Pauline Evangelism in Acts 17
In Part I of Lesson V, we examined three major truths that the Cornelius accounts teach us about how people are and are not saved. To profit fully from Part II of Lesson V, I encourage you to be sure that you have first read all of the preceding posts in this series (you can read them here).
In Part II of Lesson V, we consider Acts 17 closely to understand more about how lost people become those who are just people who live by faith. Acts 17 records Pauline evangelism in three cities, Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. Comparing the three accounts brings out important truths about Pauline evangelism.
I. Pauline Evangelism in Thessalonica
Reasoning with Jews in a synagogue for three Sabbaths, Paul testified to them from Scripture that Jesus was the promised Christ who had to suffer and rise from the dead (Acts 17:1-3). Many were saved through his ministry (Acts 17:4), but unbelieving Jews responded to his ministry by persecuting the believers (Acts 17:5-9).
Through his recording the Jews’ complaint to the city authorities about the message that all the believers were testifying of “another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:7), Luke informs us about a key aspect of Paul’s message—he preached the gospel of the kingdom of God in Thessalonica! Pauline evangelism, therefore, highlighted that the resurrection of Jesus evidenced that He was the promised Christ who was God’s chosen King.
II. Pauline Evangelism in Berea
Because of the persecution, the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. Arriving there, they again evangelized Jews in a synagogue (Acts 17:10). Luke highlights that many Bereans believed because they were noble-minded people who received the word with great eagerness and carefully examined the Scriptures to verify the truthfulness of what Paul and Silas had ministered to them (Acts 17:11-12).
In this account, we see again that people become just by faith by wholeheartedly embracing the gospel message that God gives them through His ministers. Although Luke does not say anything about the explicit content of what Paul and Silas ministered to them, the flow of thought as well as Scriptural information elsewhere assures us that they preached the same message in Berea that they did in Thessalonica.
III. Pauline Evangelism in Athens
Because of Jewish persecution arising in Berea, as it did in Thessalonica, the brethren immediately sent Paul away once again (Acts 17:13-15). Arriving in Athens, Paul was continually provoked in his spirit by the profuse idolatry that he witnessed in the city (Acts 17:16).
In response to that continual provocation, he ministered daily to everyone that he encountered (Acts 17:17). By saying that Paul “disputed” (Gk. διελέγετο) with them (Acts 17:17), Luke showed that Paul ministered to them in the same way and with the same message that he did in Thessalonica (cf. “reasoned” [Gk. διελέγετο Acts 17:2-3]) and Berea.
Some Gentile philosophers heard Paul’s “preaching [Gk. εὐηγγελίζετο] Jesus and the resurrection,” but did not understand its meaning (Acts 17:18). Noting this information, Luke informs us what the content of Paul’s reasoning with everyone in Athens was—the gospel message about Jesus and the resurrection.
Because the philosophers did not understand Paul’s gospel message, they brought him to the Areopagus and asked him to explain the meaning of what he was preaching (Acts 17:19-21). They thereby prompted Paul concerning the content of his message that Luke records in Acts 17:22-31.
Many people have misinterpreted Paul’s message at Mars Hill because they have not connected how and why Paul was brought to the Areopagus with the message that he preached there. Properly making that connection shows us that Paul’s message was his explanation of his gospel preaching of Jesus and the resurrection that at least some of his hearers had heard him preach earlier in the marketplace.
Far from being a record of Pauline “failure” in evangelism because of a supposed experimental, philosophical approach that Paul adopted, Acts 17:22-31 is thus vital apostolic instruction to us about how to explain essential truths about the gospel message of Jesus and the Resurrection!
IV. Key Aspects of Paul’s Gospel Message at Mars Hill
Acts 17:22-31 reveals many vital truths about Pauline gospel preaching:
1. Paul’s message at Mars Hill was profoundly God-centric (16 statements about God in 10 verses).
2. Paul testified climactically about how God’s raising Jesus from the dead was the event that changed God’s posture toward all men everywhere (Acts 17:30-31). Whereas in “the times of ignorance God winked at [overlooked]” their idolatry, He now commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31).
3. Paul testified what God has proven to all men through His raising Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:30-31) – note that Paul’s message climaxes with testimony to essentially the same truth that Peter’s message in Caesarea does (Acts 10:42).
4. Paul declared that God commands all men everywhere to repent because of what He has proven to them through His raising Jesus from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).
Rightly understood from Acts 17:22-31, Paul’s gospel message about Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 17:18), therefore, included his preaching of how God’s raising Jesus from the dead proved to all men everywhere that He has fixed a Judgment Day in which He will judge all men through Jesus, the Judge whom He has appointed. Because God has proven these things to everyone, He demands that everyone repent.
Moreover, Acts 17 shows us that Pauline evangelism everywhere was his preaching of the same message Jesus and the Resurrection. (For a more thorough treatment of this crucial point, you can listen to my messages Another King Jesus and Make Known the True God).
IV. Vital Parallels between Petrine Evangelism and Pauline Evangelism
Paul thus testified to the same key truths at Mars Hill that Peter testified to in Caesarea. Both preached the gospel message about the resurrection of Jesus and its vital significance for all people.
For a more detailed presentation of the many key parallels between Petrine evangelism in Caesarea (Acts 10) and Pauline evangelism in Athens (Acts 17), see my post An Excellent Example of the Value of Comparing Scripture with Scripture.
See all the posts in this series here.