Acts 17:22-34 Paul's Sermon on Mar's Hill

We are now in Athens with Paul. He is about to speak at the Areopagus, to a group of prominent Athenians who meet to discuss matters of religion and philosophy. This group was sort of the guardian of the gods for Athens. One of their functions was to make certain no new gods who were not on the list of gods, were introduced in Athens. (Areios pagos was located on Mar's Hill.)

This is Acts033 - Acts 17:22-34 Paul's Sermon on Mar's Hill.

Vs22: "So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects."

.... There would have been a rather large group assembled before the court of Areopagus. It is not known for certain how many judges there were, but some sources place it at 12 members. Paul uses wisdom. The term "very religious", is 'hos deisidiamonesterous'. It can be used in a good or in a bad sense. Here Paul is using the term in a conciliatory manner. He is acknowledging their deep religious feelings. (A wise man knows how to make words acceptable.)

Vs23: "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you."

.... Unknown God is 'Agnosto Theo.' (Where we get our word agnostic, or, 'I don't know', or, 'without knowledge.') The Athenians were afraid of offending one of the gods so they had more than one altar to an unknown god. It was also illegal to introduce a new God that was not on their list of gods. The 'unknown god' could serve as a point of discussion.

.... Notice how Paul disarms any accusation of heresy or promoting a new god. He is simply saying, "I want to talk to you about the God you already worship, but of whom you don't know much about." The word 'ignorance' is 'agoneo.' It speaks of an unawareness. Paul is not calling them ignorant. At this point he has their full attention.

Note: I want to recommend a book that reveals how this very wisdom has been used by missionaries over the centuries in bringing large groups of peoples to the Lord. It is entitled 'Eternity in Their Hearts' by Don Richardson. The reason South Korea has such a strong Christian following today is because both the Koreans and the Chinese had a knowledge of the true God. No images were permitted for this God. The Koreans called Him 'Hananim,' or, 'the Great One.' (Chinese called Him Shang Ti.)

The Protestant missionaries recognized right away that the Koreans retained a concept of the true God. They used this knowledge to bring the gospel message. The response was overwhelming. The Catholic missionaries on the other hand accused the people of idolatry in this matter. Thus the Catholic presence in Korea is much smaller than that of the Protestants.

.... Paul begins his short but profound sermon.

Vs24: "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands..."

.... Notice that Paul says the very same thing that Stephen said when he spoke to the Sanhedrin; "The Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says." (Acts 7:48) This message should never be forgotten. But what an affront to all who believe that God can be found in buildings or in idols.

Some years ago while in Jerusalem, I went to the wailing (western) wall. This is the most sacred of places to the Jewish peoples. In fact there is an ancient tradition passed down that says the Shekinah is on the other side of the wall, to the east. When I placed my hand against the wall, all I felt was 'deadness of stone.' Not that I was expecting anything. No Presence. No Shekinah. No anointing. The reason is because God now dwells in temples of human hearts.

Vs25: "Nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things."

.... Paul strikes at the very root of idolatry. The peoples thought that the gods had to be appeased with 'food' offerings and such like. But the Hebrews knew that one of God's names, that is, El Shaddai, meant that He was sufficient in all things, or, He is the perfection of all things. There is nothing we can give God that can add anything to Him. And this is why our salvation is of God alone. We add nothing. The apostle said, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." (Titus 3:5)

Vs26: "And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation."

.... The apostle disarms those distinctions made by both the Greeks and the Jews. The Greeks were pretty much the same as the the Jews in seeing their race as superior to other races. Paul simply says that all peoples and nations come from one man. There is no boasting to be found. All share in Adam's fall. There is no blood line in humanity that exceeds another in acceptance to God. "All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom3:23)

.... The apostle then touches on God's providence in saying that our times were fixed from eternity. (Boundaries speak of the earth.) David also gives us insight into this. He said, "Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them." (Psalm 139:16)

Vs27: "That they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us."

.... Paul's point is that the human race was designed to seek God. The reason is because of the vacancy in our spiritual nature that can only be filled by God Himself. Humans were designed to walk in unrestrained fellowship with the true God. This fellowship was lost through sin. It is now restored in Jesus Christ. It says, "God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." (1Co1:9)

.... The fact that God is "not far from each one of us" speaks of God's reality in all of creation. Even the creation itself declares that 'God is!' This is why only a fool would say that God does not exist. Our very natures reflect something of God Himself. But the image has been marred. Men outside Christ can only see distortions.

Vs28: "for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.'"

.... Some of the ancient philosophers had an understanding that there was only one true Supreme God. Actually this understanding is embedded in most every culture, but the same scene presents itself. This God cannot be known directly. This truth was even presented in the tabernacle plan of Moses. Paul quotes from the poet Aratus, who made this statement almost 300 years before Christ. Aratus as well as other poet-philosophers spoke of the Supreme God as 'Father.' But here Paul applies this quote to the God of the Hebrews.

Vs29: "Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man."

.... Paul knew that the more intellectual philosophers did not see these idols as gods, but the peoples as a whole did. However, Paul makes a crucial point here. The human race is close kin to God. Adam is the only person in the Bible other than Jesus Christ who is actually called 'the' son of God. This was because Adam was created in God's likeness and image. As head of the human race, Adam's fall became our fall. Paul knew that all of this idolatry revealed hearts at variance with the true God.

.... The term 'divine nature' comes from one word, theios. It simply speaks of the Divine Being, or the Person of God Himself. The Greeks used it for the essence or nature of God. They didn't apply it to a particular god.

Vs30: "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent."

.... Paul was not saying that God approved of the ignorance of humanity with regard to the true God. He took into consideration man's separation from Him. Yet in all this, God placed in the heart of man a deeper need for truth. Now that redemption (Truth) has come, it is time for men to turn from their vain things, and turn to the living God. The message of repentance applies to all men, Jews and Gentiles.

Vs31: "Because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."

.... Here is the turning point. Paul says that God has a fixed time in which all of mankind will appear before Him for judgment. It will be a judgment of righteousness. Notice that the judgment revolves around a "Man." Jesus Christ is God revealed in the flesh, Messiah come to us, God with us, the hope of the everlasting hills, and the One in whom all of creation has waited. And this even applies to the heathen. How can this be? Because this knowledge of 'the Coming One' has been written in the conscience of all men. This is why in every culture you find a form of Messiah consciousness. (Though different terms may be used.)

Vs32: "Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this."

.... Once again we see the power of the gospel. When the resurrection is referenced it makes a distinction in the listeners. In this case "some" sneered, and "others" said they wanted to hear again. But because of the mockers, the meeting began breaking up.

Vss33,34: "So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them."

.... Did Paul's sermon produce any fruit for the kingdom? Indeed. Notice the three elements. The scoffers. The ones who said, 'We'll hear more later.' Then you have Dionysius who was one of the 12 judges. Eusebius later records that this Dionysius became bishop (pastor) of the Church in Athens. In addition to Dionysius, we have Damaris and others. Damaris was most likely a woman of position.

Hence we have the beginnings of the church in Athens. Here also we see once again how the gospel has the power to gather into God's kingdom, those who would believe. But this is an area that is far beyond our own means of understanding. We simply accept the testimony. In an earlier point in Acts, we hear, "And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." (13:48)

This study was originally part of a series on the book of Acts given to members of Hebraic Foundations from July 10, 2002 through January 19, 2003. They were written by Pastor Buddy Martin, a former United Pentecostal Church minister, who founded Christian Challenge International. Writings are the copyright of Buddy Martin and reprinted on this site by permission.

Page added October 22, 2004


August 23, 1997
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