Paul in Athens
While Paul was waiting for you all [them] in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there. He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.” Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.”
(It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)Acts 17:16-21
We still have some matters to discuss before we can look at Paul’s speech before the Areopagus. Let’s look at how Paul ended up in front of the high council of the city (the Areopagus). The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers approached him in the Agora and listened to what he had to say and then said among themselves, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” These two groups would have been attracted because they were so diametrically opposed to what Paul’s message proclaimed. Even though the Epicureans and the Stoics were two rival philosophies, they combined to challenge the teaching of Paul. The word they called him is interesting. [Spermologos] has a range of meanings ranging from babbler, chatterer, gossiper to one who picks up seeds, one who makes his living by picking up scraps (of information), a rag-picker. Their challenge is contemptuous and disparaging. Behind the statement is the sense his words have no meaning, there is no point listening to him. The sense could be, if we would listen to him . . . which suggests he has nothing to say that amounts to anything worthwhile. He has a collection of unprocessed, disjointed, scraps of ideas not yet arranged into a consistent ideology or philosophy. He is just a rag and bone merchant of ideas.
Others said . . . suggests the speakers were not part of either the Epicureans or the Stoics, but rather part of the crowd. But on the other hand it is possible that they were “other Epicurean or Stoic speakers”. Whoever these “others” are, the emphasis in what they said is on the notion of foreign gods. “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.” Some commentators think Paul’s focus on Jesus and the Resurrection made them conclude he was speaking about two gods – Jesus and Anastasis (resurrection) but also possibly a female deity. Hence their comment gods (plural) not god (singular). Whatever they thought, the most important statement is that what Paul said was concerning foreign gods. “Strange, unheard of gods we Athenians know nothing about.” The sense is that Jesus and the resurrection (Anastasis) have not been ratified or approved by the high council (Areopagus). It was illegal in Athens to teach or worship gods which had not been authorized by the Areopagus.
Hence they took Paul to the high council of the city.
- “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said.
- “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.”
They led him to the Stoa Basilica where the high council met to hear a formal account of his preaching. Their words were not angry or condemnatory. This was not a council like the market place council of Berea or Thessalonica. This was the Areopagus of Athens. They considered themselves refined and cultured Athenians. They were not a rough, uncouth provincial council. They, like the city, were accustomed to listening to and vetting new religious ideas. Their comments then were polite and civil. “Come, tell us about this new teaching. We want to know more, tell us what it’s all about in more detail.” The request is almost. “May we know what this “new” religion is that you preach?” It was not hostile but conciliatory and curious. Tell us more.
The members of the Areopagus have not picked up on the notion that Paul is a spermologos, seeding disjointed, unthought through new ideas. Now is Paul’s chance to explain this new philosophy, this new religion to those who will either approve or reject it being taught in Athens. The call is almost like give us a full breakdown of this new religion of yours. Paul’s moral teaching as it appears in his Epistles bears some resemblance to Stoic ethics. Its doctrine of the imminent Logos was combined with Philo’s concept of the transcendent Logos, to form the Logos doctrine through which the Greek Fathers construed the person of Christ. These are thoughts the Athenians loved to debate – so tell us more.
Luke now adds for us the explanatory note (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.) The Athenians delighted in new concepts and loved to debate and discuss. Ideas had to be new in this city. They were tired of talking about old ideas. These Athenians loved to listen to lectures, soap box speakers and proponents of new ideas. So now Paul, here is your chance before an interested, non-hostile group of leaders who will decide the suitability of your new ideas for Athens in the end.
Now it is time for us to look at Paul’s speech. Hence I have given it to you again below the quotes.
Jesus doesn’t want you to be religious; that’s the furthest notion from His intent. He wants you to be more alive and more willing to live life as God intended.Ian Vail
Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.Socrates
Surely the most God-conscious minds want to know what God Himself thinks on the matter in focus.Ian Vail
‘And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said. JesusLuke 12:11-12
The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.Elton Trueblood
God uttered one small word: Jesus. And the effects have been everlasting.Deron Spoo
Paul’s Speech at 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