Digression on False Worship


1Foolish by nature were all who were in ignorance of God,

and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing the one who is,*

and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;a

2Instead either fire, or wind, or the swift air,

or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water,

or the luminaries of heaven, the governors* of the world, they considered gods.b

3Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods,

let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these;

for the original source of beauty fashioned them.c

4Or if they were struck by their might and energy,

let them realize from these things how much more powerful is the one who made them.d

5For from the greatness and the beauty of created things

their original author, by analogy, is seen.

6But yet, for these the blame is less;*

For they have gone astray perhaps,

though they seek God and wish to find him.

7For they search busily among his works,

but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair.

8But again, not even these are pardonable.

9For if they so far succeeded in knowledge

that they could speculate about the world,

how did they not more quickly find its Lord?


10But wretched are they, and in dead things are their hopes,

who termed gods things made by human hands:

Gold and silver, the product of art, and images of beasts,

or useless stone, the work of an ancient hand.e

The Carpenter and Wooden Idols

11A carpenter may cut down a suitable treef

and skillfully scrape off all its bark,

And deftly plying his art

produce something fit for daily use,g

12And use the scraps from his handiwork

in preparing his food, and have his fill;

13Then the good-for-nothing refuse from these remnants,

crooked wood grown full of knots,

he takes and carves to occupy his spare time.h

This wood he models with mindless skill,

and patterns it on the image of a human being

14or makes it resemble some worthless beast.

When he has daubed it with red and crimsoned its surface with red stain,

and daubed over every blemish in it,i

15He makes a fitting shrine for it

and puts it on the wall, fastening it with a nail.j

16Thus he provides for it lest it fall down,

knowing that it cannot help itself;

for, truly, it is an image and needs help.k

17But when he prays about his goods or marriage or children,l

he is not ashamed to address the thing without a soul.

For vigor he invokes the powerless;

18for life he entreats the dead;

For aid he beseeches the wholly incompetent;

for travel, something that cannot even walk;

19For profit in business and success with his hands

he asks power of a thing with hands utterly powerless.

* [13:19] The author holds a relatively benign view of the efforts of the philosophers to come to know God from various natural phenomena. This is not a question of proving the existence of God in scholastic style. The author thinks that the beauty and might of the world should have pointed by analogy (v. 5) to the Maker. Instead, those “in ignorance of God” remained fixed on the elements (v. 2, three named, along with the stars). His Greek counterparts are not totally blameless; they should have gone further and acknowledged the creator of nature’s wonders (vv. 45). Cf. Rom 1:1823; Acts 17:2728.

* [13:1] One who is: this follows the Greek translation of the sacred name for God in Hebrew; cf. Ex 3:14.

* [13:2] Governors: the sun and moon (cf. Gn 1:16).

* [13:6] The blame is less: the greater blame is incurred by those mentioned in v. 10; 15:1416.

* [13:1019] The second digression is an example of the polemic against idolatry (cf. Is 44:920; Jer 10:39; Ps 135:1518). Whether the idols be of wood or clay, they were made by human beings and have become the source of evil.

a. [13:1] Acts 14:17; Eph 4:1719.

b. [13:2] Gn 1:1419; Dt 4:19; Jb 31:2628.

c. [13:3] Ps 8:4.

d. [13:4] Jer 10:2; Bar 6:39.

e. [13:10] Wis 3:11; 15:5, 17; Dt 4:2528; 7:25; 27:15; Ps 115:4; Hos 14:4; Acts 17:29.

f. [13:1119] Is 44:920.

g. [13:11] Wis 15:7; Bar 6:58.

h. [13:13] Dt 4:16.

i. [13:14] Jer 10:9.

j. [13:15] Is 40:20; 41:7; 44:13.

k. [13:16] 1 Sm 5:35; Bar 6:57.

l. [13:1719] Wis 15:15.

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