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Acts 17:16-34

Paul at Athens

17:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, 1  his spirit was greatly upset 2  because he saw 3  the city was full of idols. 17:17 So he was addressing 4  the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles 5  in the synagogue, 6  and in the marketplace every day 7  those who happened to be there. 17:18 Also some of the Epicurean 8  and Stoic 9  philosophers were conversing 10  with him, and some were asking, 11  “What does this foolish babbler 12  want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods.” 13  (They said this because he was proclaiming the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 14  17:19 So they took Paul and 15  brought him to the Areopagus, 16  saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are proclaiming? 17:20 For you are bringing some surprising things 17  to our ears, so we want to know what they 18  mean.” 17:21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there used to spend their time 19  in nothing else than telling 20  or listening to something new.) 21 

17:22 So Paul stood 22  before the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious 23  in all respects. 24  17:23 For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, 25  I even found an altar with this inscription: 26  ‘To an unknown god.’ Therefore what you worship without knowing it, 27  this I proclaim to you. 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, 28  who is 29  Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by human hands, 30  17:25 nor is he served by human hands, as if he needed anything, 31  because he himself gives life and breath and everything to everyone. 32  17:26 From one man 33  he made every nation of the human race 34  to inhabit the entire earth, 35  determining their set times 36  and the fixed limits of the places where they would live, 37  17:27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope around 38  for him and find him, 39  though he is 40  not far from each one of us. 17:28 For in him we live and move about 41  and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 42  17:29 So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity 43  is like gold or silver or stone, an image 44  made by human 45  skill 46  and imagination. 47  17:30 Therefore, although God has overlooked 48  such times of ignorance, 49  he now commands all people 50  everywhere to repent, 51  17:31 because he has set 52  a day on which he is going to judge the world 53  in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, 54  having provided proof to everyone by raising 55  him from the dead.”

17:32 Now when they heard about 56  the resurrection from the dead, some began to scoff, 57  but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 17:33 So Paul left the Areopagus. 58  17:34 But some people 59  joined him 60  and believed. Among them 61  were Dionysius, who was a member of the Areopagus, 62  a woman 63  named Damaris, and others with them.

1 map For location see JP1 C2; JP2 C2; JP3 C2; JP4 C2.

2 tn Grk “greatly upset within him,” but the words “within him” were not included in the translation because they are redundant in English. See L&N 88.189. The term could also be rendered “infuriated.”

sn His spirit was greatly upset. See Rom 1:18-32 for Paul’s feelings about idolatry. Yet he addressed both Jews and Gentiles with tact and reserve.

3 tn Or “when he saw.” The participle θεωροῦντος (qewrounto") has been translated as a causal adverbial participle; it could also be translated as temporal.

4 tn Although the word διελέξατο (dielexato; from διαλέγομαι, dialegomai) is frequently translated “reasoned,” “disputed,” or “argued,” this sense comes from its classical meaning where it was used of philosophical disputation, including the Socratic method of questions and answers. However, there does not seem to be contextual evidence for this kind of debate in Acts 17:17. As G. Schrenk (TDNT 2:94-95) points out, “What is at issue is the address which any qualified member of a synagogue might give.” Other examples of this may be found in the NT in Matt 4:23 and Mark 1:21.

5 tn Or “and the devout,” but this is practically a technical term for the category called God-fearers, Gentiles who worshiped the God of Israel and in many cases kept the Mosaic law, but did not take the final step of circumcision necessary to become a proselyte to Judaism. See further K. G. Kuhn, TDNT 6:732-34, 743-44, and the note on the phrase “God-fearing Greeks” in 17:4.

6 sn See the note on synagogue in 6:9.

7 tn BDAG 437 s.v. ἡμέρα 2.c has “every day” for this phrase in this verse.

8 sn An Epicurean was a follower of the philosophy of Epicurus, who founded a school in Athens about 300 b.c. Although the Epicureans saw the aim of life as pleasure, they were not strictly hedonists, because they defined pleasure as the absence of pain. Along with this, they desired the avoidance of trouble and freedom from annoyances. They saw organized religion as evil, especially the belief that the gods punished evildoers in an afterlife. In keeping with this, they were unable to accept Paul’s teaching about the resurrection.

9 sn A Stoic was a follower of the philosophy founded by Zeno (342-270 b.c.), a Phoenician who came to Athens and modified the philosophical system of the Cynics he found there. The Stoics rejected the Epicurean ideal of pleasure, stressing virtue instead. The Stoics emphasized responsibility for voluntary actions and believed risks were worth taking, but thought the actual attainment of virtue was difficult. They also believed in providence.

10 tn BDAG 956 s.v. συμβάλλω 1 has “converse, confer” here.

11 tn Grk “saying.”

12 tn Or “ignorant show-off.” The traditional English translation of σπερμολόγος (spermologo") is given in L&N 33.381 as “foolish babbler.” However, an alternate view is presented in L&N 27.19, “(a figurative extension of meaning of a term based on the practice of birds in picking up seeds) one who acquires bits and pieces of relatively extraneous information and proceeds to pass them off with pretense and show – ‘ignorant show-off, charlatan.’” A similar view is given in BDAG 937 s.v. σπερμολόγος: “in pejorative imagery of persons whose communication lacks sophistication and seems to pick up scraps of information here and there scrapmonger, scavenger…Engl. synonyms include ‘gossip’, ‘babbler’, chatterer’; but these terms miss the imagery of unsystematic gathering.”

13 tn The meaning of this phrase is not clear. Literally it reads “strange deities” (see BDAG 210 s.v. δαιμόνιον 1). The note of not being customary is important. In the ancient world what was new was suspicious. The plural δαιμονίων (daimoniwn, “deities”) shows the audience grappling with Paul’s teaching that God was working through Jesus.

14 sn This is a parenthetical note by the author.

15 tn Grk “him”; the referent (Paul) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

16 tn Or “to the council of the Areopagus.” See also the term in v. 22.

sn The Areopagus has been traditionally understood as reference to a rocky hill near the Acropolis in Athens, although this place may well have been located in the marketplace at the foot of the hill (L&N 93.412; BDAG 129 s.v. ῎Αρειος πάγος). This term does not refer so much to the place, however, as to the advisory council of Athens known as the Areopagus, which dealt with ethical, cultural, and religious matters, including the supervision of education and controlling the many visiting lecturers. Thus it could be translated the council of the Areopagus. See also the term in v. 22.

17 tn BDAG 684 s.v. ξενίζω 2 translates the substantival participle ξενίζοντα (xenizonta) as “astonishing things Ac 17:20.”

18 tn Grk “these things”; but since the referent (“surprising things”) is so close, the repetition of “these things” sounds redundant in English, so the pronoun “they” was substituted in the translation.

19 tn The imperfect verb ηὐκαίρουν (hukairoun) has been translated as a customary or habitual imperfect.

20 tn BDAG 406-7 s.v. εὐκαιρέω has “used to spend their time in nothing else than telling Ac 17:21.”

21 sn This is a parenthetical note by the author. The reference to newness may be pejorative.

22 tn Grk “standing…said.” The participle ζηλώσαντες (zhlwsante") has been translated as a finite verb due to requirements of contemporary English style.

23 tn The term δεισιδαιμονεστέρους (deisidaimonesterou") is difficult. On the one hand it can have the positive sense of “devout,” but on the other hand it can have the negative sense of “superstitious” (BDAG 216 s.v. δεισιδαίμων). As part of a laudatory introduction (the technical rhetorical term for this introduction was capatatio), the term is probably positive here. It may well be a “backhanded” compliment, playing on the ambiguity.

24 tn BDAG 513 s.v. κατά B.6 translates the phrase κατὰ πάντα (kata panta) as “in all respects.

25 tn Or “your sanctuaries.” L&N 53.54 gives “sanctuary” (place of worship) as an alternate meaning for the word σεβάσματα (sebasmata).

26 tn Grk “on which was written,” but since it would have been carved in stone, it is more common to speak of an “inscription” in English. To simplify the English the relative construction with a passive verb (“on which was inscribed”) was translated as a prepositional phrase with a substantive (“inscription”).

27 tn BDAG 13 s.v. ἀγνοέω 1.b has “Abs. ὅ ἀγνοοῦντες εὐσεβεῖτε what you worship without knowing it (on the subject matter Maximus Tyr. 11, 5e: all sorts of philosophers ἴσασιν οὐκ ἑκόντες καὶ λέγουσιν ἄκοντες sc. τὸ θεῖον = they know and name God without intending to do so) Ac 17:23.” Paul, in typical Jewish Christian style, informs them of the true God, of whom their idols are an ignorant reflection.

28 tn Grk “all the things that are in it.” The speech starts with God as Creator, like 14:15.

29 tn Or “because he is.” The participle ὑπάρχων (Juparcwn) could be either adjectival, modifying οὗτος (Joutos, “who is Lord…”) or adverbial of cause (“because he is Lord…”). Since the participle διδούς (didou") in v. 25 appears to be clearly causal in force, it is preferable to understand ὑπάρχων as adjectival in this context.

30 sn On the statement does not live in temples made by human hands compare Acts 7:48. This has implications for idols as well. God cannot be represented by them or, as the following clause also suggests, served by human hands.

31 tn L&N 57.45 has “nor does he need anything more that people can supply by working for him.”

32 tn Grk “he himself gives to all [people] life and breath and all things.”

33 sn The one man refers to Adam (the word “man” is understood).

34 tn Or “mankind.” BDAG 276 s.v. ἔθνος 1 has “every nation of humankind Ac 17:26.”

35 tn Grk “to live over all the face of the earth.”

36 tn BDAG 884-85 s.v. προστάσσω has “(οἱ) προστεταγμένοι καιροί (the) fixed times Ac 17:26” here, but since the following phrase is also translated “fixed limits,” this would seem redundant in English, so the word “set” has been used instead.

37 tn Grk “the boundaries of their habitation.” L&N 80.5 has “fixed limits of the places where they would live” for this phrase.

38 tn See BDAG 1097-98 s.v. ψηλαφάω, which lists “touch, handle” and “to feel around for, grope for” as possible meanings.

39 sn Perhaps grope around for him and find him. The pagans’ struggle to know God is the point here. Conscience alone is not good enough.

40 tn The participle ὑπάρχοντα (Juparconta) has been translated as a concessive adverbial participle.

41 tn According to L&N 15.1, “A strictly literal translation of κινέω in Ac 17:28 might imply merely moving from one place to another. The meaning, however, is generalized movement and activity; therefore, it may be possible to translate κινούμεθα as ‘we come and go’ or ‘we move about’’ or even ‘we do what we do.’”

42 sn This quotation is from Aratus (ca. 310-245 b.c.), Phaenomena 5. Paul asserted a general relationship and accountability to God for all humanity.

43 tn Or “the divine being.” BDAG 446 s.v. θεῖος 1.b has “divine being, divinity” here.

44 tn Or “a likeness.” Again idolatry is directly attacked as an affront to God and a devaluation of him.

45 tn Grk “by the skill and imagination of man,” but ἀνθρώπου (anqrwpou) has been translated as an attributive genitive.

46 tn Or “craftsmanship” (cf. BDAG 1001 s.v. τέχνη).

47 tn Or “thought.” BDAG 336 s.v. ἐνθύμησις has “thought, reflection, idea” as the category of meaning here, but in terms of creativity (as in the context) the imaginative faculty is in view.

48 tn Or “has deliberately paid no attention to.”

49 tn Or “times when people did not know.”

50 tn Here ἀνθρώποις (anqrwpoi") has been translated as a generic noun (“people”).

51 sn He now commands all people everywhere to repent. God was now asking all mankind to turn to him. No nation or race was excluded.

52 tn Or “fixed.”

53 sn The world refers to the whole inhabited earth.

54 tn Or “appointed.” BDAG 723 s.v. ὁρίζω 2.b has “of persons appoint, designate, declare: God judges the world ἐν ἀνδρὶ ᾧ ὥρισεν through a man whom he has appointed Ac 17:31.”

sn A man whom he designated. Jesus is put in the position of eschatological judge. As judge of the living and the dead, he possesses divine authority (Acts 10:42).

55 tn The participle ἀναστήσας (anasthsa") indicates means here.

56 tn The participle ἀκούσαντες (akousante") has been taken temporally.

57 tn L&N 33.408 has “some scoffed (at him) Ac 17:32” for ἐχλεύαζον (ecleuazon) here; the imperfect verb has been translated as an ingressive imperfect (“began to scoff”).

58 tn Grk “left out of their midst”; the referent (the Areopagus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

59 tn Although the Greek word here is ἀνήρ (anhr), which normally refers to males, husbands, etc., in this particular context it must have a generic force similar to that of ἄνθρωπος (anqrwpo"), since “a woman named Damaris” is mentioned specifically as being part of this group (cf. BDAG 79 s.v. ἀνήρ 1.a).

60 tn Grk “joining him, believed.” The participle κολληθέντες (kollhqente") has been translated as a finite verb due to requirements of contemporary English style. On the use of this verb in Acts, see 5:13; 8:29; 9:26; 10:28.

61 tn Grk “among whom.” Due to the length of the Greek sentence, the relative pronoun (“whom”) has been translated as a third person plural pronoun (“them”) and a new sentence begun in the translation.

62 tn Grk “the Areopagite” (a member of the council of the Areopagus). The noun “Areopagite” is not in common usage today in English. It is clearer to use a descriptive phrase “a member of the Areopagus” (L&N 11.82). However, this phrase alone can be misleading in English: “Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, and a woman named Damaris” could be understood to refer to three people (Dionysius, an unnamed member of the Areopagus, and Damaris) rather than only two. Converting the descriptive phrase to a relative clause in English (“who was a member of the Areopagus”) removes the ambiguity.

63 tn Grk “and a woman”; but this καί (kai) has not been translated since English normally uses a coordinating conjunction only between the last two elements in a series of three or more.

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