Event(s): The philosophers at Athens
Today’s Text: Acts 17:16-34
Tomorrow’s Text: Acts 18:1-28
As we continue along with Paul on his second missionary journey, God opens a door of opportunity for him to share the message of the gospel in Athens, Greece – the cultural and intellectual nucleus of the Greek world. There were somewhere around three thousand altars and temples in their city – all places of worship to various gods. They were all inclusive and took great pride in this. And just in case they may have missed a god somewhere along the way, they even dedicated a huge altar to “The Unknown God.”
Acts 17:18a “Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him.” The Epicureans were basically atheists who were anti-religion and who believed that pleasure was the most worthy pursuit of man. You could say their motto for life was, “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. So you might as well satisfy yourself and live as sensually as you’d like.”
The Stoics were pantheists, meaning they believed that God is everything and everyone and that everyone and everything is God. God is the universe and the universe is God. A tree is God, a rock is God, an animal is God…(you get the picture). As such, they placed great importance on living in harmony with nature and had a very exalted sense of self. If the Epicureans taught to enjoy life, the Stoics taught to endure life. The focus of one was pleasure, the focus of the other, pride.
Acts 17:18b “what does this babbler want to say?” The Greek word used for babbler is spermologos. It’s a slang term that was used to describe someone who picks up scraps of knowledge here and there – like a bird does seed – and then circulates that knowledge without it having any real depth or substance. In other words, according to these philosophers, Paul was not sophisticated enough to be taken seriously. This is a different type of challenge than anything else he’s faced to this point. To this day, some people still have this type of view of Christianity.
Acts 17:19 “they..brought him to the Areopagus…” Often referred to as Mars Hill, this was an open forum used for philosophical debate, which stood 337 feet in elevation in the center of Athens. The council of education and religion met here daily and if anyone had a new “religious thought” they had to defend their position here, before the council.
Acts 17:23 “the One whom you worship without knowing…” “In spite of their religiosity, the Athenians were ignorant of the true God.” –The New Spirit Filled Life Bible
Acts 17:24 “does not dwell in temples made with hands” In other words, God is transcendent over all. Buildings cannot contain His fullness.
Acts 17:25 “Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands…” In other words, God is the one who sustains us – He doesn’t need us to sustain Him. God needs nothing.
Acts 17:26 “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell…” There is no racial superiority. We all come from the same original source – God’s creation, through Adam and Eve.
Acts 17:29 “we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone…”
“Paul’s conclusion was that idolatry, therefore, is illogical. If God created people, then God cannot be “an image” or an idol, or comprised of “gold or silver or stone,” the earthly materials from which idols are made. Paul was claiming that God’s divine nature is essentially spiritual rather than material.” –Expository on the Book of Acts
Although the Athenians loved to discuss issues (vs 21), they did not like to take action – especially action that would require repentance. Such is the case still today with many who hear the message of the Gospel. Later, in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul would say, “I made the decision to know nothing [that is, to forego philosophical or theological discussions regarding inconsequential things and opinions while] among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified..” 1 Corinthians 2:2 AMP
It is good to know what we believe and why we believe it. But we must also be careful to not let ourselves get caught up in vain discussions that lead no where.
There will be times when others may try to challenge our faith and may even try to intimidate us, grilling us with questions. However, never forget that the message of the Gospel is revealed to the childlike. Jesus Himself prayed to the Father in Matthew 11:25, “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things [the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven] from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.”
Even if you are faced with a question you don’t yet have an answer for, never let anyone intimidate you. As Paul instructed his son in the faith, Timothy, the best comeback when people think less of us or try to intimidate us is to “ Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12 NLT
So continue learning, continue growing, continue asking questions and learn how defend your faith. But always remember, the way we live will make a much greater impact than taking pride in what we know.