One of Paul’s main sources of competition during his missionary journey were the Greek orators that he encountered in the various cities of his travels. With regards to these orators there were some similarities, and many differences, and Paul actively sought to differentiate himself from them.
In looking at the writings of Paul it is apparent that he is differentiating himself from the Greek orators. In 2 Corinthians 4:2 he talks about how he would “refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God,” and in 2:17 that “we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity.”
In 1 Corinthians 1 he talks about the simplicity of his message – merely preaching Christ crucified – and in chapter 2 he mentions how the style of his message his also simple, he “did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.” Finally, in 1 Thessalonians 2 Paul can be found stating how they “never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed” but instead “worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”
In these ways Paul can be seen as similar to some Greek orators. For instance, Dio Chrysostom often talks about how he is not engaging in flattery, and that he is not expecting money or praise. Plato, also, speaks of the rhetoricians as flatterers.
Still, while these select orators may have not been directly out to flattery, or to garner praise, they did still use a high eloquence in their words and wrote extensively in their writings.
Paul, on the other hand, spoke with general simplicity and brevity, thereby further distancing himself from those rhetoricians. However, perhaps the most striking difference is that of the fundamental motivations behind their actions.
The Greek orators even in their best form sought to serve either their state, themselves, or their idea of some ‘good’; as Dio Chrysostom states “all who act deliberately do so either for money, for reputation, or for some pleasurable end, or else, I suppose, for virtue’s sake and because they honour goodness itself.”
While Chrysostom is getting slightly closer to the mark with things like ‘virtue’ and honoring ‘goodness itself’, the fact that he is operating on a non-Christian world-view makes his view of these things fundamentally different than that of Paul, even if Paul were seeking these same things.
But indeed, Paul was seeking something much more than this, for he sought to further the cause of the one true God.
Paul is seeking the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom in specific, thus he speaks against the divisions of the church of Corinth; both in chapter one and chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians he is found addressing the fact that the Christians have divided themselves into various factions under certain personalities (“What then is Apollos? What is Paul?”).
It seems it is just this that the Greeks were likely keen to do in their own pagan circles, to find some pagan orator that they might follow such as Socrates.
Thus, while Paul’s style and superficial motivations bore some similarities to the Greek orators, on the whole they were fundamentally different – the one out to serve the world, the other to serve God.
Ordained PCA | MDiv
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