Encountering World Religions: Acts 17:16–34
If we want to share the gospel with those of other religions,1 it is important to know what the Bible says about this. Paul’s speech to the Areopagus in Acts 17:16–34 is the classic text for sharing the gospel with those from different religious backgrounds. In order to engage with his audience in Acts 17, Paul uses the biblical meta-narrative of the Creation-Fall, redemption, and consummation.
Where Does Religion Come From?
Before looking at Acts 17, it is important to understand the origin of religion; in order to know the meaning of anything, we have to understand its origin. The origin of religion began in the Garden of Eden when God clearly revealed himself to Adam. However, Adam and Eve rejected that revelation and chose to believe a falsehood about Him. In this act of disobedience, they chose to follow Satan’s worldview over God’s worldview (Genesis 3:4–5). They created the first human religion, rejecting God’s perfect and true religion.
Adam’s disobedience had consequences for the rest of his descendants since it affected how they viewed God and creation.3 This can be seen at the event of the Tower of Babel, which was the beginning of the religious diversity we see in the world today (see Deuteronomy 32:8, 16–17, 21).4 At the Tower of Babel, monotheism devolved into polytheism, pantheism, and the worship of anything other than the one true, living God. When the people were dispersed at Babel, they would have taken with them a hybrid truth of the living God mixed with the twisting and distorting of the truth of that revelation about Him (Romans 1:18–32). Religion then is first of all a response to God’s revelation—it is either in faith or rebellion. It is either based on God’s Word or man’s word.