When Paul arrived in Athens, the intellectual capital of his day, he had some time alone in the city to view its monuments.
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23 ESV)
Luke tells us that Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus which was the most venerable of Athenian institutions (Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 238). It derived its name from the original meeting place on the Areopagus, the hill of Mars (Ares), west of the Acropolis. Tenney says,
Whether the `areopagus’ of Acts 17 referred to the hill or to the court which in Paul’s day met in one of the colonades near the Agora cannot be determined exactly (Tenney, New Testament Times, 265).
In Roman times the court held most of its meetings in the Royal Portico (stoa basileios) in the agora, but we don’t know whether Paul addressed the court in the Royal Portico or on the Areopagus (Bruce 238).
the Court of the Areopagus seems to have exercised some supervision over itinerant preachers, and the invitation to Paul was by way of being a courteous command (Cities of the New Testament, 52).
The first recorded convert in Athens was Dionysius the Areopagite (a member of the court) (17:34). Tradition has it that Dionysius became bishop of Athens and suffered martyrdom during the persecutions of Domitian. He is today venerated as the patron saint of Athens by the Eastern Greek Orthodox Church.
Our photo shows the traditional Areopagus at the base of the Acropolis. From the top of the hill there is a wonderful view of the buildings of the Acropolis and of the agora where Paul may have spoken.
On the right side of the photo you will see a bronze plaque in the rocks with Paul’s speech in Greek.
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