Paul’s Sequential Sermon (Acts 17:22-31)

The three-point sermon is standard fare and is considered the orthodox form in many circles. As a result, sequential outlines for Bible lessons or sermons are uncommon. But sermons by the prophets, apostles, or our Lord do not have the three-point structure. In recently reviewing Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill, I found its sequential form striking. The sequential layout of the sermon from Acts 17:22-31 appears below. My desire is that you see that sequence is a powerful tool in presenting the truth. I emphasize the conjunctions, which display the logical and sequential form of the sermon.

22-Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23-For (γὰρ) 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 (οὖν) 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 (οὐδὲ) 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 (τε) 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, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.

Yet (καί γε) he is actually not far from each one of us, 28-for (γὰρ) “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For (γὰρ) we are indeed his offspring.’

29-Being then (or therefore – οὖν) 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-Therefore (οὖν) having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31-because (καθότι) 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.

An outline of the text, based on the above breakdown, following Paul’s conjunctions, might look like the following.

1. The religious Athenians even recognize an unknown god (22-23).
2. Paul presents this unknown self-sufficient creator (23-25).
3. This creator made men and nations to seek him (26-27).
4. This seeking is possible since all men live in him and are made like him (27-28).
5. As a result, idolatry is foolishness (29).
6. So turn from your idols to the living Christ who is the judge of all (30-31).

Paul’s sermon drives toward a presentation of the resurrected Christ and a call to repent. The logic is sound, sequential, and powerful. Again, this sermon displays a sequential, not a three-point form. Because it challenges a hostile audience, Paul waits until his conclusion to drive home his main point. He shows us that sequence is a powerful tool in presenting the truth.

Finally, as Calvin rightly tells us, “Luke only briefly mentions the things that Paul discussed at length” (The Acts of the Apostles 14-28, 109). This summary accentuates the logic and wisdom of Paul’s argument. It emphasizes that sequence is indeed a persuasive tool in presenting the truth. For even within this hostile audience, although some mocked, others believed and joined with the apostle (Acts 17:32 and 34).

Denny Prutow

2019-10-06T19:39:47-05:00 October 14th, 2019|