Acts 17:23
Parallel Verses
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.

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.

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.

Acts 17:23 Parallel
Commentary
Barnes' Notes on the Bible

For as I passed by - Greek: "For I, coming through, and seeing, etc."

And beheld - Diligently contemplated; attentively considered ἀναθεωρῶν anatheōrōn. The worship of an idolatrous people will be an object of intense and painful interest to a Christian.

Your devotions - τὰ σεβάσματα ta sebasmata. Our word devotions refers to the "act of worship" - to prayers, praises, etc. The Greek word used here means properly any sacred thing; any object which is worshipped, or which is connected with the place or rites of worship. Thus, it is applied either to the gods themselves, or to the temples, altars, shrines, sacrifices, statues, etc., connected with the worship of the gods. This is its meaning here. It does not denote that Paul saw them engaged in the act of worship, but that he was struck with the numerous temples, altars, statues, etc., which were reared to the gods, and which indicated the state of the people. Syriac, "the temple of your gods." Vulgate, "your images." Margin, "gods that ye worship."

I found an altar - An altar usually denotes "a place for sacrifice." Here, however, it does not appear that any sacrifice was offered; but it was probably a monument of stone, reared to commemorate a certain event, and dedicated to the unknown God.

To the unknown God - ἀγνώστῳ Θεῷ agnōstō Theō. Where this altar was reared, or on what occasion, has been a subject of much debate with expositors. That there was such an altar in Athens, though it may not have been specifically mentioned by the Greek writers, is rendered probable by the following circumstances:

(1) It was customary to rear such altars. Minutius Felix says of the Romans, "They build altars to unknown divinities."

(2) the term "unknown God" was used in relation to the worship of the Athenians. Lucian, in his Philopatris, uses this form of an oath: "I swear by the unknown God at Athens," the very expression used by the apostle. And again he says (chapter xxix. 180), "We have found out the unknown God at Athens, and worshipped him with our hands stretched up to heaven, etc."

(3) there were altars at Athens inscribed to the unknown gods. Philostratus says (in Vita Apol., Romans 6:3), "And this at Athens, where there are even altars to the unknown gods." Thus, Pausanius (in Attic., chapter i.) says, that "at Athens there are altars of gods which are called the unknown ones." Jerome, in his commentary Titus 1:12, says that the whole inscription was, "To the gods of Asia, Europe, and Africa; to the unknown and strange gods."

(4) there was a remarkable altar raised in Athens in a time of pestilence, in honor of the unknown god which had granted them deliverance. Diogenes Laertius says that Epimenides restrained the pestilence in the following manner: "Taking white and black sheep, he led them to the Areopagus, and there permitted them to go where they would, commanding those who followed them to sacrifice τῶ προσήχοντι θεῷ tō prosēkonti theōto the god to whom these things pertained or who had the power of averting the plague, whoever he might be, without adding the name and thus to allay the pestilence. From which it has arisen that at this day, through the villages of the Athenians, altars are found without any name" (Diog. Laert., book i, section 10). This took place about 600 years before Christ, and it is not improbable that one or more of those altars remained until the time of Paul. It should be added that the natural inscription on those altars would be, "To the unknown God." None of the gods to whom they usually sacrificed could deliver them from the pestilence. They therefore reared them to some unknown Being who had the power to free them from the plague.

Whom therefore - The true God, who had really delivered them from the plague.

Ye ignorantly worship - Or worship without knowing his name. You have expressed your homage for him by rearing to him an altar.

Him declare I unto you - I make known to you his name, attributes, etc. There is remarkable tact in Paul's seizing on this circumstance; and yet it was perfectly fair and honest. Only the true God could deliver in the time of the pestilence. This altar had, therefore, been really reared to him, though his name was unknown. The same Being who had interposed at that time, and whose interposition was recorded by the building of this altar, was He who had made the heavens; who ruled over all; and whom Paul was now about to make known to them. There is another feature of skill in the allusion to this altar. In other circumstances it might seem to be presumptuous for an unknown Jew to at tempt to instruct the sages of Athens. But here they had confessed and proclaimed their ignorance. By rearing this altar they acknowledged their need of instruction. The way was, therefore, fairly open for Paul to address even these philosophers, and to discourse to them on a point on which they acknowledged their ignorance.

Acts 17:23 Parallel Commentaries

Library
April 7. "In Him we Live and Move" (Acts xvii. 28).
"In Him we live and move" (Acts xvii. 28). The hand of Gehazi, and even the staff of Elisha could not heal the lifeless boy. It needed the living touch of the prophet's own divinely quickened flesh to infuse vitality into the cold clay. Lip to lip, hand to hand, heart to heart, he must touch the child ere life could thrill his pulseless veins. We must come into personal contact with the risen Saviour, and have His very life quicken our mortal flesh before we can know the fulness and reality of His
Rev. A. B. Simpson—Days of Heaven Upon Earth

Paul at Athens
'Then Paul stood In the midst of Mars-hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. 23. 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. 24. God, that made the world, and all things therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; 25. Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though He needed
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture: The Acts

St. Justin Martyr (Ad 166)
Although Trajan was no friend to the Gospel, and put St. Ignatius to death, he made a law which must have been a great relief to the Christians. Until then they were liable to be sought out, and any one might inform against them; but Trajan ordered that they should not be sought out, although, if they were discovered, and refused to give up their faith, they were to be punished. The next emperor, too, whose name was Hadrian (AD 117-138) did something to make their condition better; but it was still
J. C. Roberston—Sketches of Church History, from AD 33 to the Reformation

Whether Idolatry is Rightly Reckoned a Species of Superstition?
Objection 1: It would seem that idolatry is not rightly reckoned a species of superstition. Just as heretics are unbelievers, so are idolaters. But heresy is a species of unbelief, as stated above ([3101]Q[11], A[1]). Therefore idolatry is also a species of unbelief and not of superstition. Objection 2: Further, latria pertains to the virtue of religion to which superstition is opposed. But latria, apparently, is univocally applied to idolatry and to that which belongs to the true religion. For just
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica

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 know, for salvation is from the Jews.

Acts 17:30
"Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,

2 Thessalonians 2:4
who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.

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