Scripture Reading: Acts 17:16-34

In this message we shall study Paul’s preaching on the Areopagus. The Areopagus was Mars’ Hill, the seat of the ancient and venerable Athenian court, which judged the most solemn problems of religion.


Acts 17:22 says, “And Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, Men, Athenians, I observe how in everything you are very religious.” The Greek word rendered “very religious” literally means to fear a demon, a supernatural spirit, hence, given up to demon worship, very religious. The same word is used in noun form in 25:19 for religion. The Athenians were very religious not in relation to the true God but with respect to the worshipping of idols. We have seen that in verse 16 Paul’s spirit “was provoked in him as he beheld that the city was full of idols.”

In verse 23 Paul continued, “For while I was passing through and carefully observing objects of your worship, I found also an altar on which was inscribed, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I announce to you.” Here Paul seemed to be saying, “I announce to you the One you worship as the unknown God. He may be unknown to you, but He is known by me.”


In verses 24 and 25 Paul says, “The God who made the world and all things in it, this One, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, neither is He served by human hands as though He needs anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things.” The apostle’s word in these verses was a very strong inoculation to both the atheistic Epicureans, who did not recognize the Creator and His providence over the world, and the pantheistic Stoics, who submitted themselves to the will of many gods concerning their fate (see v. 18). In verse 24 Paul speaks of the God who made the world and all things in it. This word was directed mainly against the Epicureans, who, as atheists, did not believe in God. They believed neither in the Creator nor in the divine provision. Therefore, continuing to speak against the Epicureans, Paul went on to say that God is the Lord of heaven and earth. This One was absolutely ignored by the Epicureans. Furthermore, Paul pointed out that God Himself gives to all life and breath and all things. These are the divine provisions. God provides all things so that man may live. The Epicureans did not believe in the Creator, the Lord of heaven and earth who provides all the necessities of life for human beings.

Paul’s preaching in Acts 17 is very good. When he was reasoning with the Jews in the synagogues, he used the Scriptures. But when he was preaching to the philosophical Epicureans, he referred to the creation.

What Paul did in 17:2 and 17:24 and 25 is similar to what he did in chapters thirteen and fourteen. In chapter thirteen he used the Jewish Scriptures as the basis for preaching the resurrected Christ. But in chapter fourteen his preaching to the heathen was based on God’s creation. However, there is a difference in Paul’s use of the creation in his preaching in chapters fourteen and seventeen; his utterance in these chapters is somewhat different. In chapter fourteen he told the heathen that the “living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all the things in them...did not leave Himself without witness, doing good, giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness” (14:15, 17). There his word was not very philosophical. By contrast, Paul’s word to counter the false teachings of the Epicureans in chapter seventeen is quite philosophical. Here Paul declares that there is a Creator, the Lord of heaven and earth, and that He provides life, breath, and everything necessary for man’s living on earth.