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Acts 17:22-34 – Paul Preaches to the Greeks in Athens

Summary

Paul speaks on Mars Hill in Athens to a crowd of interested Gentiles. Some express interest in his convictions, and at least two become believers.

Analysis

This passage is important because Paul meets the Greek world on its own ground and on its own terms. In the very heart of the educated world of ancient Greece and Rome, Athens was a kind of university town, a place where the ancient stories were visibly honored and philosophical discourse had never ceased. It is into the heart of this non-Jewish, nonmercantile city that Paul enters and speaks to sophisticated, if not jaded, folks eager for something new to chew on.

Paul's speech is sophisticated and alert to context. He quotes from a well-known Greek poet and speaks the standard lines about images, idols, and true deity. He refers in a generous way to the religious convictions of the local population and speaks of a creator who made all nations to search for God. This is generous speech indeed and includes all his hearers as children of God. The references to the resurrection from the dead strike most of them, finally, as silly or superstitious, but some hear.

This passage is critical because it shows Paul adapting his speech to the level of his audience, seeking to address them in terms that are both open and familiar. Paul's encounter points out the difficulty with understanding or accepting resurrection as a cornerstone of Christian belief. Finally, the passage shows us that even a few who hear positively can be seeds for local congregations to grow.

Acts 17:22-34

22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor* he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God* and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we too are his offspring.”
29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’

32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ 33At that point Paul left them. 34But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

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10 February 2011

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