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​Acts 17

Part IV

Paul leaves Berea when the unbelievers from Thessalonica come to Berea to stir up trouble. Paul is sent by ship down to Athens.

Acts 17:14
And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still.

From Berea Paul has about a twenty mile walk to the coast and then about two-hundred-and-fifty-mile ship ride down to Athens. As Paul arrives in Athens, he decides to send a message back to Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens.

Acts 17:15
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.

Acts 17:15
Those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving instructions for Silas and Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible, they departed.
Holman Christian Standard Bible

During Paul’s time on this ship, he decides to change directions. When Silas and Timothy arrive in Athens Paul sends both back into Macedonia.

1 Thessalonians 3:1
Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone.

The compound Greek word translated “thought” is eudokeo. The prefix eu means good, or well pleasing. While dokeo means opinion. In Paul’s good opinion he needed to know how the believers were doing in Thessalonica.

1 Thessalonians 3:2
And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:

Timothy is in his first year of traveling with Paul. 
Timothy is still a teenager! 

Both Paul and Silas agreed someone needed to return to Thessalonica and they agreed it was Timothy.

In 1 Thessalonians 3:2 the word “minister” is not in the text and should be deleted. The term “fellowlaborer” is with God. Timothy is a worker together with God for the Gospel of Christ.

1 Thessalonians 3:1
Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone.

Thessalonica is a volatile situation. These are the guys that just traveled fifty miles, one way, to prevent Paul from teaching in Berea, and they are sending a teenager into the heat of the confrontation. Therefore, Paul establishes Timothy’s credentials; he is my brother, and a fellow worker with God in the Gospel of Christ.

The phrase “Gospel of Christ” is only used pertaining to the Administration of Grace. It occurs eight times. A Lexicon study will show this phrase appears nine times, but when it appears in Romans 1:16 the word “Christ” is not in the text.

I believe it is at this time, when Timothy is sent back to Thessalonica alone, that he is ordained.

1 Timothy 1:18
This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare. 

2 Timothy 1:6
Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.

The gift of God spoken of in this verse is not the new nature created within him, rather it is speaking of the gift ministries spoken of in Ephesians chapter four (Ephesians 4:8, 11-15).

As Timothy and Silas head back into Macedonia, Paul begins his ministry in Athens.

Acts 17:16
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

This verse is taking place before Silas and Timothy have arrived in Athens.

“Was stirred” is the Greek word paroxyno. When used in a negative sense it means to provoke, to incite, to irritate. The noun form of this word is used concerning Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39) in a negative sense. However, in the positive sense, as used here in Acts 17:16, it means, to stimulate or to encourage to action. God’s gift of holy spirit, in Paul, encouraged him to take action.

Acts 17:17
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.

The word translated “disputed” is dialegomai, we have seen it before, it means to have a conversation. Not only in the synagogue, but Paul was also having conversations in the agora, the marketplace, where everyone could hear him. Again, we are shown that “daily” he is having these conversations “with them that met with him.” 

Acts 17:18
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.

Although Athens was under Roman rule, Rome had given authority to the philosophers of the Areopagus, Mars Hill to the Romans, to restrict the introduction of new gods to Athens. If you introduced a new god to Athenians, it could cost you your life. The reason for this, no introduction of new gods, is because Athens had up to 30,000 gods already.1  They had no more room for more temples and statues.

The Epicureans and the Stoicks thought they had found just such a man, introducing new gods to the city of Athens. Consider Paul’s teaching on the Areopagus in Athens. Paul will once again introduce the greatness of the salvation God has provided, but now Paul is presenting it to men who have not read the Judean scriptures, men who do not look at nor believe Judean prophecies.

Marvel at a man’s walk in the spirit.

Acts 17:19-20
And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, may we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.

The words “they took” is epilambanomai in the Greek, which means, “to lay hold of, take possession of, to lay hold of or to seize upon…” Paul did not receive an invitation to chat, they seized a man they thought was introducing new gods to Athens.

“This area was once used as a forum for the rulers of Athens to hold trials, debate, and discuss important matters.”3  So, Paul could end up in a trial, “new doctrine” and “strange things to our ears,” or it would simply be a good conversation and debate for the Athenians.

Acts 17:21
(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.)

Paul opens with a statement that is misunderstood today.

Acts 17:22
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.

The Greeks used the word agnoeo, translated “are too superstitious,” in a good sense and a bad sense. In a good sense it means very religious, and in a bad sense it means very superstitious. We have already seen Paul’s custom or manner of entering in and his manner was not to open with insults or accusations. In this verse, agnoeo should be translated very religious or deeply religious.

Acts 17:23
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.

So, Paul is going to introduce new information, but it is about an old god. Mentally, the Athenians are now ready for a good debate or conversation. As we will see in a moment, the Unknown God is incredibly special and important to the Athenians. 

The thought of a trial for introducing a new god has quickly passed.

Acts 17:24-27
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; neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; 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; 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:

Paul begins with the goodness of God. The goodness of God is never far from the lips of the Apostle Paul. (Genesis 1:1, 1:26-27, 2:5-7, 10:5, 32). It was God who made men of all nations one blood and to dwell upon the earth. It was God who created the earth and all things on the earth. It is God who gave people breath and life.

Now we do not know the fulness of Paul’s audience, but we know part of it, Epicureans, are atheists, who eat, drink, and be merry kind of guys who live for materialism and today. Also, the Stoics, who are pantheists, which is a part of god is in everything, but not in any one particular entity.

Paul has already introduced their history since he opened this conversation with the altar to the Unknown God. Now Paul will return to their history.

Acts 17:28
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.

Here Paul brings up a Cretan poet, Epimenides. Epimenides lived about 600 B.C. But because of the different and contradictory “facts” about the man more than a few people of today think he is a myth or a legend, like king Arthur and Camelot. But in the first century A.D. Epimenides was very real to the Athenians. Epimenides was an author of mystical works and religious and poetic writings.4  It was Epimenides that wrote, “for we are also his offspring.”

Diogenes Laertius, 180-240 A.D., who was a biographer of Greek philosophers, in his book, “Lives of the Eminent Philosophers” wrote this of Epimenides: “Hence, when the Athenians were attacked by pestilence, and the Pythian priestess bade them purify the city, they sent a ship commanded by Nicias, son of Niceratus, to Crete to ask the help of Epimenides. And he came in the 46th Olympiad, purified their city, and stopped the pestilence in the following way. He took sheep, some black and others white, and brought them to the Areopagus; and there he let them go whither they pleased, instructing those who followed them to mark the spot where each sheep lay down and offer a sacrifice to the local divinity. And thus, it is said, the plague was stayed. Hence even to this day altars may be found in different parts of Athens with no name inscribed upon them, which are memorials of this atonement”

The altars around Athens to the Unknown God were due to this incident. Paul is not only quoting a poet the Greeks claim as their own, but THE poet who is considered THE savior of Athens and the one who is responsible for the altars to the Unknown God.

So, Paul has tied together their altars to the Unknown God, and their savior, which is a poet from Crete, whose writing Paul is quoting. The Athenians did not know nor care for Judean scriptures and prophecies, but they understood the Unknown God, and Epimenides, and his writings. 

This is walking in the spirit!
This is listening to God, who knows the hearts of men.
This is part of Paul’s ways which are in Christ, that Paul wants those who believe to imitate (1 Corinthians 4:16-17).

Acts 17:29-30
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. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent:

Just as the Athenians had worshipped the Unknown God in ignorance, so to, mankind, before the Law was given to Moses did not know God and most walked in ignorance.

Romans 5:13
For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.

Paul was prepared for the Athenians with their history of Athens and a knowledge of scripture. When it comes to Israel Paul is prepared on God’s Word. When it comes to the Gentiles, completely removed from a synagogue, he is still prepared with the scriptures and with history. All brought together as he walks in the spirit.

After this excellent presentation, Paul brings in the authentic savior and the resurrection from the dead.

Acts 17:30b-31 
…but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: 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.

Even without Judean scriptures Paul is able to bring the conversation to Jesus and the resurrection from the dead.

Acts 17:32
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, others, “we will hear thee again.” But none raised a crowd and attempted to kill Paul for what he had said. Yet Paul understood staying in Athens would just be a drain of his time. For as verse twenty-one declared, the Athenians love to talk.

Acts 17:33
So, Paul departed from among them.

Paul departed from the Areopagus and moved on to Corinth.

Acts 18:1
After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth.

But this time, in leaving this city, there would be joy in Paul’s heart and a spring in his step as a new city stood before him and Athens, had new children in God’s Family.

Acts 17:34
Howbeit certain men clave unto him and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Ephesians 1:13-14
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, (which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession), unto the praise of his glory.

Some of the Athenians trusted in the message, the gospel of salvation, Paul delivered on the Areopagus. They were sealed, marked off as God’s, by His gift of holy spirit, which is the guarantee of their inheritance. 


1.Gaius Petronius Arbiter, a Roman historian, 27-66 A.D.
2.Blue Letter Bible, Lexicon, Strong’s G1949
3.What was the Areopagus? |
4.Encyclopedia Britannica, Epimenides
5.BOOK I p115,117 CHAPTER 10, Paul in Athens: The backstory you never knew | Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma

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A Journey through the Book of Acts