16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, “What is this pseudo-intellectual trying to say?”
Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection.
19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you’re speaking of? 20 For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.
22 Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed:
TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.
Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it —He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. 28 For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Being God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.
30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him. But others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” 33 Then Paul left their presence. 34 However, some men joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
“Do it to cover all the bases.”
“Better do it just to make sure.”
“One more, just for grins.”
These sayings, although common in our language, don’t lend a great deal of confidence to the original course of action.
In ancient mythology there were many gods for many purposes. Some were for the crops, the sun, the moon, success in war, fertility, light, music, hunting, and the dead. There was even one goddess that was of both childbirth and the plague—what a winning combination!
There were literally hundreds of gods worshiped in and around Athens. There was a god for everything. If you could think of a problem, there was a god for it.
This brings us to a rather unusual verse 23 in Acts 17. As Paul was passing through, he came across an altar labeled “To An Unknown God.” At first glance, it seems odd that the altar is even there. How does someone worship something they can’t even define? Is it really necessary to have a just-in-case God?
And then, it hits me. There have been days, weeks, and sadly even some months of my life that I chose to serve an unknown god. Those days go by in a blur. Those weeks didn’t seem to happen. Those months flew by without me ever noticing the world around me. Because I was too busy or too focused on work, I didn’t know whom I was serving. I was just plodding my way through life.
Another translation of the latter part of verse 23 is “whom, therefore, knowing Him not, ye worship.” I’m worshiping someone and something every day. The choice isn’t whether or not to worship. The choice is where to place that worship.
Who is my God? Do I know whom I serve by my actions, by my time, by my money, and by my words? Is that clear to others, or am I a walking altar to an unknown god? Am I as ambiguous as the words written so many years ago on that altar?
God has very clearly shown us the purpose for our lives here on earth. In Ephesians 1:9, we’re reminded that He’s made known to us the mystery of His will. He is known.
We’re told in Hebrews 13:8 that He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever. There’s no need to cover all the bases by grabbing bits and pieces from different religions. He’s everything we need.
- There are idols all around us. Can you name those that are most tempting?
- What subtle, unknown god is pulling you away from God?
- The beginning of this passage includes the following phrase from verse 16: “…his spirit was troubled within him when he saw the city was full of idols.”
- Are you troubled that your community and friends are worshiping idols?