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A Woman Named Damaris Became A Believer

Updated on March 5, 2018
Anna Watson profile image

Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.

“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.” (Acts 17:32,33)

In Thessalonica

Acts 17 describes St. Paul’s time in Greece. Paul was an eloquent man; a very learned and wise leader, he knew what he believed and he was able to back up his beliefs with sound theology. As a former Pharisee, Paul was very knowledgable of Mosaic laws, but he also possessed common sense. Part of his success was that he knew how to approach people from different backgrounds. Still, as anybody who has ever tried to spread God’s word knows, many people just aren’t interested in buying what you’re selling.

In Thessalonica, Paul first visited a synagogue and over the course of three Sabbaths, Paul reasoned with the Jews. Using Jewish scriptures, he proved that Christ suffered, died, and rose from death. Some Jews were persuaded by Paul's teaching, so were a few Greeks and many prominent women. (Acts 17:4) Unfortunately, a few bad apples began to riot and Paul and Silas, knowing they had overstayed their welcome, traveled to Berea. Berea proved to be a more welcoming city. Many Jews and Greeks became believers during Paul and Silas’ stay. (17:12) Unfortunately, some malcontents form Thessalonica had heard that Paul was in Berea so they traveled to the city to stir up trouble. So Paul left Silas with Timothy in Berea and he traveled alone to Athens, with instructions for the former to join him in Athens as soon a possible.

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

— Acts 17:11,12

Paul Speaks Before the Areopagus

In Athens, Paul saw a city of idols and it brought him no end of grief to see how far astray the Athenians had fallen. As per his usual approach, Paul went to the synagogues to reason with the Jews and he went to the marketplaces to preach to the Greeks who happened to be there. It was in this setting that a group of epicurean and stoic philosophers found him. Some tried to debate Paul. One asked another,

“What’s this babbler trying to say?”
“He seems to be advocating foreign gods.”
Paul attracted enough interest that they brought him to the Aeropagus, an aristocratic council of the ancient Athenians. Here, Paul delivered what may have been his most significant sermon in his entire career. In some ways, Paul had it pretty easy. Unlike many groups who Paul had preached to, the Athenians were always open to new ideas. One couldn’t throw a rock without hitting an alter in Athens, they even had one with the inscription “To an unknown god!” (17:23) Getting them to accept a new God seems like it would be an easy task. But getting them to eschew all of their old gods in favor of the one true God was no small feat.
Paul plead his case to the philosophers of that great university city, and what a remarkable speech it was! He stood before the greatest thinkers in the world at that time and told them about that great Creator who made the world and everything in it. The Lord of all creation built the heavens and the Earth, He doesn’t need an alter built by human hands, He doesn’t need anything, He’s the one who provides for us! From one man, He made all men, and in Him we live and move and are His offspring. (17:28). Because we are God’s children, we shouldn’t think that he is an idol, like some form of precious metal that we can manipulate. He made us, He is not made by us. The time will come when He will judge the world with justice and He has given us proof of this by raising from the dead.

Men 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." Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and Earth and does not live in temples built by hands.

— Acts 17:22-25

A Woman Named Damaris

The philosophers at the Council of the Areopagus heard Paul’s words. Some sneered, others believed. As with the other accounts of Paul’s successful conversions, most people, whether or not they chose to believe, are not named. Rather, they are not named in the Bible. Their names were written down in the Book of Life, the ledger of all who come to know Jesus. Acts 17 is a bit different from other accounts for it names two people: one was a man named Dionysius, notable as he was a member of the council and presumably an influential man to have on your side. The other was a woman named Damaris.
Damaris was not a member of any council, she was not a prominent woman, we know this because Acts makes it a point to note when affluential people converted. So who was Damaris? Very likely she was a wife or a widow, she was probably somebody’s mother. Given the culture at the time, it’s fairly safe to assume she wasn’t an accountant. She was just a regular person who happened to be hanging around the day that Paul made his impassioned speech to the members of the Aeropagus. As a result, she was saved. What happened to her after that? No one but God knows. If her husband was still alive, she likely told him about her conversion. She very likely told her children, if they were young enough, she likely raised them in the faith. However, this is all speculation.
Given the status of women at the time, it is very interesting that Luke, the author of Acts, would bother to mention such an unimportant woman in his account. Especially since there is no other mention of her. We know absolutely nothing about this woman’s life, and yet, at the same time, we know the most important thing. We many not know that she was rich or poor, we may not know that she was widowed, or whether or not she had children. We don’t know that she lived to a ripe old age, or if she died young. We don’t know if she had a happy or a sad childhood, a happy marriage or a rocky one, an interest in art or a head for numbers. But we do know the most important thing; she had heard the Gospel and she accepted Jesus into her heart, now she resides with him in heaven. Truly, nothing is greater than that.
It is extremely unlikely that our names would ever be written down in a book that lasts 2,000 years. Of the 7 billion people on this planet, a statistically insignificant number will ever know who we are. We will live and die lives that only touch a few people, and that’s okay. In the scheme of the entire universe, there is only one thing that matters, whether or not we accept Jesus.
We know that Damaris did.

From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 'For in Him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are His offspring.'

— Acts 17:26-28

© 2018 Anna Watson


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