Summary: Paul did not quote Scripture to the Athenians in his sermon. But his sermon was Scriptural
Can You Preach Christ Without the Scripture?
It had been a most strenuous journey for Paul. He had responded to the man in the Macedonian vision and came over to preach Jesus. At Philippi, he and Silas had been beaten for the faith and cast into prison. Even so, the Lord made something good happen as the jailor and his family had been saved. Luke had been left there to get the church started, and Paul’s letter to them years later shows the fruit of his suffering work there. But Paul was thrown out of town the next day.
Paul then came to Thessaloniki. He passed through several towns and villages along the way. Why he did not stop is a mystery to us. Paul went first as was his custom to the synagogue in Thessaloniki for several weeks. But his message there was for the most part rejected, and when the Jews stirred up the rabble of the city to violence, Paul was forced to leave quickly. Things went initially a bit better at Berea, but the Jews from Thessaloniki came and stirred up trouble. Paul was forced to leave and ended up at Athens.
Exposition of the Text
Paul had left his fellow missionaries at other churches to tend to the new works there and was alone. Paul was not the type to wait quietly for his colleagues to rejoin him, so he took a survey of the city. The days of Athens political greatness were long gone, but the city was revered for the great minds it had produced. It was a great university city, the birthplace of the philosophers.
Even though most of the philosophers had reduced the number of gods in favor of an abstract monotheism of an unknowable god or in the case of the Epicureans were on the verge of Atheism, Paul found plenty of temples, monuments, and inscriptions there to the ancient gods. This troubled Paul greatly who was a true monotheist. Somewhere during his survey of the city he found an empty pedestal with the inscription “to the unknown god” or perhaps “to the unknowable god”.
After Paul finished the survey of Athens, he went to the marketplace called the Agora in Greek. This was more than just our mall of today. Yes there where shops where goods and services were bought and sold. It was also a marketplace for ideas. Just like in some cities where one can see a musician or artist playing for tips and recognition in the public spaces, the Agora served as a platform for philosophers to try out their philosophy. I would suppose that the intellectuals of the place would come down to hear the “would be” philosophers babble for entertainment. For the philosophers themselves, they had grown weary of trying to find the answer to life and settled down to criticize anyone who thought that they did.
Paul saw an opportunity to preach Jesus there. The people of the city were almost entirely Pagan. There were a few Jews there, but Paul did not seem to find a synagogue there. So he started to preach about Jesus and his resurrection there. The people had no Old Testament background to support what Paul was teaching, so they supplied their own heathen background. Many took the Greek word for “resurrection” (anastasis) as being the name of a new goddess who was Jesus’ consort. The Greeks thought this as being a new and exotic fertility cult. This seems to explain why the Epicureans and Stoics took notice.
The Epicureans and Stoics were about as different as night and day, even more than the division between the Sadducees and Pharisees. The Epicureans were the Darwinists of their day. They held to a philosophy of maximizing pleasure and avoiding pain. They were not wild hedonists who believed in debauchery but were pragmatic. Their avoidance of painful stimuli meant that they would avoid pleasures that had painful hangovers. They had virtually excluded God from their thoughts.
The Stoics, on the other hand, were Pantheists. They believed in the divinity of the universe. This means that all humans were in part divine. Everyone had at least a spark of the divine. The Stoics believed that hardship developed character and did not try to avoid it. Rather they sought to find purpose in it. They believed in virtue and truth. So we can see from this that the Epicureans and Stoics held little in common.
It says that the Epicureans and Stoics came to the marketplace and found Paul preaching there. They were looking for amusement and thought they had found the perfect jester. So they invited Paul to come and explain himself to the Aerophagus which was a type of city council. The intellectuals there would have a field day amusing themselves with Paul. Or so they thought.