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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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a celebrated city of Greece, too well known to be here described. St. Paul's celebrated sermon, Acts xvii, was preached on the Areopagus, or Hill of Mars, where a celebrated court was held which took cognizance of matters of religion, blasphemies against the gods, the building of temples, &c. ( See AREOPAGUS. ) The inscription on the altar, "to the unknown God," which St. Paul so appropriately made the text of his discourse, was adopted on the occasion of the city having been relieved from a pestilence; and they erected altars to "the God unknown," either as not knowing to which of their divinities they were indebted for the favour, or, which is more probable, because there was something in the circumstances of this deliverance, which led them to refer it to a higher power than their own gods, even to the supreme God, who was not unfrequently styled, the "unknown," by the wiser Heathens. The existence of such altars is expressly mentioned by Lucian. On the place where the great Apostle bore his noble testimony against idols, and declared to them the God whom they ignorantly worshipped, Dr. E. D. Clarke, the traveller, remarks, "It is not possible to conceive a situation of greater peril, or one more calculated to prove the sincerity of a preacher, than that in which the Apostle was here placed; and the truth of this, perhaps, will never be better felt than by a spectator, who from this eminence actually beholds the monuments of Pagan pomp and superstition by which he, whom the Athenians considered as the setter forth of strange gods, was then surrounded: representing to the imagination the disciples of Socrates and of Plato, the dogmatist of the porch, and the skeptic of the academy, addressed by a poor and lowly man, who, ‘rude in speech,' without the ‘enticing words of man's wisdom,' enjoined precepts contrary to their taste, and very hostile to their prejudices. One of the peculiar privileges of the Areopagitae seems to have been set at defiance by the zeal of St. Paul on this occasion; namely, that of inflicting extreme and exemplary punishment upon any person who should slight the celebration of the holy mysteries, or blaspheme the gods of Greece. We ascended to the summit by means of steps cut in the natural stone. The sublime scene here exhibited is so striking, that a brief description of it may prove how truly it offers to us a commentary upon the Apostle's words, as they were delivered upon the spot. He stood upon the top of the rock, and beneath the canopy of heaven. Before him there was spread a glorious prospect of mountains, islands, seas, and skies; behind him towered the lofty Acropolis, crowned with all its marble temples. Thus every object, whether in the face of nature, or among the works of art, conspired to elevate the mind, and to fill it with reverence toward that Being who made and governs the world, Acts 17:24; Acts 17:28; who sitteth in that light which no mortal eye can approach, and yet is nigh unto the meanest of his creatures; in whom we live, and move and have our being."

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Athens'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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