Ancient Greece memorialized their heroes by erecting statues of gods and goddesses throughout cities like Athens. When visitors passed through the streets, these monuments served as a reminder of their importance within the Greek culture. During a first century mission trip to this region, the apostle Paul took some time to explore before Silas and Timothy arrived. While waiting for his friends, Paul became overwhelmed by the images he observed. Despite being offended, Paul desperately sought to engage the citizens of Greece, searching for something, anything they shared in common.
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols, Acts 17:16.
Although Paul does not give an actual number of statues that he witnessed, it appears to be in the hundreds. As a former Pharisee, the zealot within him immediately thinks of these statues as idols, breaking the second commandment within the Torah, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them,” Exodus 20:4. However, the teaching of Jesus moved Paul to put a positive spin on what he saw, calling a crowd of Greeks religious. This compliment opens the door to allow Paul to introduce philosophers to the unknown God based upon an altar erected by a former citizen.
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you,” Acts 17:22-23.
Sure, every culture possesses something that is offensive. Whether this is a document, religious background or statue, history is meant to educate individuals, not divide citizens. The United States of America was founded on the principle of free speech earning the nickname back in the 1970’s as the great American melting pot. The first amendment of the Bill of Rights declares Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. This is what makes America great. However, if the citizens of this country allow government officials to destroy or remove historic statues of the past, there were will nothing to warn us from making the same mistakes. May the events of Charlottesville in August of 2017 help people see the real value of a statue.
by Jay Mankus