Paul and Evangelism – Acts 17:16-34 – Why, When, Where, How, Who, What?

  1. Introduction
  2. The first time I preached, I was asked by the elders of my church to preach two Sundays on evangelism. Since it was my first time to preach (ever), I fully expected to be given some verses to preach on, but none were given to me. So I began to read and pray and speak to various preachers and teachers, searching for verses that taught what God wanted me to teach. God answered prayer. In fact, he woke me up at 4:30 one morning and told me “Acts, chapter 17.” My naturally good natured and spiritual response was to cover my head with my blanket and say, ‘Its TOO early!” His reply was, “Ok then, chapter 13.” Sure enough, I read those chapters and realized I had the material to teach for both sermons on evangelism.

    Now, not all of us will be given a heart for evangelism. Not all of us will be given a gift of evangelism. But all of us must answer the call to evangelize. In Acts 1:8, Jesus told His disciples to be His witnesses. We are all called to be witnesses of Christ to the world. Today we will see one example of Paul being a witness for Christ. We will look at the basic questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how. Then we will look at the results that he saw and that we can all expect to see, at some time or other. Lets us begin by reading what God has given.

    Acts 17:16-34 (NASB, with paragraph divisions from the NIV)

    Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)

    So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.

    The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’

    Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

    Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.1


  3. Why did Paul share the message of God?
    1. Paul cared about the need of the lost (v 16)

    Just as Paul was called by God to take the message His word to the world, we must all we all must answer the call to evangelize. Why…? I think the answer is very simple. We see the answer to the question of ‘why’ in verse 16. Seeing the false gods troubled Paul’s spirit.

    This is the same man who held the cloaks of men stoned Steven to death and who ravaged the church. This is a man very changed from the one we saw in previous chapters (Acts 8:1-3). God had so changed Paul from who he was before God called him that just seeing the altars and statues to the multitude of gods provoked Paul’s spirit. Paul KNEW that these people were lost and needed God’s mercy. He knew from personal experience that everyone seeks the answer to the most profound need – Christ. Do YOU realize that the answer to people’s deepest need is for Christ? Have you allowed God to change you so that seeing people who do not know Christ brings an emotional response in your spirit?


  5. When did Paul share the message of God?
    1. We can see in verse 17 that Paul shared the message on a daily basis. It was not just a one time thing. Nor was it just something he did on the Sabbath. It was something he did daily. This is a model we all need to follow. God should not be someone we talk about, or to, on Sunday mornings. We need to live a life of walking with God, talking with God (Ephesians 6:18 says we are to pray in the Spirit at all times), and, as we see in Acts 17:16-34, sharing God with others at all times and in all situations. When do you share God? 

  7. Where did Paul share the message of God?
    1.  We see in verse 17 that first Paul went to the synagogue. Now, most of us do not have the opportunity to go into a synagogue, but we DO have the ability to go into the church – and what is a synagogue but a place where one should hear the Word of God? We should all go into the house of God expecting to hear and speak the Word of God. Its through hearing the Word of God that people come to faith – at least that’s what Paul said in Romans 10:17, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Know what? Instead of talking about what so and so is doing or what someone should or should not be doing, we need to talk about what God is doing in our lives. THAT is evangelizing.
    2. The second place Paul spoke was in the marketplace, or better translated, the town square. This was a center of life and movement. People always were hanging about, talking, debating, and discussing things. This is like the mall in today’s America, or maybe a coffee house. It was here that Paul was free to discuss the Word of God and the need people had for Christ. Do you discuss the Word of God and the need people have for Christ where people hang out?
    3. In verse 22 we see the third place Paul shared the message: in a setting called the Areopagus. While this may have been name of the location (Mars’ Hill), it was most likely the council of the same name. It was a council people who had special jurisdiction over matters of morals and religion. This was a group of people who had great learning, knew a great deal of philosophy and religion and had a great deal of time to sit about telling or hearing something new (v 21). It was natural for someone who was teaching about “new gods” (v 19-20) to be subject to their jurisdiction. I challenge you to speak to a father of a house or a manager or some leader about Christ. 

    We see in this tiny section of the Word of God that Paul spoke the message God had given him in three different places: synagogue, market place, and Areopagus.

    So, we’ve see that Paul spoke in the synagogue, the town square (or marketplace or mall), and where leaders could hear him. In all three settings, as we will see, his basic message was the same, but the details of what he presented might change, based upon the audience and their level of knowledge.


  9. Now, with whom did Paul share the message of God?
    1. We see in verse 17 that Paul went to the synagogue and spoke to people who had a world view similar way to Paul. They were monotheists, who believed there was only one god and that he interacted with mankind. They had the same scriptural background as Paul. They knew at least something of the Word of God, and Paul could give evidence from the Word of God. These were like people today who claim to be Christian but who do not have Christ as savior. These people were very religious, doing things that they thought would get them into heaven. The problem is, following rituals and doing things to appease or please God will never get us into heaven – only faith in Christ will do that, as we will see. Do you know people who believe God exists and follow rituals they think will make Him happy and get them into heaven, but do not have true faith in Christ? Do you know people who do not know that Christ is risen? I challenge you to speak the truth about God and what He has done and the only thing we can do to enter heaven.
    2. The Epicurean philosophers with whom Paul spoke believed that IF gods existed, they did not interact with mankind. They could be considered polydeists, in that they might believe that there were many gods but they lived as though the gods did not care or interact with mankind. Thus, they were effectively atheists. Their man goal was to seek out happiness and avoid pain with extreme detachment. Many were effectively evolutionists, because they believed that everything could be explained in terms of atoms. The idea of ‘lets eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die’ and the ideas that everything occurs because of chance and random interaction of atoms both date back to at least this time. Do you know people who don’t believe God exists, or who believe that God doesn’t care about or interact with mankind or who believe in evolution? When is the last time you spoke to them about God in terms they can understand?
    3. The Stoic philosophers with whom Paul spoke believed that nature was god and that they needed to position themselves, through their own actions, to be in the purpose of the universe. They could be called pantheists. Because of the way they thought, they often were very prideful and self-sufficient – ‘self-made men’ or people involved in pantheism today. Do you know self-made people with whom you can share the God’s truth? Do you know people who think that nature is God. Share the Word of God with them.
    4. According to verse 17, Paul spoke in the market place with anyone who happened by (v 17). Some of those people probably would have followed one or more of the gods that were honored by the idols in Athens, and so were polytheists. This would be like speaking to people involved in magic, the occult, or paganism today. Hindu’s, witches, and mediums all fit into this category. Who do you know like these people with whom you can share the Word of God?
  10. Basically, Paul spoke with everyone – people of all sorts. We speak to different sorts of people all the time. For Paul, evangelizing was talking about God and the need for the resurrected Christ with whomever he came across. We need to do the same sort of thing – talk about God and Christ with whomever we come across.


  11. Now we will look at how he shared the message of God.
    1. In verse 17, we see that Paul was reasoning. We know (from Acts 17:2)  that when he would enter a new place, his custom was to first go to the synagogue and explain and give evidence from scripture to show that Jesus had to suffer and rise again from the dead and that He was the Christ – the Messiah. Note that Paul used the Word of God for evidence. And this occurred more than once – in fact a daily event. All of us have someone to whom we can present the Biblical evidence of the need for turning to God through faith in the resurrected Christ. Who in your life can you present the Biblical evidence for what God has done? 
    2. In verse 18, we see that Paul conversed with philosophers. The context indicates debate. Paul was sharing the Word of God through debating in the marketplace, and he was invited to speak before the Areopagus. Some of us like to debate. Do you know people who think they know it all? When’s the last time you chose to discuss the deeper things in life with them in terms they understand, while leading them to an understanding of God?
    3. We see in verses 22 through 32 that another way that Paul delivered the message God wants given was through preaching. He did it in a noteworthy way. Although he used Greek references instead of Scripture, the message presented was definitely Scriptural. He began by using something that the people of Athens and he had in common. Then he went into a monolog that met the listeners where they were – that is to say, he spoke to the philosophers in language they would understand and addressed their level of understanding of God. He taught who God is and what He has done and what God requires in response. It may be the ultimate example of how to share the truth of God and His Son when dealing with people in today’s society. Not all of us are preachers, but many of us find ourselves in situations where people are listening and we are the only ones talking. Take advantage of those situations to talk about God.
  12. So now we’ve seen three different ways that Paul shared the message: reasoning, debating, and teaching. Some methods work better with some people than others; and some of us have a definite preference of one over another; and there are times, places and situations where one is preferable over another, but God has successfully used all of them. Will you let God work through you to let His message be known?


  13. So what WAS the message that Paul shared? The basic message was the same, regardless of the audience, but the details were different depending on the audience. If they had a basic biblical knowledge, then he shared one thing, but if his listeners did not have that knowledge, then he had to take the time to teach the foundations.
    1. In verses 17 and 18, we see Paul spoke in the synagogue and marketplace about Christ and the resurrection. The people in the synagogue would have understood that of which Paul was speaking. But it confused some of his listeners in the marketplace who thought he was speaking of two new gods: Jesus and Anastasia. You see, the Greek word for resurrection can also be a woman’s proper name. Naturally, this caused some confusion. But perhaps that was the purpose God had intended. It was either confusion or a desire to know more that caused the philosophers to invite Paul to speak before the Areopagus. More specifically, it was the will of God.  
    2. While Paul’s message to the Jews was one of the need for Christ and that Jesus was Christ, to the philosophers he spoke of who God is, what He has done and what the required response is.
      1. Paul taught that there is One God.
        1. Its interesting to see that with the philosophers Paul decided to first lay the foundation of belief – speaking first about God Himself, and THEN to speak to the need for Christ. In so doing, he gave us basic synopsis of who God is, what He has done, and what needs to occur for us to be saved. He also gave us the model and reason to evangelize.   

        3. Paul started out acknowledging that the people of Athens were very RELIGIOUS. They were so religious that they had an altar set up for an unknown God. Paul pointed out that he knew this unknown god. The basic message God gave through Paul was that being religious, believing in a god, having a temple (or church building for a god), and doing things to please or appease some god or other is not what it takes to live at peace with God in heaven.

        5. Then with his first words about God, he stated that there is only one God – he knew what his listeners believed and what their need was, and presented the truth about who God is – “The God”. By simply choosing his words carefully, such as ‘who’ and ‘He’, he stated that God is a person. This goes directly against the popular philosophies of both that time and this. In one sentence, he addressed the ideas that things are god; that god does not interact with mankind; that there is no god; and there are many gods. What words would you use to talk about God’s existence and that there is only one God?

      3. Paul taught that God is the Creator (v 24)
        1. As we see in verse 24, God made the world and all things in it. This message goes back to the first verse of the Bible – Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This idea directly opposes the idea that chance or random acts of atoms caused people to come into existence. This teaches that God is the creator of everything.

        3. God created the world, so he must be outside of the world.
          1. Regardless of what people might think, one cannot create ones’ self. A person might be able to create an image or change their identity or even their actions, but they cannot create a new person who is the same person. Neither is God a thing – he’s not the chair you are sitting on, or a tree, or some spirit inside a tree, he’s not even the earth or the universe. He is outside His creation – God is transcendent.

        5. God created everything in the earth (v 24,25)
          1. Since God created everything in the earth, and he is outside His creation, what NEED of man does God have? None. He doesn’t live in temples or altars or statues or photos. He does not need people to do things for Him. Come on! This is the GOD who CREATED you and everything and everyone! What need does He have for things that you can give Him? How is lighting a candle going to cause God to do something? God has no need for anything. In fact, God is self-sufficient.

        7. God created mankind (v 26-29)
          1. Not only did God create the world and everything in it, but also, as we see in verse 26, from one man God created every nation. That is to say that God CREATED mankind from ONE man. We did not just jump from the ground one day by random acts of atoms, or by the will of the universe, or by the power of the “force”. No, GOD CREATED us.
          2. And in THAT sense and ONLY that sense, we are all children of God. If we are children of God, then how can we think God, who created us, can be anything like metal or stone? God is nothing like anything man can invent or create. So God cannot be a statue or IN a statue, a cross or any other sort of idol.

        9. So now we know that God created the world and everything in it and so is not part of his creation – God is the creator. When was the last time you spoke of God the creator?

      5. God is the Ruler (v 24)
        1. Verse 24 also tells us that God is the ruler of heaven and earth. He is so much the Lord of heaven and earth that He DECIDED where and when people, and thereby nations, would live. God is in control. If God rules when and where people live, God is in control. With God in control, luck and chance do not exist. Do YOU know God is in control? When’s the last time you reminded people of that? We need to allow ourselves to be used by God to speak up for who HE is and what He has done.

      7. God is the Sustainer (v 25)
        1. Not only is God the creator and ruler of everything in the universe, but God is the sustainer of it all as well. Paul tells us in verse 25 that God gives life, breath, and all things to all. Jesus taught in Matthew 6:26 that God feeds the birds, and people are worth more than birds. Indeed, He gives us everything we need. If God gives all things to all, God must exist. If God gives all things to all, He must work within with His creation. To give all things to all, God has to be powerful enough to give them. To give all things to all, God has to care enough to give them. That God gives all things to all shows that He is good – even by our inadequate definition. And if Paul can talk about what God gives us – life, breath, and all things, then surely we can talk about the blessings God has given us – and name Him while we are doing it! Give God the credit.

      9. God is the Judge (v 31)
        1. Not only is God the creator and ruler and sustainer of the universe, but Paul reminds us that God is also the judge. He has chosen a day in which He will judge the world. God decided that this would happen and when. God is going to judge the world and He will do it in righteousness. This indicates He is holy and expects us to be holy as well – which is what God said in Leviticus 19:2 and 1 Peter 1:15-16: “You shall be holy for I am Holy,” says God. And He’s going to judge through a man HE has appointed – a man whose proof of authority is that God resurrected him from the dead. A man named Jesus Christ – or so says Paul in Acts 17:2-3. “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”  A personal judgment would have been unthinkable to the Greeks, but it was the idea of resurrection that went directly against the various philosophies of the Greeks, just as it goes against what many people today think – but just because people do not understand does not mean it is not true. God will judge mankind through the man He resurrected. God is righteous and holy.

      11. God is the Savior and He wants people to seek Him.
        1. According to verse 27, that’s why He made mankind and appointed where and when they would live – even though you may be blind you could find Him if they searched for Him. The image is one of a blind man reaching out and around him, searching for something he needed – we are those blind men, and He is what we need, God through faith in Christ. He wants us to be with Him – he loves us. That’s what John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
        2. The idea is that through Christ we might be saved. He wants people to change and turn to Him, and is declaring it to the world.
        3. Verse 30 says God was patient in that He overlooked the times of ignorance and now declares to all people everywhere to repent – to change from trying to run their own lives or following something other than God, from a life of sin, to God through faith in Christ. As Paul stated in Acts 26:20, People have to “repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.” Its not doing things that save us, but that give evidence of our faith, and so thus salvation.
        4. God wants us to be with Him. God is patient, and loving
        5. Now, we’ve seen that Paul spoke the same message to all people – they need Christ. With some people, He directly spoke the Word of God. With others, he taught the same message after first laying the foundations of who God is and what He has done for us, using the language and culture of his listeners. Notice, that Paul DID tell his listeners that whole of the Gospel – including that they had to repent – that they had to change towards God – and their need for faith in Christ. If Paul could do it, you can too.

  15. As we can see from verses 32-34, God’s evangelism through Paul had results.
  16. Like all evangelism, there is a point where what you have to say is complete. This was the case when Paul mentioned the resurrection. Many of them simply could not accept it. Some people mocked or otherwise disagreed with what Paul said. Others either postponed making a decision, dismissed him, or wanted to know more – for such are the possible motives for saying that they wanted to hear Paul again. But some believed. This is also the model for us – many, if not most, people will not believe, but some will believe.

    One of those who believed Paul in Athens, Dionysius, was a member of the very council he spoke before, and another was a prominent woman, Damaris. But there were others as well. Sometimes we will speak to influential people and they will be saved, and sometimes some of those to whom we share will remain nameless. But sometimes we will share who God is and what He has done for us and our need for Christ and will get few or poor or no obviously positive results. But we are not responsible for the results, what matters most is that we simply do it. If we do what God tells us to, He will use us to do His work.


  17. Conclusion
  18. We’ve seen that Paul shared the gospel daily, and in whatever place people would listen – synagogue, marketplace, or a council of leaders. He shared the message from God with whom ever would listen – regardless of their background or education or culture. Paul did it in a number of different ways – he reasoned from the word of God; he conversed and debated; he taught and preach. Pick one or two ways for yourself and share the truth of God, Christ, and eternal life.

    With people who understood something of God, the the message focused on Christ, but with people who do not understand much about God, the focus was on WHO God is and WHAT He has done for us. There is only one God and that God loves us and works with us. He created us, decided where and when we would live so that we might seek Him out. He rules heaven and earth and will judge mankind. He wants us to turn to Him and not live a life of sin, and HE provided the way for us to do it. God’s love, care, patience, righteousness, evangelism, and coming judgment are all reasons to turn to God through faith in Christ. All of those reasons, plus the change that God makes in us (as He did in Paul) are reasons to evangelize.


    For those of you who have God in your hearts, I challenge you to find ways to talk about God – that is evangelizing. Talk to your children, your parents, your friends, the grocery store clerk. Share who God is. Share what God has done for all of us. Share what God has done for you personally. But tell people of their need for Christ and invite them to believe in Christ. Invite people to put their faith in Christ Jesus.


    If you have not yet made a conscious decision to accept what God has done for you and your need for Christ, I challenge you to make that decision. The wrath of God is on those whom do not believe and accept that He resurrected Son, Jesus Christ. He will judge the world through Christ. Paul preached the need for repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). If you want to be with God, you have to do it His way – believe. Its like someone offering you a gift – the gift is there for the taking, but will you take it? Will you turn from a life of sin, a life without God in charge, and turn to God now? If so, please bow your head and pray something similar the following, “Dear God, I know that I am a sinner. Please forgive me. I believe Jesus Christ was sent by you to die to pay for my sins.  I believe resurrected Him. Please, be the Ruler of my life and send your Holy Spirit to live within me.”  If you gave your life God just now, then I ask you to please let me know, as I would like to help you learn more.


    1All Scripture references are from New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).


7 Responses

  1. […] Go to the author’s original blog: Paul and Evangelism – Acts 17:16-34 […]

  2. […] had awakened me at 4:30 am one morning with the verses for two sermons on evangelism. Last time, I wrote of the first passage God gave me, Acts 17:16-34. In that passage, we saw how Paul spoke daily with anyone who would listen, regardless of language, […]

  3. i like the message

  4. I learnt a lot from this passage, about the need to evangelize and share the gospel with those who are ignorant.

  5. Very good. But I need some examples for today. For our culture in america. You spoke of reasoning from the word, conversed and debated, and teaching and preaching. Need coaching, scripts, role play. Walk thru training. Then I want to disciple others to do the same.
    Christians are afraid because they dont know what to say or how to respond. Please reply! Thank you!

    • I suggest you take apologetics courses and read scripture.

      There are some online courses you can take for free. I will not post links to them because I have not reviewed them and dont want to recommend anything I am not sure about.

      Ask your pastor to help lead you in this area, or to help you find a discipler/trainer in the area of apologetics and evangelism.

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