Engaging the (Neo)Pagan Mind: Paul’s Encounter with Athenian Culture as a Model for Cultural Apologetics (Acts 17:16–34) -- By: J. Daryl Charles

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 16:1 (Spring 1995)
Article: Engaging the (Neo)Pagan Mind: Paul’s Encounter with Athenian Culture as a Model for Cultural Apologetics (Acts 17:16–34)
Author: J. Daryl Charles


Engaging the (Neo)Pagan Mind:
Paul’s Encounter with Athenian Culture
as a Model for Cultural Apologetics
(Acts 17:16–34)

J. Daryl Charles

I. Introduction

Acts 16 contains an account of an unusual directive in the life of Paul. While in the major Aegean port city of Troas in northwest Asia Minor, the Apostle is conscious in a dream of a Macedonian appealing for help.1 Paul’s subsequent entry into Europe, as it turns out, is crucial to the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Following his arrival at Neapolis, the port of Philippi and terminus of the Egnatian Way, Paul visits Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, before going on to what was considered the intellectual center of the ancient world, the “university” city of Athens. During Paul’s visit to Athens, a rather remarkable opportunity presented itself. What, too, is remarkable is the amount of detail given in Luke’s narrative both to the content of Paul’s speech at the Areopagus and the social context in which it is delivered.

Adolph Deissmann claimed that Paul’s Areopagus address was “the greatest missionary document in the New Testament.”2 Deissmann noted that the Apostle’s aim was to “exhibit to pagans of a great city in the Mediterranean world what was characteristic of the new religion as concisely as possible.”3 Despite this enthusiastic assessment, it has not been unusual for commentators to view Paul’s ministry in Athens as a failure, to the extent that Paul’s technique in Athens is deemed ineffective. Writing a century ago, W. M. Ramsay gave credence to the view that Paul became “disillusioned” by his experience in Athens.4 C. Munsinger has called the Areopagus speech an “unrealistic experiment.”5 A. Daniel-Rops also sees Athens

* J. Daryl Charles is Scholar-in-Residence at The Wilberforce Forum. This manuscript was presented at the 1994 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Chicago.

as an “unsuccessful” paradigm. A negative view of Paul’s ministry in Athens has even found its way into the notes of the New Jerusalem Bible.6

In spite of obvious missiological interest in this narrative, the negative appraisal of Acts 17 raises several questions. Does Paul’s preaching at the Areopagus involve compr...

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