The Apostle Paul received a lot of negative publicity because of his gospel message. When Paul arrived at Athens, he immediately encountered philosophers that wanted to discredit him. It says in Acts 17:18, “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods? because he preached unto them Jesus, and his resurrection.” Paul criticized the Athenians for being too superstitious (Acts 17:22) and said to them, “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23).
Paul pointed out that the Athenians had become so religious that they had lost sight of the one true God that they really needed to focus their attention on. In his Mars Hill message, Paul described the “God that made the world and all things therein” (Acts 17:24) and said, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Paul’s quotation of a familiar Greek poet was probably meant to bridge the gap between the physical and spiritual realms that the Athenians seemed to be caught up in. The Athenians may have been trying to connect with the God of the Universe, but didn’t know how to reach him. Paul briefly explained God’s plan of salvation to them this way:
Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. (Acts 17:29-31)
Paul’s reference to Jesus’ resurrection without mentioning his name may have been his way of peaking the curiosity of the Athenians that were listening to him preach. It says in Acts 17:32, “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.” It’s possible that Jesus’ name had become a hot button that caused people to shut down and immediately tune Paul out. Although Paul didn’t water down his message, he might have been concerned about the negative publicity he had received at Philippi and Thessalonica. Rather than stay in Athens and continue to preach his gospel message, it says in Acts 17:33, “So Paul departed from among them.” Paul may have done this in order to leave the door open so he could return to Athens later and have a better chance of reaching the people that were open to hearing about Jesus’ gift of salvation.