As the professor for this class, I made a series of statements about how the New Testament was influenced by Greek thought and culture. I quoted from Plato’s Phaedo about the reason for conflict that is found in James. I talked about Paul’s discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians. I also talked about the concept of the Logos found in John. I didn’t discuss the language issue. That is, language restricts the ideations possible within it. (April 20, 2014)
7 Responses to “greek influence”
September 24th, 2008 at 9:26 am
The Bible, although inspired by God, was written by man. This simple little verse should dispel those who question whether or not literature and ideas from other parts of the world influenced the writers of the Bible. The Old Testament has many stories that contradict those of the surrounding lands. Chronicles, as Dr. Griffin calls it, is a divinely inspired research project. Titus uses information found in Enoch.
I am sure that the writers of both testaments were familiar with the literature of the lands that surrounded them. Therefore, when it comes to the New Testament, with the Hellenization of Israel, Greek philosophy would have been known by these writers.
Although the writings of these Greek philosophers were not aimed directly at God, they were struggling with issues and ideas of what it means to be a moral person, who or what are the gods or in some cases god. Paul, who was working with what it means to follow Christ, to live a moral life that glorified God and what it meant to serve Him.
Therefore, when Paul read or heard what was being said by the philosophers of the day, he pulled out things that fit into God’s truth. I don’t think he did this without prayerful consideration or thought. However, God has revealed Himself through nature and people have sought Him, without knowing what they sought. For the writers of the Bible, they understood that YHWH was Who they were searching and serving.
So Paul’s comment on marriage was something that he was dealing with in the Corinthian church. From the ideas of various philosophies, they were living lifestyles that contradicted Christian values. I believe that Paul understood that sex was a gift from God, but that these people were abusing it or ignoring this gift. These people are not so far removed from Christians today. It is a subject that still needs to be discussed and dealt with.
Amelia McCown Says:
September 24th, 2008 at 10:44 am
I think that God has no problem with “writing that is not specifically aimed at his glory…[but] is on some account true.” If Paul’s teaching about marriage is true and correct according to God, then who cares where he got it from? Furthermore, God may have been influencing the cultures surrounding his people (Babylonian, Greek, Roman, etc.) so that the cultural means to spread his message would be in place before it needed to be spread. I know that there were many stories of a dying and rising God. However, instead of thinking that early Christians made up Jesus’ story around those myths (because they couldn’t come up with anything more creative), we could reason that because God is sovreign he guided those other religions into such thinking in order to make the people more open to the fact that this actually happened! This is possibly a very bad example, but I hope that my point has been made.
Seth Stadel Says:
September 24th, 2008 at 4:30 pm
One must not build an entire theology off of one verse in Scripture, something so many denominations like to do, in part at least. Greek influence on the Scriptures is something that I’ve put some serious thought into. I believe God is a God who celebrates culture. Jesus was and still is Jewish. There are certain verses, such as in Acts 17, when Paul was preaching in Athens about the “unknown god” where he quotes a few common philosophies of the day. Now, in his preaching, he used this as “common ground” on which to draw the Athonite people into the deeper mysteries of Christ, of God. Though Paul was well-cultured in both Greek and Jewish settings, his focus was on Christ and him alone, so much so that he considered everything else as dung – crap. Now, I have, or at least desire to have, the same mentality that Paul had toward knowing Christ fully. Nevertheless, regardless of my desire for God, I cannot help the fact that Paul was influenced by the culture of his day. How much he was influenced is hard to say. Were the Scriptures written in a vaccum of culture and time? By all means no! I think the larger problems of Greek influence came later on through St. Augustine, whose theology was largely based on Platonic thought. In the end, though, all the Scriptures point to Jesus (Luke 24:27), so verses that seemingly don’t point to the “glory of God” do in fact do so indirectly, to say the least.
September 24th, 2008 at 10:17 pm
One thing I find interesting is that we think of people in the Bible and the Scripture itself as purely Jewish with some possible Greek or Assyrian influences. We should start to think of the bible and its characters like we view ourselves, people that are influenced by an endless variety of cultures and sub-cultures. This is the same for Paul, Moses and even Jesus. I have no problem that God uses these influences of other non-Jewish cultures to teach the believer new truths.
Jennifer Decker Says:
September 24th, 2008 at 10:54 pm
Well, I think it’s inevetable that the culture will effect the writers of the Bible. It was not written in a vacuum, and the issues addressed were the issues confronting the culture at that time. And I think that all scripture does point to the glory of God, just some more directly than others.
Zachary Guiliano Says:
September 25th, 2008 at 12:15 am
I seem to be having trouble with the website this evening.
I lost an entire post, so I’ll try an put it up in the morning.
Zachary Guiliano Says:
September 25th, 2008 at 10:19 am
I think that Greek influence is going to be hard to quantify. There were no hard and fast lines between Jewish culture and Hellenistic culture. While there is some evidence that during the time of Jesus a number of rural villages in Galilee and Judea were almost entirely made up of Jews/Yahwists, the growing Christian movement did not develop in such a milieu. So while someone could attempt to make the cause that Jesus was an uneducated, non-Hellenized country bumpkin with a few good ideas which happened to resonate with Jews and non-Jews, no one could make such a case for the growing Christian movement.
I think the problem also consists in understanding what we mean when we use the word ‘influence.’ In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul uses language which seems to mirror the words of Socrates in the Phaedrus dialogue. Both speak of ‘looking through a glass dimly’ to behold deity. And in 2 Corinthians 2 he appears to mirror the Phaedrus dialogue again. Socrates argues that a man can be transformed to be more like deity if he has a lover which reflects that god’s image to him. Paul states that believers are reflecting the glory of the Lord to each other, and are being transformed by this to be more and more like the Lord. So what is he doing? Has he been influenced by Platonic philosophy and now wishes to apply it to Christianity? Or is he just using phrases and concepts which would be familiar to his audience? I don’t know.
I think we also run into problems when we jump at concepts as being “Hellenistic.” Once upon a time, the Johannine literature was considered to be extremely Hellenistic, due to its use of imagery. Yet the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls provided an example of literature using similar wording, yet which was as uninfluenced by Hellenism as was possible. A number of scholars have had to backtrack and say that the Gospel of John is extremely ‘Jewish,’ just in a different way than the Synoptics.
To be honest, I don’t have a problem with the NT being influenced by Greek thought. I just think we’ve yet to discover satisfactory conclusions about how much is influence, how much is interaction, and how much is
Dr. Olena: When it comes to Paul’s statements about marriage, I’m not sure that his statement about having no command from the Lord has to do with some sort of inner compulsion he is or is not feeling. I think he simply can’t refer to a specific command of Jesus. The times that he does have a command, we do in fact have the words of Jesus in the Gospels to that effect. When he doesn’t, he’s just pointing out that Jesus didn’t say anything about this topic. Is this a problem? Not necessarily. I think we have an example of the early church understanding that there were some things which Jesus did not directly address, but also that he was guiding them by his Spirit. For example in Acts 15, they decided that though Jesus didn’t say anything about how to incorporate Gentiles into the church, they could come to a decision on what seemed good to the Holy Spirit. I think Paul is doing something similar.
I think that God views true writing as true writing. Simply because it doesn’t have a “S.D.G.” at the end, doesn’t mean its undedicated truth fails to reveal something about God or the creation.