During our Footsteps of Paul cruise and tour, we will walk down 16 steps, very well polished steps that lead from the Acropolis. Mars Hill is the Roman name for this hill in Athens, Greece, called the Hill of Ares or Areopagus, meaning “rock”. Ares was the Greek god of war and according to Greek mythology this hill was the place where Ares stood trial before the other gods for the murder Poseidon’s son Alirrothios. Rising some 377 feet above the land below and not far from the Acropolis and Agora (marketplace), Mars Hill served as the meeting place for the Areopagus Court, the highest court in Greece for civil, criminal and religious matters. Even under Roman rule in the time of Paul, Mars Hill remained an important meeting place where philosophy, religion, and law were discussed. At one time there were two stones on Mars Hill, one the Stone of Wrath, where the prosecutor stood and the other the Stone of Shame, where the accused stood.
The biblical significance of Mars Hill is that it is the location of one of Paul’s most important gospel presentations at the time of his visit to Athens during his second missionary journey as outlined in Acts 17:16-34. It was where he addressed the religious idolatry of the Greeks who even had an altar to the “Unknown God.” It was this altar and their religious idolatry that Paul used as a starting point in proclaiming to them the one true God and how they could be reconciled to Him. Paul started his message by addressing the false beliefs of those gathered there that day and then used those beliefs as a way of presenting the gospel message to them.
We know that when Paul arrived in Athens he found a city “given over to idols”. Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. Acts 17:16-18: Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say? The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who, having heard Paul proclaim the resurrected Jesus Christ, wanted to learn about “this new doctrine” he was teaching so they “brought him to the Areopagus” to hear more from him. We know from history that the Epicurean philosophers generally believed that God existed but that He was not interested or involved with humanity and that the main purpose of life was pleasure. On the other hand the Stoic philosophers would have the worldview that “God was the world’s soul” and that the goal of life was “to rise above all things”. Does this not sound very much like today’s culture? These groups and others with their dramatically opposing worldviews loved to discuss and debate philosophy and religion. Intrigued by what they considered Paul’s “babblings” about the resurrection of Christ, they brought him to the Areopagus where the Athenians and foreigners “spent their time in nothing else but to tell or hear some new thing”. Acts 17:21-26: For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing Then Paul stood in the midst of the and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.
Paul begins with the observation that they were “very religious” based on the fact that they had many altars and “objects of worship” including an altar to “the Unknown God.” Paul uses that altar to introduce them to the one true God and the only way of salvation, Jesus Christ.
His apologetic method and his knowledge that they did not even know what God is really like leads him to go back to Genesis and to the beginning of creation. Having a completely wrong view of God, those gathered that day needed to hear what God really was like before they would understand the message of the gospel. Paul begins explaining to them the sovereign God who created all things and gives life and breath to all things. He continues to explain that it was God who created from one individual all men and nations and even appointed the time and boundaries of their dwelling. His message continues as he explains the closeness of God and their need to repent of their rebellion against Him. Paul completes his message by introducing them to the One before whom they would all stand one day and be judged—Jesus Christ, whom God had raised from the dead.
Of course many in the audience scoffed at the idea that Christ was crucified and rose from the dead on the third day because the idea of the resurrection to the Greeks was foolishness. 1 Corinthians 1:23: but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.