Paul at Mar’s Hill

by xcrawford

Acts 17:16-34

New International Version (NIV)

In Athens

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 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. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “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 human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[a] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[b]

29 “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 human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 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 everyone by raising him from the dead.”

32 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.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people 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.

In Acts 17:16-34, Paul the Apostle visits the synagogue and marketplace of Athens to preach and debate with the Jewish people and Greeks. Epicurean and Stoic philosophers hear Paul and take him before the court of Areopagus at Mar’s Hill. Not only did the philosophers want Paul to explain his doctrine, but they also wanted to prosecute him if it fell outside of the realm of what was acceptable in Athens. Paul starts his defense by saying that he had noticed that the people of Athens were “very religious” (NIV translation), and he had noticed that there was even an alter dedicated to the “Unknown God.” Paul declares that he will reveal the God that is unknown to them. Knowing that the people of Athens are well trained in philosophy and value reason, Paul continues to introduce the Gospel through quotes from Greek poets and philosophers, like “’For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” Paul goes on to say that God would no longer overlook ignorance because it was time for people everywhere to repent. Some of the people who had gathered mocked him when he began to preach the resurrection of the dead, but others asked if they could hear more teaching on the subject later. Among the people that converted that day and became followers of Paul was a member of the court and a woman who was probably of very high social status in Athens since she was allowed to attend the Areopagus at Mar’s Hill. Paul was able to defend himself and convert people at Mar’s Hill because he knew that the Athenians valued philosophy and reason, and then he presented a rational argument as a means to introduce the Gospel.