Acts 17:16-20
Acts 17:16 (KJB)
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
Was stirred in him - Provoke to wrath, irritated, or was being enraged
Wholly given to idolatry - Rich in idols or full of idols
While Paul was waiting for Timothy and Silas to arrive, he did what Nehemiah did and took the opportunity to scope out the city. When Paul saw that Athens was literally engulfed in idols, his spirit in him was provoked to wrath. This is the righteous indignation that Christians are to experience when they come upon a situation like this. If a Christian is not stirred when seeing all the idols, then there is something wrong with their discernment and their understanding. Athens had the Acroplis which had the Temple of Athena and the Parthenon which was dedicated to the Greek Goddess Athena and was attended by many Cult Prostitutes. About 1200 AD, it was converted into a Roman Catholic church. Paul was now seeing the reason that the Gentiles would be hostile to him as idolatry and Greek and Roman Philosophy and their gods would be prevalent wherever he would go in the Roman Empire.
Acts 17:17 (KJB)
Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
Disputed - Reasoned
Paul had gone to the synagogue and was reasoning with the Jews and those who were very godly among the Gentiles that attended the Sabbath services. Paul not only reasoned with the Jews on the Sabbath, but he reasoned with the Gentiles in the marketplace everyday. Paul did not allow any time to go to waste as he continually witnessed for the true Gospel in the face of all the idolatry. He was concerned about all the Gentiles as he saw them immersed in idolatry.
Acts 17:18 (KJB)
Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
Encountered - Conversed or disputed
Epicureans were followers of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (342-270 BC) who taught that nature is the supreme teacher who provides sensations, feelings, and anticipations to determine truth. He believed these would allow people to distinguish between good and evil. He also taught that gods were incapable of wrath and indifferent to human weaknesses and did not intervene in the lives of people.
Stoics were followers of Zeno of Citium (335-263 BC). He believed that a person can live a virtuous life in harmony with nature thus creating goodness and peace of mind in the person. He had made self-sufficiency, duty, and living in accord with nature as the supreme goals of life.
While Paul was reasoning with someone, word came back to these philosophers about what Paul was speaking about. So they had approached Paul but the group had different opinions of him. Some called him a babbler. The word in the Greek for “babbler” carries with it the meaning of “one who picks up scraps.“ They had called him that because they believed that he was just teaching what he heard from different teachers and sources plus he had no specific system of beliefs. They believed he was teaching fragmented ideas. Some others thought that he was teaching about some strange gods because he had brought to them the true Gospel and their immersion into Greek philosophy had caused them to initially mock. Things have not changed since that time. Those who follow any philosophical system have no regard for the true Gospel. Probably the biggest objection they had was when Paul spoke to them about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The initiators of all religions and philosophies were still dead and buried in their tombs, so the idea of a resurrection would have caused them to mock, just like many today.
Acts 17:19 (KJB)
And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
So instead of discussing Paul’s teachings where they were, they brought him before the Council of the Areopagus, which was like the Supreme Court of Athens. The philosophers were worried because what Paul was teaching was a serious threat to their systems of belief. Plato had taught about the immortality of the soul and when Paul began teaching about a resurrection, this could have caught on as a new addition to Platonic philosophy and would have been a threat to the Epicureans and Stoics. What Paul was given here was sort of a preliminary inquiry of his teachings. The idea of a bodily resurrection was new and very bold and dangerous to all forms of Greek Philosophy. This is why they took Paul out of circulation quickly so they could question him.
Acts 17:20 (KJB)
For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
Strange - Be or make strange, to be shocked or surprised by something strange
The Greek word behind “strange” is the word “xenizo” which has as a cross-reference the word “xenos.” We are familiar with the English word “xenophobic” which is the fear of something strange or alien. So these philosophers were suffering from a xenophobia because they feared this teaching could overturn all the years of control they had over the people of Athens and Greece in general. This is why they were shocked when they heard this because it raised in them the same thing it did in the Jews. It threatened their positions and it could have been a threat to their lives because if the people knew they were being lied to, they could take the lives of the philosophers. So they did have a lot to lose and that is why they acted fast.