WHY DID PAUL NOT GIVE THE GOSPEL OF GRACE IN ACTS 17?
by Shawn Brasseaux
The Bible says in chapter 17 of Acts:
“ And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timotheus for to come to him with all speed, they departed.  Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.  Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
“ 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 the resurrection.  And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?  For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.  (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
“ Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.  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.  God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;  Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;  And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;  That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:  For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
“ 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.
“ And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.  So Paul departed from among them.  Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”
It is frequently asked why the Apostle Paul did not give a Gospel invitation in this most powerful message recorded in verses 22-31. Just when it was getting good, he closed that sermon quite suddenly. Its abruptness is even more striking when we compare this message to his sermon preached in Acts chapter 13. There, he began to speak of Jesus Christ in verse 23 and continued on and on about His resurrection until the following conclusion was reached in verses 38 and 39: “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
While Paul preached to Jews in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia, he closed with a clear Gospel message (chapter 13). Yet, years later, when preaching to pagan Gentiles in Athens (chapter 17), he makes one quick reference to (a single verse about) the Lord Jesus Christ and His resurrection—and stops short of an invitation!!! He has come under heavy criticism for this, but it is this author’s belief that such censuring is totally unwarranted.
If you compare Paul’s Acts chapter 13 sermon with his chapter 17 sermon, you will see they vary greatly in content. This is primarily because of their different audiences. Whereas the Jews in the synagogue are familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures, the idolatrous and heathen Gentiles in Athens are not. Paul cannot start in or review the Old Testament with the Athenians; he must begin by identifying the one true God of creation. Once the identity of the living God is settled, Paul can proceed to Jesus Christ. Verse 31: “Because he [God] 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.” This “man” is Jesus Christ, about whose resurrection Paul speaks. Then, Paul quits preaching. Why?
The answer lies in verses 32-33: “ And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter.  So Paul departed from among them.” As soon as the audience began to make fun of him, ridiculing the message, Paul stopped. He was interrupted. There was no point in sharing God’s precious words with people who could not care less about them. Paul would have most surely given a Gospel invitation if it his earlier words had been received favorably.
Nonetheless, we should be careful to note the closing verse of the chapter: “ Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” Even though there were Bible mockers in Athens, some people wanted to hear more from the one true God. Paul evidently gave these truth seekers a Gospel invitation privately, off to the side, away from the public setting of Mars’ Hill. These believed on Jesus Christ unto eternal life!