Given the chance to speak to a group of people who are lusting after the latest everything, would you take it? Paul has that chance here in Acts 17 and it’s fair to say that he took it with both hands.
He sees what people know and what people are (vv.22-23) and takes that to the very beginning of all things (vv.24-25). Showing people how they fit into the big picture is something everyone wants. The vast and varied idols and temples in Athens are, Paul says, missing the mark for true Deity, who doesn’t live in such structures. In fact, the God who made all we see and don’t see doesn’t really need us for much (v.25). Despite being so different, so other-worldly, this God is actually not far from each of us.
Paul here blends masterfully Scriptural truth (vv.22-27) with local understanding, culture, and context to produce what will be an amazing climax (v.31). He takes local poets and well known writers and uses their words to convey God’s truth:
“For in him we live and move about and exist,
as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’”
(Acts 17.28, NET)
Using specific words that convey Biblical truths to not-yet believers is a proven method of aiding understanding. Paul here is expertly building a bridge from the truth of God to local culture and context, and he is using their own material to get there! Doing so doesn’t elevate pagan poetry to the heights of Scripture, but simply takes what people know and sheds new light on it, the light of God’s truth.
If you are spending time with people who want to find God’s truth in their lives read this passage in Acts 17 again and see what Paul did. See how he took the people in front of him, placed them in the grand narrative of creation and redemption, and see how he used their own culture and context to aid their understanding. Then, as we will see tomorrow, make sure to point it all to the assurance to all that is found in the resurrection of Jesus.