3 Theological Insights From Paul’s Discourse on the Areopagus

One of the most intriguing biblical accounts is found in Acts 17. In this chapter of the historical book of Acts, Paul addresses the intellectual elite of his day in Athens, including some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. The apostle stands on Mars Hill before those Greeks who “would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). Part of why this address is so intriguing is because it is different from the others spoken by Paul.

His habit was to reason from the Old Testament Scriptures about Christ in the Synagogues, where his audience was already monotheistic (Acts 17:2-3). Yet in the Areopagus, Paul was not addressing fellow monotheists, but polytheists. The Athenians worshipped so many gods, they even had an altar erected “To the unknown god” lest they should neglect any one deity in their homage. Paul addresses this fact in his speech and gives several insights into the God of the Bible. In this one address, we can reap an insight into the nature of God, God’s relationship to man, and God’s will for man.

The Nature Of God: The Uncaused Cause

First, we will examine the insight Paul gives into the nature of God:

What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything … we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. (Acts 17:23a-25, 29b)

Notice, God is a non-contingent being. In other words, His existence is not dependent upon anything. He does not need food, time, space, etc. or anything from man or the natural universe. After all, He created everything. He is the philosophically sought after “uncaused cause.” He brought all things into existence, but He Himself has no beginning. The law of cause and effect necessitates that the universe had to have a beginning; but, it does not apply to God because He transcends nature. He is supernatural and the author of the laws of nature.

If a contingent being exists (like myself), then a non-contingent being exists by necessity, lest we fall into an infinite regress and transgress the law of cause and effect with our explanations of origin. He is the Prime Mover of the natural universe—Himself outside of it and not bound by it, but able to manipulate it.

God’s Relationship To Man: Creator

Next, we will note God’s relationship to man for Paul’s address:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being”; as even some of your own poets have said, “For we are indeed his offspring.” (Acts 17:26-28)

God’s relationship to man is as a Creator, Sustainer, even a Father. Human beings are unlike any other living creature, they are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27). He gives us rain, sunshine, and everything we need to survive and be glad (Acts 14:17). He cares for us, even sending His Own Son to pay the debt for our sins (Rom 5:8).

He is inviting all who would come to Him to do so. He is not far from any one of us. All we must do is seek: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7). God loves you, He created you with beauty in the image of Himself—He’s begging you to grope your way towards Him and find Him. His arms are wide open.

God’s Will For Man: Salvation

Finally, in Paul’s address, we encounter the will of God for man:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)

God desires all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:3-42 Pet. 3:9). God is pure light (1 John 1:5), so to be in His presence we must turn from our darkness—that is repentance. Repentance comes when we are sorry that we have hurt God with our sin, and that sorrow causes us to change our minds and actions regarding those sins (2 Cor 7:10). God loves us enough to command us to do this, but He will not force us to do so. He cannot, for He loves us all enough to grant us free will.

While God has overlooked times of ignorance in the past, He expects us to repent today. He will send His Son to judge the world (see 2 Cor 5:10), and we can be sure of this by the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus serves as a testament to us, by which we can be sure that He will return again. Will you turn to Him?

God’s nature is that of the eternal, supernatural Creator of all. He is the Sustainer, Caregiver, and Father of man. He is imploring us to turn to Him before He judges the world in righteousness. Let us all endeavor to have the same mindset as David: “Every day I will bless thee, and praise thy name forever and ever” (Ps 145:2). He deserves our praise and commitment!

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