Outlining Acts 17

Outlining Acts 17

In my last post, I asked that you outline Acts 17 in preparation for this week’s post. In this task, you are moving from the observation stage of the inductive method to the interpretation stage. That’s because you’re now beginning to think about what you have read and how it all fits together.

If you haven’t done the outline, and you aren’t sure how to proceed, I recommend that you refer to the outline of Luke 10 I put together in the study of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. By reading that post first, and then outlining our passage in Acts on your own before you read this post, you’ll learn more than you would by passively reading what I’ve done.

In that blog post, I suggested that you first consider the major divisions of a chapter. After you’ve discerned the major divisions, you’ll be able to see how each of those divisions can be further subdivided. We’ll do the same today, but with one difference. We’ll take a look at how translators and biblical scholars have divided the chapter.

[Bible Gateway is a great resource for this task. Once you’ve typed the chapter into the first field, all you’ve got to do is click on the drop-down menu to the right, then select whatever version you wish to examine.]

Comparing Some Versions

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) is my go-to study version. The NASB breaks the chapter down as follows:

Paul at Thessalonica (vv. 1-9)
Paul at Berea (vv. 10-15)
Paul at Athens (vv. 16-21)
Sermon on Mars Hill (vv. 22-34)

I love the way the English Standard Version (ESV) reads, so I’ll include its break-down as well:

Paul and Silas in Thessalonica (vv. 1-9)
Paul and Silas in Berea (vv. 10-15)
Paul in Athens (vv. 16-21)
Paul Addresses the Areopagus (vv. 22-34)

Here is the way the New King James Version (NKJV) divides the chapter:

Preaching Christ at Thessalonica (vv. 1-4)
Assault on Jason’s House (vv. 5-9)
Ministering at Berea (vv. 10-15)
The Philosophers at Athens (vv. 16-21)
Addressing the Areopagus (vv. 22-34)

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

A good multi-volume commentary will generally provide an in-depth outline of each book of the Bible. I decided to take a look at how the Expositor’s Bible Commentary breaks the chapter down. This commentary draws on the text of the New International Version (NIV) and follows the major divisions made by the NIV translators:

At Thessalonica (vv. 1-9)
At Berea (vv. 10-15)
At Athens (vv. 16-34)

However, the commentary also subdivides the final section into three parts:

Inauguration of a ministry (vv. 16-21)
Paul’s address before the council of Ares (vv. 22-31)
The response to Paul’s address (vv. 32-34)

When I look at the commentary in the chapter itself, I’ll see these divisions and subdivisions, but it’s worth my time taking a look at the in-depth outline provided for the whole book. That’s because I can see at a glance how this chapter fits into the larger context.

What I notice is that chapter 17 is part of a segment the commentator labels Panel 5—Wide Outreach Through Two Missionary Journeys. This panel covers most of chapter 16, all of chapters 17 and 18, and most of chapter 19.

Beginning My Outline

Looking at these resources, we can see that there is widespread agreement about the structure of this chapter. That’s not surprising for narrative, particularly narrative that involves travel from one city to another. For my outline, I will divide the chapter into three segments that correspond to the three cities Paul visited: Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. Here is my initial division (which is essentially the same as the outlines listed above):

  1. Thessalonica (vv. 1-9)
  2. Berea (vv. 10-15)
  3. Athens (vv. 16-34)

At this point I’ll be on my own as I analyze the narrative. However, it’s not really that hard to look at a few verses and think about what is happening. Here’s what I see in the section (vv. 1-9) on Thessalonica:

A.  Arrival in Thessalonica (v. 1)
B.  Paul’s preaching (vv. 2-3)
C.  Response to Paul’s message (vv. 4-9)

I would further subdivide the third section to showcase the variation of response and the net result:

  i. Some persuaded (v. 4)
 ii. Jews become jealous (v. 5)
iii. Legal consequences (vv. 6-9)

Here is what I have so far:

  1. Thessalonica (vv. 1-9)
    1. Arrival in Thessalonica (v. 1)
    2. Paul’s preaching (vv. 2-3)
    3. Response to Paul’s message (vv. 4-9)
      1. Some persuaded (v. 4)
      2. Jews become jealous (v. 5)
      3. Legal consequences (vv. 6-9)
  2. Berea (vv. 10-15)
  3. Athens (vv. 16-34)

On to the Second and Third Divisions

For the next division, I see a straightforward parsing into four subdivisions:

A. Paul and Silas sent to Berea (v. 10)
B. Reception of the Bereans (vv. 11-12)
C. Jews of Thessalonica arrive (v. 13)
D. Paul sent to Athens (vv. 14-15)

The third division, which is longer, is not as simple. Here is how I break it down:

A. Arrival in Athens (v. 16)
B. Initial efforts in preaching (v. 17)
C. Paul with the philosophers (vv. 18-21)
D. Before the Areopagus (vv. 22-31)
E.  Outcome of preaching (vv. 32-34)

Here’s what I have so far:

  1. Thessalonica (vv. 1-9)
    1. Arrival in Thessalonica (v. 1)
    2. Paul’s preaching (vv. 2-3)
    3. Response to Paul’s message (vv. 4-9)
      1. Some persuaded (v. 4)
      2. Jews become jealous (v. 5)
      3. Legal consequences (vv. 6-9)
  2. Berea (vv. 10-15)
    1. Paul and Silas sent to Berea (v. 10)
    2. Reception of the Bereans (vv. 11-12)
    3. Jews of Thessalonica arrive (v. 13)
    4. Paul sent to Athens (vv. 14-15)
  3. Athens (vv. 16-34)
    1. Arrival in Athens (v. 16)
    2. Initial efforts in preaching (v. 17)
    3. Paul with the philosophers (vv. 18-21)
    4. Before the Areopagus (vv. 22-31)
    5. Outcome of preaching (vv. 32-34)

The last three subdivisions can be broken down further. Here’s how I’ve done it. First, for c. Paul with the philosophers, I’ve made the following partitions:

  i.  Meeting the Epicureans and Stoics (v. 18)
 ii.  Dragging Paul to the Areopagus (v. 19)
iii.  Fascination with new ideas (vv. 20-21)

Here is how I’ve separated the long section d. Before the Areopagus:

  i.  The unknown god and religious devotion (vv. 22-23)
 ii.  Superiority and power of the true God (vv. 24-26)
iii.  The nature of God and His transcendence (vv. 27-29)
iv.  Repentance and judgment (vv. 30-31)

Finally, for section e. Outcome of preaching, I’ve made these partitions:

  i.  Reaction to the resurrection (v. 32)
 ii.  Paul’s departure from the Areopagus (v. 33)
iii.  Some believed (v. 34)

The Completed Chapter Outline

  1. Thessalonica (vv. 1-9)
    1. Arrival in Thessalonica (v. 1)
    2. Paul’s preaching (vv. 2-3)
    3. Response to Paul’s message (vv. 4-9)
      1. Some persuaded (v. 4)
      2. Jews become jealous (v. 5)
      3. Legal consequences (vv. 6-9)
  2. Berea (vv. 10-15)
    1. Paul and Silas sent to Berea (v. 10)
    2. Reception of the Bereans (vv. 11-12)
    3. Jews of Thessalonica arrive (v. 13)
    4. Paul sent to Athens (vv. 14-15)
  3. Athens (vv. 16-34)
    1. Arrival in Athens (v. 16)
    2. Initial efforts in preaching (v. 17)
    3. Paul with the philosophers (vv. 18-21)
      1. Meeting the Epicureans and Stoics (v. 18)
      2. Dragging Paul to the Areopagus (v. 19)
      3. Fascination with new ideas (vv. 20-21)
    4. Before the Areopagus (vv. 22-31)
      1. The unknown god and religious devotion (vv. 22-23)
      2. Superiority and power of the true God (vv. 24-26)
      3. The nature of God and His transcendence (vv. 27-29)
      4. Repentance and judgment (vv. 30-31)
    5. Outcome of preaching (vv. 32-34)
      1. Reaction to the resurrection (v. 32)
      2. Paul’s departure from the Areopagus (v. 33)
      3. Some believed (v. 34)

Your Assignment

Now that we have our outlines, we can complete our study next week with an assessment of the meaning of this chapter. Because the book of Acts is largely narrative, we do not need to spend as much time with the theological meaning of the passage (the last step of the interpretation phase of the inductive method). We’ll touch on that in the next post, but we’ll spend most of our time with application.

Remember that we began our study hoping to learn why the Bereans “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica” (Acts 17:10-11). Consider that question as you ponder how this chapter applies to you as a Christian.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Did you find the exercise in outlining the chapter helpful? Please share your thoughts!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I enjoyed the assignment, especially outlining Paul’s address before the Areopagus. The act of outlining forced me to pay more attention to the text and helped me picture more vividly the responses to Paul’s preaching.

    1. I’m so glad that you found this task helpful, Mary. Outlining is easy, so people sometimes dismiss its value. However, as you wrote, outlining forces you “to pay more attention,” and that is precisely what we need to do as we study God’s Word!

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