Paul In Athens
At the time when Paul tarries at Athens he is on his second circuit as an apostle to the Gentiles. He had arrived here accompanied by the brethren from Berea in Macedonia. The Jews, who were ever hounding the steps of Paul, had come down from Thessalonica to Berea and “stirred up the people.” (Acts 17:13) These Jews were haters of the gospel of Christ and their tactics against Paul and the brethren was that of rabblerousing. And Paul had to flee for his life. The brethren, who loved the gospel and were concerned about Paul’s safety, “conducted” Paul and “brought him to Athens.” (Acts 17:15) Upon arriving in Athens Paul gave a commandment along with the brethren who had escorted them that Silas and Timothy come to him with all possible .haste. The reason for sending for the brethren was, that Paul was here for the first time alone on a missionary journey. Paul had had Barnabas and Mark with him on the first itinerary and Silas, Timothy and Luke were with him on the second journey. But now Paul is alone in Athens.
As was the established custom of Paul he entered into the synagogue of the Jews on the Sabbath day. He must have disputed with them on the matter of the meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures, as these all spoke of the Christ, His death and resurrection. The word for dispute in the Greek here is dialegomai: to lay out separately before anyone, to reason and to dispute. It must have been an animated discussion in that synagogue in Athens and not a mere wrangling debate. Certainly Paul must have kept his testimony on a high level. However, he also was busy during the daytime speaking with those who passed by in the market place. We read that Paul did this daily. The word concerning this Paul and what he taught must have passed around. This teacher spoke of certain new demons, lower gods, namely, concerning Jesus and the resurrection.
It was particularly the professional philosophers of that day, who, when they heard of Paul’s teaching, desired to know more about it. We read that “certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics encountered him.” (Acts 17:18) This was more than a casual meeting. This was encounter in the sense: to confer, converse or dispute. They listen to Paul for just a bit and they gather that he is speaking of Jesus and the resurrection, and all the related truths of the promise of the gospel. In the thinking of the Greek philosopher there is no room for the mystery of Christ. It is foolishness to him.
Such is the general picture of Paul here in Athens. How long he tarried here we do not know. It must have been considerable time for Paul was still in Athens when Timothy arrived from Macedonia upon the commandment given along with the Berean brethren. For we read in I Thess. 3:1 “Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone, and sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow labourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith.”
The duration of the time spent in Athens is not the chief point in the book of Acts. We never read of Paul returning to Athens in later journeys. Those who believed upon the labors of Paul were not many. The rule here too is “for ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise . . . . . that no flesh should glory in his presence.” (I Cor. 1:26-29)
Howbeit certain men clave unto Paul, and they believed in Jesus Christ. These may have been some from the Jewish Synagogue. But the Lord had a few children also in, the Areopagus: a certain Dionysius, and a woman named Damaris, and others. Even here the great apostle did not run in vain. That more were not saved is not due to Paul’s erroneous method, as is often alleged, but must be due to the fact that God did not have much people in this city of Greece. For as many as were ordained to eternal life believed!
Paul, A Debtor To The Greeks And Barbarians:
We do not agree with that view which teaches that Paul did not teach Jesus Christ and him crucified here in Athens. It is then alleged that Paul when he came to Corinth resolved anew to preach the gospel. Thus the proponents of this view teach. And they think that they can conclude this from I Corinthians 2:1-4. From the circumstance that Paul came directly from Athens to Corinth and that he stated that “coming to them” he had judged to know only Jesus Christ and him crucified, the conclusion is drawn that Paul had failed thus to preach in Athens, and that he had attempted to counter the Athenians with the wisdom of men, and therefore had failed in his mission as a preacher.
With that view and theory we do not concur.
In the first place, this view stands rejected from the mouths of the Epicureans and Stoics themselves. They say: he preaches Jesus and the resurrection! He did not counter them with some more philosophy and vain deceit. That is, it seems to me, sufficient evidence that Paul did not fail as a preacher.
In the second place, do not overlook the fact that God did bless the preaching of Paul in the synagogue and in the Areopagus with converts. Some did repent, being called to repentance by Paul’s preaching.
In the third place, even a hasty perusal of Paul’s great address in the Areopagus shows that Paul touches on:
1. God, the nature of the godhead, versus the nature of idols. Acts 17:24, 29.
2. Creation, Providence as the work and judgments of God; the creation of the universe and all things that are therein, and also of the organic nature of the human race from one man, and the life and place and time span of each nation. Acts 17:26
3. He speaks about the work of Christ, His Godhead (by implication) when he speaks of the resurrection of Christ, and His exaltation at God’s right hand! Acts 17:31
4. He speaks of the return of Christ in His Parousia, the last judgment in which the entire inhabited world will be judged in rightness. Acts 17:31
5. And we may add to the foregoing observations that Paul here virtually touches on every loci of Theology, and develops here the Christian Weltanschauung; it is the life and world view not of a sophistical seedpicker, a mere “babbler,” but it is the only view of God and all things which allows for and posits the true worship of God in Jesus Christ.
In the fourth place, it ought to be evident that Luke does not give a verbatim report, but rather touches on the main points of this great address and sermon, upon which Paul conceivably enlarged in the actual address in this Grecian court. The mere fact that we do not read the word “cross” in this address does not mean that Paul did not here preach it implicitly. Pray, how else could he ever have spoken of the “Jesus?” Is this Jesus not the one who saves His people from their sins’? And can there conceivably be a resurrection without a crucifixion? Let us forbear from more folly!
On the contrary we hold that Paul stood here on Mars Hill in the full consciousness of his being a “debtor to the Greek and to the Barbarian, to the foolish and to the wise.” We believe that he preached here a “sermon” and did not deliver a philosophical dissertation; Paul was not aspiring for an honorary degree of doctor in philosophy, but is testifying of the gospel of Christ as the power of God unto salvation. (Rom. 1:14-17) Howbeit, he puts this gospel in a garb in which it is the sword of the Spirit! He meets the enemy of all truth, Satan, here in the citadel of the learned, and strips him naked, showing the abject poverty of Epicurean and Stoic philosophy and corrupt morals, and the real vanity of their temples and idols!
Here we have the foolishness of preaching!
Here Paul stands forth the great preacher as the great debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians. It is the love debt. The love of Christ constrains him. His heart is burning with the zeal of the Lord’s house. It would be a house of prayer of all nations, would it not?Mark 11:17; (Isaiah 56:11; Jeremiah 7:11) Japheth shall dwell in the tents of Shem! Well then, this is one of Paul’s finest hours here. Down will come this imaginary stronghold of man’s vain deceit. And this sermon is a classic in Christian polemics and a prototype of true apologetics for the faith. Here is blended positive preaching and rejection of errors which is at once God’s call to repentance.
The Mighty Pretense Of The Wisdom Of Men
It is a sure symptom of deep seated unrest that philosophy is ever in quest for that which is “newer.” It indicates that that which is known does not satisfy the deepest needs of man’s mind and heart. The godly Augustine in his Confessions says “Man cannot rest save that he rests in God.” That had been the bitter experience of Augustine as a Manichean. And we may add that Augustine meant the true God as He reveals himself in His word.
All philosophy (love for wisdom) which does not cling to Christ, the Head of the church, Paul denominates as philosophy of man and vain deceit. It is vain, empty; void of all truth and reality it is. Philosophy of the Greeks cannot give one satisfying answer to any facet of reality because it is God-less! It is everything minusGod! Being vain in their imagination they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of corruptible man, beast, birds and creeping things. (Rom. 1:22, 23.) Greek philosophy is not love for the true “wisdom,” Christ! It is the mere vaunting, imaginary wisdom of mere man who is lost in the labyrinth of his own wanderings and seeking. He is lost! He gropes at the wall as a blind man, and pretends to show the way and be a teacher of fools!
Paul touches on all the questions with which Greek philosophy dealt from Thales on!
The question of the origin of the world, Greek philosophy cannot understand, nor account for, except in mythical, fabulous Cosmogony. Somehow the Cosmos, the Universe had to come into existence. However, since the unbelieving Greek mind did not believe in God, the creator of heaven and earth, they could not find the “key of knowledge” and find the beginning of all things in the will of God. Of them it cannot be said “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” (Heb. 11:3)