Coney Hill Baptist Church

Demonstrating God’s Love Together

Argument in Athens

Acts 17:16-34


From Thessalonica & Berea Paul, separated for a time from his companions, went on to Athens, the capital of the Province of Achaia but, more significantly probably the intellectual capital of the known world. 


The Setting...

Athens was the place to go to share and test the latest ideas and thinking.  Known more for its discussion and debate than its practical application, the challenge in Athens was not to get a hearing but a response.  There is a school of thought that says, despite the couple of named individuals mentioned at the end of this passage, Paul struggled to plant a church in Athens and changed his tactics somewhat when he moved on to Corinth (1 Cor. 1:18 – 2:5).


Nevertheless, it was vital for Paul, and remains important today, for the gospel to gain a hearing in the academy and the market square (Agora), as well as the synagogue’s and temples, the natural habitat as it were, of religious discussion.


In Athens two things predominated, philosophy and idolatry.  It was said that, with all the temples and statues and inscriptions around  ‘In Athens it was easier to meet a god than a man’.  And that was immediately obvious to Paul. 


The philosophers in Athens were of every sort, but 2 types were mentioned particularly...


Epicureans – believed that God was distant, that fatalism reigned and so life consisted of seeking the greatest pleasure and limiting the pain.


Stoics – were more reserved, God was all around but un-involved and so the highest goal was rational, self-sufficient, independent living.


Hardly philosophies exclusive to the ancient world.


The Sermon...

So what did Paul say, to these people in this place?

He took them on a journey, from God the creator of all to God the judge of all.

His journey begin at a place familiar to them, their home, starting from where they were (even citing their own references (v.28)... then filling in the gaps (v.23) of what they were uncertain of, fearful of, doubted.

He introduced them to the one true living God, the one towards whom all philosophies were striving towards, who was both transcendent and immanent, (v.24-25), close to us, connected to us, wanting to be found by us.


Yet, he insisted, this God, accessible and approachable, we are also all answerable to, there is an imperative, a required response... all people are equally his creatures, and so there is an inclusivity of both respect and responsibility.


The Response...

As we said the response was perhaps, muted, it was certainly varied.  We hear only of Dionysius and Damaris. 


On Wednesday I was in Hampstead, at a school talking philosophy with 17 year old girls, challenging them to think about where human free-will is located if not in God, where objective morality comes from if not from God, they had lots of questions, some of them were clearly more positive than others.  But all of this I did, as you know in the name of an organisation who I do some work for, that calls itself the Damaris Trust.  Because in a world of competing ideals and all too easy idolatry, the message of Paul at Athens is as necessary as ever.