Acts 17–18:22. Paul's Second Missionary Journey. Pt. II.

Key Notes: Gallio's educt protected the Christians. The Bereans. Paul's lecture to Athenian philosophers. Adapting Mars' Hill to moderns.

17:1–9 Paul and Silas left Philippi with painful backs, but with a healthy church behind them. They passed by Amphipolis and Apollonia to arrive at Thessalonica. In the synagogue Paul taught that Messianic prophecy includes the Suffering Servant  and that Jesus is the Messiah. [See the four poems of the Suffering Servant in Isa.42,49,50,53.] The disbelieving Jews gathered a street-mob and attacked the house of Jason, where they thought Paul would be hiding. They complained to the authorities that Paul and Silas were turning the world upside down, acting against the decrees of Caesar, and proclaiming Jesus as King. Jason had to post bond to assure the authorities that there would be an end to such behavior.

17:10–15 Paul and Silas were sent away at night to Berea, where they went strategically to the synagogue. These Jews were eager to study the OT and find out whether Paul's interpretation was correct, and many believed. But the Jews of Thessalonica came on, incited the crowds and once again Paul was forced out. It appears that friends took Paul down to the sea as if to board ship, but that he went overland to Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy behind.

17:16 In Athens, Paul went to the synagogue and the marketplace every day. Philosophers of the Stoic and Epicurean schools found his strange talk ("this seed-picker") interesting enough to give him an opportunity to address the assembled Areopagites on Mars' Hill, a stone platform which still stands. Paul's speech complimented Athenian religiosity, but introduced their Unknown God as the Creator of the universe and mankind, and the Author of history. He is a personal Being and yet beyond comprehension, the Judge of humans by the the agency of a Man, the Risen One. The resurrection provoked the end of the discussion. They would not hear more. Death, and worse yet, judgment, was a taboo subject for the Greeks. But some believed, including Dionysius, one of the philoosphers and Damaris.

18:1–11 Paul went on to Corinth, and found Aquilla and Priscilla, recently expelled from Rome. Expulsion of all Jews from Rome was another evidence of endemic antisemitism. They were in business as tent-makers and saddle-makers and Paul worked with them. Every Jewish male had to have an occupation, even those who intended to be rabbis because it was considered bad ethics to charge for religious work. They worked weekdays and Paul preached in the synagogue on Sabbath (18:4) until Silas and Timothy came from Philippi with a grant (Phil.4:15) that enabled Paul to preach full time.

18:5 When the Jews of the synagogue resisted, Paul shook the dust from his garments and went next door to Titius Justus' house, with Crispus, the (former) ruler of the synagogue and many other believers. No doubt this had a demoralizing effect of the synagogue --listening to singing and Paul's loud voice next door. Later its new leader was beaten by the mob.
God in a vision encouraged Paul: "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent, for I am with you and no man will attack you to harm you, for I many people in this city."

18:12–17 But when a new proconsul came, the Jews brought Paul in to accuse him of teaching the worship of God contrary to Jewish Law. Gallio, the brother of Seneca the Philosopher and son of Seneca the Orator, was said to be one of the finest men of his generation. He ruled that Jewish religious controversies, i.e. Paul's teaching, were not a concern to Roman government. His decree gave the Christians liberty to preach for another ten years on the assumption that the Christianity was a variation on Judaism.
The Jews were pushed out of the tribunal, and the mob beat up the leader of the synagogue. Gallio had no interest in that either.

18:18–22 Paul left Corinth after at least 18 months of teaching, and sailed for Syria with Priscilla and Aquilla.He was briefly in Ephesus and left them there. On the way he completed a vow by cutting his hair.

Comments:

Some commentators doubt that Paul used the right approach to the Athenians. They believe that Paul regretted his approach to the Athenian philosophers because in his opening remarks to the Corinthians, who were also pagans, he said, "When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." (ICor.2:1–2). Had Paul preached Christ Crucified in Athen,would he have had a better response?
Also God had to encourage him in a vision at Corinth (Acts‘:9), and Paul later made a vow, perhaps a sign of frustration.

But the text says he had "preached Jesus and the Resurrection (Crucifixion implied) to the Athenians. (17:18). However Paul may have felt, the Mars' Hill address is an inspired approach to thoughtful pagans, ancient or modern, and full of biblical concepts.

In New testament times, tradiitonal Greco-roman religion, with its 16 gods and godesses, was fading and being replaced by philosophy because the deities were immoral and eratic. In a stroke of genius, Paul picked the nedle out of the hay-stack. He focised on a remote deity ("Unknown") who is the true God, rather than deriding the gods or debating philosophy. In the process he looked at both Epicureanism and Stoicism without mentioning them. Epicureans believed that pleasure, the enjoyment of a tranquil pain-free life, is the highest good. They were materialists, believing that everything was reducible to atoms. Gods, too, were material beings. There is no life after death, because humans disintegrate back into atoms. The Stoics believed virtue was the highest good, achieved by resignation and detachment. They had a high sense of moral duty. They dreamed of a world order where everyone had equal rights. Simply, Epicureans put feeling above thought and Stoics put thought above feeeling. Paul preached faith in God, judgment and life after death.

Let us try to understand Paul's message at Mar's Hill to our generation. We will see that he does not attack paganism nor attempt to defend his position, only to state it in terms they could understood.

Let us proclaim Paul's message to our generation.

P.S. A good summary of Greco-Roman religion is in The Greco-Roman World. J.S. Jeffers. IVP.’99. pp.89–109.