July 21, 2020

Greek Philosophy


The New Testament was recorded in Greek which was an international language in those days. “Philosophia” [φιλοσοφια], a Greek word for philosophy, has the meaning, “to love wisdom.” Hellas [Greece] was a country where philosophy developed from the ancient time and produced many philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and so on. The cities of Corinth, Ephesus and Arden were the famous cities of Hellas, where Apostle Paul used to preach.

In the book of Acts, there is a scene that Apostle Paul disputed with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers while he was preaching.

A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.Ac 17:18

After the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek Empire was divided into four kingdoms by four generals. In the mighty empire that was unified by Alexander the Great, “Hellenism” that followed the universal sense of Greek citizenship and culture spread out. In the age of Hellenism, the two major trends of philosophy were the Epicurean School and the Stoic School.

The Epicurean School followed the theory of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (342 B.C.―270 B.C.). Even after his death, it continued for about 600 years. Epicureans believed that everything is composed of atoms, and even gods are composed of atoms so that there are physical phenomena in gods. So, they denied the existence of the soul, and had no absolute faith in gods.

Epicureans insisted that gaining “Ataraxia,” a peace in mind, through a thrifty living is a real pleasure. So they were called “pleasure seekers.”

The Stoic School was founded by Zenon (335 B.C.―263 B.C.). Together with the Epicurean School, it was considered as a major philosophy in the age of Hellenism. As this school spread to Rome, even Seneca, the teacher of Emperor Nero and Emperor Marcus Aurelius became a part of the school.

The Stoics believed that humans who have rationality and limitation return to nature, their root, by knowing their destiny that was given by nature and living according to the destiny, and that a wise man who adapts himself to nature is nature itself and is like a god.

The Stoics led people to adapt themselves to their reality under the reign of the ancient Greek Empire and the Roman Empire at that time. So they were welcomed by the rulers of the Empires. They also led an ascetic life, so they were called ascetics and influenced some monks of the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.

In the apostolic age, there were many philosophies based on ancient Greek philosophy in addition to the Epicurean and the Stoic Schools. These philosophers used to dispute with the apostles, regarding the truth of the Bible such as God, Christ, resurrection and so on. When Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the saints in Colossae, he defined these philosophical thoughts as “basic principles of this world” and emphasized that philosophy itself has nothing to do with following Christ.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.Col 2:8

Philosophia [φιλοσοφια], that is, philosophy which means “to love wisdom,” actually shows that they loved men’s wisdom, not God’s wisdom. That is why Apostle Paul warned against it. This is how Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Church of God in Corinth.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.1 Co 1:20-24