Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
When we were in Israel, we had the opportunity to go to the Israel Museum. I’m really not a museum person, I can only go so long and then I kind of check out just knowing that all of the stuff I’m supposed to “Oooh” and “Ahh” over is just really old stuff. However, the Israel Museum is one of the few, if not the only one, that I’ve ever really found fascinating.
I remember looking through a bunch of archaeological finds and coming across a doorknocker looking thing with a cow’s head on it. The plate below it informed me that it was Baal. I laughed thinking about how the Israelites struggled between worship of Jehovah and worship of the cow doorknocker thing.
Paul finds himself in the middle of Greeks who recognized that there was something or someone greater than themselves. In their attempt to discover the greater being, they turned to idolatry to fill that void in their heart. Their gods were their own mind’s creations designed to allow them to fill their sensual desires and wicked imaginations all in the name of religion, somehow making their horrible practices acceptable.
In their attempt to please all gods (remember that Greek mythology was complicated with supernatural and partial supernatural beings) the Athenians constructed an altar “To the Unknown God.” Spirit-filled Paul uses this as an object lesson to introduce them to Jehovah, the One True God whom they did not recognize.
Paul first describes God as the Creator of Heaven and earth and mankind. He informs them that God will reveal Himself to them if they seek Him. He uses a quote from Epimenides, a Cretan poet whom they recognized as one of their own, attempting to describe the ultimate supernatural being:
In him we live and move and have our being, for we are his offspring.
He then argues the ridiculousness of having a god that was formed by the art and imagination of man. God commands everyone to repent and has appointed a man, Jesus Christ, to judge the world. He gave assurance that Jesus Christ was the Messiah by raising Him from the dead.
Some Athenians mocked Paul, others said that they would hear him again, but some believed and joined him like Dionysius the Areopagite (who was a judge in Athens) and a woman named Damaris (who was probably a prominent woman in the Athens’ society.) As a believer, we might look at the cow doorknocker or at an idol in a restaurant and immediately recognize the ridiculousness of their “deity” status. However, in today’s world we are enticed with a completely different set of idols. These idols, anything that is put before God, are subtle and unassuming but they wrestle for preeminence in our life.
Do you recognize God as the One who “In Him we live and move and have our being, for we are His offspring?” It is sad that Epimenides was able to recognize the fact that God existed, but history (or Paul) does not reveal that he knew the One True God. So many are like Epimenides today: they recognize that God exists, but they do not have a relationship with Him and they do not accept Jesus’ redemptive work as the only means to salvation. Does God have the preeminence in your life? Or are you focused on fitting Jehovah around your lifestyle?
Written by Kaye Dee Richards. Kaye Dee lives with her husband Colin in Morrison, CO. They have 4 children, Joshua, Amelia, Victoria, and Julia.
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