I was continuing to ponder Acts 17:38 this week and was struck by some interesting realities that have made me quite uncomfortable. I had not considered these points before and I would like to ask you to pray for me as I share these with you. I really missed something!
In the last post,Who Wrote Acts 17:28 And Why? we discovered that Paul was using quotes from Pagan Mythology and applying it to Divine Theology. In other words, He uses two quotes from hymns to a pagan God and applied it to our God. Kind of like applying a wolve’s clothing to a sheep. Why? He was trying to relate to his audience. When Paul quoted from these Greek poems, do you think that he believed these pagan verses would one day become written scripture? When Dr. Luke was writing the book of Acts for the sake of his friend Theophilus, do you think he had any idea that his narrative would be read for centuries around the world? Nevertheless, Paul’s message at the Areopagus in Acts 17 became scripture. Altogether, we find throughout scripture that Paul quoted from four Greek writers: Epimenides, Aratus, Cleanthes, and Menander. Most of these quotes came from hymns in praise to Zeus.
We made some points in the last post, but I missed something entirely altogether. It is something that happened then, and there are parallels in the church today. Take a moment to defrost and think clearly with me. Let’s get into the heads of some of the people of that time and see what was happening.
I would dare to say that probably most of the Jewish believers did not view God in the same manner as most of us do today. What do I mean? Today, we believers view God as the God of the universe (For God so loved the world–John 3:16). That is our mindset. However, the Jews and even many Jewish believers of that time viewed Him primarily as the Hebrew God. After all, Yahweh didn’t originally make a covenant with the whole world; He came first to Abraham. Yahweh was their God first and foremost. He was “to the Jew first”, and then to the Gentiles. Gentiles were the “also” people (Romans 1:16). It was difficult for them to ever view Him as an equally universal God. To them, the Gentiles were like an afterthought. To them, Yahweh was properly a Jewish God and they were His chosen people. At the time, they were right! For centuries, Gentiles had to adapt to the Jewish Old Covenant if they were to ever worship Yahweh. In their eyes, He must be viewed and consistently presented in this manner foremost. Were they wrong to think this way? No, according to the Old Testament, this was the prescribed way. It would be utterly blasphemous to think of ever having to adapt Yahweh to Gentile culture in order to reach them. Do you see? Let it sink in.
Now, all of a sudden, everything was supposed to be different. Besides the obvious objections, it was practices such as Acts 17:28 that sent the Jews and Judaizers into a total, mouth-foaming, stone-throwing rage. What did Paul do?
In their eyes, Paul took the Hebrew God Yahweh and drenched Him into a message of Greek Mythology as the “Unknown God” and then peppered Him with descriptive quotes belonging to pagan idols. There were no quotes from Old Testament scripture in his message; there were only quotes that were written for the heathen gods. It didn’t matter that the Greek quotes fit God perfectly; In their eyes, Paul took Yahweh and clothed him in the vile, defiled robes of Gentile Mythology. Paul took the Hebrew God Yahweh and adapted Him to pagan Gentile culture. That was a no-no for Old Testament Jews. If you were born in that time and were raised as a Hebrew who worshiped Yahweh, would you perhaps have difficulty with Paul’s ways and methods? Yes, no, maybe?
Today, many in the church would still oppose Paul’s practice and method. Paul broke the cardinal rules of fundamental Southern Baptist preaching: 1) He didn’t invoke the name of Jesus in his message at the Areopagus. 2) He didn’t quote from scripture. 3) He deviated from the use of scripture and used pagan quotes to describe God (Deviate? Did I just say that Paul deviated from scripture? Look up the word deviate). Today, this would be akin to preaching quotes from the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, the Satanic Bible, or some New Age material. Do you disagree? Stop and consider this. Today, we consider Greek Mythology harmless and don’t place it on the same level as these books. Why? Because we aren’t encountering worshipers of Zeus much anymore. But back in Paul’s day, this was a real stronghold in the minds of the people, and it was one of the religions he was having to battle against.
In my mind, I can hear one of my Seminary Professors rebuking the Paul’s of today by saying, “Stick to the Holy Scriptures Paul, How dare you go outside of Orthodox scripture and stoop to using pagan-trash literature to adorn our God with its filthy robes. Aren’t the scriptures good enough? Instead you use these secular, vulgar methods and dare to compare and clothe our matchless God in the robes of that which is detestable to Him.”
I must be candid and say that I am having a hard time writing this. Today, I would have a very difficult time with any leader who got on the airwaves and publicly preached a message without using quoted scripture, and was using New Age quotes, Wiccan quotes, etc to fit our God into the culture of the day. That is akin to what Paul did. Did Paul do the wise thing? Was Paul led by the Spirit? Would this be wise for you to do? I must confess that I would be extremely suspicious of anyone who did this, and I would likely turn off the television. I would probably be judgmental. Especially if the person was a notable leader like Paul was. If it was some brand new believer, I could perhaps excuse it. But I would have real problems with a leader like Paul. For the first time in my life, I can actually sympathize with the Jewish believers or Judaizers of that day. That also makes me uncomfortable! I didn’t say that I would go along with them, I said that I can understand their struggle to adapt to this New Covenant way of doing things.
God was doing a new thing in those days. God changed from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. God wants to reach people today…Will I be standing in the way? I sincerely hope not. Defrosting Windows has never been about writing things that I am comfortable with. It’s about examining things and finding the answers in scripture, whether I like it or not. When I wrote Sexuality & Heaven: Is Jesus Still The Son Of Man? and Sex In Heaven? Is It Possible? Luke 20:27-39 it was also uncomfortable for me. I was responding to some questions that had been presented to me. I wasn’t writing for my usual audience, but I didn’t go against scripture either. As a result, I lost a lot of my audience by addressing these subjects in a candid manner. Several people asked me to delete them from my list and never send them anything ever again. Bridges were burned from their end and I will likely never be invited to come back across those bridges again. So, I can also sympathize with those who step away from their usual boundaries to try and reach a different audience while maintaining their core beliefs.
Why am I bringing this up? Because I have been on both sides. I have been judgmental of those who may have been doing the right thing, and I have also been one who was judged while trying to do the right thing. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I get it wrong. Judge not, lest you be judged. We still need to judge righteously, yet still speak the truth in love knowing that what goes around, comes around. We all need more discernment…Count me in.
Please pray with me. Father help us to be discerning. God help me to know the difference between sheep in wolves clothing, wolves in sheep’s clothing, and wolves that are wolves. Help us to know when to be like Paul and wear wolve’s clothing, and when we shouldn’t. Help those who are called to wear wolve’s clothing not to judge those who don’t and vice-verse. Help us to be bold enough to obey you and to forgive those who don’t quite understand. Forgive me when I have been wrong about others, but don’t let my mistakes prevent me from speaking boldly against those who are doing wrong. We need discernment, boldness, wisdom, and love. Help us to love enough to obey you regardless of what it will cost. Thanks for walking with us in our triumphs and in our failures. You are an abiding God and we love that about you!
Now take some time to really ponder what Paul did. Will you oppose the Paul’s of today, or stand with them? Be discerning.