Athens Greece
Paul's message at the Aeropagus or Mars Hill

The Parthenon atop the Acropolis in Athens, built circa 447-432 B.C., under restoration - Photo taken in 2009
A map of the Acroplis area is at the end of this article

The Parthenon being restored - Photo taken in 2007

The Parthenon - Photo taken in 1999


The apostle Paul had just completed a time of good ministry among the Bereans, a people who were called noble in character because they were willing to search Scriptures to test Paul's words (Acts 17:11-12). Following a pattern seen many times throughout Scriptures, as the ministry of the gospel increased, so had the opposition (once again from the Jews of Thessalonica. See Acts 17:13). To protect Paul, the believers there had hastily sent him to Athens, where he would wait for Silas and Timothy to catch up.

Acts 17:14-15 The brothers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. 15 The men who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.

Any visitor to Athens would quickly be aware of the gods of this city. Hosts of idols and monuments in honor of these gods filled the city, including a number of imposing temples on the Acropolis overshadowing the city.

Acts 17:16-17 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.

The Erechtheum (alt. Erechtheion) in background, ruins of older temple to Athena in foreground - 2009

This temple was contructed to replace the older temple of Athena and was also dedicated to and named after Erechtheus, one of the legendary kings of Athens who later divinized and sometimes identified to Poseidon himself. Construction started during the peace of Nicias (421-415 B. C.) and was interrupted by the resumption of the war and was not completed until 406 B.C.

The Erechtheum - 2007 (digital cameras have gotten far better, see photo below for comparison)

The Erechtheum is a temple on the north side of the Acropolis - 1999


Paul took the message of Jesus Christ first of all to those who had a better starting place, namely they already acknowledged that there as only one true God. To these Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, the message of Christ could be seen as a fulfillment of the Scriptures and Law they already knew. But once a week was not enough for Paul. Beyond the weekly Sabbath meetings in the synagogue, he took the message to public, where they were, namely at the ancient equivalent of our malls or city center - the Agora (or marketplace).

Acts 17:18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.

Composite photo showing another view of the Parthenon - 1999

Ancient Athens was all about its gods and religion in general. People could debate philosophy and follow after different schools of thought. This was a place where many ancient philosophical schools had deep roots. While it was quite common for people to revere one, or a few, of the Athenian gods over others; Paul's message would have been foreign to them primarily because he was holding that Jesus was the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Though any of the common folk could debate whatever they wished in the market place, official inquiry into religion took place at the Areopagus (alt. Mars Hill in KJV). It was here that people and ideas could be given an official hearing before the leaders of the people. In fact, this was the court of law, where trails were held. *

Acts 17:19-22 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.

Author, Brent MacDonald, on Mars Hill with the Acropolis in the background
(This and other photos of that year were the highest resolution digital available back in 1999)

Author, Brent MacDonald with wife Angie, on Mars Hill with the Acropolis in the background - 2007

With a backdrop of impressive temples behind him at the Acropolis **, a simple of wave of Paul's hand would have very aptly punctuated his statement concerning their religiosity. But Paul continues on, making reference to another extravagant example known to all throughout the city - namely altars that had been randomly built to try and placate some unknown, yet professedly upset, deity.

Acts 17:23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

History records, that in previous years, a plague had been sweeping through the city, prompting multitudes to make offerings to all the known gods. When no deliverance was forthcoming a multitude of sacrificial animals were let loose into the city, believing that this irate god would motivate them to go to whatever place a sacrifice was necessary. When, predictably, the spooked animals scattered, an altar was erected at every place they stopped and subsequent sacrifice was offered. Talk about superstition! And what an opportunity for Paul to explain that there is only one true self-sufficient God who is sovereign over all men.

Acts 17:24-33 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' 29 "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone - an image made by man's design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." 32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject." 33 At that, Paul left the Council.

The response to Paul's message was not overwhelmingly positive. Many hearers treated the message as merely an oddity or as another competing philosophy. Yet, even in this pagan bastion God saved some and those first listed converts were the beginning of the local church which would impact this entire nation in the years which followed.

Acts 17:34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others. (NIV)

Author, Brent MacDonald with wife Angie, on the Acroplois with the Parthenon in the background - 2009


Inscription at Mars Hill commemorating Paul's message there

View across the Agora area, Acropolis on left, Mars Hill on right - 2007

View across the Agora area, Acropolis on left, Mars Hill on right - 2009

View of Acropolis from the Agora area - 2007

Temple of Hephaestus in background looking to the northwest side of the Agora - 2007

View of Temple of Hephaestus from just above the Agora area - 2007
Hephaestus was the patron-god of metal working


Looking down on the Temple of Hephaestus from the Acropolis (long zoom)

Temple of Hephaestus (alt. Hephaestion) from the Agora area - 2009

Temple of Hephaestus

Construction started in 449 BC, but the temple was not completed until 415 BC, likely because emphasis shifted towards construction of the Parthenon on the Acropolis. It was only during the Peace of Nicias (421-415 BC) that the roof was completed, the cult images were installed, and the temple was officially inaugurated in 416-415 BC.

Porch of the Maiden (Caryatids) at the Erechtheum (alt. Erecthion)

Another view of the Erechtheum

Theater of Herod Atticus built by the Romans in 161 AD


Stoa of Attalos (alt. Attalus) in the Agora area. It was built by and named after King Attalos II of Pergamon (ruled 159-138 B.C.)

Statue of Emperor Hadrian in Agora area

End Notes

*The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia provides a description of the Areopagus, plus it also notes that the ruling council went by the same name. Some hold that it was only the ruling body that Paul appeared before and that it did not have to take place at the hill of the Areopagus.

A staircase hewn out of the rock leads to the summit of this hill (which is about 370 ft. [113 m.] high), where traces of benches are visible forming three sides of a square, also cut out of the stone. At one time, two white stones were also there, upon which the defendant and his accuser stood. They were named "The Stone of Shamelessness" and "The Stone of Pride," respectively.

The name of the hill was given later to the council whose meetings were held upon it. The council of the Areopagus retained this name even when its meetings were transferred from the hill to the Royal Stoa, which should, perhaps, be identified with the stoa of Zeus Eleutheros in the agora. It is suggested that the council met at times on the Acropolis as well. The council of the Areopagus was similar to a council of elders, and was subject to the king of Athens. (Excerpt from article "Areopagus", International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition, Copyright © 1979 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. All rights reserved.)

** The Agora was due north from the Areopagus, while the Acropolis was to its southeast. The Acropolis was the highest point in the area at 512 feet (156 meters). It was normally approached from the west, and entered through an ornamental gateway called the Propylaea.

Propylaea gateway to the Acroplis, built circa 438 B.C. - photo taken in 1999

Propylaea gateway under restoration - 2007

Map of the Acropolis and area
(adapted from a map in "L'Acropole, Nouveau guide des monuments et du musée", by Dr G. Papathanassopoulos, Athens, 1991)