Saturday, October 9, 2010

Acts 17 – Paul vs. the Philosophers

Acts 17

Preaching Christ at Thessalonica

 1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ." 4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.

[Moving through Macedonia they are persuading many with the gospel. Again starting with the Jews but also reaching the Greeks.]

Assault on Jason's House

5 But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. 7 Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus." 8 And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. 9 So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

[Satan is never idle. Those who resist the gospel can easily be turned to oppose the gospel. Again they use they lie of civil unrest and political danger to stir up the local officials. Jesus is the King in the hearts of believers and will be again at His return, but Christians were not seeking a political kingdom. In this case not finding Paul they arrest a believer named Jason who had apparently hosted the apostles during the three weeks they witnessed there. Jason had to pay "security" a monetary fine before he was released.]

Ministering at Berea

10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. 14 Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed.

[Leaving the civil unrest in Thessalonica the apostles come to Berea and find great success among the fair-minded Jews, as these would listen to the gospel then go back and read the prophets that Paul would quote showing that they had foretold the gift of Jesus. So many of the Jews believed, also Greeks, and prominent people of the city.


Once again trouble follows, this time from Thessalonica, unbelieving Jews stir up the crowds, so the believers take Paul first to Athens, with Silas and Timothy and Silas to follow.]

The Philosophers at Athens

16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols. 17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there. 18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, "What does this babbler want to say?"
Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods," because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

[Epicurean philosophy allowed for gods but focused on personal pleasure, with the caveat that the highest pleasure was the avoidance of pain. So Epicureans followed very modest and moderate lifestyles never enjoying anything too much for fear that a great pleasure might never be enjoyed again, thus leaving you in want or feeling loss and regret which is the worst state for an epicurean. These are the kind of people who would marry and ugly person for fear that some else might want your spouse, they would drive 10 year old Volvos, they lead a risk averse life, as simple as possible but always in fear of pain or loss. The epicurean prescription is: don't fear god, don't fear death, good things are easy to obtain, bad things are easy to endure. Epicureans believed in a do-no-harm, receive-no-harm, social contract, which held that man is basically good, and the only reliable standard for truth was the 5 senses. The epicurean philosophy, has a lot in common with Buddhism (nirvana is the absence of suffering), Hinduism (cause no harm receive no harm), and was very influential in the formation of Marxist socialism and communism.


The problem with the this philosophy is that man is wicked, God might actually require something of you, most people really do fear death, living in constant fear of pain or loss will never give you peace, and sometimes really terrible things happen that are not easy to endure, with no hope of redemption here or beyond the grave.


The stoics believed that virtue was sufficient for happiness, so that they sought to become a wise "sage" free from destructive emotions and thus immune from misfortune. So stoics believed ethics was the highest intellectual pursuit and encouraged great personal fortitude and self control so that your human will would always be in sync with the laws of nature. A stoic sage could be: "sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy," thus positing a "completely autonomous" individual will, and at the same time a universe that is "rigidly deterministic." Stoics believed that the universe and God were one in the same so whatever happened outside of your control was always right. "Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill... I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him; for we have come into the world to work together."


So stoics were certainly more rational about the state of mankind than the epicureans, but there was still no justice, and no redemption, you just always expected the worst to happen and force yourself to be happy about it. Stoicism finds its supporters today in the religion of scientology. For them reality is only in your mind, your senses cannot hurt you if you make your own reality one exclusively of the mind.


These philosophers became interested in Paul's message that man was wicked but that God by Jesus paid for mans sin, and transforms man through faith in Jesus, to become righteous.]

19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new doctrine
is of which you speak? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean." 21
For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.

[Athenians were highly educated busy bodies who really liked a good debate with someone who could make a true defense of their personal philosophy. The Areopagus or rock of Ares is a rocky hill outcropping just below the Acropolis that forms a natural stage, and this is where the council of elders also called Areopagus, would meet to judge all matters of importance.]

Addressing the Areopagus

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, "Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; (superstitious or fearful of gods) 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:

   Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:

[In addition to the twelve main gods and the innumerable lesser deities, ancient Greeks worshiped a deity they called Agnostos Theos, that is: the Unknown god. In Athens, there was a temple specifically dedicated to that god and very often Athenians would swear "in the name of the Unknown god" The Unknown god was not so much a specific deity, but a placeholder, for whatever god or gods actually existed but whose name and nature were not revealed to the Athenians or the Hellenized world at large.

According to a story told by Diogenes a biographer of Greek philosophers, Athens was once in the grips of a plague and desperate to appease the gods with the appropriate sacrifices. Thus Epimenides gathered a flock of sheep to the Areopagus and released them. The sheep roamed about Athens and the surrounding hills. On Epimenides' suggestion wherever a sheep stopped and lay down a sacrifice was made to the local god of that place. Many of the gardens and buildings of Athens were indeed associated with a specific god or goddess and so the appropriate altar was constructed and the sacrifice was made. However, at least one, if not several sheep led the Athenians to a location that had no god associated with it. Thus an altar was built there without a god's name inscribed upon it.

Paul sees one of these altars and says let me tell you about this unknown god.]

24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood[c] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.'

[In verse 28 Paul quotes a poem by the same Epimenides from the story of the Unknown God.

They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.]

29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man's devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because 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."
32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, "We will hear you again on this matter." 33 So Paul departed from among them. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

[The resurrection is the central truth of Jesus, once you believe Jesus was resurrected and ascended then you know him as God. This is what makes redemption possible. One of the converts in Athens was member of the civil counsel; tradition holds that Dionysius would later become the Bishop of Athens.]

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