I get many questions via email and personal conversations. One common one is, “Did Paul make a preaching mistake at Athens when he quoted Greek philosophers?” This question arises because many have heard preachers, some with strong personal conviction, share how the Apostle Paul made a mistake in his Mar’s Hill address to the Athenians. (Acts 17:22-34) This position was made prominent by William Ramsay. (1851-1939) It was also presented by F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) years ago when he said in his book, “Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free,” that Paul’s ministry in Athens was a failure because he failed to preach the “word of the cross.” (p.246) But is this correct?
We need a little background before answering this question. Paul visited Corinth immediately after leaving Athens. (Acts 18:1) While reminding the Corinthians of his visit to them, he wrote and reminded them how he came preaching “Christ crucified” and not “with lofty speech or wisdom.” (1Cor. 2:1-5) From this passage, many teach that Paul learned a meaningful lesson and was admitting to a fundamental mistake in his approach and discourse when he spoke to the Athenians by quoting their philosophers and poets. Also, they argue, Paul did not establish a church in Athens. Therefore, we have several questions which arise from this explanation of the text.
- Does the position that Paul made a mistake in his preaching at Athens accurately represent the biblical text?
- Was Paul admitting in Corinthians that he had made a mistake in his approach at Athens?
- Did he fail to properly present the gospel?
Here is my brief explanation on the subject after many years reading and praying through each side. I do believe there are godly and sincere believers on each side, therefore, my take on this is not meant in any way as a slap at those who disagree, but rather as offering as to why I do not believe Paul made a mistake in presenting the gospel at Athens. Continue reading “Did Paul Make a Mistake at Athens?”