Thursday, September 13, 2007


Yesterday our travel group enjoyed an eight-hour tour of Corinth and Athens. Corinth is about 60 miles from the port, but it took us two hours because the Athens traffic is worse that LBJ Freeway at rush hour. We crossed the Corinthian Canal that was completed in 1893. This four-mile long canal connects the Aegean Sea with the Ionian Sea, saving ships the 400 miles it used to take to sail around the Peloponnesus. Nero attempted to dig it in 60 A.D., but his “engineers” told him that if the two seas were connected the Ionian Sea would drain into the Aegean Sea, flooding all of Greece (can you say “sea level?”)

When we arrived in ancient Corinth we walked through the excavations of this amazing city. Corinth was the site of the Temple of Apollos and the center of worship for the fertility goddess Aphrodite. It is not far from the Ionian Sea, and it is estimated that there were 3,000 temple prostitutes living there. These prostitutes were the priestesses of Aphrodite, and all the worship acts were led by the older female priestesses. The prostitutes could be identified because they would wear sandals with a word written on the bottom of the sandal that said, “follow me.” They would flash the bottom of the sandal to sailors and other visitors to lure them into their depraved worship acts. Corinth was so wicked that it was common throughout the Roman Empire to talk about someone being “Corinthianized” when they became thoroughly corrupt.

It was in this erotic culture that the Apostle Paul introduced the revolutionary concept that agape (1 Cor 13) was the highest and purest love.

Not far away across the inlet of the sea you can see where the Oracle of Delphi was located. This was a “possessed” woman who went into a trance and babbled supposedly giving the future to generals and officials who visited her. When you understand this historical background, it’s easier to understand why Paul wrote so strongly to the church at Corinth about women being silent in the church. He didn’t want Christian worship to be confused with fertility worship. The reason he carefully regulated the gift of speaking in tongues was because of the unruly influence of the oracle at Delphi. He wrote that God is not the author of confusion and that everything in the church should be done decently and in order.

Paul spent almost 18 months here working in a tent-making business with Aquilla and Priscilla. Every customer became a potential believer. Paul was rejected by the members of the Jewish synagogue, but Crispus, the president of the synagogue became a believer.

On our tour, we stood in front of the remains of the raised platform that was called a bema. This was the judgment seat, where the proconsul would sit and judge cases and pass out awards. The jealous Jews in Corinth brought Paul before the proconsul Gallio and charged him with treason. Gallio declared Paul not-guilty. Every citizen of Corinth could picture this setting when Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat (bema) of Christ.” (2 Cor 5:10)
Corinth is in ruins, but, Athens is a bustling city. The population of Greece is about 11 Million and 5 Million of those live in the vicinity of Athens. In Acts 17 Paul made his defense before the 12 judges who comprised the Areopagus (Acts 17:22). This is often called his “sermon at Mars Hill.” Mars is the Latin name of the Greek god, Ares, but the translation isn’t the best because it wasn’t a place as much as an official council. It was more than a sermon; it was Paul’s defense to the charge of “bringing strange ideas” to Athens. Remember, Socrates had been condemned to death by the Areopgaus for his “strange ideas” and forced to drink hemlock.

To appreciate Paul’s intelligence take a moment and read Paul’s address in Acts 17:22-31.

Paul’s defense is a masterpiece of erudition and philosophical reasoning. In his brief address, he makes direct or indirect references to: (1) Eumenides of Aeschylus; (2) Plato’s Tenth Book of the Republic; (3) Epimenides the Cretan poet; (4) Aratus the Cilician: and (5) Euripides the Greek philosopher.

Joke: Did you hear about the Greek guy that took a pair of torn trousers into an alternation shop? He showed the trousers to the owner and asked, “Eumenides?” The owner replied, “Euripides?” (You have to read it out loud to get it…… Okay, for all you Aggies or Crimson Tide fans, Eumenides is pronounced “you meni dees” and Euripdes is pronounced “you rip a dees”) Sorry, I can’t help it – I have groaner’s disease.

Paul was “becoming all things to all men” in order to win some. He could talk to a tent customer, a solider, or a woman dying cloth beside the river (Lydia in Phillipi). But he could also hang in there with the most astute minds of that time – members of the Areopagus. He began by complimenting them on being very religious. Then he made reference to the “unknown God” and proceeded to explain that the unknown God was Jesus.

Paul said, “We should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man’s design and skill,” (Acts 17:29). As he spoke these words, he certainly gestured behind him to the massive Parthenon shining above on the Acropolis. Inside the temple was a 40-foot gold statue of the matron goddess of Athens, Athena.

Paul’s speech was interrupted with sarcastic laughter when he mentioned the resurrection of Jesus. They said, “We will hear you later on this matter.” That was a polite dismissal. But one of the judges, Dionysius, became a believer. Basically, Athens, the intellectual capital of the ancient world, rejected Paul and his message. Paul had to leave quickly. Little did he know that his short speech would be remembered and that entire books would be written about it. Today it stands alongside the Funeral Oration of Pericles and the Philippics of Demosthenes as one of the greatest philosophical speeches of the Greek era.

FAST FORWARD: Almost 20 Centuries have passed. Greece finally emerged from the Islamic Turkish regime after WWI, and since 1974 it has once again become a sovereign state with its own national flag. The actual name of the country is NOT Greece, by the way; it’s the Hellenic Republic. Two thousand years ago, the city leaders laughed Paul out of court when he mentioned the resurrection of Jesus, but today, the national flag that flies over the ruins of the Parthenon is lowered to half-mast each Good Friday, and then raised on Easter Sunday morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

God ALWAYS has the last word!