While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there. He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.” Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.) So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. (Acts of the Apostles 17:16-23 NLT)
As Paul waited for Silas and Timothy, he likely made himself familiar with the city. He was greatly disturbed by the obvious paganism that prevailed in the city. Shrines that were made to various gods were throughout the city. One inscription read "To The Unknown God".
Paul entered the synagogue, as was his custom in previous cities, to share the Gospel of Jesus there. He reasoned with the congregants concerning Jesus, the Messiah. He also spoke at the public square to whomever would listen. He debated with two groups of philosophers, the Epicureans and the Stoics. Both of these schools of thought were originated back in the third century B.C. The Stoics started under Zeno of Citium who taught that destructive emotions came from an inferior character. Neither joy nor grief were supposed to affect ones moral and intellectual perfection. Thus we have the description of someone who is without emotion as being Stoic.
Epicureans were the rivals of Stoics. They started under Epicurus. He taught that pleasure was the greatest good. This was a form of Hedonism: the pursuit of pleasure. He believed you could reach the pinnacle of pleasure by living modestly, gaining knowledge of the workings of the world, and limiting one's desires. Both of these philosophical schools were prominent in Athens. Paul had the opportunity to debate these thinkers. He didn't shy away from them, no, in fact he hit them square in the face with the truth of Jesus Christ. As Paul shared the resurrection of Jesus, the philosophers became curious about this new doctrine. They escorted Paul to the Areopagus (the place where the most honored philosophers met to debate - also called Mars Hill). They wanted to hear more about this "new" teaching. Paul began by recognizing the religious nature of the city. He noted how one of the shrines that had been erected had the inscription "To The Unknown God". He, then, used that as a platform to proclaim who that God really was.
My friends, it is tremendously gratifying to know who God is. He has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Do you know who God is?
Rev. Curtis Norris