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Monday: Paul in the Areopagus — 13 Comments

  1. When you are working on a research degree you have to attend conferences where you present papers about your research. Some of these conferences are pretty tame and I am sure the only reason for their existence is so that PhD students can get brownie points for presenting a paper. There are conferences where the participants are very knowledgeable and the discussion after the paper has been presented can be quite feisty. During my research years, I attended a series of conferences called IDEA. They were attended by PhD students and experts from all over the world in persistent systems and software engineering. The easy part was presenting the paper. The hard part was answering the questions and facing the experts during question time. And when you knew that some of the participants were likely to be your thesis examiners it made it doubly hard.

    My mouth would dry up and my voice would become a squeaky croak as I sought to defend my ideas and the research I had done to justify them. And then there was the aftermath. One of the experts would come and have a casual friendly conversation with you over afternoon tea and you would know whether you were on a good thing or had just developed a pile of garbage and put a spin on it.

    I can understand the atmosphere at the Areopagus where Paul is essentially the presenter, and the Greek academics, his examiners. He was defending his thesis.

    And so that you can understand a little about his academic audience, here is a summary of the philosophies of the Epicureans and the Stoics. Epicureanism is a system of philosophy that emphasizes the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Epicurus believed that the goal of life was to achieve a state of ataraxia, which is a state of tranquillity and freedom from worry. He believed that this state could be achieved by living a simple life, avoiding unnecessary desires, and cultivating friendships. On the other hand, Stoicism’s doctrines are based on the idea that virtue is the only good and that external events have no effect on one's inner peace. Stoics believe that the goal of life is to achieve eudaimonia, a state of well-being characterized by virtue, reason, and self-control.

    Here is something to think about. When I present a conference paper, the intention is not to tell the audience that I am right, but rather I have used the appropriate process to reach my conclusion. Did Paul do that when he made his presentation at the Areopagus? I wonder how he got on without PowerPoint!

    • Maurice – please allow me to comment on your statement: “When I present a conference paper, the intention is not to tell the audience that I am right, but rather [that] I have used the appropriate process to reach my conclusion.”
      Is it not true, as you present your conference paper, that the ultimate purpose of your presentation is to ‘convince’ the listener of the ‘rightness’ of your thoughts which ‘used the appropriate process’ to establish it?

      You ask: “Did Paul do that when he made his presentation at the Areopagus?” I consider that Paul did not attempt to prove that he is right at any time. He presented the long before established spiritual Truth of and about his God, revealed to him through the Holy Spirit as he invited others to contemplate the 'Rightness/Truthfulness' of his God vs. others.

      Saul who became Paul is the best example of one who whole-heartedly believed in his own eyes that he was right, but was convicted of the error in his judgement by his God. Only God’s Spirit convicts us spiritually to give us the right understanding which exists outside/beyond man’s ability to think and reason.

      May I point out that which Paul presented at the Areopagus was not conceptualized by his own mind - it was not ‘his’ paper. It was God’s 'paper' which he presented to the learned man as revealed by the Holy Spirit to his heart and mind. He became zealous to communicate God’s Truth, though only those already prepared in heart and mind could hear and understand him – Matt. 11:25-28.
      May I offer that, though man may cross every T and dot every I - 'use the appropriate process' -, he cannot match the process used by heaven when it reveals spiritual Truth to our understanding for the purpose of our salvation.

      • A couple of things Brigitte. God has not made us automatons where he pours in truth at one end and we regurgitate it at the other. It is more complicated than that and sometimes there is a lot of learning involved. I love the example of the early Seventh-day Adventist church as the early church members conferenced together presenting ideas and having others knock them about a bit. Sometimes it was not pretty and and there was even conflict as ideas were discussed, accepted or discarded. If you want to see some of this growing period read Dr Gil Valentine's book on W W Prescott. (Amazon: W W Prescott by Dr Gil Valentine)

        There is no great bell that rings when you have found "the truth", and sometimes we even have to agree to differ. Truth is something that grows and develops. That is how God works in and through us. The truth is in the process, not the end result.

        • H'mm ... does that mean that it isn't necessarily true that "I am right because I prayed about it and God showed me"?

          What is the process and purpose of God revealing truth to us?

          Taking the subject of "Paul in the Areopagus," I wonder if the biggest reason Paul did not have the same degree of success as he did in other places was the attitude of the listeners? Luke tells us that "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." (Acts 17:21 NKJV) Apparently the Athenians were more interested in talking about philosophy/theology than actually changing the way they lived. They loved to argue in the abstract.

          I really hope we don't fall into the trap of discussion abstracts on Sabbath School Net. I hope we are discussing truths with the goal of allowing God to change our lives That's why I love to read personal anecdotes. (Not sure that my anecdotes about "I am right because I prayed about it and God showed me" are necessarily helpful to our readers. 😉)

          Your thoughts?

        • I have several books of the Adventist Pioneer Series and have realy enjoyed them all. They are all well written and well edited and provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of our church.

          Thank you for the heads-up on this book! I have just now ordered W. W. Prescott: Forgotten Giant of Adventism's Second Generation by Gil Valentine as a Christmas present for my husband, knowing I'll get to read it. 😉

          Just a heads-up for our readers: This particular book is currently less expensive at The Adventist Book Center site, providing you order $50.00 worth of books that qualify for free shipping. If you order now, you'll still get them for Christmas. (No, we do not earn a percentage on ABC orders.)

    • I think we have not explored adequately about the school of thought that guided the Stoic and Epicurean. For example, do we think the two especially Stoicism influenced the westerners writing on gospel ? I mean the Logos and materialism ?

      • The idea that the New Testament writers have borrowed from Greek philosphy has often been made but I think it is more parallelism and illustration. For example Plato's illustration of the cave where he describes us as sitting in a cave watching the shadows on the wall of the cave. In fact the shadows are a projection of the real world outside the cave. Paul uses similar language:

        For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Cor 13:12 NIV

        It is a good illustration rather than influencing Christianity. (I do a similar thing when I draw illustrations out of science and mathematics for my comments here)

        We are also familiar with the notion of "type" and "Antitype" where the temple service prefigured the role of Jesus in our salvation. It is in essence that same idea where the type was a shadow of things made real in the antitype.

        The Stoics and Epicurians both had a fair bit to say about morality and once again, I would suggest a common origin rather than one being an influence on the other.

  2. God is Love. His most significant demonstration of Love is Christ's death. The gospel is the good news about Jesus being how we can restore our perfect nature. Thus, Christ must be central to the message that God is Love.

  3. These are lessons we can learn from Paul. Is the aim of our message to prove that we are right or to impart spiritual knowledge of a risen Savior who has died for us, and given all . Our message, then should be the same as Paul preached, Christ crucified. this message will let people know that they have a personal close Savior who loves them so much that he has died that they might live.

    • Yes, true, the message should really be "Jesus and Him crucified". But we need to be clever enough, as is Paul, in explaining that idea in "Areopagus" consisting of monotheists and atheists of our time. Them who don't believe in Jesus being killed and being God.

  4. When it comes to truth there are many points of view... This is evident in the secular world and in Christianity. However, Jesus speaks of "Truth" as a person- "I am the way the Truth and the life" (John 14:6).

    When Paul presents his arguments he does not forget this. To the Thessalonian Jews he states “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah” (Acts 17:3),and the focus was the same with the people of Athens "because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection... (Acts 17:18).

    The story of Jesus has an effect on people. To some the idea of Jesus makes them angry such as those in Thessalonica who started mobs and riots to the point they even followed to cause problems in Berea.

    To others Jesus is a ridiculous fairy tale such as the secular philosophers at Athens - "When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”

    But there are people who will search the Bible to see if things are correct (such as the Bereans) and there are those who want to hear more about Jesus.

    "But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:23). It does not seem to matter who the audience is, the Truth presented always is Jesus.

    I submit that the Gospel of Jesus angers those whose religion is based on works and personal merit and He is a mockery to those whose secular view points are based on the wisdom and accomplishments of man with no need for God. To both Jesus is a threat. But there are those who recognize their failures and inabilities and for them a Savior who loves enough to die to save them is the relationship for which their heart has been searching. For their sake as well as our own I submit that we never forget to proclaim Jesus as the Truth. "For in him we live and move and have our being."(Acts 17:28)

  5. “ Dr. Pastor John Do” people called to ministry to God’s children must not rely on their doctoral degrees for ministry but to lay that aside and allow the Holy Spirit to work through them.

    • Hi Angela, I have a string of degrees, including a PhD, that fill up a couple of lines if I set my mind to it. They are part of me. And further, a fair percentage of my friends have PhDs, as one would suspect since I was an academic for most of my life. I think it is fair to say that most of us want to be used by the Holy Spirit to share the gospel. A PhD is the certificate that allows us to hold our jobs. It is not a ticket to heaven. God can and does use people who have chosen to be academics as well. That does not make an academic better than anyone else but it does give us added responsibility.


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