Paul in Athens (Acts 17)
Welcome to Lesson 16 in your Bible Study of Acts.
In this lesson we want to study the latter part of Acts 17 and Paul’s time in Athens.
Overview of Athens Ministry
Paul’s stay in Athens can be divided into four main sections
- Paul’s arrival in Athens and his preaching in the synagogue and in the marketplace
- The reaction of the philosophers to Paul’s preaching and an invitation for Paul to preach in the Aeropagus
- Paul’s speech to the Athenians in the Aeropagus
- The reaction to Paul’s preaching in the Aeropagus and the conclusion to the narrative
Read Acts 17:15-34
- Verse 16 states that Paul’s spirit was “being provoked” when he saw the city full of idols. To see a city so far removed from the God that he served produced a deep emotional disturbance in Paul. What things or modern-day idols in your city or nation “provoke” your spirit?
- What are you doing about it? What things should be provoking your spirit but are not because you’ve grown to accept them or accommodate them?
Epicureans and Stoics
To truly understand this portion of Acts it would be wise to pick up a Bible dictionary or other Bible resource and read-up on the group of Greek philosophers known as Epicureans and Stoics.
The following is but a brief synopsis of the first group based a portion of William Ferguson’s Backgrounds of Early Christianity.
Epicureans were characterized by:
- Materialist world view – The world is eternal. There was not a time when it was created.
- Gods exist but they don’t interfere in the world nor in the affairs of man
- There is no providence in this system or what we call God’s divine care for the world.
- There is no prayer, superstition, divine powers, death or future judgment
- The goal of Epicurean life is to live a life of peace and tranquility of mind and soul and to save the world from the darkness of religion
- Hedonism is often associated with Epicureanism, however this is not a valid connection. The hedonists came before Epicures who reformulated these other teachings to speak of intellectual pleasures
- The goal of life was pleasure, but not in a hedonistic sense. Rather, pleasure as the absence of pain, having mental equilibrium, tranquility and the pleasure of friendships.
- The purest pleasure were rest, health and the absence of anxiety and fear.
- Riches and power produced pleasure but not without pain. Thus, Epicures counseled against these ambitions.
- The pleasure of the soul comes from friendships which replace ambition and other damaging desires.
Re-read Acts 17:22-32
- How does Paul gain entry into this audience (v. 22, v. 28)
- How does Paul soften his delivery to the Athenians (v. 27, 28)? Compare Paul’s approach here to Romans 1 where he blasts the Gentiles for their “depravity”.
- Look again at the Epicurean characteristics above. Which of these beliefs does Paul flat out contradict in his speech to the Athenians?
- Why does Paul not quote the Old Testament in his speech to the Athenians? Whom does he quote?
- Why does Paul not mention Jesus once in his speech to the Athenians? What does Paul say instead to counteract this absence.
- How would you characterize Paul’s approach in preaching to the Athenians?
To reflect on your own faith
- What philosophies or worldviews compete with the gospel in your culture? Why are they seemingly more successful in reaching people with their message?
- What groups or sub-cultures exist in your context that would require a different approach in order to reach them with the gospel? Why do these groups require a different approach?
- What approaches or openings exists to reach a materialistic, consumerist, secular, pluralistic or post-modern culture?
- How can your message be effective without losing the essence of the gospel?