22 Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
The book called “The Acts of the Apostles” was written around 85 to 90 CE by the anonymous author of the Gospel According to Luke. The first 15 chapters of Acts are a didactic “history” of the early Jesus Follower Movement starting with a second account of the Ascension of Jesus (the first one is in Luke 24) and ending at the so-called Council of Jerusalem where it was agreed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and keep all the Kosher dietary laws in order to become Jesus Followers.
From Chapter 15 to Chapter 28, Paul’s missionary activities are recounted, ending with his house arrest in Rome, not always in a manner consistent with the accounts in Paul’s epistles.
Just before today’s reading, Paul was at a synagogue (17:10-15) where he would have focused his conversion efforts on Gentiles who were sympathetic to Jewish Law (called “God Fearers”). He also debated with some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (v.18) who brought him to the Areopagus.
The Jewish Annotated New Testament points out that Epicureanism was a philosophical school that maintained the deities played no role in human affairs. The Stoics held that humans should use reason to live a life of virtue and to develop their wills in accordance with nature. They accused Paul of presenting foreign divinities (v.18) – the same charge that had been made against Socrates.
In today’s reading, Paul was presented as making an address to the Athenians at the Areopagus (a hill west of the Acropolis, the city’s chief administrative council, and a place associated with Socrates). Modern persons would likely call Paul’s audience “pagans,” but in the First Century, most Gentiles worshiped many gods and even regarded Jews as non-theists because they worshiped only one god.
The Athenians and the Romans had local gods, gods for activities such as farming and war, and gods for their homes. “Care” of the gods was performed through “cult” practices (including prayer and sacrifices) and was considered particularly important to the good functioning of society. (“Cult” is derived from a Latin word meaning “care” as in the word “agriculture” – care of the fields.)
Although an inscription to an unknown god has never been found in Athens, the author of Acts had Paul present the argument to the Athenians that their statue to the “unknown god” (v.23) showed how religious they were (likely an ironic statement). He presented a God unknown to them who created and gave life to all (v.24-25), allocated the boundaries of nations (v.26), commanded all persons to repent (v.30), will have an appointed man judge the world in righteousness, and gave assurance of all this by raising the man from the dead (v.31).
The New Oxford Annotated Bible contrasted Paul’s speech here with his diatribe against pagans in Romans 1:18-32. The NAOB also notes that the idea that God was near to all people (v.27) was a Stoic belief. The quotation in verse 28a is attributed to the Greek poet Epimenides (c.7th Century BCE) and to Posidonius (135-51 BCE), a Platonic philosopher. The quote in 28b is from Aratus, a Greek poet (310-240 BCE).
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary takes the position that Paul’s entire speech is not an “historical” account of Paul speaking to pagan thinkers. Instead, it is Luke instructing his readers about the great opportunities and the immense stumbling blocks of any mission to Hellenistic intelligentsia. The NJBC continues that the “entire Athens ‘cityscape’ is painted larger than life, yet with each element carefully calibrated to the sermon’s content: a nervously devout populace frequenting ubiquitous shrines, philosophers of famous schools dialoguing in the agora, new gods introduced from time to time, and everyone athirst for things novel and different. In painting this tableau, Luke relied on his own generation’s view of classical culture and its mecca [Athens] rather than any special records of Paul’s ministry.”
1 Peter 3:13-22
13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you– not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
In the First Century, it was not uncommon to write something in another person’s name so that the writing would have extra “authority” – particularly when the writer believed he knew what the “authority” (in this case, Peter) would have said.
The First Letter of Peter was likely written in the last quarter of the First Century, long after Peter’s death. It was written in sophisticated Greek (not a style a Galilean fisherman would be able to use) and resembled the form of Paul’s letters. Its focus was not on the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth, but on the Resurrection and the affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.
Today’s reading follows a long series of admonitions to husbands and wives about proper conduct. Having given these directives, the author urged his audience to be willing to suffer for doing what is right, just as Jesus suffered for doing good. He summarized the Christian Faith as hope (v.15) and noted that Jesus the Christ was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (v.18).
The New Annotated Oxford Bible opines that these verses provide a Christological grounding for the admonitions in the prior section of this chapter.
The statement that the Risen Christ “made a proclamation to the spirits in prison” is a notion that became part of the tradition that the Risen Christ “descended into hell” as reflected in the Apostles’ Creed.
The author presented the Flood in Noah’s time as prefiguring Baptism which is “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (v.21). Other manuscripts show this phrase as Baptism is a “pledge to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” – reflecting the fact that the theology of Baptism was evolving in the early Church. The Jewish Annotated New Testament suggests that the author’s intent was to show that just as Noah saved the people from water, Jesus saves through the water of baptism.
The “eight persons” with Noah (v.20) were, according to Genesis 6:18, Noah, his wife, his three sons and each of their wives.
The image that the Risen Christ sits at the right hand of God (v.22) is derived from Psalm 110:1 and is also found in Romans and Acts.
15 Jesus said, ”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18 ”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
The Fourth Gospel is different in many ways from the Synoptic Gospels. The “signs” (miracles) and many stories in the Fourth Gospel are unique to it, such as the Wedding at Cana, Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the Raising of Lazarus.
The chronology of events is also different in the Fourth Gospel. For example, the Temple Event (“Cleansing of the Temple”) occurred early in Jesus’ Ministry in the Fourth Gospel, rather than late as in the Synoptic Gospels. In the Synoptic Gospels, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, but in the Fourth Gospel, it occurred the day before the first day of Passover so that Jesus (who was described as “the Lamb of God” in the Fourth Gospel) died at the same time lambs were sacrificed at the Temple for the Passover Seder to be held the night he died.
Most scholars agree that the Gospel was written by an anonymous author around 95 CE, at a time when the “parting of the ways” between the Jesus Follower Movement and Rabbinic Judaism was accelerating.
Today’s reading is part of the lengthy Farewell Discourse (13:31-17:36) which The New Oxford Annotated Bible describes as “an interpretation [by the author of the Fourth Gospel] of Jesus’ completed work on earth and his relation both to believers and to the world after his glorification.”
In his book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, Bishop Spong describes the Farewell Discourses in this way: “These documents pretend to describe Jesus’ preparing the disciples to live without him, but their content is actually aimed at the issues that the Johannine community was facing when this gospel was written, some 65 to 70 years after the crucifixion. This means that in these discourses the disciples themselves become symbols of the Johannine community of believers. They are portrayed as struggling with the reality of persecution. They are also experiencing the pain of separation, not only from Jesus by that point in history, but perhaps more poignantly from the synagogue from which they have so recently been excommunicated.”
The ”commandments” to be kept (v.15) referred back to the “new commandment” in 13:34 – that “you love one another just as I have loved you.”
The “Advocate” (v.16) is Paraklēton in Greek and is sometimes translated as “helper” or “Paraclete.” The Paraclete has “functions” parallel to those of the Holy Spirit in the Synoptic Gospels. The “Spirit of truth” (v. 17) is a notion derived from the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran. The NJBC describes it as “both an angelic figure and one of the two ‘spirits’ struggling within a person, sometimes spoken of as an angel of light.”
In discussing the time of the glorification (“on that day” v. 20), the believers will be brought into a new relationship with the Father through Jesus who is one with the Father. The NJBC points out that this new relationship also is promised in John 6:56 (“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I and in them”).