Acts 17:29
Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.
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(29) Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God.—One consequence from the thought of son-ship is pressed home at once. If we are God’s offspring our conception of Him should mount upward from what is highest in ourselves, from our moral and spiritual nature, instead of passing downward to that which, being the creature of our hands, is below us. Substantially asserting the same truth, the tone of St. Paul in speaking of idolatry is very different from that which we find in the older prophets (1Kings 18:27; Psalm 135:15-18; Isaiah 44:9-20). He has, as it were, studied the genesis of idolatry, and instead of the burning language of scorn, and hatred, and derision, can speak of it, though not with tolerance, yet with pity, to those who are its victims.

The Godhead.—The Greek term is neuter, and corresponds to the half-abstract, half-concrete forms of the “Divine Being,” the “Deity.”

Gold, or silver, or stone.—The first word reminds us of the lavish use of gold in the colossal statue of Zeus by Phidias. Silver was less commonly used, but the shrines of Artemis at Ephesus (see Note on Acts 19:24) supply an instance of it. “Stone” was the term commonly applied to the marble of Pentelicus, which was so lavishly employed in the sculpture and architecture of Athens.

Acts 17:29. For as much then as we are the offspring of God — We, with all the powers and faculties of our rational nature, and since these bear but a very imperfect and distant resemblance of those original, consummate, and infinite glories which shine forth in him; we ought not surely to think — A tender expression; especially in the first person plural: that the Godhead is like unto gold and silver. &c., graven by art and man’s device — For such things, conveying no idea of mind, if they be likenesses of God, they represent him as being mere matter, void of intelligence; but if he be so, how could he give intelligence, and all the other faculties of mind to us? As if he had said, Can God himself be a less noble Being than we who are his offspring? Nor does he only deny here that these images are like God, but he denies, also, that they have any analogy to him at all, so as to be capable of representing him in any degree or respect.

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.Forasmuch then - Admitting or assuming this to be true. The argument which follows is drawn from the concessions of their own writers.

We ought not to think - It is absurd to suppose. The argument of the apostle is this: "Since we are formed by God; since we are like him, living and intelligent beings; since we are more excellent in our nature than the most precious and ingenious works of art, it is absurd to suppose that the original source of our existence can be like gold, and silver, and stone. Man himself is far more excellent than an image of wood and stone; how much more excellent still must be the great Fountain and Source of all our wisdom and intelligence." See this thought pursued at length in Isaiah 40:18-23.

The Godhead - The divinity (τὸ Θεῖον to Theion), the divine nature, or essence. The word used here is an adjective employed as a noun, and does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament.

Is like unto gold ... - All these things were used in making images or statues of the gods. It is absurd to think that the source of all life and intelligence resembles a lifeless block of wood or stone. Even degraded pagan, one would think, might see the force of an argument like this.

Graven - Sculptured; made into an image.

29. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think—The courtesy of this language is worthy of notice.

that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device—("graven by the art or device of man"). One can hardly doubt that the apostle would here point to those matchless monuments of the plastic art, in gold and silver and costliest stone, which lay so profusely beneath and around him. The more intelligent pagan Greeks no more pretended that these sculptured gods and goddesses were real deities, or even their actual likenesses, than Romanist Christians do their images; and Paul doubtless knew this; yet here we find him condemning all such efforts visibly to represent the invisible God. How shamefully inexcusable then are the Greek and Roman churches in paganizing the worship of the Christian Church by the encouragement of pictures and images in religious service! (In the eighth century, the second council of Nicea decreed that the image of God was as proper an object of worship as God Himself).

We are the offspring of God; this is spoken by the apostle in a poetical expression, according unto what he had cited. We are indeed the children, and in our souls bear the image of God. But as many as have the Spirit of adoption, they partake of God’s holiness, and imitate his goodness, and are more like unto him, by whom they are begotten again unto a lively hope, 1 Peter 1:3; and at the resurrection they will appear unto all to be his children, when they shall be acknowledged his heirs, and coheirs with Jesus Christ, Romans 8:17.

We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver: taking man in his natural principles, consisting of soul and body, he is not made of gold and silver; much less can God be made of them. Our soul in which we bear the image of God, cannot be expressed by any graving or painting; much less God, whose image it is. There are two things to be considered in every image: its matter, and its form or shape. The matter of an image, let it be never so precious, is much inferior to man; for it lies in the earth, (be it gold or silver), for man to trample upon, until he dig it up, and take it out. As for the form of the image, it is that which men please to give it, and man is a kind of creator of it; howsoever, it is his workmanship, and the work is more ignoble than the workman, at least not to be adored by him.

By art and man’s device; according to man’s will and pleasure, for the image cannot determine itself to be made as it would.

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God,.... In the sense before given; for the apostle is not here speaking of himself, and other saints, as being the children of God, by adoption, and by regenerating grace, and faith in Christ Jesus, but as men in common with others, and with these Athenians:

we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device; for men themselves, who are the offspring of God, and made after his image, are not to be compared to graven images of gold, silver, and stone, but are vastly preferable to them, they being formed by their art, and the device of their minds; and much less then should God, the Creator of men, and from whom they spring, be likened to, or represented by, any such thing; for so to think of God, is to think very unworthily of him; for if to think thus of ourselves, who are descended from him, would be a debasing of us, then much more to think so of God, the Father of spirits, must be a depreciating of him; and which by no means ought to be done, and argues great stupidity: if living rational creatures are not to be equalled to, and compared with, senseless statues, much less God, the former of men and angels.

Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, {q} graven by art and man's device.

(q) Which things (gold, silver, and stones) are custom engraved as much as a man's mind can devise, for men will not worship those things as they are, unless by some art it has formed into an image of some sort.

Acts 17:29. Since, then, we (according to this poetical saying) are offspring of God, so must our self-consciousness, kindred to God, tell us that the Godhead has not resemblance to gold, etc. We cannot suppose a resemblance of the Godhead to such materials, graven by human art, without denying ourselves as the progenies of God.[70] Therefore we ought not (οὐκ ὀφείλομεν). What a delicate and penetrating attack on heathen worship! That Paul with the reproach, which in οὐκ ὀφείλομεν κ.τ.λ. is expressed with wise mildness (Bengel: “clemens locutio, praesertim in prima persona plurali”), does no injustice to heathenism, whose thinkers had certainly in great measure risen above anthropomorphism, but hits the prevailing popular opinion (πρὸς τοὺς πολλοὺς ὁ λόγος ἦν αὐτῷ, Chrysostom), may be seen in Baumgarten, p. 566 ff.

γένος] placed first and separated from τ. Θεοῦ, as the chief point of the argument. For, if we are proles Dei, and accordingly homogeneous with God, it is a preposterous error at variance with our duty to think, with respect to things which are entirely heterogeneous to us, as gold, silver, and stone, that the Godhead has resemblance with them.

χαράγματι τέχν. κ. ἐνθυμ. ἀνθρώπου] a graven image which is produced by art and deliberation of a man (for the artist made it according to the measure of his artistic meditation and reflection): an apposition to χρυσῷ κ.τ.λ., not in the ablative (Bengel).

τὸ θεῖον] the divine nature, divinum numen (Herod. iii. 108, i. 32; Plat. Phaedr. p. 242 C, al.). The general expression fitly corresponds to the discourse on heathenism, as the real object of the latter. Observe also the striking juxtaposition of ἀνθρώπου and τὸ θεῖον; for χαράγμ. τέχν. κ. ἐνθ. ἀνθρ. serves to make the οὐκ ὀφείλομεν νομίζειν still more palpably felt: inasmuch as metal and stone serve only for the materials of human art and artistic thoughts, but far above human artistic subjectivity, which wishes to represent the divine nature in these materials, must the Godhead be exalted, which is not similar to the human image, but widely different from it. Comp. Wis 15:15 ff.

[70] Graf views it otherwise, but against the clear words of the passage, in the Stud. u. Krit. 1859, p. 232.

Acts 17:29. γένος οὖν ὑπάρχοντες: for ὑπάρχειν, see above on Acts 17:24; is the inference simply that because we are dependent upon God for all things, it is absurd to suppose that the divine nature can be like to the work of men’s hands? This is correct so far as it goes, but is not the further thought implied that as men are the offspring of God, they ought not to think that man is the measure of God, or that the divine nature, which no man hath seen at any time, can be represented by the art of man, but rather as conscious of a sonship with a Father of spirits they ought to worship a Father in spirit and in truth? see quotations from Seneca in Lightfoot, Philippians, p. 290: “The whole world is the temple of the immortal gods. Temples are not to be built to God of stones piled on high.…” Fragm. 123 in Lactant. Div. Inst., vi., 25: “God is near thee; He is with thee; He is within,” Ep. Mor., xcv., 47: “Thou shalt not form Him of silver and gold, a true likeness of God cannot be moulded of this material,” Ep. Mor., xxxi., 11. See also the striking parallels from Letters of Pseudo-Heracleitus, Gore, Ephesians, p. 254. For a recent view of the possible acquaintance of Seneca with the Christian teaching of St. Paul see Orr, Some Neglected Factors in Early Christianity, pp. 178 ff.—τὸ θεῖον: not “godhead,” but “that which is divine,” R.V. margin, “the divine nature”; probably the word which the Athenians themselves used, Xen., Mem., i., 4, 18, see instances in Grimm, sub v., of its use in Philo and Josephus, who employ it in the neuter of the one God, Grimm thinks, out of regard for Greek usage.—χρυσῷ ἢ ἀργ. ἢ λίθῳ: (on the form of the word see Blass and critical notes) including, we may suppose, the chryselephantine statues of Phidias in the Parthenon, and a reference to the silver mines of Laurium, and the marble hewn from Pentelicus, cf. Epist. ad Diognetum, ii., 2.—χαράγματι: in apposition to χρύσῳ. χαράσσω, Latin, sculpo, insculpo, only here in N.T. in this sense. Polyb. uses the words of coins stamped (so in Anth. ., v., 30) τὸ χαραχθὲν νόμισμα.—τέχνης καὶ ἐνθ.: “artis externæ, cogitationis internæ”. ἐνθ.: a rare word (in the plural, thoughts, cf. Matthew 9:4, etc.), but used by Thuc., Eur., and also by Hippocrates. See the remarks of Curtius (Gesammelte Abhandlungen, ii., 535) on the words, as indicating that Paul was acquainted with the phrases of Greek authors. The passage in Wis 13:6 should be carefully noted (see Acts 17:27 above), and also Acts 17:10, in which the writer speaks of gods which are the work of men’s hands, gold and silver to show art in, i.e., lit[315], an elaboration of art, ἐμμελέτημα τέχνης. In the words Bethge further sees an intimation that the Apostle had an eye for the forms of beauty represented in the carved statues and idols which met his gaze in Athens; but for a very different view of St. Paul’s estimate of art see Renan, Saint Paul, p. 172, Farrar, St. Paul, i., 525, McGiffert, Apostolic Age, p. 260.—ἀνθρώπου: stands contrasted with τὸ θεῖον; it is the device of man which forms the material into the idol god, and thus human thought becomes the measure of the divine form; Xenophanes (570 B.C.) had ridiculed the way in which the Thracians represented their gods, with blue eyes and fair complexions, whilst the Æthiopians had represented their gods as flat-nosed and swarthy. Zeno had renewed the protest, but some of the best of the heathen philosophers had spoken in inconsistent language on the subject; St. Paul’s plain and direct words were the utterances of a man who had in mind the severe and indignant protests of the Hebrew prophets, cf. Isaiah 44:12.—οὐκ ὀφείλομεν: at the same time the use of the 1st person plural again points to the conciliatory tone of the speech, “clemens locutio” (so Bengel, Wendt); or possibly the words may mean that he is referring in a general way to the beliefs of the people, to the crowd and not to the philosophers: πρὸς τοὺς πολλοὺς ὁ λόγος ἦν αὐτῷ, Chrys. But Nestle has lately called attention to the question as to whether we should not translate: “we are not obliged, not bound to think, we are at liberty not to think so,” and thus, instead of a reproof, the words become a plea for freedom of religious thought. The first shade of meaning, he adds, i.e., “clemens locutio,” as above, comes nearer to ὀφειλ. μὴ νομίζειν, the second agrees with the other passage in the N.T., 2 Corinthians 12:14, where the negative particle is connected with ὀφείλειν; see Nestle’s note in Expository Times, March, 1898, p. 381.

[315] literal, literally.

29. we ought not to think, &c.] As man is of more honour than material things, how far above these must the Godhead be. The Athenians, the Apostle would teach them, had formed not too high but too low a conception of themselves.

Acts 17:29. Οὐκ ὀφείλομεν, we ought not) A mild mode of expression, especially in the first person plural. “He hath breathed into us a something divine. Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, and have life and breath, it is foolish to believe that the Divinity is in dumb stone or silver, since it is undoubtedly the highest life which hath given us life.”—Jonas.—χαράγματι) The Ablative.—τέχνης, of art) which is external.—ἐνθυμήσεως, of man’s device) which is internal.—τὸ θεῖον) An appropriate appellation of God among men who are still far removed from the knowledge of Him.—ὅμοιον, like) Man is in some measure midway between God and matter. Man is not like metal. Therefore God is much less like metal: for man, the offspring of God, is like God. And not only is likeness in this place denied, but any correspondence whatsoever, which might furnish a foundation for making an image, so as that from it the expectation might be formed, that the nature of God takes delight in such things. The statues (themselves) were not esteemed by the Athenians as gods: but Paul does not even leave them the power, which they were presumed to have, of vividly presenting (representing) the Deity before us.

Verse 29. - Being then for forasmuch then as we are, A.V.; device of man for man's device, A.V. Graven by art, etc. In the Greek the substantive χαράγματα, graven images, things engraven, is in apposition with the gold, silver, and stone, and a further description of them. Art, τέχνη, is the manual skill, the device; ἐνθύμησις is the genius and mental power which plans the splendid temple, or exquisite sculpture, or the statue which is to receive the adoration of the idolater. Compare the withering sarcasm of Isaiah (Isaiah 44:9-17). Acts 17:29The Godhead (τὸ θεῖον)

Lit., that which is divine.

Like to gold, etc

These words must have impressed his hearers profoundly, as they looked at the multitude of statues of divinities which surrounded them.

Graven (χαράγματι)

Not a participle, as A. V., but a noun, in apposition with gold, silver, and stone: "a graving or carved-work of art," etc.

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