ZEUS (zūs, Gr. Zeus). The chief of the Olympian gods, corresponding to the Roman Jupiter (see Acts.14.12-Acts.14.13). His ancestry was as follows: Chaos, a heterogeneous mass containing all the seeds of nature, produced Gaea (Earth), who in turn produced Uranus (Heaven) and mar- ried him. Among their numerous progeny were Cronos (Saturn), who married his sister Rhea, and they became “Father and mother of the gods.” Chief of their children was Zeus, head of the Olympian gods and by various marriages and illicit unions the father of most of the greater gods of the Greek pantheon. One of the crowning insults that Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria 176-164 b.c., offered to the Jews was his dedication of the temple at Jerusalem to Zeus (2Macc.6.1-2Macc.6.31).

ZEUS. Zeus was the chief god of all Indo-Europeans. Basically the word means “sky” or the “bright sky of day,” and its form appears visibly in many Indo-European languages. Compare, e.g., the Rom. Jupiter, the old form of which is Diespiter (i.e. diei pater, “father of day”) with the Sanskrit Dyaus pita at the other end of the wide area covered by the group of kindred languages. The oblique forms of the Gr. word (dia, dii, dios) reveal the same form and etymology. The Teuton Ziu (whence Tuesday) is visibly the same word.

As the god of the bright sky, Zeus was the lord of thunder, and the giver of weather, the “cloud-gatherer” of the Homeric phrase. Since mountain peaks give weather signs, Zeus was enthroned on heights, preeminently on Olympus, a word which appears to mean primitively, “mountain.” In the Mycenaean age, during the second millennium b.c., the society of heaven was pictured on the model of the regal courts of that era. Note the banquet scene on Olympus at the end of the first book of the Iliad. Zeus, at the same time, serving the needs of a royal and patriarchal age, became the protector and ruler of the family. As Zeus Herkeios he ruled the hearth, as Zeus Xenios he protected the guest. In short he acquired moral functions, related to the customs and laws which maintained and established the family and its life.

Since the state is the larger family, and requires a moral framework and foundation similar to that of the smaller unit, Zeus became the protector of law and justice, the supreme god, father of gods and men. Homer, whose epics became a sort of “Bible” in the earlier Gr. centuries, impressed this concept of Zeus on the Gr. mind, and it survived the passing of the forms of kingship which had provided its first imagery.

The myths and legends which grew up around Zeus, compounded of material from many quarters, became the material, variously used, of poet and dramatist, but better and more spiritually perceptive minds began to look upon Zeus as the supreme, if not the only God. In the theological dramas of Aeschylus there are concepts of Zeus almost Biblical in their loftiness. The hymn of the Stoic Cleanthes, one of the possible sources for Paul’s quotation in Athens (Acts 17:28), addresses Zeus in exquisite language as father and creator.


A. B. Cook, Zeus; C. Seltman, The Twelve Olympians and their Guests.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(Zeus, the Revised Version margin; the Revised Version (British and American) and the King James Version Jupiter): The supreme god of Hellenic theology, "king of gods and of men." In 168 BC nodetitle, "who on God’s altars danced," bent upon the thorough Hellenization of Judea and Jerusalem, sent "an old man of Athens" (or "Geron an Athenian," the Revised Version margin) to pollute the sanctuary in the temple at Jerusalem and to call it by the name of Jupiter Olympius, and that at Gerizim by the name of Jupiter Xenius (2 Macc 6:1 ff). Olympius, from Mt. Olympus, the home of the gods, is the favorite epithet of Zeus, Zeus Olympius being to the Greek world what Jupiter Capitolinus was to the Roman. The same Antiochus commenced the splendid temple of Zeus Olympius, finished under Hadrian. Zeus is also frequently styled Xenius or "Protector of strangers" (Juppiter hospitalis) in classical literature. The epithet is here applied because the people of Gerizim--the Samaritans--were hospitable, probably an ironical statement of the author (compare Lu 9:52 f). Zeus is also in Ac 14:12 f the Revised Version margin for JUPITER (which see).