The Book of ACTS
James J. Barker
PAUL PREACHES IN ATHENS
- In Acts 17:13, we read that the Jews of Thessalonica went to Berea (which was 40 miles from Thessalonica) and they stirred up the people against Paul and the other Christians.
- Immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go to the sea, but Silas and Timothy stayed a while longer in Berea (17:14).
- Paul then moved on to Athens, leaving instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him "with all speed," that is, "ASAP" (17:15).
- Athens was one of the major cities in Paul's day, a pagan city steeped in idolatry and worldly philosophy.
- Albert Barnes said, "Athens was the most celebrated city of Greece, and was distinguished for the military talents, the learning, the eloquence, and the politeness of its inhabitants. It was founded...about 1556 years before the Christian era."
- Verse 16 says that while Paul waited for Silas and Timothy at Athens, "his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry."
- Are you stirred up at all of the idolatry here in NY? And all the unbelief? And all the wickedness?
- Notice the word “therefore” in Acts 17:17. Because of all of the idolatry and unbelief and heathenism and wickedness and false religion, Paul was stirred up and “therefore” he immediately began witnessing for Christ (17:17).
THE EMPTINESS OF INTELLECTUALISM
- John Phillips says Athens was "the intellectual capital of mankind" and "the university city of the ancient world, filled with all the cynicism and snobbery of such a city" (Exploring Acts).
- Intellectualism not only breeds cynicism and snobbery, it leads to intolerance of Biblical Christianity.
- First Corinthians 1:21 says, "the world by wisdom knew not God."
- First Corinthians 3:18 says, "For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God."
- Romans 1:22 says, "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."
- J. Vernon McGee defined worldly philosophy "as a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there."
- Athens was well known for its philosophy and logic, art, mathematics, architecture, literature, oratory, democracy and law, and pagan religion, especially idolatry (Acts 17:16).
- Like the Romans, the Greeks created gods in the image and likeness of fallen men. Their gods and goddesses -- Zeus, Aphrodite, Hermes, and many others -- were all cruel, lustful, sensual, and immoral.
- Ancient Greek philosophy included political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric, and aesthetics, but it was all pagan and it was contrary to Scripture.
- Athens was the home town of Socrates and Plato; and the adopted home of Aristotle, Epicurus (cf. vs. 18), and Zeno.
- The Golden Age of Athens, also known as "The Age of Pericles," began in 480 BC when the Athenians defeated the Persians at Salamis.
- Verse 16 says Paul's "spirit was stirred (irritated, provoked) in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry," so he went to work, starting off as usual, disputing in the synagogue with the Jews and with "the devout persons" (Gentiles who worshiped in the synagogue), "and in the market daily with them that met with him" (17:17), that is, with whoever would be willing to talk with him.
- Soon Paul met up with certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, who called him a "babbler" and "a setter forth of strange (foreign) gods" (17:18).
- The Greek word translated "gods" in verse 18 is dai-mo'-nē-on. It is where we get our English word "demons." This word is translated "devils" everywhere else in the New Testament.
- This shows us how confused the Greeks were. To the Greeks there was not much difference between their gods and their demons. In their religion, the distinction between a hero and a god was unclear; as was the distinction between a demon and a god.
- The Greek word translated "resurrection," anastasis, is a feminine noun, and some commentators, like Albert Barnes, think the Greeks understood Paul to be referring to two gods, "Jesus, and the resurrection" (17:18).
- "I think, that by the resurrection, they understood him to refer to the name of some goddess. Such was the interpretation of Chrysostom. The Greeks had erected altars to Shame, and Famine, and Desire, and it is probable that they supposed 'the resurrection,' or the Anastasis, to be the name also of some unknown goddess who presided over the resurrection. Thus, they regarded him as a setter forth of two foreign or strange gods, Jesus, and the Anastasis, or resurrection."
- W.A. Criswell said, "You see, Jesus would be a male God, and anastasis, 'resurrection' in Greek is female. It is feminine. It’s feminine gender, anastasis. So when they heard the apostle Paul preach Jesus and the resurrection, Jesus and anastasis, why, they said, 'Now that’s a pair of gods we never heard of in our lives. What a strange pair. Now we’ve heard about Jupiter and Juno, we’ve heard about that pair of gods; and we’ve heard about Venus and Adonis, we’ve heard of that pair; and we’ve heard about Isis and Osiris, we’ve heard about that pair; and we’ve heard about Baal and Astarte, we’ve heard about that pair; but who ever heard of the strange gods Jesus and anastasis?' So they said, 'We got to hear about these new gods.'”
- The Epicureans (17:18) were atheists and materialists. They believed in self-indulgence. To them pleasure was the chief end of life. This is the message promoted by television and Hollywood.
- The Stoics were much different. They were pantheists. Pantheists believe that God is everything, and God is in everything. From the Greek words, pan and theos — pan (everything) and theos (god) – everything is god, and god is everything. This is the message of the "New Age Movement."
- The Stoics were stern. They were known for their apathy, their indifference, and their fatalism.
- The Scofield Study Bible says, "The Epicureans were disciples of Epicurus, B.C. 342-271, who abandoned as hopeless the search by reason for pure truth (cf. John 18:38, "Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?"), seeking instead true pleasure through experience. The Stoicks were disciples of Zeno, B.C. 280, and Chrysippus, B.C. 240. This philosophy was founded on human self-sufficiency, inculcated stern self-repression, the solidarity of the race, and the unity of Deity. Epicureans and Stoics divided the apostolic world."
- These worldly Greek philosophers took Paul, and brought him to Areopagus (Mars Hill), the highest judicial and legislative council of ancient Athens.
- The temple of Mars stood on Areopagus (Mars Hill), west of the Acropolis. This temple was named after Mars, the Roman god of war. He was identified with the Greek god Ares.
- The Greeks said to Paul, "May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?" (17:17-19).
- The Acropolis is located on a flat-topped rock that rises 490 feet above sea level in the city of Athens.
- Several famous buildings were erected upon it (most notably the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron deity).
- The Parthenon was a magnificent building, often referred to as "the greatest masterpiece of architecture and the most perfect building ever conceived and built by man" (Phillips, Exploring Acts).
- John Phillips wrote, "The Acropolis, with its magnificent square of deified heroes, looked down upon the intellectual capital of mankind...Athens illustrates to what great heights of achievement man can ascend and still be ignorant of God. Athens illustrates what knowledge amounts to apart from divine revelation" (Exploring Acts).
- According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, it was Homer (the greatest poet of ancient Greece, and the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey) "who gave the Greeks the Parthenon and peopled Mount Olympus with the gods" (Exploring Acts).
- The Athenians were curious, so they took Paul, and brought him unto Areopagus, their court, and said, "May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?" (17:19-21).
THE CERTAINTY OF JUDGMENT
- Paul told them God "hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained" (17:30, 31).
- The Greeks were intellectual, and like most intellectuals today they were ignorant regarding salvation and judgment.
- Paul began his discourse on Mars Hill by saying, "Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious" (17:22).
- This is the only time the word "superstitious" is found in the New Testament. According to the Greek lexicons, this word can be used in either a good sense ("religious") or in a bad sense ("ignorant").
- Paul politely acknowledged that they were very religious, but he noted that they worshipped God "ignorantly" (17:23).
- They had their "devotions" (idol-worship), but the true God was "unknown," so Paul explained how they could know Him (17:23).
- Paul proceeded to tell them that God is our Creator and our Lord (17:24). Once again we are reminded of the importance of the doctrine of creationism (17:24).
- All through the Bible – from Genesis through Revelation – we are told that God is our creator. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Genesis 1:1).
- Revelation 4:11 says, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
- Referring to the Lord Jesus Christ, John 1:3 says, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
- Referring to the Lord Jesus Christ, Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him.”
- The doctrine of creation is foundational to our faith. The theory of evolution is a direct attack on God, an attack on the Bible, and an attack on the Christian faith.
- The absurd theory that man has evolved from monkeys is repugnant. Luke 3 traces man's genealogy all the way back to Adam. Paul referred to Adam as "the first man." Our Lord said in Mark 10:6, “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.”
- You can't make a monkey out of me.
There's not a monkey in my family tree.
I've searched on each branch from Adam to me.
I am inclined to believe
The story of Adam and Eve.
There's no chimpanzee
In my pedigree.
And you can't make a monkey out of me.
- Paul told them that the true God that made the world and all things therein is the "Lord of heaven and earth," and He "dwelleth not in temples made with hands" (Acts 17:24).
- "Neither is worshipped with men's hands" (17:25). Paul preached this to a group of idolaters, surrounded by ugly idols -- in the Parthenon, up on the hills, on the walls, on the ledges, everywhere (cf. 17:29b).
- Paul told them all men are related. The Greeks thought they were a superior people, and all non-Greeks were "barbarians," rude foreigners who were ignorant of the Greek language and culture.
- But Paul corrected them by saying God "hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth" (17:26).
- And God has determined when and where the different people groups would settle down (17:26b). God is the governor of history. The providence of God is behind the rise and fall of nations.
- Ephesians 1:11 says God "worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."
- John Wesley used to say, “I read the newspaper to see how God is governing His world.”
- The Bible teaches that if a person sincerely seeks the Lord he will “find Him” (Acts 17:27). Proverbs 8:17 says, "Those that seek me early shall find me."
- Isaiah 55:6 says, "Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near."
- Jeremiah 29:13 says, "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart."
- Paul showed his knowledge of Greek poetry by quoting one of their poets (17:28). Paul was not endorsing their pagan philosophy, but was pointing out that one of their own poets said something that was right -- "For in him we live, and move, and have our being...For we are also his offspring" (17:28).
- Christ is our Creator and therefore we are His “offspring” (17:28, 29). We are all God's children by creation, but we need to be God's children by regeneration. Our Lord told Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again" (John 3:7).
- "We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device" (17:29). Paul was politely criticizing their idolatry.
- In the past God was willing to "wink at" (overlook) their ignorance, but now He demands repentance (17:30).
- This refers to God's patience and forbearance. But now the time had come for them to repent (17:30).
- “That man” (17:31) is the man Christ Jesus, the man that God raised from the dead (17:31).
- There are numerous Scriptures that tell us that the Lord Jesus Christ will judge this world (cf. John 5:22, 27; Acts 10:42; Romans 2:16; II Tim. 4:1).
- First Peter 4:5 says sinners “shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead.”
- Revelation 19:11 says, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.”
- When will this judgment take place? James 5:9 says, “Behold, the judge standeth before the door.”
- The Bible teaches that our Lord did not come to this world to judge sinners, but to save sinners. Our Lord said in John 12:47, “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”
- John 3:17 says, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
- But if sinners reject our Lord, they will certainly be judged (cf. John 12:47, 48).
THE NECESSITY OF FAITH
- This message preached by Paul was different from anything these men had ever heard before, but Acts 17:34 says that up there on Mars Hill "certain men...believed."
- But some mocked. Acts 17:32 says, “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked..."
- Others procrastinated. Others said, "We will hear thee again of this matter" (17:32).
- It's always been that way. There have always been mockers, and there have always been procrastinators.
- But thank God, “Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed..." (Acts 17:34). There were several people saved that day on Mars Hill. Two are mentioned by name: Dionysius the Areopagite (a member of the court of Areopagus, the judicial and legislative council of Athens), and a woman named Damaris. And others were with them (17:34).
- We know nothing further about these Athenian converts. According to one account Dionysius the Areopagite was the first bishop of the church at Athens; according to another account he suffered martyrdom in that city under the Roman emperor Domitian (ISBE).
- There were three responses to Paul's preaching, and it has always been that way: derision, delay, or decision.
- What is your response?