on Acts 17 :34
Certain men clave unto him - Became affectionately united to him, and believed the doctrines he had preached.
Dionysius the Areopagite - There can be no doubt that this man was one of the judges of this great court, but whether the president or otherwise we cannot tell. Humanly speaking, his conversion must have been an acquisition of considerable importance to the Christian religion; for no person was a judge in the Areopagus who had not borne the office of archon, or chief governor of the city; and none bore the office of judge in this court who was not of the highest reputation among the people for his intelligence and exemplary conduct. In some of the popish writers we find a vast deal of groundless conjecture concerning Dionysius, who, they say, was first bishop of Athens, and raised to that dignity by Paul himself; that he was a martyr for the truth; that Damaris was his wife, etc., etc., concerning which the judicious Calmet says, Tout cela est de peu d' autorite. "All this has little foundation."
1. In addition to what has been said in the notes on this subject, I may add, the original word δεισιδαιμονεϚερος, from δειδω, I fear, and δαιμων, a demon, signifies, "greatly addicted to the worship of the invisible powers;" for, as the word δαιμων signifies either a good or evil spirit, and δειδω, I fear, signifies not only to fear in general, but also to pay religious reverence, the word must be here taken in its best sense; and so undoubtedly St. Paul intended it should; and so, doubtless, his audience understood him; for it would have been very imprudent to have charged them with superstition, which must have been extremely irritating, in the very commencement of a discourse in which he was to defend himself, and prove the truth of the Christian religion. He stated a fact, acknowledged by the best Greek writers; and he reasoned from that fact. The fact was that the Athenians were the most religious people in Greece, or, in other words, the most idolatrous: that there were in that city more altars, temples, sacrifices, and religious services, than in any other place. And independently of the authorities which may be quoted in support of this assertion, we may at once perceive the probability of it from the consideration that Athens was the grand university of Greece: that here philosophy and every thing relating to the worship of the gods was taught; and that religious services to the deities must be abundant. Look at our own universities of Oxford and Cambridge; here are more prayers, more religious acts and services, than in any other places in the nation, and very properly so. These were founded to be seminaries of learning and religion; and their very statutes suppose religion to be essential to learning; and their founders were in general religious characters, and endowed them for religious purposes. These, therefore, are not superstitious services; for, as superstition signifies "unnecessary fears or scruples in religion; observance of unnecessary and uncommanded rites or practices," - Johnson, it cannot be said of those services which are founded on the positive command of God, for the more effectual help to religious feelings, or as a preventive of immoral practices. I consider the Athenians, therefore, acting in conformity to their own laws and religious institutions; and Paul grants that they were much addicted to religious performances: this he pays as a compliment, and then takes occasion to show that their religion was defective: they had not a right object of devotion; they did not know the true God; the true God was to them the unknown God; and this an altar in their own city acknowledged. He therefore began to declare that glorious Being to them whom they ignorantly worshipped. As they were greatly addicted to religious services, and acknowledged that there was a Being to them unknown, and to whom they thought it necessary to erect an altar, they must, consistently with their character as a religious people, and with their own concession in the erection of this altar, hear quietly, patiently, and candidly, a discourse on that God whose being they acknowledged, but whose nature they did not know. Thus St. Paul, by acknowledging their religious disposition, and seizing the fact of the altar being inscribed to the unknown God, assumed a right which not a philosopher, orator, or judge in the Areopagus could dispute, of bringing the whole subject of Christianity before them, as he was now brought to his trial, and put on his defense. The whole of this fine advantage, this grand stroke of rhetorical prudence, is lost from the whole account, by our translation, ye are in all things too superstitious, thus causing the defendant to commence his discourse with a charge which would have roused the indignation of the Greeks, and precluded the possibility of their hearing any thing he had to say in defense of his conduct.
2. That the original word, on the right interpretation of which I have laid so much stress, is taken in a good sense, and signifies religious worship and reverence, I shall show by several proofs; some of which may be seen in Mr. Parkhurst, under the word Δεισιδαιμονια, which Suidas explains by ευλαβεια περι το Θειον, reverence towards the Deity. And Hesychius, by φοβοθεΐα, the fear of God. "In this good sense it is often used by Diodorus Siculus. Herodotus says of Orpheus, he led men, εις δεισιδαιμονιαν, to be religious; and exhorted them, επι το ευσεβειν, to piety; where it is manifest that δεισιδαιμονια must mean religion, and not superstition. But, what is more to the present purpose, the word is used by Josephus, not only where a heathen calls the pagan religion δεισιδαιμονιας, (Antiq. lib. xix. cap. 5. s. 3), or where the Jewish religion is spoken of by this name, in several edicts that were made in its favor by the Romans, (as in Antiq. lib. xiv. cap. 10, s. 13, 14, 16, 18, 19), but also where the historian is expressing his own thoughts in his own words: thus, of King Manasseh, after his repentance and restoration, he says, εσπουδαζεν πασῃ περι αυτον (Θεον) τῃ δεισιδαιδαιμονιᾳ χρησθαι, he endeavored to behave in the Most Religious manner towards God. Antiq. lib. x. cap. 3, s. 2. And, speaking of a riot that happened among the Jews on occasion of a Roman soldier's burning the book of the law, he observes that the Jews were drawn together on this occasion, τῃ δεισιδαιμονιᾳ, by their religion, as if it had been by an engine; οργανῳ τινι. - De Bell. lib. ii. cap. 12, s. 2." It would be easy to multiply examples of this use of the word; but the reader may refer, if necessary, to Wetstein, Pearce, and others.
3. That the Athenians were reputed, in this respect, a devout people, the following quotations may prove. Pausanias, in Attic. cap. xvii. p. 39, edit. Kuhn., says that the Athenians were not only more humane, αλλα και ες θεους ευσεβειν, but more devout towards the gods; and again he says, δηλα τε εναργως, ὁσοις πλεον τι ἑτερων ευσεβειας μετεϚιν, it appears plainly how much they exceed others in the worship of the gods; and, in cap. xxiv. p. 56, he says, Αθηναιοις περισσοτερον τι, η τοις αλλοις, ες τα θεια εϚι σπουδης, that the Athenians are abundantly more solicitous about Divine matters than others. And Josephus seals this testimony by the assertion, contr. Apion, ii.:10: Αθηναιους ευσεβεϚατους των Ἑλληνων παντες λεγουσι; Every body says that the Athenians are the most religious people of all the Greeks. - See Bp. Pearce. From all these authorities it is palpable that St. Paul must have used the term in the sense for which I have contended.
4. In the preceding notes, I have taken for granted that Paul was brought to the Areopagus to be tried on the charge of setting forth strange gods. Bp. Warburton denies that he was brought before the Areopagus on any charge whatever; and that he was taken there that the judges might hear him explain his doctrine, and not to defend himself against a charge which he does not once notice in the whole of his discourse. But there is one circumstance that the bishop has not noticed, viz. that St. Paul was not permitted to finish his discourse, and therefore could not come to those particular parts of the charge brought against him which the bishop thinks he must have taken up most pointedly, had he been accused, and brought there to make his defense. The truth is, we have little more than the apostle's exordium, as he was evidently interrupted in the prosecution of his defense. As to the supposition that he was brought by philosophers to the Areopagus, that they might the better hear him explain his doctrine, it appears to have little ground; for they might have heard him to as great advantage in any other place: nor does it appear that this court was ever used, except for the solemn purposes of justice. But the question, whether Paul was brought to the Areopagus that he might be tried by the judges of that court, Bishop Pearce answers with his usual judgment and discrimination. He observes:
1. "We are told that one effect of his preaching was, that he converted Dionysius the Areopagite, Acts 17:34; and this seems to show that he, who was a judge of that court, was present, and, if so, probably other judges were present also.
2. If they who brought Paul to Areopagus wanted only to satisfy their curiosity, they had an opportunity of doing that in the market, mentioned Acts 17:17. Why then did they remove him to another place?
3. When it is said that they brought Paul to Areopagus, it is said that they took him, επιλαβομενοι αυτοι, or rather, they laid hold on him, as the Greek word is translated, Luke 23:26; Luke 20:20, Luke 20:26, and as it ought to have been here, in Acts 21:30, Acts 21:33, and especially in this latter verse.
4. It is observable that Paul, in his whole discourse at the Areopagus, did not make the least attempt to move the passions of his audience, as he did when speaking to Felix, Acts 24:25, and to Agrippa, Acts 26:29; but he used plain and grave reasonings to convince his hearers of the soundness of his doctrine.
"Now, we are told by Quinctilian, in Inst. Orat. ii. 16, that Athenis actor movere affectus vetabatur: the actor was forbidden to endeavor to excite the passions. And again, in vi. 1, that Athenis affectus movere etiam per praeconem prohibebatur orator: among the Athenians, the orator was prohibited by the public crier to move the passions of his auditory. And this is confirmed by Philostratus in procem. lib. i. de Vit. Sophist.; and by Athenaeus, in Deipnosoph. xiii. 6. If, therefore, it was strictly forbidden at Athens to move the affections of the courts of justice, especially in that of the Areopagus, we see a good reason why Paul made no attempt in that way; and, at the same time, we learn how improperly the painters have done all they could, when they represent Paul speaking at Athens, endeavoring both by his looks and gestures to raise those several passions in his hearers which their faces are meant to express."
I have only to add here, that, though St. Paul did not endeavor to excite any passions in his address at the Areopagus, yet each sect of the philosophers would feel themselves powerfully affected by every thing in his discourse which tended to show the emptiness or falsity of their doctrines; and, though he attempted to move no passions, yet, from these considerations, their passions would be strongly moved. And this is the idea which the inimitable Raphael took up in his celebrated cartoon on this subject, and which his best copier, Mr. Thomas Holloway, has not only engraved to the life, but has also described in language only inferior to the cartoon itself; and, as it affords no mean comment on the preceding discourse, my readers will be pleased to find it here.
By the cartoons of Raphael, we are to understand certain Scripture pieces painted by Raphael d'Urbino, and now preserved in the palace at Hampton court. They are allowed to be the chefs d'oeuvre in their kind. They have been often engraved, but never so as to give an adequate representation of the matchless originals, till Mr. Thomas Holloway, who has completely seized the spirit of the artist, undertook this most laborious work, in which he has been wholly engaged for several years; and in which he has, for some time past, associated with himself Messrs. Slann and Webb, two excellent artists, who had formerly been his own pupils. The cartoon to which I have referred has been some time finished, and delivered to the subscribers; and with it that elegant description, from which the following is a copious extract: -
"The eye no sooner glances on this celebrated cartoon than it is immediately struck with the commanding attitude of the speaker, and the various emotions excited in his hearers.
on Acts 17 :34
Clave unto him - Adhered to him firmly; embraced the Christian religion.
Dionysius - Nothing more is certainly known of this man than is here stated.
The Areopagite - Connected with the court of Areopagus, but in what way is not known. It is probable that he was one of the judges. The conversion of one man was worth the labor of Paul, and that conversion might have had an extensive influence on others.
In regard to this account of the visit of Paul to Athens probably the only one which he made to that splendid capital - we may remark:
(1) That he was indefatigable and constant in his great work.
(2) Christians, amidst the splendor and gaieties of such cities, should have their hearts deeply affected in view of the moral desolations of the people.
(3) they should be willing to do their duty, and to bear witness to the pure and simple gospel in the presence of the great and the noble.
(4) they should not consider it their main business to admire splendid temples, statues, and paintings - the works of art; but their main business should be to do good as they may have opportunity.
(5) a discourse, even in the midst of such wickedness and idolatry, may be calm and dignified; not an appeal merely to the passions, but to the understanding. Paul reasoned with the philosophers of Athens; he did not denounce them; he endeavored calmly to convince them, not harshly to censure them.
(6) the example of Paul is a good one for all Christians. In all places cities, towns, or country; amidst all people - philosophers, the rich, the poor; among friends and countrymen, or among strangers and foreigners, the great object should be to do good, to instruct mankind, to seek to elevate the human character, and to promote human happiness by diffusing the pare precepts of the gospel of Christ.
on Acts 17 :34
17:34 Among whom was even Dionysius the Areopagite - One of the judges of that court: on whom some spurious writings have been fathered in later ages, by those who are fond of high sounding nonsense.