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.
210 Kenneth D. Litwak
These psalms all state that God will judge the world in
righteousness. Paulâ€™s words stand firmly within this biblical tradition.
In each of the verses examined above, scriptural intertexts or
traditions are echoed. These range from the creation account in
Genesis to the anti-idol polemic of Isaiah. The pervasiveness of the
scriptural traditions, which reverberate throughout Paulâ€™s speech, are
too ubiquitous to be merely stylistic or simply â€œparallelâ€ to the
Scriptures of Israel. If these echoes are intentional, what are they used
for, besides being part of Paulâ€™s argument? Before attempting to
answer this question, let me stress the significance of the question. I
am arguing that the Scriptures of Israel was not simply a source for
intertextual echoes in Paulâ€™s speech or used merely to give it a biblical
flavor. There is much more going on in Lukeâ€™s narrative strategy that
goes well beyond simply using Genesis or Isaiah or the Psalms for
sources. What is this larger strategy?
3. The Function of the Scriptures of Israel in Paulâ€™s Areopagus Speech
The answer lies, I believe, in viewing these intertextual echoes
through the narrative concept of â€œframing in discourseâ€. The concept
of framing in discourse, discussed by Deborah Tannen (32), is the notion
that the way a narrative is introduced and presented provides clues as
to how to understand the narrative or creates expectations on the part
of the audience regarding the ensuing narrative. For example, the
familiar words, â€œit was a dark and stormy nightâ€, prepare the audience
for a detective murder mystery or the like. The phrase â€œonce upon a
timeâ€, when read by a â€œcompetent readerâ€, i.e., someone with the
necessary background assumed by the author, would lead the reader to
expect a fairy tale. These two introductory phrases have a very
different effect, and create very different expectations for an audience
than, say, a news report that begins with the words, â€œHere are our top
storiesâ€. The first example leads an audience to expect a specific genre
of fiction. The last phrase leads an audience to expect the reporting of
actual events that have just happened. Since framing in discourse is a
basic part of how narration, including dialogue, is structured, it is only
natural to look for framing in discourse in Paulâ€™s Areopagus speech.
So how does Luke frame his discourse about Paulâ€™s experience at
Athens? In Acts 17,16, we read that as Paul walked around Athens, he
(32) â€œWhat Is a Frame? Surface Evidence for Underlying Expectationsâ€,
Framing in Discourse (ed. D. TANNEN) (Oxford 1993) 15-56.