Paul's Time
in Athens
Stoa Poikile
  Other Sites
in Athens
Theatre of Dionysos

The content on this website is maintained by Robert Myallis, pastor at Zion's Lutheran Church, of Jonestown, PA. 

The photos were taken by Emily Myallis, a diaconal minister in the ELCA who also serves at Zion's Lutheran. 

This website and travel to Greece was made possible by a grant from the Fund for Theological Education, which provides grants to assist the education and formation of Christian  leaders from numerous denominations.

Bible quotes are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, unless cites otherwise.

The above photo of Greece comes from NASA; The icon of Saint Paul comes from George Mitrevski's website




The Areopagus (literally, Mars-Hill) had served as the tribunal location in Athens for a millenia by the time of Paul. Today the high court of Greece is still called the Areopagus. At the time of Paul, it had ceased to have the same jurisdictional power it had in classical Greece (5-4th century), however, its status as a place of trial is without question.

How is the Areopagus  significant
for understanding the world of Paul?

At the Areopagus, Paul is invited to explain his Christian teachings to the Athenians. As Acts records.

So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new. (Chapter 17, 19-21)

In his speech, Paul will attack various facets of the religious beliefs of his day.

  • The complex of myths surrounding the gods (see below)
  • The construction temples with idols (see Acropolis)

  • The validity of stoicism (see Stoa Poikile)
Paul begins his speech by making reference to an altar to an unknown God:

"You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious. For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, 'To an Unknown God.' What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you." (Acts, chapter 17, verses 22-23)

To continue with Paul, move ahead to the Acropolis; to learn more about the altar to an unknown God and how Paul remixes his culture, read on.

What was this altar?

Although no remnant of this specific altar exists, "ancient authors such as Pausanias, Philostratus, and Tertullian speak of Athenian altars with no specific dedication as altars of 'unknown gods' or 'nameless altars.'"

Scholars posit many possible reasons why such altars existed. Click here for a website (a detailed commentary on Acts 17) which describes a few. ?action=getCommentaryText&cid=5&source=1&seq=i.51.17.3

How is Paul remixing the culture of his day?

Traditional religious practices in ancient Greece were polytheistic, in that people worshipped many gods. For instance, Apollo is the god of the sun; Hades the god of the underworld. Greek "mythology" records the tales of the gods and there interaction with humans. Indeed, the Acropolis in Athens not only boasts the enormous temple to Athena (the patron god of Athens and of wisdom and war) but also temples to various gods. People would often make sacrifices to various gods hoping to receive some sort of divine favor or propitiate that God's wrath.

By pointing to an altar of an unknown God, Paul uses a display of excessive religiosity to show the very bankruptcy of ancient Greek religion. The very mythology designed to help people understand how the gods were involved in human affairs eventually failed to offer people a real connection with divinity. God had been replaced by stories and superstition, culminating with altars dedicated to unknown Gods. Ancient Greek religion asked people to accept that their lives were influenced by very human gods, ultimately controlled by fate, with whom they did not interact.

Paul uses this as a launching pad for proclamation, to tell people that the God behind the scenes is no longer hidden, but is revealed, namely, in Jesus Christ.

info about "unknown god" findings: