Article of the Month

July 2013



(Acts 17:30)


Translations depend much on the doctrinal understanding of the translator. The Bible is full of poor translating due to this fact.  Sometimes texts do not say what we have always assumed they say. But when we understand God’s plans, character, and purposes, it is not unusual for us to come across texts which we can immediately discern as poor translations — even before we study the matter, consult the experts, the manuscripts, and the alternative translations. Fortunately, the truths of the Bible are found in the consistency of its testimony rather than in any one isolated statement. An isolated text CAN beautifully summarize the testimony of the entire Bible, but we need to understand that entire testimony before we can rely on an isolated text.


Acts 17:30 is an example of a text that should annoy us. The King James translation reads, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.”


The verse is a part of Paul’s sermon on Mars’ Hill in Athens. Paul was gently trying to reason with the Greeks that their religious beliefs were only superstitions. He was introducing them to the one true God — a god which was an UNKNOWN GOD to them.  (Acts 17:23) In verse 29, Paul attempts to dispense with all image worship — “gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” In the verse we are considering, he points out that God “winked at” such ignorance. But the rest of the verse should bother us.


These Greeks, and most of the world at that time (and even in our time), never heard of this true God which Paul was preaching.  How unfortunate if Paul’s first words about Him issue a COMMAND TO EVERYONE EVERYWHERE! They could justly respond, “Wait a minute, Paul! We don’t know this god. We don’t even know YOU. And here you are ISSUING COMMANDS TO THE WHOLE WORLD from this figment of your imagination!” Their position would be perfectly valid. It is not until the peaceable kingdom (Matthew 6:10) that all will know God and will listen to Him. (Psalm 46:10) Therefore, Paul’s words CANNOT mean what this translation seems to imply.


Other translators realized the problem here. And while they, too, probably did not clearly discern the details of God’s plan as revealed Bible-wide, they DID know that the Greek text here meant something other than what the King James suggested.


The New American Standard, for instance, changes the wording to “God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent.” Ferrar Fenton translates it, “…now calls to all men everywhere to change their mind.”


The Twentieth Century New Testament comes closest to the actual meaning of the Greek text since the word translated “commandeth” really means “to announce along side of.” This translation reads, “but now is announcing to everyone everywhere the need for repentance.”




Explaining the meaning will help us to understand which translation is best. They all, perhaps, have possible corrections to them which would make the passage clearer.


“EVERYWHERE” is an important word. Until Jesus appeared, God had dealt exclusively with Israel. (Amos 3:2) Now, since Jesus’ advent, God was sending the Gospel to Gentiles — hence, “everywhere.”


“COMMANDETH” means “announce along side of.” God was MAKING KNOWN the way of repentance through Jesus to those who would hear. But no one CAN hear unless it is preached to him. (Romans 10:14-18) God, in this Gospel Age, is now announcing that repentance in Jesus will open up a way of life for the Church now, and the world later.


Verse 31 is important in the consideration.  It reads:

“Because He hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained, whereof He hath given assurance to all in that He hath raised him from the dead.”


This helps give meaning to verse 30 which we are examining. It is saying, in context, that beginning with Jesus’ first advent, God is seeking men from everywhere to be a part of the Church which will be kings and priests with Jesus, to raise and judge the whole world in righteousness once the Kingdom comes. (See Acts 15:14-17 and Revelation 5:9, 10.)


The Greeks on Mars’ Hill got the point that Paul was talking about a FUTURE time of judgment. As soon as Paul mentioned the time of the resurrection, they jumped all over him! Some just dismissed Paul as a mad man (they “mocked him” — verse 32). Others put him off — “Some other time, Paul. It’s too much for us now!”


Obviously, these Greeks didn’t hear the announcement of the opportunity for repentance through Jesus. That’s okay. They weren’t and aren’t lost! They will come back in that “day” which God appointed. They will hear the message again and then be able to accept it. God will be exalted among the heathen, and they will know that He is God. (Psalm 46:10) Right now, they merely moan within themselves, unknowingly longing for “that day.” (Romans 8:22, 23)


So, a paraphrase of these verses conveys these thoughts:

Most men have worshipped and do worship in ignorance. (17:21-30) God has, in essence, been pleased to let this go since no one was being particularly injured by ignorance since they are not yet under judgment. (17:30)  But, once Jesus came on the scene, God began Spreading truth over the whole planet — especially the truth that, due to Jesus’ sacrifice, true release from sin and death can be had. It can be had now by believers; it can be had later by everyone else during that era set aside by God when THE WHOLE WORLD will get a RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT — an opportunity for repentance, reform, and life!


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