Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 2000
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 5: Confrontation with the King
Chapter 5: The Resurrection of the King
Lesson 150 – Ascension and Session of Christ. Paul’s Apologia – Acts 17
21 Sep 2000
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
Just to review one of the basic ideas behind this framework approach that we’re using in this class, it’s a three-fold thing. The book of Ecclesiastes says a three-fold cord is not quickly broken. The three-fold nature of what we are trying to do is to set forward the main steps in biblical history, in sequence.
The second thing we’re doing is presenting Bible doctrine, but stated such that it’s linked to these great events of biblical history and that’s to prevent abstract theology. The theology came to us in historical situations. God didn’t reveal a theoretical textbook and while systematics is important, we’re not diminishing that, in fact, we’re substantiating the fact that the Bible is a system. Scriptures set forth a rational system, just like unbelief has a certain rationale, it’s sort of a pseudo rationality, but it has a rational behind it. That’s the second of the three-fold cord.
The third thing that we are emphasizing is the exact opposite of whatever the Bible teaches. In other words, it’s the Bible against the world system. We have spent time as we go through each of these events and the doctrines that these events reveal to show where unbelief strikes against that, where it protests against this. We’re always looking for the conflict and the contrast.
I think it’s become increasingly obvious over the years that we’ve been doing this, in just that short span of time this country has gotten progressively more pagan. In that time it makes more and more sense to approach the Scriptures as we are approaching it. This is not a substitute for exegesis; this is not a substitute for systematic theology; it’s not a substitute for apologetics, but it’s a combination of those three items. I’m going to spend time showing how Paul worked this through in an actual situation. The idea is that what we’re doing is not something I just made up; it’s something that is repeatedly done in the Scriptures themselves by the prophets and the apostles. They work this way and you can see it most clearly with Paul against pagan environments because they were talking against a pagan environment. In other words, the civilization in which they lived was basically antithetical to Scripture in its very structure. So when these men went out to evangelize, when they went out with the gospel message, they knew that that gospel message could not be communicated clearly unless there had to be a major alteration in people’s thinking. The Bible has a word for that major alteration in thinking, it’s called repentance.
Unfortunately the English word “repentance” has become very, very convoluted. At the beginning of this century the word “repentance” was almost demolished in its Christian meaning by certain groups in the Methodist tradition who had the mourning bench in the front and repentance came to mean feeling sorry for your sin. It may include that, but that’s not what the word means. The word metanoiew (metanoeo) is meta, change; noeo change your understanding. It reaches far deeper than your sins; it has to do all the way down to the nature of truth, Who God is, etc. There’s got to be that repentance. There can’t be repentance if there’s not something to change. There’s got to be at least two views in order for repentance to happen because it’s changing from one view to another so if you only have one view there’s nothing to repent of. There’s got to be at least two positions, and that’s why we emphasize what the Bible says and what the world says; what the Bible says here and what the world says here. We demarcate the area of the repentance zone and show that in fact a move from the one to the other requires this transforming.
As an example of the world in which we are living, in which it will be progressively impossible to use a biblical vocabulary up front and be reasonably understood. I heard about a fellow narrating his experiences in the ministry in Washington, D. C. He has a ministry to Hebrew Christians and he has a ministry of handing out plaques with the Ten Commandments on them to anybody he can get into their office in D.C. During the course of discussing this he narrates the following incident and I want you to hear this incident that happened because I think it typifies the situation in which we are now finding ourselves.
[taped message played says: One of the very first presentations of the Ten Commandments we did in Washington was to the former Secretary of the United States Senate, Kelly Johnston, one of the most powerful offices on Capitol Hill. In fact, he signs the pay checks of the Senators, so you know he’s real important. And Kelly Johnston, until his recent retirement, had one of the most beautiful offices in Washington, the stately office that was John F. Kennedy’s transition office in the capitol, beautiful round stained glass window with the great seal of the United States with the eagle on it. And there we went, he’s a godly man, loves the Lord, held a packed-out Bible study every week in that office, preaching the gospel to all those who work in the Senate side of the capitol, and we went in and we made a presentation of the Ten Commandments to Kelly Johnston for his faithfulness to the Word of God. And he took those Commandments and he put them right in the vestibule of that important and well-trafficked office in the Unites States Capital. Virtually anybody who works there comes through those doors at some point. And he called me one day and he said Rob, I’ve got to tell you what happened today. He said we had a woman who works here on Capitol Hill, highly esteemed, very powerful, graduate of Harvard University, she’d been here 25 years and she is well respected, she came into my office and she saw the Ten Commandments sitting there on the table, and she gravitated over toward them and she gave them a read, once, twice, three times, and she said “Kelly, what are these?” And he “why, those are the Ten Commandments.” And she said, “I’ve always heard about them, but I’ve never seen them.”]
That’s the leadership of the nation. Given that as the environment, and given the fact that we have a Harvard graduate, a Harvard graduate being from the school the Puritans set up to teach men how to preach the Word of God, and we’re producing this kind of education, that’s the target. That’s the target, that’s our neighbors; those are the people in the power structure. Not only don’t they want to follow the Ten Commandments, in this case they don’t even know what the Ten Commandments are.
I was presenting this in Connecticut a couple weeks ago and emphasizing the fact that we have to, in confronting our pagan neighbors and the pagan society we live in, follow a compare and contrast approach. In this compare and contrast, it often involves going far back into the framework that we’ve studied. I want to show an example of that from Paul himself. This is to show that when we sit here and we look at what the Bible says and what paganism says, we have to show contrast down through on many areas, in particular the areas that this particular person or this target group is dealing with or is conscious of. I went through Acts 17; we saw what Paul presents to the Athenians and why he presented it because he was refuting point by point by point the Greek version of paganism.
A fellow said I was 27 years on the mission field, my brother is still in Paraguay and he was narrating the following problem. When he was trying to translate the Word of God into this tribal language, it’s a very, very hard thing to do to pick up a vocabulary that’s going to communicate. You want to spend all the time it takes to learn what word you use to translate “God.” The Roman Catholic missionaries went to Korea and picked out a word they thought represented God and it turned out it was Satan. They had all the Catholic Bibles translated and they wondered why nobody became a Christian. Finally Protestant linguists went in and discovered that the Jesuit priests, who had usually done a pretty good job, in this case really dropped the ball completely and fouled up the whole complete presentation, at least the Romanist version, of Christianity.
He said my brother was struggling with the problem of trying to locate where in these people’s understanding was there any remnant, deep down is there any remnant of divine truth, because we all know that they’re descendants of Adam and Eve. He said they’re into spiritism a lot, animism, the spirit of the trees, the spirit of the rock, the spirit of the animals, and he had to be very, very careful because he didn’t want to translate some word for God that’s going to be misinterpreted to add to their 184 other ones, so he had to find some sort of unique thing. So he said I’m going to spend however long it takes and I’m going to find out what is their theology. He queried them and queried them and finally he said okay, I think I’ve got this. So he drew a picture on a piece of paper and he said this is your belief, he didn’t call it paganism, he says this is your belief and he started outlining the belief’s. He went down one after another, listed them on a piece of paper in their language that he was translating and then he said now this is what the Bible says, boom, boom, boom, boom. I’m going to hand these pieces of paper out, and I want you to tell me, “Am I right, is this what you believe?”
They had to go out on a hunting expedition for 2-3 weeks, and after the expedition was over one of them said I want to talk to you. So one of the natives came back to his brother and pulled this piece of paper out; it was all dog-eared and obviously thought about a lot and he said you put these lists down, and he started listing the animist belief and reading these off, which told the guy we’re getting to the language at least. He said yeah, I believe that, I believe this, I believe that, but he says the God that you’re talking about, the God of the Bible say this is true, this is true, this is true. So he said today I believe the God of the Bible, and he folded the piece of up and flipped it over, and he said what a remarkable illustration of repentance, because here was a change in understanding. The person has not yet been saved; this is pre-salvation repentance, because they can’t understand the gospel until this happens. So here’s a case where all of this was preliminary to the gospel, they didn’t even get to the gospel yet because the categories are so screwed up that any attempt to preach the gospel is going to be totally absorbed in their own framework.
Remember the illustration gave of the interior decorator, the guy shows up with a bull dozer, and what he wants to do is not redecorate the house, he wants to tear it down and rebuild. That’s the example of the Word of God. If you want a biblical counterpart to that, 1 Sam. 5 where the ark of Yahweh gets hauled into one of the temples and all the gods fall down because God is not going to be posted up alongside of another collection of deities. He replaces all of them or He’s not going to be part of the collection. That’s the God of the Scripture; that’s what’s so offensive about biblical faith and you as a Christian are going to bear that offense. People are going to be offended because the Bible is an exclusivistic faith; there is no room for any other opinions.
We live in a democracy, and there’s something about the democratic spirit, while it’s somehow related to man’s ability to choose, it’s also related to a satanic concept, and that is the idea that everyone’s opinion is equally valid. That’s not true. God’s Word is not put alongside of Satan’s word. That’s what Eve tried in the garden. She tried to take the democratic approach to see if God’s Word said you will die and Satan’s word said you will not die, and in a democracy all opinions are equal, therefore they must be of equal authority so she and her husband decided they’d try an experiment to test to see which way the democratic vote should turn out. They found out, and we’re bearing the results of that experiment in democracy centuries later.
Turn to Acts 17. We’re going to go through an example of Paul working a street confrontation. What he’s doing here actually is employing the structure of the book of Romans; we won’t get into that, all I want to show is something more limited. I’m going to go through Acts 17 and we’re going to look at how Paul approaches a profoundly pagan group of people. Keep in mind that this occurs in Athens and Athens was one of the intellectual centers in the ancient world. Jerusalem you could say is one, Tarsus was another intellectual center, and you know who came from Tarsus. Tarsus was a university town; Alexandria had the largest library the world has ever seen, sadly some of the Christians in the 2nd and 3rd century torched the library. That library was a profound place, and Athens, of course, was an intellectual center. It was the place to be as far as the ideology and philosophy was concerned. There were four philosophical schools at Athens.
I’m telling you this to show that Paul, being from Tarsus, knew very well his target mission field. Watch how he targets the Word of God. He’s got to compete with four strong pagan viewpoints that are circulating there. Plato taught at Athens; Plato is the father of idealism. Aristotle taught there; he had a mix of the one and the many. Then there was Epicures; he was the one who argued toward chance. There was Zeno, whose argument, if I recall, was more towards fate. He had four basic philosophic schools and there were dozens of others. In fact, they had so many viewpoints in the city of Athens that one sarcastic Roman poet, Petronius, said it’s easier to find a god in the streets of Athens than it is to find a man, because it was an Apollo-theistic city, made up of viewpoint after viewpoint. The point is these people were thinking; these were not stupid people.
As we go through Acts 17, take this note down: here is an example from the Word of God that ancient people weren’t stupid, because when the Bible is presented often times someone will say, oh you don’t believe that, that’s some ancient book and the ancient people were superstitious and ignorant. In other words, there wasn’t healthy skepticism in the ancient world according to these critics today. Those critics themselves are ignorant because it’s not true; the skepticism was profoundly developed in Athens … profoundly developed! Paul is dealing with it here in Acts 17; you cannot say that the ancient person was more gullible than we are. I bet they had less lotteries than we do. The ancient people were not gullible fools. In fact, where do we get the idea of “doubting Thomas?” Right in the circle of the disciples, the apostles.
The point we’re making is this: the Word of God originally had to come against skepticism in the first generation. Don’t tell me that the Word of God has never had skepticism until some sidewalk expert walks up to us in the 21st century thinks he’s the first real skeptic, you know, there wasn’t any skepticism before he came into your presence. We can get away from that, that’s not true, that’s false history. In fact, it’s a smear; it’s a smear against every person who lived in the ancient world, that this person, sidewalk expert is smarter, better educated and less gullible than they were. Not necessarily true.
Acts 17:16, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was beholding the city full of idols.” He was looking at the temple structures; he was looking at what tourists declared to be objects of atheistic value. You don’t read in verse 16 as you look at the art forms and the cultural forms of his time that he thought of it as articles of atheistic value. Paul didn’t look at art and literature that way. Paul looked at art and literature theologically. He would not go on a tour bus through Athens saying oh, isn’t this beautiful, isn’t this temple wonderful, isn’t this wonderful architecture. He would say that is a lot of vanity; that is garbage. People would be shocked, how provincial of this Jewish man to pronounce our wonderful Greek architecture as garbage. But you’ll notice the reaction in verse 16; the reaction is to the Greek art. So in art appreciation, theology attempts … in any art appreciation course you’ll ever take that’s the furthest from the classroom you’ll ever think of as something theological is going to intrude in a course on literary analysis or artistic appreciation, and yet here we find him angry because he’s looking at the art forms of a pagan culture.
Verse 17, “So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place very day with those who happened to be present.” So he was arguing the gospel, and people say two things [can’t understand word/s] people don’t do is talk about politics and religion. Paul talked about it quite freely and he did it every day in verse 17. One wonders what the ACLU would have to say about this out in a public place.
Verse 18, “And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him.” Here are some of the smart guys. So Mr. Modern Know-it-all who thinks the Scripture is being presented to ancient, stupid, gullible people, who’s talking to him here in verses 18-19? What you want to notice about it is how they perceive things. Their analysis of Paul in verse 18 provides us with a very interesting maneuver, and it’s a maneuver that all of us had best understand. The maneuver is one of a strategic envelopment. In other words, either paganism is going to absorb what you say and explain you, what you say and your message in terms of pagan values and pagan viewpoint, or you and the Christian position are going to have to explain them in light of biblical categories.
Two examples: a pagan says, after hearing that some lady recently became a Christian, maybe something like this, oh, well I understand why she became a Christian, I mean she’s always had this fear of the unknown and she’s been through some hard times, and you know, religion is a nice crutch for her, I can understand why she became a Christian. What’s happened here? Nothing supernatural is acknowledged, not any spiritual reason for what becoming a Christian means, it’s just a psychological thing and it’s been totally absorbed inside a pagan reference system. Conversely let’s suppose there’s somebody out there who’s been witnessed to time and again and rejects, and they’re sort of laughing at it, etc. that’s the time to say well, I understand why he doesn’t become a Christian, I mean, if I was in his position faced with a holy God I’d be afraid of God too, I wouldn’t want to come to a holy righteous God, I’d be like Adam and Eve, hiding in the bushes, and that’s what he’s doing right now, he’s hiding in his intellectual bushes. And you just go right on like nothing has happened. Now what have you done? Now you’ve encircled that whole situation, put it inside of a biblical frame of reference and walked off. And you control the situation because the Word of God controls the situation. So it’s this constant vying that’s going on here, and that’s what I want you to see. One agenda or the other is going to dominate.
Watch what happens here in verse 18, Paul has been arguing with them daily in the street so they’ve heard the gospel. At the end of verse 18 is their rehearsal to us about what they think he’s saying. Here you have the clearest apostle to the pagans in all of biblical history; he has presented the gospel again and again and again but at the perceiving end of this transmitted message, here’s the way it’s coming through to them; he seems to be a proclaimer of strange gods because he’s preaching Jesus and the resurrection. [“And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. And some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’ –because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.”]
The idea is that they heard the word ”Jesus” and they heard the word “resurrection,” so let’s watch this because it’s going to happen to us today for sure. Here are two words, Paul probably used hundreds of vocabulary words, hundreds and thousands but there are two words that really bug these people and they couldn’t understand what is Paul talking about this Jesus and resurrection, they must be gods. So they deify Jesus and resurrection by trying to classify them somehow inside the pagan system. Do you see what’s happening? The classification tool is being controlled by the pagan agenda. What they try to do is they’re saying they must be some sort of gods. And from that point they’ve got a problem politically because as many gods as Athens had if you went in there preaching a new one you had to get some political permission to do this. So this is how he got wrapped up and they brought him to the council and they have a big hearing. [19, “And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘Maw we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming?’  ‘For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; we want to know therefore what these things mean.’  (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)”]
In verse 22 we come to the start of Paul’s apologia (apologia), and this term, which is the word which produces our word apologetics. Please understand that apologia does not mean apologize. That’s the English word; it’s lost its meaning once again, it’s like repentance, you can’t use it anymore because it’s been so defiled. Apologetic—the closest thing that comes to our experience every day is a court room presentation, when if you were accused and you hired a good attorney, a defense attorney, the apologia is what he would give to the court. So the apologia has certain aspects, first of all it has the characteristic that it is targeted to an accusation. That’s why in 2 Peter 3:15 it says sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give an answer to whomever asks you a reason of the hope that is in you. “Be ready always” is apologia, give a reason, a defense and an explanation.
In this case with Paul it’s against an accusation; it could be just a question, but it’s a question prompted by Christian testimony. Gee, I see you go through this catastrophe in your life and some people would commit suicide if they had to go through this and you survived and you’re going right on with your life, tell me about it. That’s not really an accusation, it’s a question that’s been stimulated by your testimony. Now you’ve got your open door, now we’re ready to give an answer to every man that asks a reason for the hope that is within us. Paul is ready to give an answer and what is so nice about this is it’s recorded for us, in this outline at least, to what he gave in a public forum at a public hearing. What’s terribly important about Acts 17:23-31 is that it shows his reasoning; how does he reason with pagans? This is a godly man, led by the Holy Spirit.
Now we have apostolic precedents in how to construct a defense of the faith. Watch how he does this. If you have a study Bible you should see a whole bunch of marginal references to the Old Testament. I’ll try to point these out but we don’t have time to go through all of them, but your margin should be full of references to the Old Testament here. He starts out in verse 22, a very interesting statement. “And Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.’ ” That’s how this translation accords it, it’s a very hard translation to do here, some say superstitious, religious, the point is the word has kind of like an ambiguity in it in the Greek. So this is kind of one of those things that could be tongue-in-cheek; on the surface he’s saying oh, you’re very religious, but everybody that’s standing there in the room knows it can also mean you’re really gullible and superstitious, as he’s commenting about all the gods. Their objection to him is what, do you have a problem with all this, why do you have to add another one, don’t we have enough to keep you pleased?
This directly introduces his apologia by focusing on their accusations, their accusation that there’s something wrong with Paul. In verse 22 it’s not too subtle that he says the problem is with you, and he does it courteously and politely, but he doesn’t back off. This may strike some of you as not very Christian, but Paul can be a real nasty bulldog when he has to be. He doesn’t have to growl, he just locks on and he holds. Watch what he does here. By the time he gets to the end they really have no defense against what he said, because he’s torn them up pretty bad. And he doesn’t do it because he relishes tearing people up; he does it because these people are pathetic and they need to be straightened out with the Word of God, so that’s what he’s going to do.
So he says “you are very religious in all respects,” and it’s not just a putdown, he’s arguing that at the basic heart of every person since Adam and Eve were created we are God-conscious and we are going to be religious in certain directions. Everyone in the final analysis is religious. Now he’s going to show you why. Oh I don’t believe that; well just hold on, he’ll show you why, what he’s talking about here. You say I know people that aren’t religious. I will challenge you, I don’t think there’s a person in this room who can honestly say if you think through what Paul’s going to do here that you have ever met a person that is not religious. You can think of the grossest person you want to, and I’ll guarantee you there are always signs of his or her God-consciousness. It may be a simple think like “well I think that’s wrong,” oh, where are we getting that from? Sense of conscience, it’s a witness of God-consciousness. Drug dealers would think if you had a check that bounced that it’s wrong; it’s not just that they don’t like it, it’s wrong. Wait a minute, where are you coming from, what’s wrong here? Well, that’s wrong. By what standard is that wrong?
Every person at the base cannot fully eradicate the image of God in them. So Paul’s point of contact is not going to be a philosophic argument with Plato’s disciples, Aristotle’s disciples, Epicures’ disciples or Zeno’s disciples. It’s not a philosophical argument that is slowly moving from one viewpoint over to the other. What you’re going to see him do in Acts 17 is contrast, here’s what you believe, here’s what I believe. You believe this, I believe this; you believe this; I believe this. Why does he do this? Aren’t we supposed to bridge the gap with a non-Christian? Yes, but if they’re not aware the gap is there you’ve got to show them the gap, you can’t bridge anything until the gap is visible. And in a slimy syncretistic culture gaps are not visible. These folks will think that what you believe is kind of like what they believe, you know, we just use different words. You’ve got to get away from that. We have to separate before we can make the bridge. So that’s what this analysis is all about.
Verse 22, “… I observe that you are very religious in all respects.  For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ What therefore you worship in ignorance,” now watch this, he is striking at the limitations of man’s knowledge, he is showing that deep down these folks finally acknowledge the limitations of men. I’ve shown you that chart a number of times about the limitations of man’s knowledge, and the point is that you’ll never meet a person that doesn’t have limited knowledge. He seized on this by virtue of the title that’s on the statue. The statute was “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD” because in the history of Athens when bad things happened to the city and they had done obeisance to this god, this god, this god, this god, and hadn’t gotten any relief they figured out well, we must have missed somebody along the way, so we’ll try to dedicate to an unknown god, you know, in case we missed somebody. That’s why they had these unknown gods around, to supplement just in cast they didn’t catch them all the first time around. But having said that, that’s a confession they don’t know what they’re talking about because here they are dealing with life and they can’t control it, and they don’t know who else is controlling it, so they label it the unknown god.
Watch what he’s done so far in verses 22-23, look at the skill this guy has. He probably did this twenty or thirty times, I’m convinced that this is a standard approach after studying the structure of this passage and studying Romans, I think Romans is an exposition of this structure, and I think Acts 27 is an illustration always preserved so we can actually watch it happening in a street situation. What he’s doing in verse 22, he locks in, not to the unbeliever’s ideas, he locks into the unbeliever as the Bible describes him, man made in the image of God. He’s pointing right to the heart; he knows what’s in the heart of the target, namely that what is going to happen here is that we’ve got to awaken the God-consciousness there. That’s what he’s driving for. Then he says, here’s what you said, you’ve admitted you don’t know everything, now I’m here to preach to you. Notice he doesn’t say in verse 23 that I’m going to construct a proof for the existence of God. It’s not in there, there’s no proof for the existence of God because the idea is you can’t prove anything until you have the logical structure of the God of the Scriptures. So unless there’s the God of the Scriptures you can’t prove anything. Therefore we’re not proving God’s existence in terms of some pagan prior view.
Rather, he says in verse 23, look at this, do you see what I mean by the fact that this guy has such courage to come on in such a profound way. If you were the people in this hearing how would you like it if this guy gets up in front of you, points to you personally and says, “What therefore you worship in ignorance, I proclaim to you.” Would you feel a little attacked if he came on like that, waving his little Jewish hand at you? I bet you’d feel under attack and that’s good, that’s the way you should be, this is the Word of God going forth, he’s got bullets in the gun he’s going to start firing them, so you’re going to be ducking. That’s good, it’s shows you there’s a good trigger on that gun. There’s tension here, and unfortunately most of us don’t like tension and it’s uncomfortable to be around in a gospel presentation because there’s always tension involved; it’s unavoidable.
Watch what he does now, verse 24, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands,” look at the margin and you’ll see verse 24 takes into account Isaiah 42:5 and 1 Kings 8:27. Right there he’s talking about Old Testament passages. Now the Old Testament passages that he is dealing with go back to our framework, so let’s go back to the framework and watch what he’s doing here. We started out, the first year and we had four events: the creation, the fall, the flood and the covenant. We associated with each one of these events doctrine. Creation defines God, man and nature. You cannot talk about God if you can’t talk about creation; the creation separates God from the creature, the Creator/creature distinction.
You have to bring creation into it. If you do not bring creation into it you will wind up with some syncretistic mess where Jesus will be assimilated into some pagan scheme. That’s exactly what happens because what was the problem the philosophers heard in the market place? They were saying, “Well, Jesus and resurrection - that must be two new gods.” So what does Paul have to do? He can’t start talking about Jesus, in fact, if you skim down quickly it isn’t until verse 31 that he talks about Jesus. Only after he’s gone through all these verses, quoting all this Old Testament stuff to people to define who God is before he gets to talking about who Jesus is. We have creation, we have the fall bringing in evil and suffering, we have the flood, the picture of judgment/salvation, and we have the Noahic Covenant showing once again God, man and nature ruled not by natural law but ruled by the Word of God.
Isaiah 42 that is quoted is actually talking about creation. So where does Paul start his gospel presentation in terms of our biblical frame of reference? He starts it right out with event number one, and here’s proof of it. Here he is, verse 24 addresses the first event of our biblical framework, “God who made the world and all things in it, since He is the Lord of heaven and earth,” and then he draws a theological conclusion that Solomon did. Why do you suppose he picked up Solomon here in 1 Kings 8:27? Here he is, he’s talked about creation, he’s gotten God defined, probably we have an abbreviated version of this sermon, he probably spent some time defining creation for them, and then he draws a conclusion that this God who created all things doesn’t “dwell in temples made with hands,” and that citation comes from 1 Kings, and what does that mean in terms of our Old Testament framework?
Let’s go back to the disruptive kingdom. We had the call of Abraham, God sets forth a counterculture, God gets this counterculture going and then the high point of that, after the rise and reign of David was the golden era of Solomon. What was Solomon known for? Culture. He knows he’s in a town of culture so what is Paul going to do? He’s going to take the Jewish epitome of culture, which was Solomonic Jerusalem, look at the conclusions a biblical culture came to while he’s talking to a pagan culture. Were there great architectural things in Athens? Yes. Was Solomon’s temple a great architectural thing? Yes. He is setting one over against the other. Of all the Jewish references why did he pick Solomon? Because it was appropriate to pick Solomon against the Athenian architects and engineers because Solomon was a biblical architect and a biblical engineer. And when he dedicated the temple, his work, he didn’t say this is going to be a tourist attraction. This was dedicated to the Lord God of heaven, and then Solomon prayed the prayer of 1 Kings 8 in which he said God, I know that you’re not going to dwell in this structure.
See the humility there? What were the pagan architects and engineers thinking about? They’re going to build houses for whom? The gods. Where are the gods going to dwell? Inside the architecture. What a picture of man-made religion. So Paul pits the Jewish idea that you can have a great work of art dedicated to the Lord but the Lord isn’t in the work, the work is dedicated to Him. This tension that goes on between Jerusalem and Solomon on one hand and Athens and the pagan architects and engineers was put well by one of the church fathers whose name was Tertullian. Tertullian was very, very famous for this statement. [blank spot]
He was a great combat guy for the gospel in his day, Tertullian, and he said this: “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” See, his problem was there were Christians running all around the eastern end of the Mediterranean at the time Tertullian lived who were trying to amalgamate the gospel in terms of Greek philosophy. That’s where Augustine got screwed up, he read too much of Plato instead of reading about Solomon. “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the church?” The Academy was the place where Plato taught or Aristotle, it was always called the Academy. “Our instructions come from the porch of Solomon.” That was a little tongue-in-cheek jab because there was the porch of the Academy where they used to teach, so Tertullian says yeah, we have a porch, too, it’s called the porch of Solomon. See what Tertullian did? Who of all the people in the Old Testament did he go back to? When he had to get up and make this statement about biblical education versus non-biblical education, who was the person he picked out? Solomon. Why? Golden era. Know your Old Testament framework; it’s obvious why he picked Solomon out.
“What concord is there between the Academy and the church? Our instructions come from the porch of Solomon; away with all attempts to produce a model Christianity of stoic platonic and dialectic composition. We want no curious disputation after we have possessed Christ Jesus.” That was his plea, to let’s be biblical and let’s not try to amalgamate things.
Paul goes on and in Acts 17 proceeds beyond talking about Solomon. He’s made the conclusion architecture and human works do not encapsulate God, God encapsulates them. Obviously by the time you get to verse 24 in this public hearing, we’ve had quite some serious separation happen here. Do you see what he’s doing? His God concept …, first of all let’s review.
Point one about verse 23 is you guys know God exists, Romans 1; I know you know He exists, I know that you know, you believe in absolute truth somewhere when it’s convenient to do it, it all comes to the surface. So really what you have here is an accusation of hypocrisy, that every unbeliever in principle has to be a hypocrite; every unbeliever has to be a hypocrite! Christians may be hypocrites, but it’s accidental and not deliberate. But the unbeliever has got to be a hypocrite because he can’t erase the image of God in his heart. But he can’t let it loose because if he does it reminds him of the God with whom he has a responsibility; he’s got to suppress it. Unbelief is inherently hypocritical so he unleashes this tension in verse 23 by pointing out to them that they are religious and they are finite in their understanding. When you put those two together you’ve got to have an absolute point of reference and he says I’m going to give it to you.
Then in verse 24 he completely severs G-o-d from their understanding to the biblical understanding. If you’re going to talk about Jesus as God, let’s get G-o-d defined properly. So he goes to the creation to define that basic terminology and get that Creator/creature distinction functioning. You’ve got to do that ahead of the discussion. Then he concludes the theological conclusion of the Creator/creature distinction in its architectural and engineering context by noting Solomon. He’s done all that by the end of verse 24. Do you get the impression he’s not interested in building a bridge? What he’s interested in is doing exactly the opposite to that. He wants to divide, he wants to separate, he wants to create a chasm. Then later on we’ll talk about what we have to do about it, but until the chasm is clear there can’t be repentance because there’s not a difference in viewpoint.
Let’s look at verse 25, “neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things.” This is taken from Psalms, one of the Psalms he quotes is in the context, God says look, if I were hungry I wouldn’t ask you, your lunches aren’t big enough for me, I’m not going to beg food from you. So now what is he doing? What was the essence of pagan religion? Think about it from what you might have read about it, magazine articles you’ve seen. What do you see pagans do all the time? They’re giving things, alms giving, they’re always doing something and it’s like God needs this stuff. It’s interesting that the giving in the Old Testament, while it was directed to God where did it go? It recycled back into the welfare of the people, it financed the priests. What did the priests … what were they supposed to do at least? Teach the Word of God, administer public health and all the rest of it. So it wasn’t consumed in some stupid religious thing that was socially useless. God gives to all things, and the doctrine that we’re talking about here is that as God is Creator over the creation, we’ve got the Creator/creature distinction, as that distinction holds there’s a word that theologians use to describe the point that Paul’s making here. It’s called aseity, and aseity means that God is totally and completely self-sufficient. He did not have to create the universe.
We’ve said before, in certain religions of solitary monotheism God did have to create the universe because if He was solitary what attribute can’t He exercise? Love. So if you have a solitary monotheism you’ve got an insufficient and incomplete God who has to supplement Himself with a created object outside of Himself in order to exercise the attribute of love. But the Bible says that God is Triune Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Jesus Christ said Father, You have loved Me from before the foundation of the world. So before the universe was created love existed and was exercised among the three persons of the Trinity. It can’t happen in a solitary monotheism and it certainly can’t happen in a pagan world situation.
So he’s just emphasizing again in verse 25 the nature and the character of God. We’re going to stop there because next week we’re going to go into some more of the things that he’s separating and defining. At this point I want to review, just in closing, the frame of reference, because you’re going to see it as he works his way through the framework. Once again, four basic events that we have in the Scripture, all covered in the first 9 chapters of Genesis. Everybody should know these cold: creation, fall, flood, covenant. It should be second nature to you and it should also be second nature to you that when you think of these things (and you ought to think of these things), think of them as a child would think of them. They’re stories, imagine yourself there, think of what the flood must have looked like, think of what it was like on the ark of Noah, use your imagination, fire it up, use it, turn off the boob tube, let this tube start working. As you think about these events, start thinking about oh, that event shows this is true about my God, and now you’re bringing in the doctrine. Creation defines God, man and nature.
The Noahic Covenant tells you how God rules and do you know why we’re sloppy here. Let’s give a quickie here. The Noahic Covenant, God implemented a verbal covenant that controls the physical geophysical universe. That’s what the rainbow is about, the rainbow is a signature; the rainbow is a picture of the throne of God. And yet why do we go around talking about natural law? What is this thing called natural law? Well that’s just gravity, that’s just electric…. It works independently of God? Well, no but God just created it and kind of left it there. No! That’s not the biblical view of God. There’s no such thing as natural law in that sense; it’s really a bad term that we’ve allowed to creep inside our vocabulary, creep inside our mind and think there are these absolute laws and then once in a while God will come in there and interrupt them. God works all the time. If you have an idea of locking Him out through natural law, why do you bother to pray? Because you know in that view of natural law, natural law by definition is true 99% of the time and if you’re praying contrary to the natural law there’s only a 1-2% chance you’re prayer is going to be answered. So you see, it eats into your prayer life. This is not just theory here, this is practical application.
Then we went in and we discussed the disruptive kingdom, and we said that this kingdom is always disruptive. Paul’s disruptive in Athens in Acts 17. Any time you open your mouth about the gospel you’re a disruption. Why? Because the world is fallen, the mind of the flesh is enmity against God, not subject to the law of God, so it’s created this culture. This is the fallen Noahic culture, the paganized culture, and we come along talking about the Lord and the gospel and we’re disrupters. So we have to understand we are going to be perceived as disrupting people. Hey, that comes with the goods.
Then we saw the last half of the Old Testament, the King’s discipline and we said that there you have the fact that God is serious with His own chosen people, they mess up they get spanked, they get chastened. God did not rule the Jewish kingdom by Dr. Spock; He ruled it with a paddle. I can just see some lawyers interpreting this, can’t you? They say, oh, you know that Old Testament, you look at the Old Testament and that’s abuse of the elect, that’s abuse and it’s pretty heavy abuse. You know what happened down here with the exile. But why? Because to separate good from evil is painful and if we’re on a program where God says it’s going to happen, it’s just like the drill sergeant in basic training, in six weeks you will be trained. And you can enjoy it or you can have a miserable experience, but in six weeks you will be trained! And that’s the way God works in history. He has a goal in history and we can apply brakes and destroy our tires or we can let it roll, but whatever we do, God’s will will be accomplished in history.
Then we went through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and we went through the various doctrines associated with the birth, life, death and resurrection. We got into some advanced stuff because now this Creator/creature distinction is united in one person in something called the hypostatic union, Jesus Christ as the Creator and the creature in one person. Then we went into the life and certain things that this year when we start thinking about the church and the life of Christ, that is going to depend on this. When we talk about Christ’s life it’s not just a sweet little devotional term, there’s some pretty heavy stuff. We had some Q&A about Christ’s impeccability and infallibility, all that is coming up now to the Church Age. Then the death of Christ, the substitutionary blood atonement, and that was not easy when you start thinking about who is covered in the atonement. Then resurrection, which is glorification.
We’re going to move this year into the church and in doing so we’re going to utilize all the doctrine that we’ve had to date. I want to start in the first few weeks working our way through Acts 17 because keep this in mind, Paul confronted unbelief this way. We can do the same thing in our hearts with unbelief. When the fiery darts of the wicked one come against us, you treat it just like you would a pagan loudmouth and you go through the same defense, the same drill, the same parts of the framework, the same Bible doctrine, boom, boom, boom, because this is the same war. It can go on inside your heart; it can go on in the external world. But go on it does. Next week we’ll work further into Acts 17.