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An Unknown God

What is it we worship?

So, I am going to be reposting some old traveling thoughts I had when I was abroad. This is one of my favorite’s about Paul on Mars Hill.


I can’t even describe to you the surreal feeling that you get as you sit on it and read Acts 17:16-34. The top picture is what you see as you’re walking up to Mars Hill from the Acropolis (the tablet in the bottom left corner is of Paul’s speech in Greek).

The second picture is the view of Mars Hill as you exit the main gate of the Acropolis. It gives you a sense of how close Mars Hill is to the main point of Athens. And, Mars Hill is actually considered the middle of Athens’ ancient culture. When you stand on the top of the hill, behind you is the Acropolis, head of religion in Athens; then to your left you have where the council and leaders met, the head of politics; then you have the marketplace, head of commerce. And in the middle, you have Mars Hill where trials were held before the Aeropagus. Most don’t realize that Paul’s speech to the philosophers and Ph. D’s of the time was actually a trial with a threat of prison at the end of it.

I’m going to ramble on for a little bit about Paul’s speech, so if you don’t want to read, don’t feel inclined to. If you notice in Paul’s very short speech to the Aeropagus, he doesn’t include any Old Testament prophecies or stories to prove his point; simply because it wouldn’t mean anything to Pagan philosophers, so he met them where they lived. The bay where Paul most likely sailed into is about 5 km away from the Aeropagus. He more than likely walked down the main highway of the town which lead him to the marketplace (which is actually a lot more than just our mall). Once there, he sees the statue marked “προς το άγνωστο Θεό” (to the unknown God). As you know, Paul uses this as a point in his sermon. But a lot of people discredit the meaning behind this statue and just simply say “the Greeks were afraid they missed one, so they threw this one up there with all the other ones”. So here’s a brief history lesson.

700 years prior to Paul’s arrival, an Olympic champion by the name of Cylon came to Athens to try and seize the city during the Festival of Zeus. However, he and his followers were found out and retreated into the temple of Athena on the Acropolis knowing that it was against sacred law for Athenians to go into the temple and murder inside. So, they were persuaded to come out and stand trial ensuring that their lives would be spared. Once the exited the temple, they were stoned on the spot. Now, the Athenian archons who persuaded Cylon and his followers to exit the temple were exiled for breaking sacred law. Because of this, there was a “curse” (plague) placed on the noble family at the time which was then passed down to later generations until thousands of people several years later were dying from this plague. A philosopher visited Athens many, many years later hearing of the curse and he deducted that the reason they were dying was because the gods were angry with them because they were leaving some out. And so, they simply made a temple to the unknown god. This story is written down from credible ancient historians, like Aeschylus and Thucydides, which Paul actually quotes from in his sermon (17:28).

Now, I said all of that to say this. Isn’t our God simply amazing at connecting the dots so Paul could give this speech? Most of the people present at Paul’s trial scoffed and hissed at him for his thoughts about the resurrection, so most people count Paul’s attempt in Athens as a failure; as did I before today. But if you read the last verse of the chapter (34), it says that a man named “Dionysius the Aeropagite” became a believer among others. We know that at least one man from the council who heard Paul’s speech was converted and became a believer. And if God put the entire plan in motion, from Cylon trying to over-throw Athens, to the Athenians being “cursed” with the plague, to them erecting a statue “to the unknown God”, just so that one man by the name of Paul could come into Athens and plant a small seed in the heart of one man, Dionysius, to become a believer, then what plan has our God set in motion in your life? It certainly makes you appreciate Paul’s simple 2 ½ minute speech for much more.

Just a little food for though from Austin. It made my jaw drop, so I couldn’t wait to tell it to you! I hope you get the over-whelming experience from this story that I did. in fact, I’m getting chills just writing it.

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