Episcopal Church in Minnesota

Environmental Stewardship Commission
Lectionary Reflection
Year A, Easter 6, New Testament Lesson

Acts 17: 22-31

Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, "Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, `To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For `In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said,

`For we too are his offspring.'

Since we are God's offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

Reflection on Acts 17: 22-31
by John Gibbs, Ph D

“Becoming People Who Are Safe for the World” (“God’s Offspring”)

In the famous “Areopagus Speech” Luke, some say, presents the Apostle Paul as the first Christian philosopher. Far from being a piece of natural theology, however, this speech concludes abruptly with what it presupposed all along, namely the resurrection of Jesus.

There is no way to deduce the resurrection of Jesus from natural causation, nor does Paul so argue. Likewise there is no progression from the “unknown god” in Athens to the God about whom Paul speaks. Paul “proclaims” this God, and claims to fill the vacuum of what had been “unknown” to them, rather than offer a philosophical argument for the existence of that God.

What he offered was, in Athenian eyes, “new teaching” (v. 19), and that was all that he had going for him at the outset, inasmuch as his audience “would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new” (v. 21). Clearly novel for Greek thought was Paul’s emphasis on “a day” and “a man” as disclosing the meaning of “world” history (v. 31). That is the “scandal of particularity,” which Paul raised to the extent of that one man’s resurrection, against which “some scoffed” (v. 32).

At the same time, what Paul offered did not conflict with at least part of Athenian thought. “In him we live and move and have our being,” and “For we too are his offspring,” are the two quotations that Paul made from their philosophical tradition. These ideas square with the apostle’s proclamation (v. 24), and as well with the apostle’s Hebraic heritage (Psalm 148, for instance).

“Since we are God’s offspring,” we can distinguish between gods and God, and live on the basis that God is “Lord of heaven and earth” (v. 24) who “gives to all mortals life and breath and all things” (v. 25).

To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament
Isaiah 41:17-20
Psalm 148
New Testament
1 Peter 3:8-18 or 
Acts 17:22-31
this page
John 15:1-8

John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN.   He originally wrote this reflection in 2002.  He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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