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What One Must Know to be Saved: Athens

July 27, 2008

The most complete description in Acts of the gospel message as delivered to Gentiles is found in Acts 17, in the account of Paul teaching in Athens.

Here, Paul’s audience was quite different from those who heard his messages in the synagogues which we examined previously. Appropriately, his message was different as well. Paul began by making a connection between his message and their own culture and religion. He explained that God created “the world and everything in it” and is Lord over all that He made. He taught them that the duty of man is to reach out and find God. He pointed out the folly of their beliefs in gods made by human hands. And he called for repentance from their idolatry. Finally, he warned them that there would be a day of judgment through Jesus, who was raised from the dead.

It is striking how different this message was from those delivered in the synagogues. Here Paul was addressing an audience with fundamental ignorance of God and of the origins of man. Most of the instruction is about who God is and what he expects from man. Just at the end he introduced the idea of the resurrection and judgment.

Apparently only a few of these hearers were moved to respond to Paul’s message. Some of the audience wished to hear him again on the subject, and it seems likely that all who would eventually respond required further instruction before they would have sufficient understanding to believe in Jesus and thereby be saved. It seems that before one could have a saving belief in Jesus, some basic foundational understandings had to be taught as prerequisites:

1) There is only one true God, not made by human hands.
2) The true God created the world.
3) Man has foolishly disobeyed God, and needs redemption.

As an aside, notice that Paul also taught Gentiles in Ephesus that there is only one God.

However, even in this case, we see the instruction Jesus being raised from the dead and being appointed to preside over judgment. And we see a call for repentance. (Note that he also taught repentance to the Gentiles in Ephesus). But from what we learn in Acts 17, it appears that these Gentiles needed further instruction before they could have saving faith in Jesus.  

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