I suppose it is safe to say, and even logically true, that, if one has a poor understanding of God who created mankind, one hasn’t the slightest idea of what man is or his purpose (if any) in life. The Athenians believed they arose from their own soil, and other nations were dispersed from Greece. The Stoics believed mankind proceeded form a single point of origin, and all things have a divine relationship. God, according to them, was as a kind of creating fire that forms and shapes all things, and all things are parts of him. We begin and end in fire and then begin again in an endless cycle. While both the Stoics and Epicureans believed God was essentially material, the Epicureans believed God created all things, but he is too busy enjoying the virtues and peace of life than to be concerned with governing his creation. Mankind, therefore, has no purpose beyond what we propose for ourselves.
Into this arena of contradictions, Paul had come to present the truth. One may be tempted to say the Stoics were closer to the truth than the Epicureans, but that would be like saying they arrived at the train station five minutes late as opposed to one half hour—the point would be both missed the train no matter how closer one was to its departure.
Paul begins in Acts 17:26 by saying that God had made of **one** all enthnos (G1484). Whether the text refers to the races or to nations, Luke seems to be pointing to Genesis 1:27-28 and 2:7, and would carry the sense of one ancestry, which seems to be important to Paul’s method of preaching the Gospel (cp. Romans 5:12-29; 1Corinthians 15:45-49). This is in contrast with that Athenian understanding that they arose from their own soil. Paul, although he does quote from or refer to Grecian poets/philosophers, is not presenting a Greek belief but a Hebrew one.
Paul then unveiled the two purposes for which mankind was created. First of all, we were created to dwell upon the earth (verse-26; cp. Genesis 1:28), and God predetermined both the boundaries of the ethnos and fixed their times (G2540). Paul was probably alluding to Deuteronomy 32:8 where the LORD says he fixed the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the gods (taking the earliest textual reading), meaning according to the number of the descendents of the sons of Noah (cp. Genesis 10), for God calls all rulers gods (see Psalm 82). As far as the word, times, is concerned, Paul is probably referring to the appointed seasons of the gentiles (cp. Luke 21:24) in which God raises up and pulls down whomsoever he wishes (cp. Lamentations 2:17; Daniel 5:19).
Secondly, Paul claimed that God created mankind to seek after him (Acts 17:27). In fact, it is precisely because God had set the boundaries of the nations, i.e. made room for or gave a place for everyone—race or nation—that all men should seek him—the NIV puts it: “God did this so that men would seek him.” That is, God’s providence for us should spark a desire in our hearts to know him, and this is at the heart of the Old Testament message (Deuteronomy 4:29; cp. 1Samuel 12:24).
Paul has shown in his epistle to the Romans that knowledge of God’s power and character is imprinted in nature itself (Romans 1:20), yet men have refused to acknowledge him (Romans 1:28). When men did know God, they were ungrateful for his providence and refused to glorify him as God, but rather glorified creation in God’s place (Romans 1:21, 23). Believing they were wise in doing so, in reality, men became fools (Romans 1:22), groping in the dark, as it were, in an excessive religious display of seeking him (Acts 17:22, 27), but never able to come to an accurate knowledge of God (Acts 17:23). Although he is not far from anyone, God remained unknown to all, because no one sought after him with all his heart (cp. Jeremiah 29:13).