Posted by: SandreS | January 28, 2010

No Reference to Scripture – The Message of Mars’ Hill (Acts 17) Part #2

We are looking briefly at Paul’s neglected message on Mars’ Hill found in Acts chapter 17. The first thing about the message that we would like to note is what Paul did not say in his important talk. One of the most significant things about this entire message is the complete absence of any use of Scripture. Not even once does Paul quote the Scriptures. Maybe just as interesting, the only quotation by Paul is one of a heathen poet.

What is so extremely striking about this is that we are often taught that the only God-honoring method of communicating with the lost (i.e., “witnessing,” “soul winning,” “preaching,” etc.) is to riddle our “messages” with as many Scripture references as possible. In some circles, one’s spirituality may even be judged based upon the amount of Scripture memorized and delivered during such an “evangelistic” opportunity.

Really, think about it: Can you even image Paul addressing lost pagans and never even reciting a passage from Scripture? If we had such an opportunity ourselves, many of us would surely believe that we were unfaithful and negligent if we “failed” to use as much of the Bible as we possibly could.

We do not mean to imply that sharing the Scriptures is never to be done with the lost, for surely Paul did elsewhere. But maybe we should learn a little something from Paul here, and not make our conversations with the lost such a rote-and-quote of Scripture recitation. Maybe, like Paul, we should simply seek to find a place of identification with them in something that they know and understand – something that is in their frame of reference, something that is important to them – just as he did with their idol to the “Unknown God,” and their heathen poetry.

Maybe we should learn to talk to our “Athenians” about sports, movies and other cultural and social interests that they may have, and in these things interpret a divine meaning to life, just as Paul did with the people in his day.

Paul Vieira, in his book Jesus Has Left the Building, encourages us along these lines, in what he refers to as cultural literacy:

We have learned to live without contact with the world. We have created an artificial environment that goes beyond the simplicity of Christian community … With its own language and customs, in many cases those who enter this “church culture” from the outside encounter a form of culture shock …

How well can you read the culture? Do you know how to speak the language of culture? Do you really understand the person with whom you work or go to school? What is the cry in the heart of people who live on your street? They are not going to speak to you in the same way a believer does. Our ability to understand the worldviews of others will enable us to more effectively communicate with them. Culture is the teacher of worldviews and gives the language with which we are able to speak …

Although as Christians we abide in a new culture called the Kingdom of God, we must still know the culture that surrounds us. We are in the world, but not of it. If we are going to be effective in communicating … to those who move within the limits of their culture, we must be able to speak to them in a language they can understand …

What aided the apostles in establishing a voice to the people of their culture was that they knew how to adjust their language according to who was listening. An illustration of this can be found in chapter seventeen of the book of Acts … Paul did some homework during his stay in Athens …

Could it be that there are people in our lives who are longing to connect with God but just don’t know how? Are there things about our culture that provide a springboard for the gospel to be preached and demonstrated? I believe that God has provided exit doors in every culture around the world. These are subtle passageways to finding God, where culture and the Kingdom of God intersect. We can possess the insight to locate these portals. They are simply the entry points that provide opportunity for us to share Christ.

Often these entry points are found in the artistic parts of culture. Paul understood this when he quoted the Greek poets in his message that day on Mars’ Hill: “As certain also of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’” (Acts 17:28). It’s interesting to note that Paul doesn’t quote the Bible once in his appeal to the Athenians. They would not have had any point of reference in regards to the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul must have researched the writing of the Greek philosophers and poets in order to be able to speak to that culture. Paul used their own trusted sources as a basis of presenting the gospel of Jesus to those people.

Who are the trusted sources of our culture? Stephen Spielberg, John Lennon, Sting, Michael Jordan, Bono, Eminem, Jennifer Lopez, Larry and Andy Wachowski, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George Lucas, to name only a few. These are the poets, musicians, artists and storytellers of our time. Whether you agree with it or not, these are the trusted sources of our culture. Hidden in the songs, books, movies, sporting events and cultural phenomena are gateways. Thoughts, ideas, statements, pictures and metaphors that line up with truth in the gospel message are waiting to be interpreted and proclaimed. The followers of Jesus are the interpreters of the divine revelation that God is speaking through culture. Without us, the truth lies there undiscovered. The precious goes unnoticed in the heap of the worthless.

Paul’s approach on Mars’ Hill is very helpful for believers … Paul presents God in an all encompassing way. He is not merely the God of a specific religion or ethnicity; the true and living God is the God of all people. Christians these days are often viewed as being narrow-minded and exclusive …

Paul debunked the understanding that God could be contained in buildings by his statement, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). Paul preached a God that was outside the building … Paul’s God was universal and near to every human heart on the planet.

Next we shall begin our brief journey into some of the neglected aspects of Paul’s message to those on Mars’ Hill.

Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr.
Bible Student’s Notebook
© 2009, 2010



  1. My church is going through a shift in paradigm and understanding of the post-modern culture (I am 59 and truly want to understand but feel more confused everyday). I believe I’m a big M modern with small p post modern leanings. This article helped me get one step closer to getting a grasp. I’m wondering if post-modern is so difficult to para phrase because it’s so difficult to define; so many contradictions (that’s a statement and a question). Anyway, thank you for your article.


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