Acts of Apostles 17:1-34

17  They now traveled through Am·phipʹo·lis and Ap·ol·loʹni·a and came to Thes·sa·lo·niʹca,+ where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  So according to Paul’s custom+ he went inside to them, and for three sabbaths he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,+  explaining and proving by references that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer+ and to rise from the dead,+ saying: “This is the Christ, this Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.”  As a result, some of them became believers and associated themselves with Paul and Silas,+ and so did a great multitude of the Greeks who worshipped God, along with quite a few of the principal women.  But the Jews, getting jealous,+ gathered together some wicked men who were loitering at the marketplace and formed a mob and proceeded to throw the city into an uproar. They assaulted the house of Jaʹson and were seeking to have Paul and Silas brought out to the mob.+  When they did not find them, they dragged Jaʹson and some of the brothers to the city rulers, crying out: “These men who have overturned* the inhabited earth are present here also,+  and Jaʹson has received them as his guests. All these men act in opposition to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, Jesus.”+  When they heard these things, the crowd and the city rulers were alarmed;  and after taking sufficient security* from Jaʹson and the others, they let them go. 10  Immediately by night the brothers sent both Paul and Silas to Be·roeʹa. On arriving, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11  Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thes·sa·lo·niʹca, for they accepted the word with the greatest eagerness of mind, carefully examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. 12  Therefore, many of them became believers, and so did quite a few of the reputable Greek women as well as some of the men. 13  But when the Jews from Thes·sa·lo·niʹca learned that the word of God was also being proclaimed by Paul in Be·roeʹa, they came there to incite and agitate the crowds.+ 14  Then the brothers immediately sent Paul away to the sea,+ but both Silas and Timothy remained behind there. 15  However, those accompanying Paul brought him as far as Athens, and they departed after receiving instructions that Silas and Timothy+ should come to Paul as quickly as possible. 16  Now while Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit within him became irritated on seeing that the city was full of idols. 17  So he began to reason in the synagogue with the Jews and the other people who worshipped God and every day in the marketplace with those who happened to be on hand. 18  But some of both the Ep·i·cu·reʹan and the Stoʹic philosophers began disputing with him, and some were saying: “What is it this chatterer would like to tell?” Others: “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign deities.” This was because he was declaring the good news of Jesus and the resurrection.+ 19  So they took hold of him and led him to the Ar·e·opʹa·gus, saying: “Can we get to know what this new teaching is that you are speaking about? 20  For you are introducing some things that are strange to our ears, and we want to know what these things mean.” 21  In fact, all Athenians and the foreigners staying there would spend their leisure time doing nothing else but telling or listening to something new. 22  Paul now stood in the midst of the Ar·e·opʹa·gus+ and said: “Men of Athens, I see that in all things you seem to be more given to the fear of the deities* than others are.+ 23  For instance, while passing along and carefully observing your objects of veneration,* I found even an altar on which had been inscribed ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you are unknowingly worshipping, this I am declaring to you. 24  The God who made the world and all the things in it, being, as he is, Lord of heaven and earth,+ does not dwell in handmade temples;+ 25  nor is he served by human hands as if he needed anything,+ because he himself gives to all people life and breath+ and all things. 26  And he made out of one man+ every nation of men to dwell on the entire surface of the earth,+ and he decreed the appointed times and the set limits of where men would dwell,+ 27  so that they would seek God, if they might grope for him and really find him,+ although, in fact, he is not far off from each one of us. 28  For by* him we have life and move and exist,+ even as some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his children.’* 29  “Therefore, since we are the children* of God,+ we should not think that the Divine Being is like gold or silver or stone, like something sculptured by the art and design of humans.+ 30  True, God has overlooked the times of such ignorance;+ but now he is declaring to all people everywhere that they should repent. 31  Because he has set a day on which he purposes to judge+ the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and he has provided a guarantee to all men by resurrecting him from the dead.”+ 32  Now when they heard of a resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff,+ while others said: “We will hear you again about this.” 33  So Paul left them, 34  but some men joined him and became believers. Among them were Di·o·nysʹi·us, who was a judge of the court of the Ar·e·opʹa·gus, and a woman named Damʹa·ris, and others besides them.

Footnotes

Or “stirred up trouble throughout.”
Or “after taking bail.”
Or “more religious.”
Or “worship.”
Or “because of.” Lit., “in.”
Or “progeny.”
Or “progeny.”

Study Notes

reasoned: Paul did not simply tell them the good news. He explained it and presented proof from the Scriptures, that is, from the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. He did more than read the Scriptures; he reasoned from them, and he adapted his reasoning to his audience. The Greek verb di·a·leʹgo·mai has been defined as “to engage in an interchange of speech; to converse; to discuss.” It denotes interacting with people. This Greek word is also used at Ac 17:17; 18:4, 19; 19:8, 9; 20:7, 9.

proving by references: The Greek word literally means “to put alongside (place beside).” This may imply that Paul carefully compared the Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures with the events of Jesus’ life, showing how Jesus had fulfilled those prophecies.

the city rulers: Lit., “politarchs,” meaning “rulers of the citizens.” This Greek term (po·li·tarʹkhes) is not found in classical Greek literature. Yet, inscriptions bearing this title, some dating to the first century B.C.E., were uncovered in the Thessalonica area as well as elsewhere in the province of Macedonia. These findings confirm the Acts account and the reliability of Luke as a historian.

Caesar: Or “the Emperor.” The Roman emperor during Jesus’ earthly ministry was Tiberius, but the term was not restricted to the ruling emperor. “Caesar” could refer to the Roman civil authority, or the State, and its duly appointed representatives, who are called “the superior authorities” by Paul, and “the king” and his “governors” by Peter.​—Ro 13:1-7; 1Pe 2:13-17; Tit 3:1; see Glossary.

Caesar: Or “the Emperor.” The Roman emperor at this time was Claudius, who ruled from 41 to 54 C.E.​—Ac 11:28; 18:2; see study note on Mt 22:17 and Glossary.

carefully examining: Or “thoroughly studying.” The Greek term a·na·kriʹno has been defined as “to sift; to divide up; to separate.” It is sometimes used in the sense of conducting a judicial hearing. (Lu 23:14; Ac 4:9; 28:18; 1Co 4:3) Therefore, in this context, it conveys the idea of doing careful and exact research as in a legal process. The examination done by the Jews in Beroea was therefore not superficial; they probed carefully to confirm that what Paul and Silas were teaching from the Scriptures about Jesus as the long-promised Messiah was true.

the marketplace: Located NW of the Acropolis, Athens’ marketplace (Greek, a·go·raʹ) covered 5 ha (12 ac) or so. The marketplace was much more than a location for buying and selling. It was the center of the city’s economic, political, and cultural life. Athenians enjoyed meeting at this center of public life to engage in intellectual discussions.

the Epicurean . . . philosophers: Followers of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B.C.E.), they taught that experiencing pleasure was the ultimate goal in life. The Epicureans believed in the existence of gods but thought that the gods had no interest in humans and would neither reward nor punish them, so prayer or sacrifice was useless. The Epicureans’ thinking and actions were devoid of moral principle. They urged moderation, however, on the grounds that it would prevent the negative consequences of overindulgence. And they believed that knowledge should be sought only to rid a person of religious fears and superstition. Neither the Epicureans nor the Stoics believed in a resurrection.​—See study note on the Stoic philosophers in this verse.

the Stoic philosophers: A Greek school of philosophers who believed that happiness consists of living in accord with reason and nature. In their estimation, the truly wise man was indifferent to pain or pleasure. The Stoics believed that all things were part of an impersonal deity and that the human soul emanated from such a source. Some Stoics held that the soul would eventually be destroyed along with the universe. Other Stoics believed that the soul would ultimately be reabsorbed by this deity. Neither the Stoics nor the Epicureans believed in a resurrection.​—See study note on the Epicurean . . . philosophers in this verse.

chatterer: Lit., “seed picker.” The Greek word used here, sper·mo·loʹgos, was applied to a bird that picks up seeds. Figuratively, it was used in a derogatory sense of a person who picks up scraps by begging or stealing or of an unqualified, unsophisticated person who repeats scraps of knowledge, an idle babbler. In effect, those learned men were saying that Paul was ignorantly chattering about things he did not really understand.

the Areopagus: Or “Hill of Ares.” Ares was the Greek god of war. Located NW of the Acropolis, the Areopagus was the traditional meeting place of the chief council of Athens. The term “Areopagus” may refer to the actual hill or to the council. (Ac 17:34) Therefore, some scholars feel that Paul was brought to this hill or nearby to be questioned, while other scholars believe that he was taken to a meeting of the council held elsewhere, perhaps at the agora. Because Ares corresponds to the Roman god Mars, some translations refer to this place as “Mars’ Hill.”

staying: Or “visiting.” The Greek word used here, e·pi·de·meʹo, has been defined “to stay in a place as a stranger or visitor.”

To an Unknown God: The Greek words A·gnoʹstoi the·oiʹ were part of an inscription on an altar in Athens. The Athenians expressed their fear of deities by building many temples and altars, even making altars to abstract deities, such as Fame, Modesty, Energy, Persuasion, and Pity. Perhaps fearing that they might omit a god and thereby incur that god’s disfavor, they dedicated an altar “to an Unknown God.” By means of such an altar, the people admitted the existence of a God about whom they knew nothing. Paul skillfully used the presence of this altar as a basis for his preaching to introduce his audience to the God​—the true God—​who until then was unknown to them.

the world came into existence through him: Here the Greek word koʹsmos (“world”) refers to the world of mankind, which is evident later in the verse where it says that the world did not know him. The Greek term was sometimes used in secular writings to refer to the universe and creation in general, and the apostle Paul may have used it in that sense when he was addressing a Greek audience. (Ac 17:24) However, in the Christian Greek Scriptures, the term generally refers to the world of mankind or a part of it. It is true that Jesus did share in the production of all things, including the heavens and the earth and all things in it. But the focus of this verse is his role in bringing humankind into existence.​—Ge 1:26; Joh 1:3; Col 1:15-17.

the world: The Greek word koʹsmos is closely linked with mankind in secular Greek literature and particularly in the Bible. (See study note on Joh 1:10.) In secular Greek writings, however, the term was also used to refer to the universe and to creation in general. It is possible that Paul, who was trying to establish common ground with his Greek audience, here used the term in that sense.

handmade temples: Or “temples made by human hands.” The Greek word khei·ro·poiʹe·tos is also used at Ac 7:48 and Heb 9:11, 24, where it is rendered “made with hands.” Unlike the Greek goddess Athena or the other deities whose glory depended on temples, shrines, and altars made by humans, the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth cannot be contained in physical temples. (1Ki 8:27) The true God is grander than any idols found in man-made temples. (Isa 40:18-26) Paul may have made this comment because he saw the many temples, shrines, and sanctuaries devoted to various deities.

we have life and move and exist: Some suggest that this statement reflects a Greek rhetorical style called tricolon, which uses three parallel words to express a thought. Philosophers Plato, Sophocles, and Aristotle used this technique. Others suggest that this was an allusion to a poem by Epimenides, a Cretan poet of the sixth century B.C.E.

some of your own poets: Paul apparently quoted the expression “for we are also his children” from the poem Phaenomena, by the Stoic poet Aratus, and similar words are found in other Greek writings, including Hymn to Zeus, by the Stoic writer Cleanthes. Paul may have quoted Greek poets because educated speakers were expected to offer classical quotations among their proofs.

the inhabited earth: Here the Greek word for “inhabited earth” (oi·kou·meʹne) is used in a broad sense and refers to the earth as the dwelling place of mankind. (Lu 4:5; Ro 10:18; Re 12:9; 16:14) In the first century, this term was also used in reference to the vast Roman Empire, where the Jews had been dispersed.​—Ac 24:5.

guarantee: Or “proof.” Lit., “faith.” The Greek word piʹstis, most often rendered “faith,” is apparently used in this context to convey the idea of a proof that gives reason for complete confidence in something promised.

the Areopagus: Or “Hill of Ares.” Ares was the Greek god of war. Located NW of the Acropolis, the Areopagus was the traditional meeting place of the chief council of Athens. The term “Areopagus” may refer to the actual hill or to the council. (Ac 17:34) Therefore, some scholars feel that Paul was brought to this hill or nearby to be questioned, while other scholars believe that he was taken to a meeting of the council held elsewhere, perhaps at the agora. Because Ares corresponds to the Roman god Mars, some translations refer to this place as “Mars’ Hill.”

who was a judge of the court of the Areopagus: Or “an Areopagite,” that is, a member of the council or court of the Areopagus.​—See study note on Ac 17:19.

Media

Beroea
Beroea

Shown here is the modern-day city of Veroia, Greece, which is located on the site of ancient Beroea, a city visited by Paul and Silas. It lay some 30 km (19 mi) south of a famous Roman highway, the Egnatian Way (Via Egnatia), and about 65 km (40 mi) west-southwest of Thessalonica. Both Jews and Greeks in Beroea responded to the good news. However, the local disciples urged Paul to leave the city after troublemakers from Thessalonica arrived and stirred up mob violence. But Silas and Timothy remained in Beroea for a time, strengthening the new congregation. (Ac 17:10-14) Beroea was the last city in the fruitful but challenging area of Macedonia that Paul visited during his second missionary tour.

Altars to Unknown Gods
Altars to Unknown Gods

In his speech at the Areopagus in Athens, Paul spoke of “an altar on which had been inscribed ‘To an Unknown God.’” (Ac 17:23) There is both literary and archaeological evidence supporting the existence of such altars in the Roman Empire. For example, second-century C.E. geographer Pausanias wrote about altars to unknown gods that were located in Greece, and Philostratus of the second and third centuries C.E. specifically refers to such altars in Athens. Photograph 1 shows the remains of a second-century C.E. altar in Pergamum (in modern-day Turkey). The inscription is incomplete, but a plausible restoration of the first line reads: “To unknown gods.” Photograph 2 shows an altar found on Rome’s Palatine Hill. The altar dates to about 100 B.C.E. and is dedicated to an unnamed deity. These examples support the Bible record about the existence of such altars.