Tuesday, June 01, 2010

In chapter 17 of Acts, Paul goes to Athens. Keller has labeled the lesson, "The gospel for intellectuals" and points out that Paul can't work from the Scriptures in the marketplace as he has in other cities:
"He [Paul] did not argue that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Scripture. Instead, he argued first, for the diety [sic] of Christ and second, for the historicity of the resurrection. One does not have to assume the infallibility of the Bible to argue for those things."
I wonder how the Van Tillians would feel about that.

Background on Epicureans and Stoics was provided in the Leader's Notes which I found misleading. According to the notes, Epicureans did not deny the existence of gods but considered them completely removed from the world. History was random and life had no meaning. After death there was nothing. Adherents were encouraged to pursue pleasure. I came away with the idea that Epicureans were Hedonists. But Wiki paints a more balanced, even enlightened picture, of going after "modest and simple joys." It's an attractive philosophy and ethic with some real wisdom to it.

On the other hand, the notes described the Stoics as subscribing to a sort of pantheism. Adherents carry out their duties under a fixed fate which they must accept. Someone in the group said aloud, "Fatalism."

Everyone seemed very put off by the flagrant idolatry described in the text as if they were standing there themselves. I wanted to tell them not to worry, that Greece has been Christian since Constantine. Maybe they would have scoffed at the suggestion. One lady wrinkled her nose and said, "Their gods needed to be appeased by sacrifices." I said, "Yeah, their gods were angry at them." I half-expected some of the more knowledgeable ladies to speak up and say, "Um, but ..."1

My impression of the Athenians from the text was that they wanted to appear open-minded and gracious upon hearing these "novel" ideas from St. Paul. In other places, Keller has pointed out what we all know, that cities have "character" or "a feel." Major cities are known for things, i.e., Athens for theater. I thought these men interacting with St. Paul had put on a πρόσωπον ("face"). Verse 32 gives them away, "We want to hear you again on this subject."

The other thought I had is that Athens is saturated with gods so doesn't Paul emphasize Jesus' humanity to them in verse 31:
"He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead." [NKJV]

1 Adjectives like "holy" and "just" appear in the notes as euphemisms or code words for "angry."

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