My hope and prayer is that our Lord will guide us as we study His Word. Our text is from
"Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. Also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, 'What would this idle babbler wish to say?' Others, 'He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,'—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, 'May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; we want to know what these things mean' Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new" (
Paul Found Many Opportunities
What we might notice here (and the first point, for those of you who like to take notes) are the opportunities Paul encountered. What were some of these? One of those was the synagogue itself. Part of Paul's strategy was to visit the synagogue first and then share the gospel with Gentiles. Luke recorded that Paul was reasoning and dialoguing with the Jews in the synagogue of Athens. This is something remarkable, and I missed that the first few times I studied this passage. How Jews came to be in Athens at this point in history isn't the point; I'm not even going to speculate how they got there. Nevertheless, they were there and had a functioning synagogue amid a city full of idols. One thing we aren't told is how long Paul was there.
Paul spoke in the synagogue, but he also went out to the marketplace. We aren't very familiar with this concept of going to a marketplace, an agora in the original Greek. Strong's Concordance says the agora had many functions, among these buying and selling. We can assume Paul had to purchase his clothes and meals, so the agora was where he would go to do this. Can you imagine the opportunities to speak with people, many of whom had to go through this daily practice?
In Paul's time, this was not the kind of work a free male would do.! In ancient Greece, free men of most cities went about their daily responsibilities, but women or slaves actually did the work of maintaining the household. If a male went to the market, he was generally a slave; if a woman went there, she either was a slave or a woman of low reputation. Good and proper Greek women seldom left their homes in that time.
We can be sure that a lone Jewish male going to the market place regularly would be noticed. Sure enough, there were two groups of philosophers who took notice of this. Another purpose for agoras was for assembly or public debate. So the philosophers had heard Paul talking to people of every grade and shade of social standing, and they being among the most well-educated men of their day wanted to know about Paul's conversation.
We need to stop here for a moment and think about these two groups. Jamieson, Faucett, and Brown's Commentary gives some very helpful information:
They say the Epicureans were "atheistic materialists" and that pleasure was the chief end of life itself. Someone described them as the original frat-house boys because they loved to live for pleasure! Granted, life wasn't meant to be dull and boring, but even the best experiences tend to fade after a while. Dare we forget the law of diminishing returns? Apparently they hadn't heard of it or didn't want to give up their party-hearty lifestyle.
Luke also mentions the Stoics. These men were "severe and lofty pantheists" (Robertson) and apparently thought life was meant to be endured, not enjoyed. That sure doesn't sound appealing to me—to wake up and have nothing to look forward to in that day or the next. Again, these folks seemed to believe "You can hurt me, kill me, do anything to me you want; but you won't touch me. It is sad to think the gift of emotion, a gift from God, was to be disabled due to a life philosophy.
We know that besides these philosophers, others were listening, too. Luke says some—we aren't told who—were asking, "What does this idle babbler wish to say?" The idea was that if he had an original idea in his head, it would die of loneliness. Robertson also says, "What would this picker up of seeds wish to say, if he should get off an idea?"
Others observed, "He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities" (v. 18). This meant something new to the Athenians. This is ironic, because the city was full of idols, and Paul seemed to be bringing in something totally new!
Paul Faced Several Obstacles
Paul faced numerous obstacles. A few we know about include:
• He was Jewish, probably looked upon with the same feelings as those of the synagogue;
• He apparently spoke with a different accent or dialect than the Athenians. Some years later, Paul told the Corinthians his "bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account" (
• He didn't granted a very cordial reception. Luke records how Paul had many opportunities to share the gospel, but there wasn't a record that he ever won a single soul in Athens to faith in Jesus up to this point. Sure, some engaged in dialogue, and the philosophers engaged in debate with him, but nowhere do we read that any of them became believers.
• He also faced a challenge in that the people wanted to hear something new, but didn't want to act on the knowledge they had received! I am reminded of someone I knew back in high school. He loved to read the illustrated tracts by Jack Chick such as "This Was Your Life!" "A Demon's Nightmare" and "Somebody Goofed," but he didn't seem to take any action! He would ask me if I had any more new stories and didn't really respond when I said, "Well, what about the ones you already read?" The gospel is always fresh, but it's not always easy for a non-believer to make sense of it at first.
• Perhaps worst of all, Paul was called before the Areopagus, a group of Athens' leaders, perhaps some of the most well-educated men of their time. No doubt he wondered what was going to happen, standing alone (except for the Lord standing with him) in the midst of people whose intentions were unknown to him yet.
Paul Considered Various Outcomes
We'll not go into Paul's address or sermon to the people in the Areopagus or Mars' Hill, but it's a masterpiece in how he used the language of scholars to explain the gospel. Notice he didn't mention sacrifices, offerings, crucifixion or anything of those things; he mentioned a lot of basic truth about God, Jesus, coming judgment and so forth. After he finished, there were a number of various outcomes:
Some mocked him. I can just see some of these folks listening, more or less politely, until they get to something they don't understand. Then they begin to mock, sneer or bust out laughing. My guess is this reaction ranged from an "Ahh, thanks, but no thanks. I've got a hot date at the temple tonight" to "Are you kidding me?" to "That is a bunch of rot. I've heard better stuff at the theater." Any number of responses might have been given, but there was one thing in common: They didn't give the gospel much attention.
Others were more polite, it seems (according to Robertson's notes), in that they said, "We'll hear you again about this (at some time in the future)" but they didn't give a definite time. Well, OK; Paul did give them a lot to think about.
We almost can see a parallel in the way they responded here as they did before: Some mocked before and did the same here; others politely wanted to know more, then politely put him off for the time being; but praise the Lord, it didn't stop there!
God promised His Word never would return void (see