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Sixteen Things Paul Did Right in His Sermon Intro on Mars Hill

image There is a debate about whether or not Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill was "a success" or not.  Several note that there seems to be little positive response to Paul’s sermon.  Luke records: "A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others."  (Acts 17:34)

I tend toward the view that while there were few converts, that was more a reflection of the hard soil that had been created by the prevalence of human philosophy in Athens. 

Robert Shannon, however, notes that Paul did many things right in his introduction to his sermon on Mars Hill.  He lists sixteen things about his introduction from which we can learn. (A few of his observations seem to come more from the body of the sermon rather than the introduction proper).  

“Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

1. While the first sentence begins with the pronoun “I” the intro is really focused on “you” (the hearers)

2. It is not (at least in the introduction) an accusatory “you”

3. He showed a familiar with their customs, with their city, with their faith.

4. He began with their “unknown god” and declared to them his own well known god.

5. He did not begin with flattery

6. He does not begin with an apology about bothering to address them at all 

7. His topic is simple : the unknown god. (Not “Thoughtful Considerations of Cosmic Deities and their Concrete Representation in Art”)

8. It suggests a little of what lies ahead, but only a little.

9. He did not begin with a complex theological argument

10. It is concrete, not abstract

11. It is not arrogant

12. It is not technical

13. It is Interesting. A dull introduction signals a duller sermon. Everyone puts his best foot forward and if that’s the best we’ve got it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the sermon

14. He begins by talking about idolatry, but does not begin to condemn it (at the first).  He has already faced hostility at Iconium, Lystra, Philippi and Thessalonica. He saw no need to evoke unnecessary hostility with the introduction to his message at Athens. v. 29: Not “You should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone…” He said We should not think…” Paul had never in his life thought that God could be captured in graven images, but he uses “we” as a mark of courtesy. His persuasive ability required that he rhetorically include himself.

15. His into sets the tone for the rest of the message: it is going to be a friendly sermon and respectful. If we set a negative or hostile tone, many will decide not to listen. If we signal that a depressing half hour lies ahead…all diagnosis and no prescription, a diatribe against things the listeners are helpless to remedy, then we should not be surprised that people begin to look out the window.

16. Paul’s intro is short. That reassures the listeners. If an intro goes on and on we wonder if the preacher knows where he is going.

Introductions

6 Comments to “Sixteen Things Paul Did Right in His Sermon Intro on Mars Hill”

  1. Thanks for the post! That is an interesting and thoughtful list. I was wondering who Robert Shannon is and what is the source for the list. Was this from a book or from another blog post somewhere? Thanks, Ray

  2. Robert Shannon used to be professor of preaching at Atlanta (GA) Christian College. He left there to preach somewhere in Florida (Clearwater? I am not sure). He is a regular contributor to the illustration section of Preaching magazine. I heard him give this list at the North American Christian Convention in 1999. I don’t remember the location. Although he is getting up there in years, I presume he is still living because Preaching.com still is listing new illustrations from him. Thanks for checking out my site!

  3. Thanks for the additional info!

  4. thank you, brother, for these excellent thoughts. I really need to work on introductions and conclusions. This is a great “grid.”

  5. Hi and thanks for the sight. A couple other theological tidbits from Paul’s sermon:
    1) Paul’s speech
    critique for having no world view
    lacks a comprehensive world view / a slur to Paul’s
    2) Main points of sermon:
    a) first address to uneducated pagans re the gospel / society devoid of a biblical worldview
    b) God is creator –
    (a) not to be Identified with the stuff we see
    (b) undercuts pantheism, the Stoics, who living in harmony with the world and nature they see and experience
    c) God is transcendent
    (a) not to be identified with creation or with your alters or temples
    (b) Because He’s transcendent, He can’t be reduced to mere ceremony
    d) God is self-existent
    (a) we cannot add to him
    (b) cannot be reduced to ceremony
    (c) He gives life and breath and all things
    (d) show God of asceity – self existent – not dependent us
    (e) sounds of Is 66 ‘heaven is my throne’….where is the house you build?”
    e) God is a providential god –
    (a) undercuts deism of the Epicurians (God is not involved)
    (b) we are dependent on Him
    f) God is a universal god –
    (a) undercuts the structure of the Greek pantheon- of many Gods
    (b) overhauling their paganism
    (c) not a petty God with a narrow bandwidth of responsibility like Thor, Neptune or Zoos
    g) God sustains all of human life
    h) Yet God is imminent;
    (a) He is not unattainable or beyond our ability to relate to.
    i) We must therefore seek God: people are separated from Him
    j) He is over it all, we serve Him He does not

    Pual pointed them to a biblical worldview:
    3) His sermon introduces a Biblical worldview:
    a) Doctrine of God
    b) Doctrine of creation- separate from God
    c) Doctrine of providence- God gives life to all things
    d) Doctrine of man- made in his image / his offspring
    i) we are His offspring , imago dei – image of God
    ii) not gold silver of stone – a shot at idolatry
    iii) takes their insights and recasts them into a biblical worldview
    e) Doctrine of sin
    i) IDOLATRY is bogus
    f) Biblical theology (a Biblical view of history)
    i) accountability to a creator
    ii) linear view of history
    iii) essentially a new philosophy of history
    g) Christology (including resurrection)

    Preach on!
    Briller

  6. Thanks, Briller, for the insights.

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