Posted by: chuckbumgardner | May 7, 2012

Greco-Roman Religious Practices in Acts

In the introduction to his The Religious Context of Early Christianity: A Guide to Graeco-Roman Religions (Fortress, 2003), Hans-Josef Klauck has a good summary paragraph of Greco-Roman religious practices (broadly speaking) referenced in Acts:

In Samaria, the first missionaries meet a man called Simon, whom Luke portrays as a magician (Acts 8:9) but whom the early Church fathers see as an ancestor of gnosis.  The Ethiopian whom Philip baptises (8:26-40) and the centurion Cornelius in Caesarea (10:1-48) were already open vis-a-vis Judaism.  Herod Agrippa puts on mannerisms that fit the cult of rulers (12:21f).  The proconsul Sergius Paulus on Cyprus has a Jewish magician and (perhaps) astrologer  at his court (13:4-12).  In Lystra, Paul and Barnabas barely escape from the plan of the priest of ‘Zeus outside the city’, viz. a ceremonial sacrifice of a bull to them (14:11-18).  In Philippi, Paul encounters a girl with a spirit of augury (16:16-18).  In Athens he is enraged at a city that is full of the images of idols, he holds discussions with Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, he discovers an altar to the ‘unknown God’, and comes suspiciously close to the Stoa in the words he uses in his sermon (17:16-34).  In Ephesus, where Jewish exorcists try their luck with the name of Jesus, the believers are filled with repentance and burn their books of sorcery, while the silversmiths present a united front in the name of the great goddess Artemis in their attack on Paul (19:11-40).  The inhabitants of Malta begin by looking on Paul as one cursed by the goddess of vengeance, and then acclaim him as a god (18:1-6).  We meet the language of the mystery cults — to cast our net a little wider — in 2 Cor 12:4, in Phil 4:12, in 2 Pet 1:16, and possibly in Col 2:18, since 2:8 also speaks in a polemical context of a philosophy.  Finally, the Pastoral Letters attack a ‘gnosis that is falsely given that name’ (1 Tim 6:20).



  1. […] Context of Early Christianity: A Guide to Graeco-Roman Religions (Fortress, 2003).  (see “Greco-Roman Religious Practices in Acts“)  Read the introduction on Amazon.  He quotes Wettstein approvingly thus: “Another […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: