Paul’s Sermon to the Greeks

Paul’s Gospel to the Greeks in Athens who knew next to little about Moses, the covenants and the promises is a remarkable sermon. He was speaking to Epicureans and Stoics. Epicureans were derived from a Philosopher named, Epicurus (340-270 BCE). Epicurus wrote, “Accustom thyself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply sentience, and death is the privation of all sentience;… Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.” There is no afterlife.

The Stoics, on the other hand, was a rival philosophy.  Zeno of Citium (on the Island of Cyprus) taught in the fourth century BCE.  He eventually found his way to Athens and his followers gathered on the “painted porch” (Greek, stoa, or ‘porch’, from stoa poikile or ‘painted porch’ located in Athens), from whence the named, Stoicism is derived.  Paul’s Aereopagite Sermon (Acts 17.22-ff) is directed to them.  By the time of Paul, both Epicureanism and Stoicism were well developed and well known philosophies.  Although rival philosophies, which is not the subject of this paper, they did stand in agreement that there was no afterlife in terms of individuals.  For the Stoics, “nature” is God itself.  Time has neither a beginning nor an end.  There is no “history” since it is “infinite” and “cyclical”.  There is no beginning, there is no end. Epicureanism and Stoicism were well developed and well known philosophies.  Although rival philosophies, which is not the subject of this paper, they did stand in agreement that there was no afterlife in terms of individuals.  For the Stoics, “nature” is God itself.  Time has neither a beginning nor an end.  There is no “history” since it is “infinite” and “cyclical”.  There is no beginning, there is no end.

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’;1 as even some of your own poets have said, “‘ For we are indeed his offspring.’ 29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (English Standard Version, Acts 17.22-31). 

Paul first confronts them with terms they would know.  The idea of the kosmos (world) being made – a cosmogony – was a topic often debated among the Greek elites.  Paul proclaims the worldview of the Hebrews: God made the world and all that is in it, and he is the Lord of both heaven and earth since he made them in the beginning.  God is in no need of anything in terms of his “being”.  God is not locally confined to buildings – and whether these philosophers were familiar with Judaism and their temple cult or not, Paul said, “temples” in the plural, and that would include the one in Jerusalem.  God is omnipresent.

Being served “by human hands” is also a nod towards religious offerings.  He doesn’t need them, nor are they required.  What could one offer to God that is not already his, or not already given life to by him?  Every man’s breath is in the operation of God.  Again, Paul is preaching – without quoting any verse – from the Hebrew Scriptures.  Appealing again to Genesis, God made “one man” and from him every nation of all came into being.  He made the world and ‘everything’ in it.  Paul then moves to quote two of their poets.  The first line is a bit fuzzy, but many associate it with the poet, Epimenides. The latter line, “we are his offspring” speaks of Aratus, who lived in the fourth and third centuries BCE:

Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken. 
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus. 
Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity. 
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus. 
For we are indeed his offspring … 
— Phaenomena 1–5 

What was directed to Zeus, Paul reinterprets to speak of the God of Genesis.  Paul incorporated pagan themes which could be restructured with his own Hebrew religion and demonstrates what is today called, “cross cultural communication.”  After all, God made Aratus and Epimenides, too.

“God is not far from each one of us” is simply another way of saying, “The Lord is near”.  And, it is here that I wish to make the point.  Paul’s eschatology is hardly rooted in his knowledge that Jesus spoke of “armies surrounding Jerusalem” at some point.  This he knew.  Here, to these Greeks, he utterly fails to mention it.  Instead, God has fixed “a day” in which he will “judge the world” (the world he made and everything in it) through “a man”.  The man, Messiah Yeshua.  The world is going to be judged on a day by a human being: the son of man.  And God has demonstrated this fact by raising this human being up from the dead.  This man, still very much alive, will (in the future) judge the world on a fixed day.  Now, remember, this is the same world that God made, and everything in it.  The world God made that came “from one man” and the “nations” that came from him.  Paul has incorporated the entire history of the world up to this fixed, certain “day” in which a risen human being will judge it.  That’s what he is saying.  The “world” will end.  This was entirely foreign to these Greeks.  They had no final “end”.  They had an infinite, cyclical recurrence/rebirth of the Cosmic Nature (for the Stoics, that was Reason, which was material, and for the Epicureans, there wasn’t really anything).  Paul’s view of History, with a Beginning and an End was entirely foreign to the Greeks.  The idea that “history” was “progressing” to a “fixed day” or point in which all things within history would reach their zenith in perfection (for those who believe), and an eternal judgment for those who did not was Jewish, not Greek.  It gave “purpose” to history, and, thus, “history” as we know it was born into the modern era.

Now, it is an interesting point in grammar that Paul mentioned only the resurrection (anastasis) of Jesus.  In fact, the Greek is emphatic: having raised him out of the dead ones (plural).  Only one previously dead man has been “raised out of the dead ones”: Jesus.  Yet, “when they heard ‘resurrection of dead ones’, they scoffed”.  The phrasing for the singular resurrection of Jesus “out of” the dead ones was combined in the minds of these Greeks with ‘he will judge the world’.  How will this man, Jesus, “judge the world” that has been long dead for thousands of years in many cases, “from the beginning” when all things were made until this “fixed day”?  If this man is going to judge the world – the inhabitants of the world (Greek) – then it follows by strong logic that he has to raise them: there will be a resurrection of the dead (plural).  The resurrection of the dead occurs on the “day” when this man, Christ Jesus, who is now risen from the dead (the dead were not risen when Paul preached this) will judge them.  He cannot judge “the nations” that have come “from one man” thousands of years ago (who are well dead) unless he raises them so that they will “stand in judgment”.  These Greeks got the message.  They scoffed at such an idea.  It was entirely foreign to them.

Now, what would such a ‘resurrection of dead ones’ look like?  “[A]nd he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead.”  Confirmation of what?  Resurrection and judgment.  For who?  “All.”  Now, if Jesus is described here as a human being who died, was buried and is now alive, risen from the dead, who will judge the world (the inhabitants of the world) from Adam onward, then “the dead” who are to be raised must be the same inhabitants of the world from the beginning until then.  The “dead” are not “raised” until the “fixed day”.  They are not “raised” in any piece meal fashion.  They are not “raised” when they happen to expire.  They are raised on the day when they are judged; all of them at once.  What started with “one man” ends with the Judgment of One Man.  This “one man” was created on a day.  This other One Man will raise all that came from him on a day.  The last day.

Such is Paul’s Eschatology in a nutshell.  It does not include 70 AD.  It nowhere even hints at the coming catastrophe of wars (66-70 AD; 115 AD; 135 AD) to befall the Jewish people.  It does not mention anything at all but the fact that there is coming a day in which a human being who has been raised from the dead and is still very much alive in his risen-from-the-dead-state will judge all mankind at once.

John 11.25-26

By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.

John 11.25-26 reads as follows: Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and I am the life. The one who is believing in me, though he die, he will live again. Everyone who is living and believing in me shall never die in the age. Are you believing this?”

First off, we need to look at the grammatical aspects (syntax). The first sentence is emphatic, “I” used with the predicate “I am” in the Present Indicative. The articles (“the”) equally place emphasis on what Jesus is saying he “is”. He is “the resurrection” and he is “the life.” John’s Gospel places great stress on “life” in his Gospel. Jesus is not “just” spiritual life, or physical life, or the life of God’s creation. He is all of those. He is the “source” of all life, whether it be a bird flying in the noon wind, or a leaflet sprouting anew. This is an astounding statement and claim. It is exhaustive of all that these terms mean. Jesus is the author of life and as such, gives life.

The second sentence is what we call a ‘conditional clause.’ The first verb is a participle in the Present Active form. A participle is a verbal adjective describing a subject. In this case, a believer. The person who is believing. The “time” of the participle is determined by the context, not the form. It is plain that Jesus is speaking of those who are currently believing, or whoever, past, present or future, can be described as a “believing one”. “In me” is the object in who this action of believing is directed. Everyone believes in something or someone, but not everyone believes in Jesus.

The conditional part starts (Protasis) with “though he die”.  Here the Subjunctive Mood is used in the Aorist form.  The Greek has kan, which is a combination of the conjunction, kai, and ean (if, though, when, even if, even though).  The condition is that even if a person dies (as a matter of fact), they will live again.  The final (Apodosis) part is Future Indicative.  This is a typical form of a condition stated with a future result.  The person that believes in Jesus, though he will die indeed, will certainly live again.  The verb “live” or “live again” is implied by the Protasis which states that he or she will die.  Another more modern way of saying this is, “in spite of the fact that you will die, you will live again afterwards.”  In the manner that a person “dies” (which is, in this case, actual death) will be the manner in which a person “will live” (will be raised from the death they died).  It makes no sense to interpret “die” as physical death, but the Future “will live” as current spiritual life.

Broadening the range of those who are believing, John wrote “whosoever lives” or all who live, anyone who is a living one.  This is the Present participle form we have already seen above for the one who believes.  Added to this by the conjunction, kai, is the same form above for a “believing one”.  Whoever is a living being and is a believing one at that shall not ever die, or shall never die.  The Greek here is a strong double-negative, hence the translation “never”.  It is emphatic.  To conclude, Jesus asks in essence whether or not Martha is a believing one.  “Do you believe this?”  “Are you a believer in what I am saying to you?”

With syntax, we may also note the placement of the words in the written text.  “Believing” (the verb is, pisteuo) occurs in two forms.  The first is in the participle form which is used twice.  The second is in the Present Active Indicative used once at the end, “do you believe?”  We may infer from this that John’s emphasis is on belief, or in what (or who) one believes.  In fact, the condition of living again and never dying is based in what (or who) a person believes.  It’s important to get that right!

Also to be noted is that we see what is called a Chiasm.  Spotting this may help in defining what Jesus means by these words.  The chiastic structure is formed by placing “believing” and “living again” in the first part followed by “living and believing”.  Thus, “believing” (A) and “living again” (B); “living” (B`) and “believing” (A`).  ABB`A`.  This is a classic and often used literary unit.  There is also “die” (A) and “never die” (A`). 

The second part of dissecting any given passage in the Scriptures (or in any literary work for that matter) is to note the context.  In this passage, the context is the death of Lazarus, the despair of Martha, and the proclamation of Jesus in light of this.  Lazarus was a true believer in Jesus, as was Martha.  Martha expresses her faith in saying, “I know he will live again in the resurrection in the last day”.  This is an extraordinary phrasing on John’s part.  “I know he will live again (anistemi in the Future Indicative, literally, stand again) in the resurrection (anastasis) in the last day.”  Jesus then says, “I am the Anastasis.”  That there is to be “the resurrection” in the last day is made plain in John 6.39-ff, where Jesus states that all shall be raised.  The same participlian form “the one who believes” (6.40) is promised to be resurrected “in the last day”.  Martha is affirming what she heard the Master already teach.  Since Lazarus was dead, he would stand again in the resurrection in the last day because he believed when he was living.

The context, then, should inform us as to the meaning of these words before us.  Jesus, in fact, said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (11.23).  These were words of comfort.  When informed that Lazarus was ill, Jesus replied, “this illness is not for the purpose of death (pros thanaton), but for the glory of God” (11.4).  Later, Jesus realized that Lazarus had “fallen asleep” (11.11), a euphemism for the recline of the dead body, or “laying to rest” of the body.  “Lazarus is dead” (where the verb, apothnesko is used).  We can be informed from the context, then, that “die” in the phrase “though he die” means actual death.

When Jesus said he is The Resurrection and the The Life and that the death of Lazarus was not for death (though death happened), but for the glory of God, the raising of Lazarus from the dead is meant to illustrate the power of Jesus to the glory of his father.  Jesus had not yet died, either, but yet had power to raise the dead.  In the exchange with Martha, however, it is “the resurrection in the last day” that comes into focus.  The resurrection of Lazarus, which was now to occur, was not “the last day”.  “All” that are given to the Son shall be raised on that day (6.39).  Lazarus’ resurrection, then, is meant to illustrate something else.  We may also note that Lazarus had been dead for four days (11.17).  He was not “raised” in his final or last day (some think the resurrection occurs when a person dies and their soul goes to heaven.  But, that is not what resurrection means).  Lazarus will be raised with the “all” who are given to the Son “in the last day”, and clearly, the day that Jesus raised him was not that day.  Martha affirmed such.  Jesus acknowledges her faith (belief) and proclaims to her, “I am the resurrection, Martha.”

We are now prepared for the final analysis of our passage.  Speaking to Martha, Jesus said, ‘those who believe me in, that is, believe in me before they die (like Lazarus here before us), even though they die, will live again.  Whoever is now living and believes in me before they die, they, when raised again, shall not ever die, ever.  Do you believe in this, Martha?’  We know the answer.

Believing must occur before a person dies.  It is no contention that “though he dies” means actual death.  The Future Indicative “he will live” refers to the anastasis (stand again) which will happen “in the last day.”  This is made plain in the chiasm that “will live again” (Future) is followed by the Present participle, “the one who is living”.  The Present participle  for those who now believe is the same application to those presently alive before they die.  “The one who lives” is contrasted with “though he die”.  Right now, as living ones, be also believing ones and if you are believing ones, though you will die (and not be “living” any more), you will be raised and live again and you will never die again.  Unlike Lazarus who, even though raised from the dead, died again later on (and this is the point), there is coming the time, the last day, when I will raise up those who believed in me before they died, and these shall not ever die again.  If you believe in Jesus, you believe in the Resurrection, the One who will raise the dead unto immortal life, eternal life.  When asked if Martha believed this, she answers, “Yes, Lord!  I have believed and still do (Perfect Indicative of pisteuo) that you are Messiah, the Son of God, the Coming One who comes (Present participle) in the world.”

The contrast in this passage is on those “living” (“the living”) and the fact that Lazarus is not living.  “Lazarus is dead.”  Yet, because we know that Lazarus was a “believer” he is promised to be raised “in the last day” together with “all those who believe in me.”  Martha affirms this doctrine.  This affirmation – her faith in the Messiah, the Coming One (who has come and is before her) – is displayed in what she knows Jesus will do (raise the dead in the last day).  Since she is utterly convinced that He is the One who will do this in the last day, then he can demonstrate even raising Lazarus from the dead, even though such a miracle is temporary, for Lazarus will die again.  “Even now (nun) I know that God will give you whatever you ask” (11.22).  Before the time of the last day when the dead are raised, even now – before that time – Jesus can raise Lazarus so that they may be with him among “the living” for a little more time.  More or less, Martha is saying, “I know that he will be raised to immortality in the last day, but can I see him again right now, because I know who you are, and what you can do, and what you will do on the last day.”  Martha’s faith is wondrous.

John has given us a glimpse of what resurrection is.  “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice” (5.28).  When? “In the last day” (6.39-ff).  Thus, before that hour comes, the “living and believing”, those who not just live their lives until death, but who live their lives believing in Him, will also die.  But, they will be raised immortal.  If “living” means bodily life in the here and now, then bodily life is what is to be expected when finally raised to life immortal.