Lesson 50 - Chapter 17:22-34

Lesson 50 - Chapter 17:22-34

Lesson for April 16, 2017

The Book of Acts

Chapter 17:22-34

So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”

Because of Paul’s teachings regarding Jesus and the Resurrection he was taken before the Court of the Areopagus. It is presumed that the court was exercising its right of censorship on the religious life of the community. The account suggests that the proceedings were in the nature of a hearing rather than an actual trial. Paul, a foreigner and a teacher, was examined to determine if he should be allowed to circulate freely in the city and preach his message. No comment was made about the official response of the court to Paul’s presentation of the Gospel.

Paul was using “religion” in its doctrinal sense of satanic doctrine, which Jesus condemned in Matthew 23, and the type of religion practiced in Athens was called the devil’s communion table in I Corinthians 10:19-21. Both of the dominant systems of philosophy in Athens, Epicureanism and Stoicism, actually rejected God, and so every statue of a god standing in Athens was something that these philosophical systems had totally rejected. Intellectualism and religion don’t normally mix. Really, to these philosophers and the people who adhered to them, the statues were simply a form of art, not worship. So immediately Paul had taken the pseudo-intellectual who prided himself on his mental ability, academic knowledge and cultural background, and called his attention to the fact that both Stoicism and Epicureanism, the two systems that had put Paul on trial, had no place for any supernatural being. So why question Paul about a deity when they didn’t even believe in deities? “Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.There is nothing that galls a pseudo-intellectual more than to be called religious! But Paul had them thinking at this point about something they had never heard before and their curiosity was aroused. They were always seeking but never able to come to the truth. Their arrogance as intellectuals had blinded them to the truth.

“For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’” There was one altar in their city which explained what Paul had been trying to tell them. For many days Paul had been speaking to these same people. For days he had been declaring the Gospel which landed him at the open-air courtroom. Everyone in the city had now heard the Gospel and they were familiar with the fact that Christ died for their sins. Paul had one last opportunity to give one of his most brilliant messages to the type of audience involved. He was speaking to a pseudo-intellectual and cultural audience, the most difficult type of audience outside of a religious organization.

“Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’” Paul took the phrase “unknown god” and said that this “unknown god” was the One Who he had been preaching about (Jesus Christ), and the only reason that He was unknown to them was that He could not be found through philosophy - Stoicism or Epicureanism. They had rejected the One true God at God-consciousness and at Gospel hearing. So Paul took a different approach.

When Paul said “the God” these Greek scholars understood that he was referring to the One God and was saying in effect that the entire Pantheon of Greek gods was a false concept and that there was only one revealed God - Jesus Christ. What he was saying was that God is infinite and perfect but man is finite and imperfect and therefore God cannot live in a structure such as the Pantheon like their pagan gods. Paul was saying that the true God is the creator and life-giver of all things and doesn’t need anything from mankind, but mankind does need something from Him. They need salvation that is found in Jesus Christ which Paul had been preaching to them.

“Does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things.” One of the problems of heathenism is that they worship false gods, often idols made by the hand of mankind. These Athenians had great artists and sculptors who were able to design the body of an idol and say it was a certain god. They assumed that these “gods” needed their offerings and sacrifices for happiness. Paul recognized their failure and their assumption that God was like they were. This is normal in man: imposing on God the characteristics of man or trying to make God fit a human idea of what He should be. However, the Word of God is the only source to tell mankind what God is like and what His plan is for us. God doesn’t need anything from us; we need something from God; “life and breath” – soul life. God gives life to every person. We do not give to God; He gives to us. This concept of God was the total opposite of all Greek philosophy. There is also another principle here, and that is that no man can be truly happy apart from a relationship with the true God. Religion in any form cannot make a person happy.

“And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’” Paul was pointing out that the very system which they were trying to use against him, which was the system of law and order, was actually designed for another purpose. Law and order was designed by God in the divine establishment principles so mankind would have freedom. Under a system of freedom mankind would have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and the opportunity to make a decision regarding the Gospel. In order to present the facts regarding the Gospel a person must have the freedom under the law to do so. Satan’s world system is used by him to obstruct the Gospel therefore he wants to destroy freedom within every nation.

“That they would seek God.” Paul was saying that all normal members of the human race reach the point of God-consciousness, and when they do, they must use their freewill to make a decision. If a person is negative, God has no further responsibility, but if the person is positive then God is responsible for providing Gospel information to that person. Once the message of the Gospel has reached a person, they must make a decision. Positive volition at Gospel hearing expresses itself by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

To seek God simply means that all members of the human race become aware of the existence of God. Groping is used in this verse in the sense of seeking after something in the dark. God-consciousness merely means to be aware of the existence of God; it never implies knowing anything about the Gospel. Since man is in the dark as to the exact nature of God, it takes hearing the Gospel for him to be able to make a decision for Christ. Man by man’s thinking does not have the ability to “figure out” God or His plan for mankind. The Gospel must always be revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. We can become aware of the existence of God by our mental ability but can go no further with it. No one has ever dreamed up the Gospel or worked it out mentally. You have to hear the Gospel; it has to be communicated by some means. (Romans 10:17)

Paul explained something he heard or read about their philosophy on the existence of God by quoting their poets, “as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’” Paul used their very own literature to prove to them that their basic written beliefs were inconsistent with their own philosophical system. So without realizing it, these poets not only recognized that God existed but also recognized that there was only one God (“His,” not “their” children). This meant that all of the idols in the city of Athens were manmade.

“Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.” In other words, God made us; we did not make God. Then Paul gives his conclusion. All the statues in Athens were religious idols of false gods. This was what he wanted them to see because the thing that was keeping them from God was really idolatry. And idolatry can be the worship of an object (idols) or a philosophy (Epicureanism or Stoicism).

The times of ignorance refers to the time between God-consciousness and Gospel hearing. It is the time in which man is ignorant as to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God overlooked means He was “bearing with” their ignorance until a time when they could hear the Gospel. Now that they had heard the Gospel, God had to hold the Athenians responsible for their positive or negative decisions.

“Because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” This was a reference to the Great White Throne Judgment where unbelievers will be judged for rejecting Christ as Savior. God the Father not only provided His Son, but He provided the way by which we can know His Son and receive eternal life. The proof Paul offered was the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We shall hear you again concerning this.’ So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” Some did not believe and began to sneer at Paul. The Greek word for sneer means to scoff and to ridicule. But some who heard Paul were persuaded to believe in Christ. Two people are mentioned by name as believing in Christ. One of them was prominent among the judges in the courtroom—Dionysius. Damaris was the other named and know nothing further about her. Others with them indicates that Paul’s message of salvation was received by a small group but it doesn’t seem that he had the same impact on Athens as he did elsewhere.

This was one of the most unusual approaches ever used by Paul. Not once did he mention Jesus Christ by name. But remember that Paul had been witnessing to these people every day, so that all of the people there listening had previously heard his message and knew to whom he was referring. This story gives us an important application that it is our responsibility to present the truth of the Gospel and leave the results with God the Holy Spirit, as Paul did here in Athens.