Scripture in Context: Greek Oratory

greek-forumletter-oOne 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.

 

 

 

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Scripture in Context: Second Temple Judaism

Second Temple Judaism.pngLetter TThe ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus did not happen in a vacuum, but rather they were set in various historical and political contexts.

The primary time period which helped develop the context in which John the Baptist and Jesus lived was the period between the 5th Century BC – this period saw many developments that would influence their lives and the world in which they lived.

Return from Exile

One of the great events which helped develop this context was the return from exile of the Jewish people in the 5th Century BC, an exile that they had been put into by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. With Babylon’s defeat to Persia, they were allowed to return, which meant that John the Baptist and Jesus were ministering to a Jewish population in the Jewish homeland.

The Jews having been allowed to return to their homeland introduces a variety of factors that would have influenced and provided context for these ministries. For one, when the Jews had been taken by Babylon, the Babylonians had destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. With the return from exile the Jews are able to begin rebuilding their temple, around which the pre-exile Jewish religion was based.

The rebuilding of this temple meant that the Jewish religion once again had a center, a center which gave Jesus could then use as a place of teaching; this rebuilding also brought back the symbolic sacrifice which foreshadowed Christ.

Hellenization

Apart from the return from exile and the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, other great influences on the context include the Hellenization of the Mediterranean world, which was followed by the Roman period.

Both of these helped to move the worldview of the time from a more communal view to a more individualistic view (something also accomplished by the lack of temple sacrifice during the exile period, when the Jewish people gathered in synagogues rather than the temple and had to turn to study and prayer as a way of exercising their piety).

This ‘modernization’ of the world introduced the Jewish world to new peoples and ideas and to languages which were widespread (something that would in turn allow for the message of accepting Gentiles to be more practical). As interpreted by G.K. Chesterton in his book The Everlasting Man, this meeting of ideas between the Jewish people and the Greek/Roman people saw the bringing together of the pinnacle of human religion – Judaism – and the pinnacle of human philosophy – the Greeks – in order to set the perfect stage for the pinnacle of history: Christ, who would complete and surpass both.

Maccabean Revolts

Finally, the Jewish revolts – such as that under the Mattathias during the 160s BC (which wold come to be called the Maccabean revolt) – strengthened the Jewish expectation of a political messiah, an expectation which Jesus would be able to then subvert.

John the Baptist and Jesus entered a world which was filled with turmoil on the one hand, but which finally had regained some of the structure of the older Judaism, and which had begun to be exposed to the greatest human philosophies of the time – all of which worked together to create the context into which the messiah would enter.

As has been noted, the political turmoil – and especially the Maccabean revolts and the ideas of the Zealots (a Jewish group which wished to rebel against the Roman empire) – caused many within the Jewish community to believe that the Messiah was to be a political leader; indeed, the titles ‘Christ’ and ‘Messiah’ signifies the ‘anointed one’, which can refer to the Jewish offices of a prophet, priest, and king.

Along with this kingly aspect, one may also look to the title ‘Son of God’ and compare it to the way in which the heir to the Roman ruler was referred to in the same way, also giving some political undertones.

Yet Jesus was meant to be much more than a political figure, and ultimately his mission was not a political one.

Jesus did not promote any rebellion against the government of his day, indeed, quite the opposite (Matthew 22:20-22 – “render unto Caesar what is Caesars”).

Rather, Jesus’ message was spiritual and incarnational, that of God entering the world to save his people – not from the evils of mundane rulers, but from the evils of the spiritual rulers (Satan) and from the evils within their own hearts.

Exploring The Uniqueness of the Bible [In Its Ancient Near Eastern Context]

bible-and-coffeeLetter TThe ancient world was one filled with myths and stories of all types, stories about gods and about prophets and oracles who spoke with those gods. In secular society the Bible is often seen as just another one of these ancient myths.

The Bible is not just another myth, but it is in the context of these myths that the Bible was written. They provide the background against which we are to interpret the text; it was often these sorts of myths which the Biblical narrative was responding to. Thus, it is important for Christians to analyze the Scriptures in light of their ancient Near Eastern literary and cultural contexts.

So just what are the similarities and differences were between the Scriptures and those other myths which seem to bear some resemblance to it? It is by answering this question that we may determine whether or not the Bible is indeed unique in its content.

Some areas in which the Christian might compare the Scriptures to similar texts in the Near East include (1) how they present their creation accounts, (2) their understandings of morality, and (3) their understandings of prophecy and revelation.

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