30 τοὺς μὲν οὖν χρόνους τῆς ἀγνοίας ὑπεριδὼν ὁ θεὸς τὰ νῦν παραγγέλλει τοῖς ἀνθρώποις πάντας πανταχοῦ μετανοεῖν, 31 καθότι ἔστησεν ἡμέραν ἐν ᾗ μέλλει κρίνειν τὴν οἰκουμένην ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ ἐν ἀνδρὶ ᾧ ὥρισεν, πίστιν παρασχὼν πᾶσιν ἀναστήσας αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν.
The relative time significance of the aorist participle ὑπεριδὼν to the main verb παραγγέλλει is complicated by the fact that vs. 30 begins with the combination of μὲν οὖν. The μὲν somehow relates the immediate clause to the subsequent clause, but we should be careful not to assume that the μὲν implies contrast in and of itself, especially without a following δὲ.
Also, the οὖν may include the possible interpretation that the time of the action indicated by the aorist participle in the initial clause may itself be subsequent to τοὺς χρόνους τῆς ἀγνοίας. In other words, it seems that the μὲν readily allows for an interpretation that understands God's "overlooking the times of ignorance" to be more closely associated with the following present tense verb. And thus, the aorist participle can be understood possibly as a near past event (i.e. during any recent time prior to his present act of proclaiming, including the near past event of his sending of the Christ - see vs. 31), and the relative timing of the aorist participle itself may also follow the οὖν not only logically but also in time. The relative time significance of the aorist participle is still antecedent to the main verb, but both actions are subsequent to the logic (and timing) of the οὖν "therefore." A translation might best reflect this significance with something that looks much more like how we would normally see present participles translated: "Therefore, overlooking the times of ignorance, God now proclaims to all people everywhere to repent." I believe that still reflects the antecedent time of the aorist participle, but in a way that is much more faithful to what is going on there with the μὲν οὖν.
Most English versions translate this verse...
- (1) as if the initial dependent participial clause is not dependent on the second clause that includes a finite main verb
(These versions do this: RSV, NLT, KJV, ESV, NCV, TEV, REB, NIV, GWN, CEV, ASV, NAB, NKJV, The Message)
- (2) as if the action of God in overlooking the times of ignorance is an event that happened absolutely in the past rather than being more intimately related to his near past action of appointing Jesus as Judge (Acts 17:31) and his now ever-present action of calling men to repent (Acts 17:30b).
These versions do this more so than others:
NLT – God overlooked people's ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him… (emphasis mine)
NIV – In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (emphasis mine)
CEV – In the past, God forgaveall this because people did not know what they were doing. But now he says that everyone everywhere must turn to him. (emphasis mine)
Message - God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life-change. (emphasis mine)
I do think that a possible (yet less probable) interpretation of this verse is that God forgave or overlooked peoples’ sins in the past and that he will do so no longer unless we repent. To arrive at this interpretation, one would understand the relative time significance of the aorist participle extending back before the logical relation of the οὖν "therefore." Yet I believe the μὲν calls the reader to associate that aorist participle more closely with the following verb and therefore also subsequent to the logic of the οὖν.
Thus, I read Acts 17:30 very much along the lines of 2 Corinthains 5:19: “…God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them…” The "not counting their sins against them" is intimately wrapped up in God’s action in Christ. The same is true in Acts 17:30.
While it is a present participle in 2 Cor. 5:19 that is simultaneously related to the main verb, the aorist participle in Acts 17:30 is antecedent in time to the main verb. But antecedent time does not necessarily dictate a relation of the remote past to the present. It could be two actions that are closely related and follow (even quickly) one upon the other.
I also see Romans 3:25 as supporting the argument I am making here. The idea that God in his forebearance left the sins committed beforehand unpunished does NOT imply that they were previously forgiven for some other reason than we have now in Christ Jesus. And it certainly doesn't limit another NT author from speaking about that forebearance in the present time (or with a near past reference). In fact, Romans 3:25 speaks of the forebearance of God regarding past sins in relation to the display of his justice "in the present time." In other words, God's forebearance for past sins continued into the near past (when God sent his Chosen One to redeem the world) and continues into the present. I think both Romans 3:25 and Acts 17:30 are talking about God's forebearance in terms of what God was doing at that time in history. He didn't bring the world to final judgement (as he did in the days of Noah), but overlooking the previous sins, he now made this new way in Jesus. The idea is similar to what it says in 2 Peter 3:9. God is not slow in keeping his promise (to bring about the Day of Judgment - see vs. 7), but he is patient, not wanting any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
It seems to me that the most probable reason that the aorist participle ὑπεριδὼν “having overlooked” is used in Acts 17:30 along with the present tense main verb παραγγέλλει “he is proclaiming” is that the action of the aorist participle would have been closely associated with what Luke goes on to say about God’s near past action of appointing a man to judge the world, which was proven by his death and resurrection, also in the near past (Acts 17:31). God’s willingness to overlook the times of ignorance was expressed in that near past action of appointing a new Man who would judge in righteousness. It is not saying that God generally overlooks sin if people are ignorant or that God generally did that in the times of ignorance before Christ. No, it is simply saying that God instituted a new thing rather than giving full vent to his wrath at that time. His action of appointing Jesus as the Judge is the past action that represents his overlooking the times of ignorance, no more than that. The reason that the main verb παραγγέλλει “is proclaiming” appears in the present tense is that this is an action that is continuously or generally applicable between the resurrection and the future day of judgment. Until that future day of judgment comes, God is proclaiming that all people should repent and be judged in righteousness by this new appointee.
It is difficult to bring this interpretation of the tenses and discourse particles out in translation, especially if we are constrained by the need to use shorter sentences, and even more so in languages where strategies for relating one clause dependently to another are not always straightforward. Most modern English versions have not found a good way to do it in this verse, although I believe that is probably because this interpretation may not be equally considered.
Some versions keep the first clause dependent but still manage to express a meaning that understands the overlooking as something absolute and not simply with the near past event of appointing Jesus as Judge…
- NRSV - While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent… (emphasis mine)
NET - Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent… (emphasis mine)
ISV - Though God has overlooked those times of ignorance, he now commands everyone everywhere to repent… (emphasis mine)
The only versions that seem to allow the most clear interpretation along the lines that I have described above (relating what God has done in regards to the past in close association and not contrasted with what he is doing in present) are highly literal translations and usually not very clear. The NASB is not bad …
- NASB - Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent…
Wuest’s Expanded Translation - Now, therefore, the times of ignorance God having allowed to pass unnoticed, with reference to the present set of circumstances He declares to men that everyone everywhere should be repenting…
Young’s Literal - the times, indeed, therefore, of the ignorance God having overlooked, doth now command all men everywhere to reform…
1890 Darby - God therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, now enjoins men that they shall all everywhere repent…
I.Howard Marshall in his 1980 TNTC commentary says, “God was prepared to overlook their ignorance, but now he will do so no longer, and calls on all men everywhere to repent.” This represents the common interpretation found in most English versions, and it makes too great a distinction between the two clauses rather than the one defining the other.
For a description on how the connecting words μὲν and οὖν function in Acts, Stephen Levinsohn's Textual Connections in Acts has some good discussion on this starting on p. 141. His discussion would support the interpretation that "God having overlooked the times of ignorance" is not a separate statement about God's past behavior unrelated to the surrounding context. Rather, it relates through the inference οὖν "therefore" just as the following statement "he proclaims to all men everywhere to repent" does. Both of the statements relate to the previous passage in the same way with the "therefore." The μὲν of the initial dependent clause anticipates the following clause and correlates them together (even in the absence of a following δέ). Both clauses are a continuation (result) from a previous event (cf. Acts 17:28-29).
F.F. Bruce in his 1990 3rd edition Eerdmans commentary quotes A. C. McGiffert… “The ‘overlooking’ of ignorance which is here referred to does not imply that in pre-Christian days God regarded the idolatry of the heathen with indifference or saved them from the consequences of their sins, denounced so vigorously in Rom. i., but simply that the time for the final judgment had not come until now, and that they were, therefore, summoned now to prepare for it as they had not been before” (History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age [Edinburgh, 1897], p. 260, n. 1).
Below are some translations that I have come up with that attempt to unambiguously reflect the interpretation of the grammar in Acts 17:30 that I have described above. I have also found that Runge's recent explanation of μὲν in Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament (2010) says more clearly what I have been trying to say. After summarizing Denniston's description of μὲν in classical Greek, Runge states, "The particle μὲν is best understood as unmarked for contrast. Instead it is anticipatory in nature, creating the expectation that another related point will follow." (p. 74)
So the following translations attempt to avoid an adversative sense between the first dependent clause and the second main clause. These attempt to convey the prospective sense of μὲν rather than an adversative sense. These reflect the idea that God's overlooking the times of ignorance was not something that he used to do in the past. Rather, it is the action of God in the more recent past that is the prerequisite to his present proclamation of repentance. These reflect an interpretation that sees God's overlooking the times of ignorance as referring to a temporary delay in bringing about the final day of judgment, a delay that involves the opportunity for repentance and judgment through the newly appointed Man. Verse 31 supports this conclusion...
- (1) 30 Therefore, overlooking the times of ignorance, God now is proclaiming to all people everywhere to repent, 31 for he set a day in which he is about to judge the world in righteousness by the man he appointed.
(2) 30 Therefore, [temporarily] overlooking the times of ignorance, God now is proclaiming to all people everywhere to repent, 31 for he set a day in which he is about to judge the world in righteousness by the man he appointed.
(3) 30 Therefore, God, having [temporarily] overlooked the times of ignorance, is now proclaiming to all people everywhere to repent, 31 for he set a day in which he is about to judge the world in righteousness by the man he appointed.
(4) 30 Therefore, God, after overlooking the times of ignorance, is now proclaiming to all people everywhere to repent, 31 for he set a day in which he is about to judge the world in righteousness by the man he appointed.
Examples (3) and (4) are somewhat awkwardly able to keep "God" in the participial clause as in the Greek, but for issues of English naturalness, I have moved "God" to the main clause in (1) and (2).
I wouldn't really want to add the word "temporarily" in a translation unless that was the only way to express the relative time significance of the aorist participle in combination with the anticipatory μὲν . That is why I favor (1) over (2). Using "having overlooked" in (3), however, really demands that "temporarily" be included to avoid an absolute understanding of God overlooking the times of ignorance in the past. In (4), using "after" seems to allow this interpretation without using "temporarily," yet it still seems somewhat ambiguous as to whether the "overlooking" was absolute in the past or more closely associated with the new proclamation.