Biblical scholars, theologians, missionaries, church planters, and plenty of other people who don’t have any kind of title study Acts 17:16-34 to learn about proclaiming the gospel to different contexts. Of course, in the Book of Acts, we read about Paul and others proclaiming the gospel in many different contexts, and this is only one of those. However, this is one of the only examples in Scripture of someone proclaiming the gospel in a non-Jewish or a Jewish majority context.
I do love the way that Paul begins at a point that the people around the Areopagus would understand. Then, he works toward a simple statement about repentance, judgment, righteousness, and resurrection. Well, it’s simple in the fact that it was a very short statement. In fact, his entire “speech” was probably very short. At the point that Paul mentioned the resurrection, the crowd reacted strongly.
And, this is the point that I’d like to consider in this post. You see, while this passage can help us understand something about proclaiming the gospel in different cultural contexts, it can also help us understand an important point about helping people follow Jesus as his disciples – what could be called “discipleship.”
When Paul mentions “resurrection,” Luke tells us what happened next:
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. (Acts 17:32-34 ESV)
Paul did not tell the crowd at the Areopagus everything there was to know about God, Jesus, the gospel, etc. He made a simple proclamation. Some were interested in hearing more, so he told them more. However, even all of those were not disciples. Only some join Paul in following Jesus, of whom Luke mentions one man and one woman.
It’s clear that Paul told the “some” more than he told the crowds at the Areopagus. In order to do that, he had to have spent more time with the “some” than he did with the crowd. Of course, this sounds very similar to what Jesus did with the crowds and the people who followed him. There are other examples in Scripture as well.
What do we see in this example of Paul at the Areopagus in Athens?
1) Short, to the point – but limited – proclamation that is understandable by the crowds listening.
2) More information given to those who are interested.
3) Most time spent with those who actually go beyond “interest.”
Now, remember that Paul is considered a “missionary.” A missionary. An apostle. An evangelist. Yet, it seems like only a small amount of his time and energy is spent in actually proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers. More of his time is spent with believers – the church.
What do you think? Am I reading too much into this passage and similar accounts in Scripture? Or, is this a good pattern for us to consider? How do we see this pattern followed or not followed today?