Growing up, I had limited experience interacting with people from other cultures. That all changed when I became a student at a university in Vancouver, B.C.—a city where fewer than half of the residents speak English as their first language. Surrounded by fellow students from unfamiliar cultures and worldviews, I was plunged into the role of the outsider. I quickly realized how difficult it was to communicate ideas when two people don’t share first languages, backgrounds or cultural reference points.
As I studied Paul’s teachings and letters in graduate school, I learned to appreciate why God selected him for the role of apostle to the Gentiles. A “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil 3:5) steeped in Old Testament traditions, Paul had to explain the gospel and its implications to people of mostly non-Jewish background. He was the perfect man for the task: Although raised a Jew, Paul was brought up in a Graeco-Roman context (e.g., Acts 21:39).
This background gave Paul an insider’s perspective into Graeco-Roman culture and the lives of those he was trying to reach. He engaged popular culture so he could better communicate the gospel.