Bruce, F.F. The Book of Acts Revised. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988. Kindle Electronic Edition. “V. Paul Leaves Antioch and Moves to the Aegean World (15:36-19:20).” “C. Thessalonica to Athens (17:1-34)” pp. 322-344.
Acts 17 opens with paul and Silas approaching Thessalonica from the east. They stayed for some time there. Bruce considers that the importance of Thessalonica suggested it as a place to seek to plant a congregation (Bruce 1988, 322). As was typical, Paul’s message of the resurrection of Jesus was accepted by some Jews in the synagogue, but was more acceptable to Greeks. After a few weeks, the Jewish leaders stirred up a mob to seek Paul and his company where they were staying, at the house of Jason. Although Paul was not there, Jason and some others were brought to the magistrates. The charge of revolutionary activity was lodged against the Christians. The recognition of another king, Bruce notes, was a very serious charge (Bruce 1988, 324). Local and provincial leaders would take a charge of sedition very seriously (Bruce 1988, 325). Paul and his company had to leave the city for the safety of the converts. Bruce dates his letter, 1 Thessalonians, only a few weeks after the visit (Bruce 1988, 326).
From Thessalonica, Paul and Silas went on to Berea. Bruce note that this diverts Paul from his original path, which would have led him easily to Rome (Bruce 1988, 327). The congregation of the synagogue received the Gospel eagerly and engaged in careful study to verify the message of Paul and Silas. After some time, Jews from Thessalonica came, stirred up tensions, and forced Paul to leave the city. Bruce lists several routes which could take him to Athens (Bruce 1988, 328).
Paul arrived in Athens before his normal companions. Bruce notes that Athens was, even in he first century, a center of culture and philosophy (Bruce 1988, 328). Paul was clearly aware of the pagan religious implications of the art and architecture he saw. This moved him to engage in dialogue with the pagans (Bruce 1988, 329). Bruce gives us a brief introduction to the views of the Stoic and the Epicurean philosophers. Both Stoics and Epicureans agreed that Paul’s philosophy made no sense whatsoever (Bruce 1988, 331). Paul did manage to speak to a group who, according to Bruce, met regularly to discuss philosophy. This court of the Areopagus would have some moral authority in Athens.
Paul’s presentation to the Areopagus is summed up in 17:22-31. The passage is commented on frequently (Bruce 1988, 333). Bruce illustrates a few of the disagreements published regarding this discourse. He admits the tone is very different from that of Romans 1-3. Yet it is not inconsistent with preaching from Acts 13:16-41 or 14:15-17 (Bruce 1988, 334). Altars to unknown gods were fairly common. Paul claims to know the identity of this unknown god (Bruce 1988, 335). He then told the people of the God of the Bible. Bruce observes that Paul’s message rejected the Athenians’ view of superiority, replacing it with a superiority of the Christian faith, not of any nationality (Bruce 1988, 337). Paul’s quotations from Epimenides and Aratus, in context, both point to the potential of a divinity greater than Zeus (Bruce 1988, 339). This one, Paul says, is the true God, revealed in Christ. As Paul called his audience to repent and believe in the resurrected Jesus, the reaction was mixed. The difficulty may have been closely related to the fact that this was not merely a philosophical treatise but that it became a rebinnic appeal to life change (Bruce 1988, 341).
The Athenian reaction is detailed in Acts 17:32-34. Some mocked Paul’s message, others were willing to hear more. Some believed (Bruce 1988, 342). There are various suggestions of the identity of the two converts named. However, Bruce does not find a credible and compelling identification (Bruce 1988, 343). There is no mention of baptism, nor evidence that a congregation was planted.