Acts Part 14

Notes on Acts

Part Fourteen




Read chapter 17.


And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” [1]


Paul’s custom ought to be our custom. When we meet those who do not belong to Christ, we should reason with them “from the Scriptures.” From verse 2 we gather that these two things are used mightily by the Lord; reason and the Scriptures. We need both. We should become proficient in both. We must learn how to reason correctly and rely upon reason moreso than feelings. Yet, we ought not to rely on reason alone. We must find our source of truth in God’s special revelation.


Paul and Silas were accused of “turning the world upside down.” Such will be the perception of those whose worldview is challenged by the gospel. They will think that you are a trouble-maker. But we can do nothing but speak the truth, unless you are a coward.


The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.[2]


The people in Berea were more noble than those in Thessalonica. They were more noble because they did two things. They were eager to receive the truth and they searched the Scriptures, not just taking Paul’s word at face value, but examining the Scriptures.


We, too, can be noble! Love the truth! Be eager to find it! Examine the Bible. These two things are simple. Yet, there are many Christians who are not as noble as the Bereans. “Lord, make me more noble! Amen.”


Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.[3]


“The ‘spirit’ here was Paul’s human spirit (Zech. 12:1; Job 32:8; Prov. 20:27), regenerated by the Spirit of God (john 3:6), indwelt by the Lord the Spirit (2 Tim. 4:22; Romans 8:10-11), and witnessing with the Spirit (Romans 8:16), in which he worshipped and served God (John 4:24; Romans 1:9). Such a spirit was provoked by the many idols in Athens.”[4]


“Why was idol worship prevailing in Athens, the most cultured city? The reason is that in every human being there is a God-seeking and God-worshipping spirit. Of course, many do not seek the true God or worship the true God. Instead, they have the wrong object of worship. Nevertheless, the fact that people worship something or are seeking something to wworship is strong proof that man needs God. There is a need in man, especially in man’s spirit, for God as the true object of worship.”[5]


When Paul addresses the council on Mar’s Hill he is, of course, preaching to a pagan audience. As such, his method will be highly instructive. For we, too, will have such audiences, whether they be one person or many.


His address begins in this way:


So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.[6]


Then: “Verses 24-31 of Acts 17 indicate Paul’s recognition that between his hearers and himself two complete systems of thought were in conflict. Any alleged fact or particular evidence which was introduced into the discussion would be variously seen in the light of the differing systems of thought. Consequently, the apostle’s apologetic had to be suited to a philosophical  critique of the unbeliver’s perspective and a philosophical defense of the believer’s position. He was called upon to conduct his apologetic with respect to worldviews which were in collision. The Athenians had to be challenged, not simply to add a bit more information (say, about a historical event) to their previous thinking, but to renounce their previous thoughts and undergo a thorough change of mind. They needed to be converted in their total outlook on life, man, the world, and God. Hence, Paul reasoned with them in a presuppositional fashion.”[7]


Dr. Greg Bahnsen points out that there are five elements in Paul’s apologetic address. Some are clear and others are intimated, but developed more fully in his letters. They are:


(1) Paul understood that the unbeliever’s mindset and philosophy would be systemically contrary to that of the believer – that the two represent in principle a clash of total attitude and basic presuppositions.


(2) Paul further understood that the basic commitments of the unbeliever produced only ignorance and foolishness, allowing an effective internal critique of his hostile worldview.


(3) By contrast, the Christian takes revelational authority as his starting point and controlling factor in all reasoning.


(4) Paul’s writings also establish that, because all men have a clear knowledge of God from general revelation, the unbeliever’s suppression of the truth results in culpable ignorance.


(5) The apologist seeks to expose the unbeliever’s suppression of his knowledge of God and thereby call him to repentance.[8]


     “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.[9]


Beginning with point number 2: “Paul underscored their ignorance and proceeded from that significant epistemological point.”[10]


“Knowing God, the unregenerate nevertheless suppress the truth and follow a lie instead, thereby gaining a darkened mind.”[11] (Romans 1:18-25)


Bahnsen quotes Munck from the Anchor Bible:


“What follows reveals that God was unknown only because the Athenians had not wanted to know him. So Paul was not introducing foreign gods, But God who was both known, as this altar shows, and yet unknown.”[12]


So it is true today. People are just like the Athenians. They know God, but they suppress the knowledge of him and flee from him. The ignorance of people is intentional and sinful.


The third factor in Paul’s apologetic position is submission to the authority of revelation. “Having alluded to an altar to an unknown god, Paul said, ‘That which you worship, acknowledging openly your ignorance, I proclaim to you.’ There are two crucial elements of his apologetic approach to be discerned here. Paul started with an emphasis upon his hearer’s ignorance and from there went on to declare with authority the truth of God. Their ignorance was made to stand over against his unique authority and ability to expound the truth.”[13]


Paul informs his listeners about God from what God has revealed about Himself through special revelation:


The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.[14]


Paul received this from Scripture – Isaiah 42:5.  Revelation was Paul’s ground for all knowledge about God.


The fourth feature is suppression of the truth by his audience.


And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.[15]


“Paul taught that God’s providential government of history was calculated to bring men to Him; they should have known Him from His works. Paul’s appeal to providence was conspicuous in Lystra as well (Acts 14:7).”[16]


Yet, even though God had made Himself known through both creation and providence, the Athenians (and all men) did not find Him!


“Paul taught that the eyes of the unbeliever had been blinded by the light of God’s revelation. Pagans do not interpret natural revelation correctly, coming to the light of the truth here and there; they grope about in the darkness.”[17]


“So it is that Paul’s appeals to general revelation function to point out that the guilt of the unbeliever as he mishandles the truth of God. He is responsible because he possesses the truth, but he is guilty for what he does to the truth.”[18]


Paul concludes his message with a call to repentance:


The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” [19]


“God had ‘overlooked’ the former times of ignorance. Whereas in the past He had allowed the pagans to walk in their own ways, now with the perfect revelation which has come in Jesus Christ, God commands repentance of all men and sends messengers to them toward that end. Paul wanted the philosophers at Athens to not simply refine their thinking a bit further and add some missing information to it; but rather to abandon their presuppositions and have a complete change of mind, submitting to the clear and authoritative revelation of God. If they would not repent, it would be an indication of their love for ignorance and hatred of genuine knowledge.”[20]


Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. [21]


Note the three kinds of responses that Paul received. Some mocked. This is a common response even to this day. Do not be surprised if you receive this response. The apostle Paul did! Jesus did (Mark 5:40). You will too, if you speak to others about the gospel. “Some men joined him.” Some will be persuaded, but it will not be because of your eloquence or ability. It will be because the Spirit has drawn them. Still others desired to know more. If there is any desire at all in the heart of the hearer that, too, will be because of the Lord moving them. From this third category, some will come to faith and others will end up rejecting the message. We only need to be faithful to speak.


None of us will provide as good of a presentation as did Paul. That should not deter us. If anything, we ought to be encouraged. In our weakness and lack of ability, the Lord will still gain some for his kingdom! It is the Spirit who will make your words come alive!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:2–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:10–11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Witness Lee, Life-Study of Acts, Message 46 (Living Stream Ministry; Anaheim, CA)

[5] Ibid.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Covenant Media Press; Nacogdoches, TX; 2011) p 252.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Legacy Standard Bible (2021). (Ac 17:23). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[10] Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready, 255.

[11] Ibid, 256.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid, 256-257.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:24–25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:26–27). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[16] Bahnsen, Always Ready, 248.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid, 259.

[19] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:30–31). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[20] Bahnsen, 268.

[21] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:32–34). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.