We were sitting in a little sidewalk cafe north of Athens. In Sounion, which perches on the tip of the cape southeast of Athens, are the ruins of the once-lovely temple dedicated to the sea god Poseidon, and we wanted to see them. The apostle Paul must have sailed past this cape on his second missionary journey and looked up to see the tall white columns gracing the top.

Sidewalk cafes are friendlier and more informal than tourist hotels, and this one was no exception. Sitting at a neighboring table was a genial English couple, who struck up a conversation about all they had seen. “You know,” they commented, “one wonders, after traveling around this place, if a man named Paul didn’t live here after all.”

The mind goes back in time 2,000 years to an ancient Athens that was smaller and more beautiful than the Athens of today. It was “a provincial university city, the home of art treasures” (Otto F. A. Meinardus in Paul in Greece). It was dominated by the Acropolis with its magnificent temples, the largest and most magnificent being the famous Parthenon. These buildings had already been standing for several hundred years when Paul arrived.

An ancient proverb declared that there were more gods in Athens than men, and wherever the apostle looked there were gods—in temples, in niches, on pedestals, on street corners. Paul even discovered a temple to the unknown god.

Seeing the city wholly given over to idolatry, Paul’s spirit was “exasperated” (NEB). He disputed with the religious leaders, with devout persons, with those he met in the marketplace. Then he took on certain philosophers of the Epicureans and the Stoics. Some of them derisively called him a babbler, or in Greek, a spermologos—literally a “seed-picker”—an Athenian slang ...

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