Toby’s Colorful Mind by Rev. Toby Rowe
‘Twas a dark and stormy night…
I have heard that all Shakespeare plays originally began thusly… I kid, but what a great way to start an essay on seemingly tedious topics. My mind is full of them, curiosities mostly. This week as I read this Sunday’s reading from Acts, my eye caught the word Areopagus. To quote Scripture,” Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ (NRSV) Just what was the Areopagus? Toby’s mind wants to know.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Areopagus was the, “earliest aristocratic council of ancient Athens. The name was taken from the Areopagus (“Ares’ Hill”), a low hill northwest of the Acropolis, which was its meeting place. The Areopagite Council probably began as the king’s advisers”. It seems that the council retained “guardianship of the laws” or perhaps veto power, the ability to prosecute via impeachment for unconstitutional acts, and in some cases, murder. The Britannica article goes on to reveal, “from the middle of the 4th century BC, its prestige revived once again, and by the period of Roman domination in Greece it was again discharging significant administrative, religious, and educational functions.” (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Areopagus-Greek-council)
To an unknown God… This part gets a little tricky for me. Greek Mythology/religion can be complex as any new god would receive a different label than god. Paul seems to be addressing that their unknown God was the same as the Jewish God who could not be named. Paul wrote in verse 28, “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’”. (NRSV)
According to Wikipedia, (Yes, sometimes it isn’t a bad beginning/secondary source), “his audience would also have recognized the quotes in verse 28 as coming from Epimenides and Aratus, respectively.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unknown_God) These concepts of creator and humans as offspring can be tied to ideas all the way back to the Greek philosopher, Plato.
A little old school Education for the Ministry training I had back in 2011, mentioned that Paul’s entire reason for stopping by Athens was strategic. (EFM Volume 2, 2006ed. P. 282). Paul’s stop off in Athens was an extension of Jesus’s outreach to the Gentiles. Furthermore, Rome is the center of the world at this time, not Athens, but remember that Rome liked to borrow from cultures it encountered or assimilated and that it also valued. Rome attempted to duplicate the Greek religion with its multiple gods, Greek architecture, and in certain cases its adherence to the study of Greek philosophy. Due to Greek influence in Rome, and to its traditional place as a center of learning at this time in history, it still held importance for the ancient world.
In this passage from Acts, we see Paul attempt to take on a rhetorical style of the Greeks of his time. His message simply put, if you truly seek the unknown God don’t look here in human made objects or machinations. Now is the time to repent. Paul then introduces the idea of resurrection. Like those who have received the Good News in modern times, some Greeks were intrigued with this previously foreign notion of life over death. Indeed, some repented and converted to Christ. Paul’s message was certainly for the Greeks, but it was also to get the ball rolling all the way to Rome, and by way of Rome, to the entire world. Mission accomplished Paul!