Q. I’m homeschooling my daughters and we’ve been learning about ancient Greek civilization. When they heard about its highly developed religion, my daughters asked me whether the Greeks were worshipping the true God under a different name. What do you think I should tell them?
The Bible says that something about the true God can be known through creation and conscience. Paul wrote to the Romans, for example, that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” (See the Paul’s Journey Letters study guide, Session 24.) And Luke records in Acts that Paul explained to the people of Lystra, “God has not left himself without testimony: he has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons.” Paul also told the Athenians that God created the nations and made them finite in duration and territory so that “they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” (Luke-Acts study guide, Sessions 21 and 22.) So there is a natural seeking after God, and people are able to find out some things about Him that way.
I would not conclude from this, however, that ancient cultures were actually worshiping the true God under a different name. In addition to the testimony to God in creation, there is the witness of the covenant community through time about its encounter with the God who has entered human history to redeem people and restore them to relationship with himself. I believe that people need to connect with that work by hearing and believing this witness. Thus the witness needs to be offered all over the world.
So I would encourage your daughters to understand that these ancient cultures were in a position to learn something about God, and that some of what they believed about God was therefore true and correct, but that we need God’s self-revelation in order to know Him in the way that we should. In other words, I don’t believe that the Greeks who worshiped Zeus were actually worshiping the covenant God of redemptive history without knowing it. But they may have taken some steps toward this that enabled many of them to understand and believe the good news about Jesus when they heard it.