Acts 17:16-21 :
Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw the city full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who met him. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also were conversing with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?”
Others said, “He seems to be advocating foreign deities,” because he preached Jesus and the resurrection.
They took hold of him, and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is, which is spoken by you? For you bring certain strange things to our ears. We want to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the strangers living there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.
t is easy to relate to Paul here when he says that “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw the city full of idols.” This helps to explain why Christians are so bothered by the lives people that live around them. This provocation is sometimes labeled “phobia” by those who worship at certain idols, but in reality it is just a provocation caused by the fact that the world is at odds with the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah.
Paul didn’t hide when provoked but decided to reason “with the Jews and devout persons.” Notice that Paul used reason and didn’t just preach the law, although the law was a big part of his reasoning process as we read in other Bible books like Romans. We should really engage with people in the world, not just preach rules, so that God can help them understand the reasoning behind what we believe.
We get some real insight into what Athens was like at that time from Luke. Here he tells us that some of these supposedly logical and intelligent Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were already considering Paul to be a “babbler” and as such showed very little tolerance from the start. We learn that the Athenians were idlers who didn’t do anything but talk about new ideas! For some reason, I don’t remember this fact being discussed in my High School history class. The Jews knew what was wrong because they had the word of God which, in Proverbs said:
Proverbs 14:23 :
In all hard work there is profit,
but the talk of the lips leads only to poverty.
The Bible would predict that the Athenian economy would be weakened by the lack of profit and the increase in poverty because the men in the city would do nothing else but talk. It is clear that this environment is similar to the environments we find ourselves in today in that many don’t even believe what the Bible says anymore and again believe that simply being smart and talking to each other is important and valuable. Notice that the Athenians always wanted to hear something new. This is what I think of when I hear the words “itching ears.” Some people always want to hear new things because they are not satisfied with the truth. This is also a problem in many Churches today in which people are not satisfied with amazing grace that God has already given us through His Son, Jesus.