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Chapter 13

Digression on False Worship

A. Nature Worship[a]

Foolish by nature were all who were in ignorance of God,
    and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing the one who is,[b]
    and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;(A)
Instead either fire, or wind, or the swift air,
    or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water,
    or the luminaries of heaven, the governors[c] of the world, they considered gods.(B)
Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods,
    let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these;
    for the original source of beauty fashioned them.(C)
Or if they were struck by their might and energy,
    let them realize from these things how much more powerful is the one who made them.(D)
For from the greatness and the beauty of created things
    their original author, by analogy, is seen.
But yet, for these the blame is less;[d]
For they have gone astray perhaps,
    though they seek God and wish to find him.
For they search busily among his works,
    but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair.
But again, not even these are pardonable.
For if they so far succeeded in knowledge
    that they could speculate about the world,
    how did they not more quickly find its Lord?

B. Idolatry[e]

10 But wretched are they, and in dead things are their hopes,
    who termed gods things made by human hands:
Gold and silver, the product of art, and images of beasts,
    or useless stone, the work of an ancient hand.(E)

The Carpenter and Wooden Idols

11 A carpenter may cut down a suitable tree(F)
    and skillfully scrape off all its bark,
And deftly plying his art
    produce something fit for daily use,(G)
12 And use the scraps from his handiwork
    in preparing his food, and have his fill;
13 Then the good-for-nothing refuse from these remnants,
    crooked wood grown full of knots,
    he takes and carves to occupy his spare time.(H)
This wood he models with mindless skill,
    and patterns it on the image of a human being
14     or makes it resemble some worthless beast.
When he has daubed it with red and crimsoned its surface with red stain,
    and daubed over every blemish in it,(I)
15 He makes a fitting shrine for it
    and puts it on the wall, fastening it with a nail.(J)
16 Thus he provides for it lest it fall down,
    knowing that it cannot help itself;
    for, truly, it is an image and needs help.(K)
17 But when he prays about his goods or marriage or children,(L)
    he is not ashamed to address the thing without a soul.
For vigor he invokes the powerless;
18     for life he entreats the dead;
For aid he beseeches the wholly incompetent;
    for travel, something that cannot even walk;
19 For profit in business and success with his hands
    he asks power of a thing with hands utterly powerless.


  1. 13:1–9 The author holds a relatively benign view of the efforts of the philosophers to come to know God from various natural phenomena. This is not a question of proving the existence of God in scholastic style. The author thinks that the beauty and might of the world should have pointed by analogy (v. 5) to the Maker. Instead, those “in ignorance of God” remained fixed on the elements (v. 2, three named, along with the stars). His Greek counterparts are not totally blameless; they should have gone further and acknowledged the creator of nature’s wonders (vv. 4–5). Cf. Rom 1:18–23; Acts 17:27–28.
  2. 13:1 One who is: this follows the Greek translation of the sacred name for God in Hebrew; cf. Ex 3:14.
  3. 13:2 Governors: the sun and moon (cf. Gn 1:16).
  4. 13:6 The blame is less: the greater blame is incurred by those mentioned in v. 10; 15:14–16.
  5. 13:10–19 The second digression is an example of the polemic against idolatry (cf. Is 44:9–20; Jer 10:3–9; Ps 135:15–18). Whether the idols be of wood or clay, they were made by human beings and have become the source of evil.