I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Saturday, December 5, 2009

PAUL’S AREOPAGITICA (ACTS 17:16—32): Complimentary or Confrontational?


Every duly attentive student of the scriptures who has sought to understand Paul’s critical address to the Athenians, as recorded in Acts 17:22—31, will acknowledge the truth of F. F. Bruce’s statement, saying, “probably no ten verses in the New Testament have supplied the text for a greater abundance of commentary than that which has grown up around Paul’s Areopagitica.”[1] Bruce’s remark here does include the perennial challenges and answers regarding the historical authenticity of this speech; being spoken by Paul himself rather than an editorial injection of the author; nevertheless, the broader context in which Bruce makes this statement points beyond the text critical questions to the more variegated issue of how exegetes, theologians, and apologists have attempted to interpret this passage for the purposes of understanding, constructing, and even justifying a particular approach to proclaiming and defending the gospel in the social context of modern secularism.

What will follow is yet further contribution to the “great abundance of commentary” already existing on this passage. For at no other time in the history of the church has the Western cultural context been more parallel to that of the early church.[2] Thus, Paul addressing pagans in the highly pluralistic context of Athens is the biblical model for a faithful gospel proclamation into the rampant biblical illiteracy of our own culture.

Thesis and method

Henceforth, it shall be argued that Paul’s speech before the Areopagus was fundamentally confrontational in nature; not complimentary, always challenging, either directly or indirectly, the very philosophies through which his teaching was being examined. In order to accomplish this task, three steps will be taken. First, the view that contends Paul sought to persuade his audience through an extended and complimentary exordium in which he appropriated the common ground of human reason and natural theology will be heard. This perhaps is the most common understanding of the speech and shall be revisited in latter portions of this composition. Second, a reconstruction of the philosophies represented at the Areopagus is necessary in order to better grasp the fundamental assumptions and pre-commitments of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophical systems Paul faced. Third, the contrastive nature of Paul’s framework will be introduced, with particular attention given to the crucial elements of the resurrection and Paul’s point(s) of contact. Finally concluding that Paul’s method in Athens was more antithetical than it was accommodating; more confrontational than complimentary, and as such, his furlough in Athens was a complete success.

The historical reading of the text

Since the rise of Thomism’s natural theology and its immensely popular approach to answering secular skepticism, the general consensus has understood Paul, here, to be complimentary toward his auditors, exercising epistemological neutrality in his choice of language and his quotation(s) of secular sources rather than biblical revelation. Moreover, Paul is generally understood to be seeking common ground within the pagan philosophies upon which he might build a natural theology of sorts; thus, moving the Athenians from their quasi-correct starting point to true worship, through the resurrected Christ. Throughout much of church history this has been the paradigmatic lens by which this text has been viewed. The axiomatic strength of the complimentary understanding of the text is evident in the following two examples.

Dr. Marvin Vincent, or instance, in his Word Studies in the New Testament, finds at least two words in the Authorized Version (A.V. hereafter) too strong for Paul’s meaning, or perhaps better, Dr. Vincent’s fore drawn conclusions. His first objection is made with regard to the A.V. rendering of δεισιδαιμονεστέρους as “too superstitious” in v.22. “Paul,” Vincent argues, “would have been very unlikely to begin his address with a charge which would have awakened the anger of his audience. What he means to say is, you are more divinity-fearing than the rest of the Greeks.”[3] This exposes a disregard for the strictures facing Paul in his historical context. The council of the Areopagus strictly forbade the use of flattery and blandishment in the oration of those being scrutinized.[4]

Equally troubling for Vincent is the use of “ignorantly” in v.23, maintaining that “ignorantly conveys more rebuke than Paul intended.”[5] In order for this to be convincing, however, the word’s emphatic position in the Greek construction of the sentence must be explained. It is “ignorance,” not “worship,” that is emphatic in v.23c.[6] Moreover, Paul employs the noun form of this verb again in v.30, as indicative of the idolatrous paganism he was speaking into. So, Vincent, and others with him, must ignore the pejorative emphasis in Paul’s vocal assessment of the philosopher’s systems; both in the original construction and the word’s repetition in order to maintain a complimentary view. Irregardless of the word choice of the receptor language, the function of αγνοεω (“ignorantly”) and its noun form, αγνοια (“ignorance”), is best understood as confrontational, not complimentary.

If, however, Vincent’s observations stand, then Paul is best understood as first complimenting his Pagan contemporaries for their piety and religiosity, however incomplete its content may be, and then using a sort of natural theology to guide them to the fullness of right worship from where they had begun. There are a great number of scholars still arguing this position today.[7]

Others have tried to understand the inherent tension in the passage through a rhetorical critical reading.[8] This approach allows for a two fold interpretation of the speech. Interpreting through a dual lens, it is argued, allows one “to see the subtle interplay between Paul’s rhetorical presentation for the benefit of his hearers and Luke’s narrative presentation for the benefit of his readers.” In this, the Athenian “hearers” are to understand Paul’s use of ambiguous language in a positive or complementary light while Luke’s Christian readers would perceive the irony and tension of the event being conveyed in the narrative. Hence, the complimentary nature of Paul’s defense remains, being tethered in the historical event. The confrontational overtones of the narrative are accredited to Luke’s rhetorical purposes, for the benefit of his readers. Although this interpretation rightly recognizes the confrontational nature of the speech, to remove Paul’s intention in the historical event so far from Luke’s authorial purpose in his narration of the event is hardly satisfactory.

Nevertheless, the rhetorical critical reading does acknowledge the presence of confrontation in the text. The following survey of the philosophical backgrounds of Paul’s opponents will further elucidate these confrontational connotations and provide a context in which they may remain comfortably situated in Paul’s historical situation.


Philosophers and philosophies in the first century

Something wanting in the view that understands Paul as complimenting his audience is an adequate treatment of the fundamental intellectual presuppositions represented at the Areopagus. Before seeking to establish a sufficient summary of these philosophies a few prefatory observations are in order. First, to read the modern stigma often associated with modern philosophy into the text, that is, as some sort of esoteric department of a large university with a concentrated focus upon impractical abstract concepts, is highly anachronistic. On the contrary, philosophy, in Paul’s first century context, “referred to an entire way of life, based on a rigorous and self-consistent intellectual system—close to what we would mean by worldview.”[9] On the basis of such a system, these competing schools of philosophy would then set out to offer society an all encompassing world and life view. As such, Paul was viewed as a present threat within the already contradictive atmosphere of Athenian academia; a threat that warranted closer inspection by the venerable council of the Areopagus. Granting this definition of philosophy or better, worldview, Paul himself certainly qualified as a philosopher; and as will be seen, a very formidable one.

In order to create a catalogued appraisal of the two worldviews opposing Paul in this text, four traditional philosophical categories will be used. As comprehensive worldviews, each must offer a substantial accounting of the following areas of inquiry: (1) Metaphysics answers the question of the nature and extent of reality, including God (god, gods), the world, man, man’s place in the world, etc. (2) Epistemology is the theory of knowledge. What can we know and how do we come to know it? (3) Ethics is concerned with how man ought to conduct himself in his relationships to God (god, gods), the world, his fellow man, and himself. Finally, (4) Eschatology. Is there a purpose or meaning to history? What is the bigger picture or the meta-narrative which gives meaning to the particulars of history?

These four categories form the conception framework upon which every other belief within a system, despite its strength or weakness, hangs and comports. The content of these four areas are ultimately a priori; they are assumed, and the entire super structure of the philosophy rests upon them. They are presupposed and non-negotiable. The respective content posited by each worldview will be offered in the following section in order to better understand the fundamentals of each group and the relevance of these in the confrontational nature of the speech.

The Epicurean worldview

The Epicureans were an intellectual elitist group founded by Epicurus of Samos (342—271 B.C.). His disciples went on to develop and maintain a school in Athens known as The Garden.[10]

(1) Metaphysic: The Epicureans embraced a thoroughgoing pluralistic cosmology, based on the atomistic theory of Democritus,[11] teaching that “the universe consisted of eternal atoms of matter; ever falling through space; the changing combinations and configurations of these falling atoms were explained by reference to chance (i.e. an irrational “swerve” in the fall of certain atoms).”[12] Thus, they were crass materialists.[13] It should not be surprising then that Epicureans were also “constructive atheists” who advanced “arguments against the traditional Greek gods.”[14] Not least of which was Epicurus’ original formulation of the argument against immanent deity from the so-called problem of evil. Nevertheless, the Epicureans did not deny the possibility that gods may exist; but the gods too were composed of atoms, existing between the worlds far removed from human experience, “making no difference to men and their affairs.”[15] Hence, they allowed for what we today might mean by “deism” and denied any chance of revelation from such gods. [16]

In spite of their doctrine of atomistic pluralism and chance, they were not deterministic; but, posited free-will in their anthropology. This exception is made by a precarious appeal to the “swerve in the falling atoms of matter,” yet remains inexplicable.[17] Man’s origin sprouts from chance, and upon death man’s whole person is dissolved and dispersed back into space so, consequently, they denied ardently the possibility of immortality. This is reflected in the words of one of their own poets. Philodemus wrote, “There is nothing to fear in god. There is nothing to fear in death.”[18]

(2) Epistemology: The Epicurean theory of knowledge was thoroughly consistent with their metaphysic; purely naturalistic. They contended that man was born tabula rasa, a blank slate if you will. Any and all knowledge is to be gained through sense perception alone; what is today called empiricism. Apart from constructing arguments against the gods of the superstitious Greek religions, Epicureans had little interest in logic.[19]

(3) Ethics: The summum bonum of the Epicurean ethic was an undisturbed life. Again, in tow of their view of reality, human desires should remain focused only upon temporal life and to be as free as possible from any disturbing passions, pains (physical and emotional), and fears—as seen above—of both god and death.[20] This concept is known as hedonism. The supreme good in life is happiness or pleasure. Epicurus himself was not a sensualist. His hedonism focused on qualitative pleasure; good food, wine, and friends; not quantitative pleasure, such as excess.[21] Nevertheless, by Paul’s time the group’s higher hedonism had waned to mere sensualism and indulgence.[22]

(4) Eschatology: Epicureans generally held to the Greek default in regards to the nature of history, a cyclical view of history. Conflagration, that is, destruction by fire, was the basis of their view that history went round and round in cycles, repeating itself without any reasoned aim.[23]

In summary, the Epicurean worldview that Paul faced was fundamentally pluralistic, finding absolutely no unity in the nature of the world. Everything was explicable through natural causes against any recourse to divine intervention or revelation. Moreover, if deity exists, man could not know one iota about it, for all knowledge comes through the senses and the gods are too far removed from man’s physical experience in the world. Thus, they urge that man’s highest end is his own pleasure. This pleasure is in large measure gained by casting off emotional anxiety often experienced by the fear of immortality and the gods’ judgment in the next life. Such point of judgment is diametrically opposed to Epicurean eschatology; the eternality and aimless chance of atomistic matter is endlessly being recapitulated.

The Stoic worldview

Stoicism was a worldview developed by Zeno of Citium (c. 336—c.264 B.C.). They derived their name from the painted stoa or portico, where Zeno habitually met with and taught his students.[24]

(1) Metaphysic: The Stoics’ axiom of reality was monistic.[25] This monism disallowed all possibility of plurality in the cosmos, similar to the Eastern view that “all is One.” This involved two entailments. One, like the Epicureans, they were materialist. Unlike the Epicureans, however, they embraced determinism, something that radically affected their ethic, as will be seen in due course. Second is another necessary consequence of monistic materialism; a theology of pantheism. They thought of god as a refined material substance, impersonal and all pervasive.[26] In Stoicism, “God was variously described as ‘fire,’ ‘reason,’ (logos) or ‘spirit’ (pneuma). He shaped Fate and all reality according to divine reason.”[27] This divine reason and its bearing on reality was allowed through an ironically immaterial concept they called “tension,” but like the Epicurean’s talk about “a swerve in the atoms” to explain their version of free will, the notion of “tension” too causes difficultly in the Stoic’s self-contained system. Both of these points reveal a gross internal contradiction in the worldviews.

(2) Epistemology: As with all worldviews, the Stoic epistemology is inextricably tied to its metaphysic. The reason/god principle or “world-soul” that pervades the entire cosmos, which brings about order and rationality to matter, was thought to be tapped into through human reason.[28] The Stoic’s contribution in epistemology was the postulate “’cognitive impression,’ the essential feature of which was: it could not have come from anything other than that of which it did in fact come.”[29] From this, one could deduce propositions of certainty, for instance “god exists;” something bearing a degree of similarity to Anselm’s ontological argument.[30] If the Epicureans epitomized today’s empiricist, the Stoics helped to pioneer the rationalism of the medieval and modern eras.

(3) Ethics: In spite of the Stoics interest in logic, by the first century A.D. ethics dominated the schools focus.[31] Stoicism was known for “its high sense of moral duty.”[32] Because of the Stoic’s metaphysic of determinism, life’s greatest question was: “how can the wise man live in accordance with nature?” Their answer to this question lead the schoolmen to conclude with the doctrine of imperturbability; the acceptance of and cooperation with one’s own fate. Striving for concord with the inevitable was thought to be the virtuous life, and virtue was the only absolute good that the Stoics recognized. All else, including health, wealth, even life and death was viewed with “indifference.” These Stoic ideals produced a proud, individualistic, self-centered life that avoided any external supports.[33]

Eschatology: Stoics also retained the typical Greek eschatology. History was ultimately a cyclical continuum.[34] From time to time all matter, the entire cosmos was reabsorbed into god or the world-soul. Thus,[35] the Stoics denied the possibility of individual immortality.

In summary, it is not difficult to see how Stoicism’s monistic view of reality shaped every other facet of their thought and life. Due to their unifying principle of monism, plurality was denied and materialism presupposed. This of course forced a pantheistic theology, making god to be an impersonal principle of reason existing as highly refined matter. The relationship between this impersonal “world-soul” and human experience is at best ambiguous, finding recourse in an immaterial principle of “tension.” Man could use his own reason and the assistance of logical reflection as a way into the divine reason that determines man’s fatalistic destiny. In so doing, man could find virtue and happiness by learning to live his life in concord with the nature of things and paying no attention to the things that he cannot change. While the pursuit of said virtue is highly individualistic, this individualism has little ultimate meaning. History is a pattern of cycles in which all reality, including the individual persons, are reabsorbed back into the world-soul, thus making individual immortality and meaning impossible.


Striving for common ground?

If the fundamental axioms of the Stoic and Epicurean worldviews set forth above are valid, it appears impossible to determine where Paul could find any fundamental connection with these contradicting philosophies. In the area of metaphysics, Paul’s worldview rests upon an ontology that begins with the absolute-personal God of the scriptures. Against the Greeks’ crass materialism, Paul’s God is absolutely transcendent and immanently personal with his creation. Far from God being correlative to or even “one with” the world, as the Greeks presupposed; Paul contrasts God’s aseity and sovereignty over against man’s utter contingency and dependency on God for his being, knowledge, and right conduct.[36] Moreover, Paul, against the fatalistic, cyclical Greek understanding of history, claims, with authority, that “history is teleological; it is pressing on in one direction, to the day of final judgment.”[37] No common ground appears to exist between the biblical worldview of Paul and that of the Epicureans and Stoics.

The complimentary view of Paul’s Areopagitica, as earlier exemplified by Vincent and other scholars, is also expressed by postulating that Paul was, in fact, “seeking” a common ground with the Greeks. Longnecker’s comments on the exordium (Acts 17:22-23) and Paul’s use of Greek literature are telling, he states:

“Luke gives us another illustration of how Paul began on common ground with his hearers and sought to lead them from it to accept the work and person of Jesus as the apex of God’s redemptive work for humanity...In his search for a measure of common ground with his hearers, he is, so to speak, disinfecting and rebaptizing the poets’ words for his own purposes.”[38]

It is agreed, of course, that Paul’s goal was to move his hearers to the person and work of Jesus. Moreover, he was certainly using the words of the poets’ “for his own purposes.” What remains contestable in Longnecker’s remarks is the idea that Paul employed some mutually agreed upon “common ground” with the Pagans as a means to his desired end.

In stark contrast to Longnecker’s observations, others have recognized a sharp epistemological disjunction; not commonality, between Paul and his audience. They understand Paul to be stating his own self-contained system in opposition to that of the philosophers. Bruce summarizes this point well, saying:

Paul “does not argue from the sort of “first principles” which form the basis of the various schools of philosophy; his exposition and defense of his message are founded on the biblical revelation itself, his speech begins with God the Creator of all, continues with God as Sustainer of all, and ends with God as Judge of all.”[39]

In this, Bruce identifies Paul’s revelational framework which stands against the Greek’s autonomous, philosophical speculation.

Although Paul does not directly reference Old Testament (OT hereafter) citations for the Greeks in order to validate his claims about the resurrection of Christ, as he does else where (for example: Pisidian Antioch, Acts 13:13ff); the speech, nevertheless, teems with OT revelation. The NA 27th edition of the Greek text marginally notes over 20 direct or indirect allusions to OT revelation in these ten verses (see: appendix I for some of these). This leaves little question as to the basis of Paul’s epistemology—the words of the Self disclosing God—divine revelation.
There was then no categorical “common ground” which exists between Paul’s worldview and that of the idolatrous pagans he addressed at Athens. The foundational commitments of each worldview, namely in the areas of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and eschatology, were sharply at odds with one another. Thus, there was inherent at the level of assumptions and axioms, philosophical confrontation and discontinuity. This conclusion is further founded on the primary focus of the pericope—the very issue which frames it—the resurrection.

The heart of the issue: the resurrection

The whole of Paul’s recorded encounter with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began (17:18c) and ended (vv.31—32) with a “dispute” (v.18 NIV) over the possibility of the resurrection. Paul’s proclamation of the resurrection incited name calling from his opponents in the agora (“idle babbler” v. 18b NASB) and “mockery” at the close of the council (v.32). Therefore, the topic of the resurrection was the turbulent undercurrent and aimed for end of the entire discourse. More specifically, for Paul the resurrection was not the conclusion of his argument; but the central premise upon which all else would stand or fall!

Rather than seeking common ground with his hearers, vv.24—30 give us a succinct structure of the positive, biblical theological framework Paul viewed as necessary for making sense of the resurrection. The passage reveals nothing of Paul attempting to find a starting point within the Pagan framework from which he may build out; for, there was no hook, so to speak, on which to hang the resurrection within the plausibility structure of either philosophy Paul faced.

Because Stoics and Epicureans were materialists, they denied a personal God and individual immortality. Thus, beginning from some agreed premise and arriving at even the mere fact of the resurrection would have been impossible for Paul. In the worldviews Paul faced, “without the proper theological context, the resurrection would simply be a monstrosity or freak of nature, a surd resuscitation of a corpse.”[40] In fact, at the inauguration of the court of the Areopagus, the following words were ascribed to the Greek god Apollo: “Once a man dies and the earth drinks up his blood, there is no resurrection.”[41] Therefore, there was no common ground in the Greek’s system on which the resurrection, the central issue for both Paul and his auditors, to rest.

The systematic and diachronical theology in which Paul expounds before the Areopagus serves to expose the error of the philosopher’s worldview, as well as create the positive theological framework to make sense of God’s climactic, redemptive event of raising and exalting his crucified Son, Christ Jesus.

A point on a point of contact

One final distinction that must be made is that which is between the perceived complimentary nature of the exordium, Paul’s search for common ground and Paul finding and using points of contact. Often, it appears, the reality of the latter is assumed to imply the former; but, this is simply not the case. Lest the thesis of confrontation be taken to mean that the biblical worldview propounded by Paul and the scriptures is utterly insulated and cut off from any hope of trans-cultural communication, a couple of words about Paul’s point(s) of contact are in order.

The exordium and the altar

Perhaps the most notable points of contact in the text are the exordium (vv.22—23) and Paul’s citation of Greek literature (v.28). These “points” are what offered Paul his inroads into the Greek’s worldviews, yet even these are taken up and used by Paul in a less than flattering way, with respect to his audience. First, for Paul to have chosen any altar or idol from the plethora offered in the city and identified it with his intellectually sophisticated audience would have been reprehensible from their perspective; not least of which was the altar professing their own ignorance in matters of metaphysics and theology.

Paul’s practical purpose in this chosen point of contact is the second point. Paul used the altar, in part, as a foil and an exhibit A in the defense of his teaching. The charge laid against Paul in v.18 (“He seems to be a proclaimer of unknown gods” AT)[42] would echo the charges laid against Socrates; a charge that brought about the philosopher’s death.[43] Given then the seriousness of the charge, the altar “TO AN UNKOWN GOD” became, in Paul’s mind, both a weapon of defense in regard to himself, and one of offense in regard to his opponents.

The case laid against Paul in v.18 was reversed as an indictment against his prosecutors in v.23. In v.18 Paul is scorned by these intellectual elitists as an ignorant “babbler” “proclaiming unknown gods.” In v.23 Paul evidenced that his opponents were guilty of special pleading—hypocrisy—for their ignorant babbling, as it were, about the nature of deity is etched in stone! The essence of this verse is captured in a paraphrase by Gempf, which reads: “What I proclaim to you is only what you yourselves, while openly admitting your ignorance, claim to reverence.”[44] In so far as the altar being a point of contact, indeed it is, but as for its purpose in Paul’s opening remarks being a point of mutual agreement or commendation, it is not. The essence of the exordium is itself confrontational. Far from “seeking common ground” with reference to the altar, Paul had succeeded in leveling the pseudo-intellectual high ground of his opponents in order to “proclaim” the truth of the resurrection, with nothing less than the full authority of God (v.23c).

Paul’s purpose with Greek literature

Many fumble with what to do with Paul’s adoption of the line from Aratus’ song to Zeus; “For we also are his offspring” (v.28). It is not difficult to understand why Paul chose a work of Aratus, for he too was a Cilician, from Tarsus.[45] Therefore, as a patron Stoic of Paul’s home town, there is little doubt that the Apostle was quite familiar with his writing. The real question lies in Paul’s purpose in using the quote. Did Paul desire to identify Yahweh with Zeus?!? Was he merely sanitizing this line of the quatrain in an effort to Christianize, it as Longnecker suggests?[46]

In light of Paul’s overall argument, his purpose appears obvious. The clause did perhaps have a ring of truth in the ears of his audience; however, it is this basic truth that Paul evoked for sake of argument, namely, the life of humanity is derivative from the deity and dependant upon him. From this premise Paul employed a reductio ad absurdum, having reduced his opponent’s position to absurdity. This was accentuated by the (ουν) “therefore” connecting v.28 and v.29.[47] In effect what Paul said was this: you Athenians rightly recognize the undeniable fact that man’s being is dependant upon divine being and that deity is greater than humanity (v.28). You, therefore, betray your ignorance in the attempt to create images and domesticate deity into mere shrines (v.29). God, in times past “overlooked” such culpable ignorance; however, since the dawn of the Gospel, God demands repentance from all of such ignorance (v.30). To refuse repentance will result in divine judgment—the resurrection providing full proof thereof (v.31)!

Paul’s use of the Greek poets, therefore, was neither commendatory nor complimentary. It also was, in principle and purpose, confrontational in nature. Even then, when Paul would find a point of contact; any spot of truth the Greeks had received from general revelation; he did not allow the philosophers any claim to it. Instead, with it, Paul would critique his opponents’ claims, reduce their conclusions to intellectual absurdity, and then authoritatively demonstrate that the biblical worldview which rested upon the resurrected Messiah, which he proclaimed, was alone that which provided the intellectual basis for whatever truth the philosophers may have sought for and claimed as their own!


Through a careful examination of the underlying philosophical assumptions of the Epicurean and Stoic worldviews, it has been shown that Paul had no philosophical or theological area of agreement with the philosophers scrutinizing him. For the resurrection of Jesus has no place in the conceptual framework of the pagan philosophies. Thus, Paul sought to confront, rather than compliment, such idolatry with a distinctly biblical view of God, the world, man, history, and of course, the real solution to man’s problem, redemption through God’s risen Son. Because Paul had no common ground with his hearers, he carefully chose his points of contact. He assumed the perspicuity of general revelation and through careful argumentation proved that the Greeks had absolutely no intellectual ground on which to stand in culpable, impenitent ignorance. To continue to reject the Gospel after having its light shone upon them would be to reject the only source of true knowledge and wisdom, something so beloved by the Greek philosophers (I Cor 1:18—25; Col 2:3). With unflinching certitude, Paul’s confrontational approach was a complete success, being proven by having exhausted his opponents arguments, leaving them only to “mock” him (v.32); and by grace, walking away with the spiritual spoils of the battle, for “some men joined him and believed” (v.34)! Thus, Paul’s Areopagitica was confrontational, and was a success.

Given the biblical illiteracy and idolatrous nature of Western society today, with its rising tide of religious and philosophical pluralism, these final words from F. F. Bruce have an imperative force for every member of the contemporary church:

“Paul’s speech at Athens strikes one as an admirable introductory lesson in Christianity for cultured pagans...The twentieth-century apologist, in confronting contemporary paganism, especially in the western world, will find it necessary to expose erroneous ideas for what they are...(and) remove obstacles which lie in the way of people’s accepting the truth.”[48]

[1] F. F Bruce, The Defence of the Gospel in the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1968). 27.
[2] Donald A. Carson, The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1996), 496—505.
[3] Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. I, (Peabody, MA: Hindrickson Publisherss. 1887), 541—42, emphasis original.
[4] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, (Downers Grove, Ill: Intervarsity Press. 1993), 373.
[5] Ibid. 543.
[6] C. Gempf, “Athens, Paul at,” pp. 51—54 in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald F. Hawthorn, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, editors, (Downers Grove IL: Intervarsity Press. 1993), 52.
[7] James Barr, Biblical Faith and Natural Theology, Gifford Lectures for 1991, (Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993), esp. 27—28. As cited in: Donald A. Carson, The Gagging of God, 498. See also: in-text notes of Dr. Leland Ryken in The Literary Study Bible, (Wheaton IL: Crossway Bibles. 2007), 1651—52. , Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 372—74.
[8] Ron Vince, At the Areopagus (Acts 17:22—31): Pauline Apologetics and Lucan Rhetoric, (an essay available online at: http://www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/4-5.htm).
[9] Donald A. Carson, “Athens Revisited,” pp. 384—98 in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, D. A. Carson, general editor, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2000), 389.
[10] A. R. Lacey, A Dictionary of Philosophy, 3rd edition, (New York: Routledge. 2000), 89.
[11] John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, (Phillipsburg—New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co. 1994), 49n.
[12] Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press. 1996), 242—43.
[13] A. R. Lacey, A Dictionary of Philosophy, 89.
[14] J. M. Dillon, “Philosophy”, pp. 793—796 in, Dictionary of New Testament Background, Craig A.Evans, Stanley E. Porter, editors, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. 2000), 795. See also:
[15] Bahnsen, Always Ready, 242
[16] Ibid.; Carson, The Gagging of God, 499.
[17] A. R. Lacey, A Dictionary of Philosophy, 90.
[18] Bahnsen, Always Ready, 242.
[19] A. R. Lacey, A Dictionary of Philosophy, 90; J. M. Dillon, Philosophy, pp. 793—796 in, DNTB, 795.
[20] Bahnsen, Always Ready, 242.
[21] Charles Pfeiffer F., Howard F. Vos, John Rea, editors, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia: vol. I, (Chicago: Moody Press. 1975), 538.
[22] T. Paige, “Philosophy”, pp. 713—18 in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald F. Hawthorn, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid, editors (Downers Grove IL: Intervarsity Press. 1993).
[23] J. J. Collins, Eschatologies of Late Antiquity, pp. 330—337 in DNTB, 333.
[24] A. R. Lacey, A Dictionary of Philosophy, 332. See also: F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing. 1976), 349.
[25] John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 49.
[26] Carson, The Gagging of God, 499.
[27] T. Paige, “Philosophy,” pp. 713—18 in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 715.
[28] Carson, “Athens Revisited,” pp. 384—98 in Telling the Truth, 390.
[29] . M. Dillon, “Philosophy”, pp. 793—796 in, Dictionary of New Testament Background, 796.
[30] Ibid.
[31] T. Paige, “Philosophy”, pp. 713—18 in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 715.
[32] Carson, The Gagging of God, 499.
[33] T. Paige, “Philosophy”, pp. 713—18 in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 715.
[34] A. R. Lacey, A Dictionary of Philosophy, 332.
[35] Charles F. Pfeiffer, Howard F. Vos, John Rea, editors, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia: vols. I & II, (Chicago: Moody Press. 1975) 2:1625.
[36] Carson, “Athens Revisited,” pp. 384—98 in Telling the Truth, 392.
[37] Carson, The Gagging of God, 500.
[38] Richard N. Longnecker, “The Acts of the Apostles,” pp. 376—517 in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary—Abridged Edition: New Testament, Barker Kenneth L., John R. Kohlenberger III, editors, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co. 1994), 477 emphasis mine.
[39] F. F Bruce, The Defence of the Gospel in the New Testament, 38.
[40] Bahnsen, Always Ready, 251.
[41] F. F Bruce, The Defence of the Gospel in the New Testament, 47.
[42] Author’s translation. The Greek words xenon diamonion usually translated “strange, foreign deities, etc.” could as easily be rendered “unknown gods.” See: Thayer’s lexicon.
[43] Plato’s Apology, pp. 3—30 in, Ten Great Works of Philosophy, Robert Paul Wolff, editor, (New York: Penguin Group. 2002), 10.
[44] C. Gempf, “Athens, Paul at,” pp. 51—54 in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 52.
[45] F. F. Bruce, Acts of the Apostles, 360.
[46] See fn. 36.
[47] C. Gempf, “Athens, Paul at,” pp. 51—54 in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 53.
[48] F. F Bruce, The Defence of the Gospel in the New Testament, 46—7, emphasis mine.

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