The Speeches of Acts, Part 22: Acts 19:23-41

The previous articles of this series covered the speeches in the book of Acts, through the Areopagus Speech of Paul in Acts 17 (cf. Parts 20 & 21). I will now be examining the remaining speeches in the book, which may be outlined as:

    • The twin speeches of Demetrius and the Ephesian official (19:23-41)
    • Paul’s address to the Elders of Ephesus/Asia (20:17-38)
    • Paul’s address to the people upon his arrest in Jerusalem (21:37-22:21ff)
    • The speeches of Tertullus and Paul before Felix (24:1-21)
    • Paul’s speech before Agrippa (26:1-29ff)
    • Paul’s address to Jews in Rome (28:23-28)

This article will deal with the first of these—the twin speeches (both by non-Christians) in chapter 19. Before preceding, it may be worth reminding the reader of the basic sermon-speech pattern I am utilizing, and which can be discerned (with some variation) in most, if not all, of the speeches in Acts:

    • Narrative introduction—this may be a simple introduction or include an extended narrative
    • The speech itself:
      • Introductory address, often with kerygmatic elements, leading into the Scripture passage
      • Citation from Scripture
      • Exposition and Gospel kerygma
      • Concluding exhortation
    • Narrative summary

Acts 19:23-41

Chapter 19 records Paul’s missionary work in Ephesus, chief city of Roman Asia. Within the overall narrative of Acts, this work in Ephesus represents the climactic point of Paul’s missionary journeys in the Greco-Roman world. Beginning with chapter 20, the arc of the narrative shifts to his return to Jerusalem, arrest, and (final) journey to Rome. There are actually four main episodes in this Ephesian section of the missionary narratives, which I outline (in two parts) as follows:

    • Establishment of Apostolic (Pauline) Christianity in Ephesus, contrasted with the incomplete understanding of ‘Baptist’ believers (18:23-19:7)
      • 18:23-28—Apollos in Ephesus (Baptism of John point of contrast [v. 25ff])
      • 19:1-7—Paul in Ephesus (Baptism of John point of contrast)
    • Paul’s Missionary Work in Ephesus (19:8-41)
      • 19:8-22—His Missionary Work described
        • Vv. 8-11—Part 1 narration
        • Vv. 12-16—Illustrated by two key traditions
        • Vv. 17-20—Part 2 narration
        • Vv. 21-22—Conclusion
      • 19:23-41—The Effect of His Missionary Work

The two speeches are part of this last section, describing/illustrating the effect of Paul’s mission work on the (pagan) population of Ephesus (and the surrounding area). In tone and subject matter, it resembles the earlier episode in Philippi (16:16-24ff), in which the Gospel preaching of Paul and his fellow missionaries (Silas) had a negative (commercial) impact on the religious culture of the city (vv. 16, 19), provoking a hostile response (vv. 19ff). The Ephesian episode is all the more striking in that Paul himself scarcely appears in it at all (vv. 29b-30), and says nothing. The speeches are made by non-Christians, and reflect two different aspects of the pagan response. The only other speech by a non-believer that is at all comparable is that of Gamaliel in 5:34-40 (discussed in Part 8); indeed, as we shall see, there are definite parallels between that speech and the one given by the Ephesian official in 19:35-40.

Here is an outline of the passage as a whole:

    • Introduction—v. 23
    • Speech #1 (Demetrius)—vv. 24-27
    • Response: “Great is Artemis…” —vv. 28-34
      • Outcry 1 (v. 28)
        • Chaos/Confusion (vv. 29-33), affecting:
          —Paul & his Disciples
          —Alexander & his fellow Jews
          neither is able to speak and address the crowd
      • Outcry 2 (v. 34)
    • Speech #2 (Ephesian official)—vv. 35-40a
    • Conclusion—v. 40b

We can see how the two speeches bracket the central scene of tumult and confusion among the people (vv. 28-34)—in this pagan uproar, neither Christian (Paul & his companions) nor Jew (Alexander) is able to do anything about it.

Introduction (verse 23)

This sense of conflict, coming as a result of the Pauline ministry, is expressed clearly in the opening narration, referring to it as disturbance (“stirring”, ta/raxo$) about “the Way” (h( o%do$): “And down (around) th(at) time there came to be no little disturbance about the Way”. For other instances in the book of Acts where the early Christian movement was called “the Way”, cf. 9:2; 19:9; 22:4; 24:14, 22; note also 16:17; 18:25-26. This agitation among the people is to be understood essentially as the result of the dramatic episodes described previously in vv. 11-20; the public burning of expensive pagan (‘magical’) writings, in particular, would have been most striking (v. 19).

First Speech (Demetrius, verses 24-27)

Narrative Introduction (vv. 24-25)

The “disturbance” mentioned in verse 23 is clearly presented by the author as representative of the conflict between early Christianity and the (pagan) religion of the Greco-Roman world (here, Roman Asia). This conflict both defines, and is expressed by, the speech of Demetrius, a “beater/hammerer of silver” (a)rguroko/po$). The significance of this detail must be understood in the light of earlier episodes—in Lystra (14:11-18), Philippi (16:16-21ff), and Athens (17:16-31)—involving pagan deities and their images, etc. Especially important in this regard is the wording used by Paul in his Areopagus speech (17:24), where he contrasts the true God (and Creator of all) with those (pagan) deities thought to dwell in shrines “made by (human) hands” (xeiropoih/to$). A bit later in the speech (v. 29), he contrasts the true God with the images of these other deities, made, for example, of gold and silver (a&rguro$), and carved/marked by human production (te/xnh) and (artistic) impulse. Demetrius is just such an artisan/producer (texni/th$), and addresses a group of his fellow workers in his speech (v. 24-25a):

“For (there was) a certain (man), Belonging-to-Demeter {Demetrios} by name, a beater of silver making silver shrines for Artemis, (who) held alongside for the (other) producers no little work (to profit by), (and) whom he (now) gathered together, and (also) the workers about [i.e. associated with] these (men), (and) said (to them):”

Thus he addresses a significant group of artisans and workers involved in production of images, etc, related to the cult of Artemis—a major industry in Ephesus and Roman Asia.

Address (v. 25b)

According to the speech-pattern in Acts, the introductory address typically leads into a central citation from Scripture. Clearly, this would not be part of the speech by a (pagan) non-believer such as Demetrius, and there is nothing corresponding to it. Even so, the address, follows the pattern of earlier speeches, beginning with the vocative a&ndre$ (“Men…”, cf. 2:5, 14, 22, 29; 3:12; 5:35, et al.). The principal statement of his address defines the situation more clearly:

“Men, you (may) stand (your mind) upon (it) [i.e. understand], that out of this work is our good way (of liv)ing”

As in the episode at Philippi (16:16, 19), the early Christian mission in the Greco-Roman world has (or may have) a detrimental economic effect on segments of society dependent upon the pagan religious culture. The response of these artisans is practical, rather than purely based on religious concerns.

Exposition and ‘Kerygma’ (v. 26)

Instead of the Christian kerygma, or gospel proclamation, of the sermon-speech pattern (see above), here we have a description or characterization of it from a hostile (pagan) standpoint:

“and you (can) look upon (it) and hear (it), that not only (in) Efesos, but (in) nearly all of Asia (has) this Paulus been persuading an ample throng (of people), and made (them) stand over (with him), saying that ‘they are not gods’ th(ese thing)s coming to be (made) through (our) hands!”

The expression “this [ou!to$] Paulus” and the verb pei/qw (“persuade”), in particular, echo and summarize the proclamation (kerygma) of the Gospel as the central activity and purpose of the Pauline mission. The phrase “coming to be (made) through (our) hands” (dia\ xeirw=n gino/menoi) again reflects the important wording in 17:24-25 (also 7:41, 48; cf. above), and the contrast between the true God (proclaimed by early Christians) and the images/temples of the pagan ‘deities’.

Exhortation (implied, v. 27)

This is a different sort of exhortation than what we find in the sermon-speeches by Christians; rather, it is intended to spur the people (Demetrius’ fellow artisans) to take action in response to Paul’s missionary work. The urgency to act is indicated by the verb kinduneu/w (“be in danger/peril”):

“And not only this, our portion (in this work) is in danger (of) coming into (complete) disgrace, but also the sacred place of the great goddess Artemis being counted unto [i.e. as] nothing, and even the greatness of her whom the whole (of) Asia and the inhabited (world) reveres (may) be about to be taken down!”

The Greek deity Artemis (syncretized with Roman Diana) was the chief deity worshiped in Ephesus, reflecting a high Goddess conception that likely stretches back into the Anatolian Bronze Age and Neolithic period. Her lavish cult—including temples, festivals, images, processions, and celebrations of various sorts—in Ephesus and the surrounding region was well known, and certainly a source of both economic activity and civic pride for the city. Thus, Demetrius’ warning stems from more than just a concern for the livelihood of his fellow artisans—the early Christian mission threatens the very existence of the religious culture that defines and governs the city. The three clauses show this progression of “danger”:

    • production of images and shrines will come into disrepute
    • the great sacred place (temple) of Artemis itself will be counted as nothing
    • the greatness of the goddess Artemis herself will be diminished

This effectively serves to summarize the entire Greco-Roman religious establishment: (1) images and popular devotion, (2) temple and cult/priesthood, and (3) the conception/recognition of the deity.

Response by the Crowd (verses 28-34)

In the structure of the narrative, the response by Demetrius’ audience (fellow artisan/workers) is apparently picked up more widely by the crowds, spreading through the city (v. 29a). This results in an extended scene of confusion and chaos, moving from Demetrius’ audience to a crowd of thousands filling the great theater of Ephesus (v. 29b). The scene is framed by the people/crowds shouting “Great (is) Artemis of the Ephesians!” (mega/lh h(  &Artemi$  )Efesi/wn, vv. 28, 34). This represents the voice of the pagan world rising up in response (opposition) to the early Christian (Pauline) mission. Note the clear structure of this section:

    • Outcry 1: “Great (is) Artemis of the Ephesians” (v. 28)
    • Chaos/Confusion among the People—in the city and the theater (vv. 29-33)
      • Confusion in the city (vv. 29-31): Paul & his companions
      • Confusion in the theater (vv. 32-33): Alexander & his fellow Jews
    • Outcry 2: “Great (is) Artemis of the Ephesians” (v. 34)

The presence of Paul and Alexander (an otherwise unknown Jew in Ephesus) in the middle of this scene is curious—why are they mentioned when they do not feature in what follows, and are not even able to speak or address the crowd? In particular, one would expect Paul to have a more prominent role in the narrative here. One critical view would be that, in the original Ephesian tradition underlying vv. 23-41, Paul really did not feature at all, but was introduced (only to suddenly disappear) in vv. 29-30 in order to integrate the episode within the wider setting of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. It may also simply be that, at the historical level, Paul was not able to participate in the proceedings. However, the careful structure suggests a literary shaping with a clear (and most interesting) purpose: to illustrate the power of the pagan religious culture of the Greco-Roman world, which threatens both Christianity (Paul & his companions) and Judaism (Alexander & fellow Jews). The unified voice of the Ephesian crowd (with their confession of Artemis) serves as a intentional contrast to the unity of early Christians with their proclamation of Jesus and the one true God (YHWH). The word o(moqumado/n (“[with] one impulse”), describing the crowd in v. 29, was used repeatedly to describe the early Christian community in Jerusalem (1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 5:12). Only here, the unified response of the (pagan) crowd results in confusion and violent action:

“And the city was full of the pouring together [sugxu/sew$] (of people), and they rushed [w%rmhsan] with one impulse [o(moqumado/n] into the place of (public) viewing [i.e. theater], (hav)ing seized hold of [sunarpa/sante$] Gaius and Aristarchos together…” (v. 29)

Their action is similar to that of the Jewish crowd that rushed [w%rmhsan] upon Stephen with one impulse [o(moqumadon] (7:57); the parallel between Jewish and Pagan hostility to Christianity is strengthened when we consider the similarity between the speech in vv. 35ff and that of Gamaliel (cf. below). The structure of the narrative in vv. 29ff is more precise than a casual reading might suggest:

    • Confusion in the city (v. 29a)
      • Paul’s companions [Gaius & Aristarchos] (v. 29b)
        • Paul comes forward to address the crowd, but is prevented (v. 30)
          • Presence of the Ephesians officials [Asiarchs] (v. 31)
    • Confusion in the theater (v. 32)
      • Jews in the crowd [companions of Alexander] (v. 33a)
        • Alexander comes forward to address the crowd, and is prevented (v. 33b-34a)
          • Presence of an Ephesian official (v. 35)

The first Ephesian officials are called by the title  )Asia/rxh$ (“chief of Asia”), which can be understood in several ways. The simplest explanation is that it refers to a person who belonged to the public assembly for the Roman province of Asia, which met regularly in Ephesus. It is said here that several of these men, present in the city, were friendly toward Paul (lit. “[one]s fond of [him]”, fi/loi); and it is they who ultimately persuade him not to attempt to enter the theatre (v. 31). The second Ephesian official is referred to by the term grammateu/$ (“writer”), indicating, in particular, someone with a good understanding of the written law. It is he who addresses the crowd (in the theater), with the second speech.

Second Speech (verses 35-41)

Narrative Introduction & Address (vv. 35-36)

The brief narrative introduction (v. 35a) simply states that this literate official (grammateu/$) “set(tled) down” (vb. kataste/llw) the crowd. It was neither Paul (a Christian) or Alexander (a Jew) who quiets the crowd, but a thoughtful and reasonable pagan; this point is significant, and will be touched on below. The address (vv. 35b-36) begins just as in the first speech, with a vocative a&ndre$ (“Men…”, cf. above):

“Men, Efesians, what (person) is (there) of (you) men that does not know the city of the Efesians (as) being (the) shrine-sweeper of the great Artemis and of th(at which) fell from (the realm of) Dis? So (then), these (thing)s being without (any) utterance against (them), it is necessary for you to begin (to be) settled down, and to act (doing) nothing falling forward.”

The formal (and technical) language here sounds rather awkward when rendered literally, as I have done. By speaking of what the people know, this official is utilizing a well-known rhetorical technique intended to assuage the audience (captatio benevolentiae, “capture of good will”), as well as to establish a point of agreement upon which to build. The word newko/ro$, lit. “shrine sweeper”, means someone who takes care of a religious shrine, and refers to Ephesus as the location of the great temple of Artemis. The adjective diopeth/$, literally means something which “fell from (the realm) of Zeus [Di$]”, but as an idiom simply “fallen from the sky“. It probably refers to a meteorite which took on sacred status as a divine image/manifestation (of Artemis). The purpose of this reaffirmation of the Artemis cult in Ephesus is to convince the people that, contrary to Demetrius’ warnings, there is no real threat to it at present. Therefore, they ought to settle down and not take any rash action (indicated by the adjective propeth/$, “falling/stumbling forward”).

The reference to the Artemis cult, etc, in verse 35 functions as a citation from history, essentially taking the place of the citation from Scripture in the sermon-speech pattern (see above). It is worth comparing with the speech of Gamaliel in Acts 5:35-40 (Part 8 of this series), for which I have given the following outline:

    • Narrative Introduction (v. 34)
    • Introductory Address (v. 35)
    • Citation from History (vv. 36-37)—instead of a Scriptural citation, two examples taken from recent/contemporary (Jewish) history are cited
    • Concluding Exhortation (vv. 38-39), with an application to the current situation
    • Narrative Summary (vv. 39b-41)

Exposition / ‘Kerygma’ (v. 37)

As in the speech of Demetrius, there is no Gospel proclamation (kerygma) as such, but, rather, a reference to the preaching/missionary activity of Paul and his colleagues. Only, the description here is presented in a more positive light, regarding the conduct of these Christians:

“For you brought these men (forward), and (yet they are) not strippers [i.e. robbers] of sacred (places), and are not insulting our Deity.”

This statement affirms the prior notice that Paul and his associates pose no threat to the Artemis cult, in the sense that they are not acting violently against the sacred things/places, nor are they speaking abusively against the goddess herself. This is an important emphasis, one made repeatedly in the book of Acts: that the Christian Community and its missionaries do not constitute a danger to the order of society, neither in the Jewish nor Greco-Roman world. Here it is entirely the latter (Greco-Roman), since the Jews (Alexander and his fellows) are isolated and play no role in the scene; the hostile crowd, for the first time in the Acts narratives, is entirely pagan.

Exhortation (vv. 38-40)

The advice given by the Ephesian official to the crowd is similar to that given by Gamaliel (5:38-39) to his fellow Jews—they should take care how they act toward these Christians. Being a grammateu/$, he naturally makes a point of following the (written) law, rather than resorting to exacting justice through mob violence. There is an established public (a)gorai=o$) forum for resolving disputes, and there are government officials presiding over them—note the use of the term a)nqu/pato$ here, which could also refer to the highest official, the Roman proconsul (Asia being a senatorial province). The importance of following the law is stated most clearly in verse 39:

“And if you seek (any) further (action) on (this), resolution about (it) will be (made) in the law(ful) assembly [e)kklhsi/a].”

There is, of course, a play on words here—e)kklhsi/a, lit. those “called out” to assemble, which elsewhere is typically used for the gatherings of believers. There is another play on words in v. 40, where the official uses the same verb (kinduneu/w, “be in danger”) as Demetrius did in his speech. The irony is that, while there is no danger to society from the Christian mission, the people are in peril by their own hostile/violent reaction to it; indeed, the crowd’s uproar represents the real danger to the city. They are warned that, if they act rashly, they will be called to give account (lo/go$) for it before the authorities, much as Gamaliel warns his fellow Jews that they will be held responsible by God.

Narrative Conclusion (v. 41)

The brief conclusion to the speech, which also serves as the conclusion to the entire Ephesus narrative, is parallel to the opening:

“And having settled down the crowd, the grammateu/$ said…”
“And having said these (thing)s, he released the assembly.”

Again, the word e)kklhsi/a is used (here translated “assembly”), parallel with o&xlo$ (“throng [of people], crowd”). Also the official’s speech governs the twin actions, showing its effect in calming the people and resolving the conflict:

    • kataste/llw (“set(tle) down”)—even before he speaks, the presence of this official settles and quiets the crowd
    • a)polu/w (“loose[n] from”)—in context this verb can mean that the official, after his speech, dismisses or “releases” the crowd; however, the literal sense may be at work as well: through his speech, he has “loosed” the people from their hostile intent (toward Paul)

What is most remarkable about this episode is that it is not Paul (nor any other Christian) who calms the crowd and resolves the conflict through his speech, but a pagan city official! The attention the author gives to this is surely significant in the context of his overall narrative. Again, the parallel with Gamaliel is important to note. Gamaliel is a leading Jewish official who, speaking in a reasoned manner, advises the people not to act rashly, implying that the Christians may not pose any real threat to the order and good of society. Now, a leading pagan (Roman/Asian) official does much the same, even more pointedly, from the standpoint of Roman (provincial) society, emphasizing that Paul and his associates have neither broken any laws nor acted abusively even towards the pagan religious culture of the city. We may, perhaps, draw two (practical) conclusions from these thematic strands in the book of Acts:

    • Christians act, and are to act, in a responsible and lawful way within society, and that
    • Societal change (including change of religious views) is to come about through the preaching/proclamation of the Gospel, and not through fomenting social unrest and violence; indeed, such unrest is fundamentally anti-Christian, i.e. hostile to the Gospel, as indicated in this very episode.

July 12: Acts 17:16ff; Rom 1:18-32 (concluded)

In the previous note, I examined Romans 1:18-32 (specifically, verses 19-23) in the light of the Areopagus speech by Paul in Acts 17:16-34. Today, by way of conclusion, I will look at the climactic verses—Acts 17:29 and Romans 1:23—dealing with the matter of the worship of God through images (i.e. idols).

The starting-point

  • In Romans 1:23, it is the do/ca (dóxa), i.e. the proper esteem/honor/glory which belongs to God
  • In Acts 17:29, it is the divine origin of human beings and their kinship with God (“we are the lineage [ge/no$] of God”)

This would appear to be a major difference, the importance and significance of which will be discussed below. In each passage, this is the basis upon which the turning (away) into idolatry should be understood. In Romans, this do/ca is distorted/perverted into images of human beings and animals; in Acts, the essential human kinship with God is ignored in favor of other likenesses.

The likeness—Both passages mention that human beings considered God to be like, or in the likeness of, something else:

  • In Romans, they make/change (the honor/glory of) God “in(to) a likeness” (e)n o(moiw/mai)
  • In Acts, they customarily/habitually regard (nomi/zein) the deity to be “like” (o%moion) something

The emphasis in Romans is on the (active) perversion/distortion of the true nature and character of God, in Acts it is on a lack of proper knowledge and understanding. In Rom 1:23, the regular noun qeo/$ (“God”) is used, in Acts 17:29 it is the substantive adjective qei=o$ (“deity”); this is a relatively minor difference, since qeo/$ also appears earlier in the verse.

The images

  • In Romans, the emphasis is on the particular shape/form of the image (ei)kw/n)
  • In Acts, the emphasis is on the making of the image, in two respects:
    —(a) the material (gold/silver/stone)
    —(b) the work of cutting/engraving (the “cut-mark” [xa/ragma])

These different points of emphasis can be seen as complementary, as both can be found in the traditional condemnation and polemic against (pagan) idolatry in the Old Testament and Judaism, with the stress on the making/fashioning of the image perhaps more common in the Prophets.

The human role

  • In Romans, we are dealing with an image “of decaying/corruptible man”—in other words, the human being is the form and pattern for the image, its character and shape
  • In Acts, it is the artistic skill (“production and inspiration”) of man which is in view—the process of devising and shaping the image

Again, these can be seen as complementary aspects of the creation of images/idols. Human religious history shows ample evidence of man’s tendency to conceive and imagine God in his own image (cf. Gen 1:26-27), with human characteristics and attributes being applied. Today, in an era largely devoid of religious idolatry, we are able to look at this phenomena more objectively; in the ancient world, concrete images and conceptions of deity (of all sorts) were a vital part of religious expression, requiring that the matter be dealt with head-on in Scripture. It can be difficult for us today to get inside of the thinking that is at work here, the religious and theological underpinnings of (pagan) polytheism now being rather foreign to us. The context of these verses require that they be studied carefully.

The loss of human dignity—Both passages suggest not only a departure from a proper conception of God, but also from a proper understanding of human nature:

  • In Romans, this is perhaps indicated by emphasizing images of various kinds of animals, in addition to man; Jewish, Christian and philosophical polemic against (pagan) idolatry occasionally stressed the ‘grotesque’ forms of many animal images (however poorly understood) as an especially perverse feature of idol-worship
  • In Acts, this is emphasized again by the contrast between man’s (metaphysical/spiritual) kinship with God and the fashioning of images in metal and stone

This brings us back to the starting-point (cf. above), whereby it is necessary to take a closer look at the overall difference of approach between Rom 1:23 and Acts 17:29:

Doxa (do/ca)—As discussed above, this refers to the dignity, honor and esteem which is to be accorded God by human beings; it is based on:

    1. God Himself—in traditional theological terms, this would be his nature and attributes; in Romans 1:20 it is summarized as qeio/th$, “God-ness” (i.e., deity).
    2. His Work—indicated here in Rom 1:20 as His power (du/nami$), but power manifested primarily, according to Old Testament/Jewish (and early Christian) tradition, in:
      (a) His work as Creator—giving existence and life to all things, in particular, to human beings
      (b) His work on behalf of Israel—his mighty actions in delivering and establishing His people, especially through the Exodus and Conquest of the land of Canaan.
      Christian tradition and doctrine would extend this salvific work to the deliverance of the people of God from the bonds of sin and darkness.

The improper religious response to God, as described in Rom 1:18-32, involves a perversion of the doxa which belongs to God; this leads to idolatry, and, ultimately (in a similar manner), to all kinds of immorality (vv. 24-32).

Lineage of God (ge/no$ tou= qeou=)—Whereas in Romans much traditional Old Testament (and Jewish) thought is at work, in Acts 17 Paul (and/or the author of Acts) draws more extensively upon Greco-Roman philosophical language and concepts (for more detail on this, see the previous articles on the Areopagus speech). Most noteworthy is verse 28, which contains two elements:

    1. A triadic formula defining the life and existence of human beings “in Him” [e)n au)tw=|, i.e. in God]; this is very different from Paul’s usual theological/Christological language—it has been characterized as “panentheistic”, and appears to have much in common (as well as other parts of the speech) with Stoic thought, in particular.
    2. A citation from the astronomical/meteorological poem (or verse-treatise) of Aratus, an early 3rd-century B.C. author (and contemporary of Zeno of Citium) who was influenced by early Stoic thought. Paul picks up on this quotation and uses it in verse 29 as the basis for the argument against the worship of God through images.

The quotation reads: tou= ga\r kai\ ge/no$ ei)men “for we are of (his) lineage”. The word ge/no$ literally means something which has “come to be”, i.e., from or out of someone—”we have all come to be from him”. In ancient mythological-philosophical thought, human beings (or, at least, their spirits/souls) were often viewed as being the offspring of the gods in a metaphysical sense. This is foreign to the context of Israelite/Jewish monotheism, where God (YHWH) was only the Father of human beings in a symbolic sense, in terms of family relationship, or as the Creator. Paul seems to affirm this Greek philosophical-religious sentiment, by re-stating it in verse 29: ge/no$ ou@n u(pa/rxonte$ tou= qeou=, “then, being of the lineage of God”, or perhaps “…belonging to the lineage of God”, with the word ge/no$ given emphasis. Would the historic Paul (of the letters) have used such an argument? This has been much debated by commentators and scholars. It was not unusual for him to take up statements or concepts, which he might not otherwise entirely accept (without qualification), for the greater purpose of the overall message and teaching (cf. for example, his apparent use of Corinthian ‘slogans’ in 1 Cor 6:12; 7:1; 8:1, 4; 10:23). Consider also his declaration in 1 Cor 9:20-22; if we take this seriously, then Paul certainly would not have shied away from using Greek philosophy if it might help win Greeks to Christ. As I have previously noted, Acts 17:16-34 is really the only example we have of Paul (or any other New Testament speaker/author, for that matter) directly addressing pagan Gentiles. A stronger argument against Pauline authenticity is the significant number of words, expressions and concepts which do not occur in the letters, or are used in a different sense, but even this is far from decisive.

July 11: Acts 17:16ff; Rom 1:18-32 (continued)

Having established the background (in the previous day’s note) for a comparison of the Areopagus speech in Acts 17:16-34 with Romans 1:18-32, let us begin the comparison here by listing out some essential points of the speech (for more detail, cf. the series on the Speeches of Acts and my supplemental article):

    • Paul notes the religious devotion—deisidaimoni/a (“fear of divine powers”) / eu)se/beia (“good/proper fear”)—of the Greeks in Athens (17:22-23). This is done with complimentary language (rhetorical device of captatio benevolentiae); earlier in the narrative (v. 16), Paul’s spirit was stirred/angered (“brought to a [sharp] point”) by the number of idols/images throughout the city.
    • A two-fold argument is presented against temple buildings (and the ritual/objects associated with them) as things “made with hands” (17:24-25):
      (1) God as Creator made all things (with his hands)
      (2) He gives all things to human beings and needs nothing from them
    • God created all human beings with a two-fold purpose (17:26-27):
      (1) to live and dwell upon the earth, with the seasons and natural features appointed to them as a divine gift
      (2) to seek God, emphasizing that he is close to (“not far from”) all human beings
    • The divine origin of humankind—stated by accommodation to Greek religious-philosophical language—is presented as a decisive argument as to the true nature of God (“Deity”, to\ qei=on), and against the worship of images (17:28-29)
    • The entire situation described in vv. 22-29 is summarized as the “times of unknowing/ignorance” which God has (up till now) overlooked (v. 30). This is contrasted in verse 31 with the “day” on which God will ultimately judge the world (and which is about to come).

Verses 22-29 are about as close as we come in the New Testament to an objective, positive appraisal of pagan/polytheistic (Greco-Roman) religion. To see this more clearly, note the following chiastic outline:

    • V. 22-23: Accomodation to Greco-Roman religious forms (altars/temples), with praise for their religious devotion, though emphasizing (at the end of v. 23) that it is done without knowledge (of the true God)
      • V. 24-25: Two-fold presentation of the true nature of God (the Creator)—contrasted with the temples/altars, etc. of Greco-Roman religion
      • V. 26-27: Two-fold presentation of God’s purpose in creating human beings—emphasizing God’s nearness to them (i.e. requiring no temples, sacrificial ritual, etc)
    • V. 28-29: Accomodation to Greco-Roman religious-philosophical language (triadic formula and citation from Aratus), stressing the kinship of human beings with (the true) God, and using it as a powerful argument against the worship of God through idols/images

Only in verse 30 does the tone shift to the more familiar theme of judgment against human wickedness, which is the very point at which Romans 1:18-32 begins. In this light, let us see how pagan religion is described by Paul here in Romans. The relevant discussion is limited to vv. 19-23, verse 19 following the announcement of God’s judgment (his wrath/anger) in v. 18 with the connecting (subordinating, causal) conjunction dio/ti, “through (the fact) that”, “for (the reason) that”, i.e. “because”. The clause governed by this conjunction is fundamental to Paul’s argument, and should be examined carefully:

    • to\ gnwsto\n tou= qeou= “the (thing) known of God”—i.e., that which is (or may be) known of God (or about Him); this motif of the knowledge of God is shared with the Areopagus speech
    • fanero\n e)stin e)n au)toi=$ “is shining (forth) in/among them”—i.e. is manifest to them (and among them); the specific idea of God manifesting himself in Creation is generally foreign to the Areopagus speech
    • o( qeo\$ ga\r au)toi=$ e)fane/rwsen “for God has shone forth to them”—i.e. the (true) God has manifest himself to them; the emphasis in the Areopagus speech was on knowledge of the true God, a distinction more or less taken for granted in Romans

Verses 20-21 come very close to providing an early Christian theory on the origins and development of polytheistic/pagan religion; while not satisfactory from the standpoint of an objective modern analysis of the phenomenology of religion, it remains most incisive, even apart from its theological/doctrinal value.

V. 20: “For the unseen (thing)s [a)o/rata] of Him, being brought to mind by the (things that are) made [poih/samen] from the production [i.e. creation] of the world, are seen accordingly”

These unseen aspects and attributes of God are specified as his ever-present/everlasting [ai&dio$] power [du/nami$] and deity [qeio/th$]. The noun qeio/th$, related to qeo/$ (“god”), is literally “god-ness”, which in ordinary English can only be rendered as “deity”; sometimes it is translated here as “Godhead”, but that is rather inaccurate and misleading. The word occurs only here in the New Testament, and has a parallel (of sorts) with the substantive adjective qei=o$ in Acts 17:29, which likewise is not used elsewhere in the New Testament. The idea of God’s divine and eternal attributes and nature being present and recognizable in the natural world is not specified in the Areopagus speech; at best, it might be inferred from vv. 26-27. Even more distinctive is the phrase at the end of Romans 1:21: “…unto their being [i.e. that they are] a)napolo/ghto$“—this adjective literally means “without (the ability to offer) an account for (onself)”, as before a tribunal, i.e. “without a defense”, here in the sense of “without an(y) excuse”. The idea seems to be that God’s manifestation in creation should be sufficient to bring forth proper recognition and worship of Him among human beings. While not specified as such in the Areopagus speech, there is a similar assumption that God—the true God—can be found and recognized by all human beings. In modern theological terminology, this is described as the knowledge of God by natural revelation; however, Paul makes no clear division between “natural” and “special” revelation, and the categories/labels do not exactly apply.

Verse 21 continues with a dio/ti clause parallel to that in verse 19:

“through (the fact) that [dio/ti, i.e. because] (while) knowing God, they did not esteem (him) as God nor did they show good favor…”

The verb doca/zw is typically rendered “give glory, glorify”, but the sense of “honor, regard with honor” is perhaps better; I have translated here with “esteem”. The verb eu)xariste/w literally means “show/offer a (good) favor”, but it can also refer to the proper response to being well-favored, i.e. “showing gratitude/thanks” (i.e. thanks to God for his favor). Paul thus attributes to all human beings (even pagan Gentiles) some degree of genuine knowledge of God, but that humankind (universally, it would seem) did not respond properly, in two respects: (1) they did not regard or honor Him as God, and (2) they did not offer thanks/gratitude in turn for the grace/favor He has shown. One would very much like Paul to expand on what he means here—precisely how should human beings have given honor to God as God? This can only be inferred from the verses that follow. An interesting comparison with the Areopagus speech may be offered here:

    • In Acts 17:23, Paul states that the Greeks (pagans) are “not knowing” (a)gnoou=te$) the true God in their religious actions and attitudes (playing on the idea of “unknown god”); this idea is echoed by the expression “times of unknowing” in verse 30. Paul praises (in a sense) their religious response, and emphasizes their lack of proper knowledge.
    • In Romans 1:20-21, Paul takes the opposite approach—affirming their knowledge (“knowing”, gno/nte$) of God, but finding fault with their religious response.

The (pagan) religious response is indicated, negatively, by the adversative conjunction a)ll’, “but (rather)”, and is characterized two-fold:

    • “they became vain/empty” (e)mataiw/qhsan)—”in their thoughts“, as typically rendered; dialogismo/$ being derived from the verb dialogi/zomai, lit. “count through, go through an account”, and generally, “to think/reason through, reckon, consider”, etc.; here it can be understood in the sense of religious thinking or conception. In Old Testament/Jewish tradition, pagan idols/images are typically referred to as “vain/empty” (ma/taio$) things, cf. Acts 14:15; 1 Pet 1:18.
    • “their heart was darkened (e)skoti/sqh)”—”heart” being qualified by the adjective a)su/neto$ (“without understanding, unintelligent”, i.e. senseless/foolish); darkness can be used as a motif for a lack of knowledge (ignorance), but also generally for sin/wickedness and immorality.

This last point is stated in harsher terms in verse 22: “declaring (themselves) to be wise, they became dull [i.e. foolish]”; then follows the concluding statement in verse 23, which describes the beginning of (pagan) idolatry and immorality:

“…and made the esteem/glory of the undecaying God other(wise) in(to) a likeness of (an) image of decaying man and (also) winged-animals and four-footed (creature)s and creeping (thing)s”

The verb a)lla/ssw “make other[wise]” more precisely means “make/change (one thing) into another”, i.e. “change, exchange”, and it is this verb which defines the onset of idolatry. Note also these important details:

    • do/ca (of God) vs. ei)kw/n (of man and animals)—do/ca is usually rendered by “glory” and, in reference to deity, covers two aspects of God: (a) corresponding to Hebrew dbk, lit. “weight”, i.e. value, and metaphorically as “honor, dignity, majesty” and the like; (b) according to the fundamental sense of the Greek word of the (favorable) thought/consideration given to someone/something, i.e., by extension, “reputation” or the “honor/esteem” given to someone. Here, then, is a seminal religious distinction between the human conception (or understanding) of God and its translation into physical form and shape (the image [ei)kw/n]).
    • The apposition of ei)kw/n (“image”) with o(moi/wma (“likeness”)—in other words, the conception/image of God is made into a specific likeness (human, animal, etc).
    • a&fqarto$ (God) vs. fqarto/$ (man and animals)—the adjective fqarto/$ relates to the idea of “ruin” and “destruction”, often in the sense of (physical) corruption or decay; I have translated above with “undecaying/decaying”, in order to capture the vividness of the comparison, but other parallel terms could be used (e.g., “incorruptible/corruptible”, “indestructible/destrucible”).
    • The sequence from “man” to “winged (animal)s” [i.e. birds], “four-footed (creature)s”, and “creeping (thing)s” may be meant to indicate or imply a descent into even more ignoble and grotesque forms of idol-worship.

It is here, in verse 23, that we find perhaps the most notable point of comparison (and difference) with the Areopagus speech, as will be discussed (in conclusion) in the next daily note.

July 10: Acts 17:16ff; Rom 1:18-32

The next several daily notes are part of a recent study on the Areopagus Speech of Paul in Acts 17:16-34; cf. Parts 20 and 21 of my series on the Speeches of Acts, as well as a supplemental article. One of the passages in the Pauline letters which is often compared with the Areopagus speech is Romans 1:18-32. Both deal with the subject of ‘pagan’ (polytheistic) religion and idolatry prior to human beings receiving the Gospel. It has been argued by a number of critical scholars that the historic Paul (of the undisputed letters) would not have spoken the way the Paul of Acts 17 does, and that the speech (like most of the others in Acts) is a Lukan composition, i.e. primarily a product of the author of Acts (trad. Luke). I have previously noted a considerable number of words, expressions, and concepts in the speech which appear to be foreign or otherwise unattested in the letters. It is possible, however, that this is the result of the different audience—the Pauline letters (undisputed and disputed), along with the remainder of the New Testament books, were all written to and for Christians, while the Areopagus speech is virtually the only example in the New Testament of an address to pagan Gentiles outside of a Jewish or Christian context. There is no clear and simple solution to the question, on objective grounds. But what of the comparison with Romans 1:18-32? Even upon first glance, one notices a substantial difference in orientation; this difference is primarily two-fold:

    • The emphasis is on the impending judgment of God against humankind, brought out clearly at the start in verse 18, with the basis for judgment expounded forcefully in vv. 19-31 and punctuated in v. 32. The idea of judgment is present in the Areopagus speech, serving as the culminating exhortation of 17:30-31, but it is not the main theme of the speech.
    • Romans 1:18-32 deals principally with the immorality of humankind, viewed as a product of human wickedness and a result of idolatry. This is not present in the Areopagus speech at all.

Elsewhere in the letters, Paul’s references to Greco-Roman paganism are all negative, from the standpoint of salvation—the Gentiles once were in darkness, enslaved by idolatry and immorality, but God has rescued them through Christ (cf. Gal 4:8-9; Rom 6:17-19; Col 1:21; 3:7, also Eph 2:2-3). An importance point of emphasis in Romans, of course, is that all people—Jews and Gentiles alike—were slaves to sin in much the same way, whether they lived under the Law or as “sinners”. Typically, Paul refers to idolatry as well from an ethical standpoint, according to its traditional association with licentiousness and immorality (cf. Rom 2:22; 1 Cor 5:10-11; 6:9; 10:7, 14; Gal 5:20; Col 3:5 [also Eph 5:5]). In only four instances (apart from Rom 1:18-32), does he make reference to idols in the context of pagan/polytheistic religion

    • Twice, in brief statements related to the former state of Gentile believers’, before conversion:
      “…how you turned from images to be a slave to [i.e. serve] (the) living and true God” (1 Thess 1:9)
      “You have known that when you were (as the) nations, (you were ones) being led away toward voiceless images, as you might be led” (1 Cor 12:2)
    • In two separate passages related to the question of food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 8:1-13; 10:14-22)

The first two verses imply a condition of enslavement (“being led away”); the references in 1 Cor 8 and 10 deal more properly with the nature of idolatry. There were two views on this subject in early Christianity:

    1. The pagan deities were identified primarily with their images/idols, by way of polemic distortion, and so regarded as vain or nothing, i.e. they did not really exist. This is the view generally expressed throughout the Old Testament Prophets (including the Deuteronomic history, Deuteronomy–Kings) and in Jewish tradition.
    2. The deities had real existence, but were actually evil/unclean spirits or “demons”. This came to be the predominant view in early Christianity.

Interestingly, Paul seems to express both views in 1 Cor 8 and 10—on the one hand, that the deities and their idols are nothing (1 Cor 8:4-5; 10:19; also Gal 4:8), on the other, that they are “demons” (1 Cor 10:20-21).

A more sophisticated treatment of polytheistic/pagan religion is presented in Romans 1:18-32 and the Areopagus speech, which will be discussed in the next note.

The Speeches of Acts, Part 17: Acts 14:8-18

The speech of Paul recorded in Acts 14:8-18 is so brief that one might decide not to treat it among the Speeches in the book of Acts; however, it warrants inclusion as the first (apostolic) address to Gentiles specifically, and because it prepares the groundwork for the much longer speech by Paul in Athens (Acts 17:16-34).

The outline of the speech is extremely simple (here it is actually an outline of the narrative itself):

    • Narrative Introduction (vv. 8-14)
    • Introductory Address (v. 15)
    • Central Proclamation (vv. 16-17)
    • Narrative Conclusion (v. 18)

Narrative Introduction (vv. 8-14)

A healing miracle is recorded, similar to that in Acts 3:1-10, only here the event is noteworthy as the first reported in the context of the mission to the Gentiles. It takes place at Lystra, in the southern portion of the district of Lycaonia, during the first Missionary Journey of Paul (and Barnabas) in Acts 13-14. One may divide this narrative section into three parts:

    • The healing miracle (vv. 8-10)
    • The reaction of the crowd (vv. 11-13)
    • The response of Paul and Barnabas (v. 14)

The crowd reaction is particularly striking and memorable, as the Lycaonians shout out: “The gods becoming like men have stepped down toward us!”—the miraculous power apparently being understood as the work of gods in human form (v. 11). Barnabas is identified with Zeus (Rom. Jupiter) and Paul with Hermes (Rom. Mercury) (v. 12); for a story involving appearances of Zeus and Hermes (also set in Asia Minor), see Ovid Metamorphoses 8:617-725. So extreme is the reaction that the priest of Zeus brings gifts and sacrificial offerings to present along with the crowd (v. 13). Paul and Barnabas respond with horror, tearing their clothing, and rush into the crowd hoping to put an immediate stop to things (v. 14). This sets the stage for Paul’s address to the crowd in verses 15-17.

Introductory Address (v. 15)

This begins with a vocative (“Men!…”, cf. 13:14, 26, 38, etc) followed by a question: “(For) what [i.e. why] are you doing these things?” Paul’s address then is two-fold, stressing his (and Barnabas’) proper identity:

    • “We also are like-passioned [o(moiopaqei=$] men (along) with you…”—The declaration of the crowd was that Paul and Barnabas must be the gods (Zeus and Hermes) “become like men” [o(moiwqe/nte$ a)nqrw/poi$]; Paul’s response is a forceful play on words, that he and Barnabas are simply “like-passioned men” [o(moiopaqei=$ a&nqrwpoi], that is, they are fully ordinary human beings (affected by various things) like everyone else.
    • “…to bring the good message [eu)aggeli/zomenoi] for you…”—the same verb eu)aggeli/zw is used in 13:32 where Paul likewise emphasizes his (and Barnabas’) role and purpose in proclaiming the good message (Gospel).

The clause in verse 15b clarifies the “Good Message”, specifically as it relates to Gentiles, those unfamiliar with the Old Testament Scriptures and Israelite/Jewish religion:

“…to turn away from these empty (thing)s (and) upon [i.e. toward] (the) living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all the (thing)s in them”

This exhortation away from (pagan) polytheism, involving various forms of image/idol-worship, will be expanded considerably by Paul in the Athens speech (17:22-29). Here Paul refers to the Lycaonian (Greco-Roman) religious worship (and superstition) as “empty/vain [ma/taio$] things”, using standard Old Testament terminology (cf. 1 Kings 16:13; 2 Kings 17:15; Isa 31:2; Jer 2:5; 8:19; Zech 10:2, etc). The empty/vain things (idols, etc) are contrasted with “the living God”—cf. Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10; 2 Kings 19:4, 16; Psalm 42:2; 84:2; Isa 37:4, 17; Hos 2:1, etc.; in the New Testament, see Matt 16:16; 26:63; 2 Cor 3:3; 6:16; Heb 3:12; 9:14, etc. In preaching to polytheistic Gentiles, God is emphasized as Creator of (“[the one] who made”) all the things (natural phenomena, etc) typically venerated as representing divine powers—heaven, earth, sun, moon, stars, sea, etc.

Central Proclamation (vv. 16-17)

Syntactically, these verses form a single sentence with verse 15; note the structure:

    • “…(the) living God”
      • who [o^$] made the heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them (v. 15b)
      • who [o^$] in the (times) come to be (but now) passed along [i.e. in times past], let [i.e. permitted] all the nations to travel in their (own) ways (v. 16)

The main proclamation occurs with the compound clause in verse 17:

    • “and yet he did not leave him(self) without witness,
      working good(ness)—”
      • giving rain to us (from) heaven and fruit-bearing seasons
      • filling (us full) of nourishment and our hearts (with) a good (state of) mind [i.e. joy/gladness]

Taken together, vv. 15b-17 serves as a well-constructed theological statement, from the standpoint of what we would call “general (or natural) revelation”, which could be understood by almost anyone, more or less apart from the specific (special) revelation in the Scriptures. For the basic message of verse 16, stated somewhat differently, see Acts 17:30. On creation as a witness to God—his character and existence—see the famous passage in Romans 1:19-20ff; on the goodness of God (as Creator) in terms of rain and harvest, the fruitfulness of the earth, etc., cf. Lev 26:4ff; Deut 11:14; 28:12; Job 5:10; Psalm 147:8-9; Ezek 34:26ff; Zech 8:12; and especially, in a similar context, Matthew 5:45. The final clause in verse 17 appears to be an echo of Psalm 104:14-15, 27.

Narrative Conclusion (v. 18)

The reaction to Paul’s address suggests that the people did not entirely understand what he was telling them—

“and relating these things, (only with) difficulty did they settle down the throng so as not to slaughter [i.e. offer sacrifice] to them”

that is, Paul and Barnabas could hardly stop them from offering sacrifices. Clearly it was easier for missionaries to address Gentiles with a Jewish context (that is, proselytes or ‘Godfearers’, such as Cornelius [cf. Acts 10-11]). Relating to the wider pagan/heathen world, without benefit of a common understanding based on the Scriptures and familiarity with Israelite/Jewish religious tradition, would prove to be more difficult work (note also the lack of initial success in Athens). Yet even in the early missionary work of Paul and Barnabas in Asia Minor there were numerous Gentile converts, as indicated in verses 21-23 and 27-28. These last references coincide with their return trip to Antioch and set the stage for the “Jerusalem Council” in chapter 15.