Studies in the Book of Acts

Most of this series was written by Paul Kroll, a journalist working for Grace Communion International. Copyright Grace Communion International. The research was done in the mid 1990s, but all articles were edited in 2012 by Michael Morrison, PhD, professor of Biblical Studies at Grace Communion Seminary.

Acts 17:32-34

Some sneer (17:32-34)

Luke describes the generally negative reaction to Paul’s teaching: “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject’” (17:32). Greeks believe in the immortality of the soul, but the idea of a person being bodily resurrected from death seems absurd. As it turns out, the resurrection as well as the cross seems like foolishness to the leaders of Athens.

In the later part of his speech, Paul has moved from repentance to judgment to the resurrection of Jesus to the return of Christ. Most of his hearers got lost along the way.

The idea of resurrection of dead people was uncongenial to the minds of most of Paul’s Athenian hearers….they would have endorsed the sentiments of the god Apollo, expressed on the occasion when that very court of the Areopagus was founded by the city’s patron goddess Athene: “Once a man dies and the earth drinks up his blood, there is no resurrection.” (Bruce, 343)

Part of the Athenian leaders reject Paul’s teaching completely — and with open ridicule. Others, perhaps more curious, speak of hearing his theories at a later date. More than likely, however, they are merely politely dismissing Paul. (At least, no charges are brought against him.) Only a few believe Paul’s message and the gospel. Luke says “Some of the people became followers of Paul” (17:34). He mentions Dionysius by name, a member of the Areopagus, and a woman, Damaris.

Paul’s work in Athens ends on an anti-climactic note. The New Testament does not mention any church in the city. By contrast, the gospel will receive a strong acceptance in Corinth. This rather dismal experience in Athens may cause Paul to wonder whether any method of preaching the gospel could reach the educated of the pagan world. He later tells the Corinthians that “the world through its wisdom did not know” God (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Paul may even decide to stop using philosophical arguments to persuade pagans. He tells the Corinthians that he “did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom” when preaching the gospel to them (2:1). Paul simply tells them about “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2).