Acts 17:1-15 by Robert Dean
Would it surprise you to learn you could probably ace a pop culture quiz? Every day, without even trying, we soak up pagan ideas like a sponge. Listen to this lesson to learn how the Apostle Paul countered the trends of his day by teaching logical, reasonable truths from the Scriptures. Find out how we can learn to clarify our beliefs effectively so we stop one-shot, "drive-by" witnessing. See what it means to search the Scriptures daily like the Bereans.

Opposition and Acceptance
Acts 17:1-15

As we come to this section in Acts chapter 17:1-15—most of it is just descriptive narrative, very little focuses on Paul's teaching and there is not a lot of content there—what we see is a contrast between the reception that Paul has in Thessalonica which continues to be hostile. When he was in Philippi there was a tremendous amount of hostility and he left there. These Jews eventually followed him to Thessalonica and their self-righteous arrogance, and self-righteousness always breeds an arrogant type of reaction. In their self-righteous arrogance they continue to stir up trouble.

What makes an interesting study is the different words the apostle Paul uses to describe the different ways in which hostility develops in his audience. But we see that there is an opposition there and that contrasted when we come to vv. 10-15 which talks about the response to Paul's ministry in Berea. When Paul comes into Berea there is a very positive response. He goes through the same methodology as in Thessalonica and Philippi. Philippi didn't have a synagogue but he went to some God-fearers. In Thessalonica he does go to the synagogue and there is a tremendous negative reaction from among the Jews.

There is a great application here for us because as we watch what has been going on in our culture—in American and western civilization—we have been on a negative trajectory in regards to the Gospel and the Scriptures since the mid-nineteenth century. That is when a major shift occurred within a lot of the academic institutions in the US, and it takes a while for ideas to filter down to where they become the normative thinking by the every-day person. They have been influenced by Marxist-Leninist thinking which is grounded on a naturalistic worldview that doesn't see God as overseeing the history of mankind. They don't see man as being created in the image and likeness of God. They have views that are generally acceptive of human psychological theories that have been developed from Freud in the mid to late 19th century, and they operate on a lot of assumptions and views in terms of a sort of pop culture that have come out of the developments of 19th century sociological thinking from people like Hebert Spencer and others. Yet today, even though people may never have heard of these names, they are thinking in terms of those people.

This is true especially true of the generation that has now come of age, often referred to as "millennials," the ones who came of age in the last fifteen years or so. Studies show that among this generation, specifically in reference to the Supreme Court decision with the overturning of key provisions of the Defence of Marriage Act. The issue of homosexual marriage and recognition and acceptance of it is a major issue with that generation in terms of acceptance. They view any sort of criticism of that as simply being judgmental. There are major attitude differences between those over 40 and those under 40 in terms of how they view marriage. And that has a lot to do with how they view sexuality and how they view sexual morals. It reflects a major, major shift.

These things are evident in the mainstream of culture through the decision-makers that we elect to Congress. They reflect the mores of the culture, the values of the every-day citizen—even though in this country there is probably a majority who hold to some moderate conservative beliefs and views. They are either not showing up at the polls to vote or don't register to vote—a large number of evangelicals didn't even register to vote in the last election, much less show up to vote—and so their voice is not heard. When their voice is not heard then the culture takes a default position and slides evermore speedily into the morass of moral relativism. We get sucked down into that quicksand of secularism, immorality, moral relativism, and it just becomes harder and harder to extricate ourselves until we reach the point of no return. There are some today who believe we have reached the point of no return and that there is no way that this country will ever turn itself back. It has completely failed the test of prosperity. It is not impossible but it is normally unlikely.

And this puts us as believers in a very different circumstance than we were in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years ago. This means we have to think differently about our country, about the Constitution, about our role as a Christian within the culture. Because we live now as a minority in this culture in terms of what we believe. People are increasingly calling in on talks shows and the phone who have felt that, with a series of Supreme Court decisions in the past 20-30 years, opinions that were mainstream, normal patriotic America views years ago, have basically been rendered unconstitutional today.

Many evangelical Christians (mainly white evangelical Christians) have basically had their opinions declared unconstitutional over the last 20-30 years. This leads to a tremendous amount of frustration but we have to recognize that there was never a guarantee that this country would stay the course that it once had. This means that we have to change our viewpoint. We now function not much differently from the apostle Paul and the early Christians within the pagan environment of the Greco-Roman culture. So we have to think about our relationship to the culture in ways that are more like those of the Bible. We are in a hostile environment. That doesn't mean we react in anger, in bitterness, revolution or any of the things that people are heard saying out of frustration and anger. We have to deal with the culture in grace and we have to work even more diligently to make sure that we are shining as lights in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation.

We see how Paul handled the adversity of ministering in the midst of persecution and opposition in this chapter. We see a positive response in vv. 10-15, and the negative response when he is in Thessalonica.

We are on the second missionary journey. Paul had a ministry in Philippi where he cast a demon out of a slave girl who was a fortune-teller. Because of that it impacted the wallets of her owners, there was a strong negative response and he was accused of going against the culture and the norms of Rome. This is the same kind of thing that we are going to hear as Christians. We will be accused of not being very Christian, of not being very loving. We have already heard this and have heard it for a long time. We are not accepting, we are intolerant; a huge list of false charges is presented. Yet, what we see is that the apostle Paul does not necessarily respond to the false charges as much as he responds by clearly articulating his message. 

Acts 17:1 NASB "Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews." Thessalonica was the largest and most significant city, a harbor town, and was a strategic location. It was a seat of the Roman government and so there was a strong Roman presence there. 

Acts 17:2 NASB "And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures." One of the important doctrines that we see illustrated in this story has to do with the apostle Paul's presentation of the gospel and his teaching from Scripture. We see in the book of Acts that Luke uses a variety of different synonyms in order to relate what the apostles did with the Scriptures. There are words such as kerusso, which simply means that they proclaimed the gospel. Another word, euangelizo, means that they gave the good news, and another, katangello, which has more to do with announcing. But here we have another word which means to reason—dialegomai. The verb form is used here from which we get our word 'dialogue.' The usage at the time was to dispute something, to discuss something, to ponder, reflect upon something, to consider or to reason. It has to do in this context where Paul is reasoning with them a logical, rational defense of his position that Jesus is the Messiah. He is doing apologetics. That is what the word means in 2 Peter 3:15—to make a defense, to give a logically constructed, rational case for the gospel: that Jesus is the predicted Messiah of the Old Testament.

One of the trends today in evangelical scholarship is to deny that is very much messianic prophecy in the Old Testament. A lot of these scholars say (these aren't liberals, they are allegedly conservative evangelical scholars) there is only one, Psalm 110. So what did Jesus talk to the disciples about on the road to Emmaus in Luke chapter 24?

We see the use of this word dialegomai several times in relation to Paul. Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8, 9. And this is the way a pastor taught the Word: presenting a logical case and going through it step by step. He is not using emotive terms; he is not just giving a motivational message. He is giving a rationally constructed case for what the Scripture teaches. This is further developed in the next verse.

Acts 17:3 NASB "explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead …" He reasoned by explaining and giving evidence. These two words are participles that describe how he reasoned. Where did he get evidence that the Christ had to suffer? He went to passage like Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Zechariah 12 in the Old Testament that demonstrate that the Messiah had to suffer. This was probably a great eye-opener for his audience because at this time in history in Judaism they believed that the Messiah was more of a political deliverer than one who would come to suffer. So he is opening the Scripture to them literally. The word "explaining" is the Greek dianoigo, which literally means to open something up or to reveal or expose something. It is used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew patach, which means to open something. A variation of patach is used to refer to the naïve or the simple ones in Proverbs. The second word, 'demonstrating,' is the Greek word paratithemi, which means to set something before one. It is used numerous times to refer to somebody preparing a table for dinner—setting everything out for someone so that they can then use them.

In terms of Paul's reasoning of the Scriptures he is doing two things. He is opening up the Scriptures, exposing that the Scripture teaches. And he is laying it out in front of his audience to that they can clearly see what the Scripture teaches. These are not terms that describe some sort of emotional, motivational speech. It is describing rational discourse, instruction. He is showing them from the Old Testament a) that Christ had to suffer, and b) that He had to rise again from the dead.

Then Paul says, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ." He is making it clear that Jesus is the Messiah, and the way you know it is because you see it unfolding in the Old Testament prophecies. There are over 100 Old Testament prophecies that were literally fulfilled at the first advent of Jesus Christ. This is what Peter means in 2 Peter 3:15. This is given as a mandate by Peter, that we are to always be ready to explain the gospel and to defend why we believe it.

The result: Acts 17:4 NASB "And some of them were persuaded …" This is the word peitho, and it means somebody listens to the evidence, becomes convinced of the evidence, and believes. "… and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women." The God-fearing Greeks refers to a large number of proselytes.

From about 50 BC up until about 50 AD, and maybe even a little bit beyond, there was a tremendous amount of curiosity in the Greco-Roman world about Judaism and the Jewish God. Many times synagogues had more Gentile God-fearers in them than they did Jews. They didn't go all the way to full submission to the Mosaic Law but they certainly were at least partially committed in studying the Old Testament, seeking God; an evidence of their positive volition.

At this point Paul hasn't gone out into the Agora with the gospel, he is just explaining it to "the Jew first, then to the Gentile," and as he is explaining this in the synagogue a great multitude of the Gentiles there believed and responded to the gospel, including several of the leading women. Apparently after three weeks in the synagogue enough of an opposition develop so that they began to meet apart from the synagogue. They "joined" with Paul—proskleroo, from the verb kleroo meaning to call. It comes to mean joining together in the church. The word for "church," ekklesia, is from the same root. This has the idea of their unity in the body of Christ. Notice that it is an aorist passive indicative: they don't perform the action; they receive the action. This suggests that what Luke is indicating here is that as they believed God was uniting the believers together in the body of Christ.  

The contrast; the reaction. Hostility comes from the people who were self-righteous, who were set in their own ways, who would rather follow tradition and human autonomous reason and experience. In this case it was the Jews who followed the traditions of their fathers, the teaching that had developed after Ezra in the development of rabbinical theology in the second temple period. These were not persuaded. It seems to be a large majority of Jews in the synagogue. Acts 17:5 NASB "But the Jews, becoming jealous and taking along some wicked men from the market place, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar; and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people."

Envy is part of the lust motivation of the sin nature. They desire something that they don't have thinking it will make them happy, and so it is part of the early stages of a frantic search for happiness. They become envious and jealous that the apostle Paul is drawing people away from their synagogue. So it is a matter of pride, a matter of losing face as it were, and so they become envious. They begin to stir up the masses, the low-lifes at the edges of the market place. Here we have the word agorios, which is a word meaning mean who belong to the market place, the homeless drifters who hung out around the Agora seeking maybe opportunity to swindle people. So the Jews are going to get them stirred up against Paul, Timothy and Silas. The words "set in an uproar" is the same verb thorubeo, meaning to stir up trouble, to cause trouble. It basically meant a riot.

Then they are going to attack the house of Jason. There is a Jason mentioned in Romans 16, but it is not at all sure it is the same Jason. This is the name of one of the Jewish leaders of the synagogue who had responded to the gospel, and this is where Paul, Silas and Timothy have been staying. The mob is trying to bring these out to the people. The word "people" here is the word demos. It is the first part of the word from which we get our word democracy, and it simply refers to the people. What is interesting is that this word has a couple of different nuances in Greek, depending on it was used in the context. In some contexts it has to do with the mob; in another context it referred to the leaders of the people. It is a little uncertain here because it could go either way. There is a mob that has gathered in this chapter that is surrounding the house of Jason and they get Jason and some of the other believers and drag them out to the rulers of the city. This could be the demos, because what they wanted to do in Acts 17:5 was take them out to the people. This could be the rulers of the people. And that is in fact what they do with Jason and the other brethren, and they bring a false charge against them.

How many times have we seem misrepresentations of the conservative Christian position by the secular media? The polls have shown that very few in the media are "religious" in any broad sense of the term. They don't go to church; they don't have respect for religious opinions or beliefs. So the people in the media do not reflect the norms and the standards of many Americans and they often present a distorted picture because they don't understand what it is that they are talking about. It is foreign to them. And another thing is that many Christians don't understand Christianity and misrepresent themselves, so that just adds to the confusion.

Acts 17:6 NASB "When they did not find them, they {began} dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, 'These men who have upset the world have come here also.' [7] and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.'" They use the word anastatoo which has the basic idea in Greek of agitating, subverting or overthrowing. They are calling them rebels, agitators.

Paul refers to this in 1 ThessAlonians 2:14 NASB "For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they {did} from the Jews …" The analogy is that just as the Christians in Judea had faced opposition and persecution from the Pharisees and the Sadducees, so these too in Thessalonica were facing opposition from their own countrymen. [15] "who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, [16] hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost." So in 1 Thessalonians Paul puts the opponents in Thessalonica in the same stream as the religious legalists at the time of Christ, and the idolaters in the Old Testament who persecuted and killed the prophets, and persecuted and killed the Lord Jesus Christ. 

What is it that the message of the rabble-rousers is? That what Paul, Silas and Timothy are doing is overturning the whole world. But what Paul says is what they, the Jews, were doing was something that was contrary to all men and forbidding to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved. It is obvious that this opposition was coming from the Jewish leadership and the Jewish community at the synagogue, prohibiting them from preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. 

The heart of their accusation: "they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar." They are political subversives, rebelling against the authority of Caesar. This would make them guilty of treason and make it a death penalty. So they are raising that specter before the judges in Thessalonica. "…saying that there is another king, Jesus." Where did we see that before? This is the same kind of claim that the Pharisees and the Sadducees brought against Jesus at the time of the crucifixion.

Acts 17:8 NASB "They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things." The word "stirred up" is teracho. This puts the authorities on a spot and so they took a bond basically, from Jason and the rest and then let them go. [9] "And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them." This has really disturbed the peace in Thessalonica which had an estimated population of between 50-100,000 in the first century.

Acts 17:10 NASB "The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews." Timothy is not mentioned but he does show up in Berea. Again, Paul follows the same procedure that he has followed in other places. He doesn't let the fact that he is getting opposition from the Jews stop him. He knows that his mission is the give the gospel. And that is the mission of every single believer. It doesn't mean we do it in an in-your-face or antagonistic manner, but when we are proclaiming the truth many times it will be taken as an in-your-face antagonistic assault. It's simply because we are addressing someone who is negative. They are in arrogance and we are confirming them in this by proclaiming the gospel. We are exposing the idolatry of their soul and they don't want that exposed. They are pulling back the curtain on their "suppression of truth in unrighteousness" and they react in anger and hostility. That doesn't slow Paul down one little bit. His faith is in the Lord and that is his courage. He is not seeking confrontation but he is not avoiding confrontation on the basis of the gospel.  

But here he gets a very different response. Acts 17:11 NASB "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily {to see} whether these things were so." The indication here is that they have a level of objectivity, the synagogue had more positive persons truly interested in the things of God more than the things of religion. When they heard the gospel it challenged them. This word "noble-minded" is the Greek eugenes, from which we get the idea of high or noble birth. It is used metaphorically for attitude. They received the word and searched the Scripture. "With great eagerness" indicates a true excitement and openness to what Paul said. They are enthusiastic about the message and they searched the Scriptures, and the word there mans to examine in detail. It is a word that is used in a legal investigation. We see it in other verses such as Acts 24:8; 28:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14.

They searched the Scriptures daily. These are unbelievers initially but they hear the claim of Paul and they hear him present a logical case from the Old Testament. They don't just take his word for it; they go home and search the Scriptures themselves to make sure that he is accurately handling the Word. This is a great verse that every believer ought to take to heart. You don't just believe the pastor because he went to a certain seminary, has a certain degree, is smarter than I am. Every believer on a congregation should be, if they have been a believer for any length of time, equipped well enough in the Scriptures to be able to keep check on a pastor from going out of bounds doctrinally. The fact that we live in a world today where that just doesn't happen is another indictment on the modern church.   

Result: Acts 17:12 NASB "Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men." But what happens?

Acts 17:13 NASB "But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds. [14] Then immediately the brethren sent Paul out to go as far as the sea; and Silas and Timothy remained there." Apparently Paul was the real lightning rod for the opposition, probably because of his previous training. [15] "Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left."

What we learn elsewhere is that Silas and Timothy had gone back to Thessalonica and then would eventually rejoin Paul in Corinth. That is when Paul writes the first epistle to the Thessalonians.