Le rocher de l’Aréopage, d’où Saint-Paul prêcha le ” Dieu Inconnu” aux Athéniens, vu de l’Acropole. Athènes, Grèce (Creative Commons).

OK, here’s the windup — This is the second time I’ve tackled this reading (Acts 17:22-23). The first was back in April, when I posted the text and background to my blog Hemlandsanger, along with an extended quotation from Finnish theologian Simo Peura, in turn quoting Luther quoting St. Paul. The quote from Acts has been one of my favorites for a long time, and I was first getting into lectio divina at the time, and I also linked some basics to the blog.

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22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Simo Peura, “What God Gives, Man Receives: Luther on Salvation,” in Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson 

God becomes present and begins to live in us at the moment he creates true faith in us. Therefore, faith always results in union with God. Indeed, through such faith a Christian already enters into heaven. Luther argues as follows” “This is the true faith of Christ and in Christ, through which we become members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones (Eph. 5:30). Therefore in Him we live, move, and have our being. (Acts 17:28). Hence the speculation of the sectarians is vain when they imagine that Christ is present in us ‘spiritually’, that is, speculatively, but is really present in heaven. Christ and faith must be completely joined. We must simply (simpliciter) be in in heaven; and Christ must be, live, and work in us. But He lives and works in us, not speculatively or as an idea but in the most present and effective way.”

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James Tabor, “The Quest for the Historical Paul,” Bible History Daily, Biblical Archaeology Society, Jan. 28, 2020 https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/the-quest-for-the-historical-paul/.

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Our earliest physical description of Paul comes from a late second-century Christian writing The Acts of Paul and Thecla. It is a wildly embellished and legendary account of Paul’s travels, his wondrously miraculous feats, and his formidable influence in persuading others to believe in Christ. The story centers on the beautiful and wealthy virgin Thecla, a girl so thoroughly mesmerized by Paul’s preaching that she broke off her engagement to follow Paul and experienced many adventures. As Paul is first introduced one of his disciples sees him coming down the road:

And he saw Paul coming, a man small of stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked, full of friendliness; for now he appeared like a man, and now he had the face of an angel.[xvi]

We have no reason to believe this account is based on any historical recollection since the Acts of Paul as a whole shows no trace of earlier sources or historical reference points. The somewhat unflattering portrait most likely stemmed from allusions in Paul’s letters to his “bodily presence” being unimpressive and the subject of scorn, whereas his followers received him as an angel (2 Corinthians 10:10; Galatians 4:13-14).

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