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I’ve spent the last month breaking down Paul’s sermon in Athens as a way of opening up the modern God conversation. Sometimes we need to look deeper at things or else we skim over the depth of our lives. Skimming is far too easy when we read this story.
Modern people don’t possess the historical framework or context to understand this story and as a result, we import into the scripture our own presuppositions and theological frameworks. This is known as eisegesis and it’s a big no no when interpreting the Bible. Eisegesis causes the Bible to say what we want rather than what it actually says. If we’re careful, we can avoid this mistake.
We’ll start by gaining the context through some Greek history. This will illuminate Paul’s approach to addressing the God question and than we will continue to contrast Paul’s theology with what we see in the modern church and in religion as a whole. Lastly we’ll touch on the implications that bubble up from Paul’s Alternative Orthodoxy.
Epimenides was a Greek philosopher and poet from Crete dating around the 6th century BC. Within the Greek culture he gained a quasi-mythical status after he reportedly fell asleep in Zeus’s cave for fifty-seven years. When he awoke he became a prophet and purified Athens some of the smaller deities and their unorthodox Cretan belief that Zeus had died.
Paul actually quotes Epimenides twice in the New Testament, Once in Titus 1:12–“One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.””
The second quote is found within the passage we’ve been exploring in Acts 17 but first I’ll share the original poem from Epimenides.
“They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one.
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being.”
Now we have a context.
Now we can see what Paul is actually doing here. Paul is not playing “My God is bigger than your god” with those at the Areopagus. He’s actually affirming their belief, not undermining it. He’s not trying to convert them away from their belief, he’s completing it by providing a wider framework to understand it in a new way.
How many Christians run with this passage about living, moving, and being IN a God that never dies without the slightest thought that it was originally written about Zeus. How many Christians diminish Greek mythology as untrue, but then live a binary life of Platonic dualism, separating everything between the sacred or the secular, the valid from the invalid?
Paul’s approach is hidden between the lines. Other religions are not a problem for Paul because he is inclusive not exclusive. His theology is bigger and wider than others. In (v.27) he says that “God is actually not far from each one of us.” This statement clearly shows Paul doesn’t see himself as being close to God while these “Pagans” are far away. There isn’t a distinction here. So what does a church look like today if they adopt Paul’s posture?
Later, when Paul talks about God appointing a man that will rise from the dead (v.31) the Greeks really want to hear more, but not for the reasons most of us think. Most will presuppose the Athenian’s interest is in Jesus (eisegesis). It’s partially right, their interest was likely more about proving Zeus’s immortal power. So if Zeus (their framework) appoints a righteous man, then that man is probably worth hearing about. Paul helps them come to Christ by way of Zeus.
Living, moving and being are experiences. They are not religious activities, they are not frameworks of achievement, self promotion, or works. They are not dogmas, or rituals of doing. They are ontological-they are all about being. They are about existing. Life, breath and everything are all encompassing. Living moving and being is accessible to all creation. Paul takes the poem about Zeus and basically says, “my belief in God is exactly the same even though I come from a different religion. The problem with both our religions is that neither is big enough. Yet despite the infinite scale and power of God, the dwelling place of God is within us all. The place of experiencing this infinite power is in the everyday experience of living, moving, and being. Our temples are too small.”
Living, moving and being are not limited to Sunday morning. The meeting place of God is not in temples made my man, but in each and every moment. If we can wake up to this reality, we will appreciate Paul’s theology. God dwells only in the eternal moment, never in the past, never in the future. The presence is only in the present.
A lot of times people are confused about how to handle those who have a different religion. We’ve been trained to steer clear of religion and politics. Now there is a trend to be on the offense, to attack or criticize those of differing beliefs. This is not a defense for the faith, it’s the reason churches are shrinking. I believe the trend to be “spiritual but not religious” is actually a move toward conformity to Paul’s theology. It is a category of great expansion and inner awareness.
The test of faith is not in our profession of belief, it’s not our status within some religion, it’s in how we are experiencing this moment. How are we living? How do we move? Who are we? Now we have come full circle from the first episode. The question of who or what is God takes us outward toward religion, but Paul shows us that God is the ground of all BEING.
What happens when we just go for a walk? When we reflect upon our life’s path? The Ground or God of all being is always with you and me, and that is the healthiest place for us to start or RESTART or soul. Perhaps the path outside your front door is your road of inner experience. How will you experience the moment? Will you stay distracted or will you be here now?