Ἄγνοια in Hellenistic Philosophy: Illuminating the Paradoxes of Athenian Ignorance (Acts 17:30)
The theme of ignorance in Acts—which famously recurs in several of the evangelistic speeches—has led exegetes to draw diametrically opposite views on its implications on Lucan anthropology. On one hand, some have seen it as a means to downplay the responsibility of the audience—after all, they acted in ignorance—while on the other hand, others have seen it as an expression of unforgivable refusal to recognize God’s requirements. The same diversity of opinions is reflected in the literature on Paul’s speech in Athens. Indeed, famously, Paul concludes his discourse by emphasizing that God has overlooked the ‘times of ignorance,’ yet now calls all mankind to repentance.
The present paper seeks to shed light on the issue by examining the way the concept of ἄγνοια would have been perceived by Paul’s philosophical audience. Indeed, Acts 17 specifically identifies Epicurean and Stoic philosophers among Paul’s listeners. While it is not uncommon to find allusions to the meaning the word had in Graeco-Roman philosophical context in the scholarly literature, little study has been done to examine this philosophical concept in depth, and how it relates to the content of Paul’s discourse. This paper seeks to fill that gap. It shall be argued that an understanding of the concept in philosophical context sheds significant light on its meaning in Paul’s discourse.
Luke’s Understanding of oikoumene in Acts 17
This paper aims to explore Luke’s world view by examining oikoumene and with a particular focus on Acts 17. It will demonstrate that Luke attempts to highlight the world of God against the imperial world and thus illustrating one facet of Luke’s anti-imperial perspective on Rome. Luke’s understanding for oikoumene is basically the Roman Empire which is turned upside down by ‘another king named Jesus’ (Acts 17:3-7). However, in contrast to the Roman oikoumene, Luke describes the world made by God through Paul’s Areopagus Speech (vv. 24-26). Luke delineates the world rooted in one ancestor (v.26) while kairoi and horothesiai signify the inhabited world fixed and prescribed by God (v.26). Every nation in the world shares a common history for having the same root and hold kinship as God’s genos (v.29). In doing this, Luke refutes a Roman conception of universal ethnic and related geographical understandings on oikoumenewhich appears on the Roman texts (e.g. Res Gestae). Moreover, Luke presents Jesus as a consummator of the world. Jesus was born under the decree of census on oikoumene by Augustus (Luke 2:1) but appears again as a message contrary to the decree of the emperor by subverting the imperial oikoumene (Ac 17:6). Consequently, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ reign over oikoumene (Acts 17:31) of which all the kingdoms were belonged to the devil (Luke 4:5). Luke thus presents to his readers an acknowledgement they are residing on Roman oikoumene but the oikoumene will be substituted by the world of God through Jesus (Acts 17:31). In this sense, for Luke, the Greek term oikoumene functions as a vital thread to converge diverse discourses about the world in the entire narrative of Luke-Acts and Acts 17 is the epitome all of these discussions.
Panel discussion of the dating and social location of Acts
A discussion in dialogue with Acts and Christian Beginnings: The Acts Seminar Report, ed. Dennis E. Smith & Joseph B. Tyson (Salem, OR: Polebridge, 2013) with Prof. Loveday Alexander (University of Chester & Emerita, University of Sheffield), Dr Andrew Gregory (University of Oxford) and Dr Dennis E. Smith (Phillips Theological Seminary, Tulsa, OK)
Joint session: Book of Acts and Early Christianity seminar groups
Dr Dennis Smith has kindly provided the file below which summarises some key exegetical issues and conclusions from Acts and Christian Beginnings, the book being discussed in this seminar session. The papers from Prof Loveday Alexander and Dr Andrew Gregory on the full book will be presented ‘live’, and Dr Dennis Smith will then respond ‘live’ over Skype from Tulsa, OK (USA).
What’s so special about Jesus-followers in Acts?
This paper explores how followers of Jesus are distinguished from others within Acts’ story world. The relative emphasis on intellectual commitments (‘beliefs’) and practices is assessed, as a contribution to ongoing conversations about whether early Christians tended to privilege orthodoxy over orthopraxy. Attention to traits and practices represented as distinguishing Jesus-followers from others also sheds light on the complex multi-dimensional relationship between Judean, Christian, and gentile identities in the narrative.
The Next Greatest Story Ever Told: Recapturing the Impact of Paul’s Conversion through a Chiasm in Acts 6–12
The structure of Acts has been a subject of great debate with no clear answer to the basic question of the number of stories that make up Acts. This paper proposes that the tension over structure can be resolved by recognising the truly amazing (ἐξίστημι, Acts 8:13; cf. Luke 24:22) story of Paul’s conversion as the pivotal focus of Acts, the sequel to the Greatest Story Ever Told.
The paper examines why structure matters to the narrator and reader before evaluating the main structural options proposed for Acts: the simple Peter/Paul divide, the three components of the programmatic Acts 1:8, Bruce Longenecker’s four part chain-link proposal, and C. H. Turner’s six panels. This analysis suggests that the area of most conflict is Acts 6–12.
The paper proposes that Acts 6–12 is organised around the structural pattern of a chiasm. Although widely accepted in the analysis of OT ‘writings’, the paper will argue that such structural patterns are used in NT narrative works, as proposed by Lund and others, and that these patterns are designed to provide focus on the central element and comparison and contrast between the paired elements.
Finally, the paper proposes that the chiasm in Acts 6–12 is used by Luke to focus the reader on the dramatic conversion of Saul and to emphasise the contrasting reactions to God’s initiatives in spreading the gospel to the Samaritans and the Hellenists of Antioch, and to the Ethiopian Eunuch and the household of Cornelius. This in turn, explains and justifies the startling choice of Saul, the ‘destroyer of the church’ (Acts 8:3), as the missionary ‘to the end of the earth’—the most amazing event in Acts.
Accepting Prophecy: Paul’s Response to Agabus in Light of Insights from Valerius Maximus and Josephus
Acts 16:6-10 and 21:1-14 provide somewhat baffling accounts of the Spirit’s intervention in Paul’s ministry. The former baldly states that the Spirit prohibited two courses of action before Paul dreams about a third, which the first person narrator interprets as divine call. In the latter, Agabus predicts Paul’s binding in Jerusalem. The text does not question the prophecy’s accuracy. But, surprisingly, while in 21:4 disciples tell Paul ‘through the Spirit’ not to continue to Jerusalem, the interaction with Agabus ends with Paul’s impassioned acceptance of suffering in Jerusalem and the narrator’s puzzled affirmation: ‘the Lord’s will be done’ (v. 14).
Commentaries on both passages are dominated by source critical questions, and as far back as Haenchen the apparent conflict in the Spirit’s role leads to an aside that, nonetheless, ‘most readers do not hit upon such questions’ (1971, 602 n. 1). But thorny issues remain: how does the text present the Spirit directing the mission? When Paul chooses to continue to Jerusalem and embrace suffering despite the Spirit’s instruction, does he alter the will of God, or fulfil what was always planned?
This paper argues that these questions can be illuminated through comparison with two other texts that deal with prophecy and its inevitable fulfilment. Valerius Maximus’s ‘middlebrow’ text, Memorable Doings and Sayings, provides an insight into popular views through his anecdotes of characters whose extravagant attempts to escape their fate lead to its inevitable (if ironic) fulfilment. While Josephus’s use of prophecy in the Jewish War introduces the Stoic understanding of human freedom as an ability to assent to fate, evident also in his presentation of the philosophical schools. These approaches provide a lens through which the paper explores how human freedom and prophetic certainty coexist in Paul’s mission. Moreover, given the parallels with Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, it raises potential questions about what this might mean for Jesus’ role in accepting his fate in Luke.