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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Areopagite, Areopagus

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In Acts 17:34 the title ‘the Areopagite’ is given to one Dionysius, a convert to the Christian faith at Athens, implying that he was a member of the council of the Areopagus.

Areopagus (Acts 17:19 Authorized Version and Revised Version ; Acts 17:22 Authorized Version ‘Mars’ Hill,’ Revised Version ‘Areopagus’; the Revised Version is correct in rendering ‘Areopagus’ in both places, as it preserves the ambiguity of the original).-(a) The name denominated a rocky eminence N.W. of the Acropolis at Athens, which was famous in the history of the city. Between the hill and the Acropolis was a narrow declivity, now largely filled in. On the N.E. the rock is precipitous, and at the foot of the precipice the worship of the propitiated Furies as the Eumenides was carried on, so that the locality was invested with awesome associations. It is approached from the agora, or market-place, by an old, worn stairway of sixteen steps, and upon the top can still be seen the rough, rock-hewn benches, forming three sides of a square, upon which the court eat in the open air, in order that the judges should not be under the same roof as the accused.-(b) The expression was also used of the court itself (Cicero, ad Att. i. 14. 5; de Nat. Deor, ii. 74; Rep. i. 27). From time immemorial this court held its meetings on the hill in question, and was at once the mot ancient and most revered tribunal in the city. In ancient times it had supreme authority in both criminal and religious matters, and its influence, ever tending to become wider, affected laws and offices, education and morality. It thus fulfilled the functions of both court and council. Pericles and his friend Ephialtes (circa, about 460 b.c.) set themselves to limit the power of the court (Aristotle, Const. Ath. 25), and it became largely a criminal court, while religious matters seem to have been controlled, at least in part, by the King Archon. But the reforms of Ephialtes mainly concerned interference in public affairs; and the statements of aeschylus in the tragedy Eumenides, which appeared at the time in defence of the court, appear to be exaggerated. In any case, in the Roman period it regained its former powers (Cicero, ad Fam. xiii. 1. 5; de Nat. Deor. ii. 74). As to the origin of the court, according to popular legend Ares was called before a court of the twelve gods to answer for the murder of Halirrhotius (Paus. i. xxviii. 5), but aeschylus (Eum. 685ff.) attributes its foundation to Athene.

The questions which arise out of the narrative of Acts are these: Was St. Paul taken before the council or to the hill? Or did he appear before the council sitting in the traditional place? Was he in any sense on trial?

The lung Archon held his meetings in the Stoa Basileios, and it was there that Socrates had been arraigned on a matter similar to that which exercised the minds of the philosophers in the case before us. It seems probable that this Stoa became identified with the discussion of religious questions, and that, when the council of the Areopagus regained its full powers, it held its meetings here, reserving its old judgment-seat for cases of murder (so Curtius, Gesammelte Abhandlungen, Berlin, 1894, ii. 528f., Stadtgesch. von Athen, do. 1891, p. 262f.; but Harnack, Acts of the Apostles, Lond. and N.Y., 1909, p. 108, remarks: ‘Curtius’ explanation seems to me untenable’; see also Conybeare, in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) i. 144). The whole picture, indeed, is in favour of this view. There is no reason why the Stoics and Epicureans should have carried away the Apostle to an isolated spot. further, Ramsay truly remarks: ‘The Athenians were, in many respects, flippant; but their flippancy was combined with an intense pride in the national dignity and the historic glory of the city, which would have revolted at such an insult as that this stranger should harangue them about his foreign deities on the spot where the Athenian elders had judged the god Ares and the hero Orestes’ (St. Paul the Traveller, Lond. 1895, p. 244). Moreover, the Apostle’s speech was not a philosophical disquisition but rather a popular oration, suited to the general populace of idle Athenians and dilettante Roman youths whose education was not considered complete until they had spent some time in the purlieus of the ancient university. If the council happened to be sitting, as was evidently the case, it was a most natural impulse to hurry the newcomer, who ‘babbled’ apparently of two new deities, Jesus and ‘Resurrection’ (for so they would understand him), to its meeting-place, that the question might be settled as to whether or not he was to be allowed to continue. Yet it can hardly be said that the proceedings were even remotely connected with a judicial inquiry. It was no anakrisis, or preliminary investigation, though the philosophers may have hoped that something of the sort would be the outcome. It is of little importance whether the phrase ‘they took him and brought him’ implies friendly compulsion or inimical intent. The feelings or the listeners would be very mixed, and they would quite naturally be excited by the curious message of the new preacher. The professing teachers were all interested in new ideas and yet resented unwarranted intrusion. The council was in the habit of making pronouncements on the subject of new religious cycles of thought, and it was no doubt felt that, if their attention was drawn to the subject, official proceedings would follow. It is evident that there was much in the address of St. Paul that awoke sympathy in his audience. One member of the council, at least, was converted, to wit, Dionysius. There may have been others. But the general effect produced by the mention of the Resurrection was contempt. A few were ready to hear more on the subject, possibly a minority suggested a more formal examination; but the result of the hearing, as of the visit, outwardly and visibly, was failure. The council of the Areopagus made judicial procedure impossible, by refusing to treat the matter seriously, and the Apostle left them, a disappointed, and no doubt a somewhat irritated man.

Literature,-Besides the authors quoted, see W. M. Ramsay, in Expositor, 5th ser. ii. [1895] 209, 261, also x. [1899]; E. Renan, St. Paul, Eng. translation 1890, p. 193f., A. C. McGiffert, History of the Apostolic Age, Edinburgh, 1897, p. 257ff.; Encyclopaedia Britannica 9, article ‘Areopagus’; R. J. Knowling, in Expositor’s Greek Testament ii. [London, 1900] 368f.

F. W. Worsley.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Areopagite, Areopagus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/areopagite-areopagus.html. 1906-1918.

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