Question: "Who was Athenagoras of Athens?"

Answer: Athenagoras was a second-century Greek Christian author, philosopher, and apologist. Purported to be from Athens, Athenagoras is thought to have been a follower of Platonian thought before he converted to Christianity. As a response to the persecution of Christians, Athenagoras wrote a defense of the Christian faith to the Emperor Marcus Aurelias and his son Commodus in a letter called The Embassy for the Christians. Because this letter is one of the earliest documents indicating that the first Christians understood the doctrine of the Trinity, and because of its excellent rebuttal to the charges coming against the Christian faith, the letter later came to be known as Apologia.

The early Roman Christians were accused of being atheists because they refused to worship the emperor or any other of the Roman gods. In Embassy, Athenagoras explains the triune nature of God in great detail and why Christians believe He alone is to be worshiped. He wrote in part, “So we are not atheists, in that we acknowledge one God, who is uncreated, eternal, invisible, impassible, incomprehensible, and without limit. . . . For we acknowledge also a ‘Son of God.’ Nobody should think it ridiculous that God should have a son. Although the pagan poets, in their fictions, represent the gods as being no better than human beings, we do not think in the same way as they do concerning either God the Father or God the Son. For the Son of God is the Logos of the Father, both in thought and in reality. . . . We affirm that the Holy Spirit, who was active in the prophets, is an effluence of God, who flows from him and returns to him, like a beam of the sun.”

A second work often credited to Athenagoras is Resurrection of the Dead in which the author defends the concept of bodily resurrection. The work argues that the nature of human life requires a perpetuation of that life in both body and spirit. Resurrection was a topic hotly debated during the years of the early church, reflected also in Paul’s impassioned explanation in 1 Corinthians 15. It is thought that the conversion of Athenagoras may have been a result of the evangelistic work of the Athenian church, founded on Paul’s stop in Athens during his second missionary trip (Acts 17:16–33). The Athenian church begun that day flourished and, approximately 150 years later, produced one of the greatest apologists of early Christianity.