A Christian missionary who once persecuted the church speaks on Mars Hill is the location in Athens where Paul, in Acts 17, is alleged to have addressed the Athenians. Also known in Greek as the Aeropagus, Mars Hill was a place dedicated to the worship of Greek gods. in Athens to a crowd of interested Gentiles. Some express interest in his convictions, and at least two become believers.
This passage is important because Paul meets the Greek world on its own ground and on its own terms. In the very heart of the educated world of ancient Greece and Rome, Athens was a kind of university town, a place where the ancient stories were visibly honored and philosophical discourse had never ceased. It is into the heart of this non-Jewish, nonmercantile city that Paul enters and speaks to sophisticated, if not jaded, folks eager for something new to chew on.
Paul’s speech is sophisticated and alert to context. He quotes from a well-known Greek poet and speaks the standard lines about images, idols, and true deity. He refers in a generous way to the religious convictions of the local population and speaks of a creator who made all nations to search for God. This is generous speech indeed and includes all his hearers as children of God. The references to the resurrection from the dead strike most of them, finally, as silly or superstitious, but some hear.
This passage is critical because it shows Paul adapting his speech to the level of his audience, seeking to address them in terms that are both open and familiar. Paul’s encounter points out the difficulty with understanding or accepting resurrection as a cornerstone of Christian belief. Finally, the passage shows us that even a few who hear positively can be seeds for local congregations to grow.