Background of Athens


Introduction


Athens had formerly been the most important city in Greece, but it was fading when Paul visited it in AD50. Paul was only in Athens for a short time as he traveled from Macedonia to Corinth, and while he was there he debated with the philosophers of the city. Athens was famous for its wisdom, but few responded to Paul’s message.

Historical Background


Athens had been a Greek city from prior to 1100 BC to modern times, surviving an invasion by the Persian king Xerxes in 480 BC.[i] Athens was no longer the economic and political powerhouse of Greece, but it was still the most culturally and philosophically influential city in the ancient world.[ii] Paul came to visit Athens in AD 50.[iii] Paul arrived in Athens after having been rushed out of Thessalonica to keep him safe from the Judiazers.[iv] The amount of idolatry present in the city disturbed Paul, and he argued with the Jews and ‘God-fearers’ in the city because of it.[v] Paul established this church on his second missionary journey.[vi] Paul’s message did not bear much fruit because many of the philosophers could not accept the idea of the resurrection, but one man in particular, Dionysius, who was a member of the Areopagus, did convert to Christianity through Paul’s teaching.[vii]

Geographical Background


Paul visited this city for a short time as he traveled from Macedonia to Corinth (I Thessalonians 3:1 and Acts 17:15-34).[viii] Athens placed a great deal of importance on its naval abilities; this had saved the city centuries earlier in their war with Persia and had helped the city reach preeminence among the other maritime states of Greece.[ix] Athens was forced to rely on trade to provide for the needs of its citizens, thus its connection to the ocean was doubly strong, impacting both the military and commercial aspects of society.[x] Paul was alone in this city, having left Silas and Timothy in Berea, and not joining up with them again until he reached Corinth.[xi]

Cultural Background


Famous for its architecture, the most impressive structure on the Acropolis is the Parthenon, which was dedicated to the goddess of the Athenians, Athena. It had stood for 500 years before Paul arrived in Athens.[xii] Slavery was a huge part of both Athenian and Roman culture, and most families owned at least one slave. Slaves came from nearly every level of society and education.[xiii] The Greeks were famous for their plays, and the Theatre of Dionysus stood at the foot of the Acropolis.[xiv] The Agora was the chief market place of Athens and was filled with buildings and colonnades. This was where Paul debated with the thinkers of Athens, in the midst of a city full of paganism and blindness.[xv] Athenians were very proud of their democratic system, and enjoyed the discussions and debates that took place in the Agora.[xvi] The Court of Areopagus was used to settle disputes in spiritual matters, and Paul was called before the members to give a defense of this ‘new religion.’[xvii] Athens was idolatrous, like all pagan cities in the ancient world, but it contained so many gods that Petronius joked that “it was easier to find a god in Athens than a man”. This display of idolatry infuriated Paul.[xviii] Paul’s prestigious education allowed him to hold his own with the pagan philosophers, and eventually sway some of them in their idolatry.[xix]








Bibliography
Anson F. Rainey; R. Steven Notley. The Sacred Bridge: Carta's Atlas of the Biblical World. Jerusalem: Carta, 2006.
Boice, James Montgomery. Acts: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.
Bruce, F. F. Jesus and Paul: Places They Knew. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983.
Connolly, Peter. The ancient city: life in classical Athens & Rome. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
John MacArthur, Jr. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Acts: 13-28. Chicago: Moody Press, 1996.
Riesner, Rainer. Paul's Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.


[i] F.F. Bruce, Jesus and Paul: Places They Knew. (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983), 97

[ii] John MacArthur, Jr. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Acts:13-28, (Chicago, Moody Press, 1996), 129

[iii] Bruce, Jesus and Paul: Places They Knew, 97

[iv] Anson F. Rainey, Steven Notley, The Sacred bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Jerusalem, Carta, 2006) 375

[v] Ibid, 375

[vi] James Montgomery Boice, Acts: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2002) 234-235,

[vii] Rainey, The Sacred bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World, 375

[viii] Bruce, Jesus and Paul: Places They Knew, 97

[ix] Peter Connolly, The ancient city: life in classical Athens & Rome (New York, Oxford University Press, 1998), 11

[x] Ibid 12

[xi] Rainer Riesner, Paul's Early Period: Chronology, Mission Strategy, Theology (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 361

[xii] Bruce, Jesus and Paul: Places They Knew, 97

[xiii] Connolly, The ancient city: life in classical Athens & Rome, 45

[xiv] Bruce, Jesus and Paul: Places They Knew, 98

[xv] Ibid, 98

[xvi] Connolly, The ancient city: life in classical Athens & Rome, 22

[xvii] Bruce, Jesus and Paul: Places They Knew, 98-99

[xviii] MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary Acts:13-28, 129-130

[xix] Boice, Acts, An Expositional Commentary, 294-296