Acts 17:26

ESV And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,
NIV From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
NASB and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
CSB From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.
NLT From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
KJV 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;

What does Acts 17:26 mean?

Paul knows that when sharing the gospel, it's helpful to start from a common point of view. In Athens, surrounded by temples, monuments, altars, and idols, Paul finds an altar dedicated to "the unknown god." He uses this "god" as an illustration of the God who created the world and everything and everyone in it. This God is so great, He cannot be contained by human-made structures like temples. He is our Creator, and we can do nothing for Him. He even orchestrated our lifetimes and places—individually and as people-groups—with the purpose of inviting us to look for Him (Acts 17:22–25).

Even the Greek poets believe He created us and gives us life—how could His creation think He could be represented by an idol? To think so is ignorance that God fortunately overlooked. Now, however, is time to face the truth. It is wrong that we try to confine God in buildings and idols, and He will judge us for it. In fact, He has already identified His judge by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:29–31).

Paul's strategy is good, but he must know it will largely fail. The message of the gospel includes aspects which run absolutely contrary to the worldviews of his audience: Stoic and Epicurean philosophers. Epicureans were materialistic, in that they didn't believe in the supernatural such as souls. If there is no soul, there cannot be resurrection from the dead. And if there is no resurrection, there is no purpose for judgment. Stoics believed souls enter the logos and become one with the law of the cosmos. A handful in Paul's audience believe his message, some express interest in hearing more, but it seems that the majority are more convinced more than ever that Paul is a "babbler" (Acts 17:18, 32–34).

Although the purpose of Paul's comment is not to argue the validity of God's creation of Adam and Eve as described in Genesis 1—2, there's no reason to think Paul doesn't affirm a literal reading of the creation story. Athenians believed the first Athenians had popped up out of the soil like Athena from Zeus's head. They believed they were the first to come to Greece, so they had no collective memory of the journey, but that they remember everyone else coming. "Periods" is from the Greek root word kairos. It means a set amount of time during which a defined qualification is fulfilled. Not only does God authorize who will rule (Romans 13:1–7) and what the boundaries of a nation will be (Deuteronomy 32:8), He also determines how long a nation should last. He arranges the time and place for every nation "that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him" (Acts 17:27).
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