How Did Paul Find Common Ground With Greek Intellectuals In Acts 17?

Darrell Bock, in Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, provides an excellent analysis of Paul’s speech to the Athenian Areopagus in Acts 17. Bock demonstrates how the beginning of Paul’s oration found common ground with his Greek audience. By studying Paul’s technique, we can learn how to find common ground with members of our culture who are biblically illiterate.

In Acts 17:24-25, Paul says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

Bock writes:

Thus God is defined in a twofold way. The first is as Creator of all. Larkin (1995: 257) notes that the Epicureans had similar views. The second idea is that God is not contained in a temple and, by implication, is not reflected by an idol. This second remark recalls Stephen’s view and the basic view of Judaism (1 Kings 8:27Isa. 66:1–2Acts 7:47–50; on this use of ‘world’ in relation to creation, see Wis. 9:911:172 Macc. 7:23; Josephus, Ant. preface 4 §21). The idea that a temple cannot contain the gods is something some other Greeks also recognized, as Euripides, frg. 968, expresses the idea that a house built by craftsmen could not enclose the divine form (Bruce 1988a: 336n65).

Paul’s emphasis is on God as Sustainer and Creator, along with the idea that God does not need humans for anything. The Greeks shared this idea of deity as independent (Aristobulus, Hist. Alex. frg. 4; Euripides, Heracles 1345–46, ‘God … is in need of nothing’; Fitzmyer 1998: 608).

In Acts 17:26-27, Paul says,

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.

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