Resurrection changes the world

Because of his debating in the agora, the main marketplace in the centre of Athens, Paul has been called before the council of the senior men governing Athens. They meet at the Areopagus (‘Ares Rock’), a rocky hill overlooking the marketplace, to the west of the main acropolis on which the Parthenon was built. The implication is that Paul is making an appeal for recognition of his new gods, and the council need to grant approval for new altar to be added in the pantheon—though Paul quickly dismisses this option. The God he proclaims cannot simply be slotted in to the existing patterns of belief.

His speech is often taken as an example of Paul’s accommodation to culture, and Paul certainly engages his listeners in terms they understand. His opening greeting ‘Men of Athens!’ (sometimes translated ‘People of Athens’ or ‘Athenians’—though only men are present) is the formally correct way to address the council, and Paul’s speech, even as edited by Luke, contains numerous rhetorical devices that would have impressed his listeners. And Paul cites writings from two Greek philosophers—the Cretica of Epimenides from Crete (which he also quotes in Titus 1:12), and the Phenomena of Aratus, whom came from Paul’s home region of Cilicia. This confirms what we might suppose from Paul’s own writings, that he was well educated in Greek philosophy and rhetoric as well as being steeped in the Scriptures.

Resurrection is the fulfilment of God’s promises

If this message about Jesus and the resurrection is bringing in a whole new order of things, then there is a serious theological question. Is this ‘new order’ really something of God, or is it leading people astray? Is this new community displacing the ‘congregation of Israel’ that God led through the wilderness into the promised land? If these apostles have a new message, is it contradicting what God has taught them? Moses himself warned against new teaching—even if the messenger was able to do ‘signs and wonders’ (Deuteronomy 13:1–3). The problem of ‘another teaching’ is one that Paul had to face early on (Galatians 1:6–9), and it is one that faces every generation of Christians.

In Acts 5, Peter and the other apostles are once again before the authorities, following the healing of many and their own miraculous release from prison. Peter’s defence has a triple emphasis on the story of Israel. First, it is ‘the God of our ancestors’ who has ‘raised Jesus from the dead’; it is the living God, worshipped by his living people, who has brought life where there was death. This is characteristic of God from the beginning, when he breathed into the ‘earth creature’ (adam) the ‘breath of life’ (Genesis 2:7). And it marks his relationship with his people, who find renewal in exile when the Spirit of God breathes new life into them (Ezekiel 37:10). Secondly, Peter is clear that the purpose of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus relates to Israel—to bring them to repentance and forgiveness (Acts 5:31), the hope expressed at the start of Luke’s whole account (Luke 1:77). Thirdly, the signs and wonders of the Spirit are given to those ‘who obey God’ (Acts 5:32)—so the miracles are actually confirmation of the message as coming from God.

Paul’s Understanding of Resurrection (iii)

Last year, I wrote some reflections for BRF’s Guidelines Bible reading notes, and they have just been published. I contributed my thoughts on texts in Paul’s letters relation to the resurrection. Here is the third and final instalment of what I wrote: 10. Resurrection lives are cross-shaped 2 Cor 4.7—5.5 Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians … Continue Reading