The Philosophers: Stoics And Epicureans (Part 1)

The whole essence of Illuminare is intelligent faith.

Faith is not unintelligent. Jesus didn’t die for robots. When the Bereans did a cross-analysis of the claims made by Paul the Bible called it nobility. Acts 17:11. Intelligent faith is noble.

If you want to truly understand scriptures you must be ready to dive into the context of scriptures. Context takes you to the time and the place. It gives you a 3D understanding of events. Sometimes the context of scriptures is geographic. Sometimes it’s historical, sometimes political, sometimes philosophical, sometimes sociological; and sometimes it’s a combination of several contexts. Context takes you there. It’s a time travel machine.

Scriptures don’t exist in vacuo. There’s a reason so many letters make up the New Testament. John wrote, Paul wrote, Peter wrote, James wrote, Jude wrote. Until you understand the context of those letters you can’t fully understand the issues in contention. Take Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and even the second. There was a major sexual scandal in the church at Corinth. A guy was dating his step mum. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. They actually came to church together. The Corinthian church was so permissive not too many people saw anything wrong with it. It seemed no big deal. Why? Because Corinth was an extremely liberal city. It was noted for multiculturalism. It was one of the wealthiest cities in Ancient Greece, the most populated. It had two sea ports. Corinth was a transit point for trade between Europe and Asia. The morality of Corinth was like that of any coastal city today. The Corinthians worshipped Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation. The city was notable for promiscuity. That promiscuity dates back to antiquity. Aristophanes, a famous comic playwright in the late 5th century and early 4th century BC had coined the phrase “to Corinthianize.” It means to engage in extreme and immoral sexual practices. Strabo, a Roman historian spoke about a thousand temple prostitutes plying their trade in Corinth. He was said to have quoted an old proverb that playfully suggested “not every man is man enough to go to Corinth.” This was the context of Paul’s letter. The apostles wrote letters to address issues. They weren’t trying to write the Bible. There was nothing called the “Bible.” No one could have contemplated it.

Context is key. If you want to understand Hebrews 11:35-38 for example you have to read a little bit of Roman history, especially the history of a sadistic emperor called Nero. That passage talks about Christians being fed to lions, being thrown in fire, being killed by the sword… Some were tortured to death on account of their faith, some were mocked and scourged, some were imprisoned, some were stoned to death and some were simply ripped apart with saws. Many were sewn into animal skin and hunting dogs sicced on them. Christians were so hounded they hid in caves and holes in the ground. Their assets were seized by the state. You can’t understand all that until you study Roman persecution of early Christians. It was gruesome. Nero was particularly barbaric. He burnt down Rome and laid the blame on Christians. Talk about giving a dog a bad name. When you consider the faith of those early Christians you just must wonder. What gives a man so much conviction he’s ready to be fed to lions? The first century Christians will forever be a challenge to us. God is going to give them a reward for enduring persecution. Matthew 5:11-12.

I’m starting a new Illuminare series. It’s called The Philosophers. It’s an exploration of the philosophical context of the New Testament. The idea of this series is to make you see scriptures from a very different perspective. It will make you think. Now, if you want sound byte Christianity this series is not for you. And come to think of it Illuminare is not for you either. But if you want to dive in-depth into scriptures you will enjoy the series. If you want scholarship or want to be adept at theology the series will work for you.

Why seek to understand scriptures at such depth? Why not! Scriptures are meant to be explored, they’re meant to be “searched.” They point to Jesus. John 5:39. When you seek deep understanding of scriptures you’ll begin to see how God thinks, see how he processes stuff. Faith then becomes easier. Your relationship with God will improve and you can easily resolve issues in the world vis a vis Christianity. You’ll see things in a new light and escape false paradigms. Let’s begin our journey in the book of Acts.

In Acts 17, our intrepid apostle, Paul landed in Thessaloniki, a Greek city, along with Silas. He soon started a church there but the opposition mobilised. Paul had constant opposition. Everywhere he went there was opposition. Paul would eventually call this devoted opposition a “thorn in the flesh.” The whole thing was organised by Satan’s emissary. 2 Corinthians 12:6-9. Contrary to popular belief the thorn in the flesh was the constant harassment and persecution. It wasn’t sickness or disease. “Thorn in the flesh” was a figure of speech. Satan was permanently on Paul’s case. And God permitted it to humble him. In Thessaloniki street gangs and unsavoury characters harassed Paul and his crew. They were acting under influence of course! The irony was, THEY called Paul and Silas “troublemakers.” In lieu of Paul they went after his host, a guy named Jason, plus a few other Christians. Jason ended up being dragged before the city council. He was accused of aiding and abetting opposition to Caesar! They said Paul was preaching about another king named Jesus. That’s a serious charge. We’re talking treason! In order to save Jason, Paul and Silas showed up at the council. But they wouldn’t let them go until Jason posted bail. After that incident the believers smartly sent Paul and Silas off to the next town, in the middle of the night.

The next town was Berea. Paul arrived by midnight express. It won’t be the first time he was smuggled out of a city. In Damascus he was lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall! We’re told however that the Bereans were more accommodating than the Thessalonians. In fact very influential people joined the church in Berea. But rumours travel fast, even before the age of internet and social media. Word about Paul’s whereabouts got to the troublemakers at Thessaloniki and they mobilised. A rich human agent was likely financing the whole thing. Political mobilisation is expensive. Satan was controlling someone who had deep resources. Seeing trouble coming the guys in Berea quickly dispatched Paul to the coast of the Aegean Sea, and somehow Paul landed in Athens.

Here’s the thing about ancient Athens. By the number of gods only modern India can rival Athens. How many gods are there in India? There are 33 million gods in the Hindu religion. That’s a lot of gods. We’re told that in order to keep the universe running, Krishna, the supreme being essentially set up government departments. These are run by demigods. And so you have civil servant gods. The size of the universe explains the huge number. The material universe functions like a big government according to Hinduism. Sometimes these gods are kind of like word-opposite. For example the creator of the material universe is known as Brahma but the destruction of the universe is overseen by Shiva. Athens was full of idols, and this was very troubling to Paul. The people of Athens were so proficient at creating gods that when they ran out of names and function they created a god named Anonymous. Well, sort of. His name was “Unknown god.” That’s Anonymous isn’t it?

As was his custom Paul engaged the people in Athens. He had two audiences – Jews and non Jews. He engaged the Jews in the synagogue, engaged the Gentiles in the marketplace. It was in the market place that he encountered two schools of philosophy – the Stoics and Epicureans. These were arrogant fellows. They called Paul an “ignorant show-off.” The figurative expression used was based on how birds pick up seeds. They saw Paul as someone who acquired bits and pieces of relatively extraneous information and proceeds to pass them off with showy pretence. They gave him names as well – “charlatan”, “unsophisticated”, “scrapmonger”, “scavenger”… Jeez! They described him as “proclaimer of foreign gods.” Talk about religious nationalism. But they found him interesting nonetheless, enough to bring him to the advisory council known as Areopagus. The Areopagus dealt with ethical, cultural and religious matters. It also regulated education and visiting lecturers. The council wanted to understand this new teaching by Paul, especially the part about a resurrecting God. They called his ideas “astonishing.”

It is said of Athenians that they spent all their time discussing new ideas and philosophies, and so Paul naturally intrigued them. These were the guys who gave us democracy, the alphabet, the library, the Olympics, Science and Maths, trial by jury, the theatre, the lighthouse and standardized medicine. Not to talk of the mythology that is now the pantheon of Marvel universe. It was the Greeks who gave us Zeus the controller of the weather. He would probably be Sango in Yoruba pantheon, or Amadioha in Igbo pantheon. And they gave us other gods – Aphrodite the goddess of love, Athena goddess of reason, wisdom and war, Ares god of bloodlust, Apollo god of healing and medicine, Dionysus god of debauchery, Hades god of the world of the dead, Hermes god of designer bags… No just joking. Hermes was in charge of protecting livestock, but also strangely the god of trade, travellers, sports, athletes, border crossings…and thieves. The Romans were smart. Why reinvent the wheel? They simply appropriated the Greek gods. Ares became Mars, Artemis became Diana, Dionysus was Bacchus, Hermes was Mercury, Zeus was Jupiter. Now you know how the planets got their names.

Paul would end up telling them who the “unknown god” is. But who were the Stoics? And who were the Epicureans?

We continue the series next week.

If you’ll like to receive Jesus into your life please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”

Theology Trivia: Why is it important to study the Bible in context?

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© Leke Alder |

Faith is not unintelligent. Jesus didn’t die for robots. Click To Tweet The apostles wrote letters to address issues. They weren’t trying to write the Bible. There was nothing called the “Bible.” No one could have contemplated it. Click To Tweet