Summary: Paul works among Gentiles for eighteen months in Corinth and for nearly three years in Ephesus, but no example of his preaching is given. The reason is that it has already been given—in Athens, in the very center of Gentile culture and intellect.
March 21, 2015
By: Tom Lowe
Lesson: The Work in Athens (17:15-34)
Acts 17:15-34 (KJV)
15 And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed.
16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
17 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
21 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
25 Neither is worshiped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;
26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:
28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.
30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.
33 So Paul departed from among them.
34 Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
This section could well be called “Witnessing to the Athenian Intellectuals.” Paul’s brief visit to Athens is a centerpiece for the entire book of Acts. The scene revolves around Paul’s famous address before the Areopagus (17:22-31). This is preceded by an introductory narrative that portrays the “Athenian scene” in vivid local color (17:16-21). This narrative is very much keyed to the content of the speech and provides the framework for its major themes. The same is true for the conclusion of the Athenian narrative (17:32-34), which is primarily a conclusion to the speech. As a whole, one can scarcely speak of an Athenian “mission.” Although there were several converts and a fellowship may well have grown out of Paul’s ministry there, Luke did not dwell on this or mention the establishment of a church in Athens. It would be a mistake, however, to see Paul’s Athenian experience as a “maverick” episode. The opposite is true. The central item, the speech on the Areopagus, is the prime example in Acts of Paul’s preaching to the Gentiles. The only other example is the brief sermon at Lystra (14:15-17), which is itself almost a recap of this one. In the following narrative Paul works among Gentiles for eighteen months in Corinth and for nearly three years in Ephesus, but no example of his preaching is given. The reason quite simply is that it has already been given—in Athens, in the very center of Gentile culture and intellect.