Knowing the Unknown God: Rejection, Reflection, and Repentance

Acts 17:1-34 records the experiences of the Apostle Paul as he testifies to polytheistic Greeks on Ares (Mars) Hill.  He relies on the Holy Spirit to provide an apologetic defense of the Gospel by pointing out the Unknown God they worship. Here, Paul uses an evidential approach to apologetics which I explained in a previous blog.  The conclusion of the chapter, Acts 17:32-34, reveals three common responses to an apologetic defense of the Gospel that still apply today:  rejection, reflection, and repentance.
Acts 17:32 reveals how people reject the plan of salvation: “Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer” (NASB).  The reference to resurrection is pivotal because Paul declares that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection legitimize His claims to be the Son of God through which humanity can be saved.  The word “sneer” comes from a Greek phrase depicting someone choosing “to throw out the lip” as a sign of mockery. 1  How often do we encounter those who assert that the plan of salvation doesn’t make sense, is ridiculous, and is for simple-minded people?  Both their verbal and nonverbal language reflect their thoughts.

We find the second type of response involving reservation in the later part of Acts 17:32: “but others said, We shall hear you again concerning this.” The adverb “again” or palin speaks of “oscillatory repetition.” 2  In other words, some listeners not only vacillated between accepting and rejecting salvation but also falsely assumed that they would continue their discussion with Paul at the same location (Ares or Mars Hill), at another time, and with a different conclusion.  Not so. Interestingly, this same adverb “again” (palin) is also used when describing Jesus’ repeated return to His sleeping disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:42-44).

The focus on reservation continues in Acts 17: 33:  “So Paul went out of their midst.” Why would Paul leave and why should we leave when in a similar situation?  Quite frankly, Christians are called to provide a reasonable argument in defense of the Bible’s truths (1 Peter 3:15-16) but we’re not called to wait indefinitely while people make up their minds.  While this may sound harsh, we must carefully rely on the Holy Spirit to guide our patience and understand that our testimony may be the seed or water in God’s sovereign will ( I Corinthians 3:6-7).  Unbelievers may want a “second opinion” or want to reflect on what’s been presented. By the same token, we should also realize that their reservation or indifference is an answer.   
1.  Strong, James. A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible 2009: 78. Print.
2. Strong, James. A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible 2009: 54. Print.

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