Apologetics Thursday – God Does Not Need Anything

Act 17:24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,
Act 17:25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

The two most popular systematic theologies on Amazon.com comment on Acts 17:24-25:

Wayne Grudem:

Scripture in several places teaches that God does not need any part of creation in order to exist or for any other reason. God is absolutely independent and selfsufficient. Paul proclaims to the men of Athens, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24–25). The implication is that God does not need anything from mankind.

Louis Berkhof:

The universe is not the existence-form of God nor the phenomenal appearance of the Absolute; and God is not simply the life, or soul, or inner law of the world, but enjoys His own eternally complete life above the world, in absolute independence of it. He is the transcendent God, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders. This doctrine is supported by passages of Scripture which (1) testify to the distinct existence of the world, Isa. 42:5; Acts 17:24;

Acts 17:24-25 is used as a prooftext to prove that God has no needs and is independent of the world. God is said not to gain anything from the world because then this would mean God would be dependent on the world, in some sense. If God can gain something He did not have through His relationship with the world, God is not self-sufficient. If God can gain, then God would not be perfect. The idea is related to impassibility, but touted as “self-sufficiency”. The Negative Theology connotations are different than what normal people would consider “self-sufficiency”.

If a man were to survive by himself in the woods, he would be called self-sufficient. But this does not mean he does not rely on other things, or derive pleasure from talking to other people, or cannot gain from having a wife. But this is not the Negative Theological idea of Self-Sufficiency, ultimately rooted in Perfect Being theology.

But this is not at all how Paul is using this statement. The statement is being made in the context of idols. The pagans would build temples to idols, house those idols, feed those idols. This is what Paul is discounting. God doesn’t have to rely on man’s service. Paul is not saying that God cannot benefit in a relational way by communion with man. Paul is not saying that God does not desire and crave worship. Paul is just saying we don’t build houses for God.

Contrasted to Negative Theology, God is often described as jealous and desirous of worship and loyalty. Within the Psalms, often people bargain with God. If God lets them die, then God will be forgoing praise. If God spares them, then they will praise Him and proselytize.

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