Giving an Answer - Part 10
New Testament Confrontations: Different Audiences, Different Approaches
1 Peter 3:15; Acts 2, 3, 14, 17
1 Peter Lesson #092
May 25, 2017
“Our Father, we are thankful that we can come together this evening to study Your Word, to be reminded of its truthfulness, to be reminded of its accuracy, and that in the Scripture we see not only direct commands and prohibitions, but we see examples of how we are to live, how we are to talk, how we are to communicate.
Father, as we work through this important material on how to give an answer for the hope that is in us, we pray that You would help us to understand; give us discernment, critical thinking skills. It is not always easy to think about our thinking or our communication. Father, help us to develop those skills, because that is part of spiritual growth, part of maturity. Father, we pray these things in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Acts. We’re out of the Old Testament. There are some who claim that, “You can’t really find apologetics in the Bible.” I’ve been going through showing the many examples that we have.
We have to understand that in giving an answer, what’s going on with a believer is that they’re speaking from the foundation of truth. They’re speaking from the framework of one culture talking to another culture. Much like a missionary coming from one culture, for example, the United States, or the culture of Great Britain, or the culture from South America, going to a foreign country that speaks a different language, has a different culture.
You have to think in terms of that other culture—the target language, the target people. How will they hear? How will they listen to what we are saying? When it comes to communicating the gospel, things can get really garbled. A lot of times, especially as we’re learning how to evangelize and to communicate the gospel, we get stuck into certain sort of prescribed formats. Sometimes they work.
Sometimes we find something really works for me, but it’s only going to work within a certain limited audience. Because sometimes that limited audience is more prepared culturally than, perhaps, another audience. Something that may work with somebody who has grown up in a theistic environment where they’ve got some religious background and knowledge of Christianity; maybe they don’t understand the gospel per se, but they believe in God and they have something of a respect for the Bible.
Giving them the gospel is not going to be anything like giving the gospel to somebody who is from a Stone Age tribe in Irian Jaya who’s never heard anything about a monotheistic deity. Their whole concept of a god has to do with ancestor spirits, or multiple gods, and some sort of polytheistic system—something like that. Or, on the other hand, talking with somebody who is a well-educated, university educated, Master’s degree, PhD, who has heard nothing their whole life related to God, Jesus; religion has always been viewed as some sort of superstition from the masses. They have no idea, really, who Jesus is, or what the Bible is, or why they should believe it.
You can’t use the same approach with each group. One group may take a 10-minute conversation—they are primed, they are ready. Another group may take 5 to 10 years of painstaking conversation suggesting that they read this or read that. It takes different forms for different people. We are going to see that tonight.
My progress over the last few weeks has been to look at examples. This is what is called a biblical theology approach, where you’re going through the text of Scripture; you’re not just proof texting points, but you’re looking at the dialogue, looking at what is said, why it’s said, what’s going on back and forth—things like that. That’s what we’ve done.
We started with Genesis 1. We went to Genesis 3. We went from there to the Exodus event, as God is communicating to the god of Egypt, who is the Pharaoh, who thinks he’s the incarnation of God, and that head-on confrontation between the Creator God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the gods and goddesses of the Egyptians.
From there we went to that great confrontation between Elijah and the priests of Baal and the Asherah. All this is not too dissimilar from what we encounter today. We encounter people who are completely consumed; they may not identify certain things in their life as gods or goddesses, but functionally that’s what they have. So, when we’re talking with them, we have to learn how to not beat them over the head or engage in argumentation, but to try to ask questions.
One thing that I’ve pointed out again and again is the importance of asking questions—for two reasons. One is so you can really find out about the other person. It makes it a much more personal conversation—building and developing a relationship with somebody. But, also, it helps you to, through the right questions, get them to think more conscientiously about why they believe what they believe, and does it really work for them.
As we saw with Elijah, he demonstrates, on Mount Carmel with the confrontation with the priests of Baal, that their system really didn’t work. When you tried to put the issues of life on top of the foundation of Baalism, it cratered. Baal couldn’t answer the prayer, couldn’t provide water, couldn’t provide lightning, couldn’t provide that which it was claimed that he could provide.
We looked at the Old Testament, came out with certain approaches and principles, and tonight I want to go through some examples in Acts. The focus tonight is on New Testament confrontations and challenges between divine viewpoint and human viewpoint, looking at four examples in the Book of Acts, where we have different audiences and different approaches.
This will be Acts chapter 2, Acts chapter 3, Acts chapter 14, and Acts chapter 17, all in one hour! But we’re just doing sort of a survey of these passages.
I pointed out in the questions that I’m addressing is this fourth question:
4. The Bible doesn’t use apologetics, why should we?
That typically comes from people who are from a mystical orientation. In the past I’ve talked about the different schools, the different strategies, in apologetics. You’ve got the classical apologist who emphasizes reason as the point of common ground. You have the evidentialist who looks at facts, or evidence, as the point of common ground. You have the mystic.
Now how does mysticism really develop within the history, especially of Western civilization—but it’s true in other areas as well? This happened in Greco-Roman culture; then it was paralleled at the end of the Middle Ages in the beginning of the Enlightenment.
You start with rationalism—man’s reason. You have a very high view of man’s rational capacity. Starting from first principles of reason alone, you can argue ultimate truth based on a rigorous use of logic. But that has always collapsed, because, sooner or later, you can’t get to eternal realities just on reason alone.
Then you have empiricism. Same thing happens there. Well, after an attempt to find meaning through reason or meaning through empiricism… It’s hopeless; man can’t live on the basis of hopeless skepticism is if there is no truth. He has to believe in something, so he just takes a mystical, irrational leap of faith to believe something apart from all evidence—and that’s mysticism.
That’s what has happened in terms of the development of a more subjective, mystical approach to the truth of the Word. Because they’ve given up on evidentialism. Because somebody on the other side always comes up with a better argument. So they just retreat into, “Well, I just know Jesus saves because He saved me,” or “It works for me,” or “How do you know Jesus lives? He lives within my heart.” Of course, they have ways they try to justify that with Scripture. But, ultimately, that’s what they’re doing—they’re divorcing biblical Christianity from the historical and rational evidences.
Then, the fourth view is the view that I think is the most consistent view, biblically, and that’s called presuppositionalism. As we go through the Scripture, I have been pointing out these differences and key principles.
So what we’ve seen in each of these encounters in the Old Testament is that all the people that are being approached have religious beliefs. They are suppressing, ultimately, their God consciousness in unrighteousness.
1. They are truth suppressors.
2. They are not spiritually neutral.
They are not in a position of pure objectivity, and so you can’t appeal to either reason—this is the view of presuppositionalists—that the classical argument ultimately fails because reason has been affected by the fall. You can’t appeal to reason and logic as if it’s spiritually or ethically neutral.
Same thing with looking at the facts. As soon as we look at facts, we tend to automatically interpret the fact to understand it within our framework. If your framework is composed of different forms of pagan ideals, then what happens is you reinterpret that fact within your system. If you’re an evolutionist, you see a fossil in the Grand Canyon and you immediately identify it. “Well, that is in this kind of rock that’s in the Tapeats Sandstone, or Coconino, or something else.” And you say, “That is so many millions of years old,” and that’s how we understand it. You have immediately interpreted it; so it doesn’t exist as a raw fact. Facts, logic aren’t spiritually neutral.
3. We’ve seen that the purpose of all these confrontations is not to prove somebody’s right; it is to bring somebody to a point of turning to God—what the Bible defines as “repentance.” It is not emotional. It is a decision to accept the truth of God’s existence and who God is and God’s terms for salvation.
4. Questions are used, again and again, to expose unbelief and to challenge people to obey, to bring people to a self-realization and a self-consciousness of their own views.
5. We’ve also seen that people are, to some degree, able to evaluate the evidence.
“The heavens declare the glory of God”, and fallen man understands that it does; but they immediately began to twist it, to turn it, to suppress it, and redefine it in unrighteousness. People are able to evaluate the evidence despite their prior commitment to suppress truth, but immediately they begin to reinterpret it.
6. The evidence is not treated as neutral.
You can’t look at that, and we’re going to see some examples. I want to do something fun; I thought I’d get there tonight. It’s been interesting in this series. Every Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning I study for a lesson, and then I realize I’m not really going to get there on Thursday night. I’ve got to do something before, so I get ready for the next week and then I have to come back and backtrack.
But what I want to do next week—and it’s already posted this on the website—is that we’re going to have kind of a self-test. These are always fun. I used to have seminary professors here and there. The guys I really liked would come out and they would teach, for example, on the Trinity. Then they would give us something and we didn’t know where it came from. We would find out later it would come from a Unitarian theologian, or it would come from a Jehovah’s Witness tract, or something like that—a non-Trinitarian view of God, and we had to read it and then critique it. Or, perhaps it was some liberal explaining God. These statements were always written to sound as biblically orthodox as they could—without being biblically orthodox. It was a great tool to teach us how to think and how to look for not only what is said, but to think about what’s not said, what’s overlooked.
One of the pastors in the Friday morning group sent me a copy of the transcript of the three times in God’s Not Dead that this young man, Josh Wheaton, presents his case for the existence of God. Each of those helps us get a window of insight into these different approaches to presenting an apologetic strategy. Different strategies are seen in his presentations. So you can read it, you can look at it, you can think about it between now and next week. Then, what I hope to do next week is we’ll either play the video or read through the script. Then we’ll talk about what is going on in this, because it sounds good. Especially because it’s a script for a movie, you know right away it’s a Christian movie, so the Christian is going to win at the end.
But I think they still did a very good job. Even though there is always going to be a measure of artificiality there, there’s always a basis of truth. In fact, if you’ve seen it… How many people here have seen God’s Not Dead [I]? Several of you have seen it. The professor makes some really outlandish, horrific, hostile statements. He is so contemptuous and disrespectful of the student’s belief. You think, “Nobody’s going to be like that.” At least I never saw anything like that. You may not have ever seen anything like that.
But these statements are based on 30 different court cases that were brought against professors and universities for their hostility towards Christians. They are, as it were, lifted from current events. These are based on things that have truly been said and have actually happened in university classrooms. We will look at that, and that’ll be a good way to train us to think about how we approach what we’re doing.
7. God uses historic facts and evidence to expose their sin and rebellion. It’s not a matter of not using evidence; some people have gotten that idea from the way presupposition was taught. It’s the way the evidence is used, and that’s important.
8. Then the last point is to realize that no matter how well you make your case, the reaction may be quite hostile.
There was a Man who lived about 2,000 years ago; He made a perfect case for Jesus being the Son of God and the Messiah. In fact, He had perfect evidence. They crucified Him. So just because you make a perfect case and you have all your facts right and you have all the answers right, ultimately, it’s an issue of volition.
That’s another reason that I believe the presuppositional approach is superior, is because the other views, in very subtle ways, seem to suggest that the problem is really they don’t have enough facts. Whereas, what the Scripture says is not that they don’t have enough facts. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” The invisible attributes, the power and majesty of God, are evident to them and within them, according to Romans 1:18–23. But they reject it. Not because they don’t have enough evidence, but because they don’t like the evidence; they are hostile to God. So, the reaction may be quite hostile.
Let’s get into some of the things that we’re talking about. I want you to go to Acts chapter 2. Acts 2 is Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the birth of the church. The Day of Pentecost on the Jewish calendar is in 10 days. Somebody told me yesterday or today is the day of Ascension. That would be 40 days after the resurrection, and then 10 days later, so a week from Sunday is the Day of Pentecost.
On the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, you have a confrontation. Peter stands up. Now, what I mean by “confrontation” is not a hot debate. It’s not getting all upset and emotional. It’s just when one person is speaking truth to a group that hasn’t accepted truth yet. There is a confrontation of ideas; they believe one thing and another set of ideas is being presented.
We look at Acts 2:16–39. Peter stands up. Notice that as he begins, he does not begin with a question. He is speaking to a certain group that are there, men of Judea. They are identified a little earlier in verse five. We read that, “… there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.”
That term “devout men” is important. The Greek word is EULABES, which translates a couple of different Hebrew words in the Septuagint. One of them is the word YIRAH, which means, “to fear.” “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” We know that “fear” there is not “terror”; it is a sense of awe and respect with a tinge of fear of retribution or divine justice.
That’s one idea in the Hebrew that it translates. Another is the word CHASAH in the Hebrew which has the idea also of a reverential fear, but it originally had the idea of trust, or seeking refuge in something, and it came to be used for “honoring or giving devotion to something, and to a deity.”
So that’s the idea here. These are devout men. They respect God. They are positive. Many of them were probably Old Testament saints. They just had not heard the gospel yet or heard about Jesus, but they will be part of the 3,000 men that are saved on this particular day, probably. This is the Day of Pentecost challenge.
Peter begins in verse 16 and says, “But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” What we see here is that he is speaking to unbelievers; the point of common ground is the Scripture. Because the people to whom he is speaking have a high reverence for the Scripture already. He doesn’t have to say anything to them about God.
When we get to Acts 14 and Acts 17, we are going to see that Paul has to go back and talk about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as the Creator God. But Peter doesn’t have to establish Who God is; they already understand who God is from the Old Testament. They understand this is the Creator God Who “made the heavens and the earth, and the seas, and all that is in them”. They understand that He is totally distinct from creation. He doesn’t have to establish that.
They understand that God has spoken. They understand they have the Word; they have the Torah. So, he can use the Scripture as the absolute authority, quote it, and they will listen. The first thing we see is that the Scripture is the common ground and is assumed to be true in what he says, and he can quote the Scripture. He can assume that they believe in God, that they know He exists, and that they have a concern for that which is spiritual.
Remember, my point in the previous slide  was that the people in the Old Testament that were being communicated to all had a religious system. They are inherently religious; they know God exists; that is Romans 1:18. Peter knows this. Peter knows exactly who he is speaking with and that they have a good understanding because of their background in studying the Old Testament.
Third, we see that he appeals to evidence. As we look at what he says, he appeals to evidence, but he does so within the framework of Scripture. He’s not bringing out evidence and saying, “Can we trust the evidence?” He’s not putting God on trial. He is presenting the evidence from the authority of Scripture.
Look down at verse 22. After quoting from Joel to 2:28–31, he has a quote there towards the end, in Acts 2:19, “I will show wonders in heaven above and signs on the earth beneath.” Then those two words are picked up by Peter when he begins to talk about what the Scripture says. In verse 22 he says, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know.”
See, he’s appealing to evidence. But he’s doing it within the total framework of Scripture where the evidence is not being judged by the unbelieving mind. He’s presenting it from a biblical framework, because they both share that common ground in Scripture.
The next thing we see is that he cites further evidence. In Acts 2:23–24, he presents evidence that they’ve just heard about or personally witnessed. Some of them may have seen more of the crucifixion and resurrection than others, but there are some in their midst who were probably eyewitnesses. Some have known people who were eyewitnesses of the resurrection.
In verse 23 he says, regarding Jesus, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” He’s using the evidence to do what? Same thing that we’ve seen already—to expose their sin and their guilt. The evidence that God quotes to Adam and Eve in the garden was designed to expose their sin and their guilt. It’s not treated as some sort of neutral evidence that they can evaluate on their own.
Then, in verse 24, he says, “Whom God raised up.” Here’s the resurrection. Right here at the beginning he emphasizes that He was put to death and God raised Him up. There’s no waffling; there’s no debate; there’s no concern about that. He presents the reality of that resurrection. “Whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.”
Then again, in verse 25, he begins to quote from Scripture. He cites Psalm 16:8–11. This shows that area of common ground and he is citing Scripture after Scripture. In verse 30 he says, “Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him [that is, to David] that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ [the Messiah] to sit on his throne, 31 he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ [the Messiah, that is], that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.” This is from Psalm 16:8–11.
“This Jesus God has raised up.” Once again, it’s talking about the resurrection. The fact of the resurrection runs all through this statement. In verse 30, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne. Verse 31, His soul wasn’t left in Hades, nor did He see corruption. Then, in verse 32, God had raised Him up.
The next thing we see in the way Peter presents this is that he takes them to Psalm 110:1. In Acts 2:34, “For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, 35 Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’ ” Again and again he goes to Scripture as that point of common ground.
What do we learn from this? We learn some of the same principles we’ve already seen, that he assumes the existence of God and the authority of Scripture. The point of common ground… Peter, speaking to a biblically informed, scripturally knowledgeable audience, quotes Scripture. They don’t debate it. That’s the point of common ground.
Sometimes when you’re witnessing to somebody and they’ve grown up in a church or in an environment where church and God and Christianity were respected, you can quote Scripture and it means something to them. What we will see when we get to Paul is that when he’s talking to a pagan Gentile audience, he’s not quoting Scripture. He is telling them what Scripture teaches, but he doesn’t quote the Scripture because they don’t have, necessarily, that level of respect for the Scripture. They don’t have the background; they’re not informed. He doesn’t start where Peter starts; he starts with God as the Creator God. We will see this in Acts 14, Acts 17; it is also true in other places.
We’ve seen many of those same principles—assumption of God’s existence and authority of Scripture. The challenge that’s presented there comes in Acts 2:38. “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [or forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ ” The point is to change their thinking from not accepting Jesus as Messiah to accepting Jesus as Messiah. The point of the confrontation is always done in grace and humility and is designed to bring people from unbelief to belief.
Evidence is used throughout, but not in the sense of trying to determine the validity or accuracy of God’s Word, or creating some autonomous basis for arguing for the existence of God. That’s the first example.
Now let’s go to the second example. Turn over a page or two to Acts 3:11. This is Peter’s second sermon that’s recorded in Acts. We’ve gone through all this in verse-by-verse detail, so I’m just hitting a survey here of the high points related to the topic that we’re addressing in “How to Give an Answer.”
What happens in this third chapter is that Peter and John go up to the Temple to pray in the ninth hour. It’s about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. There’s a lame man there. Everybody knows him. He’s been lame since birth. They go to him. He’s a beggar; he’s trying to get alms. Peter and John look at him and see that he has faith. Acts 3:6, “Then Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.’ ”
He stands up. In verse eight he’s leaping, he’s walking. He enters the temple. He praises God. Acts 3:9, “And all the people saw him walking and praising God.” This is evidence–right in front of their eyes. This is a miracle that takes place, so this is evidence. Whether it happened 2,000 years ago, or yesterday, or today, it has the same legal evidentiary value. But it’s how the evidence is used.
As he’s healed the people come together, and this gives John and Peter a hearing. Once again, Peter speaks. He starts with a very clear statement. Look at Acts 3:13. Notice how he starts. He doesn’t start with a generic deity. See, this is what happens when you get into a classical apologist approach or an evidentialist. Remember, in evidentiary apologetics the most you get is probability; same thing in the classical approach. The most you get is a high degree of probability, but it is still probability; you don’t get absolute certainty.
The other thing that I pointed out last time ... Remember, right at the end of the last class I went to the book, Faith Has its Reasons, and I quoted from a section there at the end that talked about certain characteristics of the four different positions that are used. When it comes to creation, what was interesting is the classical view. Classical apologists don’t have a specific or set view of creation. They believe in creation, but they don’t have a specific view of creation.
If you read somebody like Norm Geisler, who is a perfect example of a modern proponent of a classical apologist system, he doesn’t believe in a literal six consecutive 24-hour day creation. He doesn’t believe in, necessarily, a young earth. He has kind of an odd view of creation.
If you look at evidentiary apologetics, according to the chart in Faith Has its Reasons, they hold mostly to an old earth view. They see the evidence of science as being neutral, and so they think it’s accurate. They accept an old earth view.
But presuppositionalists tend to be young earth creationists. Interesting how that works itself out. And that’s why I would say … Not that somebody in the other school doesn’t have a high view of Scripture. Goodness knows Norm Geisler’s leading the charge against a lot of this. He and David Farnell, who spoke at the Chafer Conference, just published a tremendous book on vital issues in biblical inerrancy today. It’s huge—563 pages.
But it is not an issue of, “Do they have a high view of Scripture, but have they got a consistent high view of Scripture? I think a presuppositional view has a higher level of consistency.
What we see here is that he doesn’t start at creation, which is what Paul’s going to do in Acts 14 and 17. Because that’s already known. He starts with, “You are Jews; You are a Jewish audience. You’ve got a high respect for our background, for Torah, for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Let’s start there and be consistent with this belief you claim to have related to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
He starts in verse 13a, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers.” What’s the point of common ground here? The God they claim to believe in. He’s not trying to prove it; that is clear that that’s their starting point. And they understand that. He’s got a clear statement of Who the God is that he’s talking about.
Then, in the second half of the verse, he summarizes some evidence. He says, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate.” When did this happen? 50 days ago—less than two months. Some of you people were right there; you were in the crowd. He’s reminding them of what was part of their witness. They knew this was true. He didn’t have to prove it in any other way—they were there.
“Whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go.” And verse 14, “But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you.” What’s he talking about? Their suppression of truth in unrighteousness.
Paul was a true suppressor until when? Till Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Just because somebody is bent on suppressing the truth and they don’t seem to budge, doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it in their soul.
We see that his starting point is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He focuses on evidence.
Third, he challenges them with their spiritual and ethical disobedience to God. He says, “You denied the Holy One.” He’s identifying the fact that they have rebelled against God; they have disobeyed God; they have “denied the Holy One and the Just”. “And killed the Prince of life.” He makes it clear what their sin is; he doesn’t back away from that.
Then, in Acts 3:15, he weaves in the historical evidence of the resurrection. “And killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.” As we know from 1 Corinthians 15, there were a lot of witnesses—Jesus appeared to over 500.
Then he challenges them to face the evidence of the healing and the foundation of everything that he has said already. Look at Acts 3:19. He says, talking about Scripture, Acts 3:18, “But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore and be converted.”
“Repent therefore and turn …” It’s very clear what is going on there: He challenges them to the evidence and to turn to God. It fits the same pattern we have seen all the way along.
“19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing [which is referring to the Millennium, the Kingdom] may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before.” So you see some of the same patterns.
Now we’re going to look at Paul. Paul goes to a totally different audience. I could take the time and we could look at Stephen and some other examples, but we’ve established one type of audience with Peter already. Let’s turn over to Acts chapter 14. Paul is on his first missionary journey with Barnabas and Mark.
We pick up a little context. They’ve been traveling. First, they left Antioch in Syria. They went to Cyprus. They left Cyprus, and they went to the mainland in south-central Turkey. They went to Pisidia Antioch; that’s described in Acts 13:13–52. Now that is a long section.
Compared to how much time is spent in other places, this is an exceptionally long section. He is going to the same kind of audience that Peter went to. He’s going to the synagogue. He’s addressing men of Israel and God fearers. Men of Israel were the Jews; the God fearers are the Gentile proselytes. So these are people who have a knowledge of God; they understand that God exists; they have a respect for Torah.
In verse 16 he addresses them. Then he talks about what God has done in the past with Israel. What’s he doing? He’s reminding them of the evidence of God’s work in the nation through the Old Testament. He’s going through the historical evidence. I would say this is an example of the correct way of using evidence. He uses it within the framework of revelation.
Then, when you get down to Acts 13:30–34, he begins to talk about the resurrection as historical evidence, and he mentions it several times. In verse 30 he says, “God raised Him from the dead.” In verse 31 He says, “He was seen for many days,” by many witnesses.
In verse 33 he says, “He has raised up Jesus” and he quotes from Psalm 2:7. So he’s quoting Scripture to an audience where that’s the common ground and that’s an authority.
In Acts 13:34 he says, “And that He raised Him from the dead.” Isaiah 55:3 is quoted. Then in Acts 13:35, as Peter did earlier, he cites from Psalm 16:10. Then, in verse 37, again he mentions the resurrection. “But He whom God raised up saw no corruption.” That’s a conclusion derived from Psalm 16:11.
Then, in Acts 13:38–39, what does he do? He gives them the point that they need to change. He says, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached [and the word there is proclaiming the gospel] to you the forgiveness of sins.” It’s the proclamation of the gospel; it’s KATAGGELLÓ, proclamation. It’s not EUAGGELIZO, which is the proclamation of the gospel. It’s KATAGGELLÓ. It’s a similar term; it’s the same idea—“proclaim to you the forgiveness of sins.”
“39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” Everything leading up to that point is to get them the gospel. That took some time to walk them through that historical evidence.
Now there are those who respond, especially among the Gentiles. 42 “So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles [these are the God-fearers] begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.”
But there’s going to be a reaction that sets in. This begins in Acts 13:45, “But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.” Now we see that hostile reaction set in. Peter and John, in the first two examples, get the hostile reaction from the Sanhedrin, from the religious leaders, and, ultimately, Stephen’s the one who gets the brunt of that when he’s stoned. But here we see this happening with Paul. There is a huge reaction from among the Jews. They stir up trouble against him down in Acts 13:50.
50 “But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.” So they’re kicked out, and they go down the road to the city of Iconium.
When they get to Iconium, what happens there in the first seven verses? First of all, they meet opposition, because the unbelieving Jews are stirred up against them by those who followed them from Pisidia Antioch. Then we read in Acts 14:3, “Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” This is present-time evidence.
It’s using that evidence through the signs and wonders to give validation to what they’ve done, and the result is there is violence against them in verse five. “And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe.”
This is the first part where we really see an indication of how Paul is communicating with a purely pagan Greek audience. They come into Lystra, and there’s a man that’s parallel to what happens in Acts chapter 3 with Peter and John healing the crippled man. They come in. There’s a man who’s a cripple from his mother’s womb, and he had never walked. He heard Paul speaking, Paul observed him, saw that he had faith to be healed, and said, “ ‘Stand up straight on your feet!’ And he leaped and walked.”
We have evidence that is developed right in front of the eyes of the people. But how are you going to look at the evidence? This is the problem. Because the evidence has been presented, but there’s no such thing as a brute fact. Remember I went through detail—got into the clouds a little bit—talking about every fact is what it is because God created it to be what it is. It’s not neutral.
You have facts, but the meaning of facts is immediately determined by people. That’s Operation Truth Suppression, where people immediately see something—this guy is healed—“But I’m going to redefine it, reshape it, transform it into my framework.” I’ve got a Pac-Man here who’s eating up biblical truth, and that’s what happens.
How do they do this? They see it and they don’t say, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is here. The Creator God of the universe is here. And He has healed this man!” No. They say, “Zeus and Hermes are here, and we need to go get the priest of Zeus out of the temple to come bring animals for sacrifice, and flowers, and we can worship these two men who are Zeus and Hermes.”
Barnabas is called “Zeus,” and Paul “Hermes” because he was the chief speaker. Hermes was the god who was the communicator for the gods, the messenger for the gods. See, what they’ve done is they’ve immediately redefined truth. That’s what happens. You can be sitting down and you can present an evidentiary case for Christ, and the person on the other side says, “Well, so what? There are all kinds of anomalies in the universe.” Or like what we’ll see next week when we look at the film, the professor says, “So what,” to his audience, “but you are ignorant of this,” and he brings in another fact and tries to throw the young man off by quoting a fact that he was ignorant of, or unaware of. That’s what can happen when you think and treat the evidence as if it’s neutral to both you and the person that you’re talking to.
This happened in truth suppression. Then as soon as Paul and Barnabas saw that they were going to be worshiped as gods, they just had a strong reaction. “No! Not at all!” “They tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out ...”
Screaming out, “Don’t do this! Don’t worship us! This is wrong!” What do they do? What’s the first thing they say?
It’s a question, “Men, why are you doing these things?” See, that question focuses on what’s behind this. “Why are you doing this? Think about what you are doing. Why are you doing this?”
Then they explain who they are. “We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God.” What’s the point of their confrontation? Turning to God.
So, “Turn to God.” Then, how do they define God? “Turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them.”
Do you think that was a problem? If you don’t, you don’t know much about the ancient world. Because in the ancient world they had their beliefs in the origin of the universe and the origin of man and they held onto them just as deeply as any modern evolutionist does. I have heard this many times over the course of my life. People say, “Why are you getting into all this stuff about creation? Just focus on the gospel.”
Well, apparently, Paul didn’t know that. To understand the gospel, you have to understand Who this God is—that He’s the “God who made the heavens, the earth, the seas, and all that is in them”. He’s the God who made life.
What’s the endgame in his gospel presentation as he talks about Jesus? What does he emphasize over, and over, and over again? God raised Him from the dead. You see, if you presuppose a God Who created everything and created life, then it is not a problem to believe in a God Who can raise Jesus from the dead and give Him life again. Because it’s not just some anomaly in history; it is controlled by the God Who is the living God Who created life and sustains life.
The language here is really clear. He’s claiming, “We’re just like you, and we’re here to evangelize you, to proclaim to you, to preach to you, the gospel [EUAGGELIZO].
“That you should turn from these useless things.” That’s the word EPISTREPHO. The idea is to get people to turn from their false system, their paganism, their human viewpoint, “to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them.” Because if He can give life, He can give life to those who are dead.
Then we get into Acts 14:16, “who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.” That simply means that God gave them a certain amount of rope to hang themselves.
17 “Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness.” That’s Romans 1. The witness is in the creation; it’s nonverbal, but it’s in the creation. Also, in His common grace, “… in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
Where do you think Paul would go from there? We’ve seen enough already to know that he would go to explaining the crucifixion and the resurrection. But what happens? He is immediately mobbed; the people don’t want to have their worldview shifted. Their little epistemological Pac-Man, their little truth suppression mechanism, refuses to accept what he has said because the evidence has been already reinterpreted in their truth suppression. It can’t mean what he says it means; it has to mean only that there is Zeus and Barnabas.
Now they’re saying that’s not true. And the multitude still want to sacrifice to them.
Then the Jews from Antioch and Iconium come in and really stir up the multitudes. “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.” So, he didn’t get very far. But we do see certain principles there that we’ve seen before.
We’ve seen the emphasis on God as the Creator God. We see that he doesn’t treat God as neutral, doesn’t treat the people as neutral, understands that they have a religious predisposition, which indicates they believe in God, but they are suppressing that true belief in God in unrighteousness.
Now I want to turn over a couple of chapters to Acts 17. This is on the second missionary journey. Paul is traveling. He goes to Thessalonica and there he is run out of town by the Jews who are pressing him. He goes to Berea, and then he ends up going to Athens.
We read in Acts 17:16 that while he’s in Athens he’s waiting for Silas and Timothy to catch up. He’s walking around Athens, and he has a paroxysm. His soul just starts vibrating.
I know; everybody here is so calm; you never see anything on the news where you start vibrating and getting all upset. You just can’t believe what is going on. Well, that’s what Paul is doing. He’s looking. He doesn’t have television, but he’s walking around Athens and his spirit is provoked—it’s stirred up, it’s upset.
The Greek word there is PAROXUNO, where we get our word “paroxysm.” He saw that the city is given over to idols. Let me show you a few pictures.
This is what you see. If you are on the Acropolis, the high point of the city where the Parthenon is located, you look around and you see the temple to Hephaestus over here on one side.
Then down, just below, you see the Temple of Themis from above.
Then you look a little further along, and you see the Theater of Dionysus, just at the base of the Acropolis.
Then you look over and you can see the Temple of Zeus. There were many, many others at the time of Paul. Everywhere he looked there is a religious expression that’s going on. The people are completely given over to all these gods and goddesses.
Now what does that tell you? What’s the principle we’ve been studying? Everybody has a God consciousness. Everybody knows God exists. Now they’re suppressing that in unrighteousness through this polytheism.
Here’s the Acropolis and the Temple to Athena. He is just really upset about all that he has seen, and he begins to talk to the Athenians and to challenge them.
He sees certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers there that he’s talking to, and he’s talking to them about Jesus and the resurrection. That’s what we see at the end of the verse: “because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.” The way it’s written in the Greek, they are preaching to them IÉSOUS and ANASTASIS. Jesus is one person and ANASTASIS is another one. ANASTASIS is the Greek word for resurrection. So they are thinking these are two different gods.
But Paul has an understanding. Because of what he says, we know he has an understanding of the culture that he’s speaking to. This isn’t something that is foreign to him. That’s important. When we’re talking to unbelievers, we need to have an understanding of what they believe and what their framework is to make sure they’re hearing what we’re communicating to them.
If you go to polytheistic cultures and start talking about the God, Jesus, they just think you’re talking about another god that they’re going to put on the shelf with their 99 other gods. You need to identify who Jesus is and who this God of the Bible is.
I’m not going to go through everything I did when I taught Acts 17 in the Acts series, but I ran across this quote in Van Til’s little pamphlet, called Paul at Athens.
Remember, Cornelius Van Til is probably the finest articulator of presuppositional apologetics in the 20th century. He writes,
“Basic to all the thinking of the Greeks was the assumption that all being [that is, existence] ...”
“… all being [as a philosophical term] is at bottom one, that all change comes by way of some form of emanation from that one being and is therefore ultimate as the One.”
There’s one being. The Beatles had a song, “I am you; you are me; he is she; we are one.” That’s monism. That was from their period when they were into transcendentalism.
You saw it also in The Empire Strikes Back, in the first series of Star Wars. When Luke Skywalker goes off into the woods and has a lightsaber battle with Darth Vader, cuts his head off, and then he opens the visor and he sees himself—it’s pure monism. I mean, the whole Star Wars thing is nothing more than a Buddhist mythology. I heard George Lucas say that in an interview on PBS 30 years ago. I’ve had arguments with people. “No, it’s not!” “Yes, it is! Listen to the creator; authorial intent tells you how to interpret things.
What Van Til points out here is that they’re are monists. Paul understands that. He has to talk about being—that not all things are one, that God, the Creator, is outside of creation.
This is a chart of the Great Chain of Being. This is a scale diagram here. God had 100% being, going all the way down to nonbeing—nonexistence—a rock, or leaf, a grain of sand has nonbeing. Everything else is in between. And it’s just a big circle.
Here’s another diagram of it, and it refers to this idea that there is a hierarchy of static, unchanging forms with God, Who is being itself. Or God is called “the unmoved mover”; that was Aristotle’s argument for God. He didn’t get to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He just got to an “uncaused cause” or an “unmoved mover.”
Angels and demons and man and animals are all part of this chain. Well, that was a mythological chain. What happens is Darwin comes along and basically turns it on its side.
Darwin has the same thing. He has this progression from amoeba up to man, and it’s the same thing as the scale of being. It’s just ancient paganism given a scientific cloak and concern.
Arthur Lovejoy, who wrote the classic book explaining the history of the chain of being, says it’s “The essential and unbreakable links in the chain include the Divine Creator, the angelic heavenly, the human, the animal, the world …” What he is basically saying is, “God’s part of the creation. God is part of being. He’s not over against being. He’s not totally separate as the Creator versus the creation. He’s part of the whole process.” That is basically what you have in all the ancient pagan systems.
R. J. Rushdoony said, “Apart from biblically governed thought, the prevailing concept of being has been that being is one and continuous. God, or the gods, man, and the universe are all aspects of one continuous being.” That hasn’t changed. What I’m pointing out here is the pagan philosophers that Paul is talking to at the Areopagus aren’t any different from the pagans you’re talking to. They just have more scientific, technological terminology for everything, but they’re still basically believing the same kind of nonsense.
I’ll skip over some of these other quotes.
I always like to throw this one in because most people don’t realize what a racist Darwin was and that Darwinism is a racist theory. He said, “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races [that means the white races] of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes …”
There was a politician in Virginia who got into a lot of trouble because he used some term related to a monkey, and it was taken to be a racist term. You know, that is what Darwin is saying here; he is talking about blacks.
He says, “The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro, or Australian, and the gorilla.” This guy is racist to the core. Anybody who believes in Darwinism is a racist to the core. They just don’t realize that his whole system is grounded on that.
Lovejoy says, “What the Schoolmen ...” That term is for the scholastics. That’s Thomas Aquinas, Albertus Magnus, all the middle-aged, highly educated Roman Catholic theologians. What they called ens perfectissimum—that’s just their Latin term for “perfect being.” “Ens” is being; perfectissimum is self-explanatory; “perfect being.”
What they call perfect being, “the summit of the hierarchy of being, the ultimate and only completely satisfying object of contemplation and adoration, there can be little doubt that the Idea of the Good …” That you find in people like Albert the Great, and Thomas Aquinas, and others] was the God of Plato; and there can be none [that it became no doubt] that it became the God of Aristotle, and one of the elements or aspects of the God of most of the philosophic theologies of the Middle Ages, and of nearly all the modern Platonizing poets …”
Modern Platonizing poets—that’s all the enlightenment thinkers.
They all buy into this same ancient pagan idea—that God is part of the chain, just like everything else. It’s all just a means to deny the Creator God.
It’s the Pac-Man eating everything up.
Let’s just hit this real quick to see what happens. “And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus” [a rocky outcropping at the base of the Acropolis, which is where they would get together and discuss philosophical ideas]. And they said, “We want to talk to you about this. We can all be objective; this is a good idea.” No, they can’t. Why? Because they are truth suppressors.
“May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak?” That is, resurrection. See, their concept of life is distorted, so their concept of resurrection and afterlife is going to be distorted. You have to have a point-to-point confrontation to tear down the whole edifice.
You’ve heard me use this before. When the Holy Spirit shows up—when you go from being an unbeliever to a believer—He’s not coming in like an interior designer, “Let’s put some new curtains here and change the paint in this room from blue to green.” He’s not going to say, “We need new carpet here. And let’s get rid of the siding and put in some new brick work or something.” He shows up with a bulldozer, because He wants to take out the foundation. That’s what Paul’s doing here. He’s got to deal with their foundation.
So they want him to come here. Here’s a picture of Mars’ Hill. This is a Logos diagram that they’ve put together. You see that they cut these stairs into the rock. You can go up on top. Let me tell you, after all the years of people climbing up on top, that is slick! You get up there, and you will fall and die! It is exceptionally slick. We have Paul down here, just to the right of the stairs. I’m making a point out of that.
Here’s a modern picture. See, here are the stairs, right here. And here are the trees that were pictured in the other diagram. That’s an aerial of Mars’ Hill taken from up on the Areopagus.
Then, here’s a modern-day preacher at Mars’ Hill in that same spot. That’s Tommy Ice, teaching Acts 17 at Mars’ Hill.
Paul says, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious.” See, in 1961, the Supreme Court issued in a ruling the statement that secular atheism was a religion. Did you know that? The Supreme Court of the United States has defined secular atheism as a religion. They want to say, “No, no, no, no. We’re not religious.” Yes, you are.
Anybody who says anything about ultimate meaning is religious. If you say, “There’s a God,” is that a religious statement? They’ll all say, “Yes.” Well, then the opposite must also be a religious statement. “There is no God” must be equally religious. So, the United States Supreme Court recognized that in a decision in 1961.
He’s talking to these Epicureans and Stoics, and he says, “I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” Now, a lot of people make the mistake of thinking the altar “to the unknown God” is an altar to the God that he’s going to talk about. But you have to punctuate this differently.
I thought I had created a slide for this, but I didn’t. The “for” at the beginning of verse 23 is explaining his statement, “I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” Period.
“Therefore,” that therefore is a rhetorical device to move to his point. He’s not drawing a conclusion that the unknown god is the God that he’s going to talk about.
Because he’s immediately going to say, “This is the One I’m going to proclaim to you.” “God, who made the world and everything in it.” No Greek ever thought there was a God who is totally outside the chain of being, the God who created the whole chain of being, the God who created everything.
He is saying, “This is the God I’m talking about.” “God, who made the world and everything in it.” He starts with creation. Creationism is important! It’s not some sideshow; it’s not secondary. That’s why, when we look at the film next week, what we are going to see is that in almost every one of the arguments for the existence of God, it goes to creation. Because creation is not an option to talk about. You have to understand the Creator God, or you don’t get a right understanding of the Cross or Jesus.
24 “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” He’s outside the chain of being. He gives to everything its existence.
26 “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.” I quote that all the time to prove that we’ve got to have national boundaries. You’ve got to have defense of nations based on their boundaries, and God predetermined those boundaries. It’s not something that originated with man.
Why did God do this? “So that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him …” So, nationalism is ultimately designed in the plan of God to bring people to what? To worship the God Who made everything.
Then he goes on and talks about Who God is. “For in Him we live and move and have our being.” Because of that he is saying, “It is not a pantheistic idea; it is that God is the One Who gives us our very existence. “For we are also His offspring,” in the sense of He created us.
29 “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone [it’s not an idol], something shaped by art and man’s devising.”
30 “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” What’s the goal of the confrontation? To change them. So what we’ve seen is that God is focused, in the confrontation, on changing men’s minds to turn to Him.
Acts 17:30–31, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” And what happens? They react. Because this doesn’t fit their truth-suppression mechanism.
What have we learned?
- Begin with questions.
- Assume the existence of the Creator God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
- Sometimes, point out the inadequacies of the other worldview, like Elijah did on Mount Carmel.
- All men know God exists and are suppressing that knowledge in various ways, but they know, and God the Holy Spirit is working in them. Our job is to clearly present the truth, answer their questions, and not compromise creation or the existence of God in the process of getting them the gospel.
Next time, now that you’re armed with this, we’re going to have a little fun with our discernment exercise and looking at some of the things in the film.
“Father, thank You for this time to look at these things tonight and to study and think through Your provision for us, and Your instruction for us, and the examples that we’re given of how to talk to those who don’t believe, and how to give an answer for the hope that is in us. It’s not just what we say, it is how we say it—it’s our strategy, it’s our approach.
Father, this is not always easy for us to think that through, but help us to do that. And give us insight into how we approach this. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”