16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?
Remember when Paul struck a guy blind for teaching lies to the ruler of Cyprus? Remember when a husband and wife fell dead right in front of Peter because they lied?
It says that Paul’s “spirit was provoked within him.” Provoked is the right word, but not with the connotations we put with it. It’s more like his senses were heightened. He was more observant and aware of the situation around him. The town was full of idols!
He is not in Judea anymore!
Athens was full of idol worship like Nashville, Tennessee is full of bar bands. Religion was part of the pastime, and everything that everyone did was done in the name of this or that god or goddess. We might call them superstitious, but that puts too shallow of a label on it.
So Paul, realizing that everyone in Athens believed in powers they could not see, started talking to the Jews and religious people about Jesus. If they believed in unseen powers, they should know about the glorious and pure power of Jesus. They should know that Jesus wants to save them from all of the powers that are trying to rip them off and destroy them.
He went to the marketplace and talked to people. There were other places where it mentions Paul talking to large groups, but this is probably not one of those. This was probably conversation by conversation; one small group of merchants and customers at a time. We know that Paul made tents as a profession. That means he could start a conversation with any salesperson selling cloth, rope, animals, etc.
Paul even went to the people that were obviously part of other religions and philosophies. He didn’t beat them up or strike them blind, but instead talked to them enough that they wanted to hear more. Something about what he said made them want to bring him to their friends so more people could hear what he had to say.
In a city full of idols, with all of the power of the Holy Spirit within him, Paul had conversations.
Reasonable, attractive, conversations that were even interesting to those most deeply entrenched in false beliefs.
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