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Pluralism and Acts 17

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  • Pluralism and Acts 17

    In a Civics thread, there was a discussion over whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. While I'm not looking to focus on that question here, it did give me an opportunity to bring up Acts 17, which has Paul's speech at the Areopagus. Acts 17:23 in particular, at least at face value, seems to imply that Paul says that people were unknowingly worshiping God. People who like to promote pluralistic or inclusivist views like to invoke this verse, and understandably so. However, to me, it seems like Paul is using that more rhetorically and isn't entirely clear that he was giving partial approval of their religious practices. (When Paul says that he sees they are very religious in verse 22, it seems clear that he says that rhetorically, not to approve of their practices.)

    Thoughts?
    "I am not angered that the Moral Majority boys campaign against abortion. I am angry when the same men who say, "Save OUR children" bellow "Build more and bigger bombers." That's right! Blast the children in other nations into eternity, or limbless misery as they lay crippled from "OUR" bombers! This does not jell." - Leonard Ravenhill

  • #2
    Yes, Paul was looking at people who did not want to miss out on worshiping a god they did not know about. He used it more or less rhetorically to lead up to the true God they did not know.
    Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

    Comment


    • #3
      Whether people are worshipping the "same God" is always a highly subjective question. There's no real way to answer it well. And frankly the answer is sort of irrelevant anyway because the Bible says that without Jesus, one does not have the Father either.

      I think a distinction might be made between the relationship of the gods of Christianity and Islam -- both of which are well-defined and involve specific important differences -- versus the relationship of the God of Christianity and the Unknown God. The God of Christianity was well defined, but the Unknown God was not. So theoretically the Unknown God could apply to anyone. Paul could thus say that God was the Unknown God, but in contrast, presumably Paul would not say that God and Ares were the same.
      Last edited by Obsidian; 11-16-2014, 12:39 AM.

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      • #4
        Paul does not say "You worship someone you call Zeus, but actually you're worshipping my God under a different name".

        Comment


        • #5
          It's the same as American Missionaries who observed that American Indians were worshiping a spirit god, and pointed them to Jesus.

          I agree with Obsidian -- Jesus is the key, for He said nobody comes to the Father except through Him.
          "Neighbor, how long has it been since you’ve had a big, thick, steaming bowl of Wolf Brand Chili?”

          Comment


          • #6
            There are certain aspects of the Islamic "Allah" which are fundamentally at odds with the God of Christianity. Primarily things like lying[1], hatred of Jews(this came later in Mohammed's career), and even commanding others into idolatry.


            1. Remember how the unbelievers schemed against thee, to keep thee in bonds, or to slay thee, or get thee out (of thy home). They scheme and plot, but the best of schemers is Allah. S. 8:30

            And those before them did indeed scheme (makara), but all scheming (al-makru) is Allah's; He knows what every soul earns, and the unbelievers shall come to know for whom is the (better) issue of the abode. S. 13:42

            The translated term for "schemers" is indicative of one who is actively deceiving others. Allah even did this to his own followers.

            When Allah showed them to you in your dream as few; and if He had shown them to you as many you would certainly have become weak-hearted and you would have disputed about the matter, but Allah saved (you); surely He is the Knower of what is in the breasts. And when He showed them to you, when you met, as few in your eyes and He made you to appear little in their eyes, in order that Allah might bring about a matter which was to be done, and to Allah are all affairs returned. S. 8:43-44 Shakir

            2."Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews." -- Sahih Muslim 6985

            Q. 5:12-13 “Allah made a covenant of old with the Children of Israel… And because of their breaking their covenant, We have cursed them and made hard their hearts. They change words from their context and forget a part of that whereof they were admonished. Thou wilt not cease to discover treachery from all save a few of them.”

            3.And when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a viceroy (khaleefatan) in the earth, they said: Wilt thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, we hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee? He said: Surely I know that which ye know not. And He taught Adam all the names, then showed them to the angels, saying: Inform Me of the names of these, if ye are truthful. They said: Be glorified! We have no knowledge saving that which Thou hast taught us. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Knower, the Wise. He said: O Adam! Inform them of their names, and when he had informed them of their names, He said: Did I not tell you that I know the secret of the heavens and the earth? And I know that which ye disclose and which ye hide. And when We said unto the angels: Prostrate yourselves before Adam, they fell prostrate, all save Iblis. He demurred through pride, and so became a disbeliever. And We said: O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden, and eat ye freely (of the fruits) thereof where ye will; but come not nigh this tree lest ye become wrong-doers. But Satan caused them to deflect therefrom and expelled them from the (happy) state in which they were; and We said: Fall down, one of you a foe unto the other! There shall be for you on earth a habitation and provision for a time. Then Adam received from his Lord words (of revelation), and He relented toward him. Lo! He is the relenting, the Merciful. We said: Go down, all of you, from hence; but verily there cometh unto you from Me a guidance; and whoso followeth My guidance, there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve. S. 2:30-38 Pickthall

            Having Allah command anyone to worship some mere human is clearly idolatry.

            There's a really good article on this subject here.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Cerebrum123 View Post
              There are certain aspects of the Islamic "Allah" which are fundamentally at odds with the God of Christianity. Primarily things like lying[1], hatred of Jews(this came later in Mohammed's career), and even commanding others into idolatry.


              1. Remember how the unbelievers schemed against thee, to keep thee in bonds, or to slay thee, or get thee out (of thy home). They scheme and plot, but the best of schemers is Allah. S. 8:30

              And those before them did indeed scheme (makara), but all scheming (al-makru) is Allah's; He knows what every soul earns, and the unbelievers shall come to know for whom is the (better) issue of the abode. S. 13:42

              The translated term for "schemers" is indicative of one who is actively deceiving others. Allah even did this to his own followers.
              For argument's sake, couldn't one point to the Bible's examples of God thwarting, say, Israel's enemies, or even Satan himself, not necessarily by deception, but by not giving his full hand away (here I think of salvation through the cross that was a mystery until Christ's resurrection)? There's also Jesus telling the disciples to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, and Paul's statement that God's ways are foolishness to the world's wisdom.

              3.And when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am about to place a viceroy (khaleefatan) in the earth, they said: Wilt thou place therein one who will do harm therein and will shed blood, while we, we hymn Thy praise and sanctify Thee? He said: Surely I know that which ye know not. And He taught Adam all the names, then showed them to the angels, saying: Inform Me of the names of these, if ye are truthful. They said: Be glorified! We have no knowledge saving that which Thou hast taught us. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Knower, the Wise. He said: O Adam! Inform them of their names, and when he had informed them of their names, He said: Did I not tell you that I know the secret of the heavens and the earth? And I know that which ye disclose and which ye hide. And when We said unto the angels: Prostrate yourselves before Adam, they fell prostrate, all save Iblis. He demurred through pride, and so became a disbeliever. And We said: O Adam! Dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden, and eat ye freely (of the fruits) thereof where ye will; but come not nigh this tree lest ye become wrong-doers. But Satan caused them to deflect therefrom and expelled them from the (happy) state in which they were; and We said: Fall down, one of you a foe unto the other! There shall be for you on earth a habitation and provision for a time. Then Adam received from his Lord words (of revelation), and He relented toward him. Lo! He is the relenting, the Merciful. We said: Go down, all of you, from hence; but verily there cometh unto you from Me a guidance; and whoso followeth My guidance, there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve. S. 2:30-38 Pickthall

              Having Allah command anyone to worship some mere human is clearly idolatry.
              Again, just for argument's sake, couldn't someone argue that the act of prostration to Adam wasn't one of worship in the way it would be directed towards God, but simply an act of obeisance and honor to show submission to the one they were created to serve? In Hebrews 1:14 we read that the angels are "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation", and 1 Corinthians 6:3 says that we will judge the angels.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Adrift View Post
                For argument's sake, couldn't one point to the Bible's examples of God thwarting, say, Israel's enemies, or even Satan himself, not necessarily by deception, but by not giving his full hand away (here I think of salvation through the cross that was a mystery until Christ's resurrection)? There's also Jesus telling the disciples to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, and Paul's statement that God's ways are foolishness to the world's wisdom.
                But this is full on deception, even of those who believe in Allah, which is quite different.

                Again, just for argument's sake, couldn't someone argue that the act of prostration to Adam wasn't one of worship in the way it would be directed towards God, but simply an act of obeisance and honor to show submission to the one they were created to serve? In Hebrews 1:14 we read that the angels are "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation", and 1 Corinthians 6:3 says that we will judge the angels.
                However, that's not the sense in which the Quran, and ahadith use "prostrate".

                And he reviewed the birds; then he said, 'How is it with me, that I do not see the hoopoe? Or is he among the absent? Assuredly I will chastise him with a terrible chastisement, or I will slaughter him, or he bring me a clear authority.' But he tarried not long, and said, 'I have comprehended that which thou hast not comprehended, and I have come from Sheba to thee with a sure tiding. found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given of everything, and she possesses a mighty throne. I found her and her people prostrating to the sun, apart from God; Satan has decked out fair their deeds to them and he has barred them from the way, and therefore they are not guided, so that they prostrate not themselves to God, who brings forth what is hidden in the heavens and earth; and He knows what you conceal and what you publish. God: there is no god but He, the Lord of the Mighty Throne.' ... So, when she came, it was said, 'Is thy throne like this?' She said, 'It seems the same.' 'And we were given the knowledge before her, and we were in surrender, but that she served, apart from God, barred her, for she was of a people of unbelievers.' S. 27:20-26, 42-43

                And of His signs are the night and the day, the sun and the moon. Bow not yourselves to the sun and moon, but bow yourselves to God who created them, if Him you serve. S. 41:37

                Rather prostrate yourselves before Allah and serve Him. S. 53:62 Pickthall

                From the ahadith(there is a similar one in Sahih ibn Majah, as well).

                707)Chapter: The Rights That The Husband Has Over The Wife(41) باب فِي حَقِّ الزَّوْجِ عَلَى الْمَرْأَةِ
                Narrated Qays ibn Sa'd:
                I went to al-Hirah and saw them (the people) prostrating themselves before a satrap of theirs, so I said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) has most right to have prostration made before him. When I came to the Prophet (ﷺ), I said: I went to al-Hirah and saw them prostrating themselves before a satrap of theirs, but you have most right, Messenger of Allah, to have (people) prostrating themselves before you. He said: Tell me , if you were to pass my grave, would you prostrate yourself before it? I said: No. He then said: Do not do so. If I were to command anyone to make prostration before another I would command women to prostrate themselves before their husbands, because of the special right over them given to husbands by Allah.

                Here's an excellent article on the subject, and goes over the argument you are making in depth.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Oh, I didn't even know I was making an argument that Muslims already considered. Just seemed like one could make that argument. Interesting.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Adrift View Post
                    Oh, I didn't even know I was making an argument that Muslims already considered. Just seemed like one could make that argument. Interesting.
                    Yeah, basically anything you could think of to try and defend Islam has been done, and much of it's not too bright.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by KingsGambit View Post
                      In a Civics thread, there was a discussion over whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. While I'm not looking to focus on that question here, it did give me an opportunity to bring up Acts 17, which has Paul's speech at the Areopagus. Acts 17:23 in particular, at least at face value, seems to imply that Paul says that people were unknowingly worshiping God. People who like to promote pluralistic or inclusivist views like to invoke this verse, and understandably so. However, to me, it seems like Paul is using that more rhetorically and isn't entirely clear that he was giving partial approval of their religious practices. (When Paul says that he sees they are very religious in verse 22, it seems clear that he says that rhetorically, not to approve of their practices.)

                      Thoughts?
                      I think Paul speech is more applicable to people who do not hear the Gospel in their lifetime. If they do not hear, they can not be held responsible for having a relationship with Jesus. I think its somehow along these lines that God saves those who would worship Him if they had heard - and He is certainly omniscient enough to know who those would be.

                      This is certainly not a speech that I can apply to myself as I have heard the Gospel. Once you've heard the Gospel, ignorance is not an excuse.
                      "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6

                      "Theology can be an intellectual entertainment." Metropolitan Anthony Bloom

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Thoughtful Monk View Post
                        I think Paul speech is more applicable to people who do not hear the Gospel in their lifetime. If they do not hear, they can not be held responsible for having a relationship with Jesus. I think its somehow along these lines that God saves those who would worship Him if they had heard - and He is certainly omniscient enough to know who those would be.

                        This is certainly not a speech that I can apply to myself as I have heard the Gospel. Once you've heard the Gospel, ignorance is not an excuse.
                        I think that may well be correct, though of course we can't be dogmatic about the implications - I've never been too comfortable about speculation about what exactly happens to those who have never heard, because I think the only real answer is "make sure more people hear".
                        "I am not angered that the Moral Majority boys campaign against abortion. I am angry when the same men who say, "Save OUR children" bellow "Build more and bigger bombers." That's right! Blast the children in other nations into eternity, or limbless misery as they lay crippled from "OUR" bombers! This does not jell." - Leonard Ravenhill

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Thoughtful Monk View Post
                          I think Paul speech is more applicable to people who do not hear the Gospel in their lifetime. If they do not hear, they can not be held responsible for having a relationship with Jesus. I think its somehow along these lines that God saves those who would worship Him if they had heard - and He is certainly omniscient enough to know who those would be.
                          He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Paprika View Post
                            He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.
                            But the latter stipulation remains a hypothetical because nobody actually meets these criteria.
                            "I am not angered that the Moral Majority boys campaign against abortion. I am angry when the same men who say, "Save OUR children" bellow "Build more and bigger bombers." That's right! Blast the children in other nations into eternity, or limbless misery as they lay crippled from "OUR" bombers! This does not jell." - Leonard Ravenhill

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by KingsGambit View Post
                              But the latter stipulation remains a hypothetical because nobody actually meets these criteria.
                              Yes, that is one standard interpretation of the extract.

                              Comment

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