Paul & The Greek Philosophers: An Apologetic

The Bible, in Acts 17:16-34, tells of when the apostle Paul is in Athens and addresses Greek philosophers. This passage can be shown to give support for the Bible as accurate history.

Acts 17 has Paul speaking to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in a key meeting place, the Areopagus, a location which still exists in the ancient city. Many modern teachers, including Christians, make the mistake of thinking the ancient Epicurean and Stoic philosophers taught ideas which were similar to the modern words epicurean and stoic. However, the ancient philosophies taught different things than what the modern words mean.

Paul’s speech shows a great knowledge of the teachings of these schools of philosophy, even to the point of showing Paul to be a scholar of note. The speech has Paul quoting ancient writer Epimenides in v.28 when he says “. . . for in Him we live and move and have our being” which is a direct quote from the poem Cretica. Paul takes this statement, which in the Greek poem is a statement about Zeus, and applies it to the one true God, the God of Israel. In the same verse Paul also quotes the Greek writer Aratus, in the poem Phaenomena, when Paul says “For we are also His offspring.” So here we have Paul apparently quoting the Greek philosophers’ own literature with ease, quotes that we can readily confirm today as accurate.

If we compare the teachings of the Epicureans and Stoics as documented in Frederick Copleston’s classic work A History of Philosophy, we can conclude that Paul not only had an intimate knowledge of both schools of philosophy, but in his speech systematically refuted many of their major teachings. The following chart demonstrates what the philosophers taught with portions of Paul’s speech in Acts 17:

Stoics: Paul:
The universe is a living being, with no beginning or end. “God, who made the world and everything in it…..”
Humans are kin to nature, which is god. “He has made from one blood every nation of men….”
Nature, or cosmic reason, is the cause of all that happens. “He is Lord of heaven and earth…”

God “has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.”

Fate – what happens in the universe is inevitable  “…they should seek the Lord…and hope that they should find Him…”

“…commands all men everywhere to repent…”

Epicureans:  Paul:
Highest pleasure is tranquility and freedom from fear “He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world…”
Gods were material, unconcerned with humans, did not create the universe, did not care to punish humans nor intervene in this world “God, who made the world and everything in it…”

“He  is Lord of heaven and earth…”
God “determined the boundaries of their habitation…”

“He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world…”

Two primary fears to be eliminated were fear of gods and fear of death “He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world…”

“He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

Both Stoics and Epicureans believed:  Paul:
There is no hereafter, or no continued personal existence after death. “…by raising Him from the dead.”
Materialists – all that exists is physical and material. Denied divine intervention or existence of spirit. “God, who made the world…”

“He is Lord of heaven and earth…”

“He gives to all life, breath, and all things.”

“He has made from one blood every nation…”

“…determined the preappointed times and boundaries of their habitation…”

A strong cultural tendency to define the Greek gods in man’s image and build the gods as statues. “…does not dwell in temples made with hands.”

“Nor is He worshipped with men’s hands…”

“…ought not think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone…”

Key themes throughout philosophy:
How is it that things in the universe are moving? (modern version: Must there be a first cause of everything?) “…for in Him we . . . move…”

“God, who made the world…”

“He is Lord of heaven and earth…”

What is causing or supporting existence? (be-ing) “…for in Him we . . . have our being…”
How can we know things? “He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

Some of the wildest claims of Bible critics are thus refuted, such as ones that claim the New Testament was invented many centuries later or were hack-job counterfeits. Only someone with an intimate knowledge of Greek philosophy could have given this speech in Acts 17. Paul demonstrates himself to be a knowledgeable scholar, one very familiar with his academic opponents, so much so that he could correct them on their own ground. Such detailed statements give evidence that the Bible is a true, eyewitness account of what happened in the first century.

About these ads

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Bible, Philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Paul & The Greek Philosophers: An Apologetic

  1. Jerome Danner says:

    I have learned something new this morning. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s