Paul’s Speech to the Areopagus
So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.
From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone. God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”Acts 17:22-31
I haven’t had any meaningful or significant comments from any of you regarding Paul’s speech to the Areopagus. I think perhaps the challenge was a bit overwhelming in the time frame I gave you. Think of Paul’s full days there in Athens before the meeting with the Areopagus. Two of you commented on Paul’s brilliance and one of you questioned Paul’s faithfulness to the gospel and wondered if he wasn’t straying into the realm of philosophy. And what about Paul quoting one of their poets, Epimenides, as being rather risky and being a parallel to Mormon thinking that we are like the gods and off spring of the gods. As a follow up, the same person asked me how Paul knew the poetry of the Stoics and the Epicureans. Was Paul a reader of Stoic and Epicurean poetry or was he just showing off? All of the above comments show me that you follow in the path of the experts who comment on these things too. There are commentators who think that Paul missed it badly on Mars Hill before the Areopagus by abandoning the simple gospel and delving into philosophy. Such people quote 1 Cor 2:1-5 as evidence that Paul realized he blew it in Athens. Remember in the scheme and order of these encounters, Athens came immediately before Corinth.
When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.1 Cor 2:1-5
This they say is evidence of Paul realizing he lost it in Athens by appealing to the philosophers and by the time he got to Corinth he realized his error and was not going to depart from the gospel of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection again. I am not convinced. Allow me to remind you of the quotes I shared in Gem 1704:
- All human cultures have “redemptive analogies” of the Truth of Christ. Don Richardson
- But no human culture embodies Total Truth. God’s Truth transcends culture. Ian
- All human beings on the planet are in need of saving from themselves, no matter how smart they think they may be. Ian
I think Paul was way before his time and picked up on the idea of redemptive analogies way back in Athens. As he wandered the streets and market places, the Agora of Athens he was shocked by the number of idols. In answer to the question as to whether Paul was familiar with the Stoic and Epicurean poets, I can’t say for sure but I think not. I think simply all he did was to take in the scene before him fully in this strange new city and to use what he saw to his advantage. I think in short he looked for redemptive analogies. I have had a couple of comments from my readers about the fact that I know the Greek philosophers and can quote from them. No, you were making an assumption. If you know me well you know I don’t read or follow philosophers of any sort. I simply got the idea to use Uncle Google and slip in a few quotes from the Greek philosophers while we were talking about them and we were in Athens with Paul. It seemed a good thing to do. What I think happened is that as Paul was in the city, waiting for the others (including you) to join the party, he took in the sights and culture of Athens and then later when came to speak to the leaders in the Areopagus he quoted or cited examples he saw around the city. Paul had the idea of redemptive analogies a couple of millennia before Don Richardson.
Paul picks up on the Athenian altar he saw dedicated to the unknown God and makes mileage out of it. Rather he recognizes their piety and their attempt to cover the bases and make sure they didn’t miss any gods among all the idols they had in the city and so dedicated an idol or statue to the unknown god. Paul, in his cheekiness, picks up what he had seen and used it to get them to see they have indeed missed a very important god – the One True God. He challenges them on the foolishness of idols and tells them about the true nature of the God they have missed in all of their piety. Then of course he focuses on Jesus, the messenger of God, through whom God will judge the world. All very Greco-Roman really but with hints of Jewish overtones. All very understandable why Paul would approach the Areopagus in this way.
He was prudent and tactful to commend them in their quest for piety and following / appeasing the gods. I think rather than reading the Greek poets he has seen an inscription around the city and remembered it and made reference to it in what he said to Areopagus. He picked up on the points of agreements or analogies from Athenian culture and he used them to good effect in what he said to create connection with his hearers. He presents to them lofty ideas of God and the unity of the human race. We men of the world are all in the same boat; we are all in need of a saviour. Then Paul didn’t back down from proclaiming Christ boldly once he had their attention. He tells them this altar to an unknown god is none other than the One True God you Athenians have omitted in your pantheon of gods.
Did Paul miss it badly in Athens and go off into human philosophy? I don’t think so. I think it was a masterful presentation of God’s place and power in human history and a great short, pointed exposition of sin, righteousness and judgement and the death and resurrection of Christ as God’s means to atone for human sin but couched in Athenian terms. We will not pick apart the speech verse by verse in the coming Gems.
That is enough for now to whet your appetite.
It is not that God is mean-spirited and judgmental when things go wrong; rather things go wrong because man has fallen short of God’s plan for life.Ian Vail
Now we await the restoration of life as God intended it; the life of the age to come which is the restoration of life as God intended it.Ian Vail
Do to others as you would have them do to you.Jesus
Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.Socrates
Become so concerned for the judgement of God that the judgement of others become inconsequential.Deron Spoo