Cawson St. Church of Christ
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,
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.
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
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
becoming the dominant power in the region.
influence of Alexander the Great and the Romans, the Greek culture and language
was spread to other countries. University cities, like Athens
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
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
temple on the acropolis, was built in honor of the goddess, Athena, after which
named. Parthenos in Greek means virgin. They also worshipped Poseidon. The
twelve main gods of the Greeks and Greek mythology were:
- Goddess of love, romance, and beauty. Her son was Eros, god of
Love (though he is not an Olympian.)
Beautiful god of the sun, light, medicine, and music.
Dark god of war who loves Aphrodite.
Independent goddess of the hunt, the forest, wildlife, childbirth, and the
moon. Sister to Apollo.
Daughter of Zeus and goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts. Sometimes spelled
- Goddess of agriculture and mother of Persephone (again,
her offspring is not considered to be an Olympian.)
- 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
- Wife of Zeus, protector of marriage, familiar with magic.
- The speedy messenger of the gods, god of business. The Romans called him
- Calm goddess of home and homelife, symbolized by the hearth which holds the
- God of the sea, horses, and of earthquakes.
- 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
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
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.)
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.
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.”