Acts 17:6 – Turning the World Upside Down

After a successful time in the synagogue in Thessalonica, charges are made against Paul before the local Roman authorities (Acts 17:1-9). The charges against Paul are significant: he is accused of “defying the decrees of Caesar” and “advocating another king, Jesus.”  Given the recent history of Thessalonica, these are dangerous charges indeed.

Upside DownFirst, Paul and his companions are troublemakers. This could be standard rhetoric, although it does seem that wherever Paul goes there is trouble. But Rome did not particular care for trouble-makers. In fact, this phrase (οἱ τὴν οἰκουμένην ἀναστατώσαντες οὗτοι) literally means the ones who are turning the world upside down.”  Kavin Rowe uses this phrase as the title for his excellent book subtitled “Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age.” As he points out in his chapter on Acts 17, to “turn the world upside down” is a grave accusation in the Roman world (p. 96). Luke used the phrase later in Acts to describe the revolutionary activities of the Sicarii, actions that will result in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem (Acts 21:38). It is possible to take this phrase not as “they are troublemakers” but rather as “they are rebels against the Roman Empire.”

Second, they subvert the decrees of Caesar. In 1 Thess 1:9 Paul says that the congregation has “turned form idols.” Obviously any pagan Gentiles saved during Paul’s time in the city would have turned from whatever idols they worshiped. But this “turning from idols” must have included the Roman cult.  If this is the case, then turning from the Roman cult could be understood as an act of disloyalty.  It is possible then that Gentile God-fearers still participated in some form of official cult, despite worshiping in the synagogue.

Third, they advocate another king, Jesus.  In 1 Thess 4 and 5 Paul clearly teaches that Jesus is coming back in power and he will establish his own glorious kingdom (1 Thess 2:19, for example).  This could easily be understood in terms of a change of emperors, that the empire of Rome was about to be supplanted with the empire of Jesus. It is clear, at least for Kavin Rowe, that “the figure to whom King Jesus is juxtaposed is beyond a doubt the Roman emperor” (p. 99).

Fourth, Paul’s preaching of the gospel challenges the truth of pax Romana. In 1 Thess 5:3, Paul says that when Jesus returns, it will be at a time when people are saying “peace and safety,” but they will in fact be destroyed.  Peace and security is exactly what was promised by the Empire, pax Romana meant that the empire was a safe and peaceful place to live.  Paul says there that the peace of Rome is an illusion.

All of this points to the radical nature of Paul’s gospel from a Roman perspective.  After the Jerusalem Council, we are well aware of how radical the gospel is from a Jewish perspective.  But now we see how dangerous the idea of Jesus can be from a Roman imperial perspective.  Paul is declaring that Jesus is the Real King and that his empire of peace is going to overwhelm the so-called peace of Rome.  This alternative way of viewing the world provoked violent reactions from Rome.

All this leads me to wonder how we can present this “radical” the Gospel to the world today. Does the message of the Grace of God really appear to be “turning the world upside down”?

23 thoughts on “Acts 17:6 – Turning the World Upside Down

  1. I do not think it is necessarily turning the world upside down when we present the gospel to people in the United States but for many people groups that do not come from a nation where most everyone has an experience with Christianity, I could see the gospel as being extreme. To present this whole new way of believing to a group of people who are so set in their ways is difficult but I think that getting the idea into the minds of those people will give Christ a chance to show Himself to them in their lives. We very well might be seen as troublemakers because we are coming in and trying to change things and believing in this gospel might be something that would get people in trouble by their religious leaders or their group of close family and friends. Once you tell someone that what they believe in is wrong or that they are doing something wrong, they will get defensive to what we are saying and reject it. It is very important for us to go with love and compassion and integrate yourself into their mindset to be able to understand how a specific group of people will react to what you are presenting to them in love.

  2. I would say that the message of the grace of God does “turn the world upside-down”. A prime example, ISIS which is spreading and terrorizing believers. Our own country is falling away from the Christian faith to the point that I have heard missionaries from different countries coming to the US to share the gospel. There’s something definitely wrong with that. When we share the gospel with people many times it can stir some intense feelings because we challenge their beliefs. Like Tyler said, in presenting the gospel, love and compassion needs to happen, as well as understanding where they are coming from. My dad always challenges me to know and study other religions better than those following that religion. Obviously I have not mastered that and that would take a lot of work, but if we could have more knowledge of another’s religion I believe that we could do some collateral damage (in a good way) to show that we aren’t just some arrogant/naive Christians.

  3. I’m not sure if it’s the message of the *grace* of God that is turning the world upside down, but rather the message of the *holiness* of God. Preaching a God who loves and forgives doesn’t usually upset too many people, but just like in Paul’s day, preaching against the culture can seem to spin the world upside down and backwards. Just think of some of the more prominent “Christian” leaders in the world who have done away with the holiness of God in favor of a gracious God who ‘just wants you to be happy.’ These leaders are admired, beloved, and embraced even in the secular world. Why? Because, like the false-prophets of old, and maybe even like those who worshiped Rome, they are proclaiming “peace, peace” when there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14).

    Sometimes the test of authentic Christianity is whether we are turning the world upside down around us. After all, Jesus said that “if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
    John 15:18-19

  4. This blog post explains multiple ways in which Paul defied the norm and stood up for what he believed in. I think if we as Christian’s today started living differently it would be good to be compared to Paul. Matthew 5:11 calls us Blessed if we are persecuted if we are persecuted on Christ’s account. I believe many Christians today live such safe lives and are afraid to fully commit to a relationship with Jesus Christ. This post brings up the fact that Paul did have to stand up to Roman authority and proclaim Christ’s worth. It explains that while Paul was ministering he would have begun denying idols now as well as the Pax Romana. I think that if we as Christians just stopped following the Constitution people would begin to notice. I believe there is importance in Paul’s actions and we as Christians should notice that and aim to follow in his steps somewhat.

  5. I think that when Paul was bringing the gospel message in Acts 17, the message of God’s grace was turning the world upside down. It was unlike anything that the people had ever seen before, because that is what they needed. The people needed a message unlike what they had heard before and I think they needed to see someone who was willing to die for what they believed in, not someone who was forced into believing something or worshiping someone. As for today, I think that like Tyler said there are some people who need to see that too, but I also think that there is a lot to be said about people who truly believe in something so much that they go out of their way to promote it without even using words. “Being Jesus” as some would say. So I am not entirely sure if the world needs people who would turn the world upside down to bring the message,

  6. The truth of what Jesus had done not only affected the people of God, but it affected, and still affects the world. Jesus didn’t come to seek and save the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17). 2 Corinthians 3:18 talks about how we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. There is a transforming that takes place when someone entrusts their life to God. Titus 2:8 encourages us, as those who follow Christ, to be above reproach and that those who seek to oppose our message should have nothing bad to say about us, because of our commitment to Christ. These are just a few examples from Scripture of how the gospel is a message that changes lives and therefore changes the world – turning it upside down. “…and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7). The truth of the Gospel transforms and it challenges the rulers and powers of this world – as we have seen recently in many different forms.

  7. Turning the world upside down? Absolutely, since in our day and age it seems to be a trend to avoid the traditional, and to try something new. I say this carefully, because I do believe that ministry and the Gospel should not simple be performed as a ritual or read in the KJV. However, the unchanging grace of God that was given to Paul on the Damascus road is still the same grace offered to us! And yes, if opposing murder and open sin is turning the world upside down, or loving on local communities is turning the world upside down – I am all for it. As the Roman government would have worried, so will all other earthly governments that begin to realize this is beyond their control.

    Grace may abound, but I also think of Malachi’s prophetic words that include the entirety of history and history to be made: “But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears? “ (Malachi 3:2a) Grace then not only can turn the world upside down, but should – as Christ’s love displayed on the cross should so easily compel us to share!!

  8. When a person gets saved they are full of the new man and the old man is no longer there. Their world is turned upside down. From going to what it used to be to what the life of a Christ follower is. When Paul spoke to them I believe it really affected them and it caused many peoples lives to be turned upside down. Maybe even more so today, seeing how wrong is considered right, and right is considered wrong. Us Christians are to be that example of the “upside down” side. With love and compassion we show the world the difference. The world needs to have a revival and see what is the real and perfect will of God.

  9. Firstly, the preaching of Paul is never something that is less than shocking to the people he preaches to. Though the phrase “turning the world upside-down” was used as a derogatory term, as explained in this blog, I think it may hold a different meaning altogether, aside from the usual meaning of the phrase. Though the angry Jews were yelling this phrase towards Paul, he was, in fact, relaying a radical gospel that would not only go against what a lot of prestigious Jews believed but also defied Roman rules and culture. The gospel of Christ was, and is, radical, and because Paul was preaching it, it makes sense that he would be seen as radical himself. Polhill (2016) states, “These hostile opponents spoke better than they knew, for the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire was the beginning of a movement that would change the course of history forever” (pp. 2120-2121). Jews and Roman authorities alike were accusing Paul of his “radicalness” and Paul held no shame for “turning the world upside-down” for the sake of Christ. The Gospel is offensive, yet full of truth; Radical, yet full of a loving Christ. I think that today, we have (as Americans and otherwise) a lot of religious freedom and the ability to have the freedom of speech as well. While in America there is constant hate towards Christians and their beliefs, in this country, we are not being stoned and killed for what we believe. So, what does sharing the gospel look like today? What does it mean to share the “radical” message of Christ? Certainly, it looks different than what Paul experienced, yet it is the same gospel. While cultures change and evolve, the gospel stays the same in its stories and message of Christ. Today, sharing the message of Christ may look like standing with your Christian university because they are holding to biblical truths, or it may look like having extremely tough conversations with family members who are not believers, or it may be traveling across the world to share the gospel of Christ to cultures who have never heard of Jesus; the experience is different for everyone and their circumstances. The gospel never changes, therefore it will always defy the world and be seen as radical; something, unlike the rest.

  10. Wherever Paul travels to, there seems to be uproar with the Jewish leaders. His normal routine is to go into the synagogue and preach, however he finds himself in the center of the lion’s den made up of jealous Jewish leaders who want him dead. They use the Roman empires rules and mob violence to cite uproar against Paul and the new followers of Jesus.
    Because Paul’s preaching was proposing a whole new way to salvation, the old religious leaders did not like that. However, Paul’s boldness in sharing the gospel is what brings many to salvation, but it does also turn the world of religion upside down. The hardened hearts of the Jewish leaders bring trouble for Paul.
    In today’s culture, there seems to be more and more uproar with the Christian gospel. In the western world, we can be just like the Pharisees, but instead of strict religion clouding our view of the truth, it has become workaholism/careerism. I believe we need boldness among the church in sharing the gospel. We are far from the truths this country was founded upon and we have become so distracted that we are missing the gospel. We are missing salvation. My heart aches for this world. We need to turn this world upside down even if it means being persecuted for Christ like Paul was.

  11. I think it is interesting the point brought up here, that Paul is a trouble maker. Everywhere he goes does seem to have some kind of problem with him or some kind of trouble brought up because of him or his message. Even today we can understand that this is true with the truth that we speak where we go as Christians. People tend to have a problem with the truth that we speak of, it’s against the norm, it’s not natural, it’s also troublesome for those who are in tune with their sin nature. This message is not brand new though, it has been around since Paul went around preaching the truth, and we still see such trouble caused by our speaking up about scripture. If we encounter such trouble now, I can only imagine what kind of trouble followed Paul during his missionary journeys.

  12. It can be easily understood why the Jews in Thessalonica viewed Paul as ‘turning the world upside down’. Paul, who grew up around Jewish traditions and rituals knew all of the ‘steps’ that Jews needed to complete with the food they ate and the sacrifices they made in order to be saved. Now Paul is teaching that they only need to believe in Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection in order to be saved. This is a completely different concept from Jewish beliefs and practices. This without a doubt created many struggles for Paul, or any of the apostles, to be preaching to Jews. Christianity is one of the only religions (that I know of) where believers have to do absolutely nothing when it comes to rituals and practices in order to receive salvation or ‘passing on to another life’. Even specific types of Christians (Roman Catholicism) preach that believers need to do good works to receive salvation, when in fact true believers should want to do good acts because they have received salvation. Therefore, Paul is flipping every possible religious belief on its head in saying that salvation is free to all of those who accept it. That leads to making it obvious, in understanding the religious culture, of both Paul’s era and today’s society on how this concept of receiving free grace so difficult to grasp onto. In Acts 16, Paul tells the jailer that all he needs to do to receive salvation is believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. This may even appear to be a trick of some sorts to non-believers in thinking that all they have to do to have eternal life is accept God’s grace and believe in the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. This concept seems all too ‘easy’ when it is broken down to the simplicity of it. Yet, this is the truth that Christians believers hold tightly and that drives how be live our lives. We simply need to understand our brokenness and our need for a Savior and understand that Christ died and rose again for each individual person to be with Him forever. So yes, Paul teaching the people in Thessalonica was a message to ‘turn the world upside down,’ but didn’t Jesus do that when He defeated Satan and death on the cross?

  13. In a way, the message of the Gospel does “turn the world upside down” for those who have not heard it. I mean if we had not heard the Gospel and someone tells us that Jesus, who is God’s son, died on the cross and was raised from the dead, it would seem pretty crazy. From our human knowledge, it does not seem possible. A person going from believing what seemed only humanly possible to believing Jesus was raised from the dead does seem like it is an “upside down world” worthy transformation. It reminds me of the people in Ephesus when Paul talked about how God is the one true God and these people all worshiped Artemis (Acts 19). Worshipping this goddess was all they had known and was deeply rooted in their culture. After hearing what Paul had to say, it could also have felt like their world was being turned upside down. Going back to Acts 17, it could seem reasonable how the Jews reacted. Their culture was being questioned: from going against the decrees of Caesar, advocating another king, and challenging Pax Romana (Long 2015). Indeed, this mindset of “turning the world upside down” was “the beginning of a movement that would change the course of history forever” (Polhill 2121). Paul sets the stage for history to be made.

  14. The wording here, “turning the world upside down”, is exactly what was intended. To go about living lives as they were before Christ, would mean that Christ had not changed lives. If Christ’s love and forgiveness is not a transformative experience from our old life to our new life, then what is the point? Jesus coming into the world to forgive our sins was radical and we know how he was treated at the end of his ministry. Paul did not turn from the challenge of turning the world upside down and we can learn a lot from his example. He preached the truth of Christ even when it was a risk to his life. Peter and the apostles rejoiced because “they were counted worthy to suffer” (Acts 5:41). Paul clearly has the same mindset through his own ministries as he continues to stand in situations where he is persecuted for the sake of Christ. We can learn a lot from Paul in his ministry. He was bold and spoke the truth even when it was radical. He was loving in his actions even when he spoke truth. Today, as we share the gospel, we can be bold with the truth and filled with love as we do so. The radicalness the Romans feared is what the world needs even today. When Paul was preaching the Gospel, it was new. Now as we preach the Gospel, it may not seem so radical because it’s been heard before. The Gospel is still as transformative today as it was then though.

  15. Before reading this article on Acts 17 I rarely perceived the gospel as being radical to todays world. Although it is an important factor to look into when proclaiming the gospel. Just in the United States we are a notion turning from God. As a conservative Chriatain in today’s society speaking the gospel boldly is “Turning the world upside down”. I believe that this phrase is an accurate way of describing Christians of society today. An example of how the Gospel may “turn the world upside down” is when addressing the world in the topic of sex out of marriage. As conservative Christians we beleive that sex is meant for marraige and is a gift from God. Another common trend in today’s society there is a big movement to except that gay marriage is ok and straight from the Bible. Although an evangelical Christian believes and preaches that these are not of God which causes big uproar. Instead of us getting beaten and imprisoned from speaking the gospel in America we find ourselves being sued and publicly shamed. As Christians speak out in society they are said to be full of hate and are awful people. The gospel stands for something completely opposite of what the society believes to be true. So if you speak the gospel with passion you can become an enemy of the liberal society of today. “Turning the word upside down” seems like a phrase that would be untrue for today but when preaching the gospel in a pagan society will turn it upside down if the society is not God fearing but sin filled/influenced.

  16. Thinking of Paul and those with him as troublemakers provides an interesting perspective. Having grown up in the church, it is more natural for me to associate Paul as the first missionary whose travel maps are printed in the back of the Bible (as a kid, bonus points if the Bible had three separate maps for each journey!). After class and reading blogs, this picture of Paul as a troublemaker makes a lot of sense. If the Thessalonians were finally back to a good spot as a free country, Paul’s words and actions do post a significant threat.
    The quote from Kavin Rowe about Jesus being juxtaposed against the Roman empire further supports the idea of Paul as a troublemaker. This understanding also sheds light on the Matthew 22 passage in which the Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking him if they should pay taxes to Caesar or not.
    Paul’s message is radical. It’s the opposite Pax Romana and the goals of the Imperial cult. It is not as though Paul is bringing new or other ideas… he is a troublemaker who is trying to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
    Today, the gospel seems less threatening and harmful. While the gospel does not lose its power, its power, the implication is on culture will change as cultural values change. In many ways the gospel still is radical and threatening to turn the world upside down; the core messages of the gospel run directly against human nature. It will be interesting to see how the world’s – particularly the US’s – perception of Christianity and the gospel changes as the landscape is shifting into a post-evangelical, faith-deconstructing state.

  17. In Acts 17, after a prosperous experience in the Thessalonian synagogue, begins to face backlash from local citizens. Some of the local people presented charges against Paul, bringing them forth to the Roman officials. As Long notes, the charges are quite serious, as defying Caesar and promoting Jesus as the king could result in life-threatening danger. In the text, Paul and his companions are considered troublemakers, which might be a common phrase, or could be referring to how wherever Paul travels that trouble ensures. The phrase in Greek refers to “turning the world upside down”, which as Kavin Rowe acknowledges, was a serious accusation in the Roman world. The issue arises when the Romans might not have simply asserted Paul as a “troublemaker” but a rebel against the Roman empire.
    When considering the offenses presented against Paul, this would not be a difficult proposition to uphold. The subversion of Caesar’s degrees would mean that pagan gentiles repented and turned away from pagan idol worship, which would have included the Roman cult religion. From a Greco-Roman perspective, this call to reject the Roman cult would indicate an act of disloyalty and a higher allegiance to someone else other than the emperor. It has been suggested that it was possible that God-fearing Gentiles would have had limited participation in cult worship, despite their activity in the synagogue. Furthermore, The advocation of another king, specifically Jesus, who had attested to His coming kingdom that would be established on earth, would have been an alarming sentiment to the Roman world. It would have seemed that Paul was advocating for the removal of the emperor and Roman empire in favor of Jesus’s kingdom and kingship. The chance of insurrection and rioting would have been promptly dealt with, swiftly looking to arrest or kill anyone to maintain order. Overall, Paul’s missionary journeys, while establishing churches and recruiting converts, often faced opposition from gentiles and Jews alike.

  18. The Gospel message that Paul shared was extremely radical to the Romans because, as Long mentions, the belief that Jesus is the Real King went completely against their beliefs and would disrupt the peace of Rome. Paul “turned the world upside down” by sharing the message of the Grace of God, which provided an alternative worldview and belief system. I believe that Christians are called to follow the example of Paul, which is to continue sharing the radical message of the Gospel even though we might face rejection or persecution. Even though in today’s society in the United States we are allowed to have religious freedom and we will not be killed for our beliefs, I think that the Gospel is still viewed as a radical message to some. Rather than facing physical violence, we are shamed or “cancelled” for having the beliefs that we do. It took a lot of courage and boldness for Paul to proclaim the Gospel in the synagogues where many people wanted him persecuted or killed for his beliefs. I believe that the church in today’s society needs to follow Paul’s example of being willing to be bold and share our faith even though we will risk rejection by those around us. When we choose to follow Jesus, our entire lives should be transformed. Because our lives are completely changed, I believe that we should also seek to transform the lives of others, which involves “turning the world upside down” as Paul did.

  19. I would say that the word of God does “turn the world upside down.” I say this because when someone is living a life of sin and knows nothing about God and his glory, and then one day they are taught about God and his word. It would change them forever and “turn their word upside down. So everything they knew and the life that they are accustomed to would be completely different and opposite of the life Gods word would tell them to live. So when you put this on a bigger scale and tell even more people about God who arent saved yet, it would surely change the world for the better. We would see people showing more grace to each other and far less hate. As Acts 17:28 says ” for in him we live and move and have our being.” So to me this means that we all posses Gods good nature and by diving into his word we allow his grace and great qualities to show themselves and change the world.

  20. Paul definitely made a lot of Romans upset with the teaching of Jesus and the Gospel that he was spreading around the world, especially in the places that were under the ruling of the Roman empire. The Romans had idols that they worshiped and an emperor that was looked upon very highly by a lot of the people living in the Roman controlled areas. In fact, the Roman emperor was even worshiped by many people. The things that Paul was teaching about (Jesus, the Gospel, etc.) went against a lot of what the Romans believed in. This made it so that many of the Romans went against the teachings of Paul. I think that even though the charges against Paul are significant, they make sense. Paul was advocating Jesus rather than Caesar and Paul was not supportive of what many of the Romans were believing in. Paul did not want the Roman people to continue worshiping the idols that they had, but instead, he wanted them to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. A lot of the Romans were unhappy about this though. I think that if they were more willing to hear from Paul, then they could have understood more of what he was trying to say, rather than just ignoring him and coming up with crazy ideas based off of what Paul was trying to tell them. Paul wanted to help them, but the people were very devoted to their own religions and culture that they were not willing to consider what Paul was teaching to the people.

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