Bridges and Barriers – Acts 17:16-34: Reflection Guide

Reflection Guide

Key Terms

Athens – The home of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, Athens was a leading intellectual city. What stands out to Paul, though, is that the city was full of idols (v. 16). The word translated full is not used elsewhere in the NT or other Greek literature, but conveys the idea of “smothered” or “swamped.”

Epicurean and Stoic philosophers – As the two primary intellectual Greek worldviews of the 1st century, Epicureans believed that gods did not exist or did not care about human beings and that the good life was found in pleasure through materialism, while Stoics had a pantheistic view of god (i.e. “god” and the universe are one and the same) and stressed the importance of reason, logic, and duty.

Areopagus – The Areopagus was both a location, a small hill outside of Athens with stone seats, and a council of people who met there to investigate ideas.

Did you know?

Becuase the philosophers accuse Paul of preaching foreign divinities (v. 18, notice the plural), it appears that they thought Jesus was one god and Resurrection (or Anastasis in Greek) was another.


Having fled to Athens, Paul arrives in this famous city apparently intent on waiting for his friends. However, Paul can’t wait around long as his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was full of idols (v. 1). This leads Paul to take his message to the Jews in the synagogue and the Greeks in the marketplace (v. 17). In Athens, Luke primarily focuses on Paul’s interactions with Gentiles, first describing how the leading philosophers of the day thought Paul’s message about Jesus and resurrection was strange (v. 18-20). In verse 21, Luke says that this sharing of ideas was common in Athens, and while some thought Paul was a crazy babbler (v. 18), others wanted to hear more (v. 20).

This leads Paul to an opportunity to tell the Areopagus, likely by invitation, about Jesus. Unlike in synagogues, when Paul starts his messages with the OT Scriptures, Paul begins by talking about an alter to an unknown god he noticed in the city (v. 23). He then describes to the Areopagus that God is actually not unknown, but has made himself known to mankind. In his speech, Paul cites Epimenides, a Greek philosopher, and Aratus, a Greek poet (v. 28), to aid his case, both of which have similarities with OT passages like Job 12:10. Paul’s conclusion before the Areopagus is that God is not metal or stone, nor is he distant and uninterested in human beings; instead, God is calling all people to repent of idolatry and turn to him to experience forever life with him (vv. 29-31).

Going Deeper

Why do you think Paul emphasizes Jesus’ resurrection in his speech? Read Romans 8:18-25, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 & 54-56, & Revelation 21:1-4. What do these verses say about the future of the creation/human beings? Why is resurrection (for Jesus and his followers) central to the gospel?

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