The Unknown Known - Acts 17:16-34

1.      What kinds of questions about God do people face that causes them to search for answers?

·         Why do bad things happen to good people?

·         Does God really love me?

·         Can we really have a personal relationship with God?

·         Is there really a God?

·         Is there really only one God?

·         Does God really care about me?

·         What happens to me after death?

·         If God really cares about me why won’t He solve all my problems?

2.      Who is at the center of most of the questions we have concerning God, our relationship with God and the future? (ME!)

3.      What sources might someone consult to find answers to these questions? (Internet, experts, friends, mentors, counselors; ministers; trusted scholars; lastly—God, Himself; etc.)

Notice the title of today’s study: The Unknown Known. Paul encountered people who were honestly searching but somehow still missing the point!


At the close of last week’s study Paul and his traveling companions, left Philippi and went to Thessalonica. There they had some success sharing the gospel, but once again Jews became jealous and brought them before the local officials with this accusation: “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (17:6).

From there they went to Berea where once again they were attacked by the Jews. To save him from the Jews, Paul was sent to Athens. He told Silas and Timothy to join him there as soon as possible. In Athens Paul went to the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews and witnessed daily in the marketplace. 

As Paul went around the city he saw many pagan idols. Athens was the home of Socrates and Plato, the adopted home of Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno. The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers took Paul to task on his teachings. 

Read Acts 17:16-21

The philosophizers interpreted what Paul was saying as introducing two foreign gods they had never heard of, Jesus and Anastasis—the Greek word for resurrection! So they invited Paul to come to their assembly and share his ideas/beliefs.

Note: The Areopagus was not only a place but the name for the group of philosophers who met there.


Unknown God! Read Acts 17:22-23


1.      What about these people enabled Paul to be able to speak to them about Jesus?

Paul showed quick thinking, agility, and wisdom in seizing this opportunity to share the truth about Jesus!

2.      How did Paul get their interest immediately?

3.      How does the idol “To an Unknown God” in Athens reflect man’s search for meaning? (To avoid overlooking any particular “god” they erected an altar to an unknown god in case they left one out.)

Idolatry, then and now, indicates that people are searching for something more in this life. The need to worship an unknown god proves that man is still searching for something more. Accepting anyone and everyone’s version of “god” is an oxymoron. To accept Yahweh is to exclude all others! And to say you are free to worship what or whomever you choose is to say, “I can create my own god” which makes you god and creator! Foolishness!

4.      What can we do to develop the kind of mind-set that led Paul to seize the unique opportunity to share Christ?

5.      What barriers might we have felt in Paul’s situation?

6.      What misconceptions do people have about life and deities?

7.      How could those misconceptions be used to initiate a conversation about the gospel?


The Known Creator!

As someone Reads Acts 17:24-29 as we all listen for claims Paul made about God.

1.      What claims did Paul make about God? (Creator of all that exists; Lord of heaven and earth; does not live in shrines; needs nothing we can give Him; all men came from one man; God established boundaries and times; we have a need to know Him and He isn’t far from us; we were made in His image.)

2.      What misconceptions about God does Paul address in this passage?

3.      How are those same misconceptions expressed today?

4.      How does a Creator God who wants to have a personal relationship with people compare to the idols the Athenians worshiped? (The idols were made of gold, silver, or stone. Notice they are man-made—man is the creator of his own god.)

5.      Which of the Ten Commandments does this passage bring to mind? (Exodus 20:4)

Paul told them that God is the Creator of all nations from one man. He made the world and everything in it. He provides everything people need. God does not need anything from humans, but Paul explained that God created us so we would seek out a relationship with Him. There is a God-shaped vacuum in every person’s heart.


Judgment by the Son! Read Acts 17:30-31


1.      What key word in verse 30 does Paul use that might have offended those listening? (Those listening considered everyone who did not believe in the idols as they did to be ignorant. But Paul declared God to them so they were no longer ignorant but in need of repentance.)

Repentance by the Athenians would require that they turn from their ignorance and idolatry and submit to the true knowledge of God made clear in the coming of Jesus! Paul extended here a direct invitation to receive Christ, the very reason he launched into a discussion of the unknown god.

For those who have heard the gospel and rejected it, the Day of Judgment would be better for Sodom and Gomorrah than for them (Matt. 10:15).

2.      How does an understanding of God’s righteous character help us understand His judgment? (Jesus is the standard!)

When we talk to unbelievers about the reality of the judgment day, we can point to Jesus’ resurrection as proof that He is alive and will one day judge every person who has ever lived.

3.      In what ways is God’s requirement for repentance fair to everyone?


Split Decision! Read Acts 17:32-34


1.      What reaction did the people have to Paul’s message? (There were skeptics, those interested and some receptive.)

People today have different views about the dead. One of Christianity’s distinctions is a living Lord who died for the sins of the world. Although He died, He arose from the dead and now lives forevermore.

2.      How might a person’s past understanding get in the way of them following Jesus?

As we seek out people in our circles of influence who do not yet know God, we should look for natural connecting points that allow us opportunities to share about who God is and what He has done in our lives.


Summarize and Challenge!

1.      What are some ways people might be religious without being Christian? (Mormonism; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Armstrongism; Unification Church; Christian Science; Unity School of Christianity; Spiritualism; Scientology; New Age; Judaism; Hinduism; Hare Krishna; Transcendental Meditation; Buddhism; Islam; Baha’I World Faith; etc.)

2.      Who do you know that may be religious but not Christian?

3.      How can you be used to share the gospel with them in a loving way?


People are searching for the truth about God and a meaningful life. Ask God to lead you to someone who needs to hear the gospel. Start a conversation with that person. You may want to suggest that the prevalence of idolatry reflects man’s search for meaning and the need for something or someone to worship. Rely on the Holy Spirit to lead you and to speak to them as you share Christ!