High above Paul, as he stood in the middle of Mars' Hill over nineteen centuries ago, rose the Parthenon, crowning the Acropolis, central hill of ancient Athens. This magnificent structure, with its great white marble columns and its frieze painted in red and blue, was considered then, as indeed by many today, the most perfect monument of Greek art. For almost five hundred years it had dominated not only the landscape, but the thinking of the people; for the Parthenon was a pagan temple, housing a colossal statue, made of ivory and gold, of Athena, the patron goddess of Athens.
Though the temple was beautiful, the statue of the goddess imposing, and the system of her worship time-honored, Paul was not favorably impressed by them or by the many other temples and altars in the city. He was not awed by the intellectuality of his hearers as he spoke to the scholars and philosophers of Athens who had gathered in the shadow of the Parthenon to hear him.
In his famous speech, recorded in the seventeenth chapter of Acts, Paul boldly stated the spiritual truths which repudiated the materialism of Athens. God, the creator of all that really exists, "dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men's hands." Thus did Paul refute pantheism—the belief that God, who is Spirit, is in or of matter—and also paganism—the belief that God can be worshiped or served through matter.