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An Exposition Of The Acts Of The Apostles


Paul and his companions having preached at Philippi, are forced to fly, owing to a popular commotion raised by the Jews (1–10).

They reach Berea, whence, owing to another popular commotion, Paul departs, leaving Timothy and Silas after him, and reaches Athens (11–15).

Paul’s affliction on witnessing the sad benighted condition of Athens (16). His eloquent discourse in the Areopagus (22–33).


1. “Amphipolis,” originally an Athenian Colony, was made by the Romans, the capital of the first of the four districts into which after becoming masters of it, they divided Macedonia. They made it a free city.

“Apollonia,” situated between Amphipolis and Thessalonica.

“Thessalonica.” On dividing the country into four districts, Paulus Emilius made this the chief city of the second part of Macedonia.

“A Synagogue,” in Greek, “the Synagogue,” which would imply there was no Synagogue in the other cities in question.

2. Paul usually went into the Synagogues of the Jews. “Reasoned,” meant to prove by disputation.

3. “Declaring,” unfolding their meaning. “Insinuating,” inculcating, as a truth contained in the same Scriptures, especially the prophecies regarding Jesus.

“Whom I preach to you.” St. Luke uses the words as they were uttered by St. Paul in the first person, thus passing from the indirect to the direct narrative.

4. “Associated,” in Greek, “cast in their lots,” becoming their disciples, and followers.

“And of those that served God,” the Proselytes to Judaism, “and of the Gentiles.” In the Greek, both clauses are reduced to one “of the devout Greeks,” “and,” is omitted.

5. “Of the vulgar sort,” in Greek, “of the market place,” loiterers, idle, good for nothing characters, usually found in every city, prepared for all kinds of mischief. “Jason’s house,” where the Apostles were (v. 7).

“Out unto the people” to be maltreated.

6. “Not finding them.” They may have been out on some business; or, foreseeing the storm, may have left: “drew,” dragged Jason and some Christian believers, who chanced to be there.

“To the rulers,” &c. To the public place where the magistrates held their court.

“Set the city.” The Greek for “city” may mean “the world” as if to say, they set the whole world in an uproar, causing confusion where ever they went.

7. “Received.” Hospitably entertained. “Contrary to the decrees of Cæsar,” which prevented men from giving anyone the name of “King” in any of the conquered provinces, without leave.

“Saying,” &c. It may be, these men well understood the sense, in which the first preachers of the Gospel proclaimed our Lord, as King. But, maliciously affecting to understand it, in a different sense, they made it a political charge against them. The Jews affected great zeal for the honour of Cæsar (Luke 23:2; John 19:12–15).

9. “Satisfaction,” by his becoming answerable to the magistrates for Paul and the others. It may be, they deposited a sum of money, or gave bail.

10. “Sent away” for greater security sake. “Berea,” a city of Macedonia, some distance to the west of Thessalonica.

11. “More noble,” more generous, ingenuous, disposed candidly to hear the truth. The word denotes nobility of character.

“Daily searching the Scriptures,” before embracing the Faith, for many of them afterwards believed (v. 12).

Likely, Paul and Silas recommended them, at this stage of doubt, before they believed, to inquire into the grounds for believing the Gospel. Different would it be after embracing the Gospel. Such doubts would be incompatible with the certainty of faith.

14. They took him to the coast, and thence, he probably went by sea to Athens.

15. “Athens.” No other city of ancient times was so celebrated for philosophy, learning, and the arts.

“Commandment,” a message to Silas and Timothy to come to him to Athens with all possible despatch.

Probably he expected a great harvest of souls there.

16. “Waited.” How long cannot be known. However, it was long enough for him to witness the spiritual destitution of the city.

“Stirred within him,” Moved with grief and strong feelings of indignation.

“Wholly given to Idolatry.” The Greek means “filled with Idols.” We learn from Pagan sources—Pausanias (1, xxiv. 3) and others—that there were more temples, shrines and statues of false gods in Athens than in the rest of Greece besides.

17. “Disputed,” discoursed, argued “with the Jews,” who were such by birth, “and them that served God,” Proselytes to Judaism. With those he discoursed regularly “in the Synagogue.”

“And in the market place,” the Forum where the people assembled, and the philosophers often carried on public discourses. The zeal and indignation against the worship of false Gods, which fired the Apostle were such, that he omitted no opportunity of preaching Jesus crucified, as the eternal Son of God, the promised Messiah, who was to redeem the world.

18. “Certain Philosophers of the Epicureans,” &c. There were four schools of philosophy in Greece.

1. The Academicians founded by Plato. His tenets were not so very much opposed to Christianity.

2. The Peripatctics, founded by Aristotle, so called because he taught while walking about. Their tenets also were not so opposed to Christianity. The treasure of natural truths derived from Aristotle became, in the hands of St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas of Aquin, &c., the rational foundation of the scholastic system, in the middle ages. The two other systems referred to here, “Epicureans and Stoics,” were in direct opposition to Christianity. The followers of Epicurus became in course of time rabid opponents. The Epicurean philosophy made all happiness consist in natural pleasures. Practising voluptuousness, without restraint, they rejected the belief in a superintending Providence. They also denied the immortality of the soul. They referred the origin of all things to a fortuitous combination of atoms.

Stoicism was so called from the portico or porch (stoa), in which its founder, Zeno, delivered his lectures at Athens. These held that everything, even God, was subject to fatal necessity; that God was the soul of the universe. They had doubts regarding the existence of a future state. The leading tenets of these sects, St. Paul had now to encounter and refer to.

“Word sowers,” in Greek, collectors of grain, denotes such as picked up scattered seeds; or, poor men who collected in the market place the seeds that fell from the merchants. It is used to designate those who collected scraps of knowledge, which they gave out without order or method. Hence, it designates a vain babbler or parasite, as the Athenians termed such.

“Because he preached Jesus,” &c. These are the words of St. Luke, explaining why Paul was regarded as proclaiming new Gods. “Jesus,” as the promised Messiah.

“The Resurrection,” or anastasis was regarded by them, as one of the Divinities, as a Goddess proclaimed by St. Paul (St. Chrysostom).

19. “Taking him” in a friendly way, gently urging him. “Areopagus”—the hill of Mars, situated in the centre of Athens. Here was held the highest law court in all Greece, one of the most celebrated, if not, the most celebrated of law courts in the world. It was not for the purpose of accusing him—St. Paul did not address the Judges at all—they brought him there; but, in order that his doctrine would be uttered in presence of the most celebrated judges in their court whither the Athenians usually flocked in crowds. This was a fine theatre for Paul to proclaim Jesus crucified.

“May we know?” &c. They question him, in a respectful way, free from sarcasm, reproach or cavilling.

21. The sacred writer adds this parenthetically to show that it was not the desire of ascertaining truth, but rather curiosity, that influenced them. Curiosity and a desire for news was one of the leading characteristics of the Athenians at all times. This is the account Demosthenes gives of them.

22. “In all things,” by all means, “too superstitious,” more religious than men in general; or than the other Greeks. Considering the tact for which St. Paul was always distinguished, the place he spoke on, the polished audience he addressed, with all the other circumstances, it is likely the word is meant in a good sense, to denote more than ordinarily religious in their own way, as they viewed them very attentive to religious observances. It is not likely, he would apply to them any epithet, calculated to alienate their minds or create a prejudice against his teaching. Some, however, are of opinion that the Apostle designedly employs the ambiguous term “superstitious,” tempered by “ὥς,” “as if” found in the Greek, that they were more than ordinarily religious, although their religion was false, directed to false divinities.

It is not, however, likely St. Paul would commence his address to the Athenians in any other than a conciliatory spirit—Patrizzi is of a contrary opinion—so as not to create a prejudice against his teaching. Not likely, he would give unnecessary offence.

23. “Seeing.” Closely observing and examining. “Your idols.” Your objects of religious worship.

“I found an altar.” This would imply, it was not in any prominent place, but only in some obscure corner.

“To the unknown God.” Ancient writers (among them, St. Jerome) tell us there were several altars at Athens, “to the unknown and strange gods.” They seem to think it was one of these St. Paul saw, and in accommodation to his subject uses the singular, unknown God. But the authority of St. Paul makes it almost certain that he saw an altar of which there was no vestige left in the days of those ancient authors, with the inscription in the singular number, as he describes it, especially as he spoke in presence of those who could easily refute him if no such altar with this inscription existed in Athens.

He quotes the fact of their having such an altar among them in proof of their being more religious than the others, who had no such altar. Hence, the word “superstitious” is, in some measure, meant in a good sense.

They worshipped this unknown God “without knowing it.” Worshipped him for having averted evil, plagues, pestilence, and as the source of the blessings conferred on them, for which they did not give credit to the Gods known to Paganism, Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, &c. Whatever might be said of the principle, their mode of worship was to be reprobated. When worshipping and returning thanks, in their own way, to the source from which they derived benefits, it was implicitly the true God they were worshipping, since He alone is the source of good.

St. Chrysostom thinks the Athenians erected an altar to an unknown God, to escape the punishment of not worshipping some god whom they might not have known or heard of. This is the very God, the source of every blessing, whom they were worshipping without knowing it. It was He whom St. Paul was preaching to them, proclaiming His infinite perfections, especially His boundless goodness and beneficence, the fountain of all good. The Apostle adroitly turns to account the goodness of God, the source of every blessing, to preach to them, Him, to whom they were indebted for everything, though hitherto unknown to them. “The unknown God.” The Greek has not the definite article. It is “an unknown god.” “What therefore you worship.” The Greek has ὅ, what, to convey generic and indefinite worship, its mode not particularized.

24. “Made the world,” &c. The idea of creation was novel to the Greeks.

“Dwelleth not,” &c. Whilst temples are erected in His honour, He needs them not to dwell in them; since, to Him belongs the earth and its fulness. He is not confined to them, like the idols of the Pagans with whom He is here implicitly contrasted. This is by no means opposed to the external worship of God, to the erection of temples, the offering of sacrifices in His honour; since there is question here only of the false worship and absurd notions of the Pagans.

25. This is clearly allusive to the worship of idols, served with the hands of men, as if needing food, raiment, help to move from place to place. This the Apostle ridicules here as the excess of folly. It is not so with the true God. Far from depending on creatures for anything; on the contrary, it is on Him every creature depends for whatever is necessary for supporting human life. It is He and He alone that bestows on creatures all the blessings they enjoy, all that is necessary to support life and continue in existence, which He upholds by His conservative Providence. It is we not He that needs structures raised by hands.

26. “And hath made of one.” The Greek has one blood, one parent stock, “all mankind.”

The Athenians derided the idea of the unity of the human origin. They fancied their own origin to be different from that of other peoples. For “all mankind” the Greek has “every nation of men.” In this, the Apostle conveys that all nations, Jew and Gentile, were members of the same family, and should respect each other as children of the same common parent.

“Determining appointed times.” The Greek is, before appointed, the meaning is: He allotted to the different nations of the earth several epochs for existence and distributed among them the boundaries of the places wherein they might dwell. The Apostle thus refutes the false notions of the philosophers, especially the Epicureans and Stoics, regarding the free Providence of God and the necessitating action of the Fates.

27. God’s object in the exercise of His Adorable Providence, in thus ordering and arranging the human race is “that they should seek God,” and be brought to Him. “If haply, they may feel after Him” by examining and inquiring into His wonderful works and the order established by Him.

This is done in an obscure way, just as by the sense of touch—conveyed in the words “feel after him”—allusive to the groping of a blind man—we may discover the existence and qualities of an object. The imperfection of their knowledge is aptly conveyed in the groping of a blind man, relying on the sense of touch. God gives men an opportunity, where-ever located on the face of the earth, of knowing Him from His wonderful works. If they neither find nor worship Him, nor give Him thanks, they are inexcusable. In this, the Apostle may have in view to reprove the stupid idolatry of the Athenians. “Haply” may imply that while they may “find him,” it is doubtful, whether generally speaking, they would do so, owing to their own fault.

“Although He is not far,” &c., meaning, He is quite near, as indicated in His creative and Preserving Power. Hence, we can easily find Him by the light of reason, prescinding from the still clearer light of revelation.

28. “For in Him we live,” &c. The particle “in,” as Beelen observes after St. Chrysostom, clearly refers not to mere instrumentality (by), but to locality or place. For, it is given as a reason, why God is so intimately present that we may “feel Him.” “In Him we live.” To Him we owe our coming into existence; to Him we are indebted for every operation intimately connected with existence. “Move.” To Him we owe our continuance in existence. “We are.” Let Him but withdraw His protecting hand conserving us in existence, and we fall into our original nothingness.

“In Him” also indicates, though not directly intended to prove it, God’s immensity. Some distinguished commentators—among them St. Chrysostom—illustrate God’s omnipresence in us and our living in Him, by the example of the air which we inhale, and, as it were, touch and sensibly feel in the act of respiration. Without Him we could neither have life nor motion, such as may be seen in inanimated creatures, the clouds, &c., nor continuance in existence. These three pregnant words are neither a climax nor an anti-climax. They only more emphatically convey the same thing—our entire dependence on God, for our coming into existence, for the functions appertaining to existence, for our continuance in existence.

The words can also be accommodated to the supernatural state. By sanctifying grace, even more than in our natural state, “we live, move, and are in God.” St. Ambrose says: (de bono mortis) “in Deo movemur, quasi in via. Sumus, quasi in veritate. Vivimus, quasi in vita eterna.” The word “move” in the middle voice, in Greek, is use in an active sense.

Speaking of God St. Gregory (lib. 2 mor. c. 8) says: “Dens manet intra omnia; extra omnia; supra omnia; infra omnia; superior, per potentiam; inferior, per sustentationem; exterior, per magnitudinem; interior, per subtilitatem, nec alia exparte, superior—inferior—exterior—interior. Sed unus idemque totus unique præsidendo, sustinens, sustinendo, præsidens, circumdando, penetrans, penetrando, circumdans.”

“As some also of your own Poets said: For we are also His offspring.” These words are half an Hexameter, taken from the Poet Aratus, a Cilician, in his famous book, the Phænomena, so much prized. The statement is substantially found in Cleanthes, in a hymn to Jupiter, and several other Greek poets, on which account St. Paul uses the plural number, “Some of your own Poets.”

When addressing the Jews St. Paul quotes their own Inspired Scriptures. Addressing the Gentiles, he quotes an authority highly esteemed by them, their own celebrated Poets. This quotation from Pagan authors occurs in some passages of the New Testament (1 Cor. 15; Titus 1:12). What the Pagans wrote concerning their false Gods, St. Paul applies in a higher and more exalted sense, knowing it to be true, in his own understanding of the words, to the true God and His relations to creatures, who were created and educed out of nothing by Him, and who, in a supernatural sense, became, by sanctifying grace, partakers of the Divine nature (1 Peter 1:4), receiving through it a new spiritual existence, thus becoming new creatures.

29. “Being therefore,” &c. Ourselves gifted with life and intelligence, which we received from Him, as the bountiful giver—the great source of life and intelligence as rational creatures, who are by nature far superior to senseless idols, we must know that He is Himself gifted with life and intelligence in a still Infinitely higher order and degree. We cannot suppose Him to be like the senseless dumb idols, made by the hands of man, formed out of earthly materials, devoid of life and understanding, having ears and hear not, eyes and see not.

In this St. Paul, with a great amount of tact, identifies himself with them. “We must not,” &c., insinuates the utter folly of worshipping or adoring idols.

30. “Having winked at” The Greek means “overlooked,” as if not seeing them: refraining from punishing them; showing patient forbearance.

“The times of this ignorance.” Allowing the nations to walk their own ways (14:10).

“Ignorance.” Out of prudence, he uses a mild phrase while referring to the great crimes of the Pagans in past times; though to the haughty Athenians, who boasted of enlightenment of all sorts, “ignorance” was a bold, strong term.

“Of this ignorance.” In regard to their ideas of dumb idols and their worship of them.

“Now declareth.” Commands, enjoins. He will no longer exhibit the same patience. Now, His judgment is near. He enjoins on all men, without exception or distinction of Jew or Gentile, “to do penance,” which is the only means of reparation for grievous sins.

31. God’s great mercy and long suffering will not last for ever. He has fixed the term for stern justice in judging mankind, Jew and Gentile.

“By the man whom He hath appointed.” Constituted Sovereign Judge of all.

“Giving faith to all.” “Faith” means a guarantee or assurance of His having been Divinely accredited to act the part of Sovereign Judge, in the splendid miracle of raising Him from the dead—the clearest proof of his Divinity, as also of His veracity when claiming to act the part of Judge. From this it appears that it is as man, Christ is to be Judge. It is congruous that man should be the judge of men. The Council of Ephesus, c. 31, says:—“In eo qui forinsecus apparebit, et ab omnibus qui judicandi sunt palam cernetur, divina natura occulte latitans judicium exercebit.” (Quoted by Beelen.)

32. Very likely, after having referred to the Resurrection of Jesus, the Apostle introduced the doctrine of the General Resurrection of all men, as is inferred from the words, “Resurrection of the dead.”

“Some mocked.” The Epicureans principally. Whatever ideas the Pagans may have had of the duration or immortality of the soul, they all spurned the idea of the resurrection of the body, rejecting it as absurd.

“Hear thee again.” A polite way of dismissing him, and of intimating their unwillingness to hear him now or hereafter, as their curiosity seemed to be fully satisfied. St. Paul saw they had no idea of hearing him again. Hence, his stay at Athens was so brief.

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