From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [1]

("Mars' Hill".) A rocky eminence in Athens, separated from the W. of the Acropolis by a raised valley, above which it rises sixty feet. Mythology made it the scene of the god Mars' trim before the gods, at Poseidon's accusation, for murdering the son of the latter, Halirrhotius. The most venerable of all the Athenian courts, consisting of all exarchons of blameless life. It was the Upper Council, to distinguish it from the five hundred, who met in the valley below. It met on the S.E. top of the rock. Sixteen stone steps in the rock still exist, leading from below to Mars' hill, and directly above is a bench of stones cut in the rock facing S., and forming three sides of a quadrangle. Here the judges sat, in criminal and religious cases, in the open air.

The accuser and accused had two rude blocks, still to be seen, one on the E., the other on the W. side, assigned them. Paul, "daily disputing" in the market ( Agora ), which lay between the Areopagus, the Acropolis, the Pnyx (the place of political assemblies), and the Museum, attracted the notice of "certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics." They brought him up from below, probably by the steps already described, and, seated on the benches, heard from him the memorable address, so happily adapted in its uncompromising faithfulness, as well as scholarlike allusions, to the learned auditory, recorded in Acts 17. Paul's intense earnestness strikingly contrasts with their frivolous dilettantism.

With the temple of Mars near, the Parthenon of Minerva facing him, and the sanctuary of the Eumenides just below him, the beautiful temple of Theseus, the national hero (still remaining) in view, what divine power he needed to nerve him to declare, "God that made the world ... dwelleth not in temples made with hands"; and again in the midst of the exquisitely chiseled statues in front, crowning the Acropolis, Minerva in bronze as the armed champion of Athens, and on every side a succession of lesser images, to reason, "Forasmuch as we are the offspring of God" (Which He Confirms By Quoting His Fellow Countryman Aratus' Poem, 'We Are His Offspring') , we ought not to think that the Godhead is like gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art or man's device."

Yet he does not begin by attacking their national worship, but draws them gently away from their ignorant worship of the Deity under many idols to the one true God, "Whom ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you." In opposition to the Greek boast of a distinct origin from that of the barbarians; he says, "God hath made of one blood all nations to dwell on all the face of the earth"; and ends with announcing the coming judgment by the Lord Jesus.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [2]

The Areopagus was an ancient and highly respected council of philosophers in Athens. The name came from the hill in Athens where the council originally met (commonly known as Mars Hill), though in New Testament times the council met in the commercial area of the town itself. The council consisted of philosophers from the two main schools of Greek philosophy, the Epicureans and the Stoics (see Epicureans ; Stoics ).

Athens was a famous centre of learning where people publicly discussed philosophy, religion and politics ( Acts 17:21). The Areopagus was responsible for the orderly conduct of all public lecturing in Athens. When some of its members heard Paul preaching in the public places of the city, they invited him to give the Areopagus an account of his religion. From what they had heard, they thought he was announcing two new gods, whose names were Jesus’ and Resurrection’ ( Acts 17:16-20).

Paul explained to the Areopagus the nature of the God they did not know. This God was the creator and controller of the universe, and the judge of all people everywhere. The death and resurrection of Jesus made forgiveness of sins available to all, but it also guaranteed judgment for those who refused to repent ( Acts 17:22-31). Paul won the attention of the council with an explanation of the gospel that contained specific points relating to Epicurean and Stoic beliefs; but on the whole both groups rejected his teaching about the resurrection. There were a few, however, who believed ( Acts 17:32-34).

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [3]

The hill of Mars, the seat of the ancient and venerable supreme court of Athens, called the Areopagites,  Acts 17:19-34 . It was composed entirely of ex-archons, of grave and blameless character, and their wise and just decisions made it famous far beyond the bounds of Greece. Their numbers and authority varied greatly from age to age. They held their sessions by night. They took cognizance of murders, impieties, and immoralities; punished vices of all kinds, idleness included; rewarded or assisted the virtuous; and were peculiarly attentive to blasphemies against the gods, and to the performance of the sacred mysteries. The case of Paul, therefore, would naturally come before them, for he sought to subvert their whole system of idolatry, and establish Christianity in its place. The Bible narrative, however, rather describes an informal popular movement. Having heard Paul discoursing from day to day in the market place, the philosophic and inquisitive Athenians took him one day up into the adjacent hill, for a more full and quiet exposition of his doctrine. The stone seats of the Areopagus lay open to the sky; in the court stood Epicureans, Stoics, etc.; around them spread the city, full of idolaters and their temples; and little south-east rose the steep height of the Acropolis, on whose level summit were crowded more and richer idolatrous structures than on any other equal space in the world. Amid this scene, Paul exhibited the sin and folly of idol-worship with such boldness and power, that none could refute him, and some were converted.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [4]

Areopagus ( Ăr-E- Ŏp'A-Gŭs, or Âre-Ŏp'A-Gûs ), Mars' Hill. A narrow naked ridge of limestone rock at Athens, sloping upwards from the north and terminating in an abrupt precipice on the south, 50 or 60 feet above a valley which divides it from the west end of the Acropolis. It had its name from the legend that Mars (Ares), the god of war, was tried here by the other gods on a charge of murder. Here sat the court or council of the Areopagus, a most ancient and venerable tribunal, celebrated through Greece. It examined criminal charges, as murder, arson, wounding; but the lawgiver Solon gave it also political powers. Those who had held the office of archon were members of this court, and they sat for life, unless guilty of some crime. The Areopagus was respected under the Roman dominion, and existed in the empire. Here it was that Paul made his memorable address,  Acts 17:19-34; one of the council, persuaded by it or more fully instructed afterwards, becoming a Christian. But it does not appear that the apostle was, properly speaking, tried; rather he was placed on this spot in order that what he had to say might be more readily heard by the multitude. Sixteen stone steps from the agora (market) yet exist, and the stone seats forming three sides of a quadrangle looking southwards, also two blocks, appropriated, it is believed, to the accuser and the criminal.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [5]

AREOPAGUS . This is a compound name, which means ‘Hill of Ares,’ that is, Hill sacred to (or connected with) Ares, the Greek god of war, who corresponded to the Latin Mars. The hill referred to is a bare, shapeless mass of rock in Athens, about 380 feet high. It is due west of the Acropolis, and separated from it only by a ridge. From the earliest times known to us this hill was associated with murder trials, and a court known as the ‘Council from the Areopagus’ met on or near it to try such cases. In the account in Acts (  Acts 17:19;   Acts 17:22 ) it is not the hill, but the ‘Council’ itself that is referred to, the name of the hill being often used for the Council which met there. In Roman times the Council had power to appoint lecturers at Athens, and St. Paul appears before them to have his aptitude tested. The proceedings were audible to the surrounding crowd. St. Paul’s claim was rejected, and only one member of the Council, Dionysius ‘the Areopagite ’ (  Acts 17:34 ), was convinced by his teaching.

A. Souter.

King James Dictionary [6]

AREOP'AGUS, n. Gr. Mars, and hills.

A sovereign tribunal at Athens, famous for the justice and impartiality of its decisions. It was originally held on a hill in the city but afterward removed to the Royal Portico, an open square, where the judges sat in the open air, inclosed by a cord. Their sessions were in the night, that they might not be diverted by objects of sight, or influenced by the presence and action of the speakers. By a law of Solon, no person could be a member of this tribunal, until he had been archon or chief magistrate. This court took cognizance of high crimes, impiety and immorality, and watched over the laws and the public treasury.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [7]

the high court at Athens, famed for the justice of its decisions; and so called, because it sat on a hill of the same name, or in the suburbs of the city, dedicated to Mars, the god of war, as the city was to Minerva, his sister. St. Paul,  Acts 17:19 , &c, having preached at Athens, was carried before the Areopagites, as "a setter forth of strange gods." On this occasion he delivered that fine sermon which is in substance recorded in Acts 17. Dionysius, one of the judges, was converted; and the Apostle was dismissed without any farther trouble.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [8]

Areop'agus. See Mars' Hill .

Easton's Bible Dictionary [9]

On this hill of Mars (Gr. Ares) Paul delivered his memorable address to the "men of Athens" ( Acts 17:22-31 ).

Webster's Dictionary [10]

(n.) The highest judicial court at Athens. Its sessions were held on Mars' Hill. Hence, any high court or tribunal

Holman Bible Dictionary [11]

 Acts 17:19

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [12]

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [13]

Areop′agus, an Anglicized form of the original words, signifying in reference to place, Mars Hill, but in reference to persons, the Council, which was held on the hill. The Council was also termed the Council on Mars Hill; sometimes the Upper Council, from the elevated position where it was held; and sometimes simply, but emphatically, the Council: but it retained, till a late period, the original designation of Mars Hill. The place and the Council are topics of interest to the Biblical student, chiefly from their being the scene of the interesting narrative and sublime discourse found in Acts 17, where it appears that the apostle Paul, feeling himself moved, by the evidences of idolatry with which the city of Athens was crowded, to preach Jesus and the resurrection, both in the Jewish synagogues and in the market place, was set upon by certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, and led to the Areopagus, in order that they might learn from him the meaning and design of his new doctrine. Whether or not the Apostle was criminally arraigned, as a setter forth of strange gods, before the tribunal which held its sittings on the hill, may be considered as undetermined, though the balance of evidence seems to incline to the affirmative. Whichever view on this point is adopted, the dignified, temperate, and high-minded bearing of Paul under the peculiar circumstances in which he was placed are worthy of high admiration, and will appear the more striking the more the associations are known and weighed which covered and surrounded the spot where he stood. Nor does his eloquent discourse appear to have been without good effect; for though some mocked, and some procrastinated, yet others believed, among whom was a member of the Council, 'Dionysius, the Areopagite.'

The court of Areopagus was one of the oldest and most honored, not only in Athens, but in the whole of Greece, and, indeed, in the ancient world. Through a long succession of centuries, it preserved its existence amid changes corresponding with those which the state underwent, till at least the age of the Caesars.

Its origin ascends back into the darkest mythical period. From the first its constitution was essentially aristocratic; a character which to some extent it retained even after the democratic reforms which Solon introduced into the Athenian constitution. Following the political tendencies of the state, the Areopagus became in process of time less and less aristocratical, and parted piecemeal with most of its important functions. First its political power was taken away, then its jurisdiction in cases of murder, and even its moral influence gradually departed. During the sway of the Thirty Tyrants its power, or rather its political existence, was destroyed. On their overthrow it recovered some consideration, and the oversight of the execution of the laws was restored to it by an express decree. The precise time when it ceased to exist cannot be determined; but evidence is not wanting to show that in later periods its members ceased to be uniformly characterized by blameless morals.

It is not easy to give a correct summary of its several functions, as the classic writers are not agreed in their statements, and the jurisdiction of the court varied, as has been seen, with times and circumstances. They have, however, been divided into six general classes: I. Its judicial function; II. Its political; III. Its police function; IV. Its religious; V. Its educational; and VI. (only partially) Its financial.

Passing by certain functions, such as acting as a court of appeal, and of general supervision, which under special circumstances, and when empowered by the people, the Areopagus from time to time discharged, we will say a few words in explanation of the points already named, giving a less restricted space to those which concern its moral and religious influence. Its judicial function embraced trials for murder and manslaughter, and was the oldest and most peculiar sphere of its activity. The indictment was brought by the second or king-archon, whose duties were for the most part of a religious nature. Then followed the oath of both parties, accompanied by solemn appeals to the gods. After this the accuser and the accused had the option of making a speech, which, however, they were obliged to keep free from all extraneous matter, as well as from mere rhetorical ornaments. After the first speech, the accused was permitted to go into voluntary banishment, if he had no reason to expect a favorable issue. Theft, poisoning, wounding, incendiarism, and treason, belonged also to this department of jurisdiction in the court of the Areopagus. Its political function consisted in the constant watch which it kept over the legal condition of the state, acting as overseer and guardian of the laws.

Its police function also made it a protector and upholder of the institutions and laws. In this character the Areopagus had jurisdiction over novelties in religion, in worship, in customs, in everything that departed from the traditionary and established usages and modes of thought, which a regard to their ancestors endeared to the nation. The members of the court had a right to take oversight of festive meetings in private houses. In ancient times they fixed the number of the guests, and determined the style of the entertainment. If a person had no obvious means of subsisting, or was known to live in idleness, he was liable to an action before the Areopagus; if condemned three times, he was punished with the loss of his civil rights. In later times the court possessed the right of giving permission to teachers (philosophers and rhetoricians) to establish themselves and pursue their profession in the city.

Its strictly religious jurisdiction extended itself over the public creed, worship, and sacrifices, embracing generally everything which could come under the denomination of sacred things. It was its special duty to see that the religion of the state was kept pure from all foreign elements. The accusation of impiety—the vagueness of which admitted almost any charge connected with religious innovations—belonged in a special manner to this tribunal. The freethinking poet Euripides stood in fear of, and was restrained by, the Areopagus. Its proceeding in such cases was sometimes rather of an admonitory than punitive character.

Not less influential was its moral and educational power. Isocrates speaks of the care which it took of good manners and good order. Quintilian relates that the Areopagus condemned a boy for plucking out the eyes of a quail—a proceeding which has been both misunderstood and misrepresented, but which its original narrator approved, assigning no insufficient reason, namely, that the act was a sign of a cruel disposition, likely in advanced life to lead to baneful actions. The court exercised a salutary influence in general over the Athenian youth, their educators and their education.

Its financial position is not well understood; most probably it varied more than any other part of its administration with the changes which the constitution of the city underwent. It may suffice to mention, that in the Persian war the Areopagus had the merit of completing the number of men required for the fleet, by paying eight drachmæ to each.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [14]

ar - ē̇ - op´a - gus ( Ἄρειος πάγος , Áreios págos  ;  Acts 17:19 ,  Acts 17:22 . Mars' Hill,  Acts 17:22 the King James Version): A sort of spur jutting out from the western end of the Acropolis and separated from it by a very short saddle. Traces of old steps cut in the rock are still to be seen. Underneath are deep grottoes, once the home of the Eumenides (Furies). On the flat surface of the summit are signs still visible of a smoothing of the stone for seats. Directly below to the North was the old Athenian agora, or market-place. To the East, on the descent from the Acropolis, could be seen in antiquity a small semicircular platform - the orchestra - from which rose the precipitous rock of the citadel. Here the booksellers kept their stalls; here the work of Anaxagoras could be bought for a drachma; from here his physical philosophy was disseminated, then, through Euripides, the poetic associate of Socrates and the sophists, leavened the drama, and finally reached the people of Athens. Then came the Stoics and Epicureans who taught philosophy and religion as a system, not as a faith, and spent their time in searching out some new thing in creed and dogma and opinion. Five centuries earlier Socrates was brought to this very Areopagus to face the charges of his accusers. To this same spot the apostle Paul came almost five hundred years after 399 bc, when the Attic martyr was executed, with the same earnestness, the same deep-rooted convictions, and with even greater ardor, to meet the philosophers of fashion. The Athenian guides will show you the exact place where the apostle stood, and in what direction he faced when he addressed his audience. No city has ever seen such a forest of statues as studded the market-place, the streets and the sides and summit of the Acropolis of Athens. A large part of this wealth of art was in full view of the speaker, and the apostle naturally made this extraordinary display of votive statues and offerings the starting-point of his address. He finds the Athenians extremely religious. He had found an altar to a god unknown. Then he develops theme of the great and only God, not from the Hebrew, but from the Greek, the Stoic point of view. His audiences consisted, on the one hand, of the advocates of prudence as the means, and pleasure as the end (the Epicureans); on the other, of the advocates of duty, of living in harmony with the intelligence which rules the world for good. He frankly expresses his sympathy with the nobler principles of the Stoic doctrine. But neither Stoic nor Epicurean could believe the declarations of the apostle: the latter believed death to be the end of all things, the former thought that the soul at death was absorbed again into that from which it sprang. Both understood Paul as proclaiming to them in Jesus and Anástasis ("resurrection") some new deities. When they finally ascertained that Jesus was ordained by God to judge the world, and that Anastasis was merely the resurrection of the dead, they were disappointed. Some scoffed, others departed, doubtless with the feeling that they had already given audience too long to such a fanatic.

The Areopagus, or Hill of Ares, was the ancient seat of the court of the same name, the establishment of which leads us far back into the mythical period long before the dawn of history. This court exercised the right of capital punishment. In 594 bc the jurisdiction in criminal cases was given to the archons who had discharged the duties of their office well and honorably, consequently to the noblest, richest and most distinguished citizens of Athens. The Areopagus saw that the laws in force were observed and executed by the properly constituted authorities; it could bring officials to trial for their acts while in office, even raise objections to all resolutions of the Council and of the General Assembly, if the court perceived a danger to the state, or subversion of the constitution. The Areopagus also protected the worship of the gods, the sanctuaries and sacred festivals, and the olive trees of Athens; and it supervised the religious sentiments of the people, the moral conduct of the citizens, as well as the education of the youth. Without waiting for a formal accusation the Areopagus could summon any citizen to court, examine, convict and punish him. Under unusual circumstances full powers could be granted by the people to this body for the conduct of various affairs of state; when the safety of the city was menaced, the court acted even without waiting for full power to be conferred upon it. The tenure of office was for life, and the number of members without restriction. The court sat at night at the end of each month and for three nights in succession. The place of meeting was a simple house, built of clay, which was still to be seen in the time of Vitruvius. The Areopagus, hallowed by the sacred traditions of the past, a dignified and august body, was independent of and uninfluenced by the wavering discordant multitude, and was not affected by the ever-changing public opinion. Conservative almost to a fault, it did the state good service by holding in check the too rash and radical younger spirits. When the democratic party came to power, after Cimon's banishment, one of its first acts was to limit the powers of the Areopagus. By the law of Ephialtes in 460 the court lost practically all jurisdiction. The supervision of the government was transferred to the nomophulakes (law-guardians). At the end of the Peloponnesian war, however, in 403 its old rights were restored. The court remained in existence down to the time of the emperors. From  Acts 17:19 ,  Acts 17:22 we learn that it existed in the time of Claudius. One of its members was converted to the Christian faith (  Acts 17:34 ). It was probably abolished by Vespasian.

As to whether Paul was "forcibly apprehended and formally tried," see Conybeare and Howson, The Life and Epistles of Paul , chapter x, and The Expositor , 5th series, II, 209 f, 261 f (Ramsay).


P. W. Forchhammer, De Areopago (Kiel, 1828); Philippi, Der A. und die Epheten (Leipzig, 1874); Lange, Die Epheten und der A. vor Solon (Leipzig, 1874).