Paul and the Athenians -- By: F. F. Bruce

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 06:3 (Summer 1977)
Article: Paul and the Athenians
Author: F. F. Bruce

Paul and the Athenians

F. F. Bruce

[F. F. Bruce, D.D., F.B.A., is Rylands professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester, England, and is the author of many articles and books on biblical and archaeological subjects.]

Paul in Athens

Luke’s vivid account of Paul’s stay in Athens (Acts 17:16–34), for all the accuracy of its local colour, has for a variety of reasons been assessed sceptically by several students of his writings. Happily, we have Paul’s assurance that he did spend some time in Athens, and that for part of that time he was on his own: he tells the Christians of Thessalonica how he sent Timothy back to visit and help them, while he himself was ‘willing to be left behind at Athens alone’ (1 Th 3:1). From all that we know of Paul, we can be certain that in Athens, as elsewhere, he allowed no opportunity for apostolic witness to pass him by. Luke describes some opportunities which he seized, and goes into considerable detail about one of them.

He pictures Paul as viewing the temples, altars and images of Athens through the eyes of one brought up in the spirit of Jewish monotheism and the aniconic principles of the second commandment of the decalogue (vs 16). ‘What pagans sacrifice’, Paul maintained, ‘they offer to demons and not to God’ (1 Corinthians 10:20), and those who ‘exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man’ or anything else ‘exchanged the truth of God for a lie’ because they ‘worshipped and served the creature rather

than the Creator’ (Romans 1:23, 25). In the agora at the foot of the Acropolis, the citizens of Athens met to exchange the latest news, there was no lack of men ready to enter into debate with him about the nature of the divine being (vs. 17). Some of those professed attachment to the Stoic or Epicurean schools of philosophy (vs. 18), but none of them could come to terms with this strange visitor, so passionately in earnest as he talked about Jesus, ‘designated Son of God in his resurrection from the dead’ (as Paul puts it in Roman 1:4). To some he appeared to be a retailer of scraps of second-hand learning (a spermologos, as they said, using an Athenian slang term); to others he appeared to be commending forei...

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