Art Maier: The hill of show business and Christian speech
Named for the Greek mythical god of war, Mars Hill became the location of an ancient show-business trial -- and a Bible-recorded sermon.
Mars Hill also stands as one of the few a sites mentioned in the Bible that can be identified with certainty today.
Tourists visiting Athens, Greece, can see near some of the impressive ruins a small hill called the Areopagus, or Hill of Ares. In Greek mythology, Ares was the god of war. The Romans used the name Mars for this character. In the King James Bible version, this place is referred to as Mars Hill. At an early time in history, the hill of Ares became an official location for certain court trials.
Besides more standard cases, the Areopagus court once heard a dispute that could have occurred only in the society of that time.
By about 500 B.C., Athens was quite famous as a theatrical center. Helping this ancient Hollywood popularity were several playwrights. One of the best was a man named Aeschylus. Of his many plays, the few that have been saved are dramatic masterpieces.
Aeschylus also did some stage acting. One day, according to reliable history, he was performing in a play he wrote. In the audience were some members of a Greek religious group that kept its worship practices highly secret. For some reason, these spectators decided that the play had wording taken from the mystery religion's worship ceremonies. An angry mob rushed the stage.
The beleaguered playwright was later taken to the Areopagus and charged. There he pleaded that he didn't know his play had any of the worship secrets.
The court pronounced acquittal. Today we would say the verdict was probably reasonable. But some historians feel the judges didn’t decide on reason alone. The judges apparently remembered Aeschylus served with distinction in the military, and they didn’t want to condemn a war hero.
Almost 600 years later, the Apostle Paul visited Athens during his second missionary journey. The Bible book of Acts, Chapter 17, tells about his stay. Around the city, Paul saw monuments to the Greek gods. Here, he decided, was a unique mission opportunity!
Paul then began to engage in conversation people he met in the market and other public places, telling them of the true God, and salvation.
Some of the Athenians, fascinated with what Paul was saying, felt he deserved a prominent public audience. By popular demand, Paul was brought to the Areopagus, not for actual trial, but to explain his beliefs. The famous hill had also become a place for open forums.
Paul gladly responded. He probably prepared a presentation in advance, and he may have spoken from written notes. We can read the speech text in Acts 17.
In his speech, Paul talked about the true God who made earth and heaven. Catering to his audience, Paul even quoted some Greek poetic literature.
Scholars today consider this sermon a short masterpiece of oratory.
The reception of Paul's talk was mixed -- but it surely wasn't bad for a first time sermon on a new faith. Some spectators actually sneered, but several others there did believe in Christ. Athens soon had a church.
Over the centuries, the Bible, with Paul’s famous sermon, has been carried nearly worldwide. New audiences, almost every day, get the gospel message.
The message tells us that Christ came to take our sin penalty. All who believe in Christ will have eternal life in heaven.
As in Paul’s time, the reception of this message has been mixed. Some ridicule or even persecute Christians who offer the gospel of eternity. But, of course, many others put faith in Christ.
At the end of time, and the Final Judgment, there will be no sneering or persecution. All souls who have come to faith in Christ will be welcomed to the glories of a heavenly home. It is my prayer that one of those souls will be you.
Art Maier is a semi-retired teacher, environmental science specialist and calligrapher. He is a contributing editor to Pen World Magazine and has appeared regularly on the “Pepper & Friends” television show, demonstrating for hand disabled persons and others how to use pens. He is a regular columnist for the Boonville Daily News in Boonville, Mo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.