What does Acts 17 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
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).
Verse Context:
Acts 17:1–9 relates that Paul, Silas, and Timothy traveled to Thessalonica, having left Luke in Philippi. As usual, they start in the synagogue, showing how the prophecies of the Jewish Scriptures say the Messiah must die and rise from the dead. And as usual some of the Jews and many of the Gentiles believe them, while other Jews reject their message. For the first time, however, Paul's antagonists can't find him or his team, so they attack several converts. The new church protects Paul, Silas, and Timothy and sends them southwest to Berea.
Acts 17:10–15 introduces a church which becomes an example for all of Christianity: the Bereans. The jealous Jews of Thessalonica have driven Paul and Silas out of town by threatening the church members. Not willing to face more persecution than necessary, the church send the two to Berea. When the evangelists explain how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, the Bereans respond with a form of cautious skepticism. They study those prophecies, checking Paul's message for accuracy, and find he's right. Unfortunately, the Jews from Thessalonica follow and cause such problems that the new Berean church sends Paul away to Athens.
Acts 17:16–21 records Paul's interactions with the Greek philosophers in Athens. First, he teaches in the synagogue that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. He takes a similar message to the Agora where the Stoics and Epicureans hear and invite him to the Areopagus. Paul uses their own poets to speak of their mutual Creator God. When Paul mentions the resurrection of the dead, however, they lose interest. They have no problem worshipping so many deities that it requires a monument to ''the unknown god,'' but the idea any god could raise the dead is unthinkable.
Acts 17:22–34 contains the second of two sermons which Luke records from Paul. The more typical sermon explains to synagogues how Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 13:16–41). Here, however, Paul is speaking to a group of Athenian philosophers. Paul uses lines from classical poets to introduce the Creator God who cannot be represented by an idol. He calls his audience to repent of their idolatry lest they face judgment by the representative God has resurrected. But they don't believe in the resurrection of the dead or final judgment. The majority dismiss Paul as a fool and go on their way.
Chapter Summary:
Acts 17 describes how Paul's ministry travels down the coast of Greece. In Thessalonica, some Jews and God-fearing Gentiles believe while other Jews start a riot (Acts 17:1–9). The Bereans study the veracity of Paul's statements—until the Thessalonian Jews arrive and threaten to start another riot (Acts 17:10–15). Paul flees to Athens where the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers accept Paul's argument when he uses Greek poets to introduce God as the creator of the world, but lose interest when he mentions the resurrection from the dead (Acts 17:16–34).
Chapter Context:
Acts 17 continues Paul and Silas' travels out of Macedonia and on to Greece. The two have been through modern-day Asia minor where they picked up Timothy in Lystra and Luke in Troas (Acts 16:1–10). They have established a strong church in Philippi but were forced to leave after being falsely imprisoned (Acts 16:11–40). They now skip down the coast to Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. From here, they will spend a considerable amount of time in Corinth before heading back to Judea and Syrian Antioch (Acts 18:1–22).
Book Summary:
The summary of the book of Acts is provided in Jesus' words in Acts 1:8: ''But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'' In Acts 2:1–13, the Christ-followers receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:14—7:60 describes the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem. Chapters 8—12 find Jewish persecution inadvertently spreading the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. And in chapters 13—28, Paul and his companions spread the good news throughout the Roman Empire.
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