Paul the Apostle was arguably the most learned among the Apostles. He had thorough knowledge of the Law and the prophets, being a Pharisee, and having grown in the lineage of Pharisees and religion piety Philipians 3:5. At a very tender age, Paul was put under the tutelage of Gamaliel Acts 23:6, one of the most renowned Jewish scholars of his time, a Pharisee and head of the Great Sanhedrin (Jewish council of elders) in Jerusalem. The Hillel school was noted for giving their students a balanced education, and likely giving Paul broad exposure to classical literature, philosophy, and ethics. Koine Greek was his first language, then Hebrew, and had great knowledge of stoic philosophy. One of his speeches that I find most notable, and that has influenced my life greatly is in Acts 17. From verse 18, he is debating with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens, and it is at this point he gives the famous Sermon at Mars Hill. With the mind of a scholar and philosopher, the sermon has an amazing start from verse 22.
Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things, you are very religious people, For as I passed by, and saw the objects of your worship; I even found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. This God you worship without knowing, it is him I declare to you.
The altar to the unknown God has a peculiar story behind it, and probably Paul was aware of it. It is said that there was a plague in the land, and having given sacrifices to all their idols, the disease persisted. In the council of the land, one wise philosopher stood to speak and opined that, since all their gods had not answered, they must assume that one, the plague was from a God who was angry with them, a God they did not know. If this plague was from that unknown God, then if they gave a sacrifice to him to appease his anger, the plague would definitely go away. Since they did not know his name, they would not presume who it was, and would therefore Just create an altar written “to the unknown God” and make their sacrifice. It is said after the sacrifice the plague dissipated and therefore the alter was left there for people to continue worshipping this God. Imagine how effective the words “This God you worship without knowing, it is him I declare to you” were in that set up. From verse 24 Paul goes on:
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth… 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, that they should seek God, and perhaps grope after him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being’: as even some of your own poets have said, “‘for we are indeed his children.
With the fact that he “determined the allotted periods and the boundaries of my dwelling place, that I should seek God, and perhaps grope after him and find him”, and that “he is actually not far from me, for in him I live and move and have my being’”, I am not surprised that I find his presence in everything I set my hands to do. Here is a little experience that reiterated this for me. I got stuck with a database user who, even after granting all privileges, could not perform some task. When I consulted the database documentation, at some point I had to reconfirm that I am not reading the bible. Here is how it went When an object is created, it is assigned an owner. The owner is normally the role that executed the creation statement. Psalms 24 now makes sense, right?
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, The world and all who live in it; For he created it on the seas And established it on the waters.
The special privileges of an object’s owner (i.e. the right to modify or destroy the object) are always implicit in being the owner, and cannot be granted or revoked (that sounds like a line from my BESTP class in college – The attributes of God). Do you remember Job saying:
If he snatches away, who can stop him? Who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’ (Job 9:12)
or Nebuchadnezzar when his sanity was restored:
He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” Daniel 4:35
And now, the mystery of incarnation, how God could be man:
Though the owners right are always implicit in being the owner, and cannot be granted or revoked, the owner can choose to revoke his own ordinary privileges for himself. Now, that right there is from Phillipians 2:6
Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
Now this was most confounding- For most kinds of objects, the initial state is that only the owner can do anything with the object. To allow other roles to do anything with the object, privileges must be granted. That right there reminded me about the words of Jesus to Pontius Pilate in John 19:10
Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.
As Philip Yancey would put it, that was “Finding God in the Most Unexpected Places” and as Paul further puts it in Romans 1:20
Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.