Mar 15, 2011

Paul’s Speech in Athens (Acts 17:22-31)

Paul’s Athens speech has been widely studied and debated. Much of the debate has concerned whether it owes its origin to the Old Testament or to Greek philosophy. But it is possible that too much effort has been expended in trying to identify a clear-cut source to Paul’s thought since either source could be used to support Paul’s approach. The fact that the debate exists at all is probably a testimony to Paul’s ability to contextualize his message. In any case, the speech is rhetorically constructed [1] and literarily sophisticated. [2]

[1] Ben Witherington III, Acts, 518, suggests that, “The speech can be divided up as follows: (1) exordium, including captatio benevolentiae, vv. 22-23; (2) propositio, v. 23b; (3) probatio, vv. 24-29; (4) peroratio, vv. 30-31” (Ben Witherington, III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 518).
[2] “The speech is very carefully crafted with considerable alliteration, assonance, and paronomasia” (Witherington, Acts, 520). Krodel suggests that, “The whole speech is carefully balanced and its parts interrelated; e.g., ‘the times of ignorance’ (v. 30) relate to the introduction; ‘the man appointed judge’ (v. 31) is the counterpart to the ‘one’ (v. 26). There are two infinitives in the second as well as in the fourth part, and a total of three negative statements expressing divine objection in parts 1 and 3” (Gerhard A. Krodel, Acts, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament [Minneapolis: Augsburg , 1986], 329). Talbert suggest that the structure is chiastic (Charles H. Talbert, Reading Acts: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles [New York: Crossroad, 1997], 162).

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