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Not Either/or But Both/and in Paul's Areopagus Speech

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Paul's Areopagus speech has long fascinated New Testament readers. Historical-critical issues have received the most attention as scholars focused on "the question whether the Paul who speaks here is the Paul of the letters." Investigations of narrational and rhetorical techniques have played a subservient role. This essay eclectically combines ancient and modern literary-critical methods in order to lift narrational and rhetorical matters out of their role of subserviency. A literary-critical investigation of the narrative of Paul in Athens allows us to appreciate better its subtlety and sophistication and suggests that historical and theological arguments both for and against the essential authenticity of the speech are based on inadequate reading strategies. Specifically, historical-critical scholars have failed to occupy the position of the implied reader when interpreting the Areopagus speech, a position that distinguishes between the oratees of the speech-a group of philosophically inclined pagans who are uninformed outsiders in relation to Christianity-and the narratee-Theophilus-who is an informed insider on the basis of his reading of Luke/Acts to this point. We often speak of the omniscient narrator, but in this case we would do well to speak of the omniscient narratee. This sets up a situation which the narrator fully exploits to create a highly entertaining reading experience. Much of that entertainment is derived from the deliberate use of double entendre, words and phrases which have one set of associations for insiders in the Christian movement, such as the orator, and another for outsiders, such as the oratees of the speech.

Affiliations: 1: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


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