ASK Commentary
May 14, 2004 

The Times of This Ignorance

Commentary for May 14, 2004 — God’s Command Now

In the passage of Acts 17:15–34 the apostle Paul’s disputations with the Jews in Athens were overheard by unnamed Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. They took Paul up to Mars Hill at the Acropolis high above the city. The site where this event took place can be seen during any trip to Athens. (The situation was similar to an event that takes place in London on Sunday afternoons where at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park anyone can get up and begin speaking about any topic that suits him, to whoever will listen.) The Athenian philosophers desired Paul to speak on about “new doctrine,” by which they meant a new teaching they never heard before. Paul spoke to them:

“‘You men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are too superstitious [too reverent]. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” [Him] whom therefore you ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you. God that made the world [cosmos] and all things therein, seeing that he
is Lord of heaven and earth, dwells not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing,
Seeing he gives to all
life, and breath, and all things;
And
[he]
has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed, and [has determined] the bounds of their habitation;
That they should seek the Lord, if haply [perhaps] they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we
live, and move, and have our being;
as certain also of your own poets have said, “For we are also his offspring.” 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. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands
[officially declares, pronounces] all men every where to repent: [Why?] Because he has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained; whereof he has given assurance unto all men, in that he has raised him from the dead.’ And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, ‘We will hear you again of this matter.’ So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”

Acts 17:22–34

This command to repent came from God Himself for the benefit of all mankind so that all should do well in the day of judgment. The word “command” is a combination of an order and instruction, as its other uses throughout the New Testament show (Matthew 10:5; Mark 6:8, 8:6; Luke 5:14, 8:29, 56, 9:21; Acts 1:4, 4:18, 5:28, 40, 10:42, 15:5, 16:18, 23, 17:30, 23:22, 30; 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11:17; 1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:4, 6, 10, 12; 1 Timothy 1:3, 4:11, 5:7, 6:13, 17).

Interestingly Paul said that God had, up to that moment, “winked at” (literally in Greek, to overlook) their ignorance of God their Creator. Paul declared that the Creator did in fact exist, that mankind was His offspring, and that mankind had a full responsibility to respond because something fundamental had changed. God would no longer overlook the ignorance of His offspring, but required their repentance. God made this command because Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. To condense it briefly,

[Him] whom therefore you ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you. … the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men every where to repent.”

Acts 17:23, 30

Other passages in the New Testament testify to God’s overlooking of the Gentiles’ ignorance. At Derbe and Lystra when a crowd tried to worship Paul and Barnabas for miracles that were done through them, Paul begged them not to do so, also appealing to God as their Creator,
“Sirs, why do you these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that you should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered [allowed] all nations to walk in their own ways.”

Acts 14:15–16

In the book of Romans Paul discusses the ignorance of the Gentiles several times:
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.”

Romans 1:28

“Or despise you the riches of his
[God’s] goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing [being ignorant, agnoeo] that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

Romans 2:4

The Gentiles occasionally stumbled on to truth and morality outside of God’s law (Romans 2:14-16). But in general, God has had great forbearance or patience with mankind. Once again Paul in Romans, as in Acts chapter 17, declares God’s righteousness and that those who believe in Jesus might be justified. God’s forbearance with Gentile ignorance was a mercy:
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus.”

Romans 3:22–26

Paul in Ephesians, one of the most mature epistles still notes the ignorance of the Gentiles several years after he spoke at Mars Hill:
“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance [agnoia] that is in them, [Why?] because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ.”

Ephesians 4:17–20

The Greek noun agnoeo, “ignorant,” can be found in the following verses: Mark 9:32; Luke 9:45; Acts 13:27, 17:23; Romans 1:13, 2:4, 6:3, 7:1, 10:3, 11:25; 1 Corinthians 10:1, 12:1, 14:38; 2 Corinthians 1:8, 2:11, 6:9; Galatians 1:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 1 Timothy 1:13; Hebrews 5:2; 2 Peter 2:12. The Greek word agnoia, “ignorance,” is found Acts 3:17, 17:30; Ephesians 4:18; 1 Peter 1:14. The Greek word agnoema, a technical term meaning ignorant sinning, is found only in Hebrews 9:7 in the discussion of earthly and heavenly sanctuaries. Our English words agnostic (one who does not know) and ignorant, ignorance and ignore are all related and derived from the Greek. Read all the passages and note especially where the English is not translated consistently. Insert the proper term “ignorant,” or “ignorance,” where appropriate. It will be rather obvious and the verses will be clearer to you. You will learn much and reduce your own ignorance by studying these passages. Do not feel bad about your own past ignorance. We have all been there. The apostle Paul was ignorant, in spite of all his scholarship and great prior knowledge:
“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”

1 Timothy 1:12–15

Paul was the chiefest of sinners because of his ignorance. If there was hope, salvation and rescue from ignorance for Paul, then there there is hope, salvation and rescue from ignorance from us all — even me, even you.

David Sielaff
david@askelm.com

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