Acts and Mission 72

Areopagus.jpgPaul’s speech on the Areopagus is one for the ages, and I think we gain a glimpse into Paul’s strategy with Gentiles pagans when he “gospels” them.

Yesterday I posted the full text and today I want to make a few observations about Paul’s gospel when he speaks to Gentiles in such a setting as the Areopagus:
1. He’s empathic and seeker-sensitive in his opening lines: he begins where they are so he can lead them to Christ.
2. He’s clever: he jumps from the tomb of the “unknown god” to what they are groping for and to what he does in fact “know.”
3. He begins with a creation and universal theology: God is creator and God is creator of all, not just Jews but also Gentiles like the Athenians.

4. That God is invisible and cannot be cut down to size in a stone idol.
5. The Creator God made all humans through one man (Adam) and God’s intent was universal population. And God assigned each a place and he made each to long for and grope for God.
6. This Creator God is not far from us and here he draws wisdom from one of their lines: a kind of panentheistic comment that we all dwell and have our being in God.
7. The time has come to repent from idols and idolatry as sinful pollutions of God’s intent. Why repent? Because the Creator God is the Judging God and he will judge all.
8. God will judge all through one man, Jesus, whom God raised from the dead.
Paul gospel by telling the Creation story in Greek forms and with Greek connections but he tells the Story so that it leads to Jesus, the One whom God has raised, as the agent of God’s judgment.
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  • Matt Edwards

    I wonder what we’re supposed to do with this text when we consider the development of Paul’s thought and missionary strategy. I have always found it interesting that so many people point to this passage as normative for Paul’s strategy, when really Paul didn’t have a lot of success in Athens. The people mocked him when he was done speaking, we don’t have a record of a church being planted there, and Athens is only ever mentioned again in passing in 1 Thess 3:1.
    I also find it interesting that Paul went to Corinth immediately after leaving Athens, and he recounts in 1 Corinthians his strategy there: “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” I’ve always wondered if 1 Corinthians 1:22–24 was a pot shot at the Athenians.
    I wonder if Paul saw his approach in Athens as a failure and a lesson learned.

  • Travis Greene

    Interesting thoughts, but if the gospel was faithfully proclaimed, how can it be a failure? I don’t know whether Paul’s speech is normative, exactly, but surely it’s an example (much like Stephen’s sermon), and I can’t see how it’s an example of what not to say. Unless of course Jesus’ hard sayings, which drove the crowds away, was also a failed approach. Besides which, I don’t think we can know what ultimately happened as a result of Paul’s preaching in Athens. If nothing else, we have this great text.
    Paul may have been taking a potshot at the Athenians in 1 Corinthians, but I highly doubt he was taking a potshot at himself.

  • I bet Dionysius and Damaris didn’t think Paul a failure, and neither did the Angels rejoicing in Glory after they believed.