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The Mars Hill Debate

"Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of Idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market place every day with those who chanced to be there." (Acts 17:16-17 RSV)

Ancient Athens Athens was the capital of Attica, a region of Greece in ancient times (see Ancient Empires - Greece). It was there that the apostle Paul found himself on one of his missionary journeys (see On The Road To Damascus and Paul's First Missionary Journey and Paul's Second Missionary Journey and Paul's Third Missionary Journey from our Bible History section).

Paul discovered that the city was quite idolatrous, but with a great altar to the "unknown God." He then set about to make known to the carnal-minded philosophical "thinkers" of the city the True God - with opposition, and some success.

"Some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers met him. And some said, "What would this babbler say?" Others said, "He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities" - because he preached Jesus and the resurrection." (Acts 17:18 RSV)

They apparently caught Paul on one of his better days. Paul had a rather intense personality, and would usually have risen to being called a "babbler" with a response that the name-caller would not have soon forgotten. This day however, he remained (no doubt with the help of God's Holy Spirit) calm and collected.

"And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus [also known as Mars Hill - in photo above], saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean." Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." (Acts 17:19-21 RSV)

With quiet respect, Paul managed to get them to listen:

"So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And He made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after Him and find him. Yet He is not far from each one of us, for 'In Him we live and move and have our being'" (Acts 17:22-28 RSV)

Paul then referred to some of their own writers who managed to realize that the Creator exists:

"as even some of your poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring.' Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed, and of this He has given assurance to all men by raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:28-31 RSV)

His strategy of calm logic to present The Truth of God began to sow the seeds of success:

"Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead [see The Last Day], some mocked; but others said, "We will hear you again about this." So Paul went out from among them. But some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them." (Acts 17:32-34 RSV)

Fact Finder: Can the unconverted carnal mind understand spiritual truth?
1 Corinthians 2:11-14


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