Paul’s Sermon at Athens: Right Place, Right Time :: By Dr. Donald Whitchard

Summary: Paul’s preaching in the synagogues and the markets of Athens drew the attention of the city’s philosophers and intellectuals who invited him to speak at the Areopagus. When the Gospel is proclaimed, it has the power to win souls for the glory of God (Hebrews 4:12).

Paul’s mission to carry the Gospel to the Gentile nations continued while he was in Athens. Even though persecution had driven him out of one area, the LORD in His Sovereignty placed Paul right where He wanted him, and that was at the intellectual capital of the Roman Empire, the city of Athens.

Hundreds of years ago, when the Greeks ruled the known world due to the military campaigns of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), he opened the way for Greek culture and language to spread, including the arts, logic, mathematics, reasoning, the foundations for modern medicine, political structure, and philosophy–the study of wisdom. Greek was the basic language of the Roman Empire, and Paul used this as well as his own knowledge of Greek literature as a way of presenting the Gospel to this culture that was rich intellectually and artistically but poor in spirit and impoverished in idolatry, myths, and a sense that there had to be something beyond their own existence.

The LORD set the stage to open the minds and hearts of the Athenians as He does to everyone who is weary and worn from the world’s stale bread and tepid water disguised as sufficiency for life. Almighty God often allows people and nations to sow their wild oats and to plant those seeds, which end up with a produce of futility, misery, regret, and oppression.

They had taken upon themselves the foolish and arrogant thought that they were smarter than the Creator on how to run the world and their lives. They produced gods made in their own image made of wood, stone, or the product of one’s imagination, and then they bowed before their lifeless forms, practicing rancid acts of worship that did nothing but produce emptiness and a hollowness in their souls. Some, tragically, never opened their eyes to the wide road of destruction on which they were traveling until it was too late.

Pagans of all walks of life today know deep down that there is a Creator and that this universe could not have produced itself in an orderly and precise manner, and it does not matter if they admit it or not.

The late theologian R.C Sproul once said that he never argued with anyone who claimed not to believe in God. Instead, he turned the argument back on them, saying that they do believe in God, but they are angry with Him and do not like Him – a trait of our sinful and fallen nature perfectly described in the Scriptures (Psalm 14, 53; Romans 1:18-32, 3:10-18).

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), the tutor of Alexander the Great, believed that there was one specific force or power that placed everything into existence, but after that was not involved with anything. He referred to it as the “Unmoved Mover,” more in line with Deism than the belief in a personal God who was active in the affairs of His creation.

The student of Aristotle, Plato (428-347 B.C.), established the first institution of higher learning in the Western world, known as the Academy of Athens, and was also influential in the fields of religious thought and spirituality.

Socrates (470-399 B.C.), who was Plato’s teacher, was noted for teaching his pupils through a series of questioning that got the student to think through issues and problems and develop an answer, and then was asked another question by the teacher in order to keep the thinking process moving forward. It was a method of training one’s mind against base reaction and emotional input. The “Socratic Method” of teaching was a characteristic of classical education, particularly in the study of law. It is the foundation of critical thinking and logical development, which is missing in education today, along with the Ten Commandments and respect for God.

If you have ever seen the motion picture or TV show from the 1980s entitled The Paper Chase (which I highly recommend), the primary character is Dr. Charles Kingsfield, a noted and stern law professor who uses the Socratic method to root out the slackers and discipline the serious students in how to analyze cases and draw logical conclusions. He was the model of the teacher you first could not stand because of their rough nature, stern demeanor, and harshness, yet they became your favorite because they taught you how to be a better student and person.

Would that we had more teachers in that mold in our classrooms and behind the pulpits of our churches, and not the Marxist-aligned professional indoctrinators found in American education today, both public and private.

Socrates was accused of being an atheist by the Athenian court because he openly questioned polytheism and embraced what might be interpreted as theism (the belief in one deity). He was found guilty and forced to drink poison as a punishment. Other philosophers such as Zeno and Epicurus stressed everything from virtue to vice, and the teachings of these men and others soon began to be repetitious and a source of frustration because there was nothing new or noted coming from the minds of the contemporary thinkers that gathered at the Athenaeum.

The Greeks had lost their originality and creativity. They hungered for new thinking and a new direction, as does anyone honest enough to admit that whatever they had been doing does not work nor produce the results they thought would happen. You can only recycle and rewrap the philosophical fruitcake for a short time before it gets stale and loses whatever taste and favor it had at one time.

The Bible tells us that there is nothing new under the sun, and we inevitably end up chasing the wind (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

The thinking and actions of people, nobles, kings, and commoners throughout history without the foundation of God’s Word and guidance have been an exercise in futility.

The prophet Isaiah wrote that God would reason with us if we would come to Him in faith and trust (Isaiah 1:18).

The tragedy is that His chosen people, Israel, followed the ways of the world, and like their pagan neighbors, soon paid the price for walking away from Him and joined the rest of the world in its sinful and godless ways of living and thought.

America, take notice. Greece’s “wild oats” of human thinking and pagan living had caught up with them. Those philosophers who happened to be in the marketplace where Paul was preaching (an act of Providential grace) heard this new teaching and decided to invite him to come to meet with them at the Areopagus. Some thought it babbling and foolishness, and Paul would use that exact analogy in his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 1:18-25).

The Spirit of God was at work on others to open their minds and their hearts to the Good News of our salvation provided through Jesus Christ, who is the source of all treasures of wisdom (Colossians 2:1-3) and the One who gives comfort to the troubled soul and distraught mind (Matthew. 11:28-30). Paul would use this opportunity that was given to him to present the true God to these men and women who were starved for reality, purpose, and true thought.

There is a saying: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Paul was the Sovereign LORD’S choice to be that teacher.

Whatever your background, nationality, race, or education, know that the Lord Jesus Christ still gives those who come to Him in humbleness and adoration the authentic peace, grace, mercy, salvation, and wisdom that no one on Earth can ever come close to matching.

Glory to His name, Amen.