The Mars Hill Sermon, Part One
Acts 17:22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.' (NKJV)
The time is about A.D. 50. Paul is on his second missionary journey. Paul is now in Athens, Greece. He is alone, waiting for the arrival of Silas and Timothy from Berea, Macedonia where they are helping to start a church.
In Athens, Paul spoke in the marketplace and was approached by the Epicureans and Stoics. These were the philosophic Gentiles who did not have to work for a living. Thus they would convene and discuss the issues of the day.
The Epicureans and Stoics listened to Paul share the Gospel and concluded that he was proclaiming gods different than their own. They were curious and wanted to hear more so they took Paul to Mars Hill where the Aeropagus, similar to our Supreme Court, met.
Now, in this passage, Paul is addressing the Aeropagus and the Athenians gathered at Mars Hill with what has been called The Mars Hill Sermon. This sermon was unlike Paul’s first recorded sermon at the synagogue in Antioch, Psidia (Acts 13). The audience was different. In the synagogues Paul’s sermons were directed to Jews and Gentiles who believed in Judaism. Now Paul was addressing Gentiles who believed in idol worship.
There are three parts to a sermon; the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Paul’s introduction was aimed at building rapport with his audience. First, he referred to the audience as being “very religious”, like himself (v. 22).
Then, he referred to their “Unknown God” and told them that he would “proclaim” to them the identity of this God (v. 23). The Athenians worshiped many idols, said to be more than the men of Athens. They had a god for everything. Then, in case they missed something, they had an Unknown God for everything else.
Next, Paul launched into the body of his sermon. He would tell them of their Unknown God. He described their God as the One who created all things and is the “Lord” over all things, specifying “Heaven and Earth” (v. 24a).
This God “does not dwell in temples”, and he does not need men to worship Him by bringing him food and other gifts because He is the provider of everything (vv. 24a-25). This God does not need anything that mortal men have to offer.
This God has created all people in His image and has decided when and where they would live on this earth (v. 26). He created men so that they might seek Him and find Him, though He is never far from them (v. 27).
For it is through God’s will that “we live and move and have our being” (v. 28a). Paul then used an illustration of which the audience would be familiar. He cited their poets by saying “For we are also His offspring”, meaning that we are all created by God (v. 28b).
Being created by God is different than saying we are children of God. Only those who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are children of God (Ro. 8:16-17). My next commentary will address Paul’s conclusion to his sermon and the response of his audience.
Online Bible Commentary