Preaching to Gentiles in Athens
Passage: Acts 17:16–17:34
Big Picture: Paul is building a pre-evangelism framework in which the proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection for sin can make sense. As 21 st century Canadian Christians, there is much we can learn from Paul’s approach.
1. The realities Paul faces
Paul is not dealing with people who are biblically illiterate and therefore have no
worldview, but with biblical illiterates who argue for various competing and
Note the condescension in verse 18: “What is this babbler trying to say?”
2. The priorities Paul adopts
God-centered cultural analysis
Preaching biblical truth
3. The biblical framework Paul establishes
He establishes that God is the creator of the world and everything in it (24).
Paul insists that God is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples
built by hands (v. 24).
God is the God of aseity: he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything
We are utterly dependent on him — he himself gives all people life and breath and everything else (v. 25b).
Paul insists that all nations descended from one man (v. 26).
For the first time we find an explicit reference to something wrong in this universe
that God created. His providential rule over all was with the purpose that some
would reach out for him and find him (v. 27).
Although it has been important for him to establish God’s transcendence, Paul does
not want such an emphasis to drift toward what would later be called deism. The
God he has in mind is not far from each one of us (v.27)
The entailment of this theology and this anthropology is to clarify what sin is and to
make idolatry utterly reprehensible (v. 29).
Paul also introduces what might be called a philosophy of history — or better,
perhaps, a certain view of time.
4. The non-negotiable gospel Paul preaches
It is extraordinarily important to see that Paul has established the framework of the
biblical metanarrative before he introduces Jesus.
Paul does not flinch from affirming the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.