THE DISCOURSE ON MARS’ HILL

(Acts 17:16-34.) 

Introduction. Paul's second missionary journey. 
His traveling companions: Silas, a brother in the 
church at Antioch (Acts 15:22); Luke, "the beloved 
physician " (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11; Philem. 24), and 
Timothy, a young preacher (Acts 16:1-3). 

The Macedonian call. The journey to Philippi. 
Conversion of Lydia and the Philippian jailor and 
their respective households. Preaching at Thessalonica 
and Berea. The Jews revolt and Paul journeys to 
Athens alone (Acts 16 and 17). 

The setting (Acts 17:16). The intellectual splen- 
dor of Athens at that time was wonderful. Her uni- 
versities were rapidly filling with students from all over 
the world. Her systems of philosophy were known 
everywhere. Her mathematicians, scientists, philoso- 
phers, painters and sculptors were renowned. Her 
ideal was perfection of physical body. Her religion 
was a polytheism. Every mountain and valley and 
stream and city had its protecting god or goddess. 
Her deities were innumerable; and they were reputed 
to have spoken to men through oracles scattered over 
the entire peninsula. When Paul arrived in the city 
his spirit was stirred when he saw the city wholly 
given to idolatry. 

Verse 17. Did he remain quiet and say nothing? 
That was not a characteristic of Paul. He was burn- 
ing with the message of Jesus Christ and Him cruci- 
fied. He went immediately into the market-place and 
began to reason with the people daily; and into the 
synagogues he went and disputed with the Jews. Nat- 
urally, he attracted attention, for his message was 
new; and the market-place was the common meeting- 
place of the people. Paul was bold because he loved 
the ministry of the gospel. 

Verse 18. There were two classes of philosophy com- 
mon at that time. One, known as Epicureanism, taught 
that pleasure and enjoyment were the chief aims of 
life, and that death was the end of existence. This 
system was originated by Epicurus of Athens. The 
other was instituted by Zeno the Stoic, and taught that 
wisdom, dignity and self-sacrifice were the means of 
attaining true happiness in life. This system later 
developed into a severe asceticism. The Stoics had a 
dim conception of future existence. The preaching of 
Paul naturally brought him into an encounter with 
the philosophers. 

Verse 19. From the reading, we presume that they 
brought him by force to the Areopagus, or to Mars' 
Hill. The open place on this hill had always been the 
meeting-place of the Areopagus, the supreme council 
of the Athenians. However, we are more inclined to 
believe that he was brought by the philosophers to this 
meeting-place, rather than to believe that he was 
arrested and brought before the Areopagus. Here, in 
this open place on the hill, surrounded by the philoso- 
phers, and in full view of many of the idols which they 
had erected, he delivers the discourse. 

Verses 20 and 21. These men did not really care 
about his message. All that they wanted was to hear 
some new doctrine; to obtain something which they 
might talk about. The people of Athens, according 
to Luke, were not unlike the people of America to-day. 
They are ready to seize and preach any new religious 
delusion that happens to come along. 

The discourse. Paul, standing in the midst of them, 
began a wonderful sermon on the fatherhood of God 
and the brotherhood of man. It was indeed a sermon 
on first principles. He concludes with an exhor- 
tation to repentance. 

Verse 22. The Athenians were exceedingly relig- 
ious, but not in the right way. Man has never been 
found without a religion. He has always set up a 
moral standard and a religion of his own. The pro- 
pensity to worship is common to mankind wherever 
found. But there is a great distinction between re- 
ligion and Christianity. There are many religions 
known to mankind, but Christianity is the true religion 
because it is a direct revelation from God. All other 
religions are ethical or philosophical, but Christianity 
is a divine revelation. 

The woman who throws her baby into the Ganges 
River to propitiate the anger of the gods is religious, 
but not Christian ; the heathen who kills a human being 
and offers the body as a sacrifice to the sun-god is 
religious, but not Christian. 

Christianity is always spoken of as a Way — and not 
merely a way, but the Way (John 14:5, 6; Acts 18: 
26; Heb. 10:20). Christ is the Way, and the only 
Way; no man comes to the Father but through Him 
(Acts 4:12). 

The Athenians were religious. They had their own 
way of doing things; but it did not correspond with 
God's way of doing things. They were like the people 
of Israel (Rom. 10:1-3). They are like many people 
to-day who have substituted their own righteousness 
(right way of doing things) for the righteousness of 
God (God's right way of doing things). This is always 
"the way of Cain." 

Verse 23. In their excessive idolatry they had 
dedicated one altar "TO THE UNKNOWN GOD." 
Paul seized this inscription and made it the theme of 
his discourse. They were worshiping God in ignorance. 
They had no true conception of God, because they only 
had the revelation of nature. Consequently, they set 
up a system of polytheism as a result of their material 
conception of God. 

We must learn to worship with the understanding, 
or according to God's way (1 Cor. 14:15). We can 
only do this by reading our Bibles. 

Verses 24 and 25. The Epicureans taught that 
all matter has been in existence from eternity, which 
eliminated the possibility of a creation. The Stoics 
taught that the gods and the universe have always 
been coexistent. This is a direct blow against both 
systems. Paul sets forth the true God as the Creator 
and Preserver of all things, and teaches them their 
absolute dependence upon Him. Many people to-day 
do not realize to what extent they are dependent upon 
God. We are merely His stewards for an appointed 
time upon earth; and in the last great day we will 
be called upon to give an account of our stewardship. 
Nothing belongs to us; the world and the fullness 
thereof belong to Him. 

Verse 26. This passage, which teaches the Father- 
hood of God and the brotherhood of man, was a death- 
blow to the narrow pride of the Greeks. To them, all 
who were not Greeks were "barbarians." We fail to 
realize the kinship of races to-day. War will never 
cease until the world is taught the brotherhood of 
man. 

Verse 27. He teaches that God is not a material 
being to be worshiped in the form of wood or stone, 
but that He is a spiritual being very near to the human 
family. He sets forth the spiritual presence of God. 

Verse 28. Here also he quotes from Greek poetry. 
Paul was an educated man. This particular quotation 
is taken from the " Phenomena 9 9 of Aratus, a Cilician 
poet. The same words practically are to be found in 
the "Hymn to Zeus/' by Cleanthes, His appeal to 
Greek poetry was a bit of strategy. 

Verse 29. This is somewhat of a summary. Since 
we are the offspring of God, and our spirits are immate- 
rial and eternal, we ought to also regard the Father 
of our spirits as immaterial and eternal, and not as a 
being like unto wood and stone, or some material thing. 
Seneca, the Roman writer, says: "Thou shalt not form 
God of silver and gold. . . . God is near thee; He is 
with thee; He is within." This was a direct argument 
against idolatry. 

Verse 30. God overlooked the sins of the people 
during the days in which no direct revelation had been 
given. But now that Jesus Christ had lived and shown 
the world the true character of the Father, they were 
without excuse. The moral standard of the world, 
before the coming of Christ, was far inferior to the 
modern standard of living. But since Christ demon- 
strated perfection of character, the world is expected 
to strive to attain unto that standard. 

Verse 31. In preaching to Jews, Paul always ap- 
proached them through Old Testament prophecy, show- 
ing them how it was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. 
In preaching to Gentiles, who had no conception of 
God, other than the revelation of nature, he invariably 
led up to the resurrection of the dead, Here he points 
forward to the general day of judgment. He proves 
that, as Christ was raised from the dead, so are all 
men to be resurrected. And in that judgment day 
they are to be judged by the moral standard that was 
set in the life of the Master. 

Conclusion. Verses 32-34. Some mocked; some 
procrastinated; some believed. These three classes are 
always in evidence. Some will mock this sermon; 
some will say, "We will hear of this matter again;" 
others will believe and cleave unto Christ. To which 
class do you belong?