“Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said:”Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out 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 some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.” Acts 17:22-34
Paul is taken to the Areopagus council meeting comprised of members from the various important philosophical schools of thought in Athens. They permit him the opportunity to share his message. These Athenians sought the new rather than the true. They valued learning and were particularly intrigued by new ideas. Paul understood that he couldn’t use Jewish-Christian contexts for this particular audience because they wouldn’t have had a frame of reference. Instead, he chose to appeal to them in ways in which they would relate. Paul appealed to the Epicureans by stating that God needed nothing from man. And he addressed the Stoic train of thought by stating that God is the source of all life. He also countered their collective notion that God was confined to dwell in a temple by saying that God made everything with the implication, therefore, that He can’t be confined.
The Athenians held the notion that they originated from the soil of their own land. Paul contradicted this notion of ethnic exclusivity by saying that humans came from one source; God alone. He refuted their notion of creating idols and statues by stating that God isn’t a being made from his own created elements nor created in mankind’s image. Furthermore, he addressed their underlying assumption that a deity was like a thing created by the imaginative mind of man. Paul informed them that we are all created in God’s image and made to be in fellowship with Him. He, then, led them to the conclusion that God could no longer overlook this ignorance because of His call to repentance. Paul desired for the Athenians to consider a conversion to a whole new worldview, not to the acquisition of additional knowledge, that would lead them towards salvation.
The idea of a man being raised from the dead brought sneers from some in attendance in the Areopagus that day. This reaction was not uncommon to Paul nor surprising from the Athenians. At the founding of the Areopagus, Apollo had instructed all Athenians that when “the dust has soaked up a person’s blood, once he is dead, there is no resurrection.” They needed to open their thoughts and understanding to an entirely new way of belief. Yet, all is not lost. Luke included in the text for us that some were, however, open to Paul’s message. They wanted to hear more. God’s word did indeed not return void. (Isaiah 55:10,11) Instead, a harvest of new believers was birthed and others received the planting of the message in their hearts. Paul had indeed proclaimed to this audience what they truly did not know.
Questions to Consider
- Do I keep God restricted within the confines of a church building? If so, how and in what ways?
- How was God created? How do I know?
- Do I create idols with my own hands? If so, what steps can I take to remove them?
- What is my worldview?
- Do I only acquire knowledge about God or do I allow what I learn to transform my thinking and lead me towards God? What actions might be required?
- What or who has formed my worldview?