The Philippian Jailer and Paul in Athens – Acts 16-17

After arriving again at Lystra, Paul wanted a disciple there named Timothy to come with him. Some wonder why Paul chose to circumcise Timothy, but clearly states in Galatians 2:3 that Titus was not circumcised. The answer is that Timothy, before becoming a Christian, was raised by a Jewish mother (though his father was Greek). So, as verse 3 says, it was because of the Jews in those places. Having an uncircumcised Jew with him could pose a distraction by having some focus on that fact rather than the important teaching of Jesus Christ.

They set sail to Philippi, a leading city in Macedonia. There was no synagogue there, so on the Sabbath they found women gathered for prayer by the river. One was “Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods.” These goods would have been made from an expensive dye made from the murex shell. Note that Luke says that God opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul said, and she was baptized.

Raphael, St Paul Preaching in Athens

Raphael, St Paul Preaching in Athens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After Paul drove the demon from the slave girl in verses 16-18, her owners drug Paul and Silas before the magistrates with false accusations. In verses 20-22, they were beaten with rods and put in jail. Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns while the other prisoners listened until an earthquake shook the prison, opening the doors and freeing the bonds. The jailer, readied to kill himself as he supposed they had escaped. But Paul stopped him, and he and his family were all baptized.

In chapter 17, Luke dropped the use of the first person plural in the text, suggesting that he may have remained in Philippi as Paul and Silas pass through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica. Neither the reference to “three sabbath days” in verse 2, nor the fact that they left the city after only 9 verses of this chapter should be construed as the an indication of the length of their stay in Thessalonica. Indications from 1 Thessalonians 2:9 and Philippians 4:16, for example, are that their ministry there was much longer. The Jewish religious leaders, once again, became jealous and stirred up a mob until they attacked the house of a believer – hoping to lay hands on Paul, no doubt. Not finding them, they dragged the man (Jason) and some other believers before authorities, falsely claiming they were touting Jesus as an earthly king and a threat to Caesar.

In verse 10, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away, but it should be noted that their mission there was successful, as some of the Jews had been converted, and “a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.” This explains the jealousy of the Jewish religious leaders there.  They went to Berea, and Paul was sent off by sea to Athens. But Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea. After arriving in Athens, Paul sent word back with those who had accompanied him for Silas and Timothy to join him .

Finding himself in this great pagan capital, Paul saw idol after idol. He “reasoned” in the synagogue of course, but verse 17 says that he did so also in the marketplace every day. Speaking with men of the two prominent philosophies of the day, Stoicism and Epicurean-ism, attracted great attention, and they brought him to the authorities at the Areopagus – this time with interest and curiosity in this speaker of “foreign divinity,” rather than hostility. The Areopagus held a body of men with civil. moral, and religious authority over the city. Paul would have addressed them either on the “hill of Ares” (Mars Hill, where a temple to their “god” of war had been built in ancient times), or southwest of the Acropolis in the northwest corner of the Agora. There, this body held meetings in the Royal Colonnade.

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…”

He goes on to say that the God, who made the world and everything in it, is not contained in temples made by men – that He made, from one man, every nation of mankind “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…” He told these idol worshipers that God should not be thought of as an image of stone or precious metals formed by the imagination of man. He concludes with what we would expect – an excellent message of the gospel:

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but know he commands all people everywhere to repent, 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.” Some mocked him at the reference to the resurrection, but others wanted to hear more, some being converted (verse 34) including Dionysius, one of the judges of the Areopagus. That being the case, even Paul’s visit to this pagan city was a success!

/Bob’s boy

Bible Reading Schedule for this month
Click links below to read or listen to audio of one of this week’s chapters in Colossians and Luke

Acts 13, Acts 14, Acts 15, Acts 16, Acts 17


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All of my comments in this blog are solely my responsibility. When reading any commentary, you should always refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word.