Matthew Poole's Commentary
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:Acts 17:1-4 Paul preaching in the synagogue at Thessalonica, some
believe, both Jews and Greeks.
Acts 17:5-11 The unbelieving Jews raise an uproar.
Acts 17:10-12 Paul and Silas are sent to Berea: the Berean Jews are
commended for searching the Scriptures.
Acts 17:13-15 The Jews of Thessalonica follow and drive Paul from Berea.
Acts 17:16-21 At Athens Paul disputing is carried before the court
Acts 17:22-31 He preacheth the living God, to the Athenians
unknown: his general call to repentance; the
resurrection of Christ; and his coming to judgment.
Acts 17:32-34 Some mock, others believe.
Araphipolis, a city near to Philippi; so called, because the sea came up to it on both sides.
Apollonia, a city near to Thessalonica.
Thessalonica was one of the chiefest cities of Macedonia: unto the church in this place St. Paul wrote two of his Epistles. This city was built by Philip, in memory of a victory he obtained over the Thessali.
Where was a synagogue of the Jews: it seems that there was no synagogue in either of the other places, but that the Jews of the other cities resorted unto the synagogue in this, all these three cities being in Macedonia. The sending away of Paul and Silas, Acts 16:39, to gratify the mad multitude, was a means to bring the word of salvation to those places.
And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,As his manner was; who was faithful unto him that had called him, and took all occasions to do his Master’s work.
Out of the Scriptures; the law and the prophets, which they owned to be of Divine authority; and from the Holy Scriptures alone, all knowledge in the things of God and of our salvation must be fetched. If any speak of these matters not according to them,
it is because they have no light in them, Isaiah 8:20. What scriptures St. Paul alleged are not set down; but they were such as our Saviour had made use of, Luke 24:27, for the same purpose. This was customary with Paul, to preach these things unto the Jews first, as Acts 13:46, till they had put the word of God from them by their incredulity.
Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.Opening the scriptures which he had quoted. The very entrance into God’s word giveth light, Psalm 119:130.
And alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered; making the truth concerning our Saviour, which he preached, so plain to the eye of their understanding, as any thing which is exposed to the view of our bodily eyes. Comparing the words of the prophets concerning Christ, with those things which were done and suffered by him, Psalm 22:6 Isaiah 53:1-12 Matthew 16:21 Luke 24:26,46.
That this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ; that Jesus whom Paul preached was the true and only Messiah, and that what was written of the Messiah was fulfilled in him.
And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.Consorted with Paul and Silas; were so affected towards them, as that they were willing to take the same part or lot with them. The word imports the nearest and most intimate friendship and union; even such as is conjugal.
Devout Greeks; such of that nation as were become proselytes, who had renounced the idolatry and wicked conversation of the heathen, amongst whom they lived; and had joined themselves to the Jews; at least so far as to hear the law and the prophets read and expounded in their synagogues; and did worship but one God, and did injury unto none. Of these we frequently read in this book; as Acts 17:17 13:42,43.
Of the chief women not a few; a considerable number of these believed; yet, Acts 13:50, such had stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas.
But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.Believed not; or were not convinced, or persuaded by St. Paul’s sermons and arguments.
Moved with envy, or zeal; which, as fire in the chimney, its due place, is useful and necessary; but when scattered abroad, and out of its place, is most dangerous and destructive.
Lewd fellows; such as stand in markets and public places, gazing, and having nothing to do.
Of the baser sort: to what meat and base acts do not blind zeal and the rage of persecutors descend!
Jason; some think this to be the Greek name which the Hellenists did use for Joshua, or Jesus. This man was one of the dispersion, who came from Judea into Syria, and from thence into Macedonia; and is famous, so far as the word of God is preached, for being the host to Paul and Silas; and is mentioned, Romans 16:21.
To bring them out to the people, for to slay them. Nothing but their blood could quench the thirst of their persecutors; but having no just cause for the spilling of it, they are willing to have others to bear the odium of it.
And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;Being withdrawn, to avoid the popular rage against them, they charge innovation upon them, as knowing how jealous rulers are of any alteration. Thus whatsoever mischief befell the state, or whatsoever was odious and abominable, was in the primitive times still charged upon the Christians. The enemies of God’s church clothe his servants in beasts’ skins, (painting and representing them in what forms they please), that every one may hunt and worry them.
Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.Hath received; privily, and with design.
Contrary to the decrees of Caesar: the Romans, before they were brought under their emperors, (and after that), did not suffer any to be called king without their allowance and approbation; which was also much valued by such unto whom that honour was bestowed by them.
Another king, besides Caesar, who was called the lord of the world. This is like to the charge laid against our Saviour; but most maliciously both then and now, and wholly against their own consciences; for they themselves expected the Messiah to be a king, and refused and rejected him because his kingdom was a spiritual kingdom, and not of this world, John 18:36,37.
And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.They troubled the people; hearing something to have been done against the Roman state, under whom they were, and not knowing what it might come to, or how it might be construed.
And the rulers; for fear of an insurrection and tumult.
And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.Had taken security; either being satisfied with their answer, or having bail for their appearance, if need were; the word only hinting their being satisfied, or contented, as Mark 15:15.
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.Berea; a city of Macedonia, not far from Pella and Thessalonica.
Went into the synagogue of the Jews; they went still first unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel; in which Paul’s invincible love, which he speaks of, Romans 9:2,3, does manifestly appear. The Jews had every where endeavoured his destruction; he still requites them (what he may) in promoting their salvation.
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.The Jews of Berea did excel those of Thessalonica, not so much in birth as in disposition: they were not so prejudiced and obstinate; they patiently heard Paul; they seriously thought upon what he had said, and compared it with the Scriptures. And thus God gave them the preparation of the heart; and they brought their empty vessels. No wonder then that the oil of grace ran into them, and filled them. The Jews call their learned men, the sons of nobles; and according to that expression, these Bereans, that had acted so ingenuously and wisely, were said to be more noble.
Searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so: truth dares abide the test; only false wares need a dark shop to put them off in. The Scriptures only are our infallible rule; for they come from God, 2 Timothy 3:16, who cannot lie, Titus 1:2.
Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.God blessing his own gifts, and giving still unto them that had, and made use of them. And would we also lay aside all filthiness, and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the ingrafted word, which is able to save our souls, Jam 1:21, we should find the hand of the Lord not to be shortened, but his word as powerful, as piercing, as converting as ever.
But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.As the waves are stirred with the wind; a fit metaphor to represent the fickle multitude by, that, as the sea, now rolls one way, then another; or as tottering buildings, that shake with every wind.
And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.To go as it were to the sea; that they might give over the pursuit of him; or, at least, be disappointed if they did pursue him, being he went on foot to Athens.
But Silas and Timotheus abode there still; the fury of the persecutors not being so hot against them as against Paul, who was more known or maligned than Silas or Timotheus: or these might abide there longer, having their relations in Macedonia.
And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed.They that conducted Paul; who accompanied, and had undertaken to secure him.
Athens; the Greece of Greece, or the eye of Greece; as Greece was accounted the eye of the world; and yet, with all its learning, did not attain to saving knowledge, until Paul came and preached it. Satan’s malice still causes the gospel to spread.
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.His spirit was stirred in him; moved, and sharpened, being highly affected with divers passions:
1. With grief, for so learned, and yet blind and miserable a place.
2. With zeal, and a holy desire to instruct and inform it.
3. With anger and indignation against the idolatry and sin that abounded in it.
Wholly given to idolatry; or, as the marginal reading hath, full of idols. For we read, that there were more idols in Athens than in all Greece besides; and that it was easier to find a god there (that is, an idol) than a man; their images being as numerous as their inhabitants.
Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews; as Acts 17:2, still giving the Jews, if there were any, the priority; or, having by that means an opportnnily to speak unto the proselytes of the Gentiles, who are the devout persons here meant: see Acts 13:43.
In the market, because of the concourse thither; throwing the net of the Gospel where there were most fish; and he himself preaching, as he exhorted others to do, in season and out of season, 2 Timothy 4:2.
Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.Both these sects of philosophers were the most opposite to Christianity of all others:
1. The Epicureans (so called from one Epicurus) did generally deny, that the world was made, or that it is governed, by God; as also, that there were any rewards or punishments for men after death, holding nothing to be good but what was so to their senses: and if so, were indeed swine rather than men.
2. The Stoics were so called from the place where they met at first; and held as bad opinions as the other did; and denied that their wise men were inferior to their gods, and in some respect preferred them before their gods; which their Seneca was not free from, Epist. 73. And no wonder if such men oppose the gospel what they may.
What will this babbler say? They make Paul so contemptible, comparing him to such as live by the off falls of corn, which was used to be gathered up as they fell down in measuring, and left to be fed upon by the meanest and poorest of the people.
A setter forth of strange gods; they might amongst the Athenians bring in by public authority as many gods as they would, but none out of their private opinions; which was the fault charged upon Socrates.
And the resurrection; so ignorantly, or maliciously, did they pervert St. Paul’s words, that they accuse him for making the resurrection a god too. Probably they heard him often naming the word, and magnifying of the resurrection, as without which we were without hope.
And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?The city of Athens was divided into five wards, or parts; one of which was called
Areopagus, from the temple of Mars, which stood upon a hill in it: nigh unto which temple, or in some part of it, was their chiefest court kept; and here they judged of all religious affairs: here they condemned Diagoras, Protagoras, and Socrates; and hither they bring Paul, though rather to inquire of him (there being the resort of learned men) concerning his doctrine, than to condemn him for it.
For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.The greatest objection which these men had against the gospel was, that it was strange and new. That it is not new was apparent, it having been in the Old Testament (as the ripe fruit is in the blossom) so long ago; and their own superstitions were but so many apish imitations of God’s worship. And if these things were strange unto them, they might thank themselves, who had not made due inquiring after them; and had, by their not improving the light of nature, provoked God to withhold further manifestations unto them, Romans 1:24,28.
(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.)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.
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.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.
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.Devotions; any thing unto which Divine worship and honour is given.
To the unknown God: it is storied, that in a plague time, when the Athenians had wearied themselves with their supplications unto all the gods of their country, they were advised by Epaminondas (a devout man amongst them) to erect an altar unto that god who had the power over that disease, whosoever he was; which because they did not know, and would be sure not to omit in their devotions, they erected an altar unto him under the name of
The unknown God. Some say, there was a more general inscription, To the gods of Asia, Europe, and Africa, to the unknown and strange gods; though the inscription the apostle mentions in the singular number, might be usual too: for the Athenians, who entertained all manner of gods, fearing lest there should be any which they had not heard of, for their greater security, as they imagined, would have an altar for such also. Now this unknown God, St. Paul says, which was worshipped by them, was the true God: for,
1. They had an apprehension that Christ was the true God,
whilst that wonderful eclipse at his death was
effectually considered amongst them. Hence it is said,
that Dionysius cried out, Deus ignotus in carne
patitur. Now the unknown God suffers in the flesh.
2. The God of the Jews, whose name the Jews took to be so
ineffable that they would not undertake to speak it, and
who was not wholly unknown to Plato and Pythagoras, and
who is truly invisible and incomprehensible, might upon
that account be thus styled amongst them.
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;God that made the world; this seems to be directed against the Epicureans, who held, that the world was without beginning.
Dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as if he could be tied to them, or circumcised by them: yet God did in some respect dwell in his temple, where he did manifest himself more clearly than in other places; but that was a type of heaven, the throne of God.
Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;As though he needed any thing; God is not worshipped or served by holy men, because he wants their service, or any thing that can be offered unto him by them; but because it is their duty and advantage to be employed in his service and worship, Psalm 50:10,11.
Life, and breath; the breath of life, Genesis 2:7. And in this respect God is called the God of the spirits of all flesh, Numbers 16:22; as the cause of life and breath in all creatures, but especially in man; which made that charge so great against Belshazzar, Daniel 5:23, that his breath was in God’s hand, and yet he had not glorified him.
And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;Hath made of one blood:
1. To teach all charity and compassion towards one another, being so nearly allied to one another.
2. As also to admire God more in that variety that appears in men’s shapes and voices, but especially in the dispositions of their minds; whenas they all come from one stock and stem.
Hath determined the times. &c.: the apostle asserts the providence of God against these Athenian philosophers, that nothing comes by chance, or a fatuitous concourse of atoms; but that God is in every thing, though men know it not, or rather will not consider it, Job 7:1 14:5,14. This doctrine was preached by Moses, who tells the people, that God is their life, and the length of their days, that they might love him, and obey his voice, and cleave unto him, Deu 30:20.
That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:That they should seek the Lord: the apostle tells these philosophers, to whom he spake, the true use of their philosophy, to improve their knowledge of natural things, to beget in them by it an admiration of the God of nature; for as from him, so for him are all things, Romans 11:36.
If haply they might feel after him, and find him; and although God himself is incorporeal, yet the things which he made are palpable; and did they seek as they ought, they might find out a great deal of God by the creatures, in which his wisdom, power, and goodness are manifested, Romans 1:20.
Though he be not far from every one of us; God filleth all things, especially he is near in the effects of his wisdom, goodness, and faithfulness, by which he orders and disposes of all things, to the falling out of a hair from our heads.
For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.In him we live, &c.; he is the God that made us, that preserves us, and not we ourselves; he keeps us as in the hollow of his hand, and compasseth our paths. Our breath is in our nostrils, and when we send it forth we have none to take in again, unless God furnish us with it, as out of his own hand.
As certain also of your own poets; Aratus, a Greek poet: not that St. Paul thought to derive any authority from these poets unto what he had said, but that he might shame them the more by the testimony of their allowed authors. Such quotations as these are (as the bringing in of a Greek into the temple) very rare; yet, besides this, we meet with the like, 1 Corinthians 15:33 Titus 1:12.
Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.We are the offspring of God; this is spoken by the apostle in a poetical expression, according unto what he had cited. We are indeed the children, and in our souls bear the image of God. But as many as have the Spirit of adoption, they partake of God’s holiness, and imitate his goodness, and are more like unto him, by whom they are begotten again unto a lively hope, 1 Peter 1:3; and at the resurrection they will appear unto all to be his children, when they shall be acknowledged his heirs, and coheirs with Jesus Christ, Romans 8:17.
We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver: taking man in his natural principles, consisting of soul and body, he is not made of gold and silver; much less can God be made of them. Our soul in which we bear the image of God, cannot be expressed by any graving or painting; much less God, whose image it is. There are two things to be considered in every image: its matter, and its form or shape. The matter of an image, let it be never so precious, is much inferior to man; for it lies in the earth, (be it gold or silver), for man to trample upon, until he dig it up, and take it out. As for the form of the image, it is that which men please to give it, and man is a kind of creator of it; howsoever, it is his workmanship, and the work is more ignoble than the workman, at least not to be adored by him.
By art and man’s device; according to man’s will and pleasure, for the image cannot determine itself to be made as it would.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:The times of this ignorance God winked at; to prevent an objection, lest any should think that they might continue in their unbelief, and fare as well as their progenitors, God is said to have overlooked them; as if he had counted them unworthy of his care and providence, and therefore he did not correct or instruct them. When any are left to go on in their sin, without God’s instruction or correction, it is a sad sign that God scorns to look upon them, or to use any means to recover them.
But now commandeth all men every where to repent: under the gospel we are so far from having liberty to do what we list, that we are more nearly concerned to repent and become holy, Romans 13:11 Titus 2:11,12 1 Peter 1:14,15; and all men, every where, without exception of time or place, are under this command of repentance; and cursed indeed will he be that does not observe it.
Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world: that God will judge the world his enemies have with trembling acknowledged, but when God will judge the world he hath concealed from his friends; yet the time is already set, Psalm 96:13 2 Corinthians 5:10, and we ought to be daily prepared for it.
In righteousness: shall not the Judge of all the world do right?
By that man whom he hath ordained; our blessed Saviour, called here man, suitably to his death and resurrection, which St. Paul preached of; as also as man he is thus highly exalted for his debasing of himself for our sakes, Philippians 2:9-11.
Whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead; an undeniable proof or argument, it being so difficult a matter to believe a world to come, when we see all things remain as they did in this world; and especially to believe, that in the general judgment Christ, whom they had judged, condemned, and executed, should be Judge: God therefore did glorify him, by raising him from the dead, that they and we might not be faithless, but believe, Romans 1:4.
And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.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.
So Paul departed from among them.Leaving what he had said to God’s blessing and their consideration.
Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.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.