Summary: Mars Hill: The Acropolis vs the Areopagus, God does not live in temples made of stone but dwells in the hearts of his people. Rend your heart. An insight on how a bare rock trumps a temple.
Mars Hill: The Acropolis vs the Areopagus
In Acts 17 we get this description of part of Paul’s travels taking him to Athens. While he waited there for some of his travel companions to join him, he got on the business of preaching the Good News of the gospel of Jesus to the Athenian people.
Paul met with the local Jews and some God fearing Greeks in the Synagogue, as well as in marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.
The message that Paul took to the people was this message of Jesus risen from the dead and the need for all men and women through turning from their sins to come into a relationship with God. Paul had already preached in Thessalonica and Berea without a warm reception, in fact you could say his reception was a bit over warm and he had to escape to the safety of Athens and await his companions arrival.
While he was in Athens he encountered this group of philosophers who got into a dispute over his message. Some of them asking “what is this babbler trying to say?”
It appears from here Paul was taken to a meeting of the Areopagus which was a court of high ranking Athenian citizens. The likes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others had previously in past generations given account of themselves in this place. The Areopagus was prior to Roman occupation the Greek equivalent of the Roman senate. The name itself is derived from Ares the Greek God of War and big rock. “The mythological origins of this function of the Court of the Areopagus, [claim]ing that once upon a time the actual god Ares was put on trial for the murder of Halirrothius, the son of [another god] Poseidon. (http://www.stoa.org/projects/demos/article_areopagus?
page=all&greekEncoding=) This place where Paul had to give account of himself was Ares big rock. In Roman times the name became Mars hill, as the Romans swapped out Ares for Mars the Roman god of War.
So around 50 AD we find Paul in this place below the Acropolis, The Acropolis which for Athenians was a very holy place. Our travel guide told us that only Athenians could enter the Acropolis back in the day. This was their equivalent of the Jewish temple.
A couple of historical facts that are worth knowing re that the city was democratically ruled, this was the birth place of democracy. The Roman republic absorbed the city in the year 146 BC, after the battle of Corinth.
So in Acts 17 we have this account of Paul being taken before the Areopagus to give account because the locals believed he was advocating foreign gods. At that time there were buildings on and around this hill that is today referred to as Mars Hill. Today this hill is back to how it was prior to having buildings on it apart from some steps and signs, and also a few signs of where buildings had been.
As an aside Paul had been in the city for some time. He would have with tourists of that time have visited the Acropolis and seen the temples to various gods, as Rochelle and I did on our holiday, These were the temples of worship to the Greek gods who inhabited Mount Olympus to the north, Zeus and his eleven fellow gods were worshipped here, in the various temples such as the one to Athena Nike “the winged victory goddess” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Athena_Nike.
The Acropolis is extremely revered in Greece. There’s even a story found in the “book of Lists” ( I have found a number of sources referring to this story) about how In 1821 Ottoman armies occupied Greece and at one point when the Greeks attacked the Turks were forced to hole up in the Acropolis. From the height of the Acropolis, the Turks fired down at the Greeks until suddenly they ran out of ammunition. They decided to knock down the temple columns to get at the lead cores and foundation joints to make bullets. The Greeks upon hearing this were horrified that a sacred temple was being destroyed and for ammunition even. To prevent this the Greeks sent their own ammunition up to the Turks and the battle was resumed.”
Paul was distressed at the number of idols to these gods that he had seen in Athens.
There is an interesting dimension to the discussion. Paul does not go about berating the Athenians for their worship of idols. He takes the discussion to a new level. “Men of Athens! I see in every way that you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an alter with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”