As followers of Christ, our ultimate desire is to grow in understanding and to gain wisdom in our walk with the Almighty God. One way that we can do that is by studying the Scriptures and the historical context in which they were written. Today, we embark on a fascinating journey to uncover the influence of the Hellenistic period on the New Testament.
The Hellenistic period, which spans from 323 BC to 31 BC, is named after the Greek word “Hellas” meaning Greece. This era began with the death of Alexander the Great and ended with the rise of the Roman Empire. During this time, the influence of Greek culture, language, and philosophy spread across the known world due to the conquests of Alexander the Great. This widespread influence played a substantial role in shaping the world into which our beloved New Testament was written.
Diving into the historical and cultural context of the Hellenistic period allows us to better understand the relevance and impact it had on the development of the New Testament. This helps us to grasp the deeper meaning behind the words of Scripture, as we read in 2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV), “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” By exploring the Hellenistic influences on the New Testament, we can draw nearer to God’s heart and His divine plan for our lives.
In this article, you will learn about the ever-present connection between the Hellenistic world and the New Testament, gaining valuable insights that will strengthen your faith and your understanding of God’s Holy Word. Let us embark on this enlightening journey together, knowing that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV).
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May the Holy Spirit enlighten your understanding and guide you through this exciting exploration of the Hellenistic influence on the New Testament. The Lord be with you always.
- I. Embracing the Light of Hellenistic Wisdom: God's Hand at Work
- II. The Rich Tapestry of Greek Language and Thought: Enhancing the Good News
- III. Brotherhood Across Cultures: Hellenistic Jews' Impact on Early Christianity
- IV. Divine Poetry Unfolding: Exploring Parallels between Hellenistic Philosophy and the Gospels
I. Embracing the Light of Hellenistic Wisdom: God’s Hand at Work
Throughout history, we see God’s hand at work in places many would not expect. This truth is evident during the Hellenistic period, which bridged the gap between the ancient Hebrew world and the Western world of today.
During this time, the Lord inspired a shift in spiritual focus, bringing in the light of Hellenistic wisdom in order to demonstrate His greatness to all people. This infusion of Hellenistic thought within a Jewish context led to the creation of the Septuagint, which translated the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) into Greek, allowing for the faith to be more easily accessible and understandable to many.
Through the Hellenistic period, the knowledge of the Jewish faith was able to spread, promoting the idea of a loving, exclusively sovereign God who deeply desired a relationship with His followers. This divine expansion could not have taken place without the guiding hand of the Lord, who works in ways we cannot always predict or define. As it is written in Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV), “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
Although the Hellenistic period may be perceived primarily as one dominated by the classical philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, it is important to recognize God’s purpose in this historical era. The following are three distinct ways in which Hellenistic wisdom shaped and embraced the faith:
- Exposure: The translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (Septuagint) brought the Greek-speaking world into a newfound awareness of the one sovereign God.
- Cultural Bridges: Hellenistic thought provided a philosophical framework for understanding the Scriptures that resonated with the audiences, both Jews and Gentiles, and served as a bridge to the teachings of Jesus.
- Unification: Hellenistic influence helped to unify the faith community, clearing the path for the shared message of Jesus to spread more easily within His worldly context.
By embracing the light of Hellenistic wisdom, we can acknowledge God’s hand at work throughout history, guiding His people and revealing His unmatched power and love for humanity. Rather than see this period as a threat to the Christian belief system, let us recognize it as one of the many ways in which our sovereign God brought about His perfect plan for salvation.
II. The Rich Tapestry of Greek Language and Thought: Enhancing the Good News
The New Testament, with all its beauty and power, was originally written in koiné Greek, the lingua franca of the Eastern Mediterranean world. This language was rich with nuance and meaning that provides a deeper understanding of the Good News for us today. As we explore the nuances of the Greek language and thought, we can grasp a richer and fuller comprehension of the text.
Meanings conveyed through Greek words: For instance, the word translated as “love” in many English versions of the Bible has multiple Greek counterparts expressing various shades of love. The Greek language has four different words to explain love: agape (divine, unconditional love), philia (brotherly love), storge (parental love), and eros (erotic love).
This multiplicity of expressions enables us to see the depth and breadth of the love that God wants to communicate with us. As it is written in Romans 8:38-39 (NKJV): “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Here, agape love truly captures the unconditional nature of God’s love for us.
Idiomatic expressions: The Greek language is teeming with idiomatic expressions which enrich the meaning of Scripture. An example is found in Matthew 6:22-23 (NKJV): “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.”
The Greek words translated as “good” and “bad” are *haplous* and *poneros* respectively, which could also be understood as “generous” and “stingy” in this context. So, Jesus is teaching us about the importance of having a generous and giving spirit, as opposed to a stingy and selfish one.
Root words and wordplays: Another powerful aspect of the Greek language is the use of root words and wordplays that can enhance our understanding of the Scriptures. An example is the Greek word for “witness” or “martyr” which is *martureo* from which the word “martyr” has been derived. This link highlights the profound truth that bearing witness to Christ may cost us our lives, as it did for many early Christians.
- Agape: divine, unconditional love
- Philia: brotherly love
- Storge: parental love
- Eros: erotic love
As we delve deeper into the Greek language, we unlock a wealth of understanding that illuminates the Good News in a new light. Let’s continue to study and be open to the wisdom and knowledge contained in God’s Word, embracing the richness of language to experience His message in a more profound way.
III. Brotherhood Across Cultures: Hellenistic Jews’ Impact on Early Christianity
One of the remarkable aspects of the early Christian church was the way in which it transcended cultural barriers. The Hellenistic Jews played a significant role in this process, as they actively engaged with both the Jewish and Gentile communities, embracing their unique cultural identity and heritage. The Hellenistic Jews were Jews who lived in Greek-speaking lands and adopted Greek customs and language. They formed a bridge between the Jewish and Gentile communities, facilitating the spreading of the gospel message to a broader audience.
In the book of Acts, we see numerous examples of Hellenistic Jews playing a vital part in the development and growth of the early Christian church. One of these pivotal figures was Stephen, described as a devout Hellenistic Jew who was full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:5).
Stephen’s ministry had a profound impact on the Christian church as a whole, to the point where his stoning marked the beginning of an intense period of persecution. This, in turn, led the followers of Christ to scatter, bringing the gospel to new places (Acts 8:1). The text states that the early Christian community came together to fulfill Jesus’ command to share the gospel with others:
- Philip, another Hellenistic Jew, took the message of Jesus to Samaria (Acts 8:4-8).
- Barnabas, a Hellenistic Jew from Cyprus, facilitated the spread of the good news to Gentile communities and was instrumental in Paul’s conversion (Acts 11:19-26).
- Paul, a renowned Pharisee who also spoke Greek, wrote the majority of the New Testament, which was originally written in Greek, making the message more accessible to a Hellenistic audience.
Furthermore, the Jerusalem Council, held in the first century and described in Acts 15, revealed the extent to which the early Christian church embraced inclusivity, resulting in lasting implications for believers of all cultures. During this assembly, the leaders of the church, including Apostles Peter, James, and Paul, decided to acknowledge and cherish the unity in Christ shared by both Jewish and Gentile followers.
The decision made at the Council meant that Gentile believers did not have to adhere to Jewish customs to be saved. Instead, they could be part of the church without compromising their cultural distinctiveness, ensuring that Christianity was accessible to all who believed in Jesus.
The Hellenistic Jews’ impact on early Christianity is evident in their commitment to creating a diverse, growing church community where individuals from across cultures could come together in unity under Christ. The establishment of the early Christian church is a testament to how God speaks through various cultures to reach people from all walks of life, affirming the Apostle Paul’s profound understanding of the gospel’s mission: that there is neither Jew nor Greek, for we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
IV. Divine Poetry Unfolding: Exploring Parallels between Hellenistic Philosophy and the Gospels
God’s wisdom has been expressed from the very beginning through His Word, as we read in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In this exploration, we will discover the beautiful parallels between Hellenistic philosophy and the Gospels which demonstrates the manifestation of God’s wisdom in various ways.
Let’s take a closer look at some key teachings from Hellenistic philosophy and how they can be seen reflected in the Gospels.
- 1. The Unity of God: Philosophers like Plato emphasized the concept of a single divine being that governed the ultimate reality. The Gospels proclaim the same truth when Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and My Father are one.”
- 2. The Nature of the Soul: Socrates and Plato taught about the immortal nature of the soul. Similarly, Jesus Himself promised eternal life for the soul in John 3:16, saying, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
- 3. The Pursuit of Virtue: The Stoic philosophy believed in the pursuit of virtue as the ultimate goal of life. Jesus also presented an ethical system based on virtues like love, compassion, and humility in His Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7)
These examples illustrate the beautiful consonance of truth and wisdom that exists between Hellenistic philosophy and the Gospels. It is important to remember that these parallels do not imply equivalence but rather, they showcase the divine sense of unity that pervades God’s creation. As followers of Christ, we are called to appreciate and discern these echoes of divine wisdom that can be found in different philosophies, bridging gaps, and drawing individuals from diverse backgrounds closer to the Word of God.
We hope that this article has helped you better understand the influence of the Hellenistic period on the New Testament. There is much more to explore and discover, and we look forward to further exploring this era with you. We can find many insights and paradoxes in the stories and translations that emerged from the Hellenistic period- ones that shaped how we live today. Thank you for taking the time to read and learn with us!
More than two thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks had a profound impact on western culture, through their philosophy, architecture, literature, and art. This cultural legacy has profoundly shaped the religion and worldview of the Christian faith. The influence of the Hellenistic period is seen especially in the New Testament, the foundational documents of Christianity.
The Hellenistic period refers to the period in classical history when Greek culture was dominant in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. It began in the fourth century BC and lasted for several centuries. During this period, a period of great intellectual and philosophical exploration, many aspects of Greek culture and philosophy infiltrated the area.
In the New Testament, we see the influence of Hellenistic thinking in the themes of love, justice, and care for one’s fellow man. This is exemplified in the teachings of Jesus much of which no doubt draws from the works Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Cynicism; three popular philosophical frameworks from the Hellenistic period.
We also see the impact of Hellenistic philosophy on the language used in the New Testament. In addition to the original Greek of the scriptures, scholars have identified more than 50 other terms of Greek origin found in the New Testament.
Among the most striking Hellenistic elements of the New Testament is its use of Scripture and the idea of representative figures. For example, in the New Testament Jesus is portrayed as the successor of the Old Testament prophets. This concept was heavily influenced by Hellenistic thought and the notion of a single universal and unchanging truth.
The influence of the Hellenistic period is clearly seen in the New Testament, both in its themes and its language. This is a testament to how significant the time period was for the development of Western society and thought. Little did the residents of the fourth century BCE, know that their philosophy and beliefs would play such an important role in determining the future and providing a foundation in faith for the billions of people who would eventually call themselves Christians.