“Home-Study Lesson: Acts 13–19 (Unit 19)” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016)
“Home-Study Lesson: Unit 19,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual
On Mars’ Hill in Athens, Paul taught the people about the nature of God. This lesson can help students understand some of Heavenly Father’s characteristics and their relationship with Him.
Invite students to turn to Bible Photographs, no. 29, “Athens,” in the Bible appendix. Point out that this photograph shows one of several temples in Athens that were used for worshipping false gods. Inside the temples were man-made statues of these gods. Outside were altars on which sacrifices to these false gods were offered.
Explain that to protect Paul from a hostile group of Jews in Thessalonica, Church members sent him to Athens (see Acts 17:13–15). In Acts 17:16–21 we read that Paul was deeply concerned about the idolatry in Athens, and he taught in the synagogue and marketplace there. Philosophers then invited Paul to explain his “new doctrine” (Acts 17:19) to the judicial council, which met on Mars’ Hill.
Invite a student to read Acts 17:22–23 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what Paul noticed on one of the Athenian altars.
What did Paul see on one of the Athenian altars?
Explain that Acts 17:22 records that Paul complimented the Athenians by saying they were “too superstitious,” meaning that they were “most religious” or “careful in divine things” (Acts 17:22, footnote a). The altar “to the unknown god” (Acts 17:23) was the Athenians’ attempt to appease an unknowable god or any god who was not known by name. They apparently did not want to offend or neglect any god.
Point out the last sentence of Acts 17:23, and then ask:
Why did Paul make reference to this altar “to the unknown god”? (He used it to introduce the idea of the true God, Heavenly Father, the God they did not know.)
Divide students into pairs or small groups. Invite each group to search Acts 17:24–31 for as many truths as they can find about the God who was unknown to the people of Athens. While they are studying, list each verse number (24–31) on the board.
After sufficient time, invite several students to come to the board to write a truth they found next to the number of the verse in which they found it. (To help students identify a truth in Acts 17:27, you may need to refer them to the Joseph Smith Translation in Acts 17:27, footnote b.)
You might also suggest that students mark each of the truths in their scriptures. Some of the truths they list on the board might include the following:
Verse 24: God created the world.
Verse 25: God gives life to all things.
Verse 26: God governs all life.
Verse 27: If we are willing to seek God, we will find that He is not far from us.
Verse 28: We are God’s offspring.
Verse 29: We were created in God’s image.
Verse 30: God commands everyone to repent.
Verse 31: God will judge us; God will raise all people from the dead.
Invite students to choose one truth on the board that is meaningful to them. Ask a few of them to share which truth they chose and why it is meaningful to them.
Point to the truth in Acts 17:28, “We are God’s offspring.”
What does it mean to be God’s “offspring”? (We are spirit children of Heavenly Father.)
Why is it so important to understand this doctrine? (It can help us recognize our infinite value to Heavenly Father and our potential to become like Him.)
What problems or confusion could arise by not understanding this doctrine?
If possible, provide students with a copy of the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Invite a student to read it aloud. Ask the class to listen or look for why we must remember to see ourselves first and foremost as children of God.
“Be careful how you characterize yourself. Don’t characterize or define yourself by some temporary quality. The only single quality that should characterize us is that we are a son or daughter of God. That fact transcends all other characteristics, including race, occupation, physical characteristics, honors, or even religious affiliation” (“How to Define Yourself,” New Era, June 2013, 48).
Why is it important to remember that we are first and foremost children of God?
Refer to the truth in Acts 17:27, “If we are willing to seek God, we will find that He is not far from us.”
In what ways can we seek to know and come closer to God?
How does understanding our relationship to God affect our desire to seek Him?
When have you felt Heavenly Father near you?
Summarize Acts 17:32–34 by explaining that the Athenians had mixed reactions to Paul’s mention of “the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 17:32). Some of them mocked Paul, others wanted to hear more, and some people believed.
You may want to testify that students can come to know and understand God, even though He is unknown to many people. Invite students to write To the Knowable God on a piece of paper or a card and to list ways in which they will seek and develop a relationship with God. Encourage them to place this paper where it will remind them of their goals.
Explain to students that in the next unit they will find answers to the questions “Who did Paul raise from the dead?” and “What were the circumstances surrounding this person’s death?” Invite them to imagine being falsely arrested, shipwrecked on an island, and then bitten by a snake. Ask what they think they might learn from such trials. Ask students to watch for a king who said to Paul during a trial, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28). Encourage them, as they study the rest of the Acts of the Apostles, to watch for how challenges can help us come closer to the Savior. Tell them that they will also be reading part of a letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to Church members in Rome.