Paul's main premise in speaking with the populace in Athens, Greece was to explain to them just who this Unknown God was, something Paul had done everywhere he went, to let people know for sure that they were worshipping the true God. In all that he said, Paul told them about God, who He is and what He has done and that He is not an idol but the true God whom they should be worshipping (Acts 17:16-34). This was presented on Mars' hill, an area that John R. W. Stott (1990) says in his book "The Message of Acts" was "formerly the place where the most venerable judicial court of ancient Greece met. For this reason the name came to be transferred from the place to the court" (p. 283). Even though Paul was not on trial, this court is where one could give a speech, especially if the speech concerned the gods of Athens.
Paul used three arguments to present his case for God. These three arguments are 1) God is the Creator of the universe and is the Sustainer of life (Acts 17:24-25; 2) God is the Ruler of all the nations and is the Father of human beings (Acts 17:26-29); and 3) God is the Judge of the World (Acts 17:30). First, I will summarize the argument and then bring forth an analysis of it by showing how Paul supported each one in confidence and truth.
In the first argument: God is the Creator of the universe and is the Sustainer of life (Acts 17:24-25), Paul states that this unknown God is the one who created the world and everything we see in it, and, unlike the gods of the world, this God does not live in temples and figures made by the hand of man. God lives in Heaven and is the Lord of it. Where the gods of the world demand sacrifices of some kind by the followers, this unknown God has no need of sacrifices to make Him worthy of His followers. This God has everything He needs to satisfy His own needs and desires. The Adam Clarke Commentary states that "St. Paul also teaches that Divine worship is
not enacted and established for GOD, but for the use of his creatures: he needs nothing that man can give him; for man has nothing but what he has received from the hand of his Maker." It is the true God that gives sustenance to His creation and all that is in it.
The next argument Paul presents is: God is the Ruler of all the nations and is the Father of human beings (Acts 17:26-29). Paul explains that God created every nation on earth and their boundaries, and even decides on which ones will rise or fall. But first God had to populate those nations with beings that would allow Him to rule over them in love and mercy. Those nations that found His favor found His blessings, but those who chose to follow their own ways brought God's wrath down upon themselves. All along, God wanted His creation to let Him guide and prosper them, unfortunately, in the Garden of Eden, man decided he didn't want that guidance. According to Barnes' Notes on the New Testament (2012), this is why nations fall: "The argument is this: "God has given to each nation its proper opportunity to learn his character. Idolatry, therefore, is folly and wickedness; since it is possible to find out the existence of the one God from his works." God has made no secrets of His existence in nature or in the human beings that allow Him to rule and reign over them.
The last argument that Paul speaks about is: God is the Judge of the World (Acts 17:30). No matter what humans believe about God, God still demands obedience and worship simply because He created us to have a relationship with Him. According to Stott, Paul ends where he began, with the ignorance of man (p. 287). Paul tells his listeners that God, at one time, overlooked the ignorance of man. But, since, as stated above, that God has made it plain and simple in all of creation for man to know that God is the true God of all. In the beginning, God took man's ignorance and tried to teach him the truth to replace that ignorance, but man reveled in his ignorance because they believed that their way was so much better than God's way of life. Then there came a time when God decided to hold mankind responsible for their actions and disobedience towards Him and instituted the sacrifice of animals for the forgiveness of sins. From then on, God demanded that all people repent of their sins and turn back to Him. As Adam Clarke (2004) states in his commentary, "but now, as he has condescended to give a revelation of himself, he commands, as the sovereign, all men everywhere, over every part of his dominions, to repentto change their views, designs, and practices; because he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness; and, as justice will then be done, no sinner, no persevering idolater, shall escape punishment." Man no longer has any excuse not to believe in the one, true God of the universe.
When Paul was done presenting his arguments some of the people listening wanted to hear more and some chose to believe in this unknown God now that Paul has made Him known (Acts 17:32-34). Paul gave believers today an example of how to evangelize. We are not to look at just the outside of the person their attitudes, their way of life, etc -- we are to look at everything we can know about them. John Stott says in his book that Paul didn't "just 'notice' the idols," (p. 291), he noticed who they worshipped and why. This gave Paul a strong platform to stand his true beliefs and knowledge of God on giving the people he spoke to that day no reason to refute anything Paul said about the unknown God. Many people today know the God of the universe, just not as the God of their lives. If we take Paul's example and learn all we can about the beliefs of those we speak to, then they, too, would have no reason to refute the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ and would gladly take Him on as their Lord and Savior. man's knowledge has power; God's knowledge is power.
Barnes, A. (2012). Notes on the new testament. Database 2012 WORDsearch Corp.
Clarke, A. (2004). Adam Clarke's commentary on the old & new testament. Database 2004 WORD search Corp.
Stott, J. (1990). The message of acts. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
Bobby Bruno was saved 15 years ago in a way that left him no doubt that Jesus wanted him to reach others with His great and abounding love. He started writing at the age of 12 and hasn't stopped since. He achieved Associates Degree in Biblical Studies from Ohio Christian University in early 2014.
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