Lesson 94

Acts 17

“Lesson 94: Acts 17,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016)


Introduction

After leaving Philippi, Paul and Silas taught the gospel in Thessalonica and Berea. Persecution from unbelievers in these cities forced Paul to flee to Athens, where, on Mars’ Hill, he taught the people about the true nature of God.

Suggestions for Teaching

Acts 17:1–15

Some of the Jews in Thessalonica try to stop Paul from preaching the gospel

Invite students to explain what advice they would give to the people in the following scenarios:

  1. A young man who is a member of the Church listens to a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak about the importance of marriage and family in Heavenly Father’s plan. Some of the young man’s friends express their disagreement with the Apostle’s teachings. The young man wants to know for himself whether the Apostle’s teachings are true.

  2. A young woman questions the importance of keeping the Sabbath day holy. Most of her friends spend Sundays shopping and sleeping and they don’t bother going to church. Her mother explains the blessings that can come from honoring the Lord on Sunday, but the young woman still struggles to believe that keeping the Sabbath day holy is important.

Invite students to look for principles as they study Acts 17 that will help them know for themselves the truthfulness of the messages we receive from the Lord’s servants.

Explain that Paul and Silas traveled to Thessalonica, where they taught in the Jewish synagogue. (You may want to invite students to locate Thessalonica on Bible Maps, no. 13, “The Missionary Journeys of the Apostle Paul.”) Invite a student to read Acts 17:1–3 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Paul used in order to teach the Jews.

  • What did Paul use in order to teach the Jews?

Explain that alleging (verse 3) means to show or declare. Paul used scriptural passages to declare or show that Jesus is the Christ.

Invite a student to read Acts 17:4–5 aloud, and ask the class to look for how the people of Thessalonica responded to Paul’s teachings. You may want to explain that consorted means gathered with or joined and that lewd means evil.

  • How did the people’s responses to Paul’s teachings differ?

Summarize Acts 17:6–9 by explaining that a mob of unbelievers tried to find Paul and Silas. When they could not find them, the mob went to the rulers of Thessalonica and claimed that Paul’s teachings threatened Caesar’s authority.

Invite a student to read Acts 17:10–12 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for where Paul and Silas escaped to. Invite students to report what they find.

  • According to verse 12, how did the Jews in Berea respond to Paul’s teachings?

Copy the following incomplete equation on the board:

__________________________ + _____________________________ = Belief

  • According to verse 11, what did the people do first that led to their belief in Paul’s teachings? (After students respond, write the following statement on the board as the first part of the equation: They received Paul’s words with all readiness of mind.)

To help students understand what it means to “[receive] the word with all readiness of mind,” bring a ball to class and invite two students to come to the front of the class. Ask one of them to get ready to catch the ball, and instruct the other student to toss the ball to the first student. Afterward, ask the class how they could tell that the first student was ready to catch the ball.

Next, invite the first student to demonstrate not being ready to catch the ball and to remain that way while the other student tosses the ball again. Ask the other student to toss the ball (being careful not to cause an injury). Ask the class how they could tell that the first student was not ready to catch the ball. Invite the two students to return to their seats.

Invite the class to demonstrate what it might look like to be ready to receive the words of God’s servants. Then ask them to demonstrate what it might look like if someone is not ready to receive the words of God’s servants. (For example, students might close their scriptures, talk with a neighbor, or become distracted by electronic devices.)

  • Aside from his or her outward appearance, what might be happening in the heart and mind of someone who is ready to receive a gospel message?

Draw students’ attention to the second blank in the equation on the board.

  • According to verse 11, what else did the people do that led to their belief in Paul’s teachings? (After students respond, write the following statement on the board as the second part of the equation: They searched the scriptures daily to understand Paul’s words.)

  • What principle can we learn from Acts 17:10–12 that can strengthen our belief in the words of God’s servants? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following principle: If we receive the words of God’s servants with all readiness of mind and search the scriptures daily, then our belief in their words will be strengthened.)

Review the scenarios described at the beginning of the lesson.

  • How might this principle help the people in these scenarios?

  • In what ways can daily scripture study influence our ability to believe truth?

Invite students to consider times when they witnessed the truthfulness of this principle. You might invite a few of them to share their experiences.

Encourage students to receive the words of prophets, leaders, teachers, and parents with “readiness of mind” and to read the scriptures daily.

Summarize Acts 17:13–15 by explaining that when the Jews in Thessalonica heard that Paul was preaching in Berea, they came to provoke the people of Berea. Paul again had to flee, so he traveled to Athens.

Acts 17:16–34

Paul preaches on Mars’ Hill

Invite students to turn to Bible Photographs, no. 29, “Athens,” in the Bible appendix. Point out that this photograph shows one of several temples in Athens that were used for worshipping false gods. Inside these temples were man-made statues of these gods. Outside were altars on which sacrifices to these false gods were offered.

Summarize Acts 17:16–21 by explaining that Paul was deeply concerned about the idolatry in Athens, and he taught in the synagogues and marketplaces there. Philosophers then invited Paul to explain his “new doctrine” (verse 19) to the judicial council, which met on Mars’ Hill.

Invite a student to read Acts 17:22–23 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Paul noticed on one of the Athenian altars.

  • What did Paul see on one of the Athenian altars?

Explain that verse 22 records that Paul complimented the Athenians by saying they were “too superstitious,” meaning that they were “most religious” or “careful in divine things” (Acts 17:22, footnote a). The altar “to the unknown god” (verse 23) was the Athenians’ attempt to appease an unknowable god or any god who was not known by name. They apparently did not want to offend or neglect any god.

Point out the last sentence of Acts 17:23, and then ask:

  • Why did Paul make reference to this altar “to the unknown god”? (He used it to introduce the idea of the true God, Heavenly Father, the God they did not know.)

Divide students into pairs or small groups. Invite each group to search Acts 17:24–31 for as many truths as they can find about the God who was unknown to the people of Athens. While they are studying, list each verse number (24–31) on the board. After sufficient time, invite several students to come to the board to write a truth they found next to the number of the verse in which they found it. (To help students identify a truth in Acts 17:27, you may need to refer them to the Joseph Smith Translation in Acts 17:27, footnote b.)

You might also suggest that students mark each of the truths in their scriptures. Some of the truths they list on the board might include the following:

  • Verse 24: God created the world.

  • Verse 25: God gives life to all things.

  • Verse 26: God governs all life.

  • Verse 27: If we are willing to seek God, we will find that He is not far from us.

  • Verse 28: We are God’s offspring.

  • Verse 29: We were created in God’s image.

  • Verse 30: God commands everyone to repent.

  • Verse 31: God will judge us; God will raise all people from the dead.

Invite students to choose one truth on the board that is meaningful to them. Ask a few of them to share which truth they chose and why it is meaningful to them.

Point to the doctrine “We are God’s offspring.”

  • What does it mean to be God’s “offspring”? (We are spirit children of Heavenly Father.)

  • Why is it so important to understand this doctrine? (It can help us recognize our infinite value to Heavenly Father and our potential to become like Him.)

  • What problems or confusion could arise by not understanding this doctrine?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for why we must remember to see ourselves first and foremost as children of God.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

“Be careful how you characterize yourself. Don’t characterize or define yourself by some temporary quality. The only single quality that should characterize us is that we are a son or daughter of God. That fact transcends all other characteristics, including race, occupation, physical characteristics, honors, or even religious affiliation” (“How to Define Yourself,” New Era, June 2013, 48).

  • Why is it important to remember that we are first and foremost children of God?

Refer to the principle “If we are willing to seek God, we will find that He is not far from us.”

  • In what ways can we seek to know and come closer to God?

  • How can understanding our relationship to God affect our desire to seek Him?

  • When have you felt Heavenly Father near you?

Summarize Acts 17:32–34 by explaining that the Athenians had mixed reactions to Paul’s mention “of the resurrection of the dead” (verse 32). Some of them mocked Paul, others wanted to hear more, and some people believed.

You may want to testify that students can come to know and understand God, even though He is unknown to many people. Invite students to write To the Knowable God on a piece of paper or a card and to list ways in which they will seek and develop a relationship with God. Encourage them to place this paper where it will remind them of their goals.

Commentary and Background Information

Acts 17:18. Epicureans and Stoics

“In Athens, Paul encountered philosophers of the Epicureans and Stoics (see Acts 17:18). Epicureanism was named for Epicurus (341–270 B.C.). According to his philosophy, the world came into existence by chance and was without purpose or design. Epicureans believed that the gods, if they did exist, did not involve themselves in the lives of humans and that happiness was to be found in the absence of cares and pain and the enjoyment of pleasures in moderation.

“Stoicism began with the teachings of a man named Zeno (333–264 B.C.). Stoicism held that all things were created, ordered, and set in motion by divine reason. Stoics believed that man was endowed with a spark of reason and should seek harmony with the divine order of things, overcome passions, and live a moral and upright life” (New Testament Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2014], 315–16; see also Bible Dictionary, “Epicureans,” “Stoics”).

Acts 17:11. “They received the word with all readiness of mind”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency taught:

“The more we incline our hearts and minds toward God, the more heavenly light distills upon our souls. And each time we willingly and earnestly seek that light, we indicate to God our readiness to receive more light. Gradually, things that before seemed hazy, dark, and remote become clear, bright, and familiar to us” (“Receiving a Testimony of Light and Truth,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 22).