“22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; Act 17:25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ 29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” – Acts 17
What did Paul say to convince people to obey the Gospel?
With tactfulness, Paul told the Athenians they were religiously wrong and spiritually lost. Paul knew that being religious and being saved are not synonymous. He said to them, “…I perceive that you are very religious…”, but “…you worship in ignorance (see use in verses 23 and 30)”, and “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent…” The Athenians who worshipped the idols of their day were honestly and sincerely wrong and needed to repent in order to be saved.
What did Paul teach? Paul’s description of the one true God made obsolete all of the idols of man. Since He made the world and everything in it, it left nothing to credit to the Athenian gods. Some Epicurean philosophers of the day believed the world “owed its being to a fortuitous concourse of atom.”1 Others believed that the world was eternal. But Paul faced such naturalistic blather head on, crediting the world to the creative power of God. Paul said God is Lord of the spiritual and physical realms; which meant the gods of Greece bowed to Him. God does not need to be served or waited on. He has no need for manmade shelter, and He does not require that food be brought to Him. God is not sustained by anything, because He is the one who sustains all of life. The Apostle Paul wants his hearers to know how superior is the God of Christianity: He is superior to the Greek gods who were known for their carnal and fleshly appetites. The true God created all men from one man, thus making for the brotherhood of man that is the offspring of God, and supporting the Genesis account that Adam was not just a mythological figure. The creation of Adam, the first man, is clearly in mind. The message of the true God cannot be told without a clear understanding of where and when His plan was first implemented. God having determined the habitation of man, beginning in Eden, was also able to make Himself known to man. Because God wants man to find Him, He is not very far from any man. Therefore God communicated to man through the creation and through the resurrection of the dead.
God wants men to seek and find Him. There is an important theological point to be made from this. Because God determined the boundaries of man’s existence, and because God wants men to seek and find Him, then God of necessity has revealed enough of Himself to make this possible. There are two principle ways in which God has done this; through the creation (see Acts 14:17) and through His Son, Jesus Christ.
“He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
God is going to judge man for his sin. Because we are created by God to bear His image, we are His “offspring”, and we ought not to think that the true God can be depicted in the art of man. To worship anything less than the true God is idolatry and God is calling for men everywhere to repent. Paul never suggests that man is excused for worshipping in ignorance. God is declaring, through the Gospel of Christ, that all men everywhere are to repent and follow Him.
Did Paul use the Ontological Argument? Paul defines God, in so many words as the being than which nothing greater is possible. And Paul assumes (reference the city full of idols) that the Athenians have within them the notion of God. The evidence of creation lends weight to the possibility that God may exists in reality, and not just as a notion or superstition of the mind. If the true God, the one who made all things and in Him we live, were nothing more than the work of man’s imagination, that would contradict the definition of God because actual existence is greater than not existing. Paul was speaking to people who believe in God. He “proved” to them the nature of the true God and why they should want to repent and turn to Him. To Paul and the Athenians, God existed in reality and in the mind. If they did not repent at His message, they would be responsible for sin on the day of judgment.
1. Gill’s Commentary, Acts 17:24