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.

Author: Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.

Samuel M. Frost has gained the recognition of his family, peers, colleagues, church members, and local community as a teacher and leader.  Samuel was raised in the Foursquare Gospel tradition and continued in the rising Charismatic Movement of the early 1980’s.  While serving in local congregations he was admitted to Liberty Christian College in Pensacola, Florida where he lived on campus for four years earning his Bachelor’s of Theology degree.  It was there under the tutelage of Dr. Dow Robinson (Summer Institutes of Linguistics), and Dr. Frank Longino (Dallas Theological Seminary) that he was motivated to pursue a career in Theology.  Dr. Robinson wrote two books on Linguistics, Workbook on Phonological Analysis (SIL, 1970) and Manuel for Bilingual Dictionaries: Textbook (SIL, 1969).  It was under these teachers’ guidance that Frost entered into his Master’s studies, being granted a scholarship for Greek I and II at Pentecostal Theological Seminary, accredited, in Cleveland, Tennessee (adjunct of Lee University).  Frost completed his study under Dr. French Arrington, who used the text of J. Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners. Frost studied Hebrew for two years under Dr. Mark Futato (author, Beginning Biblical Hebrew, Eisenbrauns, 2003) and Dr. Bruce K. Waltke (author, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Eisenbrauns, 1990) at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida. With combined credits from PTS and RTS, Samuel completed his Master of Arts in Christian Studies and Master of Arts in Religion from Whitefield Theological Seminary in Lakeland, Florida under the direct tutelage of Dr. Kenneth G. Talbot, co-author of the well reviewed work, Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism (Whitefield Media, 2005) with Dr. Gary Crampton (and Foreword by the late, Dr. D. James Kennedy).  Dr. Talbot also oversaw Samuel’s Dissertation, From the First Adam to the Second and Last Adam (2012) earning him the Magister Theologiae (Th.M.) degree.  He also helped put together A Student’s Hebrew Primer for WTS and graded exams in Hebrew. Samuel’s studies lead him into an issue in the field of Eschatology where his scholarship and unique approach in Hermeneutics garnered him recognition.  Because of the controversial nature of some of his conclusions, scholars were sharp in their disagreement with him.  Frost’s initial work, Misplaced Hope: The Origins of First and Second Century Eschatology (2002, Second Edition, 2006 Bi-Millennial Publishing), sold over four thousand units.  While arguing for the Reformation understanding of sola Scriptura as defined by the Westminster Confession of Faith, Frost’s book launched a heavily footnoted argument for a total reassessment of the doctrine known as the Second Coming of Christ.  The conclusion was that the events of the war of the Jewish nation against their Roman overlords in 66-70 C.E. formed the New Testament authors’ eschatological outlook, and went no further than their own first century generation; a view otherwise known as “full” or "hyper" Preterism.  Internationally recognized Evangelical author and speaker Steve Wohlberg remarked, ‘On the “preterist” side today…we have such influential leaders as Gary DeMar, Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., David Chilton, R.C. Sproul, Max King, James Stuart Russell, Samuel M. Frost, and John Noe.  To these scholars…the beast is not on the horizon, he’s dead” (Italics, his)” (End Time Delusions, Destiny Image Publishers, 2004, page 133).  It should be noted that only Noe, King and Frost supported the “full” Preterist position. Thomas Ice and co-author of the best selling Left Behind series, Tim LaHaye, quote Frost’s work, Misplaced Hope, as well in their book, The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming under Attack (Harvest House Publishers, 2003, page 40).  Dr. Jay E. Adams, who single handedly launched “a revolution” in Christian Counseling with his work, Competent to Counsel: An Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling, (1970, Zondervan), also wrote an analysis of Frost’s work in Preterism: Orthodox or Unorthodox? (Ministry Monographs for Modern Times, INS Publishing, 2004).  Dr. Charles E. Hill, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, wrote of Misplaced Hope that Frost, “attacks the problem of the early church in a much more thoroughgoing way than I have seen” (When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyper Preterism, Ed. Keith Mathison, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2003, ‘Eschatology in the Wake of Jerusalem’s Fall’ p. 110-ff.).  There were several other works as well that took the scholarship of Frost seriously, like Ergun Caner in The Return of Christ: A Premillennial Perspective, Eds., Steve W. Lemke and David L. Allen (B&H Publishing, 2011). Because of the controversial nature of Frost’s conclusions on these matters, it was difficult to find a denomination within the Church-at-Large to work in terms of pastoral ministry.  That situation changed when Samuel was called by a Bible study group in Saint Petersburg, Florida to found a congregation.  Christ Covenant Church was established in 2002 operating under the principles outlined by Presbyterian historian James Bannerman’s work, The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church (Banner of Truth Trust, 1974, original, 1869).  By-Laws and a Constitution were drawn up in the strictest manner for what was considered an “Independent” establishment of a Presbyterian Church, granted that a “call” was received and recognized by Presiding Elders duly ordained from existing and recognized denominations.  Two Elders, one ordained in the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Mike Delores), and another ordained in the Presbyterian Church of America (Dr. Kelly N. Birks, now deceased) tested and reviewed the call, ordaining Samuel on October 20th, 2002, the Twenty Second Sunday after Trinity.  Proper forms were submitted to Tallahassee, Florida with the stamp of a Notary Public Witness.  Christ Covenant Church (CCC) functioned as a local church for five years with a congregation as large as 30 members.  Frost was gaining recognition after Misplaced Hope had been published in January of that year, and conferences were hosted that included debates with another prominent "full" Preterist educator, Don K. Preston.  CCC hosted best-selling authors, Thomas Ice, and Mark Hitchcock from Dallas Theological Seminary; and Dr. James B. Jordan (Westminster Theological Seminary), well-known author/pastor in Reformed theological circles.  Frost was invited for the next several years to speak at over 25 conferences nation-wide, was featured in articles and an appearance on local news in Tampa for one of CCC’s conferences.  The Evangelical Theological Society also invited Samuel to speak at the Philadelphia conference (Frost is currently a Member of ETS as well as Society of Biblical Literature). During this time Samuel had submitted one more book, Exegetical Essays on the Resurrection of the Dead (TruthVoice, 2008; repr. JaDon Publishing, 2010); and co-wrote, House Divided: A Reformed Response to When Shall These Things Be? (Vision International, 2010).  Frost also wrote several Forewords for up and coming authors who were influenced by his teaching materials, as well as cited many times in books, lectures and academic papers.  However, because of certain aspects of Hermeneutics and Frost’s undaunted commitment to scholarship (with always a strong emphasis on the personal nature of devotional living to Christ), several challenges to the "hyper" Preterist view he espoused finally gave way, largely due to the unwavering commitment to Samuel by the Dean of Whitefield Theological Seminary, Dr. Kenneth G. Talbot, who continually challenged him.  In what shocked the "hyper" Preterist world, Samuel announced after the Summer of 2010 that he was in serious error, and departed the movement as a whole, along with Jason Bradfield, Assistant Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, Lakeland, Florida .  Christ Covenant Church had dissolved after 2007 while Samuel continued as a public speaker and writer, largely due to reasons that would unravel Frost’s commitment to "hyper" Preterism as a whole. The documentation of Frost’s departure was published by American Vision’s Founder, Gary DeMar, with a Foreword by Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry.  Why I Left Full Preterism (AV Publishing, 2012) quickly sold out its first run.  The book was later republished under the arm of Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry and is sold today (GoodBirth Ministries Publishing, 2019).  Dr. Keith Mathison, Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida, endorsed the book as well.  Samuel has gone on to write, Daniel: Unplugged (Kindle/Amazon, 2019); The Parousia of the Son of Man (Lulu Publishing, 2019); God: As Bill Wilson Understood Him, A Theological Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous (Lulu Publishing, 2017).  He is also active as a certified Chaplain with the Henry County Sheriff’s Department, Indiana, and enrolled with ICAADA (Indiana Counselor’s Association on Alcohol and Drug Abuse) working directly under Dr. Dennis Greene, Founder of Christian Counseling and Addictions Services, Inc.  Frost’s passion is in the education of the local church on various issues and occasionally works Pastor Alan McCraine with the First Presbyterian Church in Lewisville, Indiana where he periodically is called upon to give the sermon.  He also is working with Redemption Life Bible Church with Pastor Tyler Jackson in New Castle, Indiana.  Samuel, with his wife, Kimberly, helped to establish Heaven’s Bread Basket food pantry that donates food items to local families in need once a month – a ministry of the Session of First Presbyterian Church. Samuel has four children, one step-son, ages sixteen to twenty-eight and has worked part time at Ace Hardware in New Castle, Indiana for over five years.  He has a solid reputation in the community, and has performed marriages and funerals.  He also sits on the Board of the Historical Preservation Committee in New Castle.

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