Paul on Mars Hill

The apostle Paul was an educated and sophisticated man; in many ways, he was different from the fishermen who preceded him in the apostolic office and even the carpenter messiah who called him.

Despite his upbringing and training, Paul obeyed the gospel and became one of its greatest professors, traveling about the world with a message of hope and repentance. When he arrived in Athens, Paul was surrounded by impressive works of art and magnificent architecture, as well as the greatest schools of philosophy known to man. Paul, however, was not excited by the beautiful creations and ideas he found, but rather was disturbed by the idolatry and error that drove almost all of it. 

His occasional companion Luke would later relate, “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).  Paul took the gospel into the synagogues and into the marketplace, seeking out openminded Jews and Gentiles alike who might be willing to consider the absurdity of worshiping objects when a perfectly good God was waiting in heaven. The philosophers called him a babbler or preacher of foreign divinities, but Paul’s pride was not such that he could be silenced by former peers and their barbs.

Finally, they brought him to answer at the Areopagus, the hill of Ares, the Greek god of war, a place called Mars Hill in some translations. The Stoics and Epicureans loved this kind of thing, for they “would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21).

Paul acknowledged their religious nature, but pointed to their altar to an unknown god – the very God he would introduce to them, a God who does not dwell in human temples or depend on man for his existence. Moreover, he is not a God like that of the Hindus, for he “is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). His worth is not defined like precious metals nor is it enclosed by stone. God is not carved from trees or painted on canvas. God is spirit. God is in heaven.

Surrounded by the world’s greatest creations, he proclaimed to them something that preceded creation itself – the man Christ Jesus who came to earth, lived and died, and was resurrected in the interest of every man’s judgment and eternity. Confronted by the greatest philosophies of western civilization, the learned, converted Paul preached Jesus unto them, without shame or fear, but with pity and hope. 

Paul was so disturbed by the error and idolatry around him that he was moved to do something about it. Finding ourselves in similar circumstances, are we at all moved to do likewise?