so Grotius, Wetstein, and Renan, Saint Paul, p. 209, note; see critical note above. We know nothing certain about her, but Ramsay makes the interesting conjecture that as the woman is not described as εὐσχήμων (cf. the description of the women at Thessalonica, Berœa, and Pisidian Antioch, Acts 13:50, Acts 17:4; Acts 17:12), she may have been a foreign woman (perhaps one of the educated Hetairai), as at Athens no woman of respectable position would have been present amongst St. Paul’s audience. St. Chrysostom (so St. Ambrose and Asterius) thought that she was the wife of Dionysius, but St. Luke calls her γυνή, not ἡ γυνή αὐτοῦ. No mention is made of her in (but see above critical note), and Ramsay accounts for this by the view that the reviser of Codex Bezæ was a Catholic, who objected to the prominence given to women in Acts, and that under the influence of this feeling the changes occurred in Acts 17:12 (see above) and 34: this prominence assigned to women was, in Ramsay’s view, firstly, pagan rather than Christian, and, secondly, heretical rather than Catholic; Church in the Roman Empire, pp. 160, 161; see “Damaris,” Hastings’ B.D., and Felten, Apostelgeschichte, p. 337.—καὶ ἕτεροι: a significant contrast to the precise results of the Apostle’s preaching elsewhere, and yet a contrast which carries with it an evidence of truth. Spitta, p. 242, justly remarks that he knows not how the author of the “We” sections, who was not present at Athens, could have represented the activity of St. Paul in that city better than he has done; the idle curiosity of the Athenians, Acts 17:21, and after a speech received with ridicule and indifference, a scanty result, graphically represented by two names, of which it is a mere assertion to say that they refer to the sub-apostolic age. Spitta thus refuses to allow any justification for Weizsäcker’s rejection of the historical worth of the narrative. Thus in the simple notice of the results of St. Paul’s preaching we gain an indication of the historical truthfulness of the narrative. If anywhere, surely at Athens a forger would have been tempted to magnify the influence of St. Paul’s intellectual power, and to attribute an overwhelming victory to the message of the Gospel in its first encounter with the philosophic wisdom of the world in a city which possessed a university, the greatest of any of that time, which was known as “the eye of Greece, mother of arts,” whose inhabitants a Jewish philosopher (Philo) had described as the keenest mentally of all the Greeks. In answer to the earlier criticism of Zeller and Overbeck, we may place the conclusion of Weiss that the result of St. Paul’s labours is plainly not described after a set pattern, but rests upon definite information, whilst Wendt, who refers the composition of the speech, as we have it, to St. Luke, and regards it as derived from information of a speech actually delivered at Athens, insists equally strongly upon the difficulty of supposing that such slender results would be represented as following, if the speech had been composed with a view of exalting Jewish and Christian monotheism against polytheism. Moreover the narrative bears the stamp of truthfulness in its picture of the local condition of Athens, and also in its representation of St. Paul’s attitude to the philosophical surroundings of the place and its schools. “One must be at home in Athens,” writes Curtius, “to understand the narrative rightly,” and no one has enabled us to realise more fully the historical character and vividness of the scene than Curtius himself in the essay to which reference is made above, of which the concluding words are these, that “he who refuses to accept the historical value of the narrative of Paul in Athens, tears one of the weightiest pages out of the history of humanity” (Gesammelte Abhandlungen, ii., p. 543, “Paulus in Athens”: see further, Knabenbauer, pp. 308, 309). The character of the people, the moving life of the Agora, the breadth of view which could comprehend in one short speech the crude errors of the populace and the fallacious theology of the schools, “the heart of the world” too generous to ignore all that was best in men’s thoughts of God’s providence and of human brotherhood, and yet too loving to forget that all men had sinned, and that after death was the judgment—we recognise them all. If we turn to the speech itself we find abundant evidence of characteristic Pauline thoughts and teaching (cf. e.g., Acts 17:27 and Romans 1:19; Romans 2:14; Acts 17:26 and Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:45; Acts 17:30 and Romans 3:25, etc., Zöckler, p. 268, and instances in notes above, McGiffert, Apostolic Age, p. 259), and it is worthy of note that Weizsäcker, while rejecting with Baur, Zeller, Schwegler, and Overbeck the account of St. Paul’s visit to Athens as unhistorical, fully recognises, after an examination of the Apostle’s method of dealing with idolatry and polytheism in Romans 1:20, that if we compare with the Apostle’s own indications the fine survey of the world, and especially of history from a monotheistic standpoint, ascribed to him by the Acts at Lystra, Acts 14:15, and afterwards at Athens, Acts 17:24, the latter, whatever its source, also gives us a true idea of Paul’s method and teaching, Apostolic Age, i., p. 117, E.T. On the whole tone of the speech as incredible as a later composition, see Ramsay, St. Paul, p. 147 ff., whilst no one perhaps has drawn up more clearly than Wetstein, see on Acts 17:25, the consummate skill of the speech addressed to an audience comprising so many varieties of culture and belief. (To the strange attempt of Holtzmann to reproduce at some length the argument of Zeller, who maintains that the scene at Athens was a mere counterpart of the scene of Stephen’s encounter with his foes at Jerusalem, a sufficient answer may be found in Spitta, Apostelgeschichte, p. 240.)

If we ask from whom the report of the speech was received, since Luke, Silas, Timothy all were absent, it is possible that a Christian convert like Dionysius the Areopagite may have preserved it (Zöckler); but a speech so full of Pauline thoughts, and so expressive of Athenian life and culture, may well have been received at least in substance from St. Paul himself, although it is quite conceivable that the precise form of it in Acts is due to St. Luke’s own editing and arrangement (see for an analysis of the language of the speech Bethge, Die Paulinischen Reden der Apostelgeschichte, p. 82). The results of St. Paul’s work at Athens were small if measured by the number of converts, although even amongst them it must not be forgotten that it was something to gain the allegiance to the faith of a man holding the position of Dionysius the Areopagite (see further an interesting account of the matter in Expository Times, April, 1898). But in addition to this, it is also important to remember that St. Paul has given us “an invaluable method of missionary preaching” (Lechler, Das Apost. Zeitalter, p. 275), that to the Church at Athens Origen could appeal against Celsus as a proof of the fruits of Christianity (Bethge, p. 116), that its failing faith was revived in time of persecution by its bishop Quadratus, the successor of the martyr-bishop Publius; that in the Christian schools of Athens St. Basil and St. Gregory were trained; and that to an Athenian philosopher, Aristides, a convert to Christ, we owe the earliest Apology which we possess (Athenagoras too was an Athenian philosopher), see Farrar, St. Paul, i., p. 551; Humphry, Commentary on the Acts. It is significant that St. Paul never visited Athens again, and never addressed a letter to the Saints at Athens, although he may well have included them in his salutation to “the Saints which are in the whole of Achaia,” 2 Corinthians 1:1.34. Dionysius the Areopagite] i.e. one of the members of the upper council of Athens. He must have been a man of position and influence, for no one could be a member of this council unless he had filled some high office of state, and was above 60 years of age. Tradition (Euseb. H. E. iii. 4; iv. 23) says that this Dionysius was the first bishop of Athens, and that he was martyred. The works which long circulated among Christians as his compositions, and which even at the time of the Reformation occupied much of the thoughts and labours of such men as Dean Colet, are no doubt forgeries of a much later date than the days of this Dionysius.Verse 34. - But for howbeit, A.V.; whom also for the which, A.V. Dionysius the Areopagite. The earliest notice we have of him in ecclesiastical writers is the well-known one of Eusebius, 'Eccl. Hist.,' 3. 4, in which he says, "We are told by an ancient writer, Dionysius the pastor of the diocese of Corinth (ob. ), that his namesake Dionysius the Areopagite, of whom St. Luke says in the Acts that he was the first who embraced the faith after St. Paul's discourse in the Areopagus, became the first bishop of the Church in Athens." Eusebius repeats the statement in his long notice of Dionysius of Corinth, in 4. 23. Other uncertain traditions speak of him (Suidas) as one who rose to the height of Greek erudition, and as having suffered a cruel martyrdom (Niceph., 3:11). "The works which go by his name are undoubtedly spurious" (Alford). Damaris; "wholly unknown" (Meyer), but certainly not the wife of Dionysius, as Chrysostom (' De Sacerd.,' 4:7) and others have thought ('Dictionary of the Bible'). And others with them. These would seem to be but few from St. Luke's way of mentioning them, and from our hearing nothing more in the Acts about the Church at Athens. It is remarkable that this small number of converts coincides with the weakness of the synagogue at Athens - too weak to persecute, and too weak to make proselytes among the Greeks of Athens. It scorns clear that nowhere else had St. Paul won so few souls to Christ. And yet God's Word did not return to him wholly void. The seed fell on some good ground, to bring forth fruit unto eternal life.


See on Luke 10:11; and Luke 15:15; and Acts 5:13.

The Areopagite

One of the judges of the court of Areopagus. Of this court Curtius remarks: "Here, instead of a single judge, a college of twelve men of proved integrity conducted the trial. If the accused had an equal number of votes for and against him, he was acquitted. The Court on the hill of Ares is one of the most ancient institutions of Athens, and none achieved for the city an earlier or more widely spread recognition. The Areopagitic penal code was adopted as a norm by all subsequent legislators" ("History of Greece," i., 307).

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