Mars Hill is the Roman name for a hill in Athens, Greece, called the Hill of  Ares or the Areopagus (Acts 17:1922). Ares was the Greek god  of war and according to Greek mythology this hill was the place where Ares stood  trial before the other gods for the murder Poseidon’s son Alirrothios. Rising  some 377 feet above the land below and not far from the Acropolis and Agora  (marketplace), Mars Hill served as the meeting place for the Areopagus Court,  the highest court in Greece for civil, criminal and religious matters. Even  under Roman rule in the time of the New Testament, Mars Hill remained an  important meeting place where philosophy, religion, and law were  discussed.

The biblical significance of Mars Hill is that it is the  location of one of Paul’s most important gospel presentations at the time of his  visit to Athens during his second missionary journey (Acts 17:16-34). It was  where he addressed the religious idolatry of the Greeks who even had an altar to  the “Unknown God.” It was this altar and their religious idolatry that Paul used  as a starting point in proclaiming to them the one true God and how they could  be reconciled to Him. Paul’s sermon is a classic example of a gospel  presentation that begins where the listeners are and then presents the gospel  message in a logical and biblical fashion. In many ways it is a classic example  of apologetics in action. Paul started his message by addressing the false  beliefs of those gathered there that day and then used those beliefs as a way of  presenting the gospel message to them.

We know that when Paul arrived in  Athens he found a city “given over to idols” (Acts 17:16).  In his usual manner Paul began presenting the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.  He started by “reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile  worshipers” (Acts 17:17)  and then also proclaimed the gospel “in the marketplace daily with those who  happened to be there” (Acts 17:17).  While at the marketplace he encountered some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers  (Acts 17:18) who, having heard  Paul proclaim the resurrected Jesus Christ, wanted to learn about “this new  doctrine” he was teaching so they “brought him to the Areopagus” to hear more  from him (Acts  17:19-20).

We know from history that the Epicurean philosophers  generally believed that God existed but that He was not interested or involved  with humanity and that the main purpose of life was pleasure. On the other hand  the Stoic philosophers would have the worldview that “God was the world’s soul”  and that the goal of life was “to rise above all things” so that one showed no  emotional response to either pain or pleasure. These groups and others with  their dramatically opposing worldviews loved to discuss and debate philosophy  and religion. Intrigued by what they considered Paul’s “babblings” about the  resurrection of Christ, they brought him to the Areopagus where the Athenians  and foreigners “spent their time in nothing else but to tell or hear some new  thing” (Acts  17:21).

As mentioned earlier, Paul’s presentation of the gospel is a  great example for us, both as a pattern for how Paul identified with his  audience and as an example of apologetics in action. His connection with his  audience is seen in how he begins addressing those gathered at the Areopagus. He  begins with the observation that they were “very religious” based on the fact  that they had many altars and “objects of worship” (Acts 17:23)  including an altar to “the Unknown God.” Paul uses that altar to introduce them  to the one true God and the only way of salvation, Jesus Christ.

His  apologetic method and his knowledge that they did not even know what God is  really like leads him to go back to Genesis and to the beginning of creation.  Having a completely wrong view of God, those gathered that day needed to hear  what God really was like before they would understand the message of the gospel.  Paul begins explaining to them the sovereign God who created all things and  gives life and breath to all things. He continues to explain that it was God who  created from one individual all men and nations and even appointed the time and  boundaries of their dwelling (Acts 17:26).  His message continues as he explains the closeness of God and their need to  repent of their rebellion against Him. Paul completes his message by introducing  them to the One before whom they would all stand one day and be judged—Jesus  Christ, whom God had raised from the dead.

Of course many in the  audience scoffed at the idea that Christ was crucified and rose from the dead on  the third day because the idea of the resurrection to the Greeks was foolishness  (1  Corinthians 1:23). Yet a few believed what Paul said and joined him.

What happened on Mars Hill is important because of the many lessons that can be  learned, not only from how Paul presented the gospel and presented a biblical  worldview, but also in the varied responses he received. Some of those there  that day believed and were saved, others mocked Paul and rejected his message,  and still others were open-minded and desired to hear more. We can only hope  that those who were open-minded were later convinced of the truth and also  repented and believed.

As with all men, those who were confronted with  the truth of the gospel and did not respond in faith had no guarantee of a  second chance. As Hebrews  3:15 says “Today if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in  rebellion.” Paul’s message to the philosophers on Mars Hill that day ended with  a call to repentance and acceptance of the two fundamental truths of Scripture  that Paul was committed to preaching—the crucifixion and resurrection of the  Lord Jesus Christ. Paul preached Christ crucified to them as he always did  wherever he went (1  Corinthians 2:2).