Read the Passage: Acts 17
After Paul and Silas were released from prison in Philippi, they and Timothy headed southwest along the coast of Macedonia, traveling through the cities of Amphipolis and Apollonia, and settling in Thessalonica. Note that Luke likely stayed in Philippi, as he is not mentioned again until Paul returns to Philippi at Acts 20:5–6. As Paul had done on his first missionary journey (cf. Acts 13:14; 14:1), once he arrived in Thessalonica, Paul preached the gospel in the local synagogue, speaking on three separate Sabbath days. Paul’s reasoning from the Scriptures about Jesus’ death and resurrection resulted in many of the Greek proselytes, as well as some of the women coming to faith. However, just as had happened at Antioch (cf. Acts 13:42–45) and Iconium (cf. Acts 14:1–2), so here in Thessalonica, after some of his hearers believed, the unbelieving Jews stirred up trouble.
Acts 17:6–9 records the trouble caused by those who heard Paul’s message and did not believe. As was the case at Antioch (cf. Acts 13:45), so here Luke notes that the persecution was caused because the unbelieving Jews were “envious” (Acts 17:5). The uproar instigated by those who rejected the gospel message resulted in a mob attacking the house of Jason, who is otherwise unknown, but whom later became a traveling companion of Paul (cf. Rom. 16:21). Church tradition identifies Jason as one of Jesus’ 70 disciples (cf. Luke 10:1); however, there is no proof of this identification. Ironically, the unbelieving mob accused the Christians of doing exactly that of which they themselves were guilty—that is, “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). However, since the crowd was unable to locate Paul, the rulers ultimately had to let Jason and the other believers go.
Following the uproar in Thessalonica, Paul and Silas continued traveling southwest, arriving in Berea. As was his pattern, Paul taught in the synagogue in Berea. Luke reports that the Jews in Berea “were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica” (Acts 17:11). Luke records three characteristics of the Bereans that led him to this conclusion. First, he notes that “they received the Word with all readiness” (Acts 17:11a). Second, Luke observes that the Bereans “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether” Paul’s teachings were true (Acts 17:11b). Third, and most importantly, Luke writes that “many of them believed” (Acts 17:12). As was the case in Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:4), it seems that the majority of converts in Berea were Gentile proselytes and prominent women. Unfortunately, though, certain unbelieving Jews arrived in Berea and caused trouble.
After the uproar in Berea, Paul was ushered away, via boat, to the Greek metropolis of Athens. While he had initially left Silas and Timothy in Berea, once he saw the opportunity for ministry in Athens, Paul sent for them to join him. Luke records that when Paul witnessed the rampant idolatry in Athens “his spirit was provoked” (Acts 17:16). As was his pattern, in Athens Paul began to teach in the synagogue; however, he also took the new step of teaching daily in the marketplace (cf. Acts 17:17). Perhaps this change in ministerial tactic was the result of Paul’s awareness that those who responded to his teaching in the synagogues were largely Gentile proselytes, not Jews. In any event, Paul’s street-preaching was heard by certain philosophers, which resulted in Paul receiving an invitation to speak to the leading philosophers in Athens at the Areopagus.
Acts 17:22–34 records Paul’s message in the Areopagus, as well as the philosophers’ reaction to the gospel. Several facets of Paul’s message are worth noting, as here Paul did not appeal to the Old Testament, but argued within the Athenians’ own context. First, Paul builds a bridge to the gospel, by appealing to the religious culture of Athens (cf. Acts 17:22–23). Second, Paul identifies the nature of God, mentioning that God is the creator and sustainer of all things, as well as noting His imminence and transcendence (cf. Acts 17:24–28). Third, after quoting an Athenian poet, Paul delivers the gospel message, specifically mentioning the need to repent of sins and the fact of Jesus’ resurrection (cf. Acts 17:29–31). As was the case in Paul’s earlier mission work, so at the Areopagus, many rejected his message, some wanted to hear more information, and others believed.
- In his mission work, why was Paul not deterred by physical hardship, personal violence, and rejection of message? What discourages you in ministry?
- How would you explain the details of the gospel message, as Paul did, using only the Old Testament? Have you ever been envious of the ministerial success of another?
- Why do you think the majority of converts in both Thessalonica and Berea were Gentile proselytes and prominent women (cf. Acts 17:4, 12)?
- Like Paul, when you witness rampant idolatry and false religion in the world, is your spirit provoked? How have you interacted with other religions?
- What can we learn from the way in which Paul shared the gospel in Jewish synagogues, versus the way in which he spoke to Gentiles at the Areopagus?