Vol. 2 - No. 3
Does God Wink At Sin?
by R. L. (Bob) Craig
“In times of this ignorance, God winked at, but now he commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30).
Through the years I have used this verse rather loosely and have heard many outstanding proclaimers of the Word do likewise. In fact, my usage was probably presumed because of my confidence in such, because it sounded so plausible, because it was a useful crutch in regard to some difficult happenings, but primarily because of my lack of initiative in pursuing a closer search into the meaning of the verse.
Often in speaking or thinking in regard to several Old Testament practices that were indulged in by the Jews, seemingly with God's approbation, Acts 17:30 comes to mind. We reason that God allowed them to have a king even though this was not in harmony with his will, in fact, contrary to his order. We wonder why God would allow them, under Moses, to put away their wives for every cause, even though from the beginning this was not in harmony with God's marital arrangement. We also are made to wonder about polygamy, instrumental music in worship, etc., etc., and it is so easy to misapply Acts 17:30 and make these things fall under the canopy of “times of ignorance” in which God “winked at” or “overlooked” such things.
If we will follow just one simple rule of interpretation, we will know that none of the above reasoning can be what the Apostle was talking about. That rule is the context: to whom is he speaking and what is the subject under discussion. Of course, he was speaking to the Gentile Athenians and the subject was idol gods in contrast to the true and living God.
Never did he “overlook” or “wink at” the times in which the Hebrews went after idols. Beginning at Sinai, when they asked Aaron to make them a god, and his product was a golden calf, to which they did obeisance, God physically punished them. On this occasion, you recall, God would have consumed them and made of the seed of Moses this great nation he had promised, but Moses besought God in behalf of the people and his wrath was stayed. Even so, Moses called out the famous challenge: “Who is on the Lord's side?” (Exodus 33:26); the Levites responded and “there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.” (vs. 28).
Joshua further warned these people in his last charge to them: “Therefore it shall come to pass, that as all good things are come upon you, which the Lord your God promised you; so shall the Lord bring upon you all evil things, until he have destroyed you from off this good land which the Lord your God hath given you. When ye have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves down to them;” (Joshua 23:15,16). This was literally and physically fulfilled when they were taken into Babylonian captivity.
So, most certainly, God did not overlook or wink at the idolatry of the Jewish nation. They are not, under any circumstances, included in the statement of Acts 17:30, but with them, “every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward” (Hebrews 2:2).
All right, to what extent were these Athenians ignorant and just how did God “overlook” their idolatry? They were not ignorant to the extent that they COULD NOT know about God. They were ignorant in that they WOULD NOT know of him. This is stated very emphatically in Romans the first chapter as Paul addresses himself to the sins of the Gentiles…that which may be known of God is manifest in (to) them; for God hath shown it unto them. 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: 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. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image and worshipped and served the creature more (rather) than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Romans 1:19, 25).
So, the Gentiles, including these Athenians, were not EXCUSED in their worship of idols. They were guilty of sin. Their ignorance, willful since they COULD HAVE KNOWN GOD had they searched for him, was manifested in the altar containing the inscription, “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD! Whom therefore ye IGNORANTLY worship…” (Acts17:23). The fact that God overlooked or winked at their times of ignorance does not mean that he had excused them from their sin; he had not absolved them of their guilt.” “…they which commit such things are worthy of death…” (Romans 1:32).
The overlooking or winking at was in contrast to the way he had dealt with Israel. Remember, when Israel, in their profound knowledge of God, went after idols, God determined to utterly destroy them. Moses interceded in their behalf but still, many died. Then, in the other mentioned instance, "he destroyed them" from off the land he had given them.
So, rather than destroying the Gentile world for their idolatrous ways, he "put up with," "winked at," or "overlooked" their idol worship until the advent of the Savior. Now, he demands that all men, everywhere, repent. Vines says, in regard to the word "overlook," which is the proper translation from the original: "God bare with them with-out interposing by way of punishment." Lenski elaborates on the word and is in basic agreement with Vines.
So, Paul was saying: "During the time of your willful ignorance, while you were worshipping idols and an unknown God, he allowed you to remain, he did not destroy you, until complete development of grace be revealed. Now, you have an opportunity to repent -- or else -- you will perish!"