New Testament: Acts of the Apostles: An Extract |
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Ancient Greece

New Testament: Acts of the Apostles: An Extract


Chapter 17, verses 16-34.

St. Paul in Athens.

The “Acts of the Apostles” forms the second part of the literary work begun by the “Gospel of St. Luke”. It describes the rapid spread of Christianity through the Mediterranean world, a process facilitated by the wide currency of Greek (now in “koine” or “common” form, having lost its earlier dialects.) “Acts” is our main source for the earliest history of the Church.

In Chapter 17 Paul has just arrived in Athens after his missionary journey through Greece. The date is about 50 A.D. (“Acts” was written some forty years later.) Athens had lost its political power since its subjugation to Rome, but remained the cultural and intellectual centre of the ancient world. Its art and architecture were an impressive monument to its past glory. At the beginning of this passage Paul is waiting for his companions Silas and Timothy.

The Greek text of the passage translated below, and the the above introduction, is taken from “A Greek Anthology”, JACT, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Now, as Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him seeing the city full of idols. And so he debated in the synagogue with the Jews and devout persons and on each day in the agora with those who happened to be present. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also debated with him and some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others (said), “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods”, because he preached (about) Jesus and the resurrection. Taking hold of him, they led (him) to the Areopagus (i.e. the Hill of Ares), saying, “Can we learn what is this new teaching which is being spoken of by you?” For you bring some strange things to our ears; and so we wish to know what these things mean (lit. want to be).” Now all the Athenians and the visiting strangers spent their time in nothing other than saying something or listening to something quite new. Standing in the middle of the Areopagus, Paul said, “Men of Athens, I see that you are very religious in everything. For going along and observing your objects of worship I even found an altar on which had been inscribed ‘To an unknown god’. And so what you are worshipping unawares, I announce this to you (now). The god who made the world and everything in it, he being lord of heaven and of the earth does not dwell in temples made by human hands nor is he served by human hands because he is in need of anything, (but) he himself gives life and breath and everything (else) to all men. From one (man) he made every race of men to dwell on the whole surface of the earth, having determined appointed seasons and and the boundaries of their territory, that they should seek God (to see) if they could reach out for him and find (him), though he is really not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being, as some of the poets among you have also said, for we are his offspring too. And so, being the offspring of God, we ought not to think that divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, a work of art and the imagination of man. Therefore God, overlooking the times of ignorance, is now commanding men everywhere that they should all repent, for he has fixed a day on which he is going to judge the inhabited (world) through a man whom he has designated, providing assurance to all men that he has raised him from the dead.”

Now hearing of the resurrection of the dead, some jeered, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” Thus Paul departed from the midst of them. But certain men sticking to him, became believers, amongst whom also (were) Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman, Damaris by name, and others with them.


Though the number of immediate converts resulting from Paul’s visit to Athens was small, the new faith had for the first time confronted – and shown some common ground with – Greek philosophy.

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