Acts 17 Bible Study
Who are "they" (Acts 17:1)?
Paul, Silas and Timothy (see Acts 16).
Where are "Amphipolis ... Apollonia ... Thessalonica" (Acts 17:1)?
Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. To get there from Philippi, Paul, Silas and Timothy traveled about 100 miles westward along Via Egnatia, the 1200 mile Roman road that ran from today's Istanbul, Turkey to the west coast of Albania. Amphipolis and Apollonia were cities en route from Philippi to Thessalonica.
At least how many Jewish men lived in Thessalonica?
At least 10, the number required for "a synagogue" (Acts 17:1) to be established. Given the size of Thessalonica, there most likely were considerably more than 10 Jewish men living in Thessalonica.
Why was it Paul's "custom" (Acts 17:2) to go to the Jews first?
They were the ones to whom "the Scriptures" (Acts 17:2), which prophesied about Christ, had been given. Therefore, they should have been the first to recognize Jesus as Christ, whom they had been awaiting for so long when Paul declared, "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ." (Acts 17:3)
Where in the Scriptures - the Old Testament in this case - is Jesus prophesied?
All over, including entire chapters dedicated to Him, including Isaiah 53: "1 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. 8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. 9 And they made His grave with the wicked - But with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. 10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:1-12) Also compare some of the details of John 19 with the words prophesied through David in Psalm 22: "1 My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? 2 O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent. 3 But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel. 4 Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You delivered them. 5 They cried to You, and were delivered; they trusted in You, and were not ashamed. 6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people. 7 All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, 8 “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!” 9 But You are He who took Me out of the womb; you made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. 10 I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God. 11 Be not far from Me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help. 12 Many bulls have surrounded Me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. 13 They gape at Me with their mouths, like a raging and roaring lion. 14 I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it has melted within Me. 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. 16 For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; 17 I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. 18 They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots. 19 But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! 20 Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog. 21 Save Me from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen! You have answered Me. 22 I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You. 23 You who fear the Lord, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, and fear Him, all you offspring of Israel! 24 For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from Him; but when He cried to Him, He heard. 25 My praise shall be of You in the great assembly; I will pay My vows before those who fear Him. 26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek Him will praise the Lord. Let your heart live forever! 27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. 28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He rules over the nations. 29 All the prosperous of the earth shall eat and worship; all those who go down to the dust shall bow before Him, even he who cannot keep himself alive. 30 A posterity shall serve Him. It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation, 31 They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has done this." (Psalm 22:1-31)
Who were the "evil men from the marketplace" (Acts 17:5)?
Thugs to incite "a mob" (Acts 17:5) and "set all the city in an uproar". (Acts 17:5)
Why did they attack "the house of Jason" (Acts 17:5)?
Paul, Silas and Timothy had been staying there - "Jason has harbored them" (Acts 17:7) - and "when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city." (Acts 17:6)
What's peculiar about their claim that Paul is "acting
contrary to the decrees of Caesar" (Acts 17:7)?
Jews suddenly caring about someone supposedly being anti-Caesar, granted that they were probably trying to capitalize on Caesar Claudius' decree against Jews after Jewish Zealots' riot in Rome at about this time.
What was the real reason for their accusation?
They were "envious" of Paul and his ministry. (Acts 17:5)
Where have we seen this sentiment and accusation before?
When the Jews in Jerusalem led Jesus before Pilate. (see John 19)
Was this to be expected?
Yes, according to Jesus: "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also." (John 15:18-20)
How insulting is their accusation that Paul, et.al had
"turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6)?
Spiritually, it's a compliment. When Jesus commissioned, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), He was giving an order to invade the enemy (Satan's) territory with the Gospel. Paul and company had indeed turned Satan's turf into a spiritual battlefield, turning it upside down.
Is the spiritual battle in your neighborhood outside your 'church' or inside? Who invaded who?
What is meant by "When they had taken security" (Acts 17:9)?
The original Greek phrase, labontes to hikanon, literally means, to "receive the enough" and refers to a bond having been posted, in this case by Jason as assurance that "the crowd and the rulers of the city" (Acts 17:8) won't be troubled again by Jason's guests.
So did the unbelieving Jews and the thugs succeed?
Yes, in spreading the Gospel even farther, this time to "Berea". (Acts 17:10), located about 45 miles west of Thessalonica. As for the new Christians in Thessalonica, they became a faithful church: "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything." (1 Thessalonians 1:1-8)
When did many of the Bereans believe what "Paul and Silas" (Acts 17:10) preached to them?
After they "searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so". (Acts 17:11)
How should this be different today?
It shouldn't. Every Christian must sieve the preaching they hear through the Bible, not sieve the Bible through preachers, so that the preached elements that are Biblical can be ingested spiritually, and the preached element that are not Biblical can be rejected. This of course requires every Christian to read and study the Bible for themselves. And you must, for the eternal destiny of your soul is too important to be outsourced to another fallible human being.
How did the Lord spread the Gospel to "Athens" (Acts 17:15) this time?
He used the same "Jews from Thessalonica" (Acts 17:8), who were kind enough to make the 90 mile round trip this time.
Who stayed behind in Berea and most probably help to plant the church?
"Silas and Timothy remained there" (Acts 17:14), until "those who conducted Paul" (Acts 17:15) returned to take them to Paul in Athens.
What was "Athens" (Acts 17:16) like in the 1st century AD?
Athens was the intellectual and cultural capital of the Roman Empire, which had adopted the Greek culture and language. Athens was socially sophisticated, culturally 'advanced' and esthetically beautiful, like many major cities are today.
Was Paul impressed with Athens' beauty and sophistication?
"His spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols." (Acts 17:16)
What are idols?
Idols can be identified at three levels. First, idols are man-made or carved objects of worship, from small figurines to the massive gold and ivory statue of Athena that was inside the Parthenon in Athens: "You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 26:1) Second, idols include the demons linked to such man-made objects of worship: "But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk." (Revelation 9:20) Third, idols are anything that people have put in their hearts that makes them sin: "And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and put before them that which causes them to stumble into iniquity. Should I let Myself be inquired of at all by them? “Therefore speak to them, and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Everyone of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the LORD will answer him who comes, according to the multitude of his idols, that I may seize the house of Israel by their heart, because they are all estranged from Me by their idols." (Ezekiel 14:2-5)
Why was Paul's spirit provoked over the idols in Athens?
The spirit in Paul was the Holy Spirit. The spirit in the idols were demons. The Holy Spirit in Paul was provoked by demons being worshipped as gods instead of the one true God being worshipped.
What does it mean to be "provoked" (Acts 17:16)?
The Greek verb translated "provoked" - paroxuno - means to become upset or to be stirred to anger, so the reaction was neither mild nor just intellectual. Paul became upset and angry that the glory due God was being directed to demons.
What are the idols in your heart that cause you to "stumble
What is the consequence of idolatry in heart?
Being cut off by God Himself: "Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Repent, turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations. For anyone of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who separates himself from Me and sets up his idols in his heart and puts before him what causes him to stumble into iniquity, then comes to a prophet to inquire of him concerning Me, I the LORD will answer him by Myself. I will set My face against that man and make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of My people. Then you shall know that I am the LORD." (Ezekiel 14:6-8)
What did Paul do when his spirit was provoked?
He went to the synagogue and to the market - the largest gathering place - of Athens "daily" to speak out against idolatry - "Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there." (Acts 17:17) - and to share the Gospel about "Jesus and the resurrection". (Acts 17:18)
In a glittering, sophisticated and idolatrous place or
crowd, are you impressed or provoked?
If provoked, do you share the Gospel with the sophisticates
and warn them about their idolatry?
Who were "Epicureans and Stoic philosophers" (Acts 17:18)?
Epicureans followed the teachings of Epicurus, a 3rd century BC Athenian who championed a tranquil life of modest pleasures and claimed that there is no life after death. Stoic philosophers followed the teachings of Zeno of Citium, another 3rd century BC Athenian, who championed mind over emotions and claimed that there is neither a Creator of the universe nor life after death. Paul's message contradicted the beliefs of both groups, who therefore called him a "babbler". (Acts 17:18)
What is Areopagus (Acts 17:19)?
Areopagus, or the big rock ("pagus") of a Greek mythological figure ("Ares"), is a hill below the Parthenon where Athens' top minds gathered to discuss religion and philosophy. After faithfully preaching the Gospel in the marketplace, the Lord was granting Paul a chance to attack the spiritual heart of this idolatrous city.
Why does Paul call the Athenians "very religious" (Acts 17:22)?
The original Greek word translated "religious" is deisidaimonesteros, which means "fearing the gods" and can carry either a positive (pious) or negative (superstitious) connotation. Paul used the word in the latter sense, while the audience is likely to have interpreted it in the former sense.
Did the Athenians really have an altar dedicated to an "UKNOWN GOD" (Acts 17:23)?
In the 6th century BC, Epimenides, a seer from Crete, the southern-most island in Greece, was credited with saving Athens from a plague by praying to a deity unknown to the Athenians. Paul was talking about the altar that the Athenians had built to honor Epimenides' "GOD".
Why did Paul start by talking about this altar?
Since his audience wasn't Jewish and most likely unfamiliar with the Old Testament, he couldn't start by telling them that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. He needed to start his message somewhere and was starting with something that was familiar to his audience. The way Paul starts his messages varies with his audiences but the content of his message - the Gospel of Jesus Christ - remains constant: "What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel. For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as[f] weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you." (1 Corinthians 9:18-23)
Is this how preachers preach today?
In order to please and retain their audiences, many preachers today change both the starting point and the message.
How does Paul introduce "God" (Acts 17:24)?
As the "Lord of heaven and earth" (Acts 17:24) who created everything - "who made the world and everything in it" (Acts 17:24), including people - "He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26) - and who sustains everything: "He gives to all life, breath, and all things ... for in Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17:25 & 28)
Does Paul mince words about their temples and idols?
No, he tells them flat out that they are useless: God "does not dwell in temples made with hands" (Acts 17:24) and "... we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising". (Acts 17:29)
What does Paul say about timing?
"Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent." (Acts 17:30)
Why "now" (Acts 17:30)?
Since Jesus died to pay for our sins, both salvation - God "has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him" (Acts 26-27) - and judgment - "He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained" (Acts 17:31) - were at hand.
Why didn't Paul get a chance to explain more about Jesus?
They balked when they heard about His resurrection: "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter. So Paul departed from among them.” (Acts 17:32)
Why would "the resurrection of the dead" (Acts 17:32) make them balk?
Greek philosophers and intellectuals valued the mind and logic, and viewed the physical body as worthless and expendable. The notion of a bodily resurrection was repulsive to them.
Does this mean that Paul failed before them?
No, some of those who heard Paul followed him out and undoubtedly heard more about Jesus and His cross before believing: "However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them." (Acts 17:34) Paul's address in the Areopagus was intended to identify the hearers for whom God's "preappointed times" (Acts 17:26) to "seek the Lord ... and find Him" (Acts 17:27) had arrived. God always has the last word.