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,
he commands everyone
to repent of their sins
and turn to him.
For he has set a day
for judging the world
by the man he has appointed,
and he proved to everyone
who this is
by raising him from the dead.”
Paul uses their own Stoic poet as proof that they know something about this Unknown God. That is, this concept is not totally out of the blue to them. However, his prod to the members of the Areopagus who represent their citizens is that they can’t leave them in the dark about this Unknown God. This Unknown God they worship won’t allow them to remain in their ignorance. Neither is He like their other gods who are disinterested and won’t get involved. NOW, He commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to Him. This is effectively Paul’s altar call to the members of the Areopagus to fall in line with God’s plan.
If you compare this speech with those of Peter or Paul’s own preaching when they were talking with Jews there is no extensive explanation of Jesus as the fulfilment of the prophecies from the TANAKH and no proof of the fact that He is the long awaited Messiah. In this case Paul appeals to the resurrection of Christ from the dead. This is proof that Christ is unique and superior to the gods or idols. And also proof of the fact that God is not aloof and unknowable. Neither is He disinterested and distant. No, you need to decide now what you will do with His claim on you as His creation (children) and the fact that He has set a day when He will judge the inhabited earth.
There are two significant ideas in this statement for the members of Areopagus. One that this Unknown God will judge. Paul was talking to the Areopagus. They were the esteemed body set up to judge things related to the Gods. However, by the mere fact there was a statue, idol or shrine to the Unknown God evidences the fact the Areopagus were covering themselves against the possibility that there was another God they didn’t know about. Paul was basing his argument on that fact. He then informs them that they are not the judges, rather this Unknown God is the Judge. That should have shaken them up and made them ask more about this. A God who judges. A God who enters into human affairs. “Tell us more.”
Not only that but the other dissonant fact in all Paul said is related to this God judging the whole world. The Greek gods filled roles as localized deities who had control over certain aspects of life, love, war, the underworld and after life etc. Other ethnic groups’ gods were also taken and added to the Greek and Roman Pantheon (the belief in all the gods). But here Paul was talking about a God who will judge all of mankind in all matters of life and death. Furthermore, Paul indicated this supreme God held power over death as well, with the mention of a resurrection from the dead. Not only that but His judgement would be with justice or literally in righteousness. Now there is a word that ought to have piqued their curiosity. There was huge debate about the moral law and whether the gods were even interested in such things in Greek society. The notion the Epicureans had was that there was no moral law as such. The gods were disinterested and the ultimate fulfilment for mankind was to live out their lives doing the things that pleased them. They didn’t have to be concerned with what the gods thought – the gods were indifferent to human affairs. Paul has dropped into this speech a number of elements that ought to have made the members of the Areopagus want to question him further. That was probably deliberate. To dangle the carrot and see which concept they wanted more information on.
Paul doesn’t use any of the big three Jewish references to the man God has appointed: Messiah, Son of Man or Son of God. Any and all of those terms would have meant nothing to these men of the Areopagus. Instead Paul uses an ordinary Greek word for man [aner]. One particular human being chosen from among all human beings to bring about this God’s purposes. This should have been shocking to them. Not only shocking but extremely now and personal. This concept of such a God choosing a man to act for God would have been a strange concept to grasp. Not only that but this man who has been appointed to fill such a role for this Unknown God has been “proved to be fit for his role” by being resurrected from the dead. This was totally contrary to anything they believed and unheard of among human kind – then as now. This ought to have opened up a chorus of protest or at least questions.
In the next Gem we will examine their reaction to Paul’s speech. There is more that could be said of what Luke wrote for us here but I have covered the most of it. We do need to move on. However, we all want to know what happened as a result of Paul’s speech to the Areopagus, the body established to decide on religious matters for the city of Athens. Well here below is Luke’s account of the outcome. Take time to read it and think about what we have here.
When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” That ended Paul’s discussion with them, but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the council, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.Acts 17:32-34
In the scheme of things, it doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong. God is the ultimate Judge. Leave it to Him who judges justly.Ian Vail
No colour, no religion, no nationality should come between us, we are all children of God.Mother Teresa
It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.Harry S. Truman
Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.Aristotle
Your right to believe anything does not mean anything you believe is right.Rick Warren