Wesley's Notes on the Bible
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:
17:1 And taking their journey through Amphipolis and Apollonia - St. Luke seems to have been left at Philippi; and to have continued in those parts, travelling from place to place among the Churches, till St. Paul returned thither. For here he leaves off speaking of himself as one of St. Paul's company; neither does he resume that style, till we find them together there, Acts 20:5,6. After this he constantly uses it to the end of the history. Amphipolis and Apollonia were cities of Macedonia.
And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,
17:2 And Paul, according to his custom - Of doing all things, as far as might be, in a regular manner, went in to them three Sabbath days - Not excluding the days between.
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.
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.
17:4 Of the principal women, not a few - Our free thinkers pique themselves upon observing, that women are more religious than men; and this, in compliment both to religion and good manners, they impute to the weakness of their understandings. And indeed as far as nature can go, in imitating religion by performing the outward acts of it, this picture of religion may make a fairer show in women than in men, both by reason of their more tender passions, and their modesty, which will make those actions appear to more advantage. But in the case of true religion, which always implies taking up the cross, especially in time of persecution, women lie naturally under a great disadvantage, as having less courage than men. So that their embracing the Gospel was a stronger evidence of the power of him whose strength is perfected in weakness, as a stronger assistance of the Holy Spirit was needful for them to overcome their natural fearfulness.
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.
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;
Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.
And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things.
And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.
And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.
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.
17:11 These were more ingenuous - Or generous. To be teachable in the things of God is true generosity of soul. The receiving the word with all readiness of mind, and the most accurate search into the truth, are well consistent.
Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.
17:12 Many of the - Of the Jews. And of the Grecian women - Who were followed by their husbands.
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.
And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.
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.
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
17:16 While Paul was waiting for the - Having no design, as it seems, to preach at Athens, but his zeal for God drew him into it unawares, without staying till his companions came.
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.
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.
17:18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosopher - The Epicureans entirely denied a providence, and held the world to be the effect of mere chance; asserting sensual pleasure to be man's chief good, and that the soul and body died together. The Stoics held, that matter was eternal; that all things were governed by irresistible fate; that virtue was its own sufficient reward, and vice its own sufficient punishment. It is easy to see, how happily the apostle levels his discourse at some of the most important errors of each, while, without expressly attacking either, he gives a plain summary of his own religious principles. What would this babbler say? - Such is the language of natural reason, full of, and satisfied with itself. Yet even here St. Paul had some fruit; though nowhere less than at Athens. And no wonder, since this city was a seminary of philosophers, who have ever been the pest of true religion. He seemeth to be a proclaimer - This he returns upon them at the 23d verse ; Acts 17:23 of strange gods - Such as are not known even at Athens. Because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection - A god and a goddess. And as stupid as this mistake was, it is the less to be wondered at, since the Athenians might as well count the resurrection a deity, as shame, famine, and many others.
And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
17:19 The Areopagus, or hill of Mars, (dedicated to Mars, the heathen god of war,) was the place where the Athenians held their supreme court of judicature. But it does not appear he was carried thither as a criminal. The original number of its judges was twelve; but afterward it increased to three hundred. These were generally men of the greatest families in Athens, and were famed for justice and integrity.
For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
(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.)
17:21 And the strangers sojourning there - And catching the distemper of them. Some new thing - The Greek word signifies some newer thing. New things quickly grew cheap, and they wanted those that were newer still.
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.
17:22 Then Paul standing in the midst of the Areopagus - An ample theatre; said - 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!
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.
17:23 I found an altar - Some suppose this was set up by Socrates, to express in a covert way his devotion to the only true God, while he derided the plurality of the heathen gods, for which he was condemned to death: and others, that whoever erected this altar, did it in honour to the God of Israel, of whom there was no image, and whose name Jehovah was never made known to the idolatrous Gentiles. Him proclaim I unto you - Thus he fixes the wandering attention of these blind philosophers; proclaiming to them an unknown, and yet not a new God.
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;
17:24 God who made the world - Thus is demonstrated even to reason, the one true, good God; absolutely different from the creatures, from every part of the visible creation.
Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
17:25 Neither is he served as though he needed any thing - or person - The Greek word equally takes in both. To all - That live and breathe; - in him we live; and breathe - In him we move. By breathing life is continued. I breathe this moment: the next is not in my power: and all things - For in him we are. So exactly do the parts of this discourse answer each other.
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;
17:26 He hath made of one blood the whole nation of men - By this expression the apostle showed them in the most unaffected manner, that though he was a Jew, be was not enslaved to any narrow views, but looked on all mankind as his brethren: having determined the times - That it is God who gave men the earth to inhabit, Paul proves from the order of times and places, showing the highest wisdom of the Disposer, superior to all human counsels. And the bounds of their habitation - By mountains, seas, rivers, and the like.
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:
17:27 If haply - The way is open; God is ready to be found. But he will lay no force upon man; they might feel after him - This is in the midst between seeking and finding. Feeling being the lowest and grossest of all our senses, is fitly applied to the low knowledge of God; though he be not far from every one of us - We need not go far to seek or find him. He is very near us; in us. It is only perverse reason which thinks he is afar off.
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.
17:28 In him - Not in ourselves, we live, and move, and have our being - This denotes his necessary, intimate, and most efficacious presence. No words can better express the continual and necessary dependence of all created beings, in their existence and all their operations, on the first and almighty cause, which the truest philosophy as well as divinity teaches. As certain also of your own poets have said - Aratus, whose words these are, was an Athenian, who lived almost three hundred years before this time. They are likewise to be found, with the alteration of one letter only, in the hymn of Cleanthes to Jupiter or the supreme being, one of the purest and finest pieces of natural religion in the whole world of Pagan antiquity.
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.
17:29 We ought not to think - A tender expression especially in the first per son plural. As if he had said, Can God himself be a less noble being than we who are his offspring? Nor does he only here deny, that these are like God, but that they have any analogy to him at all, so as to be capable of representing him.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
17:30 The times of ignorance - What! does he object ignorance to the knowing Athenians? Yes, and they acknowledge it by this very altar. God overlooked - As one paraphrases, The beams of his eye did in a manner shoot over it. He did not appear to take notice of them, by sending express messages to them as he did to the Jews. But now - This day, this hour, saith Paul, puts an end to the Divine forbearance, and brings either greater mercy or punishment. Now he commandeth all men every where to repent - There is a dignity and grandeur in this expression, becoming an ambassador from the King of heaven. And this universal demand of repentance declared universal guilt in the strongest manner, and admirably confronted the pride of the haughtiest Stoic of them all. At the same time it bore down the idle plea of fatality. For how could any one repent of doing what he could not but have done?
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.
17:31 He hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world - How fitly does he speak this, in their supreme court of justice? By the man - So he speaks, suiting himself to the capacity of his hearers. Whereof he hath given assurance to all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead - God raising Jesus demonstrated hereby, that he was to be the glorious Judge of all. We are by no means to imagine that this was all which the apostle intended to have said, but the indolence of some of his hearers and the petulancy of others cut him short.
And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.
17:32 Some mocked - Interrupting him thereby. They took offence at that which is the principal motive of faith, from the pride of reason. And having once stumbled at this, they rejected all the rest.
So Paul departed from among them.
17:33 So Paul departed - Leaving his hearers divided in their judgment.
Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
17:34 Among whom was even Dionysius the Areopagite - One of the judges of that court: on whom some spurious writings have been fathered in later ages, by those who are fond of high sounding nonsense.