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Bible Gemz 1715 - Did Paul Take a Boat After All? (Acts 17:14-34)

February 9, 2018

Paul in Athens

The believers acted at once, sending Paul on to the coast, while Silas and Timothy remained behind.

Those escorting Paul went with him all the way to Athens; then they returned to Berea with instructions for Silas and Timothy to hurry and join him.

While Paul was waiting for you all [them] in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city.

He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.

He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.”

Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said.

 “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.”  (Acts 17:16-21)



How is the journey going friends? I am asking because I am concerned for you all as to whether you have undertaken a journey to Athens walking via the road or whether you have taken a ship from Thessaly. Before I left you in Berea there with Silas and Timothy we talked about the time it would take to walk to Athens. Whereas Paul and I and the friends from Berea set out walking over to Thessaly but on reaching that town out on the coast it was suggested by the Bereans with us that we take a boat down the coast to Athens as it is so much quicker and assumedly less dangerous. So I thought, at least I should inform you of the options available to you.  


Between Berea in Macedonia and Athens there is a range of mountains which include Mount Olympus which forces travelers to head out to the sea. Hence there is debate as to whether Paul and the Bereans accompanying him walked to Athens, a very long journey or whether they took a boat.  I don't know whether you have had a chance to read the passage thoroughly yet but a cursory read of the text leaves you wondering if Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul in Athens or did not actually rejoin him until Corinth. 


Acts 18:1 Then Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.

Acts 18:2 There he became acquainted with a Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently arrived from Italy with his wife, Priscilla. They had left Italy when Claudius Caesar deported all Jews from Rome.

Acts 18:3 Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tentmakers just as he was.

Acts 18:4 Each Sabbath found Paul at the synagogue, trying to convince the Jews and Greeks alike.

Acts 18:5 And after Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul spent all his time preaching the word. He testified to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.


That makes you wonder, doesn’t it? It has been a long time that we have been here in Athens and you still haven’t arrived. Silas and Timothy have arrived here now. If you read the letters to the Thessalonians you will have seen this part. 


Finally, when we could stand it no longer, we decided to stay alone in Athens,

and we sent Timothy to visit you. He is our brother and God’s co-worker in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith,

and to keep you from being shaken by the troubles you were going through. But you know that we are destined for such troubles.

Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come—and they did, as you well know.

That is why, when I could bear it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out whether your faith was still strong. I was afraid that the tempter had gotten the best of you and that our work had been useless.

But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. (1 Thess 3:1-6)


Otherwise it seems that all of the action we are looking at takes place in Athens without Silas and Timothy. 


There is also a curious verse in a Byzantine Text which reads, “The brethren therefore sent off Paul to go by sea, but Silas and Timothy stayed there. And those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens.” 

There is some discussion as to whether [as far as the sea] should read by sea. Those who argue for a land journey on foot suggest they turned along the northern side of the mountains as far as Thessaly as it was difficult and dangerous to go through the mountains. When they got to Thessaly they simply then took the coastal road south to Athens. The idea is any likely pursuers would have assumed they took a ship, in which case they opted to walk. Which leaves Paul in Athens for a long time on his own. Also it is true that Luke in his unfolding story in the book of Acts usually makes note of any sea voyage by informing when Paul takes a voyage by sea. 


Others conclude from verse 14 that the text means as far as the sea rather than indicating a journey by sea. Furthermore, they claim Luke has not included the names of any other towns they passed through as he normally does. Therefore, a strong indication that Paul and his Berean friends took a boat. I am merely telling you all this to suggest that you take a boat down to Athens as it will be quicker and you don't have to worry about encountering the pursuers.  


Two of you have asked me:


1.         Why Silas and Timothy were left in Berea and why they didn't accompany Paul to Athens?

2.         Were they in any danger being left behind like that?


Ross thinks the answer to the first question is likely one of the following:

1.       If other than walking there may not have been sufficient transport (donkey and cart) to take an additional two people in this case Silas and Timothy. 

2.       That the mob were not interested in Silas and Timothy and therefore having them travel with Paul and his companions would have slowed up the escape.

3.       Silas and Timothy were to continue supporting the new church in its infancy until called for.

4.       Silas and Timothy may have acted as a decoy if necessary.


I think the most obvious reason for Silas and Timothy staying back in Berea is to strengthen the fledgling church. To stay on and teach them more while Paul was taken away by the Bereans for his own protection. As Ross indicated with his second point Paul appears to have been the only one in danger. The rabble rousers from Thessalonica were only interested in pursuing Paul. So I don't think Silas and Timothy were in any danger. That is clearly the case when we now know that Timothy was sent to Thessalonica. For him to be sent there indicates he was not in the same danger as Paul. But also bear in mind that these early disciples didn't decide on whether they should stay or go on the basis of any danger involved. They simply followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit, fully convinced that God was able to protect them along the way.        


I am delighted that the way I have written these last couple of Gemz have prompted a number of you to respond who don't normally respond, but wanted to tell me how you read each Gemz even though you may not normally respond. Of course, I am delighted to hear from you when you respond because it assures me that there are still some awake out there. Awake or Alive. 


More importantly than whether Paul took a boat or not is what he has been doing in your absence. 


Paul’s Speech at the Areopagus

So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way,

for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.

 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples,

and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.

From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.

For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.

 “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn     to him.

For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31)


The Reactions of the Athenians

When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.”

That ended Paul’s discussion with them, but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the council, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. (Acts 17:32-34)



Life is lived best when we compromise least. Deron Spoo


It’s easier to be a thermometer than a thermostat:  A thermometer reacts to temperature; a thermostat regulates temperature. 


Point being, become a regulator of the environment around you rather than a reactor to your circumstances. Ian


Be the salt and light you actually are; rather than react to those around. 

Don't react unthinkingly, rather make yours a reasoned response. Ian




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