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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. 30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: — Acts 17:29-30

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. 24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. — Romans 1:18-25

In Acts 17, Saint Paul seems to suggest that God has excused those who practice idolatry, because they were ignorant of the truth; however, in Romans 1, he says that the truth of God is known by the means of His creation, and so there is no excuse for the idolatry of the pagans. He then says that God has punished these pagans by leaving them to engage in peverse acts, such as homosexuality. How can this discrepancy be explained?

Thank you.

  • "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30). The two phrases in this verse speak of THEN and NOW. It's like pre-Christ mankind is a child that could be forgiven his ignorance, but post-Christ mankind is bar mitzvah and his ignorance will no longer be "winked at". – enegue Sep 18 '18 at 4:28
  • Not knowing God (whose true identity cannot be guessed, but only revealed explicitly, as was the case with all the prophets), and not knowing the things of God (which are implicitly revealed in every single human heart by the voice of one's conscience, Romans 2:15), are two entirely different things. Or perhaps not entirely different: if one worships animals, one might ultimately become just like them. – Lucian Sep 18 '18 at 7:36
  • @enegue But Saint Paul goes on to say that these people were practicing homosexuality, among other things. It is obvious that he is speaking of the Romans. The Romans were engaging in these practices, and the Greeks were as well, before the coming of the Gospel. Doesn't this mean that these things took place before the Gospel came to them, and thus in those times of ignorance that Saint Paul is speaking of? Perhaps I am mistaken about something. – CMK Sep 18 '18 at 11:40
  • @Lucian But notice how Saint Paul says that they changed the glory of God into the glory of humans as well. Every group of pagan people that I am aware of, from the Native Americans to the Chinese, have worshipped gods who were described as having human physical features and characteristics. Some have even deified certain humans who have lived on earth, like the Chinese did with Guan Yu, for example. This is not to mention the worship of animals in addition. Saint Paul's condemnation condemns all pagan peoples, which is good, because they were wrong to do what they did; however, it seems to – CMK Sep 18 '18 at 11:46
  • ... Contradict what he said earlier to the Athenians. – CMK Sep 18 '18 at 11:46
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Paul makes an amazing statement in Romans:

NASB Romans 1:16

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

The gospel, Paul says is God's power to save. So prior to the propitiation in Christ's blood God was unable to save people:

NIV Zecharaiah 13:1 "On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

So prior to the gospel there was no point in repenting:

NIV 1 Corinthians 15:32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

Instead his wrath was revealed by handing the nations over to their passions and the inevitable consequences:

NIV Romans 1:27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

But now a righteousness is available for any and all who believe so God is calling people to repent:

NIV Luke 15:

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

NIV Romans 2:4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

So to answer the question, God did not change but he does change his dispensations.

  • So, are you contending that God did not punish these people with eternal damnation for their idolatry, but merely allowed them to do whatever evil that they were doing because they refused to acknowledge God in some significant form as opposed to idols, but now comnands people everywhere to turn from these idols and repent? – CMK Sep 19 '18 at 11:42
  • I don't know anything about "eternal damnation" but I do know that "death passed through to all men because all sinned". No amount of repenting was going to change that. Now God calls men to repent and believe the gospel. – Ruminator Sep 19 '18 at 11:47
  • Alright, so you don't believe in eternal damnation. However, what would you say about the rest of my comment? – CMK Sep 20 '18 at 1:08
  • Yes, I think that's what I'm saying. God would routinely punish Israel for her adultery (sharing raisin cakes with other gods) but rarely got involved with the gentiles. Now there is a message to every human being, including gentiles that Christ died for their sins and God raised him from the dead and all who believe are saved. So now repentance is required because repentance is effectual: ESV Psalm 130: 3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. – Ruminator Sep 20 '18 at 1:19
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    Thank you. Your answer makes sense, and it is faithful both to Acts 17 and to Romans 1. – CMK Sep 20 '18 at 12:44
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In order to properly answer your question we must first understand the context of the latter verses of Acts 17.

Paul was speaking to the Athenians. He used their own altar to the unknown god as a way to speak to them about Christ. Paul then goes on to attempt to change the Athenians perceptions of god. Paul says that God is not a god that dwells in temples, not worshipped at men’s hands, determines the boundary and history for each nation, that each nation should seek Him but He is not a god that should be thought of as something that could be fashioned with the hands of men.

23 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. 24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; 25 Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; 26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; 27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: 28 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. 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.

Then in order for Paul to get to the gospel, he uses the truth about God’s longsuffering with man, in that, God has been longsuffering with man’s idolatry and has not judged many nations for their practice (understanding that God has executed judgment on some nations for this, obviously the Greeks have not been judged). Paul however, says that God is now looking for all nations to repent and then goes right into the truth about Christ as He will judge the world in righteousness and has given assurance to mankind by raising Christ from the dead.

30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: 31 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 unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

So, just because Paul states the truth about God’s longsuffering, does not negate His position on idolatry. (all verses KJV)

  • Any comment on the down vote? – alb Sep 18 '18 at 22:23
  • But how does this relate to Romans 1:18 and following? – CMK Sep 20 '18 at 1:16
  • I attempted to answer the specific question you asked. There is no contradiction in what Paul was saying in Acts and Romans. In Romans, he states that God is not in favor of idolatry and has punished Israel and others for their idolatry. In Acts, Paul states that God was longsuffering and does not judge everyone for their idolatry. Just because God extends mercy, does not mean that there was a conflict with the text. I tried not to comment on other aspects of the issue, again, trying to just answer only your specific question. Is there some other aspect of the issue you'd like addressed? – alb Sep 20 '18 at 19:35
  • So, you're saying that Romans 1:18 and following are not referring to all pagans, but only some of them? – CMK Sep 20 '18 at 21:58
  • Yes; we have to understand the reason Paul wrote those words. In Romans 1, Paul was building a case to make a dramatic impact on his audience, ie, the Jews at Rome. He wanted to show them that both the Jew and the Gentile are guilty before God based on the same principal. (See Rom 2:11-14). In chapter 1, he goes on a lengthy diatribe about the Gentiles at Sodom being judged for their idolatry and homosexuality because he knows the Jews were strident in the condemnation of these Gentiles for this practice. (con't) – alb Sep 21 '18 at 0:27

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