• Redeemer Stillwater

Not Our God

Ancient Worship

The First Century Roman world that Jesus lived and ministered in was polytheistic. Recognition and worship of multiple gods and goddesses was not only common, it was seen to be the devout duty of good Roman citizens. This was because the success and good fortunes of the empire was believed to be in the hands of the gods. To fail to ascribe proper reverence and worship to the gods was not merely a social taboo, but was seen as carelessness toward both the state and one’s fellow citizens because offending the gods could prove disastrous for all (1). We can see this in Acts 17 where Paul speaks in the Areopagus in Athens talking about their altar “To an Unknown God” (Acts 17:23). The attitude of the Athenians was that if there was possibly a god in existence that they were unfamiliar with, they wanted to be in his good graces rather than bring calamity on themselves through their lack of worship. This polytheistic posture drove their piety.

Paying proper homage to the gods so as to earn their favor required different acts of worship including prayers, offerings, and sacrifices. An example of this would be the food and drink offerings that were poured out on the hearths of homes so that the goddess Hestia would protect their household and preserve order within it (2). Not only were the “right” forms of worship done in just the “right” way required to earn the favor of the god one was trying to appease, It was believed by Greeks and Romans that the larger the offering presented, or the longer the prayer recited, the more attention and favor the worshipper would earn from the gods.

This was because the Greek and Roman gods were not personal gods. They did not have a relationship with their subjects or care about meeting their needs. In fact, they often required things from their worshippers rather than being intent on providing for them. And they were also fickle. “Proper” worship did not guarantee