|Topical Bible Study||April 1958|
The People of the Bible
Article XXXII—Acts, chapters 17 – 18:22
Paul’s Second Missionary Tour—Part 2
AFTER bidding farewell to the newly established ecclesia in Philippi, Paul and his traveling companions, Silas and Timothy, “passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia,” and went to “Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews.” (Acts 17:1) The pronouns “we” and “us” no longer appear in the record, so we assume that Luke, the historian, did not accompany the missionaries when they left Philippi.
Reaching Thessalonica, Paul went directly to the synagogue, “as his manner was,” and “for three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures.” (vs. 2) His message was the same as that which he presented to the Jews in the other places he visited—that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the Scriptures had foretold his suffering, death, and resurrection. It was a full Gospel, for the death of Jesus provided redemption for the sin-cursed world; and in his resurrection he became the “firstfruits” of them that slept, implying that eventually all in Christ would be made alive.—I Cor. 15:20-22
Some of the Jews in Thessalonica believed, and “consorted with Paul and Silas.” (vs. 4) The Greek word here translated “consorted” means to “make common lot,” or to “associate.” These few Jews who accepted the Gospel were evidently wholehearted in it, and associated with the brethren.
“Of the devout Greeks a great multitude believed,” and “of the chief women not a few.” (vs. 4) These “devout Greeks” and “chief women” may have previously accepted the Jewish faith, although the account does not so state. It is interesting to note, however, that they were “devout.” They were not of the lower elements of the city, but serious-minded people who were seeking to know the way of the Lord more perfectly, and the Lord responded to their desire, for they found Him whom to know aright is life eternal.
But the same thing happened in Thessalonica that occurred in most other places visited by Paul. The unbelieving Jews, moved with jealousy, stirred up opposition. They “took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city in an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason [who it was thought was entertaining the missionaries], and sought to bring them out to the people.” (vs. 5) “And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come thither also; whom Jason bath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, one Jesus.”—vss. 6,7
Here was a charge of treason similar to one that was brought against Jesus. The people of the city were “troubled,” but apparently they accepted the “security” provided by Jason and the other brethren, and set Paul and Silas free. Then the brethren sent them away. Here they followed the in instructions of Jesus in sending his apostles into the ministry, that when they were not received in one city to move on to another place.
The Noble Bereans
Paul’s next stop was Berea, and here also he first “went into the synagogue of the Jews.” The record indicates that he received more consideration than he did among the Jews of Thessalonica. We read, “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so.”—vss. 10,11
There could be only one result of this searching the Scriptures with “readiness of mind,” which was that “many of them believed.” (vs. 12) We may assume that after they were convinced that Paul was telling them the truth they continued to search the Scriptures. This is an obligation which devolves upon every one who is sincerely seeking to know the Lord. It is a responsibility also which cannot be shirked without loss of spiritual stability by those who have found the Lord and have dedicated their lives to the doing of his will. In Berea also there were “honorable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few” who believed.
Word soon reached Thessalonica, and the envious Jews “came thither also, and stirred up the people.” (vs. 13) The brethren in Berea had apparently heard of the mob that was raised against Paul in Thessalonica, and not wishing to see him subjected to a similar ordeal in Berea, hastened to send him away. This did not mean that they were fearful, or in any way unfaithful to the Lord and to the truth. It was simply a case of dealing with a difficult situation as wisely as they could under the circumstances.
Reasonable precaution was taken to help Paul elude his persecutors. When they sent him away, it was in the direction of the sea, but actually, the brethren who were conducting the apostle turned south and went overland to Athens. Arriving safely at Athens, and for a time safe from his enemies, Paul instructed his guides, when they returned to Berea, to inform Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens as quickly as possible.
So Paul now waited in Athens until his companions joined him. But the great apostle to the Gentiles could not be idle. “His spirit was stirred within him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.”—vss. 16,17
Then “certain philosophers,” for which the Greeks were noted, “encountered” Paul, and they took him to Mars’ Hill, a sort of outdoor courtroom, reputed to be the court of highest authority in Athens. He was not put under arrest, but taken to Mars’ Hill and invited to set forth his “new doctrine.” “Thou bringest certain strange things to our ears,” they said, and “we would know therefore what these things mean.”—vss. 19,20
Some of the philosophers who had heard Paul in the market place charged that he was a “setter forth of strange gods, because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.” (vs. 18) These philosophers—even as most of the “wise” men throughout the ages—did not believe in the reality of death. To them, therefore, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead would seem strange indeed, for how could there be a resurrection of the dead if no one were dead?
On Mars’ Hill
Without question Paul welcomed this opportunity to present the truth to the intelligentsia of Athens. In doing so, he was at times diplomatic, but in some instances very forthright. The King James translation of his opening remark is not good. Paul did not say to the Athenians, “Ye are too superstitious,” but rather, “I perceive that ye are very religious.”—vs. 22, American Revised Version
This was a compliment. Paul himself was very religious. He was so wholeheartedly devoted to the furthering of the Christian religion that he had given up every other interest in life. In his religious fervor he worshiped but the one God, and one Lord Jesus Christ, who had given his life for the sins of the world. In Paul’s mind there was nothing wrong with being very religious. His mission in life was to preach the true religion—the truth concerning the true and living God.
The error of the Athenians was in worshiping a multiplicity of gods, none of them real. Paul was vividly reminded of this as he stood on Mars’ Hill. Facing the area where the audience sat, just below Paul to his left was the great array of idols, each one ascribed to a different god. He probably passed even nearer to these idols as he walked along the road leading to the hill.
Towering above the apostle to his right was a large and beautiful temple—the remains of which are still there. Here the false gods of the Greeks were worshiped. Yes, the Athenians were “very religious.” Although they knew the names of many gods, and had set up idols to represent them, they thought it possible that there might be one which they did not know—the “unknown god”—so they had built and dedicated an altar to him.
Paul took advantage of this situation, explaining that he was there to acquaint them with the “unknown god” whom they ignorantly worshiped. This was a wise approach, well calculated to gain the attention of his audience, at least temporarily. Then Paul began to tell them some of the truths concerning the God who was unknown to them. He was the great Creator, the apostle explained, the God who “made the world and all things therein.” Having created the whole universe, it belongs to him, and is his domain, therefore he “dwelleth not in temples made with hands.”—vss. 24,25
In making this statement we can imagine Paul glancing up toward the Acropolis, the great heathen temple above him, perhaps even pointing to it, with the implication that the true and living God of the universe could not be expected to dell in such a place. Perhaps this was not too diplomatic, but it would certainly help the sincere among the Athenians to realize that their conception of deity was very limited.
Paul continued, “Neither is [God] worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things: and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us.”
To a large extent the gods of the heathen are visualized as being quite demanding. They have to be continually appeased by gifts, or otherwise. But Paul told these “men of Athens” that the true and living God, who by their own confession was unknown to them, was quite the opposite. He did not need anything, since he “giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.”
Paul encouraged his audience to “seek the Lord,” assuring them that he was not far away, for, after all, in him “we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.” (vs. 28) Agreeing with this quotation from one of the Greek poets, Paul continued, reasoning that since we are the offspring of the true God “we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” (vs. 29) Even if they were not convinced by Paul’s eloquence, the “man of Athens” could not refute this logic.
Continuing his sermon, Paul referred to the past ignorance of humanity concerning the true God, and said, “The times of this ignorance God winked at.” The Greek words here translated “winked at” means to overlook, and is so rendered in the Revised Version. Yes, God overlooks the ignorance of the people concerning him, holding them responsible only when they refuse, willfully, to be enlightened and to obey the light of truth.
Human reasoning has often reached the conclusion that those who die in ignorance of God, and of Christ, will not be held accountable. It has been suggested that people will be saved in their ignorance. But this is poor logic. If it were true, then it would be a mistake to preach the Gospel at all. Instead, it would be best to allow everyone to remain ignorant of God, and thus all would be saved.
But Paul did not reach any such conclusion. He knew the plan of God. He knew that in the divine plan a future time of enlightenment had been provided. He refers to it as the judgment day. While God overlooked the past ignorance of the people, now he commandeth all men everywhere to repent, “because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”—vss. 30,31
The “because” in this argument is related to two things, (1) God overlooks ignorance “because” there is a future judgment day, and (2) the command to repent is also “because” that future day of judgment has been appointed in the divine plan.
The Scriptures bear out this reasoning. The judgment day is to be a time of enlightenment. The Prophet Isaiah wrote that when the Lord’s judgments are in the earth the people will “learn righteousness.” (Isa. 26:9) This enlightenment of the people during the judgment day is symbolized in Revelation 20:12 as the opening of “books.” The judgment day is a thousand years in length, and during that thousand years all who have died without enjoying a knowledge of the true God will be awakened from death and enlightened. Upon the basis of their obedience or disobedience to the enlightenment, they will be judged worthy or unworthy of everlasting life.
With the exception of the Jewish nation, which enjoyed God’s special blessing, practically all mankind prior to Jesus’ first advent were in ignorance of God. But beginning with the Gospel age in God’s plan, a change took place. Paul said that “now [God] commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” Jesus had explained to his disciples that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations.” (Luke 24:47) In other words, the “command” to repentance was not to be limited to the Jewish nation, as it had been in the ministry of John the Baptist, but was to be proclaimed among all nations.
However, this by no means implies that every individual in all nations has intelligently heard the command to repent. It simply implies that it had been God’s will for the Gospel to be preached everywhere throughout the earth, regardless of nationality or race. The matter of how many, as individuals, have actually heard the message, and their degree of understanding and responsibility, are questions which can be determined only by the Lord.
The Scriptures do set forth certain principles which will help us to reach fairly accurate conclusions. For example, the Scriptures inform us that it is only through the enlightening influence of the Holy Spirit that one can really know the mind and will of the Lord to a degree that makes him wholly responsible. Hebrews 6:4-6 sets forth this thought very clearly. We conclude that only those described in this passage of Scripture are wholly responsible before the Lord, and will ‘have no future opportunity to attain salvation.
But all others, even those who have heard the Gospel preached, are not now on trial for Life; although any partial degree of understanding they have obtained makes them proportionately responsible before the Lord. John the Baptist preached repentance to the Jewish nation. So did Jesus and the apostles; but very few repented. Yet, Paul wrote that “all Israel shall be saved,” referring to the future time of resurrection and judgment.
Addressing a church conference at Jerusalem, the Apostle James, speaking also of the future, when the work of this Gospel age will be complete, asserted that “all the Gentiles” upon whom the Lord’s name has been called—those to whom the witness has been given, many of whom having made some profession of belief—will then be given an opportunity to “seek after the Lord.”—Acts 15:14-18
How thankful we should be that all the people, of every age, who have been ignorant of God, as well as those who have been only partially enlightened, are to be wholly enlightened in the judgment day by that “true light” that in God’s due time will enlighten every person who has, or will, come into the world! No one will be saved because of ignorance, but all will receive a knowledge of the truth, and upon the basis of that knowledge, be given an opportunity to accept Christ, obey the laws of his kingdom, and live forever.—John 1:9; I Tim. 2:3-6
Paul said to the “men of Athens” that God has given assurance of this future day of enlightenment and judgment by raising Jesus Christ from the dead. This proves that divine power can raise the dead. This affords hope, because the ignorant will have to be awakened from the sleep of death before they can be enlightened concerning God. Yes, Christ became the “firstfruits of them that slept” in death.—I Cor. 15:20
Apparently Paul held the attention of his audience fairly well as he told the Athenians about the “unknown” God, but it was different when he mentioned the resurrection of the dead. This was too much for them. We read, “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.”—vs. 32
The resurrection is a difficult doctrine for people to believe. Satan’s lie to mother Eve, “Ye shall not surely die,” has led to the assumption by many that there is no death. (Gen. 3:4) And apparently it is easier to believe that the dead are more alive than the living, than it is to accept the fact of death, and believe that the Creator will restore life to those who have died.
We may not know why this is, except that it is a further delusion which has been foisted upon mankind by the Devil. But this unwillingness to believe in the reality of the resurrection is just as prevalent in the world now as it was when Paul preached to the Athenians. Try to tell anyone today about the “times of restitution of all things” and the usual response is, spoken directly or implied, one of doubt.
However, not all who heard Paul’s sermon on Mars’ Hill were doubters, for we read that “certain men slave unto him, and believed.” (vs. 34) Among the believers was “Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” An “Areopagite” was a member of the court which held its sessions on Mars’ Hill. It was known as the “court of the Areopagites.” “Areopagus” was another name for Mars’ Hill. It is interesting to realize that one of the members of this court became a believer. This must have encouraged Paul, despite the fact that others in the audience mocked him. The Lord always gives his people the encouragement they need when they continue faithful in his service.
On to Corinth
Seemingly Paul did not remain in Athens until Silas and Timothy joined him. Instead, after preaching his sermon on Mars’ Hill, he went on to Corinth. Arriving in Corinth, he “found a certain Jew named Aquila,” and “his wife Priscilla.” This couple had been forced to leave Rome because of a command by Claudius that all Jews should leave the city. Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers by trade. Since Paul also had learned this trade, and at times worked at it to supply his material needs, he found it to his advantage to work together with them.
It is not certain just when this couple became Christians. It could well have been during Paul’s stay with them. In any case, they became very active in the service of the truth and the brethren. Later the way must have opened for them to return to Rome, for in his letter to the church at Rome he sent his special greetings to these, referring to them as “helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” “Likewise,” Paul also wrote, “greet the church that is in their house.” (Rom. 16:3-5) From this it is evident that Aquila and Priscilla had made their home in Rome available as a meeting place for the brethren. Surely Paul’s first contact with this faithful brother and sister when he met them in Corinth bore much fruit to the glory of God.
Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul in Corinth, and this gave him needed courage, and he “testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.” Even before this he had “reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.” (Acts 18:4,5) Most of those to whom he testified rejected the message, even as in other places, so Paul “shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.—vs. 6
But Paul remained for the time in Corinth. In fact, he took lodgings in the house of one named Justus, who lived next door to the synagogue. We read that Justus “worshiped God.” and it is generally assumed that he was, or became, a Christian. The Revised Version translation gives his name as Titus Justus, and some scholars believe that he was the Titus to whom Paul later addressed one of his pastoral epistles.
It was probably ordained of the Lord for Paul to be lodged next door to the synagogue, for “Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.” Apparently Paul had not planned to remain in Corinth for an extended visit, for the Lord appeared to him in a vision, revealing to the apostle that he should remain, and giving the explanation, “I have much people in this city.” In obedience to this revelation, Paul continued in Corinth for a year and six months, “teaching the Word of God among them.—vss. 8-11
Meanwhile, the unbelieving Jews of the territory endeavored to make trouble for Paul. They appealed to Gallio, who was “the deputy of Achaia,” and had Paul brought before his judgment seat. Discovering that the Jews had nothing against Paul except that which pertained to their different religious viewpoints, Gallio refused to hear the charges further, and dismissed Paul. Then the Greek citizens retaliated by seizing the chief ruler of the synagogue, Sosthenes, who evidently had replaced Crispus, who had become a Christian, “and beat him before the judgment seat.”—vss. 12-17
Paul remained in Corinth for a “good while” after this, but finally sailed to Syria. He was now on his way back to Antioch, from whence he started on this missionary journey. Little information is given concerning his further activities on this journey except that he stopped in Ephesus.
From Ephesus Paul went to Caesarea. He was requested to remain longer in Ephesus, but he declined, explaining that he would return again, “if God will.” (vs. 21) Verse 22 reads, “When he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and saluted the church, he went down to Antioch.” The expression, “gone up,” seems to refer to his “going up” into the city proper, for it was there he “saluted the church.”
While the record does not so state, we may assume that he reported to the Antioch church the many blessings the Lord had showered upon him on the journey. The record does state that Paul spent some time in Antioch before embarking on his next and third missionary journey, a journey which did not bring him back to Antioch. The next article will deal with Paul’s third missionary journey.