The spiritual landscape which St. Paul faced in Athens was different from our own. The Greeks lived in a universe of many gods and whose heroes, such as Achilles was semi-divine who was immortal except for the weakness of his heel. On this vase we see the god Poseidon, brother of Zeus who was considered ruler of the seas and the "earthshaker" because he caused earthquakes. In myths he is portrayed as an angry and turbulent god.
As the centuries passes, Greece became a culture bent on finding the Truth. In 399 B.C. we find Socrates who was accused of being an atheist because he denied the reality of the gods. He was an irritation to the Athenian state as he said, "I am that gadfly [horsefly] which God has attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you." Actually Socrates believed in an intellectual spiritual entity or God and if there were other gods, they were demigods or sons of God. He stood firm in this truth and was condemned to death by drinking poison as depicted in this painting.
The Greeks sought truth not only in philosophy but also through the sciences and arts. Edith Hamilton has summarized it thus, "A new force had come into the world with Greece, the idea of Truth to which personal bias and prejudice must yield." (p. 101)
This is then the culture which Paul entered and understood. We find Paul at the Areopagus (Ares Hill), west of the Acropolis, where the Council of Elders met in open air to settle disputes.
Paul begins by telling them that he had observed that they were a very religious people and that in walking around Athens he had also seen an altar dedicated "To an unknown God". This is the God whom Paul would like them to know. After telling them that God had made all things, aware that he was speaking to learned men, Paul shifts to a philosophical statement "In him [God] we live and move and have our being". (Acts 17:28) But, what about all these gods you worship? Paul points that some of their poets had called men the offsprings of God. So, if we are "gods", we must stop worshipping images of stone and gold made by human hands.
When Paul began to speak to them about the resurrection from the dead, he ran into trouble. Some Greeks began to scoff in disbelief while others said they would hear about this another day. The Greeks believed that the soul at death descended into the underworld. We see this exemplified when Odysseus encounters Achilles in the world of the dead. Achilles who had died a glorious death in his youth in order to be remembered now bemoans the fact. He tells Odysseus, "I would rather be the lowest mud-caked miserable peasant in the dung heap, the poorest pauper, but living in sunlight, than the Achilles down here in the world of shadows that is Hades." 86 The Greeks were good at discovering natural truths, but the Resurrection is beyond natural knowledge. Despite this, some believed Paul. One of them was Dionysus, a member of the Court of the Areopagus and a woman named Damaris.
Soon Paul left Athens and established a Christian community in Corinth 51 A.D. By 56 A.D. divisions had arisen within the Church of Corinth including some who did not believe in the resurrection of the body. Paul wrote a letter to them pointing out that they had not come to know God's Wisdom by human eloquence. The Greeks, he tells them, seek human wisdom, but he only preaches Christ's Crucified who is the power of God and the Wisdom of God but foolishness for those who do not believe.
The Truth that Christ came to reveal was not natural but supernatural which could only be known and believed with the aid of God's Spirit moving the human heart and the good will of those who came to believe.
Christ in China