17:24, 25 Missionaries tell us that the best place to begin in teaching pagans about God is the account of creation. This is exactly where Paul began with the people of Athens. He introduced God as the One who made the world and everything in it. As he looked around on the numerous idol temples nearby, the apostle reminded his hearers that the true God does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He dependent on the service of men’s hands. In idol temples, the priests often bring food and other “necessities” to their gods. But the true God does not need anything from man, because He is the source of life, breath, and all things.
24. “The God who made the world and all things in it, because he is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in manmade temples. 25. And he is not served by human hands as if he needs anything; rather, he gives to everyone life, breath, and all things.”
The message Paul proclaims is thoroughly scriptural. Although the people in his audience are unaware of the references, Paul teaches that God, who is the creator of the heavens and the earth, gives life to all people. He does this by freely quoting the words of Isaiah:
This is what God the Lord says—
he who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it. [42:5, NIV]
Paul puts the teaching concerning God and his revelation in the place of the Stoic philosophy that sees deities in every aspect of the world but has no doctrine of creation. Paul teaches monotheism over against Stoic pantheism. He introduces God, who made the world and everything in it. The Greek word kosmos signifies the world arranged in orderly fashion “as the sum total of everything here and now.” When Paul adds to the term kosmos the phrase and all things in it, he stresses the orderliness of creation that finds its origin in one personal God. He says that this God is Lord of heaven and earth. Paul intimates that as Lord, God governs and cares for all that he has made, including this Athenian audience.
Incidentally, Paul’s reference to creation has an echo in the speech he delivered in Lystra (14:15–17; compare Gen. 14:19, 22; Exod. 20:11). There he stressed that God provides the people with plenty of food and fills their hearts with joy. Now he asserts that God rules over everything in heaven and on earth.
“[God] does not dwell in manmade temples.” Again Paul proclaims the teachings of the Old Testament when he points out that God does not live in temples made by human hands (see 7:48; 1 Kings 8:27). Simple reasoning should convince the Athenians that God who has created heaven and earth cannot be restricted to the confines of a temple.
“And he is not served by human hands as if he needs anything.” God is immeasurably greater than the human mind can ever fathom. Therefore, in the psalms God says that because everything in this world belongs to him, he has no need for bulls and goats as sacrificial animals (Ps. 50:8–13). To the point, God is not dependent on sacrifices that man brings to him. With this teaching, Paul finds a listening ear among the Athenian philosophers. “Here may be discerned approximations to the Epicurean doctrine that God needs nothing from human beings and to the Stoic belief that he is the source of all life.…”
“Rather, he gives to everyone life, breath, and all things.” God is a personal God who not only creates but also sustains everything he has made. This self-sufficient God daily cares for man and for his great creation in the minutest details. God is the source of life, for he gives breath to all living creatures. Note the striking contrast Paul makes in this verse (v. 25). He says that God, who does not “need anything,” provides “all things” for everyone. In the Greek, the expression all things connotes that God in his support of man excludes absolutely nothing from the totality of creation. God gives man everything he needs and thus upholds him by his power.
The God who made the world and all things in it (17:24a)
Paul’s bold assertion that God made the world and all things in it was a powerful and upsetting truth for some of the Athenians to hear. It ran contrary to the Epicureans, who believed matter was eternal and therefore had no creator, and to the Stoics, who as pantheists believed everything was part of God—who certainly couldn’t have created Himself. But it was still the basic approach required. Whenever the logic of a creator has been eliminated, people are cut off completely from God.
The truth that God is the creator of the universe and all it contains is just as unpopular in our day. The prevailing explanation by the ungodly for the origin of all things is evolution. It is taught dogmatically by its zealous adherents (including, sadly, many Christians) as a scientific fact as firmly established as the law of gravity. Yet evolution is not even a scientific theory (since it is not observable, repeatable, or testable), let alone an established fact.
The impressive scientific evidence against evolution can be briefly summarized as follows. First, the second law of thermodynamics shows that evolution is theoretically impossible. Second, the evidence of the fossil record shows evolution in fact did not take place. (Among the many helpful books presenting the scientific case against evolution are Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis [Bethesda, Md.: Adler and Adler, 1985]; Duane T. Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Still Say NO! [El Cajon, Calif.: Institute for Creation Research, 1995]; Henry M. Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985]; Henry M. Morris and Gary E. Parker, What Is Creation Science? [San Diego: Master Book Publishers, 1984].)
The second law of thermodynamics, one of the most well-established principles in all of science, states that the natural tendency is for things to go from a more ordered to a less ordered state. Noted atheist Isaac Asimov acknowledged that “as far as we know, all changes are in the direction of increasing entropy, of increasing disorder, of increasing randomness, of running down” (cited in Henry M. Morris, ed., Scientific Creationism [San Diego: Creation-Life, 1976], 39). Yet, incredibly, evolutionists argue that precisely the opposite has happened. According to them, things have gone from a less ordered state to a more ordered one. Attempts to harmonize evolution with the second law of thermodynamics have not been successful, and it remains a powerful witness against evolution (cf. Emmett L. Williams, ed., Thermodynamics and the Development of Order [Norcross, Ga.: Creation Research Society Books, 1987]).
The only way to determine if evolution has happened is to examine the fossil record, which contains the history of life on earth. Although presented in popular literature and textbooks as proof for evolution, the fossil record is actually a major source of embarrassment for evolutionists. The innumerable transitional forms between phylogenetic groups demanded by evolution are simply not found. Although an evolutionist, David B. Kitts of the University of Oklahoma admits,
Despite the bright promise that paleontology provides a means of “seeing” evolution, it has presented some nasty difficulties for evolutionists the most notorious of which is the presence of “gaps” in the fossil record. Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them. (“Paleontology and Evolutionary Theory,” Evolution 28 [September 1974]: 467)
Even Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University, perhaps the most well-known contemporary defender of evolution, candidly admits,
The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils. (“Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History LXXXVI [May 1977]: 14)
Paul’s affirmation that God made the world and all things in it finds its support in Scripture. The Bible opens with the simple declaration “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). In Psalm 146:5–6 the psalmist writes, “How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God; Who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them.” Isaiah asks rhetorically, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable” (Isa. 40:28). In Isaiah 45:18, Isaiah describes God as “the God who formed the earth and made it.” Jeremiah 10:12 says of God, “It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens.” Taking comfort in God’s power, Jeremiah exclaims, “Ah Lord God! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee” (Jer. 32:17). Zechariah 12:1 refers to God as He “who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.”
The New Testament also teaches that God is the creator. Ephesians 3:9 declares that God “created all things.” Colossians 1:16 says of Jesus Christ, “By Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him.” The great hymn of praise to God in Revelation 4:11 reads, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.” In Revelation 10:6 an angel “swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it.”
Still, the truth that God is the creator of all things is widely rejected—even by some who profess to believe in His existence. They see Him as a remote first cause, who merely set in motion the evolutionary process and can make no claim on anyone’s life. But the creator God can and does. Sinful men are uncomfortable with the thought that they are accountable to One who created them and hence owns them.
When preaching to Jews, Paul began with the Old Testament Scripture; but with Gentiles, he began with the need to explain the first cause (see the discussion of 14:15 in chapter 7 of this volume).
since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands (17:24b)
Because God created them, He is Lord of heaven and earth, and their rightful ruler. Genesis 14:19 describes God as “possessor of heaven and earth,” while David says in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” The psalmist wrote: “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19). Humbled by God’s devastating judgment on him, the pagan king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, was forced to admit:
[God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, “What hast Thou done?” (Dan. 4:34–35)
The God who created the universe obviously does not dwell in temples made with hands. In 1 Kings 8:27 Solomon said, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee, how much less this house which I have built!” (cf. 2 Chron. 2:6; 6:18). David expressed that same truth in Psalm 139:1–12:
O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me. Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up; Thou dost understand my thought from afar. Thou dost scrutinize my path and my lying down, and art intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all. Thou hast enclosed me behind and before, and laid Thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it. Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to Thee.
The folly of idolatry is most clearly seen in its denial of God’s infinity.
neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; (17:25)
Paul points out the absurdity of imagining that God, the creator and ruler of the universe, should need to be served by human hands, as though He needed anything. Job 22:2–3 asks, “Can a vigorous man be of use to God…. Is there any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous, or profit if you make your ways perfect?” God declares to Israel:
I shall take no young bull out of your house, nor male goats out of your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all it contains. (Ps. 50:9–12)
Far from needing anything from men, God gives to all life and breath and all things. Psalm 104:14–15 reads:
[God] causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man’s heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man’s heart.
To the Romans Paul wrote, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). He commanded Timothy to “instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above,” notes James, “coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow” (James 1:17).
Nor does God give only to His children. Jesus said in Matthew 5:45 that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God blesses all men, even the most hardened sinners, with the benefits of common grace.
24–25 The substance of Paul’s Athenian address concerns the nature of God and the responsibility of people to God. Contrary to all pantheistic and polytheistic notions, God is the one, Paul says, who has created the world and everything in it: he is “the Lord of heaven and earth” (v. 24; cf. Ge 14:19, 22). He does not live in temples “built by hands” (en cheiropoiētois); nor is he dependent for his existence on anything he has created. Rather, he is the source of life and breath and everything else that humanity possesses (v. 25). Earlier in the fifth century BC, Euripides asked, “What house built by craftsmen could enclose the form divine within enfolding walls?” (Fragments 968); and in the first century BC, Cicero (Verr. 2.5.187) considered the image of Ceres worshiped in Sicily worthy of honor because it was not made with hands but had fallen from the sky. While Paul’s argument can be paralleled at some points by the higher paganism of the day, its content is decidedly biblical (cf. 1 Ki 8:27; Isa 66:1–2) and its forms of expression are Jewish as well as Greek (cf. Isa 2:18; 19:1; 31:7 [LXX]; Sib. Or. 4.8–12; Ac 7:41, 48; Heb 8:2; 9:24 on the pejorative use of “built with hands” for idols and temples).
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1638). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, pp. 632–634). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (p. 326). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Longenecker, R. N. (2007). Acts. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 983). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.