Paul’s Message in Athens

June 25, 2023

Paul’s Message at Mars Hill


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Mars Hill in Athens was the meeting place of the Stoics and Philosophers of Ancient Greece. It was also the location of Paul’s unique sermon found in Acts 17.

What made this sermon unique? Well, most of Paul’s messages focused on Jesus as the Messiah and the ways He fulfilled Old Testament Scriptures—concepts easily understood by Jewish audiences. But at Mars Hill, Paul took a different approach. He didn’t refer once to Scripture or Jesus’ fulfillment of it. Instead, he spoke to his Greek listeners on their own terms. They had no knowledge of Scripture, so he framed his message using words and ideas they understood.

For example, the Greeks knew nothing of the concepts of sin or morality. As far as they knew, there was nothing wrong with their behavior or how they worshipped their gods. So Paul simply shared his experience as a Jew walking through the Agora (or marketplace) and witnessing the crafts of the idolaters.

Paul also used the Greeks’ own literature, which was quite important to them, to tell them about the death and resurrection of Jesus. He explained that he knew they were religious; after all, their worship had evolved to the point they were creating idols to all kinds of things—both known and unknown. Paul’s carefully chosen words allowed his audience to realize they were both right and wrong at the same time. Yes, there was a God unknown to them, and He was the God—the one who “made the world and everything in it.”

As he explained more about God’s nature and the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, Paul masterfully used quotes from two Greek writers. The first—“in him we live and move and exist”—is from Epimenides. And the second—“we are his offspring”—is from Aratus. In their original contexts, both quotes referred to Zeus, the chief god in Greek mythology. Yet here, Paul uses familiar words to illustrate the character of this unfamiliar God—the one true God.

Several came to the faith in Jesus that day. The power of Paul’s ministry at Mars Hill didn’t come from his ability to debate with the greatest minds of his day; instead, it came from his ability to meet his audience where they were. Because of his knowledge of Greek culture and his willingness to speak from his listeners’ point of view, he was able to share the truth of Jesus in a way they could understand and respond to.

As twenty-first century believers, we often speak and think in ways that only make sense to people who know the “Christian code.” But Paul’s ministry in Athens teaches us that the gospel shouldn’t be hard to understand. The good news of Jesus is for everyone.

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