Acts 17:23
Verse (Click for Chapter)
New International Version
For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship--and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

New Living Translation
for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: 'To an Unknown God.' This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I'm telling you about.

English Standard Version
For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.

Berean Study Bible
For as I walked around and examined your objects of worship, I even found an altar with the inscription: To an unknown God. Therefore what you worship as something unknown, I now proclaim to you.

Berean Literal Bible
For passing through and beholding your objects of worship, I even found an altar on which had been inscribed: To an unknown God. Therefore whom you worship not knowing, Him I proclaim to you.

New American Standard Bible
"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.

King James Bible
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

Holman Christian Standard Bible
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.

International Standard Version
For as I was walking around and looking closely at the objects you worship, I even found an altar with this written on it: 'To an unknown god.' So I am telling you about the unknown object you worship.

NET Bible
For as I went around and observed closely your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: 'To an unknown god.' Therefore what you worship without knowing it, this I proclaim to you.

New Heart English Bible
For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I announce to you.

Aramaic Bible in Plain English
“For as I was going around and beholding your temples, I found one altar on which it was written: “The Unknown God”; him therefore whom you do not know and yet worship, I proclaim to you.”

GOD'S WORD® Translation
As I was going through your city and looking closely at the objects you worship, I noticed an altar with this written on it: 'To an unknown god.' I'm telling you about the unknown god you worship.

New American Standard 1977
“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.’ What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.

Jubilee Bible 2000
For as I passed by and beheld your sanctuaries, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you.

King James 2000 Bible
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore you ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

American King James Version
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore you ignorantly worship, him declare I to you.

American Standard Version
For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. What therefore ye worship in ignorance, this I set forth unto you.

Douay-Rheims Bible
For passing by, and seeing your idols, I found an altar also, on which was written: To the unknown God. What therefore you worship, without knowing it, that I preach to you:

Darby Bible Translation
for, passing through and beholding your shrines, I found also an altar on which was inscribed, To the unknown God. Whom therefore ye reverence, not knowing [him], him I announce to you.

English Revised Version
For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. What therefore ye worship in ignorance, this set I forth unto you.

Webster's Bible Translation
For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I to you.

Weymouth New Testament
For as I passed along and observed the things you worship, I found also an altar bearing the inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' "The Being, therefore, whom you, without knowing Him, revere, Him I now proclaim to you.

World English Bible
For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I announce to you.

Young's Literal Translation
for passing through and contemplating your objects of worship, I found also an erection on which had been inscribed: To God -- unknown; whom, therefore -- not knowing -- ye do worship, this One I announce to you.
Study Bible
Paul Before the Areopagus
22Then Paul stood up before the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and examined your objects of worship, I even found an altar with the inscription: To an unknown God. Therefore what you worship as something unknown, I now proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples made by human hands.…
Cross References
Isaiah 45:4
"For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me.

John 4:22
You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.

Acts 17:30
Although God overlooked the ignorance of earlier times, He now commands all men everywhere to repent.

2 Thessalonians 2:4
He will oppose and exalt himself above every so-called god or object of worship. So he will seat himself in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
Treasury of Scripture

For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore you ignorantly worship, him declare I to you.

devotions. or, gods that ye worship.

Romans 1:23-25 And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made …

1 Corinthians 8:5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in …

2 Thessalonians 2:4 Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that …

TO.

Psalm 147:20 He has not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they …

John 17:3,25 And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true …

Romans 1:20-22,28 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are …

1 Corinthians 1:21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God…

2 Corinthians 4:4-6 In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which …

Galatians 4:8,9 However, then, when you knew not God, you did service to them which …

Ephesians 2:12 That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the …

1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, …

1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding, …

ignorantly.

Acts 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all …

Psalm 50:21 These things have you done, and I kept silence; you thought that …

Matthew 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

John 4:22 You worship you know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation …

John 8:54 Jesus answered, If I honor myself, my honor is nothing: it is my …

(23) I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.--Better, I observe you as being in all things more fearful of the gods than others. It is not easy to express the exact force of the Greek adjective. "Superstitious" is, perhaps, too strong on the side of blame; "devout," on the side of praise. The word which the Athenians loved to use of themselves (theosebs, a worshipper of God) exactly answers to the latter term. This St. Paul will not use of idolators, and reserves it for those who worship the one living and true God, and he uses a word which, like our "devotee," though not offensive, was neutral with a slight touch of disparagement. The deisidaimn is described at some length in the Characters of Theophrastus, the La Bruyere of classical literature (c. 17), as one who consults soothsayers, and is a believer in omens, who will give up a journey if he sees a weasel on the road, and goes with his wife and children to be initiated into the Orphic mysteries. Nikias, the Athenian general, ever oppressed with the sense of the jealousy of the gods, and counter-ordering important strategic movements because there was an eclipse of the moon (Thucyd. vii. 50), is a conspicuous instance of the deisidaimn in high places. The Stoic Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Meditt. i. 16), congratulates himself on not being such a deisidaimn, while he gives thanks that he has inherited his mother's devotion (theosebes) (i. 2). The opening words would gain, and were perhaps meant to gain, the ears of the philosophers. Here, they would say, is one who, at least, rises, as we do, above the religion of the multitude.

As I passed by, and beheld your devotions.--Better, as I passed by, and was contemplating the objects of your worship. The English word appears to have been used in its old sense, as meaning what the Greek word means--the object, and not the act, of devotion. So, Wiclif gives "your mawmetis"--i.e., "your idols." Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Geneva version give "the manner how ye worship your gods." The Rhemish follows "Wiclif, and gives "your idols."

I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.--The Greek of the inscription has no article, and might, therefore, be rendered TO AN UNKNOWN GOD, as though it had been consecrated as a votive offering for benefits which the receiver was unable to assign to the true donor among the "gods many and lords many" whom he worshipped. So interpreted, it did not bear its witness directly to any deeper thoughts than those of the popular poly-theism, and stands on the same footing as the altars TO UNKNOWN GODS, which are mentioned by Pausanias (i. 1-4) as set up in the harbour and streets of Athens, or to the description which Theophrastus gives (as above) of the deisidaimn as asking the soothsayers, after he has had a disquieting dream, to what god or goddess he ought to pray. Greek usage, however, did not require the use of the article in inscriptions of this nature, and the English translation is quite as legitimate as the other, and clearly gives the sense in which St. Paul understood it. Taking this sense, there come the questions, What thought did the inscription express? To what period did it belong? A story connected with Epimenides of Crete, who, as a prophet of great fame, was invited to Athens at a time when the city was suffering from pestilence, is sometimes referred to as affording a probable explanation of its origin. Diogenes Laertius (Epimen. c. 3) relates that he turned sheep loose into the city, and then had them sacrificed, where they stopped, to the god thus pointed out, i.e., to the one whose image or altar was nearest to the spot, and that "altars without a name" were thus to be seen in many parts of Athens; and it has been supposed that this may have been one of these altars, erected where there was no image near enough to warrant a sacrifice to any known deity, and as Epimenides is stated to have offered sacrifices on the Areopagus, that such an altar may have been standing within view as St. Paul spoke. Against this view, however, are the facts (1) that the narrative of Laertius names no such inscription as that of which St. Paul speaks, and rather implies that every victim found the god to whom it of right belonged, or else that the altar was left without any inscription; (2) that St. Paul's language implies that he had seen the inscription as he walked through the city, and not that he looked on it as he spoke; and (3) that it is hardly conceivable that such an altar, standing in so conspicuous a place from the time of Epimenides, would have remained unnoticed by a thinker like Socrates. Jerome (on Titus 1:12) cuts the knot of the difficulty by stating that the inscription actually ran, "To the Gods of Asia and Europe and Africa, to unknown and strange Gods." It is possible that he may have seen an altar with such words upon it, and that he rushed to the conclusion that it was what St. Paul referred to; but it is not likely that the Apostle would have ventured on altering the inscription to suit his argument in the presence of those who could have confuted him on the spot, and his words must be received as indicating what he had actually seen.

A passage in the dialogue of Philopatris, ascribed to Lucian, where one of the speakers swears "by the Unknown God of Athens," is interesting: but, as written in the third century after Christ, may be only a reference, not without a sneer, to St. Paul's speech, and cannot be adduced as evidence either as to the existence of such an altar or its meaning. An independent inquiry based upon data hitherto not referred to, will, perhaps, lead to more satisfactory conclusions. (1) The verbal adjective means something more than "Unknown." It adds the fact that the Unknown is also the Unknowable. It is the ultimate confession, such as we have heard of late from the lips of some students of science, of man's impotence to solve the problems of the universe. It does not affirm Atheism, but it knows not what the Power is, which yet it feels must be. (2) As such it presents a striking parallel to the inscription which Plutarch (dc Isid. et Osir.) records as found on the veil of Isis at Sais: "I am all that has been, and all that is, and all that shall be; and no mortal hath lifted my veil." Whether that inscription expressed the older thoughts of Egypt may, perhaps, be questioned. Plutarch gives it in Greek, and this probably indicates a date after the foundation of the monarchy of the Ptolemies (B.C. 367), possibly contemporary with Plutarch (A.D. 46-140). (3) Still more striking, if possible, is the parallelism presented by an altar found at Ostia, and now in the Vatican Museum. It represents what is known as a Mithraic sacrificial group, connected, i.e., with the worship of Mithras, the Sun-god of later Persian mythology, a winged figure sacrificing a bull, with various symbolic emblems, such as a serpent and a scorpion. Underneath appears the inscription (Orelli, Inser. Gel. ii. 5, 000)--

SIGNUM INDEPREHENSIBILIS DEI. [THE SYMBOL OF THE UNDISCOVERABLE GOD.]

It will be admitted that this expresses the same thought as the inscription which St. Paul quotes; that it is the nearest equivalent that Latin can supply for the "Unknown and Unknowable" God. The frequent recurrence of Mithraic groups in nearly all museums, generally without any note of time, but, in the judgment of experts, ranging from the time of Pompeius to that of Diocletian, shows the prevalence of this Sun worship throughout the Roman world during the early period of the empire. We have found an interesting trace of it in Cyprus. (See Note on Acts 13:14.) We may see its surviving influence in the reverence shown by Constantine to the Dies Solis in the general observance of that day throughout the empire. Other inscriptions, also in the Vatican Museum, such as SOLI DEO INVICTO (Orelli, i., 1904-14), show its prevalence. Our own Sunday (Dies Solis), little as we dream of it, is probably a survival of the Mithraic cultus, which at one time seemed not unlikely, as seen from a merely human standpoint, to present a formidable rivalry to the claims of the Church of Christ. It is, at least, a remarkable coincidence that the Twenty-fifth of December was kept as the festival of Mithras long before it was chosen by the Western Church for the Feast of the Nativity. It is true that De Rossi, the great Roman archologist, in a note to the present writer, gives the probable date of the inscription in question as belonging to the second or third century after Christ; but the Mithraic worship is known to have prevailed widely from a much earlier period, and the church of San Clemente, at Rome, where below the two basilicas have been found the remains of a Christian oratory turned into a Mithraic chapel, presents a memorable instance of the rivalry of the two systems. On the whole, therefore, it seems probable that the altar which St. Paul saw was an earlier example of the feeling represented by the Ostian inscription, and may well have found its expression, with a like characteristic formula, among the many forms of the confluent polytheism of Athens. Plutarch (Pompeius) speaks of the worship of Mithras as having been brought into Europe by the Cilician pirates whom Pompeius defeated, and as continuing in his own time.

Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship.--Better, as expressing the connection with the inscription, What therefore ye worship not knowing, that declare I unto you. The better MSS. give the relative pronoun in the neuter. It was, perhaps, deliberately used, as St. Paul uses the neuter form for "Godhead" in Acts 17:29, and a cognate abstract noun in Romans 1:20, to express the fact that the Athenians were as yet ignorant of the personality of the living God. That any human teacher should have power and authority to proclaim that "Unknown God," as making Himself known to men, was what neither Epicureans nor Stoics had dreamt of. The verb "declare" is closely connected with the term "setter forth," of Acts 17:18. He does not disclaim that element in the charge against him.

Verse 23. - Passed along for passed by, A.V.; observed the objects of your worship for beheld your devotions, A.V. (τασ` σεβάσματα υμῶν: see 2 Thessalonians 2:4); also an altar for an altar, A.V.; an for the, A.V.; what for whom, A.V. and T.R.; worship in ignorance for ignorantly worship, A.V.; this for him, A.V. and T.R.; set forth for declare, A.V. AN UNKNOWN GOD. There is no direct and explicit testimony in ancient writers to the existence of any one such altar at Athens, but Pausanias and others speak of altars to "unknown gods," as to be seen in Athens, which may well be understood of several such altars, each dedicated to an unknown god. One of these was seen by St. Paul, and, with inimitable tact, made the text of his sermon. He was not preaching a foreign god to them, but making known to them one whom they had already included in their devotions without knowing him. For as I passed by,.... Or "through"; that is, through the city of Athens:

and beheld your devotions; not so much their acts of worship and religion, as the gods which they worshipped; in which sense this word is used in 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and the altars which were erected to them, and the temples in which they were worshipped; and so the Syriac and Arabic versions render it, "the houses", and "places of your worship"; and the Ethiopic version, "your images", or "deities",

I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Pausanias (p) speaks in the plural number of altars of gods, that were named unknown, at Athens; and so says Apollonius Tyanaeus to Timasion (q) it is wisest to speak well of all the gods, especially at Athens, where there are altars to unknown gods: it may be, there were altars that had the inscription in the plural number; and there was one which Paul took particular notice of, in the singular number; or the above writers may speak of altars to unknown gods, because there might be many altars with this inscription: the whole of the inscription, according to Theophylact, was this;

"to the gods of Asia, Europe, and Lybia (or Africa), to the unknown and strange god;''

though Jerom (r) makes this to be in the plural number: certain it is, that Lucian (s) swears by the unknown god that was at Athens, and says, we finding the unknown god at Athens, and worshipping with hands stretched out towards heaven, gave thanks unto him: the reason why they erected an altar with such an inscription might be, for fear when they took in the gods of other nations, there might be some one which they knew not; wherefore, to omit none, they erect an altar to him; and which proves what the apostle says, that they were more religious and superstitious than others: or it may be they might have a regard to the God of the Jews, whose name Jehovah with them was not to be pronounced, and who, by the Gentiles, was called "Deus incertus" (t); and here, in the Syriac version, it is rendered, "the hidden God", as the God of Israel is called, Isaiah 45:15 and that he is here designed seems manifest from what follows,

whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you; which could not be said by him of any other deity. God is an unknown God to those who have only the light of nature to guide them; for though it may be known by it that there is a God, and that there is but one, and somewhat of him may be discerned thereby; yet the nature of his essence, and the perfections of his nature, and the unity of his being, are very little, and not truly and commonly understood, and the persons in the Godhead not at all, and still less God in Christ, whom to know is life eternal: hence the Gentiles are described as such who know not God; wherefore, if he is worshipped by them at all, it must be ignorantly: and that they are ignorant worshippers of him, appears by worshipping others more than him, and besides him, or him in others, and these idols of gold, silver, brass, wood, and stone; and by their indecencies and inhumanity used in the performance of their worship: wherefore a revelation became necessary, by which men might be acquainted with the nature of the divine Being, and the true manner of worshipping him; in which a declaration is made of the nature and perfections of God, and of the persons in the Godhead, the object of worship; of the counsels, purposes, and decrees of God; of his covenant transactions with his Son respecting the salvation of his chosen people; of his love, grace, and mercy, displayed in the mission and gift of Christ to be the Saviour and Redeemer of them; of the glory of his attributes in their salvation; and of his whole mind and will, both with respect to doctrine and practice; and which every faithful minister of the Gospel, as the Apostle Paul, shuns not, according to his ability, truly and fully to declare.

(p) Attica, p. 2.((q) Philostrat. Vita Apollonii, l. 6. c. 2.((r) In Titum 1. 12. (s) In Dialog. Philopatris. (t) Lucan. Pharsalia, l. 2.23. as I passed by and beheld your devotions—rather, "the objects of your devotion," referring, as is plain from the next words, to their works of art consecrated to religion.

I found an altar … To the—or, "an"

unknown god—erected, probably, to commemorate some divine interposition, which they were unable to ascribe to any known deity. That there were such altars, Greek writers attest; and on this the apostle skilfully fastens at the outset, as the text of his discourse, taking it as evidence of that dimness of religious conception which, in virtue of his better light, he was prepared to dissipate.

Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship—rather, "Whom, therefore, knowing Him not, ye worship," alluding to "The Unknown God."

him declare—announce.

I unto you—This is like none of his previous discourses, save that to the idolaters of Lycaonia (Ac 14:15-17). His subject is not, as in the synagogues, the Messiahship of Jesus, but THE Living God, in opposition to the materialistic and pantheistic polytheism of Greece, which subverted all true religion. Nor does he come with speculation on this profound subject—of which they had had enough from others—but an authoritative "announcement" of Him after whom they were groping not giving Him any name, however, nor even naming the Saviour Himself but unfolding the true character of both as they were able to receive it.17:22-31 Here we have a sermon to heathens, who worshipped false gods, and were without the true God in the world; and to them the scope of the discourse was different from what the apostle preached to the Jews. In the latter case, his business was to lead his hearers by prophecies and miracles to the knowledge of the Redeemer, and faith in him; in the former, it was to lead them, by the common works of providence, to know the Creator, and worship Him. The apostle spoke of an altar he had seen, with the inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. This fact is stated by many writers. After multiplying their idols to the utmost, some at Athens thought there was another god of whom they had no knowledge. And are there not many now called Christians, who are zealous in their devotions, yet the great object of their worship is to them an unknown God? Observe what glorious things Paul here says of that God whom he served, and would have them to serve. The Lord had long borne with idolatry, but the times of this ignorance were now ending, and by his servants he now commanded all men every where to repent of their idolatry. Each sect of the learned men would feel themselves powerfully affected by the apostle's discourse, which tended to show the emptiness or falsity of their doctrines.
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Alphabetical: also altar am an and around as at carefully even examining For found GOD going I ignorance in inscription looked Now objects of passing proclaim something the Therefore this through TO UNKNOWN walked was what while with worship you your

NT Apostles: Acts 17:23 For as I passed along and observed (Acts of the Apostles Ac) Christian Bible Study Resources, Dictionary, Concordance and Search Tools
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