Acts 17:18 Also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him, and some were asking, “What does this foolish babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods.” (They said this because he was proclaiming the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) Net Bible from E-Sword
So I was curious about the word “babbler”. At first glance of the explanation I thought he was being called something we wouldn’t want to emulate. But then I realized it was like being called a “Christian” (in a derogatory way) and I had to laugh because after studying this word out I too would like to be called a babbler like Paul. Why?
From Vines NT
1. spemologos (G4691), “a babbler,” is used in Act_17:18. Primarily an adjective, it came to be used as a noun signifying a crow, or some other bird, picking up seeds (sperma, “a seed,” lego, “to collect”). Then it seems to have been used of a man accustomed to hang about the streets and markets, picking up scraps which fall from loads; hence a parasite, who lives at the expense of others, a hanger on.
Metaphorically it became used of a man who picks up scraps of information and retails them secondhand, a plagiarist, or of those who make a show, in unscientific style, of knowledge obtained from misunderstanding lectures. Prof. Ramsay points out that there does not seem to be any instance of the classical use of the word as a “babbler” or a mere talker. He finds in the word a piece of Athenian slang, applied to one who was outside any literary circle, an ignorant plagiarist. Other suggestions have been made, but without satisfactory evidence.
2. kenophonia (G2757), “babbling” (from kenos, “empty,” and phone, “a sound”), signifies empty discussion, discussion on useless subjects, 1Ti_6:20 and 2Ti_2:16.
From the Combined Bible Commentary
Act 17:18 18. By efforts so persistent he succeeded in attracting some attention from the idle throng, but it was of a character, at first, not very flattering. (18) “The certain of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him, and some said, What will this babbler say? And others, He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign demons; because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.” The persistency with which he sought the attention of every one he met suggested the epithet “babbler,” and the prominence in his arguments of the name of Jesus and the resurrection suggested to the inattentive hearers that these were two foreign demons whom he was trying to make known to them.
The two classes of philosophers whom he encountered were the antipodes of each other, and the practical philosophy of each was antipodal to the doctrine of Paul. The Stoics taught that the true philosophy of life was a total indifference to both the sorrows and pleasures of the world; while the Epicureans sought relief from life’s sorrows in the studied pursuit of its pleasures. In opposition to the former, Paul taught that we should weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice; and in opposition to the latter, that we should deny ourselves in reference to all ungodliness and worldly lusts.
Matthew Henry Commentary
A scholar that has acquaintance, and is in love, with the learning of the ancients, would think he should be very happy if he were where Paul now was, at Athens, in the midst of the various sects of philosophers, and would have a great many curious questions to ask them, for the explication of the remains we have of the Athenian learning; but Paul, though bred a scholar, and an ingenious active man, does not make this any of his business at Athens. He has other work to mind: it is not the improving of himself in their philosophy that he aims at, he has learned to call it a vain thing, and is above it (Col_2:8); his business is, in God’s name, to correct their disorders in religion, and to turn them from the service of idols, and of Satan in them, to the service of the true and living God in Christ.
2. What their different sentiments were of him; such there were as there were of Christ, Act_17:18. (1.) Some called him a babbler, and thought he spoke, without any design, whatever came uppermost, as men of crazed imaginations do: What will this babbler say? ho spermologos houtos – this scatterer of words, that goes about, throwing here one idle word or story and there another, without any intendment or signification; or, this picker up of seeds. Some of the critics tell us that the term is used for a little sort of bird, that is worth nothing at all, either for the spit or for the cage, that picks up the seeds that lie uncovered, either in the field or by the way-side, and hops here and there for that purpose – Avicula parva quae semina in triviis dispersa colligere solet; such a pitiful contemptible animal they took Paul to be, or supposed he went from place to place venting his notions to get money, a penny here and another there, as that bird picks up here and there a grain. They looked upon him as an idle fellow, and regarded him, as we say, no more than a ballad-singer. (2.) Others called him a setter forth of strange gods, and thought he spoke with design to make himself considerable by that means. And, if he had strange gods to set forth, he could not bring them to a better market than to Athens. He did not, as many did, directly set forth new gods, nor avowedly; but they thought he seemed to do so, because he preached unto then Jesus, and the resurrection. From his first coming among them he ever and anon harped upon these two strings, which are indeed the principal doctrines of Christianity – Christ and a future state – Christ our way, and heaven our end; and, though he did not call these gods, yet they thought he meant to make them so. Ton Iēsoun kai tēn anastasin̂ “Jesus they took for a new god, and anastasis, the resurrection, for a new goddess.” Thus they lost the benefit of the Christian doctrine by dressing it up in a pagan dialect, as if believing in Jesus, and looking for the resurrection, were the worshipping of new demons.
Back to my question: why would I want to be called a babbler like Paul? I want to be persistent in proclaiming Jesus Christ and His resurrection. I want to be persistent in proclaiming His message of salvation, His love and mercy, and His justice. If that makes me a crow or some other bird picking up seed – I like that too. I will take any seed Christ throws my way. I will take His Word as truth every moment of every day. I want to be a scatterer of the Word of God.