Lecture 18: Acts 17:10-34
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Paul travelled to Berea and then to Athens. He saw the idols there and went to Mars Hill and preached a sermon based on an idol there that was dedicated to, "the unknown god." When you have conversations, find common ground and move to the essential elements of the Gospel.
Lecture 18: Acts Chapters 17
A. Paul and Silas at Berea
Although Paul faced a hostile response in Thessalonica, he left a church there, just like he did in Philippi. Hopefully things would get better for him but not quite yet. The response at Berea was initially more positive as shown in verses 10-15. The Via Egnatia, the road on which they had been travelling in 17:1 continued westward but Paul now took a southern road through Greece to Achaia that led through Berea. Berea was about sixty miles west of Thessalonica and the main road, Via Egnatia, leaving those who wanted to persecute him behind. In 17:11 we read that the Jews in Berea checked everything against the Scriptures. They diligently listened to good teachers and of course we believe that as well. Greek philosophers praised those who also listened attentively to truth. At the synagogue in Berea, people listened to Paul and they searched the Scriptures. They could have had the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint along with some scrolls of the prophets as well. Many had such scrolls according to what Philo and Josephus tell us. We also have a special mention of women in 17:12 which fits Luke’s interest as in 17:4. Thessalonians had no legal jurisdiction in Berea so these Thessalonians Jews who had heard that Paul was speaking in the Synagogue at Berea come to stir up trouble against him in Berea as well. They had no legal jurisdiction whatsoever but often, mobs function outside the law. Messengers usually traveled with others as it was safer. People accompanied Paul but Paul was the Thessalonian Jew’s main target. Luke summarizes this somewhat, but we get additional details in 1 Thessalonians 3:1 where we see Paul going to Athens. Outside of Macedonia he is not going to be facing as much trouble as nobody is going to follow him this far south, being outside of the province.
B. Athens and the Philosophers 1. Athens and Philosophers
Athens had a couple of ports; Paul may have come into Piraeus or another port. Coming into the port, one could see the Parthenon, temples and various altars, especially those to unknown gods. If you read Pausanias, a 2nd century Greek geographer who lived at the time of the Roman emperor Hadrian; he tells us about all the statues in all the cities that you could see. Of course some things were built after Paul’s day. If you want to know exactly what Paul saw in the market of Athens and on the Acropolis, well, there were statues everywhere you looked. There were temples everywhere one could see also. So, when Paul’s spirit was stirred up, Athens had this reputation for great philosophy but everywhere you looked, there was worship of different gods with their temples. Paul was so stirred inside by this idolatry in such an intellectual place as Athens as gentiles thought. Jewish people didn’t think in these terms; as why would anybody worship inanimate objects that were made by people when they were made by God and so his spirit was provoked within him. If you read Pausanias you will get all these details of the city.
In Roman times, Philosophers focused more on ethics more than what we call philosophy. Religion didn’t deal as much with ethics as philosophy did; religion was more interested in ritual. Many people thought that philosophers were actually unreligious. Some of them like the Epicureans were unreligious in terms of a religious ritual and many philosophers discarded gods as superstitious, but they thought it was okay if the masses did it. Most of them weren’t atheists in any case, however, some were; they simply believed that the gods were too far removed from human existence. This is what the Epicureans believed which were more like deists instead of being atheists. People did criticize them as being atheists. So, many discarded the gods as superstitions and the worship of superstitions. This was their own personal views, but they thought that religion was good for the people; Plato even said that religion keeps people in line and it was necessary for the proper function of the state. Some philosophers did attack religion as superstition. The Stoics, who were the most popular form of philosophers during this period, didn’t attack religion and sometimes even defended the existence of the gods, although they didn’t practice popular level rituals.
2. Schools of Philosophy
Romans didn’t always trust philosophers, especially earlier on. There was an ongoing war between rhetoric and philosophy, but this was mainly during an earlier period, not so much at this time. Philosophy was highly respected in Athens being famous from ancient days with the subject of lectures on great cities. But its actual glory had faded. It had a reputation for great philosophers as Socrates was from there. But in terms of philosophical education, it had fallen behind Alexandria and Tarsus which were also university centers. Today there are some places that run on their elite reputation but there are some schools that had less elite reputations, yet the quality of their education was very good. In any case, Alexandria and Tarsus had already surpassed Athens as university centers. Athens, like Thessalonica was a free city. That is important to understand as some people say that Paul never preached in Athens; he mentioned being in Athens in 1 Thessalonians; nobody denies this. Also in 1 Corinthians 16:15, Paul talks about somebody as being the first fruits of the province of Achaia; they say that Athens was in the province of Achaia even though Corinth was its capital. If the first convert wasn’t in Athens, even if Paul did preach in Athens, he didn’t make any converts in contrast to what you see in Acts 17:34. Unfortunately for this argument, Athens was a free city and therefore even geographically was part of Achaia, it wasn’t technically part of the province of Achaia and therefore in speaking about the first fruits of Achaia, even if he was speaking explicitly of the very first converts, this doesn’t rule out converts in Athens. Most people who take this argument, hasn’t taken into account the fact that Athens was a free city.
Rabbinic debates with philosophers appear in rabbinic literature, often just as a way of showing that we rabbis are so smart that we can beat philosophers. That was a literary function. The function of this narrative maybe similar, although this isn’t something that was like information based on legend or made up; this is in the work of ancient historiography from a travelling companion of Paul writing about something that had happened within a generation of his own time. Speeches make up about a quarter of Acts, depending on how you count it and often they form an apologetic function defending the faith.
3. Apologetics and Philosophy
Apologetics and philosophy in the Greco-Roman world had already plunders the most useful contributions of Greek philosophy and they had been doing this for centuries. They actually claimed that the philosophers had plagiarized Moses which wasn’t likely true but Christian apologists like Justin followed that some Greeks also thought that some philosophers such as Pythagoras drew from Judaism. Hellenistic Jews often depicted Abraham as a philosopher. He was depicted that way in Philo and in the Fourth Maccabees and the pre-Christian epistle of Aristeas. So, a lot of Jewish apologetics interacted with and engaged philosophy, especially by this period of Stoic philosophy, unlike Alexandria where there was a lot of Photonic philosophy. Paul may have already had some training in this subject; he certainly had opportunities to this pick up and made use of it. He didn’t say that philosophers stole this from Moses, but he was willing to look at an overlap. Sometimes, today I get annoyed that some people will say it you are skeptical of some things in the Bible, they label you as a critical scholar; if you defend some things in the Bible, they say that you are doing apologetics; this is as if being something other than a critical scholar. Apologia means that you are defending a position and scholars who are skeptical of something are defending a position. If I defend a position that is more honoring of it, well, I have good reason to do so. It isn’t that I haven’t done my research. I am treating Acts the same way that I would treat comparable Greco-Roman literature. I don’t necessarily come to all the same conclusions that every other conservative scholar does. We don’t come to the same conclusion as we are critical scholars. We look at the evidence and see where it points and skeptics don’t always come to the same conclusion either. I’m not denying that they can be critical scholars. I’m just saying that sometimes people have a way of framing the discussion that isn’t actually very fair. So, do I defend a position? Yes, but only after researching it and coming to a conclusion. So, am I an apologist? Yes, but so are many skeptical scholars for their own position. So, I’m trying to be a good scholar as well as a good Christian. I was an atheist before coming to Christ and the evidence that I’ve seen has always pointed me more toward God and not away from God.
In chapter 17 and verse 18, we see that there was a danger of initialing worship of foreign gods which is what they said about Paul here. Before then, he is said to have proclaimed Jewish customs that didn’t fit Roman customs; this was in chapter 16:20-21. Then, he was accused of speaking of another king besides Caesar in 17:7. Here in 17:18, people are accusing him of initiating the worship of foreign gods. Here, it is the educated philosophers who are engaging in lively discussion. It isn’t so much as a legal charge, yet. But it was a potentially a dangerous charge in the 5th century BC. A priestess in Athens was stoned to death according to Josephus for such a charge. This was mainly toward Socrates because he was preaching new foreign deities. You find this everywhere in ancient literature. Socrates was brought before the leading council of Athens which was the Areopagus before which Paul was going to face. Luke may be portraying Paul as a new Socrates. Usually Acts portrays Paul as speaking in the mantle of the prophets and following in the footsteps of Jesus. So, here, it is especially an illusion to Socrates. Luke may be having some fun at the expense of these philosophers, just like he did at the expense of the church in Acts 12. They said that Paul was a spermologos, a gossiper or trifler in talk. Literally this referred to birds that would go picking up grain around the market place. It came to be applied to those who would pick up odds and ends in the market place and finally was applied to worthless people. People who sounded like they knew something because they could quote different things; Paul isn’t going to have the range of knowledge of quotation of philosophers that Athenians had from their respective schools. Stoic wouldn’t know a whole lot about Epicureans and vice versa except for the criticisms they had for each other.
So, they say that he is a spermologos who is introducing foreign gods. Paul’s audience includes people from both Epicureans and Stoics at this point, as he is dialoging with them in the market place. This idea of introducing foreign gods; notice that they use the plural; Paul has been preaching to them Jesus the anastasis or resurrection. But they don’t understand what Paul is saying, even though he is trying to contextualize for them. They are willing to pontificate and yet they miss the point; we have a lot of people who do that today. They don’t even understand Christianity or real Christianity; they don’t understand the Gospel or the Biblical text but they are will to mock it. Most likely, everyone isn’t mocking Paul; some may be listening to him more. Paul will end up dividing and conquering among his hearers. He does this the same way in Acts 23:6 with Pharisees and Sadducees where the Pharisees sort of side with him because he was preaching the resurrection. What if an angel or spirit has spoken to him; we may not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but there may have been an angel or spirit that spoke to him about the resurrection. So the Pharisees and Sadducees argued with one another.
5. Epicureans, Stoics and the Cynics
Epicureans said there were no gods or gods that were known except through sensation or nature, but you can’t have contact with these gods. They opposed the old myths and on deity they were very similar to deism except they allowed for more than one god. The Greek philosopher Epicurus in 307 BC believed that pleasure was the greatest good which was obtained through living modestly, gaining knowledge of the workings of the world and limiting one’s desires. This was the absence of pain in the body and absence of trouble in the soul and therefore they viewed death as not something bad. They were only influential in the educated upper classes. There were four main schools of thought in Athens. In the 2nd century, you still had the Epicureans, the Stoics, the Platonist and the Skeptics. At this point in time, it was the Epicureans and the Stoics who Paul was talking with. The Stoics were much more popular in this period than the Platonists who came into vogue in subsequent centuries. The Stoics criticized the Epicureans, though the Stoics weren’t as great as they had been. The schools had borrowed from each other somewhat. Seneca, a Roman Stoic, was alive before the time of this council. Seneca praises Epicurus but invites Lucius to lead Epicureanism. Stoics were more popular with the people then Epicureans were; just like Pharisees were more popular with the people than the Sadducees were. Stoics agreed with the common people more so in regards to their beliefs. Some of them were more like Cynics, who sought to be apathetic to or detached from the situations and circumstances of the world that they couldn’t control and focused instead on their mental responses to life and the world. They didn’t regard pleasure as the highest ideal. They regarded virtue as the highest ideal; they thought pleasure was a vice. Their cosmology was made up of two forces: the logos or reason and phusis or nature. Logos would act on nature; so you had the principle of reason that organized nature. Some of them said that if you can look at nature and not believe that it was designed and not believe that there was a supreme being that made it, and then you must be very ignorant.
The Stoics had an ethnic of equality. This was similar to Christianity, but it was subverted once it became part of the establishment. They were strict on household codes from the time of Aristotle on. There were these rules that the male of the household to rule his wife, his children and his slaves. You have that picked up and developed in Ephesians but in quite a different way than what Aristotle did. Instead of ruling his wife, Paul said that the husband should love his wife. He puts this into the context of believers submitting yourselves one to another. Paul often used some stoic ideas, for example of that of divine design and nature in Romans 1. This had already been adopted through Judaism and he was able to make use of that. You can see God’s work in nature; today, we can see a whole lot more in regards to nature and we can see God’s glory a lot more. God is intelligent and he is the creator and he designed things the way they are. Stoics believed that you could see that in nature. They had a bit more common ground with Jews and Christians than Epicureans did. They believed also in providence, that divine nature worked in the world. At one point they were pantheist, now they were closer to believing in one supreme deity. They also acknowledged that there were all these other gods but these gods would be dissolved into a primeval fire every so often, every few thousand years when the world would collapse in on itself and burn up. Then the supreme fate or logos would reorganize the world again. So they believed in a cyclical universe, not a big bang type universe.
C. Paul Addresses the Areopagus 1. Mars Hill
The philosophers weren’t Paul’s only audience in Athens, although many people in Athens would have some knowledge of philosophy, especially the educated people. So the philosophers brought Paul to the Areopagus. This was the high court of Athens. It had about a hundred members; so he has a fairly good audience; plus they were meeting in public. They were probably meeting in the agora. Paul doesn’t have to go somewhere else to meet them. The council was called the Areopagus during this period; even though they no longer met on Areios Pagos or Ares Rock or Mars Hill as it was called. Why would they take him to the Areopagus? They thought that the high court should listen to what Paul had to say. So, it was probably for the purpose of evaluation. If you were going to set yourself up as a lecturer and have people to follow you; you might want to be accredited by the city council. You could first call a big gathering and the give an oration and if people liked it, then you could set up a school. If they didn’t like it, you could try it in another town. They could have also been functioning like a board of education to see whether he was going to be allowed to speak. Paul didn’t really face a risk of execution then, but he could still raise suspense because everybody in the diaspora, at least people who were educated enough to follow the Book of Acts; everybody knew about Socrates and everybody knew that he had been tried before the Areopagus and been condemned and executed. Everybody also knew by this point that Socrates was right and the Areopagus was wrong, including everybody in the current Areopagus. Anyway, Paul spoke before them. He gives an exordium, an introduction where you would get the audience on your side. You would start out by praising the audience and so when Paul says to them, ‘I see how religious you are.’ Sometimes this is translated superstitious; as an adjective, it can mean more religious than others. He spoke to them in a way that they would understand. You could think of something positive to say; if what they believed in was false, you can appreciate the fact that they are devoted to what they believe. The term is ambiguous here as to being religious. So, he finds a point in common with his audience first and that is a good way to relate to people.
2. To the Unknown God
He speaks to them in verse 23: for as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found an altar with this inscription, ‘to the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.’ There were other alters of unknown gods as he had already seen one. So he told them that he wanted to talk to them about this unknown god. Paul is going to tell them about Jesus Christ. How this unknown god is identified as an unknown god. Centuries before there had been a plague in Athens and they sacrificed to all the gods they knew and nothing worked. Finally, they were advised to offer to an unknown god; they would let some animals go lose and where the animals sat down to rest, they would build an alter. You have something similar to this in 1 Samuel. So, these alters were still standing in Paul’s day and it was actually a theme in ancient speeches to praise public works and local monuments. Paul was still in good with them; he is going to speak of this unknown God, this God that you don’t know about. If you are going to call people ignorant and say that there is something that they don’t know about; you could say it in a nice way. They wouldn’t have appreciated being told that there was something they didn’t know, but they did want to hear and learn new things.
In 17:24-25, Paul speaks of God’s self-sufficiency. They had a way of assimilating additional gods into their culture. Diaspora Jews went so far as to call God Zeus sometimes as their supreme God, but Paul doesn’t go that far. Stoics believed that God permeated the universe, or God, or Logos or fate in itself was the universe. Earlier stoics were more pantheist than in this period. They didn’t believe that the gods were localized in temples at all. Paul wouldn’t have believed that either as he had heard Stephen preach on that. There were good things that came out of Stephen’s martyrdom; sometimes things look very bad to us as we saw in Stephen’s case; he was a great theologian of the Gospel put to death. We see that the vision he had was multiplied as the church was scattered through persecution. The seed was sown that was later reaped on the Road to Damascus. It was because Paul had some content of some under-standing when Jesus appeared to him. He had already heard Stephen’s speech and already knew about this non-localized vision. Here, it comes to the surface again. In Isaiah 66.1, God doesn’t need temples made with hands because heaven is his throne and earth is his footstool. So, the Stoics would have agreed with that. Paul was establishing common ground again, and he does have a lot of audacity. Everywhere you looked there were temples but God doesn’t need these temples. Paul also said in verse 25 that God doesn’t need to be served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. You found this also in Greek philosophy and also in diaspora Judaism. The letter of Aristeas again, plus 3rd Maccabees, Philo and other diaspora Jewish sources spoke of God needing nothing. So this was again, common ground being offered by Paul. Paul believes this; the Bible taught it and it agreed with the stoics also. So he gets to say more by building this common ground before he gets to something that is controversial. This shows us the importance of contextualization.
3. Contextualization and Epimenides
Contextualization does mean making it more relevant and more understandable but it doesn’t always make it more agreeable. Sometimes when it gets more understandable, it becomes more disagreeable to people. In verses 26-29, still contextualizing, he talks about God not needing things from us in terms of sacrifices, etc.; but it is more of humanities’ need for God. Both Jews and Greeks recognize God as creator or in some cases, the gods as creator for the Greek. They also recognize that the boundaries of nations had been divinely established, although those boundaries change periodically; the boundaries in Genesis 10 and Acts 2:9-11 reads like an updating of Genesis 10 for the language of Luke’s day. God divided nation’s boundaries and divided historical epics as well. Stoics spoke of a cyclical universe and they saw epics in that way, going back into the primeval fire, dissolving everything back into the one, periodically. The idea here is more like God being in charge of the nations and over the epics of history. This is just like you would have in the Old Testament and philosophers would have agreed with this. He speaks of God as Father; well here again, he is relating and contextualizing; he knows enough of his audience to use this language that they understood. Paul wasn’t trained as a philosopher but he is trying to reach out to them. Jews and Greeks both would speak of the supreme God as Father. Judeans normally expressed that he was the Father of God’s people, the Father of Israel. But Greeks and very often the diaspora Jews spoke of God as the Father of the world by virtue of creation or Zeus as the Father of the world for Greeks by virtue of creation. So Paul can use the language in a way that was understood, God being the creator of the universe. Normally in the New Testament, he is the Father of his people; we are his children. But here you can use it like in Malachi and other places where God is Father by virtue of creation. We, in this way, owe our existence to him also. In verse 28, he quotes from Greek poets; these were fairly well-known lines from Greek poets. Paul may well have gotten them from a Jewish apologetics manual for all we know. They were gathered in collections of quotations; so even minimal training in Greek sayings could have given a person access to this.
Quotations are aptly chosen; Homer was the most famous and most often cited along with other poets; these poets were cited as proof texts similar in a way Jewish people cited Scripture. Paul cited Scripture when he spoke in synagogues, but here he cites poets although not abundantly as he cites Scripture. But he doesn’t cite Homer or the divine Plato but instead Epimenides and Aratus, the life in which we live and have our being is attributed to Epimenides. Well, it is interesting that in Titus 1:12, the other place in the New Testament where Epimenides is quoted in a letter that is attributed to Paul. Epimenides was from Crete and that was relevant in Titus as that was where Titus was ministering and Epimenides was one of their own. The first saying was, ‘in you we live, move and have our being.’ That was from Epimenides. Actually Epimenides was also the one who advised people to build these alters to unknown gods. And so it is natural that in that context in Athens as he is speaking about the unknown God; he would cites Epimenides and expect that his audience would recognize that it was associated with Epimenides. It was also said that Epimenides had a very long sleep for many years. If any of you have heard of Ervine’s Rip Van Wrinkle and thought that it was an original American tail; he wrote it himself but it did have some residence in Greek mythology and there were some other stories like that. Of course, it is a fictitious story. So, the association with Epimenides makes sense. He gives another quotation which is normally attributed to Aratus, ‘for we are indeed his offspring.’ Aratus was from Cilicia, the same place that Paul was from. So it makes sense that Paul would have cited something from Aratus. The use of poets also appears in the diaspora Jewish anthologies of useful proof texts for apologetics. Some criticized the poets as being too mythological; you had a lot of this from philosophers. Stoics allegorize this as Zeus wasn’t raping women and boys; it was virtues meeting with other virtues. Platonists really developed this farther in a later period. Others used the wording of the poets freely to prove their own case.
4. Ignorance Regarding Cooperability
Notice that Paul goes far in making contact with the culture. I try to do that in so far as I can. You can certainly do this better within your own context than I can. We need to see how we can make the Gospel relevant in our context but not compromising it, not changing it but instead communicating it in terms of what people can understand and finding some common ground. This is a good missiological principle. It is a good principle for dialogue and even for being nice to people as well. But the fact that Paul is taking any side means that some people will agreed with him while others will not. The Epicureans may agree with him on the idea that there is no need for temples and no need for statues. They will not agree with him on all the things he has said for he clearly believes in the providential acts of God in history. In verse 29, he continues in saying, ‘being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.’ Most philosophers thought that the statues were not deities themselves, but some regarded them as memory aids to remind you of the deity and to get you to think about the deity. We have had Christian traditions of artwork that developed and depict humans but we know that God is God. There is no picture we can draw of him. There are some traditions that use memory aids to point you to God, but Christians agree with Jewish traditions that we shouldn’t have idols. But the philosophers didn’t always understand them as idols; sometimes they view them as memory aids which is something that Christians didn’t accept. In 17:30, he speaks of ignorance; God has not judged the world so much yet because of their ignorance. As we saw back in 3:17, ignorance reduces cooperability; some people are guiltier than others and some people are less guilty than others and God takes this into account. The Gospels speak of the servant that knew the master’s will, will be beaten with many strips if they disobeyed.
17:23 spoke of the unknown god and that is the ignorance he talks about here. So now he is revealing to them this God who had been previously unknown to them. But they wouldn’t want to be thought as being ignorant. The language here is somewhat strong and it is about to get stronger. If they wanted to be like Socrates; he said that he was very ignorant and trying to learn something. They wouldn’t have appreciated bringing something to their attention that they didn’t know that was so important. With verses 30-31, Paul goes beyond common ground and tells them what the Gospel really requires of people, which is repentance. This was an idea that the Jewish people could appreciate, but it wasn’t something that most Greeks would have appreciated. They accepted the idea of conversion to philosophy but the kind of repentance Paul is talking about, they would have to deny their gods. Paul says that God is going to judge the world and many Greeks believed in a judgement and an afterlife. But they weren’t looking to some future time and concrete moment when God would judge the world. Even for the stoics who believed in cosmic configuration which was cyclable. They weren’t looking for something like the Day of the Lord, a linear view of history, a time where there would be a massive transformation. God is going to judge the world through a man that he has appointed and he has given evidence to everybody. This isn’t blind faith; he has given evidence by raising him from the dead. This is when he lost them. But he couldn’t compromise the truth of the Gospel. That is the Gospel. Paul wasn’t speaking of a theoretical god that was just an idea or the god of the Platonist who was emotionless and approachable except he was pure in mind. He was speaking of the God of Scripture, a person who acted in real history. A God who reached out to people and not just thought meditation working their way to God as some of the Greek philosophers thought. 5. Paul Talks about the Resurrection
So, Paul speaks of Jesus being raised from the dead; as far as Greeks were concerned, this would be like some corpse coming out of the tomb which wasn’t a very appealing point or even a cremated corpse reorganizing itself coming back to life, a kind of a scary idea. Paul is speaking of the Jewish notion of the resurrection in Daniel 12:2 widely developed as a common Jewish belief, certainly by the Pharisees and the majority of people who agreed with them in Judea which excluded the Sadducees and many of the diaspora Jews even didn’t believe it. But God had done it in Jesus; he had demonstrated that it was true. Full life is bodily life; when God created the world, he said that it was good. Some of these philosopher thought that the best thing was to get out of the body which was considered a tomb of itself. Many Greek thinkers thought that when you were out of the body, your soul would not be held down by this heavy body and it would float up to the pure heavens. In regards to the Biblical world view, existence is bodily existence. The creation is good and it will be renewed and the body will be resurrected and we will have joy in bodily existence. 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5; it will not be the same kind of body as there will be differences, but it is corporal. The world is a real place and it matters; that is why we can care about the environment; we can care about people going hungry and people being sick. It is a real world and evil and suffering are not just imagination. It is something that God’s cares about and it is something that we can care about. There is coming a time where it will all be made right. This didn’t fit Greek thought and neither did it fit Epicurean thought nor Stoic thought.
Why does Paul save this until the end? It is because whenever he says it, they then stop listening to him. Paul can’t just leave this point out as it would not be preaching the Gospel. I had a friend many years ago and according to his faith, Jesus was a great prophet, a great teacher; there was a lot of common ground to start with. He believed in one true God. I told him that Jesus was the Word of God and he said that he believed this. I also said that we believe in the resurrection of the dead and he also acknowledged this as part of his belief. I also said that Jesus rose from the dead which he didn’t believe. If there is common ground, by all means share with that common ground. There was more common ground with my friend than Paul had to work with. So, when you find common ground, use it but be polite and gracious, but people need to know the other things that we believe also; things that are central to our faith: God raised Jesus from the dead and that is our hope for eternal life. In verses 32-34, what are Paul’s results in Athens? Some say that he went on to Corinth determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling. Many think that Paul did this because it had gone so badly in Athens where he wasn’t focusing on Christ crucified. Actually, it was a common rhetorical device to lower expectations by saying what a bad speaker you were. Deo Christophen, a 2nd century orator would do that and then he would deliver this incredible sermon. In reading Paul’s letters and as you study ancient rhetoric, you will see how good Paul was. Most narrators didn’t even include rhetoric in their letters; then again, they weren’t arguing a point. But, you have a number of rhetorical devices in Paul’s letters that were unusual by the standards of ancient rhetoric in terms of having them in letters.
At the same time, we read in Paul’s letters that some didn’t think he was a good speaker as in 2 Corinthians 10 and 11. It seems that it wasn’t the nature of his argumentation or logic. There were other things that determined whether a person was a good orator or not. It was how they dressed and even how they groomed themselves and their jesters and perhaps even more relevant in Paul’s case, perhaps his accent. Paul wasn’t from Athens or Corinth, he didn’t have perhaps a pure Athenian accent. Although he seemed to have developed it for when he started speaking Greek, the commander or Chiliarch in Acts 21:38 asked if he was the one who started a rebellion and led four thousand men of the Assassins into the wilderness some time ago? In Egypt, a lot of people spoke Greek; Jewish people in Egypt certainly spoke Greek, but not the way those who lived in the Aegean would speak, especially from a place like Athens or Corinth. So, this Chiliarch was impressed with the quality of Paul’s Greek. So, Paul wasn’t the world’s best speaker, but when he says that he had determined to preach nothing but Christ crucified. This was because the people of Corinth were all into worldly status and power. Paul reminded them of the cross which he does in both 1 and 2 Corinthians. So, Paul preached the Cross of Christ, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t contextualize. He does this to the Corinthians through letters. He even used rhetorical devices with people who criticized his rhetoric. What was Paul’s result in Athens? Luke tells us that among the converts there, one of them was Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. One of the converts was a city council member and this had to be the work of the Holy Spirit. In this one preaching to people who were so cultural different from what he was communicating; one of them became a believer; the Holy Spirit must have touched the man. His name was Dionysius and according to tradition, he became the Bishop of Athens. And Damaris may have been one of the Stoic or Epicurean philosophers as some had women disciples. In Athens, traditionally, that was one of the places where women were most restricted. So, she was probably an upper class woman. Traditionally, the only women that were out in public were the high class prostitutes, but she could have been a philosopher, especially given the people among whom Paul was speaking.
This probably was seen as good and not bad; some of them mocked them while others wanted to hear more. Remember, there were divided responses elsewhere like in Acts 14. This is not the problem of the Gospel and it is not a bad thing because some people had become believers and that is what happens here. After this Paul moves on the next city further south which was Corinth. This is in Acts 18. I will provide some details on Corinth, the capital of Achaia. I want to illustrate some sections of Acts in great detail so that you can see how it is done if you want to go into great detail also. I will summarize other parts as we move beyond that. I have lots of detail in my four volume commentary on Acts, but most people are not going to want that. The background material is summarized in a hundred page summary. There is also a cultural background study Bible published by Zondervan that has a summary of these points in it. There have been a lot of research papers done on the city of Corinth with its huge archeological background. There are volumes and volumes of published descriptions of Corinth. Starting in the next lesson, I am only going to give you a sample of this material.
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