Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Gospel 24

Gospeling, gospeling, gospeling … that’s what Paul does. And today we look at his great address on the Areopagus in Athens:

Acts 17:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, ?What does this babbler want to say?? Others said, ?He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.? (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, ?May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.? 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.


Acts 17:22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ?Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ?To an unknown god.? What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him?though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ?In him we live and move and have our being?; as even some of your own poets have said,
?For we too are his offspring.?


29 Since we are God?s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.?

Acts 17:32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, ?We will hear you again about this.? 33 At that point Paul left them. 34 But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.


Paul’s gospeling involved: Jesus and the resurrection and the Gentile philosophers think he is talking about foreign gods (revealing, in part, how Paul spoke of Jesus in exalted terms).

Paul’s gospeling involved “touchstones”: he started where the audience was. What those gods were pointing at Paul knew: the one God created it all, this one God made all humans to search for God and is not far from any of us — in fact, we dwell in God — but idols are not God.

Paul’s gospeling involved the call to repentance in light of God’s judgment. And the Judge will be Jesus Christ.

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posted October 30, 2008 at 12:37 am

What a great point! Since Luke records the response to the message as implying that Paul was speaking of Christ as a god, and that the hearers took it this way. it makes one wonder how much this tells us about Lukes Christology. If Paul shapes his message as implying that Jesus is on par with the Greek gods, does this necessarily mean that Paul, and Luke, saw Jesus on the same level as YHWH? Of course we know this to be true, but did Luke and does this passage (by means of Pauls message) give any clues toward that end?

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John W Frye

posted October 30, 2008 at 8:04 am

I think Luke *in his Gospel* presents Jesus as a Spirit-empowered human being. This is certainly how Peter describes Jesus to the hearers on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and to Cornelius the centurion (Acts 10). That Jesus is YHWH in human form (a g/God) unfolds after the resurrection and ascension in Paul’s thinking and, therefore, Luke’s account in Acts 17. Luke’s Gospel does not deny Jesus’ deity but it is not the aim of his Gospel.

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posted October 30, 2008 at 6:01 pm

This is one of my favorite passages of scriptures as regards to spreading the gospel. Rather than coming in and condemning the Athenians for their idol worship, he meets them where they are and affirms what from their own faith is God-driven. I have found this tact to be very useful when talking with people of differing faiths. If I can talk with a Buddhist about Jesus’ warning that we gain life only when we are willing to lose it and draw some commonalities between what that has meant in my life and their practice of non-attachment, it really opens doors. If we share some truth in common, then it may be possible that I have truth that they don’t yet know rather than just the same old “you’re going to hell” song and dance they associate with Christianity. After all, God is written into creation and we all carry the image of God within our being side-by-side with our sin nature, so when any human being earnestly seeks the divine, they will inevitably stumble upon some truth. Or at least it seems that way to me. Anyhow, the gospeling going on here is one of my all time favorite sorts of gospeling. :)

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posted October 31, 2008 at 6:42 am

Hi Scot (or anyone who wants to jump in),
I’m hoping to write a paper about the theology of Paul’s speeches in Acts (esp. this speech). Do you have any sources you could recommend?

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Travis Greene

posted October 31, 2008 at 8:58 am

Also, many (if not all) religions are based partly on observation of the world. Since God made the world, we shouldn’t be surprised that human imagination refracts God’s creation into stories and myths and beliefs that, while they aren’t fully true, still have truth.

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jane spriggs

posted October 31, 2008 at 3:02 pm

Rebeccat, I too love this passage and often have it in my mind as ministry motivation. Paul knew his culture, he really knew his Scripture, and he interwove the two in an intricate way that drew people to Jesus (without inappropriately elevating culture or minimizing Jesus).
Thanks, Scot

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Scot McKnight

posted October 31, 2008 at 3:17 pm

Look at J.A. Fitzymer, Acts of the Apostles, pp. 111-113 — three pages of bibliography on the speeches of Acts.

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