“Paul Preaches in the City of Idols: Acts 17:16-34

In our last article we studies about the work of the Apostle Paul in Thessalonica and in Berea. The Bereans were willing to listen  to Paul and were also willing to test his teaching by what they found in the Old Testament scriptures.

In Acts 17:14-15 the brethren in Berea sent Paul to the coast. Silas and Timothy remained to minister  the Word of God in Berea. The brethren escorted Paul to the city of Athens. Paul gave them instructions to take back to his  co-workers in the city of Berea. This is where we take the lesson. We ask that all follow along in their Bibles. Let’s study God’s Word together.

                                 PAUL ARRIVES IN ATHENS: ACTS 17:16

            In the 16th verse  Paul was appalled by the idolatry on display in the city of Athens. The city could not boast the glory it had five centuries earlier. But it was  still a city of great fame. We, today, might be content to explore the beauties of Athens but not the Apostle Paul. He felt it his responsibility. And privilege to preach the everlasting gospel to the people of Athens.


            In verse 17 Paul follows is practice as recorded in Rom. 1:16, “…To the Jew first…” We find him reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and also with the God-fearing Greeks. He spent time also preaching Jesus Christ in the marketplace. James Burton Coffman wrote the following concerning the condition of Athens:

            “Here in the great, pagan, metropolitan Athens, Paul found a disgusting confirmation of what he already knew, namely, that the world through its wisdom knew not God (I Cor. 1:23).


            In verse 18 Paul comes in contact with Greek philosophy. Herein are mentioned the Epicureans and the stoics. Concerning the Epicureans, we read this from the footnote of the NIV Study Bible,

“Originally they ·taught that the supreme good is happiness-but not mere momentary pleasure of temporary gratification. By Paul’s time, however, this philosophy had degenerated into a more sensual system of thought.” Concerning the Stoics, we read on, “They taught that people should live in accordance with nature, recognize their self-sufficiency and independence, and suppress their desires. At its best, Stoicism had degenerated into a system of pride.”

 In the latter part of the 18th verse we hear what some of the people were saying about Paul. Some called him a babbler, some said that he was setting forth strange gods. The reason they said this was that he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. They seemed to view that as two different deities.

                              PAUL IS BROUGHT TO THE AREOPAGUS

            Acts 17:19-21 It is in these verses that we find Paul brought to Mars Hill. Concerning these verses, H. Leo Boles wrote the following,

“This does not mean that they used force to arrest him; they constrained him, or escorted him to the Areopagus; this place also hears the name ‘Mars Hill.’  Here had often assembled the noblest blood of Athens, the politicians of highest rank, the best orators, and the most profound philosophers. It was at this place that Socrates was arraigned und condemned. ‘The Areopagus’, as used here, was not the hill, but the council of the Areopagus, which sat in the same hall in the marketplace. We are to think of Paul being surrounded by philosophers and professors of Athens University, and lecturers who occupied chairs in the university. They asked Paul concerning ‘this new teaching’ of which they had heard. They added that he had brought certain strange things to ·their cars. Hence, they would like to hear more about these things. They make a polite request to him to tell them more about his ‘new teaching’ or ‘strange gods’ which he set forth. they must be commended for their desire to know; they are different from the Jews and others at Thessalonica and Berea, who ran Paul out of the cities.”

                                     PAUL’S MESSAGE ON MARS HILL

 Acts 17:22-34 In verse 22 we find Paul standing in the midst of the Areopagus. He is answering their questions concerning what he taught. In verse 23 Paul brings up something that had transpired while he was awaiting word from Silas and Timothy.

He had been walking about in the city and had come across an idol. The idol had this inscription: “To an Unknown God.” Paul uses this as a stepping stone to present the truth about the True God. The people of Athens meant this to be a god that they may have overlooked. Paul will tell them that this is the True God. Homer Kent wrote the following,

“He used their admitted ignorance as a basis for his message about the true God. Paul explained that God is the creator, the sovereign of heaven and earth, the sustainer and director of all things, and is the Omnipresent One.”

 In the 26th verse Paul informs them that mankind came from one common ancestor, that is Adam. He tells them that God had made the seasons. He tells them in verse 28 that they should seek after God.

 In verse 29 Paul tells his hearers that they arc the offspring of God. He informs them that their ideas of God are wrong. They had in mind gods made of gold, silver or stone, gods of graven images. Here in verse 29 idolatry is condemned. In verse 30 the need for repentance is brought out. Paul tells them that the times of ignorance are a thing of the past. The time of reckoning is here. The certainty of judgment is upon them. He tells them that a day is appointed that He will judge the world in righteousness. He tells them that the One who will do the actual is the One that He, the Father, has raised from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul has laid it on the line here on Mars Hill. The people there heard the message of the gospel.

In verse 32 we have the results of the message. Many mocked the idea of a resurrection of the dead. But we’re told that others were willing to hear Paul again. Then Paul left the assembly on Mars Hill. In verse 34 we find that some did believe the message of the cross and became a part of the Body of Christ. We have finished the lesson in the 17th of Acts. We ask all to read Acts 18: 1-23. This lesson will get us through the Second Missionary Journey. Always be willing to study and believe the whole Word of God. Remember, spend a part of each day reading the Scriptures. Until next time, Maranatha! (1 Cor. 16:22)


                             Larry Miles is Co-Editor of Word & Work and attends Cherry St. Church of Christ in New Albany, IN.