This past month, in reading Acts 17 I noticed something different. I saw that just before the sermon on Mars Hill, the scripture says that Paul was conversing in the marketplace with the Stoics and Epicureans. Curious, I looked up the belief systems of the two groups mentioned.

  1. Epicureans' goal was a happy and content life, here and now. They rejected superstitious fear of the gods, and notions of an afterlife. [1]
  2. Stoics believed that nature was controlled by divine reason, and that wise men live in harmony with nature (this harmonious living is virtue, and the opposite is the only evil). Everything else (e.g., pain, poverty, and death) is indifferent, and pleasure is not a virtue to be sought. [2]

Looking at these two points of view, it seems to me that they are the simplified encapsulation of major Eastern (e.g., Stoics) and Western (e.g., Epicurean) thought. Reading Acts 17 in light of this, I could see that Paul seemed to address the Stoic reasoning strongly, and that the Mars Hill sermon could be a Biblical outline on how to reach people living in the East.

I later conducted a more detailed study of the elements of the Mars Hill sermon. As I summarized the main points of interest, I noticed that there are a few things notably unmentioned in this sermon:

  • Jesus' teachings and miracles
  • Jesus' death
  • Prophecies of Jesus' coming

These things are in Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost, but not in in the Mars Hill sermon.

As I went through Paul's points, I realized with greater and greater clarity that the sermon was almost entirely addressed to the Stoics, which brought up the glaring question: why did Paul not address the Epicureans more? Were there more Stoics? Does the Epicurean philosophy lend itself to harder hearts? In discussing this with Peter, his answer seemed the most likely: since the Epicureans didn't believe in a resurrection, Paul didn't bother arguing that point with them. This seems to be confirmed by the story's progression in scripture: Paul went with the bunch which wouldn't begin to sneer (v.32) when he talked about Jesus' resurrection (v. 31).

As Paul's sermon highlights, the way that we need to address Eastern-thinking people is much different than the way we approach people in the West. We're still only beginning to scratch the surface of this. I'm realizing more and more how completely I need to throw out the "rulebook" that I thought was normative for anywhere. For instance, the first verses that Japanese Christians often quote to non-Christians aren't John 3:16 or Romans 3:23/6:23, but verses from Ecclesiastes.

I'm not saying that people in the East shouldn't be told about Jesus' teachings, miracles, or the reason for His death. They absolutely should be told these things. It's just interesting to see which points are emphasized first. I think that it will take me a long time to shed my previous conceptions of what "should" be in a preliminary message introducing people to Jesus. It's fascinating, though, to learn about these differences.

(Picture source)


[1] Religion Facts. "Epicureanism." Cited OCtober 16 2014. URL:

[2] New World Encyclopedia. "Stoicism." Cited October 16 2014. URL: