Reading for Monday, April 30: Acts 17
Acts 17 gives us insight into Paul’s missionary strategy. As he passes through Thessalonica, Paul goes to the local synagogue for three consecutive Sabbaths to preach Jesus as the Messiah. “He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead.” Paul understands that these Jews have a context for understanding Jesus through the Hebrew Scriptures (or, Old Testament, as we call it). Paul’s evangelistic appeal to them is rooted in Scripture.
In Athens, Paul takes a different strategy. As he walks the streets of this great city, he is greatly distressed at the number of idols (v16). He continues to preach in the synagogue, but he also takes his message to the marketplace (v17). This street-preaching puts Paul in dialogue with the philosophers of the day — Epicurieans and Stoics. This gives Paul an opportunity to make a different kind of appeal — a cultural appeal. He lauds the Athenians for their religiosity (v22). “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” (v23)
Paul takes this cultural artifact — an altar to an unknown God — and uses it as a springboard to preach the Gospel. He also quotes from one of the ancient poets, probably Epimenides, when he says, “In him we live and move and have our being.” (v28). Altars, poems — these are products of culture, yet Paul infuses them with Gospel meaning. This is Paul’s missionary strategy with these Gentiles: to meet them on their own terms, preaching Jesus as the power to infuse life with true meaning and purpose.
“In him we live and move and have our being.” Amen.