By Olen Holderby
On his second preaching tour Paul, from Troas, crosses the Aegean Sea to the continent of Europe (Acts 16:90. Following his famous work at Philippi, Paul passes to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1), the modem city of Salonica. It was here that Paul and his company were accused of treason (Acts 17:7). From there Paul and Silas were sent, by night, to Berea (modern Verria), where they find the noble people there willing to search the Scriptures daily. However, the Jews managed an uproar there which led to Paul’s being conducted to Athens (Acts 17:15). In Athens he saw a “city wholly given to idolatry,” there he encountered the Stoics and Epicureans, there he preached Jesus and the resurrection from the dead, and the Athenians expressed the wish to hear more of what he had to say (Acts 17:16-21).
Paul begins his speech in verse 22, by telling them “that in all things ye are too superstitious.” Some translate this “too devotional,” while others say, “too religious,” or “very religious.” Originally, the word “superstitious” referred to demon worship. While the word may be used in a kinder way, it is not necessary to so use it here. The Athenians could have taken this in a complimentary way, since they did worship a plurality of gods (demons).
The extent of their devotions is seen in verse 23. They were not satisfied to worship what they perceived that they could identify by name, but had erected an altar to “The Unknown God.”
The point that Paul is making in this verse is that there will be no reason to worship him ignorantly anymore, because Paul is going to declare that God unto them. There will remain no reason for him to be unknown to them.
Verses 24-25, offer a contrast between the gods whom they had been worshipping and that “Unknown God.” Here was the God that made and sustains the world (Coll :16-17). He was not made with human hands, nor could he be worshipped with those hands. He is the God that gives life and breath to all (Job 34:14-15).
The all-sufficiency of this one God is, also, seen in this statement, erasing any need for dependence upon other gods.
Verses 26-29, show the closeness of this “Unknown God” to his creatures; thus, there is no reason for him to be”unknown,” (see Psa.19:1-3). He has made and deter-mined the bounds of all inhabitants of the earth, he is not very far from us, we are his offspring, and we are to seek after Him.
Verse 29, offers, to those Athenians, a challenging argument. Look at yourselves, says Paul; you are his offspring! Why, then, would you think of God as being made of gold, silver, or stone; and, all of this fashioned by man’s hands?
The Athenians needed only one “altar.” Indeed they were “too superstitious,” in that worshipped a plurality of gods, instead of just the one true God. I wonder, are we “too superstitious,” or “too devotional,” in exactly the same sense?
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 24, p. 13
December 15, 1994