Posted: 14 Feb 2011 11:00 PM PST
SOME HAVE TAKEN 1 CORINTHIANS 2:1–5 to suggest that the way Paul preached in Athens (Acts 17:16–31) was a mistake, and that by the time he arrived at Corinth, Paul himself had recognized his error. In the passage before us he tells us how he "resolved to know nothing" while he was with them "except Jesus Christ and him crucified." So away with the quasi-philosophical preaching of the Areopagus address in Acts 17. Just stick to the simple Gospel.
There are good reasons for rejecting this false reading:
(1) This is not the natural reading of Acts. As you work your way through that book, you do not stumble upon some flag or other that warns you that at this point Paul goofs. This false interpretation is achieved by putting together an unnatural reading of Acts with a false reading of 1 Corinthians 2.
(2) The theology of the Areopagus address is in fact very much in line with the theology of Paul expressed in Romans.
(3) The Greek text at the end of Acts 17 does not say that "a few men" believed, as if this were a dismissive or condemning assessment, but that "certain people" believed. This expression is in line with other summaries in Acts.
(4) In Athens Paul had already been preaching not only in the synagogue to biblically literate folk, but to people in the marketplace who were biblically illiterate (Acts 17:17). What he had been preaching was "the good news" (Acts 17:18), the Gospel.
(5) Transparently Paul was cut off in Acts 17 before he was finished. He had set up the framework in which alone the Gospel is coherent: one transcendent God, sovereign, providential, personal; creation; fall into idolatry; the flow of redemptive history; final judgment. He was moving into Jesus' resurrection, and more, when he was interrupted.
(6) Paul was not a rookie. He had been through twenty years of tough ministry (read 2 Cor. 11), much of it before pagan biblical illiterates. To suppose that on this occasion he panicked and trimmed the Gospel is ridiculous.
(7) Acts 17 shows that Paul thinks "worldviewishly." Even after 1 Corinthians 2, Paul still thinks worldviewishly: 2 Corinthians 10:5 finds him still striving to bring "every thought" into submission to Christ—and the context shows this refers not simply to isolated thoughts but to entire worldviews.
(8) 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 does not cast Paul's resolution to preach nothing but the cross against the background of Athens (as if he were confessing he had failed there), but against the background of Corinth, which loved eloquence and rhetoric above substance. The apostle does not succumb to mere oratory: he resolves to stick with "Jesus Christ and him crucified."
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