What does Acts chapter 17 mean?Acts 17 continues Paul's second missionary journey. He and Silas have traveled through Galatia in modern-day Asia Minor, visiting the churches Paul and Barnabas established in their first journey. In Lystra, they found a young man named Timothy and brought him along. After receiving guidance from the Holy Spirit to bypass the western and northern provinces, the three traveled to the western port town of Troas. There, they met Luke, the narrator and author of the book of Acts. All four took a ship across the Aegean Sea to Philippi. In that city, they planted a strong church, but Paul and Silas were also arrested, beaten, and imprisoned overnight (Acts 16).
Acts 17:1–9 indicates that Luke stayed in Philippi, but the other three traveled southwest through Amphipolis and Apollonia, then west to Thessalonica. The Thessalonians act much like the people of Antioch and Iconium. Some believe their message (Acts 13:48–52; 14:1–7), but others not only run the missionaries out of Thessalonica, they also follow them to Berea and chase them out of that town, as well (Acts 14:19).
In Acts 17:10–15, we meet the Bereans—the example of thoughtful research. Paul and Silas share in the synagogue how Jesus fulfills the prophecies about the Messiah written in the Old Testament. The immediate response of the Bereans is to study those Scriptures for themselves and see if the claims are valid. The people realize the missionaries are right, but a contingent of Jews from Thessalonica come and convince some in Berea that the team is a threat. Silas and Timothy remain, but the new believers quickly send Paul away to Athens.
Acts 17:16–21 finds Paul in uncharted territory. Athens is the first Greek city he has been to, and he is unprepared for the overwhelming number of idols that fill the city. He splits his time between the synagogue—filled with Jews as well as Gentiles who worship the Jewish God—and the marketplace, where the Athenian philosophers find him. Although they have the same law against foreign gods as other Roman territories, the Greeks love to talk about new religions, so they invite him to the Areopagus to speak.
In Acts 17:22–34, Paul proves Jewish history and apologetics are not his only specialties. He shows how the religious culture of Athens and their own poets point to the Creator-God of the Jews. He calls them to repentance to restore their relationship with God and introduces them to the mediator, Jesus. The philosophers follow along until he asserts something they cannot accept: that God raised the mediator from the dead. The concept of resurrection is too far. A few do accept Paul's message. The others have the courtesy to just mock him—not stone, beat, or imprison him.
From Athens, Paul will go west to Corinth where he will meet Priscilla and Aquila. Silas and Timothy will join him, and they will stay eighteen months planting and establishing the Corinthian church. On their way back to Syrian Antioch, Paul, Silas, and Timothy will stop briefly in Ephesus, Caesarea, and Jerusalem. Priscilla and Aquila will stay in Ephesus where they will meet Apollos who boldly and eloquently teaches about John the Baptist's gospel of repentance. Priscilla and Aquila will introduce him to John's Messiah, and Apollos will go on to have a significant ministry in the spread of Christianity (Acts 18).