Kenneth D. Litwak, «Israel’s Prophets Meet Athens’ Philosophers: Scriptural Echoes in Acts 17,22-31», Vol. 85 (2004) 199-216
Generally, treatments of Paul’s speech note biblical parallels to Paul’s wording but find no further significance to these biblical allusions. This study argues that Luke intends far more through this use of the Scriptures of Israel beyond merely providing sources for Paul’s language. I contend that, through the narrative technique of "framing in discourse", Luke uses the Scriptures of Israel to lead his audience to interpret Paul’s speech as standing in continuity with anti-idol polemic of Israel’s prophets in the past. As such, read as historiography, Luke’s narrative uses this continuity to legitimate Paul’s message and by implication, the faith of Luke’s audience. Luke’s use of the Scriptures here is ecclesiological.
202 Kenneth D. Litwak
primarily condemnation of idolatry, especially the condemnation of
idolatry in Isaiah 40â€“48 (9). Luke uses these echoes to portray Paulâ€™s
message as standing in continuity with the oracles of Israelâ€™s prophets,
condemning idolatry at Athens in much the same way that the prophets
condemned idolatry in Israel and Judah. Since Paul stands within this
prophetic tradition, as a spokesperson for God, Paulâ€™s interpretation of
the Scriptures and proclamation of Godâ€™s plan is legitimated (10).
Before examining the speech as such, it is necessary to argue for
the view that this is an appropriate way of analyzing the text. Various
views exist regarding what Paul was doing at the Areopagus (11) and
what were the sources of his statements. Much of what Paul said has
parallels in Greek philosophical texts, and those parallels are not to be
denied. They are doubtless an important background element for
Paulâ€™s speech. This is clear from the citation of Aratus in Acts 17,28.
At the same time, Paulâ€™s statements about the coming judgment
through Jesus Christ, and the resurrection, are clearly not derived from
Greek thought. Given the strong emphasis in the Scriptures of Israel
on the topics Paul covers, especially his anti-idol polemic, and the
emphasis on future judgment and resurrection, it is best to see that
Paulâ€™s â€œunderlying thought remains thoroughly biblicalâ€. Paulâ€™s
speech is rooted in scriptural thought throughout (12). While granting
(9) See also D.W. PAO, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (TÃ¼bingen 2000)
(10) See M. SOARDS, The Speeches in Acts. Their Content, Context, and
Concerns (Louisville, KY 1994) 202 who states that the speeches in Acts â€œseem
to bring the past into play in order to establish continuity...by simply alluding to
segments of Scriptureâ€, including Paulâ€™s speech in Acts 17,16-31. Soards asserts
that the â€œreference to the prophets [in speeches] functions to identify testimony to
the validity of the speakerâ€™s point(s)â€, 202.
(11) B. WINTER, â€œOn Introducing Gods to Athens: An Alternative Reading of
Acts 17:19-20â€, TB 47 (1996) 80-85, argues, rightly I think, that Paul is brought
before the council of the Areopagus because the Athenians understand him to be
the herald of a new deity. The addition of a new deity to the Athenian pantheon
must be officially approved by the council of the Areopagus. Generally a herald
had to provide funds for the purchase of land for a temple and an altar for
sacrifice, and show what benefit the god has provided the Athenians. Paul,
according to Winter, argues that none of this is needed since God does not live in
a temple, does not need sacrifices, and has helped the Athenians by bringing
salvation and the hope of resurrection through Jesus.
(12) J.B. POLHILL, Acts (Nashville, TN 1992) 370. See also A.-M. DUBARLE,
â€œLe Discours Ã Lâ€™ArÃ¨opage (Actes 17, 22-31) et Son ArriÃ¨re-Plan Bibliqueâ€,
RSPT 57 (1973) 578-581.