New Defender's Study Bible Notes
17:2 reasoned with them. Paul was surely one of the most effective witnesses for the Lord who ever lived, so his “manner” of witnessing is highly instructive. His manner in the Thessalonian synagogue is said to have been typical, “[reasoning] with them out of the Scriptures.” This is more, however, than just reading or quoting a set of proof-texts. Such reasoning requires logical argumentation, graciously presented, based on thorough study of the Word (I Peter 3:15; II Timothy 2:15; Colossians 4:6). This was all in the context, also, of full belief in the divine authority of the Scriptures, on the part of both speakers and hearers. The audience in the synagogue already believed in God the Creator and in the absolute truth of Scripture, so Paul could proceed from that foundation.
17:3 from the dead. Since the congregation in the synagogue already believed the Scriptures, Paul could proceed to use the Scriptures to prove that the promised Messiah must die and rise again, and then that Jesus was, indeed, the promised Messiah, using the strong evidence of fulfilled prophecy and the historical bodily resurrection. This can be a general pattern for leading to Christ those people who already believe in the God of creation and His inspired word. For those who are hostile or skeptical, however, a different approach is needed. The two recorded cases when Paul preached to pagans indicate this. See notes on Acts 14:8-18 and Acts 17:15-34.
17:11 searched the scriptures daily. The new Christians at Berea provide the “noble” example for all new converts. Even those who nominally believe the Bible, such as those at Thessalonica, urgently need to study it daily for themselves, not simply relying on the expositions of a pastor or Bible teacher, no matter how capable he may be.
17:18 philosophers. This is one of the only two specific references in the Bible to “philosophy,” the other being Colossians 2:8. Both have strongly negative emphases, warning against philosophy—that is, the love of human wisdom.
17:18 Stoicks. Like all other Greek and Roman philosophies of the day, Epicureanism and Stoicism were based on an evolutionary worldview. The Epicureans were essentially atheists, like modern Darwinists, whereas the Stoics were pantheists, much like modern New Age evolutionists. Both believed in an infinitely old space/time/matter universe, and both rejected the concept of an omnipotent transcendent Creator. On the popular level, both were expressed in terms of polytheism, astrology and spiritism, with the many gods and goddesses essentially being personifications of natural forces and systems. Both would naturally be strongly opposed to Biblical creationist Christianity.
17:21 some new thing. This proclivity of ancient intellectual philosophers is still characteristic of modern evolutionists, especially those espousing so-called New Age concepts.
17:22 Mars’ hill. Same as “Areopagus” in Acts 17:19. This hill near the Acropolis was probably used in Paul’s day by a council that formally evaluated new religious or moral philosophies. “Ares” was the Greek god of war, corresponding to “Mars” in Rome.
17:22 too superstitious. The Athenians were notorious for venerating a great number of gods and goddesses. What may have been religious to the Greeks was superstitious to Paul, since they attributed powers to these personified forces of nature which were only possessed by God.
17:23 TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. There were other contemporary reports that have come down to us of such an altar in first-century Greece. There is also a good possibility that it had been built to commemorate an ancient deliverance of Athens from military peril or pestilence as a result of prayer to a greater God than any of their usual deities. It has also been shown that many other animistic and polytheistic cultures do retain a dim remembrance of a “high God,” greater and more powerful than any of the spirits or gods with which they are concerned day-to-day.
17:23 ignorantly worship. Compare Christ’s admonition to the Samaritan woman at the well: “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Some of the Samaritans, as well as some Greeks and animists, seem to desire intuitively to worship the true God, but do so in ignorance, not having access to the revealed Word of God. In response to such sincere searching after God, Jesus brought the full knowledge of salvation to the Samaritans, Peter to the Roman Cornelius, Paul to the Athenian Greeks, and missionaries to many animistic tribes.
17:24 Lord of heaven and earth. This message to the pagan intellectuals at Athens can be considered as typical of Paul’s method with people who did not already know and respect the Scriptures, just as his message in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch can be considered typical of his approach to those who did (Acts 13:16-41). In the one case, he began with God’s witness in creation, in the other with Scriptures; in both cases, he ended with Christ and the resurrection, urging his hearers to believe.
17:24 temples made with hands. Athens was filled with beautiful temples, monuments and images, but to Paul they were merely depressing symbols of the city’s idolatry.
17:25 life, and breath. This is the only occurrence of “breath” in the New Testament. The Greek word pnoe occurs elsewhere only in Acts 2:2, speaking of the Holy Spirit coming as a “rushing mighty wind.”
17:26 of one blood. The concept of “race” has no basis in Scripture; all men are descended from Adam, through Noah, and thus all are members of only one race—the human race. The term “race,” as ordinarily used, is strictly an evolutionary concept, with “race” understood as a sub-species in the process of evolving into a new species. There is no observational scientific evidence for such evolutionary transformations, among either men or animals.
17:26 bounds of their habitation. In ways unknown, yet real, God raises nations up and puts them down, as He will (note Deuteronomy 32:7-9; Daniel 2:20-21; etc.), in accordance with their faithfulness to His respective purposes for them. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12). “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17).
17:28 in him we live. The God of creation sustains the very life of every person, even those who don’t believe He exists, so that “He [is] not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27). Note also Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3; etc.
17:28 poets. Paul here seems to be referring to Epimenides, Aratus and Cleanthes, each of whom seemed to have had some insight, however attained, into the fact that one supreme God had created all men. We are all the “offspring” (Greek genos) of God by creation (Malachi 2:10). This, of course, does not mean that all are children of God spiritually. This requires the new birth by faith in Christ (e.g., John 1:12-13).
17:29 Godhead. This is the first of three New Testament references to the “Godhead” (see also Romans 1:20; Colossians 2:9). Each translates a slightly different Greek noun, but all refer essentially to the “Godhood” of God—that is, the nature or structure of God, to God as He has revealed Himself. Since He has revealed Himself as a triune God (Father, Son, Spirit), the term has commonly been used to refer to the Trinity. In this verse, we are told that God can never be represented by an image or model which man can make, either with his hands or his mind. However, what man cannot do, God has done. That is, He has constructed a marvelous model of the Godhead in His creation. See notes on Romans 1:20.
17:30 all men every where. Now that God has revealed Himself, not only in creation but also in His human incarnation in the Lord Jesus, He is no longer dealing mainly with just one nation. The gospel of salvation is for all men, and all must “repent” (that is, “change their minds”) concerning the true God and their responsibility before Him.
17:31 judge the world. God, who created all men, must be the Judge of all men, and “the Judge of all the earth” will certainly “do right” (see Genesis 18:25). And since God both “created all things by Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:9), and has also “made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself” (Colossians 1:20), it is appropriate that “He shall judge” all things by Christ. See also John 5:22,27; Matthew 25:31-46.
17:31 raised him from the dead. Death has always been man’s greatest, and finally victorious enemy (I Corinthians 15:26), and only the Creator of life, the Judge who imposed the sentence of death because of sin (Genesis 3:17-19), can conquer death. The founders and leaders of all other religions and philosophies eventually die, but Jesus Christ is alive! His tomb is empty, and He has ascended in His resurrection body to the Father in heaven. His bodily resurrection, which can be shown to be the best-proved fact of Biblical history, is the certain assurance that He is the Creator and Judge of all.
17:32 mocked. The response is typical. Whenever one preaches or witnesses of the creation and resurrection to unbelievers, especially to pagan evolutionists such as the Stoics and Epicureans, many will ridicule, but some will defer judgment, and some will believe. The same is true, for that matter, when one witnesses to those monotheists (e.g., Jews, Muslims) who believe in a Creator but refuse to acknowledge that He must also be the Redeemer.
17:34 Dionysius the Areopagite. This term probably means that Dionysius was a member of the official council hearing Paul at the Areopagus (i.e., “hill of Ares” tribunal).