Re: Acts 17:25 therapeuetai

From: Carl William Conrad (
Date: Thu Mar 12 1998 - 16:04:36 EST

On Thu, 12 Mar 1998, Randall M. Tidmore wrote:

> Hello,
> I am new to this list, and looking forward to using it (more from reading
> the submission or asking questions). I hope this will be a good place to
> "bounce" ideas around. My name is Randall (Randy) Tidmore. I have been
> preaching for the church of Christ for twenty years. However, I am now only
> in my second semester of beginner NT Greek.

Welcome to the list!
> Having introduced myself briefly, I would like to "bounce" an idea on the
> verse and word in my subject line. The KJV translates "worship" only here.
> Newer translations translate "served."
> Isn't there a more to this than that? It seems to me that Paul, having
> become very disgusted with the idolatry in Athens, makes a tremendous point.
> The true God, is not healed (perhaps "repaired") by the hands of men. Paul
> had seen their idols, as well as their temples. I wonder if he had not seen
> someone having to repair or do some kind of maintenance on an idol. Whatever
> the case may have been, I think the pointed contrast between God and idols
> is missed by "worship" or "served."
> I would appreciate anyone considering this and giving me some feedback,
> privately or to the list. If this had been posted before, I didn't find it
> in the files I checked, and the search engine didn't want to work for me.

Well, I haven't been able to get the search engine to work for me either
for a long time.

It seems to me that you are taking what is really a SECONDARY sense of the
verb QERAPEUW and mis-applying it in this text. The verb means most
fundamentally, "take care of," "attend upon," "wait upon," "act as a
servant to." Only secondarily does it refer to the sort of tendance that a
physician performs. There's a similar kind of confusion in the Latin verb
CURO/CURARE which means primarily, "take care of," "attend," and only
secondarily, "treat as a physician." So it is not "repair" or "healing"
that Paul is talking about here but the very impossibility of human beings
performing any service for God or "ministering to God's needs." Much the
same sort of disparagement of the notion of "ministering to God/the gods"
was set forth centuries earlier in the Platonic dialogue _EUTHYPHRO_,
where Socrates notes the absurdity of human beings being thought capable
of supplying some lack or need of the gods--all this in the course of a
discussion of what "piety" actually is.

I must add a note here: I remember very vividly, despite years of having
heard and used the phrases, "divine service" for worship, or "serve God,"
or "being a servant," how surprised I was to find the word GOTTESDIENST
used for "worship" in German, precisely because my chief associations of
the noun "Dienst" and the verb "dienen" had been in a context of the
menial tasks performed by a cook or cleaning lady. But of course that is
precisely the context out of which the phraseology "serve the Lord" and
"God's servant" or "servant people" originally arose--from the ancient
sense that the priests in the temples of the gods are supplying the needs
of the gods, be it for food and drink or for carrying messages or whatnot.
It is an immense leap in religious sophistication to get beyond that
implicit notion of "tendance" as supplying to a deity who is less than
omnipotent something that he or she needs for personal sustenance or
satisfaction. I think that Paul in his "Areopagus" speech is attempting,
among other things, to point out this very absurdity involved in a notion
of religion as a matter of "feeding" the gods with sacrifices and the

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130
(314) 935-4018 OR

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