Paul in Athens
16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was greatly angered when he saw that the city was full of idols.
17 So he had discussions in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place day after day with any who happened to be there.
18 And some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to engage in conversation with him. And some said, “What could this idle babbler [with his eclectic, scrap-heap learning] have in mind to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities”—because he was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus (Hill of Ares, the Greek god of war), saying, “May we know what this [strange] new teaching is which you are proclaiming?
20 For you are bringing some startling and strange things to our ears; so we want to know what they mean.”
21 (Now all the Athenians and the foreigners visiting there used to spend their [leisure] time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)
Sermon on Mars Hill
22 So Paul, standing in the center of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I observe [with every turn I make throughout the city] that you are very religious and devout in all respects.
23 Now as I was going along and carefully looking at your objects of worship, I came to an altar with this inscription: ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you already worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
24 The God who created the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, because it is He who gives to all [people] life and breath and all things.
26 And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands and territories.
27 This was so that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grasp for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 For in Him we live and move and exist [that is, in Him we actually have our being], as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 So then, being God’s children, we should not think that the Divine Nature (deity) is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination or skill of man.
30 Therefore God overlooked and disregarded the formerages of ignorance; but now He commands all people everywhere to repent [that is, to change their old way of thinking, to regret their past sins, and to seek God’s purpose for their lives],
31 because He has set a day when He will judge the inhabited world in righteousness by a Man whom He has appointed and destined for that task, and He has provided credible proof to everyone by raising Him from the dead.”
32 Now when they heard [the term] resurrection from the dead, some mocked and sneered; but others said, “We will hear from you again about this matter.”
33 So Paul left them.
- Acts 17:18 These were among the leading philosophies of the day. Neither believed in a personal God; indeed, the Epicureans were confirmed atheists. Their goal was to get as much out of life as possible. The Stoics had a strong, fatalistic sense of duty, seeking to improve the inner man.
- Acts 17:19 Also known as Mars Hill, named for Mars, the Roman god of war. It was the place where the ancient Greek Areopagus Council convened and had varying powers in the course of its history. In Roman times it was where the supreme government of Athens met.
- Acts 17:23 While the philosophers had little or no regard for the old mythological gods of the Greeks, the temples to various deities remained and worship practices continued, at least as a formal tradition. The altar to the Unknown seems to have been constructed for the purpose of acknowledging any god who had been overlooked. Paul seized upon it as an opportunity to introduce the Greeks to Christ.
- Acts 17:25 Here Paul uses an unusual word which normally refers to healing. He was educated in classical Greek literature to some extent (see note v 28 and 22:3), and what he says here recalls earlier arguments by Plato (in his dialogues the Euthyphro and the Symposium) which should have struck a responsive chord in the listeners. In the dialogues, Plato represents Socrates as analyzing the nature of service to a god, and points out that the god can only receive actual benefit from service if he is in need or lacking something. Paul masterfully adapts himself to the thinking of the Athenians, demonstrating to them that the gods whom they serve with sacrifices and worship cannot really be gods at all, unless it is possible for a god to have faults or needs that have to be satisfied. This is also a good point for the Christian to bear in mind; believers are to serve God, but this is not a service that in any way actually benefits Him, because He is perfect and in no need of anything which man can supply. The same is true for the sacrificial system of the OT. While God is represented there as demanding sacrifices and sometimes enjoying their pleasant aromas, the sacrifices did not actually benefit Him. In reality they pointed ahead to the supreme sacrifice of Christ, which was the ultimate payment for mankind’s sins.
- Acts 17:28 Paul was probably exposed to Greek literature when he studied with Gamaliel, and quoting or paraphrasing a line from one of their poets would have surprised and kept the attention of the audience. See note 22:3.
- Acts 17:32 See note v 18.