January 27, 2021

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

I have no idea what you’re talking about. In Acts 17 Paul isn’t referring to believers. He’s talking about human beings. All of them. The reason we know that “the divine nature” isn’t like silver or gold, the art of man, Paul argues, is because you can look at humanity, his “offspring”. In context, Paul is arguing for a relationship between God’s nature and our’s (springing from his) in which each possess divinity in some respect. By looking at his children (all humanity) we can know what God is like.

John Johnson repeats this flawed interpretation of Acts 17 to be saying humans are “Divine” in some respect. John doesn’t explain what that respect is.

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him 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 also are His children.’ 29 Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like “30 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

The unknown God isn’t the God of the Bible for several reasons. The shrine is meant to appease any deities they don’t know about. In the Ancient world, Deities controlled territories and elements. You wanted to appease them because it was thought that they would be hostile to you if you didn’t. The inscription is just to generally unknown deities.

Paul’s argument is that they worship these gods in ignorance. Paul asserts monotheism as the answer in contradistinction to polytheism and pantheism that floated amongst the Athenians.

Paul’s monotheism is grounded in the fact that God has created everything and therefore everything shares a common creator. The other is that God is “Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands“. God is the God of all creation.  That includes their false gods. Unlike pantheism, the world is created in Paul’s mind. This ties into the Apostle’s next point. That God isn’t dependant upon us for anything. If God creates everything and gives us everything, then what does he really need from us? In Ancient times, deities use to eat sacrifices provided to them.

The “ does not dwell in temples made with hands” is a pejorative against their thoughts. Similar to Isaiah’s thoughts and statements about idols.

Paul states that all humans have a common origin. That is different from the perspective of the greeks that thought men descended from different gods.

Contrary to the Athenians’ boast that they had originated from the soil of their Attic homeland and therefore were not like other men, Paul affirms the oneness of all people in their creation by one God and their descent from a common ancestor. And contrary to the primitive “deism” that permeated the philosophies of the day, he proclaimed that this God has determined specific times (prostetagmenous kairous) for humanity and “the exact places where they should live” (tas horothesias tēs katoikias, lit., “the boundaries of their habitation”), so that men and women “would seek him  … and find him” (v. 27). 28

Longenecker, Richard N.. Acts (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary) (Kindle Locations 10387-10392). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Since all human life is dependent upon God he also determines the time of our lives and where we are in our lives. This is also reminiscent of when God sets boundaries in the OT(DT. 32:9). But God does this so they can seek God because he isn’t far from them.

The quote is from a Greek poet and Paul is using to further his argument. Some think that it is being used to say that we are immanent in God’s “body”. A strange pantheism or panentheism. But commentators don’t think that that is the purpose:

The poet will have understood these words in a pantheistic sense, but Paul appears to have viewed them in the light of the image of God theology in Genesis 1:26–27 (see further below). He recognized that a search for God had been taking place in the Greco-Roman world, but condemned the result—the idolatry which was everywhere present and the ignorance of the true God which it betrayed (vv. 22–25). In short, he indicated that the search had been ineffective because of human blindness and stubbornness (cf. Rom. 1:18–32). Paul goes on to encourage a new seeking after God on the basis of his gospel about Jesus and the resurrection (vv. 30–31).

Peterson, D. G. (2009). The Acts of the Apostles (pp. 499–500). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

In any case, this is not a pantheistic formula, or one that expresses the immanence of human beings in God; it merely formulates the dependence of all human life on God and its proximity to him. J. Fitzmyer, Acts of the Apostles, 610.

The Stoics connected life with movement (the Prime Mover being God) and movement with being.

The en is an obvious example of the meaning “in the power of”; cf. Sophocles, Oedipus Coloneus 1443, tauta d’en to daimoni, and other examples given by Liddell and Scott. Begs. translates, “By him we live and move and are.”

God is not remote but accessible, so near as to constitute the environment in which we live, but in a personal sense. In Greek philosophical background the words will have had a pantheistic meaning, God being hardly anything other than our environment. The change is likely to have been made already in Jewish-Hellenistic use. G. K. Barrett, Commentary on Acts, 2:847-48.

Paul is not suggesting by the use of such maxims that God is to be thought of in terms of the god Zeus of Greek polytheism or Stoic pantheism. Rather, he is arguing that the poets whom his hearers recognized as authorities have at least to some extent corroborated his message. In his search for a measure of common ground with his hearers, he is, so to speak, disinfecting and rebaptizing the words of two Greek poets for his own purposes. Quoting these Greek poets in support of his teaching sharpened his message for his particular audience. But despite its form, Paul’s address was thoroughly biblical and Christian in its content. It is perhaps too strong to say that “the remarkable thing about this famous speech is that for all its wealth of pagan illustration its message is simply the Galilean gospel, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the tidings’” (Charles S. C. Williams, 206). Nonetheless, there is nothing in the speech that militates against Paul’s having delivered it or that is in genuine opposition to his letters.

Longenecker, Richard N.. Acts (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary) (Kindle Locations 10401-10408). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

The text from Aratus, as Paul uses it, recognizes the shared relationship all people have to God. It also makes a more subtle point when the remark about being God’s children is repeated in verse 29: we are God’s creation; we do not create him by making images of the gods (Witherington 1998: 530). Thus the remark does express Paul’s view in this limited sense (pace J. Schneider, TDNT 3:718–19, who argues that this is not Paul’s view but a mere missionary accommodation). Paul contextualizes the citation and presents it in a fresh light, setting up his critique. He takes a Greek idea of the “spark of the divine being” in us as tied to Zeus and speaks of being made as God’s children by the Creator, alluding to our being made in God’s image.

Bock, Darrell L.. Acts (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (Kindle Locations 12477-12482). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Paul supports this point before the Areopagus by showing that even pantheistic Stoics are aware of, and obliquely express, God’s nearness and man’s dependence upon Him. Epimenides the Cretan is quoted from a quatrain in an address to Zeus: “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a; interestingly, Paul quotes another line from this same quatrain in Titus 1:12). The phrase “in him” would have denoted in idiomatic Greek of the first century (especially in Jewish circles) the thought of “in his power” or “by him.” This declaration—”By him we live…”—is not at all parallel to Paul’s theology of the believer’s mystical union with Christ, often expressed in terms of our being “in Christ.” Rather, Acts 17:28 is closer to the teaching of Colossians 1:15-17, “in him were all things created…and in him all things consist.” The stress falls on “man’s absolute dependence on God for his existence,”[30] even though the original writing which Paul quoted had aimed to prove that Zeus was not dead from the fact that men live—the order of which thought is fully reversed in Paul’s thinking (viz., men live because God lives). Paul’s second quotation is introduced with the words, “as certain of your own poets have said.” His use of the plural is further evidence of his educated familiarity with Greek thought, for as a matter of fact the statement which is quoted can be found in more than one writer. Paul quotes his fellow Cilician, Aratus, as saying “for we are also his offspring” (from the poem on “Natural Phenomena,” which is also echoed in Cleanthes’ “Hymn to Zeus”). Paul could agree to the formal statement that we are God’s “offspring”. However, he would certainly have said by way of qualification what the Stoics did not say, namely that we are children of God merely in a natural sense and not a supernatural sense (John 1:12), and even at that we are quite naturally “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Yes, we can be called the offspring of God, but certainly not in the intended pantheistic sense of Aratus or Cleanthes! Knowing the historical and philosophical context in which Paul spoke, and noting the polemical thrusts of the Areopagus address, we cannot accept any interpreter’s hasty pronouncement to the effect that Paul “cites these teachings with approval unqualified by allusion to a ‘totally different frame of reference.’”[31] Those who make such remarks eventually are forced to acknowledge the qualification anyway: e.g., “Paul is not commending their Stoic doctrine,” and he “did not reduce his categories to theirs.”


Paul goes on in similar thought to that about “Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands”. That we shouldn’t think of the Divine Nature as “gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.“. Because they are products of man’s activity. The idols and temples are works of man. So, we know that God isn’t like them because we know those things come from us, but God doesn’t originate from human activity. If we are made in God’s likeness, then how can idols and temples be like God if they aren’t even like us? This ends on the note that all this is vindicated these things by the fact that God has raised Christ from the dead and Christ will return to judge the world.

Further Suggestions:


Panentheism and Christian Theology

Spooftexting Panentheism