Acts 17:16-34 Paul preaches in the synagogue at Athens (see 5 on Map 24), and also discusses with the Greek philosophers in the Ancient Agora (the market place). In this city of many pagan gods and goddesses, Paul reveals the nature of the ‘unknown god’ whose inscription he has seen on a pagan altar. As a result, Dionysius – a member of the Areopagus – and several other Athenians become the first believers in Athens.
The Temple of Hyphaestus in the Ancient Agora at Athens (Acts 17:17)
Athens – the capital of Greece – is the birthplace of European civilisation (see Map 24). Founded seven thousand years ago, the city flourished in the fifth century BC when Athenian democracy was practised in the Bouletarion (council chamber) and open discussion was encouraged in the Agora (market place). Paul – who was trained as a young man in the art of debating in Greek – would have been delighted at an opportunity to spread the Good News of Jesus in the cultural heart of the ancient world, among its numerous pagan temples, altars, statues and monuments.
Paul was invited to speak to the Areopagus (the Athenian council) which met on Mars Hill, only a short distance from the foot of the Acropolis, dominated by the Parthenon – built as a temple to Athena in the 5th century BC.
The site of the Areopagus on Mars Hill, Athens (Acts 17:19)
Mars Hill and the Parthenon can still be visited today, as can the Roman Agora (the market place) with its Bouleuterian (council chamber), the Stoa of Zeus, and its many pagan shrines, including the Altar of the Twelve Gods, the magnificent Temple of Hephaestus and the Altar of Zeus. Visitors to the Agora Museum in the re-constructed Stoa of Attalos (built originally by King Attalos of Pergamum in c.150BC) can see statues of the Tritons (half-god, half-fish) which adorned the Odeion of Agrippa. Other artefacts from Paul’s day include an ancient klepsydra (a water clock used for timing speeches like Paul’s) and a number of ostraka (voting tablets on which names were inscribed and unpopular citizens could be banished or ‘ostracized’).