Our lesson centers around Paul's speech to the Athenians during his second missionary journey. Luke records his second missionary journey in Acts 15:36 – 18:22.
Before we look at Paul's speech in Athens, let's check in on Paul before he traveled to Athens.
Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke traveled through Galatia preaching the gospel of the death and risen, Jesus. However, people in many of the cities where they preached opposed them. The
people were fine with the idea of another god, but when Paul explained that Jesus was Christ and was risen from the dead, they rebuked him.
Paul, Silas, and Timothy traveled to Philippi. They met Lydia, a wealthy merchant, who opened her home as a meeting place for the church. In Philippi, Paul cast the demon out of the slave girl
and was beaten and thrown in prison. During the night, God caused an earthquake to release the prisoners.
Next, they traveled to Thessalonica. Some of the Jews believed as well as many Greeks, including some of the leading women. Unfortunately, the non-believing Jews formed a violent mob, so Paul and Silas escaped during the night to Berea.
In Berea, Paul again shared the gospel in the synagogue. Many in Berea believed the gospel message. But the non-believing Jews from Thessalonica arrived in Berea to stir up trouble for Paul. So Paul sailed to Athens by himself while Timothy and Silas stayed behind.
When Paul reached Athens, he was astounded at the number of statues of gods in the city. Paul preached both in the synagogue and the marketplace. He used references to their own "unknown god" and quoted some of the Greek poets. Some of the Athenians believed but most mocked Paul. Finally, Paul was invited to speak to the Greek elite at Mars Hill, also known as Areopagus.
16 "Now, while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. 17 Therefore, he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there."
Why was Paul provoked?
Paul saw that the city of Athens was given over to idols, which
compelled him to preach the gospel immediately.
Paul had never been to Athens. But, like any first-time visitor, he probably toured the city. What he found disturbed and bothered him greatly. There were idols everywhere. Paul was provoked by the magnitude of the idolatry he saw all around him.
As was Paul's practice, he went to the synagogue and engaged the locals in a discussion. Then, he went to the marketplace, where he engaged anyone who would listen.
Paul faced a challenging audience in Athens who were cultured and educated in its history. It was an intellectual center. Paul spoke to a city perhaps different than any other city he had
Paul Preaches at the Areopagus, Mars Hill
Verses 18-21 say, "18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, "What does this babbler want to say?"
Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods" because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.
19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore, we want to know what these things mean." 21 For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing."
The Epicureans and the Stoics were part of the elite group in Athens. They met regularly to listen to and debate new ideas.
Some mocked Paul because he did not speak with the philosophical niceties popular in Athens. They called Paul a babbler but wanted to know what he had to say. Others thought Paul was an exotic proclaimer of foreign gods.
Verses 22-23 say, "22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:"
Paul did not start by quoting the Scripture, which was his usual practice.
This audience was not familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures. Instead, Paul sought common ground: that you, like me, are religious. He said, "for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you."
This idea got the Athenians' attention. For this was something they had not heard before.
Verses 24-29 say, "24 God, who made 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 worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.' 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising."
In explaining God to them, Paul started at the beginning: God is the Creator, and we are His creatures. These words were a new concept from what the Epicureans and the Stoics believed.
Paul recognized that these philosophers had to change their ideas about God. They had to move from their personal opinions to understanding who God is according to what He tells us about Himself in the Bible.
Paul told them of our responsibility to God because we are His offspring. Since we are His offspring, we are responsible for having the right ideas about God, and therefore must reject the wrong idea that gold, silver, or stone could represent God.
Verses 30-31 say, "30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead."
Paul went from knowing who God is—our Creator—to who we are—His offspring—to our responsibility. Our responsibility is to understand Him and worship Him in truth and to be accountable if we dishonor Him.
Paul focused on the resurrection of Jesus.
None of the Christian life made sense for him without the triumph of Jesus' resurrection.
Verses 32-34 say, "32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, "We will hear you again on this matter." 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite,
a woman named Damaris, and others with them."
The resurrection was not a popular idea among Greek philosophers. Some thought Paul foolish for even believing such a thing, and others wanted to hear more about this new teaching. The Greeks had trouble accepting the idea of the resurrection of the body.
A few believed. Although many scholars see this sermon as unsuccessful, I think Paul was very successful in this environment. The Holy Spirit led Paul to give this sermon, making it reach the hearts He desires.
The message in Paul's speech to the Athenians is important for us today.
This prevents the non-believer from closing his mind to your thoughts and opens lines of communication.