The Areopagus sermon refers to a sermon delivered by Apostle Paul in Athens, at the Areopagus, and recounted in Acts 17:16-34. The Areopagus sermon is the most dramatic and fullest reported speech of the missionary career of Saint Paul and followed a shorter address in Lystra recorded in Acts 14:15-17.
The background to the sermon is that Paul had encountered conflict as a result of his preaching in Thessalonica and Berea in northern Greece and had been carried to Athens as a place of safety. According to the Acts of the Apostles, while he was waiting for his companions Silas and Timothy to arrive, Paul was distressed to see Athens full of idols. Commentator John Gill remarked:
- his soul was troubled and his heart was grieved, ... he was exasperated and provoked to the last degree: he was in a paroxysm; his heart was hot within him; he had a burning fire in his bones, and was weary with forbearing, and could not stay; his zeal wanted vent, and he gave it.
Some Greeks then took him to a meeting at the Areopagus, the high court in Athens, to explain himself. The Areopagus literally meant the rock of Ares in the city and was a center of temples, cultural facilities, and a high court. It is conjectured by some that it may have been illegal to preach a foreign deity in Athens, which would have thereby made Paul's sermon a combination of a "guest lecture" and a trial.
The sermon addresses five main issues:
- Introduction: Discussion of the ignorance of pagan worship (verses 23-24)
- The one Creator God being the object of worship (25-26)
- God's relationship to humanity (26-27)
- Idols of gold, silver and stone as objects of false worship (28-29)
- Conclusion: Time to end the ignorance (30-31)
Paul begins his address by emphasizing the need to know God, rather than worshiping the unknown:
"As I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship — and this is what I am going to proclaim to you."
After the sermon a number of people became followers of Paul. These included a woman named Damaris, and Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus. This latter has at times been suggested as Dionysius the Areopagite, but that may be a historical confusion.
In the 20th century, Pope John Paul II likened the modern media to the New Areopagus, where Christian ideas needed to be explained and defended anew, against disbelief and the idols of gold and silver.
- Christianity: an introduction by Alister E. McGrath pages 2006 ISBN 1-4051-0901-7, pp. 137-141
- Theology of the New Testament by Udo Schnelle (Nov 1, 2009) ISBN 0801036046 page 477
- Mercer Commentary on the New Testament by Watson E. Mills 2003 ISBN 0-86554-864-1 pages 1109-1110
- Gill, John, Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/gill/acts/17.htm accessed 28 September 2015
- Acts 17:17
- Paul: A Brief History by Robert Paul Seesengood 2010 ISBN 1-4051-7890-6 page 120
- Consuming religion: Christian faith and practice in a consumer culture by Vincent J. Miller 2005 ISBN 0-8264-1749-3 page 99