The characters identified in the passage are:
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- Paul: The protagonist or the main character in the passage.
- The Areopagites: Respected men of Athens
- Dionysius: The member of the Areopagus town who believed the message.
- Damaris: One of the members of the audience who believed the message.
The Preceding verse (Acts 17:18, KJV) of the same chapter gives clues about the people represented and addressed by the main character Paul. These were the philosophers and the respected men of the society of the epicureans and the stoics. Through the speech given by Paul to the elite of the society, the writer communicates to readers what is expected of them as true Christians.
Paul had studied their beliefs and discovered that they were very religious for the time that they lived in. He also refers to their religion as a state of being ignorant (Acts 17: 23) and seeks to change this belief in the “unknown God” introducing the God of Jews to replace the unknown God.
(Acts 17:27) states that they should seek the Lord by speaking to the generation of mankind. The speech is also directed to the modern-day Christians who are good at analyzing theological concepts but weak in true faith. The verses were written later on to portray the audience as people reading the speech and at the same time including themselves into the list of readers or beneficiaries (Acts 17:29).
In verse 31, the author refers to all men, further indicating that the speech applies to all who read the passage. Therefore, the speaker, while addressing the men of Athens, goes on to show that the message is universal for people who are willing to focus on worshipping the Lord of heaven (Acts 17:31).
Judging by the text, the narrator of the passage does not allow the readers to identify him through the choice of words.
This passage can be defined as a speech since the continuous oration by the protagonist who is Paul can be observed in this case. The speech begins from verse 22 to verse 31, at which point he concludes his speech by warning people about judgment and telling them about the resurrection. The speaker uses Hellenistic language to tell the audience about the Areopagus from the cultural perspective that will allow the audience to understand the key idea. At the end of the speech, a response is received from the audience as an acknowledgment of the message being received. The given event is by no means a dialogue because the speaker gives out the message uninterrupted up to the closing remarks; only afterward, a response is given.
The passage falls into the speech category due to the presence of the corresponding elements. The formula used at the beginning and written as “You Men of Athens”(Acts 17:22) creates an image of the speaker told a group of people about a certain issue affecting them all and does not expect a direct verbal response from them, but rather presupposes a change in their ways as a result of the speech.
The basis of the speech is on the Greek pantheon and the story of one of the gods, who was referred to as the unknown god. Paul uses this opportunity to metaphorically introduce the concept of true God in Christianity. The speaker also introduces foreshadowing to illustrate what is likely to happen should the men of Athens not heed the teachings of his speech (Acts 17:31).
The speaker also makes strong remarks on the foolish actions of idol worship (Acts 17: 29) and comparing the true God to earthly things such as gold and silver. In the literature context, this can be referred to as hyperbole which is used to express the speakers feeling towards the topic.
From a broad perspective, the protagonist was being followed everywhere he went by people who were against his doctrines. They had just stirred the people of Berea (Acts 17:13) and were sent away to Athens. In Athens, as he waited for his fellow apostles Silas and Timothy, he started to notice the religious behavior of the Athenians (Acts 17:16).
He began by disapproving with the doctrines of the locals in the synagogue, as well as arguing with devout people in the market places. Later on, he met with the epicureans and the stoics, who took him and brought him to Areopagus seeking to know his doctrine (Acts 17:19). The place was called Areopagus and the people living there were referred to as Areopagites. The Areopagus was used as the Athenians’ business location, courtroom, and the cities hall.
The physical location was a rocky place where a temple where fighters used to seek refuge was built and renamed after the Roman god of war called Mars. Mars hill was then used for special audiences with the elites of the society and this is where Paul addressed the people of Areopagus.
The setting appears to be in a busy city where everyone converged to conduct business and listen to current news and events. This was the administrative center of Areopagus as seen in verse (Acts 17:19).
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The time when the speech was created is still unclear. However, the speaker was accosted by the Areopagus leaders as he was going on his daily routine.
Key Word(s), Phrase(s), or Theme(s)
Keywords that are important for the meaning of the passage include such a word as worshipping, which is used strategically to emphasize the blind following and ignorant cult of various gods among the Athenians. As it can be seen in verse 23 and verse 25, the narrator uses worship as the central theme of the speech, therefore, making it clear that the only God to be sought is the Christian Lord of heaven. This keyword is further supported by the speaker calling upon the audience to seek the Lord.
The Speaker in the passage uses the word “religious” to introduce his point of view. He does not indicate straightforwardly that being religious is wrong, but rather makes it clear that the lord of heaven and not to other gods should be worshipped (Acts 17:22). It sets the direction of the speech towards correction and guidance after it has been stated clearly that these people are idolatrous. The fact that the audience is not ready to accept Christianity becomes clear at the end of the passage when some of his audience mocked him.
The speaker then comments on the Lord of heaven’s character and emphasizes His supremacy by explaining that he is the sole creator of all creation and does not dwell in the temples as it is traditionally assumed by the religious leaders. The theme of the universal reign and power of the God of heaven continues throughout the passage, leading to the idea that he promises resurrection to those who believed.
A reference is made to Mars Hill, where the speech was delivered. The Mars hill was similar to a town’s courthouse and the town was Areopagus at that time. In other words, this reference prompts the reader to find out what Mars Hill was and to figure out that it was a sanctuary for fighters to hide feeling guilty after they failed during a war. The Mars Hill was where Paul was taken by the elites of the society, epicureans, and stoics, the spiritual leaders of the town.
The final reference to the Areopagites (Dionysius) is made at the end of the verse to refer to the group of people that lived in the town.
The social elements play a key role in the acceptance of the message given by Paul. The epicureans were against the concept of the divine God and mocked Paul as he made his speech, fearing that he could influence the decisions of others. The speech ended with some people, such as Dionysius the Areopagites, being converted to the Christian faith, which implies that some of the people, who did not have a high social status believed as well.
The epicureans discussed earlier in the passage were leaders noted by their rejection of God’s word. These were the atheists known due to their denial of theology and God’s provision.
The religious message was conveyed by the social elite; at one point, Paul uses a quote from one of the secular poets to reinforce his message.
Strong patronage is mildly evident in the passage; however, it is worth mentioning that some people were converted into the Christian faith without being influenced by the leaders’ opinion.
Synoptic Parallels or Inter Textual References
- Acts 17:23 is similar to John 4:22 referring to the worship of unknown gods and calling on the people to worship the one true God.
- Acts 17:24 rhymes with Isaiah 42: 5 that illustrates God as the creator of heaven and earth and the sole giver of life;
- Acts 17: 25 is the parallel of psalms 50:12, which states that the lord of heaven is worshiped since He is the creator of all things.
- Acts 17:26 parallels genesis 3:20 which portrays that we are all one since all people of the world descended from one woman called Eve.
- Acts 17:27 correspond to Isaiah 55:6, which urges the audience to seek and worship the Lord, who constantly watches them as a loving Father.
- Acts 17:30 are parallel to Acts 14:16, which implied that in the past, Nations could walk in their ways but this had to come to an end.
- Acts 17:31 correspond to psalms 9:8. Both verses predict the pending judgment of the world.
- Acts 17:32 are similar to Acts 17:18. These verses illustrate the rejection of the gospel by some of the elites of the society, which was being addressed by the passage1.
Couric, Robert. King James Version. Michigan: Zodervan Bible Publishers, 2002.
- Robert Couric. King James Version (Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 2002).