An historical-exegetical examination of the communication of God as Creator in Acts 17:24
Creamer, Jennifer Marie
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The Areopagus speech of Acts provides a helpful study of how Paul (as recorded by Luke) both engaged and confronted the contemporary culture of his day in order to present the message of Christianity to his hearers in Athens. Although many have discussed the question of how the speaker of the Areopagus address may have been interacting with the contemporary culture, no major work exists that focuses on the role of God as Creator in Paul’s communication. This present study aims to make a contribution by addressing that gap. How, then, does Paul, as a Jew, contextualize the message for his audience of Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens on the topic of God as Creator in Acts 17:24? This present study carries out an examination of Acts 17:24 using the historical-grammatical exegetical method. The thesis commences with an examination of the literary and semantic context of Acts 17:24. Next, the Jewish cultural background of God as Creator is analyzed through an examination of the interaction of lexical data in Acts 17:24 with various primary source documents, including the Septuagint, the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, and Philo. Following this, the concept of God as Creator, as it relates to the deity or deities, is analyzed in specific works of Greco-Roman literature, particularly in Stoic and Epicurean writings. These findings are then compared and contrasted with Paul’s presentation of God as Creator. The technique of presenting God as Creator in an anti-idolatry speech is well attested in ancient Jewish texts, including the Old Testament. Likewise, the identification of God as Creator by a Jew to a non-Jew is evidenced in cross-cultural dialogue in the Old Testament. Indeed, the speaker on the Areopagus follows in the footprints of Jonah, Daniel, and others in the Old Testament when he identified his God as the Creator of the heavens and the earth to a pagan audience. At the same time, Paul manages to touch on a subject of contentious debate between Stoics and Epicureans when he identifies God as Creator. Stoics believed in a creating deity, something akin to Plato’s demiurge of the Timaeus. Epicureans ridiculed such an idea. By using the identification of God as Creator, Paul engages a common controversy between schools of philosophy. In this study, we find that contextualized communication in Acts 17 has to do with the use and redefinition of familiar terms in order to convey a new concept. Paul presented the Creator God of the Old Testament to his audience of philosophers with a careful choice of vocabulary that would have been familiar to those in his hearing. But, he reinterprets words according to Judeo-Christian thought, rather than according to Greco-Roman thought.
- Theology