Acts

17:16-34

4. Gospel consolidation and expansion to Greece, 16:1-20:38

iv] The mission to Athens

Synopsis

Paul continues his second missionary journey, moving from Philippi to Thessalonica and finally to Athens. In this foremost of Greek cities, Paul proclaims the gospel, first in the local synagogue, then in the "marketplace day by day." The local philosophers then invite him to speak of his beliefs at the Areopagus. Paul's address to the philosophers initially touches on the "unknown God", then God the creator, and then finally he speaks of a man whom God has appointed to judge the world. The mention of this man's resurrection prompts an interjection and discussion, along with various responses.

 
Teaching

It is appropriate to contextualize the gospel for secular Gentiles.

 
Issues

i] Context: See 16:1-15.

 

ii] Background: See 16:1-15.

 

iii] Structure: This passage, The mission to Athens, presents as follows:

Setting, v16-17;

The local philosophers invite Paul to address them, v18-21;

Paul's Areopagus sermon, v22-31:

Opening statement, v22-23;

The God of mankind, v24-28;

Created by him, v24-25;

Created to know him, v26-28;

"that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him."

The human condition of sin, v29;

"we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone."

Repent, v30;

The day of judgment is at hand, v31.

The response of the audience, v32-34;

"some people became followers of Paul and believed."

 

iv] Interpretation:

Paul's sermon to the Greeks at the Areopagus is an example of a gospel presentation to Gentiles who have little or no understanding of the Bible. As such, it is very applicable to the situation faced by believers today. The following points are worth noting:

• In his introduction, Paul carefully presents a basis for his message by defining the person of God and the state of humanity. He establishes that the center of our created being is found in our capacity to relate to God, a capacity presently unfulfilled. On this basis he concludes that humanity is lost.

• There is little reference to the person and work of Jesus, with nothing said of his sacrificial death (this may be explained by Paul's presentation being cut short by an interjection).

• The presentation focuses on judgement and this by a "man" (an allusion to Daniel's coming Son of Man???) appointed to judge. The authority of this man under God may be confirmed in his rising from the dead.

• Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy is not mentioned. When the gospel is presented to Jews there is always a reference to the fulfillment of prophecy. With Gentiles, it would be inappropriate.

So, in proclaiming the gospel, Paul contextualizes the news concerning God's coming kingdom by expanding the introduction, ignoring the fulfillment of scripture, introducing the required response before stating that the kingdom has come through the resurrection of Christ, the implication being judgment. On this occasion Paul mentions the bad news, but not the good news - life in the living one. The gospel sermons in Acts oscillate between the good news and the bad news, but sometimes both get a run. The introduction covers information concerning the existence of God and the present state of humanity. Of particular note is Paul's focus on the resurrection of Christ, rather than his crucifixion. So, Paul reworks the standard presentation of the gospel for Jews:

Introduction, v24-28

The time is fulfilled;

The kingdom of God is at hand, v31;

Repent and believe the gospel, v30.

 

Paul's Areopagus sermon is often used to model sermon presentation for non Jews today:

This is God's world and we belong to God, v24-25.

He made us to know him, to relate to him, v26-28.

All people tend to ignore God; they wish to be independent. This rebellion may be active or passive but it is real, v29.

God does the only thing you would expect him to do, He calls on everyone to stop rebelling and turn back to him, v30.

If a person does turn back and stop rebelling, general amnesty is awarded them. They are no longer treated as a rebel, but are given the treatment that a loyal person is given. Their past rebellions are forgiven because of the death of Jesus on their behalf.

If a person continues in rebellion and will not turn back, then they must be overthrown in the end. Not because God is angry, but because Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is master in God's world, v31.

 

Form: Witherington notes that the sermon follows the rhetorical structure of the time:

exordium, v22-23a;

propositio, v23b;

probatio, v24-29;

peroratio, v30-31.

 

v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

 
Text - 17:22

Paul's mission to Athens, v16-34. iii] Paul's Areopagus gospel presentation, v22-31: a) Paul engages his audience by stating an obvious fact, namely, that the Athenians are a religious people who are concerned about knowing God and who willingly admit that they don't know everything about Him, v22-23.

staqeiV (iJsthmi) aor. pas. part. "[Paul] then stood up" - [Paul] having stood. The participle is adverbial, temporal, as NIV, or even consecutive, expressing result, "so Paul stood in the middle of the Aeopagus and said", Moffatt.

en + dat."in [the meeting]" - in [the middle]. Locative, expressing space / sphere. Although usually with the sense of placed in the middle of something, so "the center of the Areopagus", it can mean at times "in front of / before an audience", Zerwick.

tou Areiou Pagou gen. "of the Areopagus" - The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

wJV "that" - The particle here, virtually standing in for oJti, but with a slight modal sense (manner), serves to introduce a dependent statement of perception expressing what Paul perceives of the Athenians; "I perceive how, in every way, you are very religious."

kata + acc. "in [every way]" - with respect to [everything] = in every respect, altogether. The preposition here expressing reference / respect.

deisidaimonesterouV (deisidaimwn) adj. "very religious" - the meaning can either be superstitious, or pious. The Athenians were known for their piety and so "pious / religious" is the intention here, as NIV; "you tend to be a very religious people", Barclay.

 
v23

gar "for" - for. Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why Paul thinks the Athenians are religious.

diercomenoV (diercomai) pres. part. "as I walked around" - traveling around, passing through. The participle is adverbial, temporal, as NIV; "while I was strolling through your city", Cassirer.

anaqewrwn (anaqewrew) pres. part. "looked carefully at" - observing closely. The participle as above.

ta sebasmata (a) "objects of worship" - "Idols", "images", Bruce.

en + dat. "with [this inscription]" - on [which had been inscribed]. Local, expressing space / sphere.

agnwstw/ qew/ dat. "to an unknown god" - Dative of interest. There were a number of such examples in Athens. Being religious, they didn't want to miss one of the deities.

oun "therefore" - therefore. Drawing a logical conclusion.

o} neut. pro. "what [you worship]" - what. The neuter person is used to define the hearers "belief in an impersonal divine essence", Bruce, 1951. The relative pronoun serves to introduce a relative clause; "what you worship in your ignorance", Moffatt.

agnoounteV (agnoew) pres. part. "as something unknown" - not knowing. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner in which their worship was performed, ie., "in ignorance." "Turning ignorance about spirituality and God into knowledge is Paul's goal", Bock, so Barrett. "It is this God whom you are worshipping in ignorance that I am here to proclaim to you", Phillips.

umin dat. pro. "to you" - Dative of indirect object.

 
v24

b) The God of mankind, v24-28. First point, the true God is creator of all things, Lord (omnipotent), independent and sustainer (he gives life), v24-25. Paul first defines God in Old Testament terms. He is the creator of the universe and the Lord of heaven and earth. Such a God cannot be contained in any human structure, nor represented by any human craft. Sophisticated Greeks would agree that the divine nature cannot be contained in even the most magnificent of buildings. Neither is God dependent on his creatures; he does not need us. In fact, we are dependent on God for he supplies our every need.

oJ poihsaV (poiew) aor. part. "who made [the world]" - the one having made [the world]. The participle is adjectival, as NIV. The notion of God as creator was held by some other religions and philosophies, eg. the Epicureans.

ta "[everything in it]" - The article serves either as a nominalizer or adjectivizer of the prepositional phrase en autw/, depending on whether panta, "every", is read as an adjective, or an adjective serving as a substantive, "everything which is in it."

ou|toV "-" - this one. Resumptive; "this God."

uJparcwn (uJparcw) pres. part. "is [the Lord]" - being [Lord]. The participle is adverbial, probably causal, "this God, because he is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in ..." "Lord" may not be a title here, but rather may serve to define the function the God who exists and who has created all things, namely that he master of every domain and so cannot be controlled or confined by that which he has created.

ouranou kai ghV "of heaven and earth" - The genitive is adjectival, of subordination, so "over heaven and earth."

ceiropoihtoiV adj. "built by hands" - made by human hands. Paul is probably alluding to the many temples and idols in Athens "built by human hands", CEV. This God "cannot be contained in (nor reflected in) handmade shrines", Bock.

 
v25

oude ..... qerapeuetai (qerapeuw) pres. pas. "he is not served" - he is not served, healed. Reflecting "the Epicurean doctrine that God needs nothing from men", Bruce, so possibly the more common sense "healed", ie. "cared for". Paul is positing an idea with which his audience would agree, namely that God "not only created all things in the beginning, but continues to give all the things men need for their human existence", Barrett.

uJpo + gen. "by [human hands]" - by, from, through. Here agency, rather than means; "by".

prosdemonoV (prosdeomai) pres. pas. part. "[as if] he needed [anything]" - being in need [of a certain thing / something]. The participle is adverbial, possibly conditional, as NIV, or possibly causal, "nor is it because of his lacking anything that he allows men to serve him", Cassirer.

autoV pro. "he himself" - he. Emphatic, as NIV. "It is he", Cassirer.

didouV (didwmi) pres. part. "because [he himself] gives" - giving. The participle may be adverbial, causal, as NIV, but it seems more likely that it is adjectival, attributive, forming a relative clause limiting "he"; "it is he who gives life and breath and all things to all men", Moffatt.

pasi dat. adj. "everyone" - to all. Dative of indirect object.

ta panta adj. "everything else" - all things. Everything necessary for human life.

 
v26

Second point, humanity is created to know God, v26-28. So, God sustains humanity, and this for our pleasure. Although the Greeks tended to see themselves racially superior to the barbarians, all humanity descends from one common God-designed ancestor. The earth is created as a home for the human race with defined areas for each extended family (nation). "The times set for them" may mean appointed seasons, or historical epochs. Each tribe receives its annual provision, its moment in history. The ultimate purpose of this unique human design and the extensive provision of resources, is that we might know God - "feel after him and find him." Paul held that nature imaged God's presence, therefore, those who fail to honor him, seek after him and find him, are without excuse, Rom.1:20f. We are designed to know God, and for those who would seek him, he is not far away. Paul goes on to illustrate his point (ie. humans find their center of being in God) by quoting from two poems, one possibly by Epimendides the Cretan, and the second by Aratus the Cilician. Even the Greek poets understood where to find the center of their being. So, humanity is divinely created, of one entity / flesh, and this with two divine intentions:

• The enjoyment of life - humanity is located in the environment of the earth, held within a time/space continuum and supported by ordered society;

• A relationship with God - humanity is created in the "image of God, ie. our being is able to know / relate to God, finding fulfillment in relationship with him.

te "-" - and. A sequential indicator.

ex enoV "from one man" - The preposition ex expressing source / origin. The reference is obviously to Adam, affirming the oneness of mankind, although Paul's point is "intended to show that all people have their roots in the Creator God", Bock.

anqrwpwn (oV) gen. "[all the nations]" - [every nation] of men. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "nation"; "human society."

katoikein (katoikew) pres. inf. "that they should inhabit" - to dwell, inhabit, settle. The infinitive here may form a final clause expressing purpose, or possibly better hypothetical result; "so that it (the whole human race) should occupy the entire earth", Cassirer. Possibly an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what God "made = determined", as NIV. An appositional infinitival construction is found in v28, zhtein, "that they should seek ....." Barrett's suggestion that it is epexegetic seems illusive.

epi + gen. "[the whole earth]" - upon [all the face of the earth]. Spacial.

oJrisaV (oJrizw) aor. part. "he determined / he marked out" - having set. Introducing a parenthetical participial construction standing between the two object clauses, "that they should inhabit" and "that they should seek"; "having set the seasons and boundaries of their life." The participle is adverbial, possibly temporal, so Culy. The use of the aorist implies that the business of setting the boundaries of life was not necessarily after the actual creation of the earth.

prostetagmenouV (prostassw) perf. mid. part. "[the times] set [for them] / [their] appointed [times in history]" - having determined. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "times, seasons."

kairouV (oV) "the times" - seasons. A vague term. It can be seasons / years, referring to God's care of humanity, or epochs of history, referring to God's ordering of the nations. Probably epochs is best here. "Fixing their allotted periods", Moffatt. Of course, Paul is seeking to establish the sovereignty of God; "God has determined the specific times for men and the exact place where they should live so that mankind should seek him and find him", Longenecker.

thV katoikiaV (a) gen. "[the boundaries] of [their] lands" - [the fixed boundaries] of [their] occupancy, settlements. The genitive is adjectival, locative; "the boundaries within which they were to live", Barclay.

 
v27

zhtein (zhtew) pres. inf. "God did this so that men would seek [him]" - to seek [God]. The infinitive stands in apposition to the infinitive katoikew, "to dwell", probably as an object clause / dependent statement, but often treated adverbially, usually final, expressing purpose, as NIV. "Physical existence and the enjoyment of the earth's bounty was not the final purpose in creating human beings", Peterson, 2009. God's act of creation also had as its intention "that people might seek for God, perhaps even grope for him, and eventually find him (thus know him)", Fitzmyer.

ei + opt. "[and perhaps reach out for him and find him]" - if [then indeed they might seek him and find]. Forming a conditional clause, 4th class, incomplete, where the condition has a remote possibility of coming true in the future; "if, as could possibly be the case, ..... then ........" This conditional clause is always incomplete in the NT, as here.

ara ge "perhaps" - then indeed. Serving to emphasize the uncertainty of the incomplete condition; "with the hope that they might grope after him in the shadows of their ignorance, and find him", Barclay.

yhlafhseian (yhlafaw) aor. opt. "reach out for" - feel after, grope after. The idea is of "groping after God in the darkness when the light of His full revelation is not available" Bruce. Paul seems to be speaking of "the instinctive searching of the human mind and heart for God in the traces that God has left in the creation and disposition of humanity in the world and on this earth", Fitzmyer.

uJparconta (uJparcw) pres. part. "though he is" - [and yet] being / existing. The participle is usually treated as adverbial, concessive, as NIV ("though indeed he is close to each one of us", Moffatt), although Culy argues that it is adjectival, attributive, of "God"; "to seek God, who is not far from any one of us - if they might only search hard for him and find him", Culy.

apo + gen. "[not far] from" - Expressing separation; "away from."

hJmwn gen. pro. "[any one] of us" - The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

 
v28

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why God intended for us a fulfilling existence and a relationship with him, "because" ....... ie. "we are his offspring."

en "in" - Probably in the sense of "in relationship with him / united to him". This union achieves three results, possibly formed as a tricolon, a unit of three philosophical truths. Fitzmyer, drawing on the work of H. Hommel, suggests that "live" = physical life; "have our being" = the spiritual-intellectual life; and "move" = the transfer of human life, intellect and spirituality to the cosmic level. The descriptives make the simple point that "people exist by God's creation and sustenance, so that God is not far off", Bock.

kinoumeqa (kinew) pres. pas. "move" - move. "Move in Him", but it could also mean, "moved by Him." God is our life and shapes our life, now and in eternity.

wJV kai "as" - also as, even as. Comparative, serving to introduce a quote from Aratus.

kaq uJmaV "your own" - [some of the poets] among you. This construction "is a little more than equivalent to a possessive pronoun", Barrett, so "your own poets" as NIV. "You cannot deny it for we have it on the authority of your own poets", Barrett.

twn .... poihtwn (hV ou) gen. "poets" - the doer / the one who produces literary texts, normally in poetic form*. The genitive is adjectival, partitive. "Poets", as NIV.

gar "for" - Here as a stitching device and best left untranslated, as TNIV.

tou gen. "We" - the / who. Barrett, Zerwick, ... suggest a possible demonstrative pronoun, "him", the genitive "of him" being ablative, expressing source, so lit. "from him we are also descended / related." Culy suggests that the article is intended to serve as a personal pronoun, since an article is rarely used for a demonstrative pronoun, while the genitive simply indicates possession. Paul is making the simple point that "all human beings are members of God's family", Peterson, 2009, ie. Paul, via Aratus, is identifying the "shared relationship all people have to God", Bock - our being created in God's image. Of course, unlike Aratus and his many Greek colleagues, Paul does not view this relationship with God in pantheistic terms.

kai "-" - Adjunctive, "we are also his offspring / we too are his offspring / we are his offspring as well", but also possibly emphatic, "we are indeed his offspring", ESV.

 
v29

c) Paul now identifies the human condition of sinfulness, v29. Given that humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, it is absurd to assume that God is made of inanimate materials. The trouble is, this is exactly how humanity often sees the divine - we pursue the creature rather than the creator.

oun "therefore" - Drawing a logical conclusion.

uJparconteV (uJarcw) pres. part. "since we are" - being. The participial is adverbial, causal; "because we are."

tou qeou (oV) gen. "God's [offspring]" - family, race, kind [of God]. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, or better, relational, but possible ablative, source / origin.

nomizein (nomizw) "[we should not] think" - [we ought not] to think. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "we ought."

einai (eimi) pres. act. inf. "that" - to be. The infinitive serves to form a dependent statement of perception expressing what humanity should not think; "that a formed image with gold, or silver or wood, of/by human skill and intellect, is like the divine." The logic of Paul's point is that by sculpting the divine, having first admitted the divine origin of the creation, humanity stands guilty of idolatry and therefore in need of divine mercy - of repentance leading to forgiveness.

to qeion adj. "the divine being" - the divine being. Adjective as a substantive, subject of the infinitive and so in the acc. case. "An idiomatic touch", Bruce, 1951.

crusw/ (oV) dat. "is like gold" - The three elements are probably instrumental datives, of material; "a formed image (caragmati - an object crafted to resemble something) with gold, silver, or stone."

tecnhV (h) gen. "by [man's] design [and skill]" - The genitive "man" is obviously adjectival, possessive, but "design" and "skill" are also genitives. Barrett thinks they are subjective genitives, "an object carved by man's art and imagination." On the other hand they could be adjectival, attributive, limiting the image, or better adverbial, instrumental, expressing means, as NIV, "an image formed by a person's skill and imagination."

 
v30

d) Paul now presents the "repent and believe" element of the gospel - God demands our response, namely that we repent, v30. God may delay his action against such ignorance, but the inevitable day of judgment is now upon the human race and there is but one way to escape the terrible coming day and that is to repent - turn to the living God for mercy.

oun "-" - therefore. Here resumptive, "Now, ...."

men .... nun "......, but now ......" - Adversative comparative construction, usually men .... de, but with a temporal twist, as NIV.

thV agnoiaV (a) gen. "in the past [God overlooked] such ignorance" - [God overlooked the times] of ignorance. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "the times"; "the folly of those times when men knew no better", Barclay.

uJperidwn (uJperoraw) aor. part. "overlooked" - having overlooked. The participle is adverbial, forming a concessive clause, "although God overlooked our ignorance in the past." Expressing something that is not attended to; punishment that is not followed through or only dealt with lightly. God could well have dealt harshly with the human race, but he stayed his hand - for the moment! "Forgave all this", CEV, is far too strong. God did not forgive the ignorant behavior of the human race in worshipping the creation rather than the creator, he simply chose not to judge the matter there and then. God stayed his hand of judgment, a judgment that would have annihilated the human race. But now, the time has come for that judgment and the only way of escaping it is repentance. "God has shut his eyes to the folly of these times when men knew no better", Barclay.

nun "but now" - now. Certainly an adversative sense seems best, as NIV. "But now [the kingdom of God is at hand] so ...."

toiV anqrwpoiV (oV) dat. "[he commands all] people [everywhere]" - [he proclaims] to [all] men [everywhere]. Dative of indirect object.

metanoein (metanoew) pres. inf. "to repent" - to repent. The infinitive forms a dependent statement, indirect speech, expressing what God commands. This key word does not mean "to feel sorry", but rather "to turn about", "to change direction." In New Testament use it often means to turnaround and follow Christ. We might use a phrase like "turn to Christ", although these Greeks have no knowledge of the person of Jesus. "But now he says that everyone everywhere must turn to him", CEV.

 
v31

e) The gospel presentation ends with a punch-line - the day of judgment is at hand, v31. It is often said the reaction of his audience cuts his speech short, but this is probably not the case. His finale is purely Biblical, although as with the rest of his speech, he presents Biblical truth within a secular context. Greek thought had no room for an eschatological judgement, but says Paul, there is one coming, and this at the hands of "the man" whom God has appointed - Daniel's Son of Man, Dan.7:13. The authentication of the coming day at this man's hand is found in his resurrection from the dead. So indeed, "repent."

kaqoti "for" - because. Introducing a causal clause. Repentance is called for "because he has fixed a day on which his righteous judgment will come upon the world", Barclay.

esthsen (iJsthmi) aor. "he has set [a day]" - This verb takes many meanings, but here obviously in the sense of "to select / choose."

en + dat. "when" - in [which]. Temporal use of the preposition, as NIV.

krinein (krinw) pres. inf. "[he will] judge" - [he is about] to judge. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "is able", although some texts omit en hJ/ mellei which prompts Bruce, 1951, to classify the infinitive "to judge" as epexegetic, so "God has appointed a day for judging", Barrett.

thn oikoumenhn (h) "the world" - Of course, for Paul this means "the living and the dead", but wisely he doesn't go there with his secular audience.

en + dat. "with [justice]" - in [righteousness]. Probably here forming an adverbial phrase expressing manner, "with righteousness", ie. the divine judgment undertaken by this "man" will be done "justly".

en + dat. "by [the man]" - in [a man]. Here the preposition is probably instrumental identifying the agent of judgment, "by/through a man", as NIV. For Paul, this man is obviously oJ uiJoV tou anqrwpou "the Son of Man", Daniel's "man" who receives from the Father divine authority to judge, Dan.7:13.

w|/ dat. rel. pro. "- [he has appointed]" - whom [he determined, appointed]. This relative pronoun is dative, rather than accusative, by attraction to its antecedent, Zerwick #16.

parascwn (parecw) aor. part. "he has given" - having provided, presented, furnished. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb esthsen, "he appointed"; "he has set a day ...... and has given proof ...."

pistin (iV ewV) "proof" - faith. Here with paracw giving the technical sense of "[having provided] a proof, assurance, evidence, guarantee", cf. BAGD 662, 626#1b; "show or grant proof", as NIV. This is the only time such a meaning for the word is evident in the NT. In Greek philosophical circles such a meaning is evident, eg. Aristotle, Plato, which may support Paul's use here. Some commentators think that Paul is using the word with its usual sense, so Cassirer "God has given sure proof of this through making faith available to everyone, and that by way of raising that man from the dead." Barrett is not impressed with this approach. The divine purpose behind the resurrection is not primarily an "attestation / confirmation" of the authority given this "man" ("the Son of Man"), since the resurrection serves as the inevitable consequence of his righteousness and thus for the believer in him, the ground for our justification - he lives and in him we live also. None-the-less, the resurrection does, as a by-product, attest the divine authority of this "man". "The resurrection was a universal demonstration and proof of God's call to Jesus to be Judge", Bock. "He has set a day on which he is going to judge the world with justice through this man whom he has appointed and whom he has endorsed before all by raising him from the dead", Fitzmyer.

anasthsaV (anisthmi) aor. part. "by raising [him]" - The participle is adverbial, best taken as instrumental, expressing means, as NIV.

ek + gen. "from [the dead]" - Expressing separation, "away from." In the sense of removed from / taken out of the grave, the domain of the dead.

 
v32

iv] The audience responds both negatively and positively to Paul's message, v31-33. "The resurrection of the dead was no more believable [for Paul's Greek audience] than it is for many in our so-called scientific age. The very idea made some of his audience sneer. Yet, if the resurrection of Jesus took place, it challenges human skepticism about the possibility of encountering God and being judged by him", Peterson.

 

Acts Introduction

Exposition

 

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