Greek Philosophy versus Hebrew Bible

In the first couple centuries of this common era, the Christians were severely persecuted. It was with Constantine having a vision that he decided to examine Christianity a little more openly. Unlike what many teach and say, Christianity did not become unified with the Roman culture during the reign of Constantine. It was actually afterward. However, we can still trace it back to Constantine as the man who initiated this “conversion”.

Now, when Christianity became the “in” thing, suddenly you have a lot of people claiming Christianity as just another religion. There were some who were genuinely converted. Yet, what we don’t see after this point is a clear and direct stream of thought to understand the Hebrew Bible in its own context. I only need to think of men such as Augustine, Jerome, and Thomas Aquinas to come to these conclusions. It was with the Greek philosophy that these men were taught that they understood the Bible. They read the Old Testament with a bent, and this likewise caused them to read the words of Paul and the other apostles with that same bent. Instead of letting Paul speak for himself, he was then reinterpreted through the mouths of Socrates, Aristotle, and the Stoics.

This has caused much damage. For example, when Paul tells us that there is neither slave nor free in Christ, it was the philosophers that argued that slaves are barely even human. Aristotle remarks, “That person is by nature a slave who can belong to another person and who only takes part in thinking by recognizing it, but not by possessing it. Other living beings (animals) cannot recognize thinking; they just obey feelings. However, there is little difference between using slaves and using tame animals: both provide bodily help to do necessary things.” Aristotle then proceeds to tell us that a slaves is no more than “a tool of his master”. Aristotle even claims that some people “are by nature destined to be ruled, even though they resist it”. He thus concludes this thought by saying, “That is why the poets say: ‘It is correct that the Greeks rule barbarians”, for by nature what is barbarian and what is slave are the same.” (Aristotle, Physica, vol. 1; Loeb Classical Library, 1252 b 8. See A.TH van Leeuwen, The Nacht van het Kapitaal, Nijmegen 1984, pp. 182-205)

It was then this Greek philosophy that would be used later in time to validate slavery. Yet, when we hear the historians tell us about slavery, they typically want to speak about how it was Christians that were extreme and difficult to convert to seeing the African Americans as people. Yet, I can’t help but ask, if it were in Christianity that these thoughts festered, from where did Christianity gather them? It was in the work of marrying the Greek philosophy with the Hebraic teaching of the Scriptures that such a thought could even possibly be found in Christianity. 

What about women? We find Socrates arguing that women were the “weaker sex” , and claimed that being born a woman was a divine punishment, since being a woman is halfway between being a man and an animal. (Plato, Timaeus, trans. H.D.P. Lee (Baltimore: Penguin, 1965), 42A-C, 90C, 91A) We find also in Socrates’ thought that men can do all things better than women (Plato, The Republic, trans. W.H.D. Rouse (New York: Mentor, 1956), 456A). It was Aristotle that taught, “The courage of a man is shown in commanding, of a woman in obeying.” (Aristotle, Politics, trans. Oxford University, The Basic Works of Aristotle, Richard McKean, editor (New York: Random House, 1941), 1.1254A, 1259B, 1260A). In this, Aristotle argues that the man is the head over the wife, and that the wife is meant to be ruled over as the soul rules over the body. Aristotle also used this terminology to explain how a master rules over his slave. 

When we read our English versions of the Bible, we need to understand that it is translated from Greek. The original Greek interpretation of those verses is somewhat lost, simply because it is difficult to capture the full intent of the Greek words when translating into any other language. At the same time, we find that there are biases that also get translated into the text. So, when we are taught that the woman is the weaker vessel by Socrates, and we read 1 Peter 3:7 say the same thing, we assume that the apostle is repeating Socrates. Likewise, when we read Paul tell the people in Ephesus that the husband is the head of the wife, we assume naturally that he is reaffirming what Aristotle taught. The thought never even enters our minds that maybe what the apostles were saying was quite contrary to what the philosophers taught. 

One man wrote a book titles, “What Paul Really Said About Women”. In this book, he looked at some of major texts that are used to oppress women, and he simply asked the question of whether the apostle Paul was affirming or speaking contrary to the philosophers. In the preface, he writes, “Theoretically, if I took our English translation of his words and translated them back into Greek, my words should be similar to Paul’s original words. But when I tried doing this, such was not the case at all! In reality, the words that Paul chose to use imply different ideas from those conveyed by the English words we use to translate his writings. In fact, our English words imply ideas that Paul deliberately avoided! If Paul had wanted to say what we think he said, then he would have chosen quite different words than what he wrote” (John Temple Bristow, What Paul Really Said About Women, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers 1988), pp xi). 

As I’ve been looking into this myself, I’ve begun to realize that the Bible was written by many different authors, and all of them were Jewish. The only man that might not be Jewish descent was Luke. That is debated. Yet, I do ask the question, if 64 books of the Bible were written by Jews, then wouldn’t their mindset be a different mindset of the Greek philosophers? The argument can be made that the New Testament writers would have been Hellenized, yet I would like to appeal to Acts 6:1 to make the case that not all of the Jews were Hellenized. Even with this, if some were, then how do we know that Peter and Paul were not? We know because the way that they write is thoroughly Jewish. 

For example, when the Hebraic man debates, he will mention on verse, or only part of the verse, knowing that his audience knows the verse and context. We find this throughout both Paul and Peter’s epistles. They reference the verse, but they don’t simply mean that verse, they mean the whole context of that verse, and we then see that the context of the verse is actually pointing to this larger picture. Yet, because many of us are not Hebraic, we don’t pick up on these things. When we read Paul, we find that he uses a lot of word plays. The reason for this is because the Hebrew Bible also uses a lot of word plays. In fact, the Hebrew language itself is set up in a manner that word plays are necessary. 

So, were the apostles reaffirming that the Greek philosophy was correct? Absolutely not! In no way did they ever agree with the Greek philosophers. Instead, when they wrote to the Greek speaking Hellenized world, they corrected their wrong mentalities. Because we have been too Catholic in following the traditions of the church fathers (which sounds like a rebuke Jesus gave to the Pharisees) instead of seeking to understand the original intent and heart of God, we have perpetuated wrong philosophy through the generations. Slaves are not less than. Other races are not less than. The Jewish people have not been left out of the promises of God. Women are not under men. Wives are not to be ruled over by their husbands. Teachers are not to teach in lecture form like the Greeks. Discipleship is not about learning information – it is about maturity and character. Authority is not about rule or governing; it is about being a servant. We do not rule over one another like the goyim (Gentiles), but instead those that are in authority are they that serve. In this way, there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile, black or white, boss nor employee, clergy nor layman, teacher nor student, fathers nor children, city folk or country folk, or anything else that might divide us. We are all one and the same in Christ – He has broken down that wall of hostility between us. 

That is what is Hebraic. It is the marriage that brings us all to equal status together. We are no longer two, but now have become one. All the things that we have thought would cause someone to be “under” or “less than” us is taken away in the marriage that we partake to become adopted children of God. We are the Bride of Christ, and to be in Christ, we are all now unified and one. No one is over or under – all are made one in Christ. That is the difference between the Hebrew and the Greek. The Greek looks for distinctions between, but the Hebrew sees the marriage and reconciliation of all things. The Greek sees that spirit and flesh fight against one another. The Hebrew sees that in Christ the spirit and flesh marry to become one in harmony together. Every single verse in the Bible teaches us this. Even the ones that speak against it are actually advocating it, because they are spoken in contexts that tell us these views and opinions are wrong. It is an endless study to understand the heart and disposition of God, but I think we need to start here. God is the one who frees the captive and gives liberation to the oppressed. If we are then bringing oppression and bondage to people, we are not in Christ. 

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2 thoughts on “Greek Philosophy versus Hebrew Bible

  1. Over the past six months or so I have been on a tear, devouring all that I could readily find on Ancient Greek history and thought. I re-read the pre-socratics, the works of Plato and Aristotle (last latter of whom is technically Macedonian but we rightly lump him together with the Greeks), the major playwrights of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristarchus, as well as the pre-eminent historians of the time: Herodotus and Thucydides.

    So when I came across your post, I thought that Christmas came early.

    Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In all honesty, I haven’t truly read as much as I should on the subject. I only know a handful of philosophers, and barely know much about ancient Greek culture. My wife and I have only begun searching through this stuff (maybe for a month now?), but already I can see how much of what our society believes and holds to today comes directly from the ancient Greeks. I’m glad that I could write something that inspires =)

      Grace and peace to you.

      Like

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