Commentary on Acts 17.14-18

By Bob Myhan

14Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there.

Again, we see “the brethren” sending Paul away so as to protect him from an unruly mob. This time “both Silas and Timothy remained there;” that is, at Berea. Paul has more than likely left them there so they can instruct the new Christians more fully in the organizational structure, worship and work of the local church. They would, of course, also teach them about personal piety, etc. Luke is most likely still in the city of Philippi, instructing the respective families of Lydia and the jailer. This is the first time Timothy is mentioned since their arrival in Philippi, indicating perhaps that he had stayed behind with Luke for a time but had rejoined the party at either Thessalonica or Berea.

15So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed.

“Supposing that Paul arrived by ship, he would have docked at the port of Piraeus, and then walked the new highway, called Hamaxitos, northeastward toward the city. At intervals along this highway were raised altars to the unknown Gods.” (Gareth Reese: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the book of Acts, p. 620). Probably seeing that he had a greater need for Silas and Timothy than he had previously thought, he sends for them to come to him in haste.

16Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. 17Therefore 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. 18Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, "What does this babbler want to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods," because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

As was his custom, Paul began his Athenian work in the synagogue but there doesn't seem to have been much positive reception there. So he moved to the marketplace. When preaching to the Jews and those who worshiped with them, he reasoned from the Scriptures but, as we shall see, when preaching to Gentiles who did not know God, he reasoned from what was certainly known by them. One should always, in his personal evangelism, start at whatever point of agreement he can find with the prospect—some common truth that has implications that the prospect cannot deny if he is honest.

Apparently, Paul found no love of the truth among the Jews in the synagogue or the religious Gentiles in the marketplace (verse 17). But "certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him." These seemed to show some interest in his two-fold theme of Jesus and the resurrection (verse 18). The Epicureans were followers of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC). Opposing the idealistic and skeptical mood of the times, Epicurus wanted to provide security in an unsure world. He grounded his system on the incontestability of sense experience; pleasure and pain are the ultimate good and evil. Intelligent choice is necessary for the good life. Although only fragments of his works remain, his loyal disciples passed on his doctrines of friendship, peace of mind, and spiritual enjoyment as goals of the good life. Under the Roman Empire, Epicureans chose to withdraw from view and the last known member of the school was Diogenes of Oenoanda (circa 200 AD).

The Stoics were adherents of Stoicism, the dominant philosophy of the Hellenistic-Roman period, founded by Zeno of Citium (c. 333-262 BC). The highest Stoic virtue is to live in harmony with the cosmos. To do this, people must live austere and noble lives, above concern for trivial things, and be able to control emotions. The wise man, or sage, puts his own integrity and duty ahead of lesser interests and feelings. Stoicism was reworked but remained basically unchanged until it faded after the end of the 3rd century AD.

To these groups Paul preached a stirring sermon the main points of which were that God is Creator of all, is within the reach of all and gives salvation to all.

(To be continued)

A Study of the Holy Spirit (Part 39)

By Bob Myhan

 More important that being at peace with fellow workers, acquaintances and even family members is being at peace with God. If we are not at peace with God at the time of our death or at the time of the Lord’s return, we shall not go to heaven. Peace with God is based upon purity of life.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3.13-18)

Peace with God and the brethren is the third piece of “the fruit of the Spirit.” Peace with all men may not be possible but the Christian is to do all he or she can to be at peace with everyone.

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. (Rom. 12:18)

But Jesus said He did not come to bring peace but a sword

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:34-37).

Jesus is not saying, of course, that He wanted families to be disrupted but that He knew it was extremely unlikely for all the members of a family to come to God through Him. It has been said that “blood is thicker than water.” This is reportedly a reference to the fact that many would cherish their blood relationships more than the possibility of a spiritual relationship with God and Jesus made possible by submitting to the command to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. But those who have a genuine love of God and Christ will be led by the testimony of the Holy Spirit to do whatever is necessary to be at peace with God and Christ. And all who are at peace with God are at peace with one another by the Holy Spirit.  

(To be continued)