Paul at the Areopagus
“Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens…What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you’” (vv. 22–23).- Acts 17:22–34
Our Tabletalk daily studies this year are offering an overview of Paul’s life and thought through a study of the epistles that frame his career: Galatians, the first letter he wrote, and the Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus), the final correspondences we have from the apostle. In addition to his letters, the book of Acts provides invaluable information about the ministry of the apostle, and in order to better understand Paul’s work we will look at two episodes from his life recorded in Acts before we move on to our study of 2 Timothy.
Aside from his conversion, Paul’s speech at the Areopagus in Athens is perhaps the most well-known event from his life found in the book of Acts. It gives us masterful insight into his way of proclaiming the gospel and defending its truth in the midst of a pagan culture. Moreover, the episode also cautions us against measuring the effectiveness of our ministry by the results we see in our own lifetimes. The apostle saw few people converted in Athens on the occasion of his speech (Acts 17:32–34), but the lasting influence of his work there and throughout the Mediterranean world is seen in that today the text of Paul’s speech is engraved on a bronze plaque at the foot of the ascent to the Areopagus.
When presenting the gospel to those who knew nothing of the biblical revelation, Paul was not afraid to find some point of common ground with his audience. If the pagan teachers recognized truth, the apostle would affirm it as he quotes from the philosophers Epimenides of Crete and Aratus (v. 28) to show that God is indeed Lord over all. But Paul does not change biblical revelation or dumb it down to reach his culture. Though he may quote pagan sources when they get something right, he is always careful to make sure his audience knows the content of God’s gospel, in which all truth finds its origin. Paul presents clearly the claims of Christ and teaches how He was resurrected from the dead, which was a scandalous doctrine in first-century Greek thought (vv. 29–31).
We should know what non-Christians believe and the questions about Christianity they ask in order to show how the Bible answers them. We must also know the gospel that we may share it accurately and compassionately.
Before we examine the beliefs of others we must first know the gospel, for only when we know the truth will we be able to recognize its counterfeit. Once we are firmly grounded in the gospel, we must then do what we can to understand the non-Christians around us that we might share what Scripture has to say about them. Do you know what your neighbors believe? Are you ready to answer their questions? Seek to equip yourself to defend and proclaim the faith.
Passages for Further Study
1 Peter 3:15–16