My commentary of the day was on Acts 17:16-34. I thought it appropriate to our ongoing discussions here about Jews and non-Jews in Messiah. What did the apostles imagine the gospel would look like in non-Jewish cultures? To see more of my daily commentary, click here.
This remarkable scene, the Jewish messianist confronting the Greek philosophers, is one of the best-known in Acts. We should read Paul’s encounter and speech as an epitome of the kind of arguments the early movement was forming to approach the pagan world with a Jewish gospel. It is crucial to note that Paul’s assumption (and the assumption of the movement as a whole) is that God has placed signs of his being and nature within every culture. No culture or religion is devoid of God’s presence and revelations of his being. The gospel for non-Jews can be reformulated to the fulfillment of cultural norms. Following Messiah will not look the same in every culture and will not look the same for Jews and non-Jews. As Paul said, they knew something of God and did not realize it: “the God you unknowingly worship” (vs. 23). God has orchestrated history and culture so that people will seek him and even find him (vs. 27). Far from imposing Jewish norms on the world, the gospel presents a Jewish Messiah discoverable within the cultures of the nations.