THE ACTS OF APOSTLES
Lesson 8: Chapters 17-18
The Church's Continuing Mission to the Gentiles:
The Completion of St. Paul's Second Missionary Journey and the Beginning of the Third
It has been said that You created families to be a refuge in a heartless world. The Church is a family that not only provides an earthly refuge but promises a heavenly refuge at the end of our life's journey. We are grateful, Lord, for our families that give us love, guidance and encouragement, and we are grateful for Mother Church through whom Christ nourishes us with His life in the Eucharist and who serves as our tutor and guide through the perils of life. We pray that we are not conformed to this world but that, through Your Son, we can spread His Gospel message of salvation and transform the secular into the eternal promise that Jesus extends to all men and women of every generation. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ + +
St. Paul writing about himself: Circumcised on the
eighth day of my life, I was born of the race of Israel, of the tribe of
Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrew parents. In the matter of the Law, I was a
St. Paul's 3 missionary journeys into Asia Minor and Greece (c. 45-58 AD) were some of the most successful Christian missions in the history of the Church:
St. Paul made several life-long friends on the second missionary journey, including Silas (Silvanius) and Timothy who were his companions and Jewish converts to Christianity Priscilla and her husband Aquila. From the first person plural passages, it is also assumed that St. Luke was part of the missionary team. In addition to the "we/us" passages in Acts chapters 16-28, St. Luke is also mentioned in Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1; Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 24.
Do not miss the significant point that God is active in the history of mankind. He works to advance the cause of salvation history even in the midst of mankind's acts of aggression and war. Consider the difficulty of preaching the Gospel of salvation to diverse Gentile populations. How was that problem solved in an event that began in the 4th century BC? How did Paul and his companions manage to peacefully travel thousands of miles throughout the ancient Near East and Greece, preaching the Gospel of salvation to the Gentiles of the Roman Empire?
In the 334 BC, a 21 year old prince of a Macedonian kingdom inherited the throne of his father and began an 11 year conquest that stretched from the kingdoms and city-states of Greece to Asia Minor, to Syria and the Levant, to Egypt, to Mesopotamia, to Persia, and as far as the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, and the Indus River in India. Against all odds, the armies of Alexander the Great spread Greek culture and the Greek language to these distant places. Alexander settled his soldiers in each conquered territory; they married local woman and raised children who spole the Greek language and identified with Greek culture. After Alexander's death in 323 BC, the largest part his empire was divided among his most powerful generals. The largest of those kingdoms were founded by Seleucus I Nicator who established the Greek Seleucid kingdom of Syria (Syria, the Levant Armenia, Cappadocia, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Babylonia/Persia) and Ptolemy I Soter who established the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt. The descendants of these men continued to promote Greek customs and language over the territories they ruled and Greek became the international language of the entire region.
In the second century BC, the Romans began expanding their territory eastward into Greece and Asia Minor. In 65 BC the Romans conquered the old Seleucid kingdom and then in 63 BC, using the excuse of intervening in the civil war between two Hasmonean princes who claimed the throne of Judah, Roman General Pompey conquered Jerusalem and Judah became part the Roman province of Syria. Then, after the battle of Actium in 31 BC, Egypt became a Roman province. Greek remained the dominant language as the Roman Empire extended Roman peace across a Roman world that stretched from England to Egypt and from Portugal to Persia, and skillful Roman engineers built a system of roads that linked all Roman's provinces and major cities.
The world stage was set for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The first Christian missionaries did not have to speak the various dialects of Asia Minor, Phoenicia, Mesopotamia and Greece. Greek was the international language of commerce and every major city had a Greek speaking population. This is the reason Paul and his companions concentrated their efforts in the larger cities. They traveled safely on Roman roads into territories governed by Roman law. The Greek language and the Roman road system became vehicles for spreading the Gospel of salvation. By 70 AD, the Gospel message of salvation in Christ Jesus had spread to the very ends of the earth that was the Roman Empire: from England to Egypt, from Portugal to Persia, and into western India.
Chapter 17: St. Paul's Second Missionary Journey Continues
Again they pass
through the small towns and hurry to the biggest, since the word was to flow to
nearby cities as from a source.
St. John Chrysostom, Catena on the Acts of the Apostles, 17.1
Acts 17:1-9 ~ The Missionary Effort in Thessalonica in
1 When they took the road through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they reached Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 Following his usual custom, Paul joined them, and for three Sabbaths he entered into discussions with them from the Scriptures, 3 expounding and demonstrating that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead, and that "This is the Messiah, Jesus, whom I proclaim to you." 4 Some of them were convinced and joined Paul and Silas; so, too, a great number of Greeks who were worshipers, and not a few of the prominent women. 5 But the Jews became jealous and recruited some worthless men loitering in the public square, formed a mob, and set the city in turmoil. They marched on the house of Jason, intending to bring them before the people's assembly. 6 When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city magistrates, shouting, "These people who have been creating a disturbance all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them. They all act in opposition to the decrees of Caesar and claim instead that there is another king, Jesus." 8 They stirred up the crowd and the city magistrates who, upon hearing these charges, 9 took a surety payment from Jason and the others before releasing them.
The road Paul and his companions took to Thessalonica was the Via Egnatia, the Roman road that connected the Italian peninsula with Byzantium. As St. John Chrysostom noted, they did not bother to stop in the smaller towns but made their way to the large cities. In c. 50-51 AD Thessalonike was a Roman "free city" and one of the wealthiest cities of Macedonia (Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 4:36). It was located at the head of the Thermaic Gulf, about 75 miles west of Philippi.(1) The city was founded in 315 BC and was named after a sister of Alexander the Great. Today it is the modern city of Saloniki, the second largest city of Greece.
Acts 17:2-3 ~ Following
his usual custom, Paul joined them, and for three Sabbaths he entered into
discussions with them from the Scriptures, 3
expounding and demonstrating that the Messiah had to suffer and rise
from the dead, and that "This is the Messiah, Jesus, whom I proclaim to you."
As was his custom (established in the first missionary journey with Barnabas), Paul and his team present their Gospel message to the Jews first before going to the Gentiles. They visit the Jewish Synagogue on the Sabbath. When teaching in a synagogue, Paul wisely began by talking about Old Testament writings and explaining how Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled them. That he spoke of Jesus as the "suffering servant" suggests the Old Testament reading was from Isaiah 52-53.
Question: How does this practice follow Jesus'
example? See Lk 4:16-21; 24:26-27 and 46.
Answer: Jesus began His teaching ministry by visiting the Nazareth Synagogue and explaining how the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-2 is fulfilled in Him. And after His Resurrection, He explained to the Apostles and disciples why it was necessary that He should suffer and rise from the dead in fulfillment of the prophet's prophecies.
That it should be God's plan that the Messiah, the Davidic heir and King of Israel, died and was resurrected was the hardest part of Jesus' mission for the Jews to accept, as is still the case today. Later Paul would write to the church in Corinth: For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles ... (1 Cor 1:22-23).
Question: For how long did Paul teach his Gospel
message and what argument did he use from the writings of which Old Testament
prophet? See Is 52:13-53:12; Lk 24:26, 46; Acts 8:32-22.
Answer: He taught them on three successive Saturday Sabbaths. It was probably the same teaching Jesus gave to the Apostles and disciples on Resurrection Sunday, and Paul probably used the prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah in the fourth "Servant of the Lord" oracles.
Acts 17:4 ~ Some of them were convinced and joined Paul and Silas; so, too,
a great number of Greeks who were worshipers, and not a few of the prominent
The "some of them" probably included Aristarchus, one of Paul's most faithful companions (Acts 20:4; Col 4:10). Among the new converts are Gentile God-fearers some of whom were Greeks and others probably of other ethnicities.
There are also some prominent Greek women "God-fearers" who become converts. Notice how often St. Luke mentions influence of women in Kingdom of Jesus Christ. He is the only Gospel writer to include the story of Jesus' birth from the perspective of the Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth. And in the last chapter Lydia is named as Paul's first convert in Philippi while the jailor, his second convert, is unnamed. Paul will also acknowledge the role women played in his ministry. A number of women will be mentioned in his letters and in his missions; for example Priscilla the Jewish-Christian wife of Aquila is frequently mentioned (Rom 16:3, 19; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19). Luke will record that Priscilla and her husband Aquila became Paul's dear friends in Acts chapter 18. Paul will sometimes affectionately call her Prisca (1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19) and she will sometimes be given prominence in being named before her husband by both Luke and Paul (Acts 18:18, 26; Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19). There is also Phoebe who he calls a "minister" of the church at Cenchreae who was probably entrusted to carry his letter to the Romans (Rom 16:1-2). In that letter Paul names Mary, Junia (who Paul calls an "apostle"), Tryphosa, Julia, Olympas (possibly female) and Claudia. They are Paul's friends who are prominent members of the Church in Rome (Rom 16:6-15; 2 Tim 4:21). Paul has been falsely accused of "hating" women, but this couldn't be further from the truth. It is Paul who first says that men and women are equal in Christ, a very revolutionary statement for its time (Gal 3:28).
Acts 17:5 But the
Jews became jealous and recruited some worthless men loitering in the public
square, formed a mob, and set the city in turmoil. They marched on the house
of Jason, intending to bring them before the people's assembly.
The worthless men loitering in the public square were unskilled day laborers who hung around the public square looking for work and were easily recruited since they had nothing better to do. Luke's characterization of the mob is both moral and social: uneducated low-lifes.
Question: The jealousy of the Jews recalls what intuitive observation that Pontius Pilate made concerning the Jews opposition to Jesus? See Mt 27:18; also Mk 15:19.
Answer: Pilate knew that it was out of jealousy/envy that the Jews brought Jesus to him to be executed.
Jealousy was the same reason the chief priests and Pharisees incited the crowd to condemn Jesus. The Jewish leaders' motive for causing the riot in Thessalonica was rooted in personal jealousy and not doctrinal purity. The synagogue leaders couldn't refute the theology of Paul and Silas, and they were jealous of the way they swayed the Jewish congregation. See the same reaction to St. Peter in Acts 5:17, to St. Stephen in Acts 7:9, and to St. Paul and his companions in Acts 13:45.
Acts 17:6-7 ~ When
they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before
the city magistrates, shouting, "These people who have been creating a
disturbance all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them. They all act in
opposition to the decrees of Caesar and claim instead that there is another
Paul was staying in Jason's house. Jason is possible the same Jason that Paul will mention in his letter to the Romans in 16:21, although "Jason," in Greek Ἰάσων (Iásōn in the English alphabet) was a common Greek name and was used by many Hellenistic Jews to replace the Hebrew name Joshua (Yeshua in Aramaic).(2)
The disgruntled Jews could not find Paul or his companions,
but since Paul was a guest of Jason, his host was required as Paul's patron to
accept legal responsibility for the activities of Paul. The Jews who dragged
Jason before the magistrates and accused Paul and his companions had to have an
accusation that would be taken seriously by the magistrates. The Romans did
not care about theological disputes between religious sects (see Acts 18:14-15).
There was one charge, however, that would certainly get the attention of the
Question: What was that charge? See Acts 17:7.
Answer: Treason. It was considered treason against the Roman Empire to claim a kingship in opposition to Caesar.
Question: The claim in verse 7 is that Paul and his
companions are proclaiming that there is another king other than Caesar is an
echo of what other trial? See Lk 23:2; and Jn 19:12.
Answer: The accusations against Paul and his companions are an echo of the charges brought against Jesus.
Because of the danger of making such a claim, Christians deliberately avoided calling Jesus by the Roman emperor's title basileus (king) and instead referred to Jesus as "Christos" (Messiah) or "Lord." But the hostile Jews knew what claim Paul and the other disciples were making even using the title "Christos" because the Messiah was promised to be the heir of King David and therefore a king himself.
Acts 17:9 ~ They
stirred up the crowd and the city magistrates who, upon hearing these charges, 9 took a surety payment from Jason and the
others before releasing them.
Since Jason and the others were Roman citizens, Jason was able to post what we would call "bond" and return to his home until formal charges were brought against him, or a fine was determined, or the charges were dismissed. It was understood that unless the trouble ceased he would forfeit the bond, his property and possible his life. After Paul's departure from Thessalonica, he will write a letter to the newly founded Christian community, probably during his sojourn at Corinth c. 50 AD, in which the circumstances of the founding of the church are recounted (1 Thes 1:5-2:16). He will write a second letter shortly after sending his first letter in which he responds to a question of the community concerning the fate of those who might be living when Christ returns. Both letters reflect Paul's affection for the church in Thessalonica.
Acts 17:10-15 ~ The Missionary Effort in Beroea
10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas to Beroea during the night. Upon arrival they went to the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These Jews were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all willingness and examined the Scriptures daily to determine whether these things were so. 12 Many of them became believers, as did not a few of the influential Greek women and men. 13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had now been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea also, they came there too to cause a commotion and stir up the crowds. 14 So the brothers at once sent Paul on his way to the seacoast, while Silas and Timothy remained behind. 15 After Paul's escorts had taken him to Athens, they came away with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
Realizing that their lives are endangered, the converts in
Thessalonica smuggled Paul and Silas out of the city at night and sent them on
the Via Egnatia, the main east-west Roman road, to Beroea.
Question: This was not the first time Paul had to flee a city at night. When has Luke recorded similar dangers for Paul that required a night journey? See Acts 9:23-25; 9:30; 13:50-51, 14:20.
Answer: He escaped from Damascus in Acts 9:23-25, Jerusalem in Acts 9:30, from Antioch of Pisidia in Acts 13:50-51, and from Lystra in Acts 14:20.
Beroea was a Macedonian city located about sixty miles south of Thessalonica and twenty-four miles inland from the Aegean Sea. Springs in the area gave the city its name which means "place of many waters." Notice that St. Luke consistently calls the converts "brothers," a term he also uses for the other disciples of the Lord Jesus. The Church is a family and all those who share the bond in the saving blood of Jesus Christ are brothers and sisters. It is the same Greek word that is used for brothers born of the same mother (adelphos in the singular and adelphoi in the plural), and it is the only word used for "brothers" in the New Testament Gospels and Epistles, whether referring to kinsmen (Mt 13:55; Acts 1:14; Gal 1:19), siblings (Mt 4:18, 21; 10:2; Jn 11:2), or covenant "brothers" as in this case (also Lk 6:41; Acts 1:15; 2:37; 1 Cor 1:1). In this case, it is the Church who is the "mother" of the family of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
Acts 17:9b-11 ~ Upon arrival they went to the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These Jews were more fair-minded [eugenes]
than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all willingness and
examined the Scriptures daily to determine whether these things were so.
The Greek word eugenes literally means "well born" (Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, page 307). The same word is found in Luke 19:12 and 1 Corinthians 1:26 to designated the social status of nobility. Luke is making the contrast between the rabble of Thessalonica as opposed to the more refined and gracious Jews of Beroea who were open to receiving the Gospel message.
Question: What did the Jews of Beroea do to determine
if Paul and the other Christians were preaching the truth?
Answer: They opened the sacred books themselves and searched for the answers to either verify what Paul and the others taught or to prove them in error.
Question: Is it possible to truly understand your
Christian faith without studying Old and New Testament Scripture?
Answer: NO. We need to follow the example of the Beroeans.
Acts 17:12 ~ Many of them became believers, as did not a few
of the influential Greek women and men.
Notice again that Luke mentions influential Greek (Gentile) women who became converts. He does not mean "influential" in the sense of high social status; he means "influential" in the sense of respected women in the community. While St. Luke acknowledges that Paul is successful in establishing faith communities where he preaches, he notes that Paul continues to receive a mixed response: "some of them were convinced" (17:4) and "many of them came to believe" (17:12). Luke notes that Paul's greater success is always among the Gentiles: "a great number of Greeks who were worshipers, and not a few of the prominent women" (17:4), and "a few of the influential Greek women and men" (17:12).
Acts 17:13 ~ But
when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had now been
proclaimed by Paul in Beroea also, they came there too to cause a commotion and
stir up the crowds.
Despite their departure, the angry Jews of Thessalonica pursed Paul to Beorea.
Question: When had angry Jews pursued Paul previously in the attempt to thwart his mission? See Acts 14:19.
Answer: Other angry Jews from Antioch Pisidia and Iconium had pursued Paul to Lystra.
Acts 17:14-15 ~ So
the brothers at once sent Paul on his way to the seacoast, while Silas and
Timothy remained behind. 15 After
Paul's escorts had taken him to Athens, they came away with instructions for
Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
In his letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul will mention his struggles for the sake of the community (see 1 Thes 1:1, 2:14). Silas and Timothy stayed behind in Beroea to help the newly formed community (17:14) while Paul was escorted out of harm's way and was taken to Athens by a few of the new "brothers" from Beroea.
Acts 17:16-21 ~ Paul in Athens
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he grew exasperated at the sight of the city full of idols. 17 So he debated in the synagogue with the Jews and with the worshipers, and daily in the public square with whoever happened to be there. 18 Even some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers engaged him in discussion. Some asked, "What is this scavenger trying to say?" Others said, "He sounds like a promoter of foreign deities." Because he was preaching about Jesus' and the Resurrection.' 19 They took him and led him to the Areopagus and said, "May we learn what this new teaching is that you speak of? 20 For you bring some strange notions to our ears; we should like to know what these things mean." 21 Now all the Athenians as well as the foreigners residing there used their time for nothing else but telling or hearing something new.
The city of Athens stands on a site that has been continuously occupied since the fourth millennium B.C. Athens was not a politically significant city at this time, but it still retained its glory as the center of Hellenistic culture and philosophy. Paul's proclamation of the Gospel in Athens becomes the setting of the conflict between Christian theology and Greek philosophy. Paul's experience in Athens is the first time we are shown the encounter between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Hellenist paganism, and it is the only time in the New Testament that Paul preaches to the Gentiles in combating paganism by the use of secular wisdom.
Acts 17:16 ~ While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he grew exasperated at the sight of the city full of idols. A more accurate translation is his spirit was irritated within him (Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, page 312). It is Paul's own spirit and not the Holy Spirit that is outraged by the presence of so many false gods; but that is not to say that the Holy Spirit didn't prompt Paul's spirit.
Acts 16:17 ~ So he debated in the synagogue with the Jews
and with the worshipers, and daily in the public square with whoever happened
to be there.
Paul first went to the Jews and Gentile God-fearers in their house of prayer, as was his custom, and he also engaged the local Athenians daily in the Agora, the public square where the people congregated to conduct trading and for other activities like discussing the social, religious and political questions of the day. The Greeks of Athens, like most large cities in the pagan world, were for the most part tolerant of other religions and their practices so long as the practice of those religions did not cause undue disruption to the community.
Acts 16:18 ~ Even some of the Epicurean and Stoic
philosophers engaged him in discussion.
The Epicureans and Stoics were the dominant schools of philosophy in Greek culture. The Epicurean philosophers followed the teachings of Epicurus (341-270 B.C.). Theirs tended to be a materialistic philosophy. Epicurean ethics focused on the importance of a life that indulged in pleasure and tranquility. They, for the most part, were opposed to a belief in the gods, and therefore either recognized no gods or they regarded the gods as being completely disinterested in the activities of mankind. They also argued against fear of dying, since in their view death was merely the dissolution of the substance that made up the human body. Since in their view no god created or ruled over humans, they were often accused of being atheists.
The Stoics followed the philosophy of Zeno of Citium (340-265 B.C.) and held that the entire universe was a living creature animated by divine Reason (Logos). They identified the divine Logos with the Greek god Zeus. They believed this entity controls the lives of all those who inhabit the universe and all people are brothers and sisters in this universal body. They were also known for their emphasis on moral conduct and personal responsibility and like the Epicureans did not believe in life after death.
Acts 17:18b ~ Some asked, "What is this scavenger trying
to say?" Others said, "He sounds like a promoter of foreign deities." Because
he was preaching about Jesus' and the Resurrection.'
The Greek word they called Paul has a negative connotation and is mainly found to describe someone who never opens his mouth without babbling or uttering clichés (Johnson, page 313; Navarre Commentary page 185). Paul's presentation of the Gospel was such a foreign concept to them that it seemed to them that he was not being coherent. They also seem to have thought he was referring to two gods: Jesus and a god named "the Resurrection." Think how difficult it would be to explain Christianity to someone who had no concept of an afterlife? It was much easier for Christian missionaries to proselytize in Egypt because the Egyptians had a religion tradition of an afterlife.
They took him and led him to the Areopagus ... The Areopagus ("hill of the god Ares") was a low hill northwest of the Acropolis, the high rocky outcrop above the city of Athens that was the site of the ancient citadel and the temple to the goddess Athena, the city's namesake. The city council met at the Areopagus to decide civil disputes and legislate on political issues. Perhaps the reason the Greeks insisted on taking Paul to the Areopagus was for the council to hear and make a decision on the validity of his odd teaching.
Acts 17:22-33 ~ Paul's Speech at the Areopagus
22 Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said:
"You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, To an Unknown God.' What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything. Rather it is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything. 26 He made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, 27 so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us. 28 For In him we live and move and have our being,' as even some of your poets have said, For we too are his offspring.' 29 Since therefore we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the divinity is like any image fashioned from gold, silver, or stone by human art and imagination. 30 God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent 31 because he has established a day on which he will judge the world with justice' through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead."
32 When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, "We should like to hear you on this some other time." 33 And so Paul left them. But some did join him, and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the Court of the Areopagus, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Paul begins his address by complimenting the Athenians on being a religious people, presenting as evidence the many shrines he sees. He uses a particular shrine to the "Unknown God" to make his argument that this God is indeed known. Paul presents the Gospel to the pagan philosophers as "true philosophy" and tries to lead them beyond their intellectual curiosity. He supports their criticism of superstition but points out that the Gospel of Jesus Christ contains answers to profound questions about human existence.
Question: What main points does Paul make in his
argument for his God?
Acts 17:28 ~ For In him we live and move and have our being'... It is believed that Paul is quoting Epimenides of Knossos, a 7th or 6th century B.C. poet-philosopher from Crete.(3) Paul's point is that the words of this poet agree with Christian doctrine.
... as even some of your poets have said, For we too are his offspring.' He makes the same point with this quote that can be confirmed to be from Aratus, a third-century B.C. didactic poet who was either from Soli or Tarsus in the province of Cilicia. Paul was from Tarsus in Cilicia so he was undoubtedly familiar with this poet's works.(4)
Question: What is it that Paul says in his
presentation that causes him loose the attention and respect of many of the
Greeks in his audience? See Acts 17:32 and 1 Cor 1:18, 23.
Answer: When Paul mentioned the resurrection of the dead, many Greeks began to make fun of him and cut short his presentation. Jesus' death and resurrection became a "stumbling block" that many of the Greeks could not accept.
The reaction to Paul's presentation was mixed. Some walked away but others asked to hear more. The Greeks had no concept of a day of divine judgment and most did not believe in an afterlife. The concept of a final judgment and a bodily resurrection was both offensive and incomprehensible to most of them.
Acts 17:33 ~ And so Paul left them. But some did join
him, and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the Court of
the Areopagus, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
While Paul's presentation was dismissed by most of the Greeks there are some converts. One, Dionysius, is a member of the city council, and the other is a woman named Damaris. Once again Luke names a woman who has had to courage to accept the Gospel message of salvation.
Paul's failed intellectual battle at Athens is never repeated and becomes a symbol for Luke in what Paul will later call the wisdom of God's truth as opposed to the false wisdom of men. Paul will write to the church at Corinth: The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18), and For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom... (1 Cor 1:25a). In these passages, Paul is perhaps remembering his failure to convince the Greeks to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior in the debate in Athens.
In c. 150 A.D. Christian apologist St. Justin Martyr, who admired Greek philosophers in general, will write about the merits and defects of pagan philosophy: I declare that I prayed and strove with all my might to be known as a Christian, not because the teachings of Plato are completely different from those of Christ, but because they are not in all respects the same; neither are those of other writers, Stoics, the poets and the historians. For each discoursed rightly, seeing through his participation in the seminal divine Word [Logos] what related to it. But they that have uttered contrary opinions clearly do not have sound knowledge and irrefutable wisdom. Whatever has been uttered aright by any man in any place belongs to Christians; for, next to God, we worship and love the Word which is from the unbegotten and ineffable God.... All the profane authors were able to see the truth clearly, through the seed of reason [logos, word], implanted in them (Second Apology, 13, 2-3). See the Agape Bible Study document "Greek Philosophy and Christian Doctrine": Greek Philosophy and Christian Doctrine.htm
Question: What lesson can we learn from Paul's
experience? Did he make a good presentation?
Answer: Paul presented a good case for Christianity to his pagan audience. He began not by reciting from Sacred Scripture because the history and sacred texts of the Jews would mean nothing to his Greek audience. Instead he built a case for believing in the One True God by using examples they understood. After establishing common ground, he began to move his message to the person of Jesus Christ, but he was not permitted to complete his message. Even the best presentation must have a receptive audience to be effective. In such cases our only obligation as witnesses for Christ is to present the Gospel and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit. It is up to each person who hears the Gospel message of salvation to either accept what he/she has heard and respond or the be indifferent and walk away like most of the Greeks that day in Athens.
Chapter 18: The End of the Second Missionary Journey and the Beginning of the Third
Acts 18:1-17 ~ Paul in Corinth
1 After this he left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. He went to visit them 3 and, because he practiced the same trade, stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 Every Sabbath, he entered into discussions in the synagogue, attempting to convince both Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began to occupy himself totally with preaching the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. 6 When they opposed him and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood be on your heads! I am clear of responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." 7 So he left there and went to a house belonging to a man named Titus [Titius]* Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next to a synagogue. 8 Crispus, the synagogue official, came to believe in the Lord along with his entire household, and many of the Corinthians who heard believed and were baptized. 9 One night in a vision the Lord said to Paul, "Do not be afraid. Go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you. No one will attack and harm you, for I have many people in this city." 11 He settled there for a year and half and taught the word of God among them. Many ancient manuscripts record his name as Titius instead of Titus (Johnson, page 323).
A major city of antiquity since the fifth millennium BC, Corinth was rebuilt as a Roman city by Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. Situated on the isthmus between the Greek mainland to the north and the Peloponnese to the south, Corinth controlled traffic and trade between the two regions. It was the commercial and political center of Greece in the first century AD and the capital of the Roman province of Achaia. The city had a well-earned reputation for its wealth and for all kinds of immoral behavior and great wickedness. A famous Temple of Aphrodite was located on a hill behind the city. There "worshippers" brought gifts to the goddess and engaged in all sorts of immoral acts with both male and female prostitutes. Establishing a Christian community in the midst of such immorality will be a challenge for St. Paul. It is either the fall of 51 or the spring of 52 when Paul begins his missionary effort in Corinth.
Acts 18:2 ~ There
he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy
with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave
Aquila and Priscilla are Jewish-Christians from Pontus, a province in Asia Minor stretching along the south shore of the Black Sea from Bithynia to Armenia. Jews from Pontus were present in Jerusalem at Pentecost in 30 AD and witnessed the Holy Spirit filled Apostles and disciples of Jesus preaching the Gospel of salvation in all the different languages of the pilgrims in the crowd (Acts 2:9). St. Peter will address his letter to the Christians of Pontus in 1 Peter 1:1. Church tradition attributes the conversion of Pontus to St. Peter and St. Andrew.
Question: What brought Aquila and his wife to
Answer: They were originally living in Rome but had been expelled from Rome along with other Jews by the Roman emperor Claudius.
This historical reference is confirmed. The Emperor Claudius ruled from 41-54 AD. The Roman historian Suetonius wrote that the Jews were expelled because of the disturbances caused "at the instigation of Chrestos" (Suetonius, Life of Claudius, 25:4).(5) This is probably a reference to the disputes between Jews and Christians concerning the messiahship of Jesus. The Romans in this early period thought of Jews and Christians as two sects of the same religion. Most historians believe the expulsion order took place in c. 49/50 AD. The home of Aquila and Priscilla will become a meeting place for the Christians of Corinth (1 Cor 16:19).
Question: What is the profession that Aquila and Paul
Answer: They both learned the trade of tent-making.
It was a tradition that every Jewish boy learned a trade so he always had a skill by which to support himself. Even though Paul was trained as a scribe, he still learned the trade of tent-making. The Greek word can also be applied to one who knew how to produce leather goods in general. Tents were made by cutting and sewing the woven cloth of goats' hair into tents. Paul evidently used this skill to support himself on his travels, and Paul mentions "working with his hands" in some of his letters (1 Cor 4:12 9:6; 1 Thes 2:9; 2 Thes 3:6-8). Aquila and Pricilla became Paul's dearest friends.
Acts 18:4-5 Every Sabbath, he entered into discussions in
the synagogue, attempting to convince both Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy came down from
Macedonia, Paul began to occupy himself totally with preaching the word,
testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus.
It was Paul's established custom to go to the synagogue every Sabbath to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The arrival of Silas and Timothy freed Paul to be able to completely devote himself to preaching. They probably took over the duty of instructing the recent converts.
Acts 18:6 ~ When
they opposed him and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them,
"Your blood be on your heads! I am clear of responsibility. From now on I
will go to the Gentiles."
The text is unclear what the Jews did to so offend Paul. Another translation is they opposed him and spoke harshly (Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles, page 323). Perhaps the harshness of their speech was to blaspheme the name of Jesus; such behavior would elicit an outraged response from Paul. That he "shook out his garments" is a gesture of rejection toward those who have rejected not only him but his Lord. His act is similar to Jesus' instructions in Luke 10:11 and Paul's actions in Acts 13:51.
Question: Paul's judgment on the Jews as he says: "Your
blood be on your heads" sounds like an echo of what other curse judgment by
the Jews? See Mt 27:25.
Answer: It is similar to the self-curse the Jewish crowds placed on themselves as they condemned Jesus to death in choosing Barabbas over Jesus at Jesus' trial with Pilate.
Paul's declaration makes the Jews responsible for their rejection of the Messiah rather than him. What he says is also similar to other formula curses in Scripture (see 2 Sam 1:16; 1 Kng 2:33; 3:1; and Acts 5:28).
Acts 18:7-8 ~ So he
left there and went to a house belonging to a man named Titius [Titius] Justus,
a worshiper of God; his house was next to a synagogue. 8 Crispus, the synagogue official, came to
believe in the Lord along with his entire household, and many of the
Corinthians who heard believed and were baptized.
Titus Justus is a Gentile who became Paul's sponsor and allowed Paul to use his house for preaching and worship instead of the synagogue. Once again, as in the case of Lydia, the home of a Gentile convert became the place of Christian worship. Paul will mention Crispus in 1 Corinthians 1:14 where he says he did not personally baptize anyone in Corinth except Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas.
Acts 18:9-11 ~ One
night in a vision the Lord said to Paul, "Do not be afraid. Go on speaking and
do not be silent, 10 for I am with
you. No one will attack and harm you, for I have many people in this city." 11 He settled there for a year and half and
taught the word of God among them.
Paul must have been tired, worried and fearful, and so the Lord comforts his apostle and assures him of his success in witnessing to the Gentiles of Corinth. That the Lord tells Paul He has "many people in this city" reminds us of Acts 15:14 when St. James of Jerusalem spoke of how Peter described how "God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name." Paul must stay until all those destined for salvation have had the opportunity to accept the Gospel of salvation.
Question: For how long will Paul remain in Corinth?
Answer: Paul with remain in Corinth for a year and a half.
Acts 18:12-17 ~ The Jews Accuse Paul Before the Proconsul of Achaia 12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews rose up together against Paul and brought him to the tribunal, 13 saying, "This man is inducing people to worship God contrary to the law." 14 When Paul was about to reply, Gallio spoke to the Jews, "If it were a matter of some crime or malicious fraud, I should with reason hear the complaint of you Jews; 15 but since it is a question of arguments over doctrine and titles and your own law, see to it yourselves. I do not wish to be a judge of such matters." 16 And he drove them away from the tribunal. 17 They all seized Sosthenes, the synagogue official, and beat him in full view of the tribunal. But none of this was of concern to Gallio.
Question: What was Gallio's reaction to the charges
brought against Paul?
Answer: He did not care about theological disputes between religious sects. He told them to handle it themselves.
It is interesting that the angry Jews beat Sosthenes instead of Paul. Perhaps this was because they were fearful of beating a Roman citizen or they couldn't get their hands on Paul who was whisked away by the "brothers." Sosthenes either replaced Crispus as the synagogue leader when Crispus became a Christian or they shared the office. Sosthenes went with Paul to Ephesus and is named as the co-sender with Paul of the first letter to the Corinthians (1:1), which Paul wrote from Ephesus.
Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeus was a man with good connections. He was the son of the Roman rhetorician and writer Seneca the Elder and the brother of Seneca the Younger, the Stoic philosopher, dramatist, and statesman who became the tutor and advisor to the Roman Emperor Nero. Nero later, ungratefully, resented Seneca's advice and forced him to commit suicide in 65 AD. It was through his connections that Gallio was appointed to the prestigious position of the Roman proconsul of Achaia in 51-52 AD. The dates of his office are confirmed in an inscription that was found at Delphi in Greece. This information together with the passage concerning Claudius' expulsion of the Jews and Christians from Rome in c. 50 AD gives a good fix on dating the years Paul was in Corinth.
Acts 18:18-23 ~ The End of the Mission
18 Paul remained for quite some time, and after saying farewell to the brothers he sailed for Syria, together with Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut because he had taken a vow. 19 When they reached Ephesus, he left them there, while he entered the synagogue and held discussions with the Jews. 20 Although they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, 21 but as he said farewell he promised, "I shall come back to you again, God willing." Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 Upon landing at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch. 23 After staying there some time, he left and traveled in orderly sequence through the Galatian country and Phrygia, bringing strength to all the disciples.
Notice that Priscilla is given precedence over her husband
in being named first. Both Luke and Paul are very fond of this couple and see
them as the model Christian couple.
Question: From the information we have about Aquila and Pricilla in the New Testament, how would you characterize them? See Acts 18:2-3, 18, 24-26; Rom 16:3-5; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19.
Answer: They were friendly, hospitable, committed to each other, committed to their friendship with Paul, and committed to working together to spread the Gospel of salvation. They were generous with their time and their wealth in opening their home as a place of Christian worship, and they were brave. They risked their lives to save Paul and for this the Gentile communities were indebted to them (Rom 16:4). The couple joined Paul's missionary team and traveled with Paul to Ephesus where they established a church-home (1 Cor 16:19) as they did when they returned to Rome after Claudius' edict was lifted (Rom 16:5).
Ephesus was the third most important city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria, Egypt. It was a port city of western Asia Minor located at the mouth of the Cayster River between Smyrna and Miletus. Ephesus and Smyrna are cities whose Christian communities are sent letters in the Book of Revelation chapter 2. Paul will return to Ephesus on his third missionary journey. In the New Testament Ephesus and Ephesians are mentioned more than twenty times.
Acts 18:18b ~ At Cenchreae he had his hair cut because he
had taken a vow.
Cenchreae is a harbor seven miles east of Corinth on the Saronic Gulf. Here Paul shaves his head, perhaps because he has completed his vow to make this second missionary journey and is returning to his home church at Antioch. Later, when the faith spread to Cenchreae, it was the home of Paul's friend Phoebe who must have had a church-home there. Paul calls her a "minister" of the church at Cenchreae (Rom 16:1).
Question: In Numbers 6:1-21 the requirements are
given for taking a Nazirite vow. Why is it unlikely that Paul considers
himself to be taking a Nazirite vow according to the Mosaic Law?
Answer: To fulfill a Nazirite vow the hair must be allowed to grow until the vow is completed and then the vow maker's hair had to be cut by a priest and burned on God's holy altar in Jerusalem. Paul cut his hair in Cenchreae because he had completed his vow but did not find it necessary to observe the old Law by going to the Jerusalem Temple.
Acts 18:19-21 ~ When they reached Ephesus, he left them
there, while he entered the synagogue and held discussions with the Jews. 20 Although they asked him to stay for a longer
time, he did not consent, 21 but as
he said farewell he promised, "I shall come back to you again, God willing."
Then he set sail from Ephesus.
Paul was favorably received at the synagogue at Ephesus and promised to return. Aquila and Priscilla stayed in Ephesus, presumably to work with the converts and to establish a church-home (Acts 18:24, 26; 1 Cor 16:19). Paul will make many converts in Ephesus and later will remain with the church there for two and a half years. Ephesus is the first church named in the seven letters to the churches in the Book of Revelation. It eventually became the head of the diocese of St. John Zebedee and the home of the Virgin Mary.
Acts 18:22 ~ Upon
landing at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to
Paul and his missionary team landed at Caesarea, the headquarters of the Roman governor of Judea on the Mediterranean coast and from there went "up" to Jerusalem to meet with the church of St. James the Just, Bishop of Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem was situated on mountain ridges 2400-2500 feet above sea level, it was always called "going up" to Jerusalem and "down" to anywhere else. Then he traveled "down" to his home parish in Antioch, Syria. This is the completion of Paul's second missionary journey.
Question: Where did Paul go after reporting to his
faith community in Antioch?
Answer: He began his third missionary journey by revisiting the faith communities he had founded in the Roman provinces of Galatia and Phrygia to strengthen the faith of the churches there.
ST. PAUL'S THIRD MISSIONARY JOURNEY
Approximate dates: 53 " 58 AD
Companions: Timothy, Luke, and other disciples
Mission field: Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, Judea-Samaria-Galilee
Approximate miles traveled 2,700
Sent by church of Antioch, Syria
|Galatia and Phrygia||Acts 18:23|
|Ephesus||Acts 19:1-20, 23-40|
|Macedonia||Acts 19:21; 20:1|
|Greece (Achaia)||Acts 20:2-3|
|Macedonia, Philippi, and Troas||Acts 20:3-12|
|Assos, Mitylene; near Chios, Samos, Trogyllium, Miletus||Acts 20:13-38|
|Cos, Rhodes, Patara||Acts 21:1-2|
|Tyre and Ptolemais||Acts 21:3-7|
|Caesarea (imprisoned 2 years)||Acts 23:23-26:32|
Acts 18:24-28 ~ Apollos
24 A Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, an eloquent speaker, arrived in Ephesus. 25 He was an authority on the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord and, with ardent spirit, spoke and taught accurately about Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way [of God] more accurately. 27 And when he wanted to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. After his arrival he gave great assistance to those who had come to believe through grace. 28 He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from the Scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.
Apollos was a Scripture scholar from the Hellenistic cultural and intellectual center of Alexandria, Egypt who believed in Jesus the Messiah and possessed impressive skills in Greek rhetoric. Jews and Gentile God-fears from Egypt were present at Pentecost in 30 AD. Apollos may have been one of them or he may have become a convert early in Jesus' ministry when St. John the Baptist was still baptizing. "The Way" was the earliest title for believers in Christ and was probably taken from Jesus' statement that I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (Jn 14:6). See references to "the Way" as a designation for the Church in Acts 9:2; 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22.
Question: Apollos gave a powerful witness of Christ
but what was it that concerned Priscilla and Aquila? What did they do?
Answer: They realized that his knowledge of Scripture was vast but his knowledge of Christ was limited because he had not been fully instructed and only knew of Jesus in the context of St. John's baptism of repentance. Therefore, they took him aside and properly catechized him.
Question: What does this incident it tell us about
the character of these three people in which a tentmaker and his wife corrected
an Alexandrian Scripture scholar?
Answer: The incident shows the commitment and courage of Aquila and Priscilla to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it shows the humility of Apollos.
Acts 18:27-28 ~ And
when he wanted to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the
disciples there to welcome him. After his arrival he gave great assistance to
those who had come to believe through grace. 28 He vigorously refuted the Jews in public, establishing from
the Scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.
Having been properly catechized by Pricilla and Aquila, Apollos wanted to continue to spread the Gospel in Greece. The faith community in Ephesus arranged letters of introduction for him to the churches in Achaia. Apollos left Ephesus to go to Corinth where he became acquainted with Paul and was an influential minister in the church. He is mentioned by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians where he will write: I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth (1 Cor 3:6). Apollos again demonstrated his humility when divisions arose in the church at Corinth. Apollos was admired by some of the community as a greater authority than Paul (1 Cor 1:11-4:6). Apollos did not encourage this sentiment that was causing a division in the community. His response to the problem was to remove himself from the situation by returning to Ephesus. Later he resisted Paul's invitation to return immediately to Corinth, evidently wanting some time to pass so the situation that caused a division in the community was not repeated (1 Cor 16:12). Paul mentions Apollos in his letter to Titus where he instructs Titus to send Zenas and Apollos on a mission Paul had planned for them (Tit 3:13).
Question: How did Apollos use his gifts to advance
the cause of salvation?
Answer: He used his gifts as an orator and scholar to refute the Jews and to offer evidence from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the promised Messiah.
Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Question: We don't know what became of Jason who was Paul and Silas' sponsor in Thessalonica or what became of Titius Justus who generously opened his home as a meeting-place/church home for the Christians of Corinth. They are some of the many faithful who played a small but critical role in the spread of the Gospel in the first century of the Church. In what small ways can all of us contribute to the spread of the Gospel of salvation in our communities and across the world? Would you be willing to open your home for Bible study or to start a prayer chain?
Question: What lessons can we glean from the examples set for us by Aquila, Pricilla and Apollos? Are you willing to step forward and correct someone who is perceived to have a higher status when that person is in error concerning Church doctrine of his interpretation of Scripture? Are you willing to be humbly corrected like the Scripture scholar Apollos who accepted instruction from a Christian tent-maker and his wife? St. James wrote in his letter to the universal Church: Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, for we all fall short in many respects (Jam 3:1-2). No one is perfect and we should gratefully accept correction when we have been proved to be in error, turning that correction into greater perfection in the service of Jesus Christ.
1. The Thermaic Gulf is a gulf of the Aegean Sea located south of Thessalonica. The Romans knew the gulf as Thermaicus or Thermaeua Sinus and as Macedonicus Sinus. Its modern name is the Gulf of Salonica.
2. Jesus' Hebrew name is Yahshua/Yehoshua and His Aramaic name is Yeshua. His name is transliterated into Greek as Iesous (there is no "j" or "y" in the Greek alphabet and Greek masculine names do not end in an "a"). It is the name in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was used for Joshua/Yeshua. The name is of ancient Greek origin and is the masculine of for Iaon, a goddess of healing. Another masculine rendering was Iason = Jason. A transliterated name is a name in another language that has a similar sound but there is no other connection as far as meaning is concerned.
3. Epimenides of Knossos (Crete) was a sage, poet and prophet. According to tradition he purified Athens after crimes committed during a civil war in the 7th century B.C. He is numbered among the seven wise men of the ancients.
4. Aratus' major work is his poem Phaenomena ("Appearances"). The first half of the poem describes celestial phenomena including the constellations. The second part of the work is called Diosemeia ("Forecasts"), which is chiefly concerned with weather lore. His poem was very popular in the Greek and Roman world and a large number of commentaries and Latin translations were written, some of which still survive.
5. The Romans often misrepresented the Greek word "Christos," which Christians used for the Hebrew word "messiah," as "Chrestos." Suetonius probably got Jesus' title "Messiah" (which is "Christos" in the Greek) confused with the symbol which Christians used as a symbolic image of the title "Christos" with the first two Greek letters Chi Rho. He confused it with "chrestos" the name of the Chi rho symbol (XP) that Greek scribes placed in the margin of a document to note a particular valuable or relevant passage.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2013 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
Catechism references for Acts 17-18 (* indicates Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):
|17:24-25||CCC 287*||17:28||CCC 300|
|17:26-28||CCC 28||17:3`||CCC 679*|
|17:26||CCC 360||18:6||CCC 597*|
|17:27-28||CCC 32*||18:8||CCC 1252*, 1655*|