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wallpaper people: Dionysius & Damaris

Some people stick out in a crowd. You can’t miss them. While others just seem to melt into a blurry backdrop. Kind of like Dionysius and Damaris. Who are they?

In Paul’s day, Athens was a hub for philosophers. When Paul caught their attention, “they took him and brought him to the Areopagus,” a large rocky plateau in Athens—also known as Mars Hill (Acts 17:19). This rock was the spot where the elite, wealthy, governing council would congregate. (All men of course).

The council said to Paul, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean” (Acts 17:19-20). Apparently, the entire city was obsessed with up-to-the-minute news. “All the Athenians and the foreigners who live there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21).

Well, Paul had a new idea! And it was a whopper! “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this’” (Acts 17:32). Despite the mixed reviews, “some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (17:34).

Out of all these people who believed in Jesus, why did Luke only mention Dionysius and Damaris? Why did he name them? Who were these two?

Perhaps the name, “Dionysius,” was popular back then because of its connection to the god of wine. But “Dionysius the Areopagite” was one of the rich guys in Athenian society. We might say that if Dionysius lived today, he’d be meeting with the elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Yet when Dionysius the Areopagite heard the gospel, everything changed for him. According to Eusebius, Dionysius eventually became the first bishop of the church in Athens! Now that’s a 180-degree turn!

So, who was Damaris? Why was she hanging out with Athens’ all-male World Economic Forum? Damaris is quite a mystery woman. Some think she was either Dionysius’ wife or his high-class escort. Others suggest that she was a foreigner or a Stoic philosopher. Her name is uncommon; her social status is not stated.

Who was Damaris? A wallpaper person—who likely spent most her time as a nosy busybody, “doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas”—until she met Jesus. The good news of Christ’s resurrection changes everything.

Isn’t it obvious that the Lord deliberately chooses people most would overlook? Like you and me!