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Acts 17:23

23 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.

Read Acts 17:23 Using Other Translations

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.
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.
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.

What does Acts 17:23 mean?

John Gill's Exposition of the Bible
Acts 17:23

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 F16 speaks in the plural number of altars of gods, that were named unknown, at Athens; and so says Apollonius Tyanaeus to Timasion F17 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 F18 makes this to be in the plural number: certain it is, that Lucian F19 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" F20; 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.


FOOTNOTES:

F16 Attica, p. 2.
F17 Philostrat. Vita Apollonii, l. 6. c. 2.
F18 In Titum 1. 12.
F19 In Dialog. Philopatris.
F20 Lucan. Pharsalia, l. 2.
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