"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. 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.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.And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean." 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.
Addressing the Areopagus
Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 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: 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. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 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; 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.' 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. 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."
And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, "We will hear you again on this matter." So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them. (NKJV)
Bible Study Outline: exposition on Acts Chapter 17:16- 34 (Part Two)
Paul’s second Missionary Journey Continues….Facing the Philosophers in Athens and Addressing the Areopagus
Having been quickly helped out of Berea at night for his safety and taken to the seashore to sail to Athens, Paul is awaiting the arrival of Silas and Timothy who remained in Berea and were instructed to get to Athens as fast as they could. Now that he is in Athens, and knowing it would take a considerable amount of time before Silas and Timothy could get there, he began to observe the activity as well as the “state” and “status” of Athens.
Paul’s Agitation: “The Idolatrous State of Athens” (verses 16-21)
Paul’s begin to become “spiritually provoked (agitated) because of the many idols he sees publicly displayed in Athens. The entire city was given over to idolatry. (vs. 16-17)
Athens was not a city of great political or commercial importance, but it was the world's most famous “intellectual” center. Athens mainstay was in the field of “Philosophy”. According to the commentators who wrote articles for Wycliffe Bible Commentary, even young men of Rome often went to Athens for their university training. The famous temples in Athens were works of art unsurpassed for beauty, but Paul saw behind the beauty of the temple column structures, the vast display of art, sculptures and other eye catching items, the “darkness” of idolatry
Paul original missionary strategy did not include the evangelizing of Athens, but the gross display of idolatry and idols of every kind “provoked and grieve him spiritually as he waited there for Silas and Timothy. Paul was of a Christian mind; and he contemplated all this with a Christian heart. That heart was deeply affected in view of the amazing guilt of a people who were ignorant of the true God, who had filled their city with idols reared to the honor of imaginary divinities, and who, in the midst of all this splendor and luxury, were going down to destruction.
Question: As Christians and given the charge to go into all the world and spread the Gospel, should we become agitated about the idolatry that’s put on public display everywhere we go in the marketplace, to the point we are stirred up spiritually to start witnessing the Gospel and questioning the idols? It’s a sad day when we are no longer agitated about the public display of sin. The things put on billboards, the graphic designs we see on canvas and they have the nerve to call it art. The programming on tv at any hour of the day , especially the commercials! It’s time for the church to get agitated!
So, going into the Jewish temple in Athens, he argued in the synagogue with the His Jews and devout God-fearers, preaching the Gospel and proving to them that Jesus Christ is the Messiah then, afterwards, he also engaged in discussion those whom he happened to meet in the market place. (vs. 17)
In the marketplace, Paul encountered Greek Philosophers from the 2 “most” influential schools of thought and “religious” belief. The “Epicureans” and the “Stoics” These philosophers saw Paul as a “babbler. Who were they?
The Epicureans, who were named after their founder Epicurus who lived between 341 B.C. - 270 B.C.
They believed that the gods existed, but had no interest whatsoever in the welfare of men. They denied that the world was created by God, and that the gods exercised any care or providence over human affairs, and also the immortality of the soul. The Epicureans were “polytheistic” that is, they believed in many gods.
One of the distinguishing doctrines of Epicurus was that pleasure was the “summum bonum”, or chief good, and that virtue was to be practiced only as it contributed to pleasure. They lived according to the “Pleasure Principle” To them, the primary object of life is to find pleasure in everything you do. It’s commonly called “sensual gratification” Satisfy your senses.
A well known beer brewery once coined this slogan: You only go around once in life, so you ought to grab for all the gusto you can! This epitomized the attitude of the Epicureans.
The Epicureans believed that the pleasures of the senses were to be practiced without restraint. As a result, both in principle and practice, they devoted themselves to a life of gaiety and sensuality, and sought happiness only in indolence, effeminacy, and voluptuousness. Confident in the belief that the world was not under the administration of a God of justice, they gave themselves up to the indulgence of every passion the infidels of their time, and the exact example of the frivilous and fashionable multitudes of all times, that live without God, and that seek pleasure as their chief good. They philosophy was to live a life full of pleasure and it was . the to be sought in living a happy and tranquil life, free from pain or trouble or fear, especially the fear of death
The Stoics, founded by a philosopher named Zeno (c. 300 B.C.), believed that God was the world's soul which indwelt all things, and that the “happy life” was that lived in accordance with nature.
This was their philosophical position: Since God was in all men, all men were brothers. Many Stoics were men of high moral principle. To these philosophers, Paul sounded like a babbler, a “seed-picker”. One who picked up scraps of undigested knowledge. This word, which is literally seed-picker, was used to describe a person who picked up scraps of undigested knowledge.
After they encountered Paul, they said this: He seems to be a “setter forth” of “strange gods” because he preached Jesus and the resurrection
Mars Hill: Paul Addressing the Areopagus (vs. 19-20)“We want to know about this “new” doctrine you are speaking of” You have brought “certain strange things” (something unusual and remarkable, something different than what we are accustomed to hearing) to our ears. So we want to know what this means.”(that is, understand more clearly about Jesus and the resurrection) (vs. 19)
What is the Areppagus?
The Areopagus was a council, a group of men who supervised religious and educational matters. Paul appeared before this council to give an account of his "philosophy," apparently to enable them to determine whether he should be permitted to teach in Athens. As an added note, the Athenians and the foreign residents were noted for their curiosity, in that they were always eager to know "the last new idea"
Note: Paul was brought before this tribunal, as being regarded as a setter forth of strange gods, and as being supposed to wish to introduce a new mode of worship.
Paul's argument on the Areopagus is extremely important. It identifies the decisive difference between Greek philosophy and the Christian faith. Apparently the philosophers were not greatly troubled by Paul's talking about God or God's relationship to people. But when he spoke of the resurrection of Jesus, they mocked him, although some apparently gave his words careful thought (Acts 17:32). The resurrection of Jesus was, and continues to be, a decisive element in Christian theology. It always provokes controversy among unbelievers.
Verse 21 describes the general character of the Athenians Philosophers and strangers:
1. All they did was talk and exchange any new idea, philosophy or dogma.
2. Athens was the place where people came from other countries to get acquainted with the Schools of Philosophy and listen to its many teachers, lecturers, and sages.
Paul’s Areopagus Address: (verses 22-23)
“Men of Athens I perceive that in all things, you are religious (superstitious) 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".
In Paul’s mind, the Athenians were religious in every way about every aspect of life to the point they had shrines, altars, artwork, sculptures and temples etc. that were dedicated to the different gods they worshipped, even to the point they had many places set up for “gods” they had respect and reverence but did not know anything about them. In their religious zeal, the Athenians did not wish to omit from their worship any deity with whom they might not be acquainted.
Paul asserted that there was indeed one whom they did not know, and this one he would declare to them.
Sad point: There are a lot of people who make the claim that they acknowledge God, yet do not have any real knowledge about HIM. Jesus said with their mouths they worship HIM, but their hearts are far from HIM. Hearing about God is not enough. Acknowledging that there is a God is not enough. You must get to know the “GOD of the Bible and forget about the god that is in a lot of people’s head because they are not the same! God (Jehovah in Greek, Yahweh in Hebrew) is the true and living God.
Summation of Paul’s address About the “Unknown” God the Athenians Worshipped in Ignorance (verses 24-31)
God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; (vs. 24-25)
Paul said: Since this God is the creator of all things and Lord of heaven and earth, he cannot dwell in any structure erected by men. Neither does he stand in need of anything that human service or worship can provide, for he himself is the source of all life. It is HE that made us and nor we ourselves.
And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation… (vs. 26-27)
God is the Creator. From one flesh, God created all men. All men spring from a common source (Genesis 1:26-27)
The point Paul wanted to make here is in all likelihood here was he regarded them all as brethren; that, although he was a Jew, yet he was not enslaved to any narrow notions or prejudices in reference to other people.
Point to Remember:
The truth Paul stated here is simple: No one nation, and no individual, can claim any pre-eminence over any other race or nation in respect to birth or blood. All races of people are equal in this respect; and the whole human race however they may differ in complexion, customs, and laws, are to be regarded and treated as brethren. It follows, also, that no one part of the race has a right to enslave or oppress any other part, on account of difference of complexion.
Not only that: God….
Gave them a place to live on earth, that is, to cultivate and till the earth. This was the original command in Genesis 1:28; and God, by his providence, has so ordered it that the descendants of one family have found their way to all lands, and have become adapted to the climate where he has placed them.
God marked out a boundary. God "marked out," or "designated in his purpose," their future place of dwelling.
God had, in his plan, fixed the times when each country should be settled, and the rise, the prosperity, and the fall of each nation. The different continents and islands have not, therefore, been settled by chance, but by a wise rule, and in accordance with God's arrangement and design.4. God set their limits and boundaries as a people. By customs, laws, inclinations, and habits he has fixed the boundaries of their habitations, and disposed them to dwell there. What we learn from this fact is the following truths:
a. That the revolutions and changes of nations are under the direction of infinite wisdom;
b. That people should not be restless and dissatisfied with the place where God has placed them;
c. That God has given sufficient limits to all, so that it is not needful for any nation or country to invade others; and,
e. That wars of conquest are evil. God has given to people their places of abode, and we have no right to disturb those abodes, or to attempt to displace them in a violent manner. This strain of remark by the apostle was also opposed to all the notions of the Epicurean philosophers, and yet so obviously true and just that they could not gainsay or resist it.
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being”.
All men are dependent on him. He has provided them with the earth for a dwelling place and the seasons to supply everything need to sustain man
For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. (vs. 28-29)
Paul meant that all men are God's offspring in the sense that they are His creatures and dependent on Him for life. (There is a Biblical doctrine of the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man resting upon the fact of common creation ) It’s not based upon a spiritual relation, as this passage indicates.
So Paul stresses in verse 29 the following:
Since God is the creator of men, he must at least be greater than men. Therefore to identify the Deity with something man has made or imagined is the height of folly and the depth of sin.
God’s response to Idolatry
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality,* wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving,* unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
Concerning Times of Ignorance:
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: (vs. 30-31)
God overlooked these times of ignorance, but has now given to men full knowledge of himself. (Romans 3:25 refers to this patience of God for "the sins done aforetime," and Acts 14:16) alludes to the same patience. But God's patience will not last forever; because of the full knowledge now disclosed in Christ, he commands men to repent, and he has appointed a day when he will judge the world in righteousness by the man in whom this new light has come. The pledge (assurance) of this is provided by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
The Response of the Areopagus (verses 32-33)
Some mocked not believing in the resurrection of the dead ( Epicurian believers)
Some wished to her him further (Stoic Believers)
The doctrine of a future state was not denied by them; and the fact, affirmed by Paul, that one had been raised up from the dead, would appear more plausible to them, and it might be a matter worth inquiry to ascertain whether the alleged fact did not furnish a new argument for their views. They therefore proposed to examine this further at some future time. That the inquiry was prosecuted any offence. further does not appear probable,
No church was organized at Athens.
There is no account of any future interview with Paul.
He departed almost immediately from them, People who defer inquiry on the subject of religion seldom find the favorable period arrive.
But some followed: Dionysis the Areopagite (one of the judges) , Damaris and others.
Those who propose to examine its doctrines at a future time often do it to avoid the inconvenience of becoming Christians now, and as a plausible and easy way of rejecting the gospel altogether, without appearing to be rude, or to give.
Dr. William Edward Boddie