By Rony Kozman, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies, Samford University
Share the Message
Acts 17:16–18; 22–23; 30–31
In Acts 17 we get a glimpse of Paul’s missionary strategy. How did the apostle proclaim the gospel to those who were not followers of Jesus? How did he make Christ known?
Here we see how Paul shared the message about Christ to two groups of people: those who were devoted to Israel’s God and who were learned in Israel’s Scripture (v. 17); and Greek philosophers (v. 18).
Be sensitive to opportunities to share the gospel. (16–18)
Paul goes to the places where he can reason about Christ. He goes to Jewish synagogues where he will reason from Israel’s Scriptures — from the Old Testament — that Jesus is the Messiah (vv. 1–3). He also goes to the place in Athens where the people entertained “the latest ideas” (v. 21).
Paul intentionally went to spaces where opportunities to make Christ known would readily arise. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was his custom” (v. 2), and he also went to the spaces where the most cutting-edge ideas were being presented. Since Christ was both the fulfillment of Israel’s Scripture and the wisdom/reason that permeates the world, Paul goes to the places where Israel’s Scripture and Greek wisdom (i.e., philosophy) were readily discussed — the synagogue and the Areopagus.
We might ask ourselves: What are the spaces in my community where religious and philosophical ideas are discussed? How can we contribute to not only making Christ known but also to creating the contexts and environments in which Christ can be shared? And how can we participate in these spaces and dialogues and bring those who do not know Christ into these spaces so they can discuss and consider Christ?
Find a common ground for introducing the gospel. (22-23)
When Paul is in these two different spaces — the synagogue and the Areopagus, he uses different frames of reference, a different grammar and vocabulary to make Christ known. He takes different approaches depending on his audience.
When Paul preaches in the synagogues to those who know Israel’s Scripture, Paul makes Christ known from Scripture. He reasons from the Old Testament that Jesus is the crucified and risen Messiah Who fulfills the promises and covenants that God made to Abraham and to David (vv. 1–3; 10–11).
When Paul speaks to the Greek philosophers in the Areopagus, he appeals to things with which they are familiar. He uses their own altar “to an unknown God” as a launching point to make God known to them.
While Paul begins from what is familiar to them, he also makes the case for this unknown God whom he proclaims is the Creator and does not live in temples (v. 24) and is not an idol fashioned by human hands (v. 29). Paul moves from what is familiar to his audience to what is distinct about his message.
Even when Paul makes the case for an idea that is different from his audience, he ties it to what they know: He quotes from a Stoic philosopher, “we are his offspring” (v. 28). Paul reasons from this familiar quotation that if we are God’s offspring, then the divine being cannot be made by humans as an idol. Since we are His offspring, He is not made by us; we are made by Him.
Help others understand the truth of the gospel. (30-31)
Paul continues his message to its climax in the resurrection of Christ, which holds people accountable to worshipping the God of whom Paul speaks. For Paul, the dialogue he has with the philosophers is not simply speculation and the discussion of ideas without consequence.
Instead, this great idea demands not simply intellectual curiosity but repentance to the one true God and to the resurrected Messiah of whom Paul speaks.