Paul’s speech to the Greek philosophers in Athens takes up a space of just 11 verses, yet it has occupied theologians and missiologists for decades. There is hardly a book on missions that does not use this story to support a variety of views on missiological theory and practice.

Back in 1974 when I first heard about contextualization, Acts 17:23-34 was one of a few verses used to justify the then novel theory of contextualization. Now the story is used to justify the approach that the Quran can be used as a bridge to the Bible.

Would Paul be pleased to be interpreted this way?

To adequately answer this question, we need to look at the normal pattern of the ministry of Paul.

The story begins back to Acts 13 in Antioch.

Paul and Barnabas were sent by the Holy Spirit on their first missionary Journey. Everywhere they went we find them in the Synagogue preaching and proclaiming the good news of Jesus(1).

From beginning to end Paul and Barnabas experienced opposition and hardships. Before their return to Antioch Paul was stoned and dragged outside the city and thought to be dead.

The speech at Areopagus occurred toward the end of the second missionary journey. This time Paul and Barnabas expanded their work much further reaching all the way to Athens. At one time in the journey, they were joined by Timothy and Silas. Again all along they faced violent persecution. Paul and his companions were beaten and jailed. When the persecution turned life threatening the brothers whisked Paul to Athens where he waited for Silas and Timothy to catch up with him.

In every city where Paul went, we do not see him backing off, slowing down, or softening his message. He continued to preach boldly fully aware of the dangers facing him. His third and even fourth missionary journeys were no different. Paul gives us the reason why: “I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” (Acts 20:23)

Amazingly after being beaten severely, Paul enters Athens, and again he begins to fearlessly and boldly “disputes” with the Jews and Gentiles alike in the synagogues and the market place.  He was unbending and unstoppable. He never waned in his zeal, nor was he curtailed by persecution.

As he waits for reinforcement from Silas and Timothy whom he left behind, Paul is seen walking around and finds something exceptional about Athens. It is filled with idols and shrines more than all the Greek cities he had visited before. Unlike many today who are fascinated by the Mosques in Muslim cities,  Paul is so distressed by them that we see him incensed and eager to change the atmosphere.  Acts 17:17 starts with the word “so.” He was distressed by what he saw, “so” he reasoned with the Jews and the Greeks in the Synagogue and in the market places.

The Greek philosophers heard about this man and they showed up in the market place to “dispute” with him. Notice their first impressions of him:

  1. They called him a babbler, not a compliment to his eloquence.
  2. They viewed him as one who was advocating foreign gods, namely Jesus.
  3. They found his teaching as “new”
  4. They accused him of “bringing some strange things.”

The Holy Spirit then puts this between brackets: (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)  So if they were accustomed to new ideas, why were they challenging him and disputing with him?

Let us examine what Paul did and did not do to draw accurate conclusions that are in line with the immediate and broader contexts of the story.

What Paul did:

1) Acts 17:16- Paul was disturbed by the idolatry. As he walked the streets of Athens, Paul was “greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Are we disturbed by all the mosques we see everywhere?

2) Paul brought a new and different message. “You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears.” (Acts 17:20) This shows that even before he delivered his speech, Paul was viewed as bringing something strange and different. They thought Jesus was a new god. They did not view him as starting from where they were.

3) Paul called the stoics and Epicureans demonic or superstitious (δεισιδαιμονεστερους, deisi-daimon-esterous; possessing a fear of demons).  There is no indication that he has affirmed their beliefs and used them as a bridge.

4) Paul called the Greek philosophers ignorant. He used the word “αγνοιας” (ignorant, not knowing) translated accurately in the KJV. “Now what you worship in ignorance, I am going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23) He later, in verse 30 said: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance….”

5) Paul took issue with their idolatry. Athens was filled with temples, yet Paul said, “the Lord… does not live in temples built by hands.” (V24) He had compassion on them yet was disturbed by, and attempted to correct their idolatry.  Many are fascinated with Islamic practices and the mosque. They even encourage converts  to remain in the mosque. Paul took issue with the Greek deities and idols. “we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone — an image made by man’s design and skill.” (Acts 17:29)

6) Paul called them to repent: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30) Here he tells them that their ignorance (notice here that the translation in the NIV is accurate. In Greek the word for ignorance is αγνωστω it is from the same root as αγνοιας in verse 23, above.) He called them to repentance from their ignorance and idolatry.

7) Paul introduced another new, strange, and contradictory teaching: The resurrection. “For he has set a day when he will judge the world by raising him from the dead.” (V31) Some of them responded by mocking him (V32). This was his one opportunity to win them to himself and open more dialog with them. Why would he cut to the chase and talk about something so controversial if he were a “Common Ground” strategist?

8) Paul had a mixed reception.

a) “Some of them sneered”

b) “…but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’”

c) “A few men became followers of Paul and believed.”

If Paul’s message was not confrontational and aimed at causing them to feel bad about their false religion, it would not be reasonable to expect repentance.

9) The story ends with a number of them actually believing and “following Paul” This can only mean that they joined the group he belonged to, namely the church. This is evidenced in the entire book of Acts from the day of Pentecost to the end of the book. He never encouraged people to remain in their dark system, be it Jews or Greeks.

What Paul did not do:

The analysis above shows us what Paul did. But it is equally important to consider what he did not do.

1) Paul did not approve of Greek philosophy. He did not encourage the Stoics and Epicureans to read their literature in order to find Jesus or to discover redemptive analogies in their literature. He quoted poets to introduce his biblical message. What he quoted was not extensive, and was probably common language. The writings of the poets are not the same as religious or sacred writings. Would Paul have quoted the Qur’an? Maybe, maybe not. If he did, he might only have quoted a short verse or two. My understanding of Paul causes me to think that he would not have quoted the Qur’an because it claims to be the word of God. The poets did not make such claim.

2) Paul did not use common ground to build bridges of trust. If Paul quoted a line or two from Greek poetry, he did so only to support his position not to give the impression that he approves “the truths” in their worldview. Some who promote an insider movement approach use this text to propagate an irenic approach to Muslims. Taken in its entirety, Paul’s speech was not irenic. On the contrary, though compassionate throughout, it was confrontational and polemic. He was correctional from beginning to end. He confronted their belief system on several fronts.

3) Paul did not claim to be one of the Stoic or Epicurean philosophers. He had a clearly different identity. They were confused about his teachings, but not about his identity. He did not pretend to agree with them on most issues that he raised. In fact, from the beginning to the end of his speech he was attacking their presuppositions about God, temples, Jesus and the resurrection.

4) Paul used a line from Greek poetry but he did not establish his arguments based on the body of philosophical literature. He argued only from the Bible. His speech contains messages about the Creation, God’s sustaining the universe, God’s sovereignty over his creation, God’s purpose in scattering the nations, God’s provision of salvation through Jesus Christ, the death and resurrection of Jesus. He further warned the Greeks from God’s judgement and called them to repentance. It is one thing to quote a verse or two from the Quran, it is another to quote a large number of verses. By doing so we run the risk of directly or indirectly validating the Quran, something Paul certainly would never do.

Conclusion:
The speech Paul gave at the Areopagus has been used to justify some missiological practices that are clearly not biblical. Paul has been made to say just the opposite of what he actually said in his speech. While he was compassionate toward the Greeks he never gave them the impression that their worship had any merit. He was clear that the philosophers worship out of ignorance and that God would not approve of their idolatry. He preached the message of Salvation in Christ alone and a number of them refused but others believed.

—-

1 Acts 13:5 “they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues.”

Acts 13:32 “We tell you the good news:”

Acts 13: 43 “many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas.”

 

 

Georges Houssney was raised in the predominantly Muslim city of Tripoli, Lebanon. He came to faith in Jesus Christ as a teenager. Soon God grew a deep love for Muslims in his heart, and he began to sense God's call for full-time service among them. Well-known for his work supervising the translation and publication of the Bible into clear modern Arabic, Georges and his family moved from the Middle East to the United States in 1982 to minister to international students. Georges is passionate about reaching internationals here and abroad with the great news of salvation. He writes and lectures internationally about ministry to Muslims, and he strives to awaken a new generation who will proclaim the gospel boldly. Georges is founder and director of Horizons International and does Muslim evangelism training through his training Engaging Islam.
Georges Houssney
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12 Responses to Analysis of Paul’s Acts 17

  1. Jim says:

    Carl, I appreciate you — don’t agree with you, but I appreciate your heart for the Muslims

    You say: “I don’t see any connection between Acts 17, idolatry and the “contextualization” issue.” Perhaps you are not aware that some (I don’t know how many) IMers use Acts 17 as the Scriptural basis for their ministry, and I believe Georges’ analysis of it is right on.

    You say: “In the end, this is an appeal to love.” I whole heartedly agree, but not to “believe all things” and I am sure you don’t mean that either. If a Muslim says to me “I believe in God” nor do I come back with “yeah, but he’s an idol” even though I know his god is in fact an idol… or a demon. Yes, “I believe him” that he believes in A god, which is quite different from dealing with an atheist or agnostic. And I also “go from there”. I tell him about my Daddy and how He walks with me and talks with me and tells me I’m His own. Usually within sight there is a Muslim father walking with his young child and I talk about that child who doesn’t have a care in this world because he is walking with his daddy. I talk about the loving relationship I have with my Daddy, God, which I know he does not have…YET. And I love him into the Kingdom.

    And it takes time. In one recent case it took six years, but we now have a new brother who does not call his God “Allah”.

  2. phild says:

    For further study of Acts 17 related to this discussion I recommend John Span’s article http://www.stfrancismagazine.info/ja/content/view/455/38/ I see that he also has an earlier post on this website on the subject from June 2010.

  3. Darrell, Thank you for your good words. May the Lord use this blog to guide many people to the biblical truth regarding Islam and its culture. You have a clear mind…. God bless.

  4. darrellwpackjr says:

    I think that George’s point is vital to keep in mind at two levels. First, our message is not one that corrects a Muslim’s image of God via didache (ta’leem or ‘aqeeda) but changes their relationship to God through proclamation of a gospel. A correct mental image of God’s characteristics is not the same as being in a correct spiritual standing with God. Paul’s Acts 17 message disabuses his listeners of some of their pagan ideas of God quite quickly, and on the standards of some IM advocates, even brutally. Second, culture cannot be given a controlling power in missiology or it will continue to exert undue influence in the convert’s ecclesiology. Sure, toss aside any Western or American cultural accretions in favor of Arab ones if they are helpful, but do not uncritically assume Islamic culture is neuteral. By the way. I am so glad this forum exists.

  5. Pierre Houssney says:

    Carl,

    First of all, Miroslav Volf is “not an IM guy”????? He studied and taught at Fuller Seminary, and works with Joseph Cumming at the Yale center for faith and culture (Yeah, that’s the same place you most likely got your “henotheism” line from- classic Joseph Cumming). And, as Salaam quoted, Volf thinks that “A person can be both a practicing Muslim and 100 percent Christian without denying core convictions of belief and practice.”

    If that’s not IM, then you’re just playing your semantic games again. Bill Clinton said “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”, and you will likely say “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘IM’ is.”

    But really, the henotheism stuff is a simple logical fallacy that ignores the obvious concept of a “false god”. Yes, there is only one God, but there are many false concepts of God, which the Bible calls “false gods”, “false idols”, and “so-called gods”.

    Here’s one useful example from Paul’s writings:

    “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. 5For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” 1 Corinthians 8:4-6

    As Paul so clearly states, the one true God is “the Father” of the “one Lord, Jesus Christ,” (the Son). Any concept of God that rejects God as the Father and Jesus as the Son is false, a so-called god. Islam is not just an “unclear” picture of the one true God, it’s a deliberate misrepresentation of the one true God, that directly contradicts every crucial element of salvation.

    The Bible uses terms for this: “false visions”, “false divination”, “false dreams”, “false prophets”, “false teachers”, “false apostles”, “false christs”.

    I don’t understand how you can claim that the characteristics of God according to Islam are “nearly identical”. So Jesus’ deity, Sonship, crucifixion, resurrection, and substitutionary atonement- what are those? Minor details? Everything on that list is diametrically opposed by Islamic theology. Without those things, there is no Gospel.

    Samuel Zwemer said that “With regret, it must be admitted that there is hardly an important fact concerning the life, person and work of our Saviour which is not ignored, perverted or denied by Islam.”

    That’s simply the truth. Believing that truth does not mean hating Muslims, and it doesn’t mean that we should disrespect them by throwing these facts in their faces. Rather, I choose to talk about Christ for who he is, for what he teaches, and for how he’s changed my life and saved me. When Christ shines, all else fades.

    8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 9The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

    2 Thessalonians 2:8-12

    When I talk to Muslims about God, I just talk about God. I don’t talk about “my God vs. your God”, and I don’t know anyone who does. I don’t say “yeah, but he’s an idol”, but I do talk about who God is according to the Bible, and that naturally leads to many points of contrast, which they will see, provided that I’m communicating clearly.

    Yes, Muslims often say “you have your religion, I have mine, it’s all the same”, but I’m sorry, it’s not the same, and it’s not helpful to agree with them on that. They’ve been taught that Islam is Religion Version 3.0, and that all the books and prophets before it confirm it. But that’s just not true.

    What’s the point of even saying we worship the same God? Whether it’s a different god or a different concept of God, the point is that we are introducing them to Christ, who will radically transform their concept of God so much that they will feel that they never had known God before they met Jesus, just like anyone else who comes to Christ. “I once was blind, but now I see.”

  6. Carl Medearis says:

    Hi, thanks for your gracious response. So much to say to it….

    First, where you ended: that it’s “simply not wise to pit theological precision against a passion for souls.” Wow, couldn’t disagree more with that. Do you think “theology” exists in a vacuum? Experience and missiology have always and will always drive our theology. The book of Acts (indeed the whole of the Bible) clearly outlines that. So not sure what you mean there – but at least MY theology is very much driven by actual experience (with the Holy Spirit, in following Jesus and in studying the Scripture). And part of that experience is my missiology. Therein lies the myth of this website “Biblical Missiology” as if you can simply read it as it is and then say yes or no. Don’t we all wish it were that simple. Jesus surely didn’t have such an interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. In fact, he often did the opposite of what it “clearly said.” I’m sure the Pharisees kept pointing that out to him. His “theological precision” was a bit off. :)

    Secondly, to your beginning – yes I am frustrated. I feel much of what is argued on this site is ineffective at best, and heresy at worst.

    And we’ve pinpointed the difference between us in the issue of God/Allah. If, as you are attempting to do, the deity of the Qur’an is an idol made up by Muhammad (or demons), then we can call all 1.6 billion Muslims “idolators.” Then we can throw missions at them in order to save them from their evil made-up idol deity called “Allah.” It changes the approach by 180 degrees.

    (I’ve said this several times here, but let me repeat – I believe that ALL humankind need a savior and his name is Jesus. The biblical risen Lord. All need him and a personal relationship with him – so let’s not get distracted thinking that I’m arguing for either universalism or inclusivism).

    Let me ask you – do Catholics and Jews believe in the “right god?” What about Anglicans? Liberal Lutherans? The wild-eyed version of snake-charming Pentecostals in the southern States? Or do they simply have an imperfect view of God? One that needs a real relationship with Christ, and an indwelling of the Spirit, to fix?

    Your analogy of the ancient Egyptian gods is interesting, for sure. I think I’ll use that (for other reasons). But it doesn’t apply to this discussion. Those gods were before Christ. No Egyptian 2000 years BC was thinking they were worshipping the same deity as we are. There was no comparison.

    Today, the vast majority of Muslims think this discussion is crazy. They think we worship the same deity. His characteristic are nearly identical (not 100%, I agree). They see him through a very dark glass, which is why they need the Holy Spirit. But that’s hugely different then saying “it’s a different deity.” There is simply NO good reason to say that. Not theological, historical or missiological.

    Finally, to the issue that other scholars agree with you – for sure some do (thus this conversation). I’ve had quite a few email exchanges with Mark Durie (along with Don Richardson and Bill Murray). And the St. Francis website is the same as this one – a collection of like-minded souls. Fair enough. Some VERY bright minds (and hearts, I’m sure) in this group. But I sure wouldn’t say it represents the current scholarship on the topic. I could give you a very long list of respected evangelical scholars who agree with me. I know you may feel you’re “holding the line on a very slippery slope” but it’s a moot point.

    In the end, what does it do to our missiology if you allow yourself to believe that “their god” is the same as “our God?”

    1. It will NOT in any way diminish their need for a savior. So we still all have a job! :)
    2. It will make your discussions much easier from the beginning.
    3. It allows us to say “since we all believe in the one true God, and we highly love and respect Jesus the Christ – let’s get started.” You can then dive into the Bible and pray with them and whatever you want, without arguing over who’s “god” is the right one.
    4. It humbles us – as if we KNOW the answers to such questions anyway.

    P.S. Throwing in guys like “Son of Hamas” or Ergun Caner or Kamal Saleem or Walid Shoebat is a mistake. I have a friend who got seriously ripped off by Wal-Mart and he now HATES everything about Wal-Mart. He talks against it wherever he goes. What would you expect from these guys. They’ve “converted to Christianity” and America. Of course they write against the “god of Islam.” Surely, you wouldn’t rest much of your argument on their stories. They are saying what a hungry American audience loves to hear – that Islam and Muslims are evil – and they should be afraid. Perfect fear is driving out love. Very sad to see….

    In the end, this is an appeal to love. To “believe all things.” If someone says to me “I believe in God” I don’t come back with “yeah, but he’s an idol.” I believe him. And we go from there. One step at a time towards the Jesus who was full of Grace and Truth and who calls all Muslims to Follow Him.

  7. Salaam Corniche says:

    Good day Carl.
    I pondered how to respond to your charge of henotheism. I could see you wrote that with a high level of frustration.
    Life has a way of unfolding answers in timely ways, and recently I was reading a book by John Currid, called Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament. Here are a few quotable quotes that described a supreme being:
    A. “he became, by himself”
    B. “and then___rested after he had created everything”
    C. “thou hast made the heavens and the earth”
    D. “the creator_____who raised up the sky”
    E. “had directed the stars placing them where they are”

    Now a superficial reading of each of these texts will tell you of course that these refer to the God of the Bible. Sorry, it is not so. Items “A” and “C” describe Re the sun God, “B” describes Ptah, “D” describes Khnum, and “E” describes Amon. It is as Currid observes, the Egyptians had their supreme beings, created in their own images, and that the Genesis account of creation is a direct polemic against these false gods, as was the throwing down the rod in front of Pharaoh, as well as the 10 plagues.

    As much as you object to a “my god is greater than your god” this is the theme of the Bible from front to back. Genesis 1 trumps the gods of Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Exodus does that for Pharaoh and Egypt, Elijah at Mount Carmel does that to Baal, Jesus does that to the “ruler of this world’ at the cross, and the eternal city the New Jerusalem trumps the gaudy prostitute-like god called Roma Eterna.

    Funny how each of these stories is highly contextualized. Currid does a thorough job at looking at Egyptian thinking and shows how YHWH torpedoes it. His conclusion was ” in ancient Near Eastern myth we do see some kernels of historical truth. However, pagan authors vulgarized or bastardized these truths…..(p. 32).

    Other studies show the same for Canaanite Baal worship. But you are not happy with that it seems, when the clock is moved forward to the present. Yet YHWH who is “crazy-jealous”–if I might stoop to such an anthropomorphism— for his own honor has and will defend it. My job as a theologian is to show how He has done that in context, and this will help us understand today’s realities including a critical look at Allah of Islam. In another context, Paul was examining the false gods at Athens–at considerable risk, I might add..

    Might, there be, Carl, a not so subtle attempt on your part to try to defend Allah, since recently, by Middle-East born, Arabic speakers like Wafa Sultan and the book, The Son of Hamas, some rather categorical statements at to Allah being “terrorist number one” or “the God who hates”—their quotes, not mine–are coming out.

    As to the allegation that only a few dinosaurs—to paraphrase you—still believe in a distinction between the YHWH of the Bible and Allah of Islam, I think you are quite wrong. Consider the following works:
    a. “Revelation” by Mark Durie—a very fair analysis of the differences between the Islamic and Biblical portrayals of Isa/Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the nature and character of YHWH and Allah.
    b. A piece in the St. Francis Magazine comparing and contrasting the “I AM’ of the Bible and Allah of Islam.

    (the bibliographies of these two recent works should be enough to convince any reader with eyes open, that these opinions are coming from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds including many Middle Easterners, various theological persuasions and are not some stone throwing exaggerations as could be alleged.)

    Carl, pitting theological precision and a passion for souls, against each other is simply not wise. Might I suggest you read Georges’ book to see if the two can live together?
    Still, what do you think of the observation of the Jewish men?

  8. Carl Medearis says:

    I don’t see any connection between Acts 17, idolatry and the “contextualization” issue. Do any of us think that idolatry is a good thing? Of course not.

    So that’s why I brought up Miroslav’s book. He is not exactly a contextualist or an “insider” proponent. He comes at the issue from a very orthodox Christian perspective (of course, if you don’t read it you won’t know that).

    The issue at hand is whether or not “Allah” is an idol or not. An argument that has long been put to bed by all but a few. To call the deity of the Qur’an an idol is silliness. I would say heresy. It’s called “Henotheism.” Which says “my god can beat up your god.” It’s a tribalistic view of one deity over another. As if there is a “Christian god” that is stronger than a “Muslim god.” There’s only one God. He is God of all, whether they see him clearly or not or come to him through Christ or not is altogether another issue – but it doesn’t diminish the fact that he is the one and only God.

    I think those who visit this forum feel like it’s “giving in” to some sort of theological slippery slope to say that Allah, the god of Islam is the one and only God. While it needn’t be seen that way at all. It’s not theologically fuzzy or universalistic in any way to say that. It has nothing to do with avoiding persecution (which always seems to be Georges’ biggest issue). It simply says that Muslims don’t see the one true God (called Allah in Arabic) correctly or completely. Neither do the Jews see him completely. And….by the way…neither do most Christians.

    So it Acts 17 is irrelevant to the discussion. Contextualization has nothing to do with idolatry.

    And many of the contextualists I know (including myself) have been persecuted severely. Are we going to have a “persecution contest?”

    Come on guys. Someone, anyone….think clearly. Why are you so obsessed with this stuff? I’d rather have you making Muslims into Southern Baptist and Presbyterians than watching you debate yourselves about such issues.

  9. Salaam Corniche says:

    Thank you Georges for engaging with the question I posed. I had hoped Carl, that you might do the same, as it seems pertinent to a discussion about the Areopagus, where the topic of an Unknown God was in the forefront.

    Georges I can see that like Paul you are deeply disturbed at the prospect of idolatry. This probably indicates a corresponding love for the Lord Jesus.

    As to the book, Carl, I can see from your comments and your Amazon review that you think that this is God’s final answer, or is it Volf’s, to the question about YHWH of the Bible and Allah of Islam? Great for you.

    But honestly is this a distraction from the question and the discussion at hand? Should we brush off the Jewish men who honestly have a lot closer ties to the OT than you or I do, so quickly, and maybe in doing so, say we value Muslim opinion on who God is slightly more?

    But just so you don’t think I am think or un-informed, I did read a rather in-depth review of the book on the Gospel Coalition website. Joel S., the author, is a bit less awestruck than you are with the book. He writes:

    http://tgcreviews.com/reviews/allah-a-christian-response/

    As the front cover and publisher’s blurb note, Volf believes, “A
    person can be both a practicing Muslim and 100 percent Christian
    without denying core convictions of belief and practice.” Volf cites
    two examples of this, an Episcopal priest who claimed to also have
    become a Muslim (195) and a Muslim-background believer who claimed his
    new faith in Jesus was compatible with valid interpretations of Islam
    (196).

    Volf, himself, kindly interacts on the blog as well, and works to clarify what he meant by the above quote from the publisher.

    Back to the idolatry item. I did a search on every instance of the phrase “other gods that you have not known” in their context, and voila, it is an indictment by YHWH against anyone–especially under the guise of religion, family or the pressure of power (see Deuteronomy 13)—to smuggle in any kind of competitor against him. Back to Volf, I will take the liberty to rephrase a direct quote from his book on page 1: “Christian responses to Allah – understood here as the God of the Quran – will either widen the chasm [between Christianity and Muslims–added by S.C.] or help bridge it” to say, ” Christian responses to YHWH–with some understanding Him as the God revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit—will either widen the chasm of apostasy against Him, or reveal those who are truly in covenant with Him.”

  10. Carl Medearis says:

    You really need to read Miroslav Volf’s new book called: Allah, A Christian Response.

    it is thoughtful, evangelical scholarship and brings every possible angle into the discussion. It will challenge your thinking, so if you’re not up for that, don’t read it. But if you are….

    I might even recommend him as a guest writer on this site. He’s not an IM guy and approaches the issue from theological, philosophical, etymological, historical and simply biblical perspectives. If nothing else, it’s a best-seller and you should keep up with what others are saying.

    Obviously my recommendation of it will make you suspicious, but other than that, get it anyway! :)

    carl

  11. Salaam,
    You touched on the most critical dilemma in the history of God and His people. I have written enough on the topic of idolatry to fill a medium sized book. The missionary community has been one track minded: CULTURE. They have elevated culture above anything else while still claiming to hold on to biblical soteriology (study of salvation).

    Yes in fact, culture has become the idol, golden calf of the missionary movement today.

    Similarities between the god of Islam and the God of the Bible are no different than the similarities between two identical twins. Though they may share common biological and physical traits, they are separate in essence. One of them is getting married soon and I assure you she would not appreciate her husband confusing her with her sister.
    This is the point the Jewish scholars are making that Jehovah is known by his people and no other god will do.
    God said about his people: I will be their God and they will be my people. Other people have other gods. He warns: you shall have no other gods but me.

    Are we so thick that we do not get it? I guess so. We are as thick and stiff necked as the people of God who called the golden calf: here is Elohim who brought you out of Egypt. (You have to read the Hebrew to know that several English translations did not translate it correctly.) When Aaron accepted the request for a manifestation of Elohim, he thought of the golden calf as a bridge to a stiff necked people. He made the calf and called it Elohim. Then he said.. today you worship the manifestation of Elohim in the form of a calf, but tomorrow you will sacrifice to the true Elohim. So unknowingly he promoted syncreticism. Read and study the story in Exodus 32 and you will see how today many missiologists have done the same with Allah.
    Lest I be accused of not knowing Arabic, Allah is the only word in Arabic for God. That however does not mean in Farsi, Turkish or any other language it is OK to use the word Allah. It is the Arabic word. Other languages have other words.

    Back to idolatry, God abhors idolatry.

    How about this? The Jews did worship the true one God Elohim, YAHWEH yet, Jesus bluntly told them that their father is the Devil. This aught to shock every missiologist who insists on equating the god of Islam with the God of the Bible. Why did Jesus say that? Back to your point: Jesus said to the Jews the reason why their father is not God but the devil is this: Then they asked him, “Where is your father?” “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
    (John 8:19)

    Indeed the difference between those who know God personally, belong to him, born of his Spirit and those who don’t is the difference between worshiping the true God or other gods.

    God, Elohim is the God of his people, those who have accepted his son and have entered into a personal relationship with the Father and the Son.

  12. Salaam Corniche says:

    George. Thank you for a clear exposition on a much abused passge.

    I am reading some notes from a couple of Jewish scholars on idolatry and I would like to know what you and your readers think about whether their definition and Paul’s in Acts 17 would lead one to think that Allah of Islam is an idol?
    Mosheh Halberṭal and Avîšay Margālît state:
    “the denunciation of idolatry in the Bible is often accompanied by the expression “other gods that you have not know.” In other words, what is lacking between those divinities and Israel is “knowledge,” [Hebrew yedi'ah], a term used to denote a personal and intimate relationship. As opposed to the worship of God, which has a historical or personal basis, the worship of other gods is characterized by a lack of history or relationship.” (Idolatry, 1992, p. 31)
    Based on their quote, and the fact that only through Jesus is God known, would it be correct to say that Allah the Unknown and Unknowable is then an idol?
    What do you think?

    Salaam

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