Acts 17:16-34

Sunday Morning Bible Study

June 14, 1998


Paul had had some initial success in Berea because the people there eagerly searched the Scriptures and received the gospel. But it wasn’t long until the Jews from Thessalonica showed up and had Paul run out of town.

He’s now been escorted by some believers to Athens, while leaving Silas and Timothy in Berea. Yet after arriving in Athens, Paul missed his buddies and sent for them to join him in Athens.

:16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens

We know from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, which he will write in a few months, that Timothy actually made it to Athens, but only to be sent back to Thessalonica to make sure the believers were doing okay there. (1Thess.3:1-2) Silas and Timothy together won’t rejoin Paul in a more permanent fashion until Paul reaches Corinth. (Acts 18:5)

I’ve heard of some churches making a doctrine out of witnessing in pairs. They will tell people that unless the gospel was shared by a pair of people, that it wasn’t the true gospel. Yet here in Athens, Paul is flying solo. He’s been separated from his team.

Athens – Though Athens at one time had been the capital of the ancient Greek empire, but it was in decline, and at the time of Paul, the local political capital of southern Greece, known as Achaia, was Corinth. Yet Athens was still one of the most important centers in the world for education and art. This was the home of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. It was here that the "porch of Zeno", the founder of the Stoics had held classes. It was here that Epicurus, the founder of the Epicureans, had his garden.

:16 his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

stirredparoxuno – to make sharp, to irritate, provoke, arouse to anger, to exasperate

sawtheoreo – to be a spectator, look at, to view attentively. Paul didn’t just "happen" to notice the idols, he was carefully observing to see what Athens was like.

wholly given to idolatrykateidolos – full of idols

One historian said that Athens had more images than all the rest of Greece put together. Pliny states that in the time of Nero Athens had over 30,000 public statues. Another man wrote that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens.

:17 Therefore …

Paul’s motive for talking with people in the synagogue and in the market, was having taken time to see who they were and what they believed. Some have suggested that Paul may not have originally planned to evangelize in Athens, but when he began to see the city being full of idols, he couldn’t keep silent.


What will it take to make you speak up?

For Dwight L. Moody, in the 1800’s, it was after the Great Fire of Chicago that he resolved never to speak again without giving an opportunity to receive the Lord.

For some, it’s after a loved one dies, and we begin to realize how fragile life is, that we decide we need to speak up.

For Paul, it was looking at the idolatry in Athens, and how the people had swallowed up an empty philosophy, that he was moved to speak.


Take a look around you.

I remember as a college student being instructed to go to the top of the Humanities building and sit and look at the students coming and going, to get a vision for reaching the campus for the Lord.

See what happened when Jesus stopped and looked at the people –

Mat 9:36-38 But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. {37} Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; {38} Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

Go to work early someday and watch all the people come in. Ask God for a burden for those you live with.

:17 disputed he in the synagogue … in the market daily with them that met with him

Paul not only talked in the synagogue, but met with folks out in the market place.

disputeddialegomai – ("dialog") to converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss

This is the same word that described part of Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, when he "reasoned" with those in the synagogue. (Acts 17:2)

that met with himparatugchano – to chance to be by, to happen to be present, to meet by chance

It seems that Paul was just hanging out in the marketplace, talking to whoever would talk to him, whoever to happen to drop by.

:18 certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks

Though there were lots of different philosophies in Athens, the Epicureans and the Stoics were the most popular and most common among the people. Newspaper columnist Franklin P. Adams once defined philosophy as "unintelligible answers to insoluble problems."

EpicureansEpikoureios – those who followed the teachings of Epicurus, the philosopher. This was a guy who didn’t outright deny there were gods, but lived as if the gods didn’t care. He did not believe in a life after death, so to him, the chief purpose in life was to have pleasure now. Today, we use the word Epicurean to describe the pursuit of pleasure and the love of "fine living," especially fine food.

StoicsStoikos – these were the followers of a guy named Zeno, who taught in a porch (stoa). This guy felt that life was tough, so the best way to live your life was to live smart, have self-control, and tough it out. They believed that pleasure was not good and pain was not evil. These guys had no fun. These were the guys who thought they were better than everyone else. The first two leaders of the Stoic school of philosophy committed .

:19 brought him unto Areopagus

AreopagusAreios Pagos – Areopagus, or "Mars Hill". At this point in Athens’ history, a court with twelve judges met here and was responsible to watch over both religion and education in the city.

:21 spent their time in nothing else … to hear some new thing

new thing – comparative form of kainos – it’s not just "new", but "newer" or "fresher". The people who hung out at Mars Hill had time on their hands. They were always looking for the newest and latest thing.

:22 ye are too superstitious.

too superstitiousdeisidaimonesteros – ("fearful" deilos + "gods or demons" daimon) it can mean either "very superstitious" or "very religious".

:23 as I passed by, and beheld your devotions

devotionssebasma – an object of worship; of temples, altars, statues


Even though they had some 30,000 idols in Athens, they wanted to be sure they didn’t forget some god and make him mad, so they had this one altar built to the "unknown god".

I understand that Elvis, towards the end of his life, wore all sorts of gold jewelry around his neck, Christian symbols, Jewish symbols, and Muslim symbols. When asked why, he said something to the effect that he was trying to make sure all his bases were covered.

:23 Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you


Start where they’re at.

Paul doesn’t rebuke them for their idolatry, he uses it to turn the conversation to Jesus.

:24 God that made the world and all things therein

This is quite a crucial point to Paul’s message. The fact that there is a Creator, means that we are accountable to Him. We will one day stand before Him in judgment.

:24 …dwelleth not in temples made with hands

Paul may have pointed to the grand Parthenon up on the acropolis at this point, the supposed home of Athena.

Solomon, when dedicating the temple in Jerusalem said,

(2 Chr 6:18 KJV) But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!

These words are also part of Stephen’s sermon, which Paul had heard years before as an unbeliever (Acts 7:48-50)

:25 Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing,

worshippedtherapeuo – to serve, do service; cure, restore to health

The idea is that in heaven, God is not sweating it out, growing weaker by the hour, hoping that someone, somewhere will make a sacrifice to Him and revive Him.


God doesn’t need you.

Sometimes we are given the wrong impression, that somehow God needs us and the things we give him.

Psa 50:9-15 I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds. {10} For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. {11} I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. {12} If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. {13} Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? {14} Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: {15} And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

The idea of sacrifice in the Old Testament is not because God is hungry or needs to smell some roasting lambs. It’s to teach the Israelites about the consequences of their sins, and how they need to seek continually to be right with God. The idea of sacrifice is ultimately to point to Jesus Christ, who would pay the price for our sins.

There are some people on TV and radio who will give you the impression that God is broke and needs your money to help. This is wrong!

God doesn’t need you. You need God.

:25 seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things

We owe our very existence to Him. We breathe because of Him.

We somehow have the idea that God is only involved in crisis situations, because we only ask for help during those times.

Yet He is continually involved in the very existence of life.

:27 if haply they might feel after him, and find him

haply – perhaps

feelpselaphao – to handle, touch and feel. It’s a picture of a person groping in the dark. Like when you walk into a dark room and are feeling around for the light switch.

:27 though he be not far from every one of us:

To the Greeks, the gods lived far away on Mount Olympus. But in reality, God is very, very near. He wants to be found.


When my boys were younger, and we used to play hide-and-seek, I learned that as a responsible adult, you shouldn’t hide very well. Part of the child’s joy is in being able to find you!

God wants to be found. He’s not that far away.

David wrote,

(Psa 139:7-10 NLT) I can never escape from your spirit! I can never get away from your presence! {8} If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there. {9} If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, {10} even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.

:28 as certain also of your own poets have said

It’s interesting to see that Paul is quoting some Greek philosophers –

There were two different Greek poets who said this, Aratus of Soli in Cilicia (270 BC), and Cleanthes, a Stoic philosopher (300-220 B.C.). In 1Co 15:32 Paul quotes from Menander, and in Tit 1:12 from Epimenides. Another scholar claims that he finds references in Paul's Epistles to Pindar, Aristophanes, and other Greek writers.

I know that some of us like to say things like, "I never read anything by my Bible." But I think there may be some value to guardedly keep current with some of the things that are going on in the world around us.


Learn to relate to those around you.

You’ll hear Gregg Laurie doing this at the Harvest Crusade when he quotes from the current pop and rock stars.

When I worked at McDonnell Douglas, I had to study ice hockey, because that was all one of the guys there talked about.

I think we need to be cautious with this though. I don’t think you need to take drugs to relate to a drug addict. I don’t think you need to look at to relate to someone hooked on .

:29 we ought not to think that the Godhead is … man's device

man’s deviceenthumesis – a thinking, consideration; thoughts


The truth about God doesn’t depend on what you think he’s like.

Ancient people used to make their idols based upon their concept of what their "god" must have looked like.

Some people think that God is simply the creation of a weak person’s imagination. You’ll hear this in humanistic philosophy classes.

Indeed, some people have their own strange concepts of God, but what they don’t realize is that they’ve based their concept of God upon their own ideas, and not upon what God is really like.

People say stuff like, "How can a God of love do this …"

But what that person is doing is trying to relate to a God based upon what THEY think He should be like, and not based upon who He is. Their concept of love is that you should always give a person whatever they want. God’s concept of love is that He ALWAYS works things out for our best.


Gayle Erwin writes this,

Traveling west out of Urbana into downtown Champaign, Illinois, you pass under a rail-road trestle out into a large brick plaza where several streets emerge. Behind my van as I approached the underpass followed a large truck and a car. Beyond the underpass, I noticed a small girl running out into the apparently empty plaza. To her it looked like the largest playground she had ever seen. I knew that the truck behind me could not see her or avoid her, so I took the only steps available. I slammed on the brakes while under the railroad, effectively blocking the road, jumped out of my van and ran to retrieve the little girl. The truck and car drivers who also had to do an emergency stop were honking and shouting obscenities at me. I ran to the little girl, who, when she saw me, began running, terrified, away from me. I picked her up as she screamed and pushed me away. The vehicles had backed up to come around the underpass and the drivers continued their abuse as they drove by. As I held the screaming baby girl, I knew her mother must be somewhere nearby. Sure enough, a distraught mother rounded the corner of a building, spotted us and began running toward us. At this point, there were no other vehicles or people around, only me and the screaming baby girl trying to push away from me. The mother rushed up in a huff, grabbed her daughter as she scowled at me and began to walk off. A few steps away, she stopped, looked back at me as if to say, 'You !" then stomped on off. Nothing was said by either of us. I stood there for a moment and simply felt the situation. Everyone was mad at me, the vehicle drivers, the little girl, the girl's mother-yet I had just saved the little girl's life. I walked numbly back to my van where other vehicles were now taking evasive action. Just before I began to seriously feel sorry for myself, the Lord impressed on my heart, "Now, you know how I feel most of the time."

Be sure that you build your concept of God based upon what HE HAS REVEALED to us in His Word, and not just what you think He is like.

:30 times of this ignorance God winked at

winked athupereido – to overlook, take no notice of

God has shown His mercy in not judging the world yet. God has shown His mercy in not judging you yet. If you’re still alive and listening to me, you still have a chance to know God.

:30 but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

repentmetanoeo – to change one's mind, to turn your life around

It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). If you’re still alive, you still have time to turn around.

:31 he will judge the world in righteousness

Paul here for the first time directly quotes from Scripture (Psa.9:8)

:31 hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him

The reasoning goes like this: Death is a result of sin. Jesus died, but died to pay for our sin. The fact that He rose from the dead not only proves that He has paid for all His sins, but that He is totally sin-free, totally righteous, and so He is worthy of being the one to judge us.

:32 some mocked … others … We will hear thee again

Two responses here to the gospel. Some will mock, others will be interested.

How will you respond to the Jesus?

:34 among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite

Dionysius was one of the guys that hung out at the Areopagus, one of those always looking for some new thing. History tells us that he was one of the twelve judges of the Areopagus. Eusebius says that he became afterwards bishop (or, pastor) of the Church at Athens and died a martyr.

:34 and others with them.

It doesn't seem that many people came to the Lord in Athens, whereas in Thessalonica and Berea, Luke said there were "not a few" who believed (Acts 17:4,12).


Be cautious for the hunger for new things.

Could the seemingly small harvest in Athens be related to the looking for a "new" thing? (Acts 17:21)

Because something is "old" doesn’t mean that it’s bad or wrong.