By Dr. Mark Scott
Acts 16 set the stage for the gospel going up and down the social ladder. Acts 16 illustrated the truth discerned in Acts 15. If Gentiles did not have to become Jews to be Christians, then that is good news for everyone. People like Lydia (Acts 16:11-18), the slave girl (vv. 16-24), and the jailer needed the gospel (vv. 25-40). In Acts 17 the gospel goes up the social ladder to the prominent (financially and philosophically). In Acts 18, 19 the gospel goes down the social ladder to the corrupt in Corinth and Ephesus.
Line It Up
Paul and Silas left Philippi under duress yet with dignity. They had been imprisoned for the gospel but received an apology from the city officials that would ensure the church’s safety for the time being (Acts 16:35-40). They journeyed south through the military posts of Amphipolis and Appolonia toward Thessalonica. This was the capital city in Paul’s day and still flourishes today as a favorite resort city with 200,000 residents.
This apostle to the Gentiles went first to the Jews in the synagogue. Paul reasoned with them from the Scriptures. The word reason is where we get our English word “dialogue.” This dialogue took the form of explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. Paul’s method of explaining (to go through the mind) and proving (to place before) seemed to line up the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah in one column and show how those were fulfilled in another column. This happened for three Sabbaths. Paul probably did not spend much more time in Thessalonica beyond those three weeks.
The method worked. Jews and Gentiles were persuaded and quite a few prominent women responded. The word for prominent is “first.” Are we sometimes guilty of not thinking about those above us on the social ladder?
Check It Out
Paul’s Thessalonian ministry was cut short by persecution. A man named Jason took the hit for Paul and Silas, who had been ushered out of town in the dead of night. The missionaries went to Berea. They followed their typical strategy in going to the synagogue.
The Bereans were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica. Noble character means “good raced,” but what made them special was not their skin color; rather their eagerness to examine (critique thoroughly) the Scriptures to see if Paul was telling the truth. Paul’s ministry quickly ended in Berea with similar success between both genders of prominent people, as well as similar opposition from the Jews in Thessalonica. Silas and Timothy stayed for more ministry, but Paul was sent to Athens.
Lay It Straight
Acts 17:22-25, 28
When Paul arrived in Athens, the city was living on past laurels. But it was the city of the three great philosophers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle). Financially and demographically Thessalonica was more prominent. But philosophically Athens was still the most prominent. Paul was deeply troubled in the idolatrous city (Acts 17:16). Even though they referred to him as a babbler (seed picker, v. 18), Paul proceeded to undercut the major presuppositions of the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers.
With the great Parthenon in the background, Paul stood up at the Areopagus (a large rock formation) and did more than occupy their attention with something new (v. 21)—he scratched where they itched. He admitted that they were very religious (the word almost means superstitious or demonic), but they needed knowledge of the Creator God and his Son, Jesus Christ. So Paul laid it out straight.
Paul found his starting point by an idol with the inscription, to an unknown god. There is much background to the origin of this inscription, but Paul did not even document his sources. Normally in the synagogue Paul would start with Genesis 12. This time he started with Genesis 1.
God made the world, so he cannot be served by human hands. God is the life giver—not some “dumb” idol. Again Paul gave evidence of his great learning by quoting one of their ancient poets: “We are his offspring.” Paul is laying it out straight to them on their own turf.
Paul literally went from Genesis 1 to Revelation 20—the great white throne of judgment (Acts 17:30, 31). Some suggest that Paul’s approach did not meet with success, but try telling that to Dionysius and Damaris and others (v. 34). The gospel is so powerful that even the prominent can be saved.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.