Acts 17:22-28, NRSV:

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, "Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For 'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we too are his offspring.'"

In regards to verse 28 (bold above), what is the meaning of "being?" Is it "to exist" or is it a spiritual state? Is it correct to say that animals "live and move and have their being?


The Greek word εσμεν appears twice in Acts 17:28

For in him we live, and move, and have our being εσμεν; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we areεσμεν also his offspring.
-- Acts 17:28 (KJV)

Of itself, εσμεν is not a particularly special word, simply the present, first person, plural of the verb "to be".

Here's the Greek: Εν | αυτω | γαρ | ζωμεν | και | κινουμεθα | και | εσμεν In | him | indeed | we live | and | we move | and | we are

ζωμεν, κινουμεθα, εσμεν

All three of these Greek words are Present tense, indicative mood. In other words, they are statements of fact about what is taking place at the time they are spoken. What is different about them is their voice:

  • ζωμεν is active voice, so it's "we ARE LIVING"

  • κινουμεθα is passive voice, so it's "we ARE BEING MOVED"

  • εσμεν doesn't have a voice because there's no action, so it's just, "we ARE"

The Unknown God

Unknown to the Greeks maybe, but Yahweh to Paul.

Putting it altogether, the meaning is clear:

  • We are living IN HIM.

  • We are being moved BY HIM.

  • We are OF HIM.


"In him we have our being εσμεν" simply means, we are of God: the atoms, the breath of life, the motivation, everything. He is the source of all that WE ARE.


The Greek text of the Textus Receptus (1550) states,

Ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν ὡς καί τινες τῶν καθ᾽ ὑμᾶς ποιητῶν εἰρήκασιν Τοῦ γὰρ καὶ γένος ἐσμέν

which is translated as,

For in Him we live, and move, and exist, even as some of your own poets have said, "For we are also His offspring."

The Greek word ἐσμέν is a verb conjugated from the lemma εἰμί ("to be") in the 1st person, plural number, present tense, and indicative mood, typically translated into English as "we are." The English word "being," which the KJV (1769) uses to translate ἐσμέν, is a gerund, a verbal noun. The Greek equivalent would likely be the noun οὐσία.1 As for ἐσμέν in Acts 17:28, Thayer writes that it means "exist" in this verse (and he provides numerous other verses wherein εἰμί exhibits the same sense).2

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1 See LSJ, οὐσία, A. II.

in Philos., like Ion. φύσις (with which it is interchanged in various uses, e. g. Philol. 11, Pl.R.359a, 359b, Arist.PA646a25, Thphr.HP6.1.1), stable being, immutable reality, opp. “γένεσις, ὅτιπερ πρὸς γένεσιν οὐσία, τοῦτο πρὸς πίστιν ἀλήθεια” Pl.Ti.29c, cf. Sph.232c; “ὧν κίνησις γένεσιν παραλαβοῦσα ἀέναον οὐ. ἐπόρισεν” Id.Lg.966e; “γένεσις μὲν τὸ σπέρμα, οὐ. δὲ τὸ τέλος” Arist.PA641b32, cf. 640a18, etc.; “ὁδὸς εἰς οὐσίαν” Id.Metaph.1003b7: hence, being in the abstract, opp. non-being (τὸ μὴ εἶναι), Pl.Tht.185c.

2 See also LSJ, εἰμί, A. I.

  • 1
    Re. note 1 (and translation): for what it's worth, both the middle and the passive from κινέω are well-attested in the LXX translating intransitive (non-passive) Hebrew forms (a la NRSV Acts 17:28, "we move"), e.g. repeatedly in Genesis for rmś, e.g. 7:14: πᾶν ἑρπετὸν κινούμενον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς (missing something of the ring of the cognates ḵol-hāremeś hārōmēś ʿal-hāʾāreṣ). Although I don't find this elsewhere in the NT, Acts 17:28 is also quoting Greek poetry that is older than itself.
    – Susan
    Jan 21 '16 at 22:25
  • "Being" as in "we have our being" is not a present participle (as you claim), but a gerund. Fairly basic English grammar, I think.
    – fdb
    Jan 22 '16 at 11:29

It only took me an hour and a half but I was finally able to photograph Acts 17:28 from the oldest manuscript copy we have, dated approximately 350 AD, taken from the Codex Sinaiticus. See here: (pdf) Obviously not showing because it's not online.

So see it here, on the codex with four columns (second row to the left). SCROLL DOWN to see the actual manuscript; it's not the first thing you see. Count 17 spaces up -that's where the verse starts- until you get to 11 spaces up, where it ends. Sounds like I'm giving you the directions to a treasure chest: (pdf)

Or, find it on their website: www.codexsinaiticus.org. (Click on "see the manuscript, enter the verse, and use the microscope and other tools on the left.)

"Being" is the Greek "esmen" ("we are, are, be" -Strong's G2070) ἐσμέν

Compare this to H1961"hayah" -to be, to exist (God's name in Exodus 3:14) הָיָה

Compare with H1933 "hava" -to breathe הָוָה

I think these are all better translated as "breath." You cannot be/exist without breath. The Holy Spirit is, at its essence, "The (ha) Breath (yah)."

I don't see "being" in this codex. The codex translates this verse as: "For in him, we live and move and are, as also some of your own poets have said: For we also his offspring are" (see website above, go to right hand side).

Since it's not in the codex -unless it's in a different codex- it's unlikely that he used the word.

"Being" is a tricky word. Its root word is “eimi,” (“I am,” "am" -Strong's G1510):

It's tricky because "eimi" debatably denotes a reference to having The Holy Spirit. In Exodus 3:14, translated in different ways, depending on what the source is, but to make things easy: "I am who am." Christ used "eimi" or "ego eimi" frequently in the gospel of John.

If Paul did use "eimi," and even if he didn't, I think he's referencing The Holy Spirit. I think that's also hinted at in the verse following (Acts 17:32).

The passage you're quoting is clearly showing Paul talking about physical things. He's saying these people worship "an unknown God" in a "city" with "objects" and "shrines made by human hands" and that God "does not live in" these places, that "he is not far from each one of us." In Acts 17:29, he says: "we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art or man's device"(KJV).

In Acts 17:32, he says: "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked." They wouldn't have mocked and this wouldn't even be in this passage if Paul wasn't referring to The Holy Spirit. The resurrection of the dead can't happen without The Holy Spirit coming first.

Taken into context... God is invisible and these people are worshiping using physical, tangible, visible things -unlike Paul and his followers who worship a spiritual, invisible, intangible Holy Spirit.


1. Question:

NASB, 28 - for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’

In regards to this, what is the meaning of "being?" Is it "to exist" or is it a spiritual state? Is it correct to say that animals "live and move and have their being?

2. Proposed Answer

Paul was explicitly appealing to Greek Philosophy, "As your own poets have said".

So, it is reasonable to interpret "Being" according to Greek Philosophy : Both a spiritual state within the "Divine", and also existence - because in Greek philosophy : all things lived, moved, and existed within the "Heavens/God".

3. Paul's Context:

  1. NASB, Acts 17:16 - Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.
  2. NASB, Acts 17:26 and He ... having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, 27 that they would seek God, ... though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move [are His offspring, γένος], as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children [γένος].’

4. Paul Was Talking to the Athenians about Greek Philosophy / Metaphyics:

Epinomis is a perfect example of this philosophy (Metaphysics): the offspring of "God", "Living and Movement", etc - even a vague reference to the "nameless god":

Although it doesn't seem Paul directly quoted Epinomis, the entire work seems dedicated to this discussion.

5. Excerpts of Plato's Dialogue:

Plato, Epinomis 982d and 982e: Most of us have thought just the opposite—that because they do the same things in the same way they have no soul: the multitude followed the lead of the unintelligent so far as to suppose that, whereas humanity was intelligent and living because it moved about, divinity was unintelligent because it abode in the same courses. But if

Plato, Epinomis 983b: - God, then, I say, will be the cause, and never in any other way is it possible. For never can a thing get living spirit by any other means than by the act of God, as we have explained; and when God is able to do this, he has found it a perfectly easy matter, firstly that all body and all mass should be made a living creature, and secondly to move it in the course he considers best.

Plato, Epinomis 983d and 983e: - But soul differs from body. Intelligent, of course, we shall hold it to be, and the other unintelligent; the one governs, the other is governed; and the one is cause of all things, while the other is incapable of causing any of its experiences: so that to assert that the heavenly bodies have come into existence through anything else, and are not the offspring, as we have said, of soul and body, is great folly and unreason.

Plato, Epinomis 983e - 984a: - However, if our statements on all such existences are to prevail, and the whole order of them is to be convincingly shown to be divine by their origin, we must certainly class them as one or the other of two things: either we must in all correctness glorify them as actual gods, or suppose them to be images produced as likenesses of the gods, creations of the gods themselves.

Plato, Epinomis, 987a: - we cannot express it in a name because it is not known ...

Greek Lemma Searches:

  1. lemma:κινέω OR lemma:κίνημα
  2. lemma:ζέω | lemma:ζήω | lemma:ζάω | lemma:ζῶ
  3. lemma:γένος | lemma:γένεσις | lemma:γενή | lemma:γενεά | lemma:γέννημα | lemma:γίγνομαι
  4. lemma:εἰμί | lemma:εἶμι
  5. lemma:ψηλαφάω | lemma:ψηλάφημα | lemma:ψηλαφία

Example: lemma:ζέω | lemma:ζήω | lemma:ζάω | lemma:ζῶ lemma:κινέω OR lemma:κίνημα

  • You know, perhaps, that Plato was Aristotle's teacher, not the other way round. By the way, the majority view of classicists is that the Epinomis is not an authentic work by Plato.
    – fdb
    Apr 11 '16 at 8:37
  • fdb - Hah. I kind of figure they were all fig newtons of each others' imaginariums. That way they could pretend someone else said whatever - without getting in to too much trouble ... I can never keep track of them all. I bet they had trading cards, "Collect them all!" :D. Fixed it though. :) (I was actually making a sideways comment to Metaphysics, as another possible reference). Apr 11 '16 at 18:48

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