Lesson 17--Paul's Second Missionary Journey: Thessalonica to Athens

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Paul's Second Missionary Journey

Thessalonica to Athens

Where did Paul and his companions go after leaving Philippi?

Acts 17:1

Notice that Luke changes from "we" to "they" again, which would indicate that Luke was no longer with Paul and his other companions, but remained behind to help the newly founded congregation in Philippi.

How was Paul received in Thessalonica?

Acts 17:2-9

In Acts 18:2 we are told that Claudius, the Roman emperor, had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. The secular Roman historian Suetonius claims that Claudius "expelled the Jews from the city because the Jews in Rome made continual disturbances in the name of Chrestus…." The Latin word "Chrestus" means "Christ." This could be a reference to the Jewish reaction to the first Christians in Rome, or to the messianic aspirations of the Jewish people. Either way the jealous Jews of Thessalonica could take advantage of the situation. They simply accused Paul of a "crimen maiestatis"—a "crime against the emperor," for he proclaimed Jesus as mankind’s king. This charge would have even a greater effect, seeing that Claudius was near death, and no doubt a struggle for power would ensue. It is to the credit of the city officials that they did not overreact.

Where did Paul and his companions go after leaving Thessalonica?

Acts 17:10

How did Paul’s reception in Berea differ from that in Thessalonica?

Acts 16:11-15

Where did Paul go after leaving Berea?

Acts 17:16

What particularly disturbed Paul about the Athenians?

Acts 17:16-21

The Roman lawyer, author, and statesman Pliny estimated that at this time there were over 3,000 public statues in Athens, most of which were of the gods. If one adds the countless images and shrines in private homes, one can see what was so disturbing to Paul.

Luke mentions two schools of philosophy—the Stoics and the Epicureans. The Stoics set up a great ethical system in which virtue was its highest goal. Virtue consisted of 1) Absolute judgment; 2) Absolute mastery of desire; 3) Absolute control of the soul over pain; and 4) Absolute justice. The Stoic’s life was one of austerity and self-control. The Epicureans claimed, on the other hand, that happiness could only be achieved by peace of mind resulting from the cultivation of virtue. Virtue, however, was not the goal, but the means to the goal of happiness. Quietude of mind and a steadfast faith, together with a proper conception of pleasure led to a pleasant life. Such a life could not be lived without wisdom and righteousness. Unfortunately, the followers of Epicurus in Paul’s day had allowed Epicureanism to degenerate into a philosophy of eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die!

Analyze and compare Paul’s sermon in Athens, recorded in Acts 17:22-31 , with his approach in both Thessalonica and Berea, recorded in Acts 17:2-3,11:

In earlier times the Areopagus had been the criminal court of Athens. There the accused and the prosecutor would stand on two prominent white stones before the men acting as the jury. The one stone was called the Stone of Shame, while the other was labeled the Stone of Ruthlessness. Innocence or guilt was determined by debate. Here Paul stood, and while he may not have been aware of the significance of the place, those listening were undoubtedly sitting in judgment of his words.

Paul used several quotes from the heathen poets of the day in his sermon in Athens. The first is from the Cretan poet Epimenides, in which his fellow-islanders are denounced for their impiety in claiming that the tomb of Zeus could be seen in Crete. This poem is also quoted by Paul in Titus 1:12:

They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one— The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!

But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,

For in thee we live and move and have our being.

The second comes from the poem on Natural Phenomena by Paul’s fellow Cilician, Aratus. Aratus was deeply influenced by Stoicism:

Let us begin with Zeus; never, O men, let us leave him unmentioned.

Full of Zeus are all the ways and all the meeting places of men;

The sea and the harbors are full of him.

It is with Zeus that every one of us in every way has to do, for we are also his offspring.

Discussion Topics:

Christianity has often been misrepresented with the result that people are "turned off" by what they perceive falsely to be the Christian message. How did this happen in Thessalonica? How has this happened at other times in the past? How is it happening today?

Many churches and church societies have over the years called themselves "Bereans." Why is this the case? Why should we all strive to be "Bereans" ourselves?

Paul varied his approach to and presentation of the gospel message to suit his audience. How can Paul’s example serve us well in the area of parish education? How might his example affect our approach in personal as well as synodical mission endeavors?