Robertson Word Pictures - Acts 17:18 - 17:18

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Robertson Word Pictures - Acts 17:18 - 17:18

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

And certain also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him (tines de kai tōn Epikouriōn kai Stōikōn philosophōn suneballon autōi). Imperfect active of sunballō, old verb, in the N.T. only by Luke, to bring or put together in one’s mind (Luk 2:19), to meet together (Act 20:14), to bring together aid (Act 18:27), to confer or converse or dispute as here and already Act 4:15 which see. These professional philosophers were always ready for an argument and so they frequented the agora for that purpose. Luke uses one article and so groups the two sects together in their attitude toward Paul, but they were very different in fact. Both sects were eager for argument and both had disdain for Paul, but they were the two rival practical philosophies of the day, succeeding the more abstruse theories of Plato and Aristotle. Socrates had turned men’s thought inward (Gnōthi Seauton, Know Thyself) away from the mere study of physics. Plato followed with a profound development of the inner self (metaphysics). Aristotle with his cyclopaedic grasp sought to unify and relate both physics and metaphysics. Both Zeno and Epicurus (340-272 b.c.) took a more practical turn in all this intellectual turmoil and raised the issues of everyday life. Zeno (360-260 b.c.) taught in the Stoa (Porch) and so his teaching was called Stoicism. He advanced many noble ideas that found their chief illustration in the Roman philosophers (Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius). He taught self-mastery and hardness with an austerity that ministered to pride or suicide in case of failure, a distinctly selfish and unloving view of life and with a pantheistic philosophy. Epicurus considered practical atheism the true view of the universe and denied a future life and claimed pleasure as the chief thing to be gotten out of life. He did not deny the existence of gods, but regarded them as unconcerned with the life of men. The Stoics called Epicurus an atheist. Lucretius and Horace give the Epicurean view of life in their great poems. This low view of life led to sensualism and does today, for both Stoicism and Epicureanism are widely influential with people now. “Eat and drink for tomorrow we die,” they preached. Paul had doubtless become acquainted with both of these philosophies for they were widely prevalent over the world. Here he confronts them in their very home. He is challenged by past-masters in the art of appealing to the senses, men as skilled in their dialectic as the Pharisaic rabbis with whom Paul had been trained and whose subtleties he had learned how to expose. But, so far as we know, this is a new experience for Paul to have a public dispute with these philosophical experts who had a natural contempt for all Jews and for rabbis in particular, though they found Paul a new type at any rate and so with some interest in him. “In Epicureanism, it was man’s sensual nature which arrayed itself against the claims of the gospel; in Stoicism it was his self-righteousness and pride of intellect” (Hackett). Knowling calls the Stoic the Pharisee of philosophy and the Epicurean the Sadducee of philosophy. Socrates in this very agora used to try to interest the passers-by in some desire for better things. That was 450 years before Paul is challenged by these superficial sophistical Epicureans and Stoics. It is doubtful if Paul had ever met a more difficult situation.

What would this babbler say? (Ti an theloi ho spermologos houtos legeiṅ). The word for “babbler” means “seed-picker” or picker up of seeds (sperma, seed, legō, to collect) like a bird in the agora hopping about after chance seeds. Plutarch applies the word to crows that pick up grain in the fields. Demosthenes called Aeschines a spermologos. Eustathius uses it of a man hanging around in the markets picking up scraps of food that fell from the carts and so also of mere rhetoricians and plagiarists who picked up scraps of wisdom from others. Ramsay considers it here a piece of Athenian slang used to describe the picture of Paul seen by these philosophers who use it, for not all of them had it (“some,” tines). Note the use of an and the present active optative theloi, conclusion of a fourth-class condition in a rhetorical question (Robertson, Grammar, p. 1021). It means, What would this picker up of seeds wish to say, if he should get off an idea? It is a contemptuous tone of supreme ridicule and doubtless Paul heard this comment. Probably the Epicureans made this sneer that Paul was a charlatan or quack.

Other some (hoi de). But others, in contrast with the “some” just before. Perhaps the Stoics take this more serious view of Paul.

He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods (zenōn daimoniōn dokei kataggeleus einai). This view is put cautiously by dokei (seems). Kataggeleus does not occur in the old Greek, though in ecclesiastical writers, but Deissmann (Light from the Ancient East, p. 99) gives an example of the word “on a marble stele recording a decree of the Mitylenaens in honour of the Emperor Augustus,” where it is the herald of the games. Here alone in the N.T. Daimonion is used in the old Greek sense of deity or divinity whether good or bad, not in the N.T. sense of demons. Both this word and kataggeleus are used from the Athenian standpoint. Xenos is an old word for a guest-friend (Latin hospes) and then host (Rom 16:23), then for foreigner or stranger (Mat 25:31; Act 17:21), new and so strange as here and Heb 13:9; 1Pe 4:12, and then aliens (Eph 2:12). This view of Paul is the first count against Socrates: Socrates does wrong, introducing new deities (adikei Sōkratēs, kaina daimonia eispherōn, Xen. Mem. I). On this charge the Athenians voted the hemlock for their greatest citizen. What will they do to Paul? This Athens was more sceptical and more tolerant than the old Athens. But Roman law did not allow the introduction of a new religion (religio illicita). Paul was walking on thin ice though he was the real master philosopher and these Epicureans and Stoics were quacks. Paul had the only true philosophy of the universe and life with Jesus Christ as the centre (Col 1:12-20), the greatest of all philosophers as Ramsay justly terms him. But these men are mocking him.

Because he preached Jesus and the resurrection (hoti ton Iēsoun kai tēn anastasin euēggelizato). Reason for the view just stated. Imperfect middle indicative of euaggelizō, to “gospelize.” Apparently these critics considered anastasis (Resurrection) another deity on a par with Jesus. The Athenians worshipped all sorts of abstract truths and virtues and they misunderstood Paul on this subject. They will leave him as soon as he mentions the resurrection (Act 17:32). It is objected that Luke would not use the word in this sense here for his readers would not under stand him. But Luke is describing the misapprehension of this group of philosophers and this interpretation fits in precisely.