What is the Areopagus sermon?

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The Areopagus sermon was delivered by the apostle Paul in Athens, at the Areopagus (a rock outcropping located northwest of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece). This sermon is mentioned by Luke in the book Acts of the Apostles 17:16–34. It followed a shorter speech in Lystra which is described in Acts 14:15-17.

History

Paul had faced opposition due to his evangelism in Thessalonica and Berea in northern Greece. Therefore, he moved to Athens for safety. There, while he was waiting for Silas and Timothy to arrive, he was troubled to see that Athens was full of idols. Josephus wrote that Athenians were “the most pious of the Greeks” (Against Apion ii. 12 [130]; Loeb ed., p. 345). And an ancient record reported that there were more than 3,000 statues in Athens at the time of Paul.

To a Jew and to a Christian, such a display was a breaking of the first and second commandments (Exodus 20: 3-6) and the revelation of God in Christ. Paul could not ignore the opportunity to preach the gospel to the Athenians. So, he went to the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews and the Gentile worshipers. And he did also preach that daily in the marketplace.  Then, certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers wondered about what Paul was saying.  So, they brought him to the Areopagus and asked him about his new doctrine (Acts 17:17-19).

The Areopagus sermon

Paul started His response saying, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 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:  God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth…” (v. 22-24). Here, Paul first spoke of God as the Creator of the world and of the regulations He made for man’s abode on the earth.

Then, he declared that the Creator wants to have a relationship with His creatures. For “He is not far from each one of us; 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.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising”  (v. 27-29). And he concluded that since idols are made of silver, gold or stone and shaped by man they are not worthy of man’s worship.

Invitation to worship God

At the end, Paul offered an invitation to worship God saying, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (v. 30-31). And he affirmed that the days are gone when unenlightened men had to depend on God’s revelation through nature. For now He has spoken through Christ whom the resurrection proved Him to be the Son of God. And the Lord is granting forgiveness to men, if they repent, and accept Christ’s atoning sacrifice (John 3:16).

But when the Athenians heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scorned while others believed. Such were a woman named Damaris and Dionysius (v. 23, 34), who was a member the council of the Areopagus (v. 19). And according to a tradition, ascribed by Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History iii. 4. 9, 10; iv. 4. 23) to a bishop of Corinth, this Dionysius became the first bishop of Athens.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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