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Kaitlyn Bancroft: What I learned from reading Acts 17 on Mars’ Hill in Athens, Greece

The Apostle Paul had the faith — and the audacity — to declare Jesus Christ’s divinity in the face of ancient Greek power

I walked slowly through the crowd and across the rock, keeping a healthy distance from the drop on one side. Given the centuries’ worth of visitors to this location, I wasn’t surprised to find the stone perilously smooth.

I stood on Areopagus, Mars’ Hill, where the Apostle Paul preached about the “unknown god” as recorded in Acts 17. It was early May 2023, the end of my first week in Greece, and I’d seen some truly incredible places: the floating monasteries of Meteora, the ruins where the Oracle of Delphi sat and, of course, the Parthenon and its surrounding buildings. But now that I was back in Athens, where I’d started my trip, I felt drawn to this mound of rock where a single man once stood in the face of the ancient Greeks’ power and knowledge.

In the shadow of the Acropolis, I sat down on Mars’ Hill and read Acts 17, lingering on verses 23-25: “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

“God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;

“Neither is worshiped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.”

A plaque engraved with the Apostle Paul’s sermon about the “unknown god” from Acts 17. The plaque is displayed at the bottom of Mars’ Hill in Athens, Greece.
A plaque engraved with the Apostle Paul’s sermon about the “unknown god” from Acts 17. The plaque is displayed at the bottom of Mars’ Hill in Athens, Greece. | Kaitlyn Bancroft

I thought about my first impression of Athens when I’d stepped off the metro: that it’s a place where the past and present mingle effortlessly. Ancient ruins sit in the middle of modern city blocks. Altars to Greek gods and goddesses, literal and figurative, are on every corner.

I also thought about what I’d learned during my tour of the Acropolis days earlier. Paul would have seen the Parthenon and its surrounding monuments in their prime — every stone and statue in place, every image painted vividly. I could only imagine his dismay as he walked through this brilliant, beautiful city so overwhelmingly dedicated to the worship of nothing.

So the fact that Paul preached to the Athenians on Mars’ Hill anyway gave me chills in the hot sun. It was more than an act of faith and conviction; it was an act of utter audacity. The sheer nerve of this man, with no notable education or pedigree, to point at the Acropolis overhead and say, in essence, “Those magnificent buildings are meaningless because Jesus Christ lived and died and lived again for you” — well, the thought made “bold” feel like a watered-down word.

I enjoyed another spectacular week in Greece, touring islands and meeting wonderful people. But what’s stuck with me perhaps more than anything is that image of Paul, standing below the ultimate symbol of ancient Greek power, and unflinchingly declaring the living Christ.

It’s not a secret that God often requires big and seemingly impossible things of His followers, but visiting Mars’ Hill made that truth more staggeringly real to me than ever before. Wherever and whenever I find myself on my personal Mars’ Hill, I hope that, like Paul, I can daringly say, “God that made the world and all things therein… is Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24).

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