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December 2, 2007

December 2, 2007

 

Cawson St. Church of Christ

Hopewell, Virginia

Mural Worthey

 

To the Greeks

 

Introduction: My family and I went to Greece, November 16-26, 2007, on a classical tour aboard the “Easy-Cruise-One” ship. We visited Athens, Nemea near Corinth, Mycenae, Island of Ithaca, Port of Patras to go to Olymphia, Delphi, the Island of Aegina, and Sounion from the Port of Pitraeus. In Athens, we visited the Parthenon and Mars Hill, as well as several ruins near the Agora. Greece is divided into two parts: the mainland and the Pelo-ponnese, the southern part now separated from the mainland by the Corinthian Canal.

 

Three major biblical cities located in modern Greece are Thessaloniki, Athens and Corinth. We have New Testament letters to two of these three, but not to Athens.

 

Paul wrote, “I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, both to the wise and unwise; so, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes; to the Jew first and to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:14-16.)

 

The Bible has a lot to say about the Greeks. Who are they? Why does the Bible say so much about them?

 

An Ancient Culture with Rich History

 

The ancient Greeks are known for their philosophers, like Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, and their mythology (stories about gods and goddesses). They worshipped twelve major gods and many lesser ones. Their view of God was polytheistic; that is, many in number and having control over parts of the world and its functions. In the ancient culture, philosophy and religion was united as one. Their various views were expressed by telling stories of gods, goddesses and men.

About the time of Abraham (2000 BC), some of the first settlers spoke Greek on the mainland. Athens, Greece is known as the father of democracy; other countries were ruled by kings and despots. But Greece founded a judicial court system with jurors; democratically elected officials. They provided the world with mathematicians, like Pythagoras, from whom we got the Pythagorean Theorem and the Pythagorean table of opposites (the Greek concept of dualism).

 

Greece was different from other empires in that it was made up of city-states without a central government. Athens and Sparta were the two most prominent and powerful of the city-states; Sparta was not democratic but was ruled by a dictator. Sparta defeated Athens, becoming the dominant power in the region.

 

Through the influence of Alexander the Great and the Romans, the Greek culture and language was spread to other countries. University cities, like Athens and Alexandria, were centers of education and learning. Alexandria of Egypt had a significant university and library. It was here that the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in the third century BC. It was called the Septuagint. After the completion of the New Testament, written in Greek, by the end of the first century AD the whole Bible was in one language, the Greek language. Christians around the world are influenced by the Greek culture and language through the Greek Scriptures.

 

The word, archaic, comes from the Greek period of the sixth century BC. In English, we speak of archaic as just something ancient or old, but it meant something more specific among the Greeks. It referred primarily to the 6th century culture. Statutes of men of that period had a smile carved on their faces; it was called the archaic smile.

 

The Many Gods of the Greeks

 

Zeus was the chief god among the Greeks. He is referred to in Acts 14:12; they called Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Hermes was the Roman name for the messenger of the gods. There were twelve major gods among the Greeks and many lesser gods and goddesses. Their view of God was so different from the Christian view, in that they believed that the gods married and had offspring.

Parthenon, the temple on the acropolis, was built in honor of the goddess, Athena, after which Athens was named. Parthenos in Greek means virgin. They also worshipped Poseidon. The twelve main gods of the Greeks and Greek mythology were:

Aphrodite - Goddess of love, romance, and beauty. Her son was Eros, god of Love (though he is not an Olympian.)
Apollo - Beautiful god of the sun, light, medicine, and music.
Ares - Dark god of war who loves Aphrodite.
Artemis - Independent goddess of the hunt, the forest, wildlife, childbirth, and the moon. Sister to Apollo.
Athena - Daughter of Zeus and goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts. Sometimes spelled "Athene".
Demeter - Goddess of agriculture and mother of Persephone (again, her offspring is not considered to be an Olympian.)
Hephaestus - Lame god of fire and the forge. Sometimes spelled Hephaistos. The Hephaestion near the Acropolis is the most beautifully preserved ancient temple in Greece. Mated to Aphrodite.
Hera - Wife of Zeus, protector of marriage, familiar with magic.
Hermes - The speedy messenger of the gods, god of business. The Romans called him Mercury.
Hestia - Calm goddess of home and homelife, symbolized by the hearth which holds the continually-burning flame.
Poseidon - God of the sea, horses, and of earthquakes.
Zeus - Supreme lord of gods, god of the sky, symbolized by the thunderbolt.

Paul preached to the Athenians about the one God of heaven and earth who made the world and all things therein; he is Lord of heaven and earth. (Acts 17:24.) They may have thought of Zeus when Paul said that, but they never conceived of just one god as the creator of all things. In addition, Paul said that God does not dwell in temples made with hands. Behind Paul on the acropolis was the imposing temple of Athena, the Parthenon. They made sacrifices near the temple to their gods. Paul quoted one of their own poets who wrote that man is the offspring of God. Paul argued, If that is so, then we ought not to think that the godhead is like unto gold, silver or stone, graven by art and man’s devise. (Acts 17:28-29.) Paul said that God once winked at this ignorance, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.

 

Greeks Seek After Wisdom

When Paul wrote, “I am debtor to the Greeks and to the barbarians; to the wise and to the unwise,” (Rom. 1:14), he was describing how the Greeks saw themselves as wise. The rest of the world could not speak properly (they barked); the rest of the world was unwise, according to the Greeks. A similar distinction was made between Jews and Gentiles. The rest of the world who was Jewish was put into one category (the other nations). It shows the pride of both Jews and Greeks.

Paul wrote: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock and unto the Greeks foolishness. But unto them which are called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:21-24.)

The Greeks had a long history running parallel to the time of the existence of the nation of Israel. Thus the Bible often speaks of the Jews and Greeks. Some Bible students believe that 1 Corinthians 1, (the Corinthians were Greeks), is presenting two major ways in which man sought after God and his own justification. The Jews had the Law and proved that man could not be justified by law-keeping; the Greeks sought after God through wisdom. The Greeks failed just as did the Jews. God presented Jesus Christ, His Son, as both the power of God and the wisdom of God. God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise and the weak things of the world to confound the mighty.

The great philosophers of Athens and Greece did not come to know God. They prided themselves in their wisdom, but did not submit themselves to God. Some of them rejected the plurality of Gods worshipped by their fellow citizens, but still did not know the true God. The story of the famous Socrates of Athens illustrates well the point. He was accused by some of the leading citizens of Athens of rejecting the Greeks gods and opposing democracy. A trial date was set in 399 BC in Athens before a large crowd of Athenians and 500 jurors. He was found guilty by a vote of 280 to 220. Then the penalty was debated. The one presiding asked Socrates what he thought his penalty should be; he replied that he should be honored as a winner of the Olympics. The 500 jurors voted for the death penalty, 360 to 140. Plato, a student of Socrates, wrote an account of Socrates’ final moments drinking a cup of hemlock in a jail in Athens.

The Greeks were known for both their pursuit of human wisdom and worship of many gods. They rejected Christ as the wisdom of God. God made Christ our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. If anyone is going to glory, let him glory in the Lord. (1 Cor. 1:30.)

The Church of Athens

Paul wrote letters to the churches that he founded, but there is no such letter to Athens. A thriving congregation did not exist after Paul left. They were not serious thinkers about truth. Even to this day, a local preacher in Athens said that a common greeting among the Greeks is “What’s the news?” They like to talk about politics, philosophy and religion, but they never settle on anything that is truth.

Dionysius the Areopagite and Damaris, a woman, believed Paul’s preaching, but no one else is mentioned in the New Testament as belonging to the church at Athens. (Acts 17:34.)

To the credit of some Greeks, certain of them went up to Jerusalem to a feast and said to Philip, “Sirs, we would see Jesus.” (John 12:20-21.) We are not told the outcome of that meeting with Jesus. Though Athens did not respond well to the Gospel, other cities like Thessalonica and Corinth did receive the gospel. Yet even there, problems were evident early. Luke recorded that “the Bereans were more noble than those in Thessalonica in that they received the word with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures to see if those things were so.” (Acts 17:11.) We are familiar with the many problems that existed in Corinth; so all three of these Greek cities showed a reluctance to accept the Gospel. They showed signs of immaturity and unbelief from the beginning.

Conclusion: The Jews and Greeks made a great distinction between themselves and the rest of the world. The New Testament makes clear that there is no distinction to those in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ.” (Gal. 3:28.)

 

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