Acts 17:22-31 Paul @ the Areopagus

22Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

The above is a picture of the Areopagus in all it’s glory.  The Areopagus was both a geographical location and group of people.  It was a small hill near the Acropolis in Athens on which met the prestigious and venerable council of elders, also named the Areopagus because it met on that site. Dating back to the 5th-6th centuries BCE, the Areopagus consisted of nine chief magistrates who guided the city-state away from rule by a king to rule by an oligarchy that laid the foundations for Greece’s eventual democracy. Across the centuries the Areopagus changed, so that by Paul’s day it was a place where matters of the criminal courts, law, philosophy and politics were presented, argued over, and judged.  It was a place where people with new ideas came and presented their new ideas in order that they might be discussed and circulated making the idea stronger, or dispelling it all together.  It was the cutting edge of philosophical circles and new learned ideas.  A modern version of the Areopagus might be any nondescript coffee bar where notions of art, music, ideas, politics, religion, and law are shared and processed.  Coffee Underground in Greenville is a perfect example of such a place.

As a purveyor of the new Jesus Way, Paul was invited to share his thoughts in the Areopagus.  What he says is striking.  Having noticed an altar not dedicated to a particular god but instead with the inscription “to an unknown god,” Paul boldly declares the true God this altar honors.  It is apparent from this story Luke’s conception of the mission of the Church.  In Luke’s theology Christians do not “bring” God to the people of other religions.  Rather, he suggests the the one true God is universally present but definitively revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, whether we or anyone else rightly acknowledge it or not.  Thus, it was and is the mission of the Church to “go” and engage the culture with this Christian message.

This seems to be very helpful for the Christian Church today, especially in the postmodern-steeped Western world.  Into this world which denies all things claiming absolute authority but at the same time open to all new and/or cutting edge ideas and philosophies it is the mission of the church to engage culture and share the truth about “what you therefore worship as unknown.”  For to many decades the Christian Church has reacted to changing cultural trends with knee-jerk reactions resulting in isolation from the communities around us.  But if we recognize and acknowledge what Paul knew and what Luke tells us, we can once again engage the Areopagus of our time with the truth of our unique Christian message.

So where is your Areopagus?

blessings for the journey,

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One response to “Acts 17:22-31 Paul @ the Areopagus

  1. I’m preaching on this text this Sunday, too. I like the way the 1st Peter text asks us to be ever-ready to give an account of our hope, and Paul, in the Acts text, is giving an account of his hope.

    Before we can either heed 1st Peter or mimic Paul, we must know what we believe — really know it. This takes study and prayer and community.

    Really knowing (to the point of being able to readily articulate it) one’s faith is edifying to that person, and when his/her account is given, it edifies the listener. (Though some will scoff.) And both the knowing and the telling glorify God if we are faithful in our practice of each.

    I wish I could come and hear you preach!

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