Acts Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 17

1. After passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia, Sha’ul and Sila came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue.
A synagogue. The text has: "an assembly of the Jews." See 13:5N. 

2. According to his usual practice, Sha’ul went in; and on three Shabbats he gave them drashes from the Tanakh,
Being an observant Jew (13:9N), it was his usual practice to attend synagogue, not an occasional event when it suited him.
Gave them drashot, literally, "lectured to them." A drash or drashah is, literally, a "searching"; the word denotes a sermon, exegesis, exposition or homiletical interpretation of a text. The word "midrash" is related. The normal form for a drash in the midrashic period (100 B.C.E. to 500 C.E.) was: (1) introduction, consisting of a biblical verse with illustrations and parables, leading up to (2) the particular text to be explained, now expanded by stories, allegories and associations with other texts, and (3) conclusion, consisting of exhortations and words of comfort and ending with the Kaddish prayer (see Mt 6:9-13N). That Sha' ul frequently used Talmudic and midrashic thought patterns is illustrated by Ro 10:5-13; 1С 9:9-14; 2C 3:3-18; Ga 3:16,4:22-31. 

3. explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and that “this Yeshua whom I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.”
Explaining and quoting passages to prove, literally, "opening up and setting before them." One hears opposition to "proof-texting," a term that means explaining and quoting Scripture passages in order to prove something, just like Sha'ul. The main argument against proof-texting is that it can be misused: passages can be quoted out of context or invested with a meaning the author never intended. These are indeed abuses; "nevertheless, God's firm foundation stands" (2 Ti 2:19): when passages are quoted with regard to context, with terms properly translated and explained, and with account taken of the culture and background of the author and his intended readers, the method is perfectly proper. It was used by the rabbis throughout Jewish history, and it is reasonable to suppose that Sha'ul's methods of using Scripture were well within Jewish tradition.

The fact that the Tanakh is cited some 695 times in the New Testament shows that its writers were convinced that although God had done something unique and radically new in Yeshua, the meaning of what he had done could be adequately expressed only in relation to the Tanakh. This conviction set the first believers to reading the Tanakh with new eyes, which led to understanding how it relates to New Covenant truth. For some purposes it was sufficient to refer generally to "the Scriptures" or "the Tanakh" (e.g., 1С 15:3-4); but frequently major events in the life of Yeshua were related to individual texts. However, one seldom finds in the New Testament the kind of far-fetched allegory common in later rabbinic and Christian interpretation; and (here is rarely the kind of sustained verse-by-verse commentary on a Tanakh passage that can be found already at Qumran and later in both Jewish and Christian traditions (but MJ 3:7-4:11 has this character). In conclusion, what is seen in the New Testament is individual verses used with restraint to express the writers' underlying confidence that Yeshua the Messiah's coming is central to fulfilling God's purposes for Israel and the world.

The Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead. Sha'ul had to show this from the Tanakh, e.g., from Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Psalm 16:8-11 (see 1С 15:3-^&N), because the Jewish people were expecting that the first and most important act of the Messiah would be political liberation (1:6-7&N). This Yeshua... is the Messiah (See Mt 1:1&N). The first task was to re-order Jewish expectations. The second, here, is to show that these new expectations are fulfilled in Yeshua. 

4. Some of the Jews were persuaded and threw in their lot with Sha’ul and Sila, as did a great many of the Greek men who were “God-fearers,” and not a few of the leading women.
Some of the Jews were persuaded and threw in their lot with Sha'ul and Sila. The normal consequence of trusting Yeshua is to remain in fellowship with those who led you to faith. Sha'ul and Sila, unlike many of today's evangelists, never left new believers to flounder for themselves; and we are not told of new believers who went off by themselves, eschewing the company of other members of the Body. "God-fearers." See 10:2N. 

5. But the unbelieving Jews grew jealous; so they got together some vicious men from the riffraff hanging around in the market square, collected a crowd and started a riot in the city. They attacked Jason’s house, hoping to bring Sha’ul and Sila out to the mob.
Unbelieving Jews here and at v. 13. See 9:22-23N.
Jason was probably Jewish, for Sha'ul and Sila would not have needlessly offended the Jewish community by lodging with a Gentile. Many Greek-speaking Jews had Greek names; see 13:9N. In his commentary I. Howard Marshall speculates {ad he.) that if he was Jewish, "his Jewish name may have been Joshua, with Jason as a somewtiabsimilar-sounding Greek name for use in a Greek environment." Like thinking prevails in today's Jewish Diaspora: Hebrew and local-language names are often chosen to resemble each other, e.g., Bruce and Baruch. Josephus writes of a 2nd-century B.C.E. cohen gadol, Joshua, who "changed his name to Jason" (Antiquities of the Jews 12:5:1). 

6. But when they didn’t find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city authorities and shouted, “These men who have turned the whole world upside down have come here too!
7. And Jason has let them stay in his home! All of them are defying the decrees of the Emperor; because they assert that there is another king, Yeshua!”
They assert that there is another king, Yeshua. Compare 16:20-23&NN, also the accusations made against Yeshua at his own trial (Yn 18:33-38, 19:12) and his responses. He is King. He will rule the world. However, at present his rulership is not in this world (Yn 18:36), so that Sha'ul taught believers to obey temporal laws (Ro 13:1-7) and Kefa wrote, "Honor the king" (1 Ke 2:17). In the light of the emissaries' own teaching, the accusation against Sha'ul and his companions is false. 

8. Their words threw the crowd and the authorities into a turmoil,
9. so that only after Jason and the others had posted bond did they let them go.
10. But as soon as night fell, the brothers sent Sha’ul and Sila off to Berea. As soon as they arrived, they went to the synagogue.
11. Now the people here were of nobler character than the ones in Thessalonica; they eagerly welcomed the message, checking the Tanakh every day to see if the things Sha’ul was saying were true.
12. Many of them came to trust, as did a number of prominent Greek women and not a few Greek men.
Вегеа.... As soon as they arrived, they went to the synagogue. Now the people here were of nobler character than the ones in Thessaloniea; they eagerly welcomed the message, checking the Tanakh every day to see if the things Sha'ul was saying were true. Many of them came to trust. Today such openmindedness is similarly welcomed by Messianic Jews and is praiseworthy. We are confident that when the Good News is given this sort of a fair hearing, and the hearers rely on the facts, including the Tanakh, to verify the message, the response today will often be like that in Berea, where many Jewish people came to trust in Yeshua — a clear success for Sha'ul's Jewish evangelism. 

13. But when the unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Sha’ul in Berea as well, they went there too to make trouble and agitate the crowds.
14. The brothers sent Sha’ul away at once to go down to the seacoast, while Sila and Timothy stayed behind.
15. Sha’ul’s escort went with him as far as Athens, then left with instructions for Sila and Timothy to come as quickly as they could.
16. While Sha’ul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit within him was disturbed at the sight of the city full of idols.
17. So he began holding discussions in the synagogue with the Jews and the “God-fearers,” and in the market square every day with the people who happened to be there.
In Athens, Sha'ul discussed the Gospel in the synagogue with the Jews, as usual (13:5N). And with the "God-fearers", the people most likely to respond favorably (10:2N, 13:16N). And in the market square, the most prominent public gathering place, with the people who happened to be there — he tried to reach anyone he could, so he went to where people had time to talk with him and listen (this is the New Testament's example of street evangelism). He did not expect others to approach him but went to them, and he was tireless about it — he went every day. 

18. Also a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers started meeting with him. Some asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others, because he proclaimed the Good News about Yeshua and the resurrection, said, “He sounds like a propagandist for foreign gods.”
Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. The followers of Epicurus (341-270 B.C.E.) denied the existence of a purposeful God and believed the universe originated by chance from a falling rain of atoms. They mocked the popular (pagan) gods and mythology. Their view of the soul was materialistic: it dissolved and dissipated at death. Thus the aim of life was gratification, not pursuit of higher or externally given moral and spiritual interests. Gratification could be gross and sordid if one was so inclined, or esthetic and refined. Today's successors to the Epicureans speak of "doing your own thing," and their unabashed selfishness is rarely ameliorated by the common qualification usually honored in the breach, "so long as it doesn't hurt anybody else."

Stoics were pantheists for whom "God" was merely a word standing for some vague spirit of reason in the universe. They understood the soul to be corporeal and at death somehow absorbed into this blurry "God." All the major Eastern religions and certain seemingly Western offshoots have at bottom a similar theology, that there is no transcendent God who created and rules the universe independently of human beings and their imaginings. The Stoic moral code was in some ways higher than that of the Epicureans, but for them the highest morality was an austere apathy and unconcern which regarded itself as superior to passion as well as circumstance. Many alienated people today repress the genuine hurt and guilt they ought to feel and attempt to elevate their alienation into philosophy, thus ending up with a version of Stoicism. In this philosophy pleasure is not good and pain is not evil, for nothing really matters. "Reason" becomes a guide, but when "reason" finds nothing left to live for, suicide becomes the "reasonable" action — the first two leaders of Stoicism died by their own hand. In this century Albert Camus's novel. The Stranger, and his essay, "The Myth of Sisyphus," deal with this question from a nonbeliever's standpoint (see my discussion in Messianic Jewish Manifesto, pp. 35-41, on history and the meaning of life).

Both Stoicism and Epicureanism (and their successors) oppose biblical religion. In the present verses we see how Sha'ul, expressing God's love, dealt with people — sinners like everyone else — whose primary channel of life-expression was intellectual.

Babbler, or: "dilettante"; literally, "seedpicker," like a bird that picks from here and there.
He sounds like a propagandist for foreign gods. The task of people who work with their minds is to classify into comprehensible categories. The ever-present pitfall is classifying wrongly or too quickly. Yeshua the Messiah is not "foreign gods." The right response to him is not to put him in a readymade box, but have one's entire viewpoint changed, categories and all. "Don't be conformed to this world's standards, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Ro 12:2). 

19. They took and brought him before the High Council, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?
20. Some of the things we are hearing from you strike us as strange, and we would like to know what they mean.”
21. (All the Athenians and the foreigners living there used to spend their spare time talking or hearing about the latest intellectual fads.)
22. Sha’ul stood up in the Council meeting and said, “Men of Athens: I see how very religious you are in every way!
High Council (v. 19), Council meeting (v. 22a). Greek Areios pagos in both places, rendered "Areopagus" and "Mars' hill" in KJV (the god of war was called Ares by the Greeks and Mars by the Romans). The place-name referred colloquially to the High Council, which had once met there. 

23. For as I was walking around, looking at your shrines, I even found an altar which had been inscribed, ‘To An Unknown God.’ So, the one whom you are already worshipping in ignorance — this is the one I proclaim to you.
24. “The God who made the universe and everything in it, and who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in man-made temples;
25. nor is he served by human hands, as if he lacked something; since it is he himself who gives life and breath and everything to everyone.
26. “From one man he made every nation living on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the limits of their territories and the periods when they would flourish.
27. God did this so that people would look for him and perhaps reach out and find him although in fact, he is not far from each one of us,
28. ‘for in him we live and move and exist.’ Indeed, as some of the poets among you have said, ‘We are actually his children.’
29. So, since we are children of God, we shouldn’t suppose that God’s essence resembles gold, silver or stone shaped by human technique and imagination.
30. “In the past, God overlooked such ignorance; but now he is commanding all people everywhere to turn to him from their sins.
31. For he has set a Day when he will judge the inhabited world, and do it justly, by means of a man whom he has designated. And he has given public proof of it by resurrecting this man from the dead.”br> To those who approach life intellectually Sha'ul offers knowledge in lieu of ignorance (v. 23). He does not use the Scriptures at all, since these would carry no weight with these highly educated pagans (contrast vv. 2-3&NN, 10-12&N). Instead, he quotes from Greek poets in v. 28 (first Epimenides, then Aratus or Cleanthes); elsewhere he quotes Menander (1С 15:33) and Epimenides of Crete (Ti 1:12). He presents God as Creator, Giver of all, and Ruler of nations and history (vv. 24-26), and as One who seeks our love (vv. 27-28), which consists not in idol-worship (vv. 24-25. 29) but in turning from sins (v. 30), because a day is coming when everyone will be judged by God through the resurrected Yeshua (v. 31). His resurrection gives public proof that the Gospel is true and therefore objectively demands belief (see 26:8N). 

32. At the mention of a resurrection of dead people, some began to scoff; while others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”
The same division noted earlier between open- and closed-minded Jews (Yn 7:43N) is now seen among Gentiles. 

33. So Sha’ul left the meeting.
34. But some men stayed with him and came to trust, including the High Council member Dionysius; there was also a woman named Damaris; and others came to trust along with them.
Although it is said occasionally that Sha'ul was unsuccessful in Athens, this verse proves the contrary: the persons named became the core of that city's Messianic community. 

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