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Biblical Nuggets: Mars’ Hill in Athens


Mars' Hill in AthensAt Mars’ Hill, also known as the Areopagus, Paul used an inscription to an “unknown god” as a starting point for proclaiming the good news of Christ to the Greek. He confronted widespread idol worship by declaring the true identity of the Creator. Using Greek worship and poetry, Paul articulated God’s demand for repentance and His provision of salvation through Jesus: “Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said… ‘What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you'” (Acts 17:22, 23).[1]

Source:

[1] Hubbard, Shiloh, Elliot Ritzema, Corbin Watkins, and Lazarus Wentz with Logos Bible Software and KarBel Media. Faithlife Study Bible Infographics. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012.

 

Paul’s Classical Apologetics on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22 – 34||Natural Theology Centered on the Sovereignty of God||


Paul’s Classical Apologetics on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22 – 34

Natural Theology Centered on the Sovereignty of God

AREOPAGUS MESSAGE

Acts 17:22 – 34 is a Paul’s sermon to the philosophers in Athens. In this passage, as Luke describes, Paul stands in the midst of Areopagus and delivers a remarkable sermon to Athenians. As we sum up the Paul’s Areopagus speech, instantly we notice that his basic message remained unchanged but his approach to Athenian audiences was changed from other speeches. He framed his message within the given cultural and philosophical paradigm that befitted his audiences. Although we are living past two millenniums after this poignant event in Athens, the psychological, methodological, and theological aspects of Paul’s message is still relevant as an evangelistic model to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to pagan culture of our time.

In order to understand why Paul’s approach to Athenians is so different on Mars Hill than his previous messages, the backdrop of this event should be understood in its historical context. Preceding passage (17:16-21) provides enough information for the readers to know people involved in the mounting plot that leads Paul to Mars Hill. Unless we take notice what was happening in Athens with Paul, we will most likely fail to grasp Paul’s rationale in the council of Areopagus.

Paul was in Athens, reasoning with Jews in the Jewish synagogue and the God-fearing Greeks in the marketplace. Epicureans and Stoic philosophers happened to be his audience. That type of audience demands philosophical, intellectual, and persuasive reasoning. Paul was charged for introducing foreign deity. He was taken to the Areopagus to test that new teaching in the marketplace of Athens.

Historically, Areopagus is closely connected with Greek mythology. Without further details of the myth, we know from history and archeology that it is a famous autonomous judicial council for “justice and impartially of its decision.”[1] Adam Clarke affirms that it is located in hill nearby Acropolis, and it was “one of the most sacred and reputable courts that had ever existed in the Gentile world.”[2] With this background, we have some overview that Paul’s message in the Areopagus was in defense of his proclamation of the foreign deity in the polytheistic city of Athens. Also, the overview also tells us who were involved in his hearing and testing of Paul’s teaching in the Areopagus. Once we know who they are and what they believe, Paul’s message on Mars Hill becomes clearer.

TWO PRIMARY HELLENISTIC ANTAGONISTS IN ATHENS

He was reasoning with two dominant Greek schools of Philosophy – Epicureans and Stoics – of his time. Paul was charged for introducing foreign deity (δαιμονιων). It is not necessarily a demon but a deified man. As Adam Clarke’s commentary on the Bible says:

There was a difference, in the heathen theology, between θεος, god, and δαιμων, demon: the θεοι, were such as were gods by nature: the δαιμονια, were men who were deified. This distinction seems to be in the mind of these philosophers when they said that the apostles seemed to be setters forth of strange demons, because they preached unto them Jesus, whom they showed to be a man, suffering and dying, but afterwards raised to the throne of God. This would appear to them tantamount with the deification of heroes, etc., who had been thus honored for their especial services to mankind.[3]

 In addition, Paul’s message of Jesus being God and his resurrection (τὴν ἀνάστασιν) from dead seemed to be misinterpreted due to the use of Greek feminine name. Walter A. Elwell thinks that Greek philosophers might have “confused the word resurrection for its Greek feminine name, Anastasia, taking it for a consort to Jesus, thus two gods”.[4] Probably for this reason, Paul was described as an “idle babbler” who introduced strange deities namely: male god, Jesus and Anastasia, goddess or resurrection.

Here, the English term does not reflect true meaning that Athenians referred to. The Greek word spermologos (σπερμολογος) is translated into “idle babbler” literally meaning “a seed collector,” or “one who picks up and retails scraps of information.”[5] So, it can take two different meanings that are understood only from the context. In this case, they employed this word derogatively and obnoxiously to imply Paul “as a charlatan or plagiarist, whose learning is secondhand”.[6] Paul was underrated, and they took no notice of his message. They probably found nothing appealing to them in his message, as schools of Greek philosophy had no concept of rising from the dead.

WHO WERE EPICUREANS?

Epicureans were the followers of a philosopher named Epicurus (340 – 272 B.C.). Epicurus was the proponent of the doctrine of pleasure as the sole good.[7] We may summarize Epicurean philosophy, cosmology, and eschatology as succinctly as possible:

i. Epicurean philosophy advocates individual pleasure seeking. “Whatever feels good is desirable; pain is undesirable.”[8] Thus, pursuit of highest pleasure by avoiding pain is the utmost goal.

ii. Epicurean cosmology was also very influenced by Democritus, ancient Greek philosopher’s “Atomic Theory” or “Theory of Atomism.” According to atomic theory, the universe was made of atoms. The entire entity in the world is material. There was nothing such as spiritual or immaterial but everything was constantly in motion and happened by chance.[9] Thus the world is chaotic and out of orderliness. However, they did not deny the existence of gods. “These gods were remote from the world and did not care.”[10] The gods, they believed to be the creators, were not interested in human affairs in this world.

iii. Epicurean eschatology promoted death as the end of human existence;[11] no immortality of soul. Therefore, there is not afterlife or judgment.

WHO WERE STOICS?

Zeno of Citium (335 – 263 B.C.) is considered to be the founder of Stoicism. It is believed that Zeno taught his disciples from the porch in Athens which eventually turned out to be “the most influential ethical doctrine in the ancient western world before Christianity.”[12] Thus, Stoicism got their name from Greek word Stoa (stoa) meaning “portico.” Their epistemology, cosmology, and eschatology in a short note:

i. Unlike Epicurean deism, stoics’ epistemology advocated that knowledge is attained through logic. It is the framework for their theology and physics. The metaphysical view of stoicism was to teach its disciples to be indifferent to outward emotions. They believed:

Man becomes virtuous through knowledge, which enables him to live in harmony with nature and thereby achieve a profound sense of happiness and freedom from emotion which insulates him from vicissitude of life.[13]

The stoic epistemology says that indifference stimulates man to cultivate virtues through knowledge

ii. They believed world is governed by natural law. “And this natural law was based on timeless human and universal reason, it did not alter with time and space.”[14] This led to conclude that the universe has no beginning, and it is eternal.

iii. For them, everything was God and the universe was his manifestation. Monistic or pantheistic theology described “God as the soul of the universe, the universe as the body of God,”[15] and they cannot exist apart from each other. Therefore, they are principally identical.

iv. In contrast to Epicureanism, stoics believed life is predetermined by fate. Whatever happens is motivated by fixed plan. They believed that God himself was subjected to fate.[16] The notion of predestination was enforced as the necessity. Since God was also under the fate, no man could complain but accept the fate that was preordained. Thus, they held such a fatalistic view as consolatory philosophy.

v. Stoics also rejected immortality of the soul. They believed that human soul returned to God when someone died.[17] They had different views on the soul. Some viewed individual “soul would exist only until the destruction of the universe, and others that it would be absorbed into the divine essence and become a part of God.”[18] As a result, there is no final judgment hereafter.

The Hellenistic understanding of God and the universe, as we know by now lacked proper understanding of God and his relationship with his creation. So, they misinterpreted Paul’s proclamation of Jesus Christ and his resurrection as foreign deities.  Preaching of strange God and worshiping such foreign deities was not lawful and strictly forbidden in the city of Athens and Rome (Acts 16:21).

Due to their polytheistic worldview and idolatrous religiosity, they could not understand the concept of monotheism and resurrection of the dead. Luke has not included all details of Paul reasoning (διελέγετο) in 17:16-21 in Athens, but summary of the speech tells us what he preached was enough to provoke Athenians. That religious sentimental vibes was a catalyst for setting up a stage for Paul to address their misconception about God and the universe and counter their charge with persuasive arguments.

THREE PARTS OF THE AREOPAGUS MESSAGE 
(ACTS 17:22-34)

Paul presents his case with a logical sequence as a philosopher. His rhetoric was not merely to justify his “new teaching” in Athens by telling them who Jesus was and what he did but intended to counteract their skewed understanding of God, life, and the universe as a whole. The contents of the sermon can be classified in three individual parts.

PSYCHOLOGY OF PAUL

In verse 22 Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, addresses men of Athens as δεισιδαιμονεστερους.[19] The translation of this ambiguous Greek word can have an immense impact on the theological concerns of the Bible. When we translate the word deisidaimonesterous, the root of this compound noun is δεος (fear) and δαιμων (deity), meaning “deity fearing,” “religious” etc. From the context of the Areopagus message seems to be friendlier rather than confrontational. However, the KJV interprets it as being conspicuously confrontational by inferring Athenians as “too superstitious” from the beginning of the speech.

Having said that, we find Paul did not fail to identify his audience. He sought common ground by acknowledging the religiosity of Athenians. From his observation of the city, evidently Paul found an altar with inscription, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD, of Athenian religions. Ancient writings also contained direct and explicit testimony of those altars in Athens.[20] Being very distressed by those idols and altars, Paul used very respectful language in his address. Yet, he never endorsed their view of God and life. Paul identified his audiences and essentially established his credentials, he captured all their pathos by crediting them for being religious who were looking for something to worship. As G. Campbell Morgan comments, “He (Paul) found the open door to their mind in one of their own altars.”[21] What we see here is not a typical Paul who would apply rhetoric but the one trying to draw attention of his audience in friendly speech. Knowing your audience and addressing their need makes one’s presence acceptable in other culture.

THEOLOGY OF PAUL

Once he tied his attention of his audience to his opening line, Paul remarked immediately to proclaim something significant that they did not know (see v. 23b). Paul started out with the biblical story other than redemptive history. For his Greek audiences did not have any knowledge of the redemptive history in the Old Testament. He proclaims Christian message in which God appears to be the Creator, Sustainer, and Judge who is Sovereign over the universe. He is in control. Such majestic God cannot be served by human hands, nor does he need our service.

Now, Paul shifted from mere assertion of the fact that he saw and felt in the vicinity of Athens to reasoning out for God, the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ and their relationship with humankind. Paul asserted that God who was unknown to them could be known.[22] Paul proclaimed that God unknown to them is not two but one and only.

The contents of Paul’s sermon are counterarguments against the tenets of Epicureanism and Stoicism. Stephen Rost writes that “Paul’s sermon contains five doctrinal categories.”[23] The sermon was laid on the biblical theology that was followed by five successive doctrines.

FIVE DOCTRINAL CATEGORICAL CONTENTS 
IN THE AREOPAGUS MESSAGE
  1. Theology Proper

Paul took no time to clarify that God whom he was preaching is the Creator God. He explains that God created all things (Gen. 1:1) (see v. 24a) and his lordship over everything including heaven and earth. This statement answers Stoic understanding of God and the universe, since they believed that the universe is eternal and God and the universe or created things are identical. “God is distinct from the universe, not the same.”[24] Hence, God is not a created being but the Creator who has an absolute control over the universe.

Since he is not a created being, God is also independent on his own (v. 25a). He does not depend on human or his creation for anything.[25] Above all, God is unfathomable and incomprehensible; he is the central and totality of the entire universe; hence he is governing this universe. And he put everything is in order. God made this universe as a dwelling place for us but no other way (v. 24). Mark D. Given writes that God makes a dwelling place (v. 24), sustains human beings (v. 25), and provides for human beings (v.26).[26] Therefore, He is self-existing God from the eternity who cares work of his hands. He is personal and self-sufficient who is the source of all living beings. God is Sovereign over all.

2. Biblical Anthropology

Verse 26 does not elaborate exclusively how God created human being but Paul did mention about human lineage though. People of every race and nation are from a common ancestor (v. 26a). The notion of common ancestor is a diametrical point of view on human origin for Athenians, because they believed that “they were originated from the soil of their Attic homeland and were thus superior to all other men.”[27]  Moreover, Paul tells Athenian philosophers that God is omniscient. He has assigned people of their life and boundaries in the world.

Paul’s theological application was to impart the truth of the Gospel that we are to unite in worship of one true God. Also, it answers the questions of Epicurean idea of disorderly world and Stoics fatalistic philosophy that everything is predetermined by fate by positing that God is not God of chaos or nothing happens by chance. God knows what happened in the past, is happening in the present, and will happen in the future. For God does not live in time and space.

Paul then turns to wish that people may seek and find God. He is not far from us. Natural theology is emphasized even more by quoting Isaiah 11:28 from the Old Testament (v. 27-28). The Greek word ψηλαφάω literally meaning “to feel after, touch, or handle.”[28]  Another Greek word εὑρίσκω means “to find, obtain, perceive, or see.”[29] This idea seems to contradict Romans 1 where Paul stresses men are suppressing the truth of God. Here, he himself did not explain how to seek and find God but underline meaning in the text seems to suggest it as a mere wishing or hoping. On the other hand, Albert Barnes sees the other way that God can be sought diligently and accurately to be found.[30] Paul shows their ignorance alongside God’s grace to them. He just proclaimed the illuminated light and truth of God to them. Then, he is making point that God forgave their past follies and now is the time to come to the saving knowledge of God, because he is near and revealed himself in his creation (see Rom. 1:19-25).

3. Soteriology – the Doctrine of Salvation

After revealing God’s common grace, Paul directs his speech on salvation. He reinforces his arguments be emphasizing that we are the offspring of God (see v. 29-31). Epicureans and Stoics never came across the idea that God is near to each individual and interested in human affairs. Now, Paul is asserting, in contrary to their philosophical ideas, that we are offspring – borne of God who need to grope for God because we had very insufficient view of God. In addition, he has already showed them that they were worshipping creations than the Creator.

The soteriology of Paul corrects Epicurean view of salvation. They denied the immortality of the soul. Rost also agrees that Paul’s soteriology was difficult for Epicureans because of their denial of the immortality of the soul.[31] Dismissing Greek misconstrued philosophy of God, universe, and life, Paul declares that all Athenians should repent (v. 30). The buildup of Paul’s logical arguments for repentance has obviously progressed from previous verses where Athenians were exchanging the glory of eternal God with mortal and impermanent things of the world. Rost maintains:

Humanity’s struggle in his search for God is not in vain. As the apostle explains, God is near and imminent, and his immense bridges the gap between man the finite, contingent, and created, and God the eternal, transcendent Creator. God seeks a relationship with humanity, which is ultimately accomplished through repentance.[32]

Need for seeking God genuinely, finding passionately, and repenting from their sins are the preliminary stages Paul sets forth before introducing whom they should repent to. This is the same message of repentance (see Acts 2:38) that John the Baptist, Peter in Pentecost, and Paul himself preached in other occasions.

4. Incarnational Christology – the Doctrine of Christ

Paul shows sensitivity toward his pagan audience who did not know God. So, he first reveals them who God is and his attributive natures. Then, he introduces Jesus Christ that he had not mentioned earlier. He states to them that Jesus is a man appointed by God whom he raised from the dead (v. 31b). He bases his theology in the person and work of Jesus. Paul also reminds them that the Lord Jesus overlooked sinners’ premeditated ignorance with his immeasurable grace (v. 30). He is still waiting for sinner to come back to him.

5. Eschatology – the Doctrine of End-Time

Paul’s, in the course of his sermon, nullifies Athenians understanding of life and death. They held a view that there is no life after death. There is no judgment of the dead. Contrary to their philosophy, Paul’s Christology confirms that God who appointed Jesus and raised him from the dead has also fixed a day to judge the world. Thence, the resurrection of Jesus is used as an argument for the judgment after death (see Heb. 9:27). Robert H. Gundry adds that Paul “identifies Jesus as the man whom God designed to judge on his behalf and whom he resurrected from among the dead.”[33] Justice of God is inescapable and judgment is inevitable. And Paul is appealing to his audience to repent from their sins – past lives to be vindicated to receive every right to be the children of God.

METHODOLOGY OF PAUL

Taking into account of the contents in Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill, we can take many practical teachings for positive approach in evangelism. Paul observes the surrounding city in Athens and shows avid enthusiasm to learn about their culture, religions, and life and worldview. (see, Acts 17:16-18). Next, he finds common ground. He himself was a very religious man recognizes religiosity of Athenians. So, he looks for “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD” inscription as a point of reference to share his faith in their context.

Paul is aware of the situation there; he knows that direct attack on Athenians’ state guarded religion will prove to be counterproductive. As Spence and Excell comment:

In his speech he heartily recognizes the worshipping instinct; he sees the dissatisfaction with all existing forms of worship which indicates an aching and yearning of soul to know the full truth of God… St. Paul admits a real worship in paganism. He admits that the incompleteness and imperfectness of the worship followed from their ignorance. He attempts to guide the worshipping faculty aright, by instructing their understanding, and by declaring positive truth of Divine revelation.[34]

Instead of confronting Athenians in belligerent tone, Paul forms relationship with them and be respectful without compromising his monotheistic faith (v. 22-23). He does shun people who beg to differ in their worldview. Rather he pursues philosophical reasoning which is logically consistent and thus followed.

As a part of his apologetic fashion, Paul contextualizes his sermon in Greek philosophical setting. He backs up his logic for we are “God’s offspring” by quoting two Greek poets: Aratus (ca. 315-ca. 245 B.C.), Paul’s countryman who hailed from Soli in Cilicia and Cleanthes (331-233 B.C.).[35] Citing their own poets will certainly earn him some credibility in his claims. Morgan argues that Paul, by quoting those pagan poets, defended their truth – men as Gods’ offspring – from its misuse.[36] Paul might have thought that quoting the Bible would possibly turn his audience off. We see Paul is not hesitated to contextualize his sermon as needed.

In light of the contextualization of Paul’s sermon, he does so in symmetry of philosophy and theology. In the sermon, he addresses Greeks from the philosophical point of view and proclaims sound doctrine that is followed by need and call of repentance.[37] This method should help evangelical churches around the world to contextualize the truth of the Gospel in an appropriate way so that we would not lose the absolute truth in our pervasive culture.

OBSERVATION

Paul’s message in the Areopagus (17:22-32) can serve as an evangelistic model in our present day time. It is an exceptional example of how we should approach people of intellectual world. Luke might have more than one particular purpose in editing this sermon and presented it the way it is. In this sermon, Paul is highly persuasive and convincing in his presentation. However, the outcome of his presentation is not satisfactory compared to his previous presentations.

Could this be the worst failure of Paul’s ministry? Some might say “yes,” but Luke’s main concern, as Fernando states, seems to be Paul’s uncompromising faith, witnessing, and his methodology in the pagan culture.[38] Luke did not leave out significant details of the Areopagus address, including result of the address. In this sense, Luke accomplished his purpose by recording this historical event.

Another aspect of the Areopagus message is the contents. They are rich and sound doctrines which bear historical significance and mark of orthodoxy. These five doctrinal categories are the truth of the Gospel and cannot be compromised. They are the orthodox and universal truth. They are applicable throughout all ages. Nevertheless, we have to be very careful while contextualizing and communicating the revealed truth from the Bible. The same method of the Areopagus message cannot be effective in all situations. There lies an enormous challenge and risk in the contextualization in certain situations. On the other hand, it is an effective medium to share the Gospel to people of different culture. Therefore, we should not confuse universal truth from the contextual truth (applicable for a certain period of history).

CONCLUSIVE ASSESSMENT

From observation and assessment of the passage, we can take, at least, one practical lesson for our lives. What we think and believe has a huge impact on what we do in our life. Our world and life view is shaped by our understanding of God and our relationship with him. Life is not only about self but also about others around us. Our attitude is the drive force behind our certain behavior. And this is also shaped by our view toward God how we think of ourselves before God.

We are living in a time that the truth is understood in a relative term. Absolute moral value is interpreted as a subjective belief, and faith has become a trivial significance to people. God has been replaced by mere counterfeit spirituality. Our belief is under scrutiny. Our faith is under fire by bombarded misleading information in print and electronic media. In this situation, people are confused and do wonder what to believe and what not to.

But doctrines in the Areopagus can be a good resource for edification of believers. God is Sovereign over heavens and earth. Jesus, our Lord is beginning and the end (see Rev. 22:13). He is from the beginning and independent of space and time (Jn. 1:1-4; Col. 1:15). We are work of his hands and bear his image (Gen. 1:26-27). We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ for his glory (Eph. 2:10). God longs for intimate relationship with us (Jn. 17:3), so he wants us to come into a right relationship with him (Jn. 14:6; Ps. 34:18). God does not hold vengeance against me, when I come to him (2 Chls. 7:13-14; Ps. 32:1-2; Isa. 1:18 etc.).  His grace is enough for us. Through his righteousness, we are also reconciled with God (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; Eph. 1:5-12; 2:1-10).

APPLICATION

The Areopagus message is an exemplary cross-cultural ministry approach that is still very relevant up to this date. Paul’s psychology, theology, and methodology are three distinct parts in the sermon that we need to pay attention, if we are going to ministry in diverse culture. Paul knows exactly what he is doing and going to say. His words are highly calculated and précised that bear witness of God. Ministers, especially who are into Apologetics and those who are going to be involved in apologetic ministry, can use this sermon as a template to present the Gospel in the pagan culture.

I have been into ministry since 2003. Since then, I have come across people of different faith and background. Majority of them are Hindus. It has been always a huge challenge for me to carry on conversations with them. Their view of gods/goddesses, Spirit, creation, universe, salvation, afterlife, Karma etc. are so complex. More I talk to them about their metaphysical view on those terms, more it gets intertwined and overlapping. They have really complex system of belief.

While looking for an opportunity to share the Gospel, I always find common ground, such as notion of God, heaven and hell, life and judgment, sin and righteousness etc. I present myself very humbly and show my respect to them. Though we have above mentioned terms for dialectical engagement, their view and understanding about them is utterly different. Karmic Law comes to be a part of the discussion. Completely two different accounts of creation story in Hinduism, unending cycle of rebirth, uncertainty of salvation is the major issues that I engage with them in discussion. Knowing them and developing relationship with them really opens up the door to share the gospel to them.

When we give coherent reasons why Karmic law gets them nowhere, this makes them think seriously. In doing so, I always back up my arguments from the Scripture. Idol worship is a part of their everyday life. So, when someone reads from the Bible that idols are not gods, it is more like poking their conscience and wounding them badly. So, before we read such passage from the Scripture, we also should have very clear and convincing answer to that question. Otherwise, we will have already turned them off and shut the door of the Kingdom in their faces. And let’s do all of what we do for the glory of God in humility.

Bibliography

  1. Barclay, William. The Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1955. 140-44. Print.
  2. Barnes, Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, e-Sword, Ver. 9.8.3, Commentary, Computer Software.
  3. Barnhouse, Donald Grey, and Herbert Henry Ehrenstein. Acts, an Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1979. Print.
  4. Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible, e-Sword, Ver. 9.8.3, Commentary, Computer Software.
  5. Criswell, W. A. Acts, an Exposition: Volume II, Chapters 9-18. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1979. 274-307. Print.
  6. Davis, D Mark. “Acts 17:16-34.” Interpretation 57.1 (2003): 64-66. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. EBSCO. Web. 6 Apr. 2011.
  7. Elwell, Walter A., ed. Baker Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006. Print.
  8. Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 10th ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994. Print.
  9. Fernando, Ajith. The NIV Application Commentary. Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998. Print.
  10. Given, Mark D. “Not Either/Or but Both/And in Paul’s Areopagus Speech.” Biblical Interpretation 3.3 (1995): 356-372. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. EBSCO. Web. 6 Apr. 2011.
  11. Gundry, Robert Horton. Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-verse Explanations with a Literal Translation. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010. Print.
  12. Mounce, William D. Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006. Print.
  13. Morgan, G. Campbell. The Acts of the Apostles,. New York, Chicago [etc.: Fleming H. Revell, 1924. Print.
  14. Rost, Stephen. “Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Acts 17.” Encountering New Religious Movements: a Holistic Evangelical Approach. Ed. Irving Hexham, Stephen Rost, and John Morehead. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2004. 113-36. Print.
  15. Smith, Robert H. Concordia Commentary: Acts. Saint Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1970. Print.
  16. Spence, H. D. M., and Joseph S. Exell. The Pulpit Commentary. Vol. II. Chicago: Wilcox & Follett, 1983. Print. Ser. 42.
  17. Strong, Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, e-Sword, Ver. 9.8.3,
  18. Dictionary, Computer Software.
  19. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies, e-Sword, Ver. 9.8.3, Commentary, Computer Software.
  20. Webster, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, e-Sword, Ver. 9.8.3, Dictionary, Computer Software.
Footnotes

[1] Webster, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, e-Sword, Ver. 9.8.3, Dictionary, Acts 17:18. Computer Software.

[2] Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible, e-Sword, Ver. 9.8.3, Commentary, Acts 17:18. Computer Software.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Baker Commentary on the Bible Based on the NIV, (Grand Rapids: Baker Bookhouse, 2006), p. 911. Print.

[5] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), p. 1273. Print.

[6] George Arthur Buttrick, ed. The Interpreter’s Bible: the Holy Scriptures in the King James and Revised Standard Versions with General Articles and Introduction, Exegesis, Exposition for Each Book of the Bible. (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1954), p. 233. Print.

[7] Popkin, Richard H., and Avrum Stroll. “Ethics.” Philosophy made simple . 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1993),11. Print.

[8] Hexham, Irving, Stephen Rost, and John Morehead. “Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Acts 17.”Encountering new religious movements: a holistic evangelical approach. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2004). 117. Print.

[9] Ibid.

[10] William Barclay, The Acts of the Apostle. 1953. Reprint. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 141.Print.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Richard H. Popkin, and Avrum Stroll. “Ethics.” Philosophy made simple . 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 18. Print.

[13] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical dictionary of theology. 1984. Reprint. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1994), 1056. Print.

[14] Jostein Gaarder, “Hellenism.”Sophie’s world: a novel about the history of philosophy. 1994. Reprint. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996), 131. Print.

[15] Hexham, Irving, Stephen Rost, and John Morehead. “Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Acts 17.”Encountering new religious movements: a holistic evangelical approach. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2004. 117. Print. This was first quoted in Fuller’s History of Philosophy, 1:253.

[16] Vincent’s Word Study, e-Sword, Ver. 9.8.3, Commentary, Acts 17:18. Computer Software.

[17] William Barclay, The Acts of the Apostle. 1953. Reprint. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), 141.Print.

[18] Albert Barnes, Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, e-Sword, Ver. 9.8.3, Commentary, Acts:17:18, Computer Software.

[19] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006). Print. The Greek word Δεισιδαιμονεστέρους can take two different meanings. It could mean, “Extremely religious; very devoted; god-fearing” in a positive sense, while it also carries negative meaning for “too superstitious.” There has been debate on the word and people have translated this word as either “extremely religious” or “too superstitious.” However, context support the previous interpretation over the later one.

[20] Spence, H. D. M., and Joseph S. Exell. The Pulpit Commentary. Vol. II. (Chicago: Wilcox & Follett, 1983), 61, Print. Ser. 42.

[21] Campbell G. Morgan, The Acts of the Apostles. 1946. Reprint. (New York: Fleming H Revell, 1965), 325, Print.

[22] Donald Grey Barnhouse, and Herbert Henry Ehrenstein. Acts, an Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1979), 151. Print.

[23] Rost. “Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Acts 17.” Encountering New Religious Movements: a Holistic Evangelical Approach. Ed. Irving Hexham and John Morehead (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2004(, 119. Print.

[24] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Baker Commentary on the Bible. 4th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), 911. Print.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Given, Mark D. “Not Either/Or but Both/And in Paul’s Areopagus Speech.” Biblical Interpretation 3.3 (1995): 356-372. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. EBSCO. Web. 18 Apr. 2011.

[27] Walter A. Elwell, ed. Baker Commentary on the Bible. 4th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), 911. Print.

[28] Strong, Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary, e-Sword, Ver. 9.8.3, Dictionary, G5584, Computer Software.

[29] Ibid, G2147. Strong numbers G5584 and G2147 in Greek are in first aorist active optative and second aorist active optative mood respectively. Optative mood is usually used to wish or hope something. There is a divided opinion on these two words from school of Armenian theology and school of Calvinistic theology. Latter one sees the terms as mere wishing of Luke which is not possible if God has not chosen. However, the other group thinks that through God’s common grace makes it possible for people to grope him and find him.

[30] Barnes’, Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, e-Sword, Ver. 9.8.3, Commentary, Acts 17:27, Computer Software.

[31] Rost,”Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Acts 17.” Encountering New Religious Movements: a Holistic Evangelical Approach. Ed. Irving Hexham and John Morehead. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2004. 124. Print.

[32] Ibid, 121.

[33] Robert Horton Gundry, Commentary on the New Testament: Verse-by-verse Explanations with a Literal Translation. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2010), 534. Print.

[34] Spence, H. D. M., and Joseph S. Exell. The Pulpit Commentary. Vol. II. (Chicago: Wilcox & Follett, 1983), 86, Print. Ser. 42.

[35] Walter A. Elwell, ed. Baker Commentary on the Bible. 4th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), 911. Print.

[36] Campbell G. Morgan, The Acts of the Apostles, 1946. Reprint. (New York: Fleming H Revell, 1965), 328, Print.

[37] Rost,”Paul’s Areopagus Speech in Acts 17.” Encountering New Religious Movements: a Holistic Evangelical Approach. Ed. Irving Hexham and John Morehead. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2004. 131. Print.

[38] Ajith Fernando, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 477-88. Print.

 

Journal Review:Preaching for Mission: Ancient Speeches and Postmodern Sermons


In her essay “Preaching for Mission: Ancient Speeches and Postmodern Sermon”, Mary E. Hinkle raises a practical and today’s relevant issue of preaching the sermon from the book of Acts. She illustrates how the speeches dominate the actions in the Acts. In another word, the long speeches in Acts have also drawn the hearers in and engaged them with the speakers. Therefore, the author herself being a preacher and teacher, she presents her main idea how the speeches also can communicate powerfully like stories and can reveal the reality they have not known before. In addition, the author discusses about the significance of contextualization of the speeches for preaching in a postmodern world.

To begin with her biblical material or biblical themes in Acts, Hinkle introduces varied collection of speeches from Acts. By hearing or reading these speeches, we can see how they change agreeing with the context or remain the same while the elements of preaching event like the speaker, the setting, the audience, and the audience’s familiarity with the scripture change. The author further states that the apostles in the Acts narrate the story from Israel’s scripture in their speeches. At the same time, they also contextualize their speech with their own experience with Jesus and welcome the response from other people regarding the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, the objectives of the apostles’ speeches are to include narrative stories of God’s interaction with his chosen people and his creation, along with the Promised One, Jesus Christ to save his people. And the apostles immediately encompass the hearers also as a part of that story. Continue reading Journal Review:Preaching for Mission: Ancient Speeches and Postmodern Sermons

Galatians 2:11-21-Justified by Grace through Faith


In this passage from Galatians 2:11-21- Paul presents his biblical and theological argument in response of Peter’s unacceptable behavior. Peter, the one who God had chosen to share the gospel to a gentile, Cornelius (cf. Acts 15) was behaving in a way that was against the true gospel. Earlier, Peter was eating with the Gentiles but as soon as the Judaizers or circumcision group arrived; he snuck out from the gentile group and joined the latter group. This behavior also led Barnabas astray.

Paul was astonished at his hypocrisy and opposes him though Peter was a senior apostle. Paul says that Peter was not adhering to the true gospel, and though he was a Jew did not behave like one and so was unqualified to ask Gentiles to live like the Jews. Paul then presents his argument. Certainly Paul and Peter were Jews by nature and not ‘sinners from among the Gentiles’ (v. 15b). Gentiles were called sinners because they were believed to be born outside the Law, yet Paul added that Jews like Gentiles were saved or justified by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the Law. By writing this, Paul does not mean to suggest that Jesus was a promoter of sin since Jesus had made possible for Gentiles, the people outside the Law to come to faith without the Law. Paul absolutely does not want people to think this way.

Paul declares himself dead to the Law and he states that the new life he had was through faith in Christ. His old life had been crucified on the Cross with Jesus Christ. So he found himself justified by faith through grace and not through the works of the Law. If it were through the works of the Law, he believed that Jesus’ grace was nullified and that Jesus died in vain.

The main point of this passage is that people are justified by faith in Jesus through grace and not by the works of the Law or living by a set of moral rules or even doing good deeds. It is only by faith through grace that we are justified.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Since the time of Adam, God had instructed people to offer sacrifices. However, these sacrifices had never fulfilled the full atonement of people’s sins. The sacrifice of animals was actually pointing to Christ, the perfect sacrifice that had yet to come. Nonetheless, God always looked at the heart of those who offered sacrifices. When Abraham was willing to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice, God declared him righteous because of his faith. In the story of Cain and Abel, though both of them brought offerings to God, only Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because it was in his heart to offer God the best of his labor. Indeed, people in the past had been following works righteousness to please God or earn merit from Him. Yet God was only pleased when people worshipped Him whole-heartedly. The Hebrews and Jews were adherent to the Mosaic Law and based their righteousness through fulfilling such laws. It is thus interesting to note that God had secured His faithful few, the remnants those people who worshipped Him with all their hearts, souls, and minds. At the time Jesus was born, the believing remnants were Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zacharias, Anna, Simeon and many unknown names to us. They lived their lives believing that the Old Testament was the divinely-revealed Word. They kept the prescribed standard of the Old Covenant but at the same time put their trust only in the Holy One and not merely in their keeping of the ceremonies and standards (MacArthur, 47).

When Jesus was born, there were many Israelites who perverted and added to the Old Testament revelation. They also based their righteousness through their own goodness and accomplishments. “Most Jewish leaders, epitomized by the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees, proudly believed their religious works placed them in God’s special favor and gained them forgiveness for their sins” ( MacArthur, 47). Judaizers arose from this vast group of legalistic Jews; they claimed to be followers of Christ but observed works righteousness and prescribed circumcision to the Gentiles and follow the Mosaic Law before they could be saved. This teaching certainly contradicted the Old Testament teaching where people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, the godly judges, kings, prophets, and other godly figures from the Old Testament were saved or “gained approval through faith” (cf. Heb. 11:1-39).

The Judaizers were thus “not teaching the Old Testament doctrine but the cardinal doctrine of Satan, that a person can by his own goodness and works gain favor with God” (MacArthur, 47). This is the very reason why Paul referred to Judaizers as “dogs, evil workers…the false circumcision” (Phil 3:2). If the Judaizers were to compare their Jewish heritage with Paul, they would be of no match to him because he had been a zealous Jew himself before his dramatic conversion. In Phil. 3:5-9 he stated how he counted his impeccable keeping of the Law to be rubbish in comparison to the righteousness that comes form God on the basis of faith.

Certainly, the Judaizers had a corrupt view of the Messiah. “As circumcised, ceremonial Jews they were convinced they already had the full favor of God and were spiritually and morally acceptable to Him just as they were” (MacArthur, 48). They did not even view the Messiah as one who would forgive their sins because they did not believe theirs sins required such a sacrifice. Paul was afraid that Peter’s, a Jewish- Christian, behavior of following the Judaizers would corrupt the view of justification before the Gentile-Christian and hence jumps on to confront Peter with the true gospel: justification through faith in Christ and not observing the Law.

LITERARY CONTEXT

Paul and Barnabas worked among the Gentiles and had shared the true gospel. Soon after they were gone, Judaizers told some members of the Galatian Church that Paul was a self-proclaimed apostle who had no divine commission. In response to this, Paul wrote the letter to the Galatian Christians. The opening verse of the letter of Galatians identifies Paul as the author. It certainly is an unchallenged Pauline autobiography. Many false teachers and Judaizers had infiltrated the churches in the area of Antioch who spread the rumor that Paul was not a true apostle and that his teachings were not credible. Thus in the preceding verses, Paul explained his appointment as apostle from Jesus himself, and his acceptance as one from the preeminent apostles like James, Peter and Barnabas. It is no wonder then that Paul spoke with unrelenting authority when he confronted Peter. Once again, Paul defends his doctrine of justification through faith and introduces the whole theme of his letter in verse 16.

2:11-14 – Paul rebukes Peter in Antioch.

2:15-16—Theme verses

  1. Justification: It is that gracious act of God whereby God declares the sinner to be just or righteous on the basis of the work of Christ on the cross (imputation), which the sinner receives with a believing heart (Kroeze).
  2. Salvation is by faith in Christ and not by observing the “law.”

2:17-18— Paul reemphasizes that justification is through faith in Christ. However, people are not to indulge in sin just because there is no need of observing the Law anymore. Paul taught this gospel and if he departed from his own teaching, he would be considered a transgressor.

2:19-21— Paul declares that the Mosaic Law does not justify his sins anymore, but his faith in Christ alone. His past life was crucified when he put his faith in Christ. The new life was due to Christ who lived in him. If he were to consider his observance of the Law to justify his sins, Paul lamented then that Christ died in vain.

GRAMMATICAL ISSUES

The passage accounts the confrontation that Paul has with Peter. At the same time, Paul conveys his theological message not only to Peter but eventually to the Galatians. Hence, the grammatical changes have to be observed. The ‘we’ in vv. 15-17 includes Paul with the Jewish Christians and particularly to Peter. In vs. 18 when he changes to ‘I’- a first person singular form, it is in a generalized sense referring to Peter and Jewish Christians who act like him. He does this so that the focus is removed from the confrontation at Antioch and points to character of the fundamental principle. In the latter verses 19-21, the ‘I’ is Paul’s own position and not shared. It is also interesting to note where Paul’s personal confessions with first person singular are not limited to just him. They exemplify the circumstance of every Christian. In the passage there are pronouns where ‘we’ exclusively makes sense only to Jewish Christians but there are also places in verses like v. 16 where ‘we’ applies to both Jewish and Gentile Christians.

Commentator Ebeling points out that;
“these observations on the grammatical and semantic subject already pave the way for an understanding of how this section is organized. The argumentation begins with the Jewish Christian agreement (vv. 15-16). It then indicates the critical point of disagreement (vv. 17-18) and goes on to describe the sublation of the Jewish Christian agreement in the universal Christian truth of the gospel (vv. 19-20). The concluding sentence (v.21) may be read by itself or in connection with the last subsection” (120, Ebeling).

The crucial idea or phrase of the passage ‘justification’ is “mentioned in a General, Personal, and Universal statement referring to the past, present and future” (Kroeze). The way Paul uses this artful structure to hammer one of the most important doctrines in the Bible.

THEOLOGICAL ISSUES

The verses in the passage are actually working up toward Paul’s main thesis of the entire epistle of Galatians which is vs. 3:11, “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Since the progression of humanity, we see a pattern their nature to please God one way or the other. Adam and Eve were living in the Garden of Eden without a structured set of laws. All that God wanted from them was that they would trust God and simply keep His only command- not to eat from the tree of knowledge. Indeed, God only wanted that simple faith from them that they would trust Him. However, Satan tempted them into believing that there was something beyond simply trusting God. We could say that since then people have inherited this idea of doing something on their own. Yet God in his sovereignty and grace plan has always saved the few who put their faith in the only true God. Through this line of faith we see the Messiah eventually come.

In the past people who walked faithfully with God were considered righteous in the sight of God. Noah, Abraham, Abel are some examples of people from the Old Testament who put their entire trust in God alone and did not walk in the path to fulfill their fleshly inclinations. Even after bringing the Hebrews out of slavery and out of the wilderness, they did not worship the Lord who delivered them. Again, in his grace plan God gave the Ten Commandments to people through Moses so that whoever kept the commands would be put right with God. God also gave instructions about offering sacrifices to him. The offering of a lamb was offered to God and the sins of the one who laid a hand on that lamb were atoned. By the end of the Old Testament, there were an accumulation of all kinds of laws: the Mosaic Law, ceremonial laws, and circumcision. When God set those laws, they were in fact only pointing toward man’s incapacity to keep them. God was pointing toward the perfect sacrifice that would atone for human’s sins.

Paul was one of those believers of the Law. After his conversion he deserted his previous set of beliefs. As a former zealot (Phil. 3:5) Paul could not have been any more familiar than the Old Covenant. When he received revelation from Jesus on his way to Damascus, then the true gospel became clear to him. He saw the Old Testament with the spectacle of the true gospel. Nowhere in the Torah or in his forefathers did he see that they were saved by works of the Law. In fact Paul refers to Gen. 12:3, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” This was the gospel preached to Abraham beforehand which preceded the Mosaic Law. Hence, whoever has faith is a descendant of Abraham and has been declared righteous.

The Law was given through the agency of a mediator to reveal people’s sins. When Christ the seed of the promise came, the mediated message was nullified forever. In Christ was the fulfillment of the promise that was made to Abraham that all nations would be blessed. Thus, there is salvation for every person who comes to Christ in faith. They do not have to be a Jew and observer of the Law.

BIBLICAL ISSUES

The Bible emphasizes faith in Christ as the ruling factor for salvation. In the Scripture ‘righteousness by faith through grace’ is a requirement broached again and again. Rom. 1:17 says, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’.” Habakkuk. 2:4 says, “The righteous shall live by faith; Hebrew. 10:38 states, “But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” These verses in the Scripture support Paul’s doctrine of justification through faith.

APPLICATION

The writer’s purpose in writing this passage is to warn people who call themselves Christians to know the scripture in its truest sense. We cannot read and apply the Word of God in the manner of cherry picking. The Bible is coherent and whole in its nature. Just as Paul understood the true gospel in light of the Old Testament and did not overlook God’s intention when God said, “The righteous shall live by faith,” we ought to know the Word of God as it was intended. Paul has successfully rendered to us the true gospel by way of presenting his argument analytically and critically.

The passage contains universal truth in that no one can deny the fact that justification was through faith in Christ and will always be so. It was true with our forefathers; is true with us and will be forever. There has not been a time in the history of mankind when people have not tried to go their own way departing from God.  The truth of the passage is still applicable to us and thus contextual. Though we do not see people observing the Law in churches in this day and age, we do witness an underlying belief that they have to do good works to please God. People who are religiously doing good deeds not as a worship or gratitude to God are similar to Judaizers. They have put their faith in deeds. They have departed from the reality that God covets the heart that fully trusts in His grace.

I thus believe that even if my deeds are meant for good, if I have not put my full faith in Christ, I have failed to worship God. If I have based my happiness in the achievements and deeds of my life, I have grieved God’s heart. He tells me that I should totally rely on Him and have faith in Christ alone; this fact itself is the most gratifying truth of my life. Even in my relationships, more than becoming a people pleaser or a queen of hospitality, my life should convey the message that these qualities do not justify me before God. Nothing that I have done or could do can ever earn that merit for me. I should live a life that tells people that our life begins from the work done by Christ; we cannot add to or subtract from that done deal.

I used to be part of a Christian student group through whom I came to know the Lord. In the beginning everything seemed so cool. The group looked happy, closely-knit and on fire for the Lord. Gradually, I lost interest in this group. I sat through a class with that group in which the speaker kept drilling into us that Christians must share the gospel, they must live a godly life and pursue people who do not know the love of Christ. Sitting through that class I felt like a victim- one who got trapped in their schemes of converting people to Christianity. I stopped hanging out with them and did not even attend their group activities. Though I was not familiar with Paul or even his doctrine of justification through faith, I happened to join another group that was doing a study on the book of Galatians. I joined that group merely for exploration. The more they talked about justification not by works of the Law, the more I associated my former group’s actions to the Law. They were simply following the Law, as Christians they had to share the gospel. It seemed that their evangelistic activities were like observing set of law that they applied on me. Once I attended the workshop, the onus was also put on me that I needed to start evangelizing too.
These are the mistakes that our leaders can make at times. Inadvertently, just as Peter’s actions led Gentile-Christians astray, our Christian friends can lead us astray. Their immature behavior can hurt our new found faith. When we share the love of Christ with someone and walk them through this new life, our first priority should be to nurture them in faith and not to push too hard on doing the works. In our ministries as well, we have to focus on teaching that we are justified in the eyes of God through faith not through works. Our constant mission trips, mercy programs in the churches should not convey to them that they are earning favor before God. Let it be known that justification is only through faith, their heart before God matters and the rest will follow.

I stand in confidence knowing that justification is only through faith. I do not have to evangelize and do not have to do good works. Today if we as Christians do them to reflect the character and love of Jesus, these may please God but will not add to any greater favor for us. Just as Paul has mentioned over and over again, justification is by faith through grace, we should simply have faith and let the works of grace lead us to doing good works and not good works earning grace for us.

Journal Review: There is no Condemnation


Chuck Lowe in his article “There is no condemnation” has tried to answer the question he has raised in the beginning of his thesis: Why is there no condemnation for those who are in Christ? He felt a danger in merely drumming to new believers that there is no condemnation because Christ has justified us before God. Whereas commentators have struggled with this answer, Lowe has given his readers a result of his study of the text of Romans and answered clearly why there is no condemnation. The theme of Lowe’s article is that people have not escaped condemnation through Christ’s justification alone but the fruit of the Spirit that leads to righteous living looms larger as well.

Nonetheless, Chuck says that ‘no condemnation’ certainly retains its forensic and eschatological sense. He works his way through the ambiguities of whether ‘condemnation’ refers to the eschatological judgment due to sin or to the enslavement of sin experienced in this age. Further he also clarifies whether ‘condemnation’ is averted by the alien righteousness or by transformational righteousness in union with Christ.
Continue reading Journal Review: There is no Condemnation