5. New Testament Times

   
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5. NEW TESTAMENT TIMES

THE GRECO-ROMAN WORLD

I. THE HELLENISTIC AGE

1. The Hellenistic age extends from the death of Alexander to the founding of the Roman Empire.

2. Armies, salesmen, colonists, artists, and philosophers spread the “spell of the Greek spirit” throughout the world.

3. Hellenistic culture and language spread all over the Roman Empire. It was: “the importance of the individual.”

4. Mesopotamia and Egypt were in decline. Egypt became a Roman province at the battle of Actium, 30 B.C.

5. Athens became the cultural center of the Empire.

6. Alexander left the Jews unmolested—they were practically independent.

7. When Alexander died, the Greek Empire fell apart.

II. MORALITY AND PHILOSOPHY

1. The Jews compared the morals of the gentiles with Sodom and Gomorrah. Early Christians held about the same opinion.

2. Paul took a dim view of “heathen” morals. He harped on sexual depravity.

3. Homosexuality was not looked down on by the Greeks. Plato almost idealized the practice.

4. Paul, like the Jews, looked upon homosexuality with horror. I Thess 4:3-8. Col 3:5. Eph 5:3. Gal 5:19.

5. Prostitution was tolerated all over the gentile world—even became a part of their religious ceremonials.

6. Slavery was general—human life was cheap. Crucifixion and burning at the stake were common among the Romans.

7. Christianity took a strong stand against all this—even tried to improve the status of the slave.

8. Rome granted religious freedom-except for persecutions now and then of Jews and Christians.

9. Philosophy was an important aspect of Hellenic culture. The Greeks were seeking for ultimate truth.

10. In the Orient the cultural leaders were prophets—Moses and Zoroaster.

11. Plato’s theory of ideas—the true reality—intrigued Christians. It was like the idea of the material being the shadow of the heavenly reality.

12. Christians shared in Plato’s search for “absolute truth” as the pattern for living.

13. Plato’s belief in immortality of the soul charmed Christians—although Plato did not believe in survival of the physical body.

14. Aristotle, Plato’s pupil and tutor of Alexander, taught that every object was composed of substance and attributes.

15. Motion, he taught, proves the existence of a “prime mover.” This prime mover is infinite and is what religionists call God.

16. Thomas Aquinas taught that the doctrine of transubstantiation in the Lord’s Supper was based on Aristotle.

17. Epicureanism was an attempt to ignore both science and religion—the simple fulfillment of natural desire. But it was not a sensual philosophy.

18. Stoicism was widespread during this period. Paul was something of a Stoic —”I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.”

19. Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic, also Seneca. They dwelt on unity and reason.

20. Reason was the world-soul. Man’s intelligence is a fragment of universal and living reason.

21. All men are sons of God—the universal brotherhood. They sought to ignore emotion.

22. Evil is but the belief of ignorance. Conscience is the voice of “Divine Reason”—somewhat like Jeremiah’s doctrine of God’s law written on the heart. Jer 31:33.

23. Stoicism was a religious naturalism—rationalistic pantheism. But it did produce a valiant sort of ethics.

III. RELIGION

1. Paul talks to the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers at Athens on the “unknown God.” They were never hostile toward religion.

2. The Greeks had an elaborate polytheism. Zeus was chief deity, with headquarters on Mt. Olympus.

3. On the Acropolis, Athena, goddess of wisdom, had her temple—the Parthenon. Many of the columns are still standing.

4. Hades was god of the underworld. He was a brother of Zeus. At death, the soul or shade went to Hades.

5. Eleusinian mysteries had to do with the cult of eternal life—immortality. It was a Greek sacrament about the God who died and rose again.

6. The cult of Dionysus (Bacchus) honored the god of wine. The theater presented comedy and tragedy.

7. Apollo, god of medicine, brought punishment and even death. He was the inspiration of poets and prophets.

8. From all over the Greek world they came to Delphi to consult Apollo—the oracles.

9. Aesculapius—the divine physician—son of Apollo—was the great healer. This healer god had a daughter—Hygeia—goddess of health.

10. Today the symbol of medicine is the staff of Aesculapius with a serpent entwined about it.

11. Mithra—god of soldiers—a long-time contemporary of Christianity, along with Isis, Egyptian god of Immortality.

IV. HELLENISTIC JUDAISM

1. The Second Isaiah had been leading the Jews away from nationalism toward universalism.

2. In Egypt there was a revolt against Jerusalem. The Jews built a temple on the island of Elephantine, whose ceremonials were like those of the Jerusalem temple.

3. A third temple was built by the Samaritans at Shechem. This temple was destroyed by John Hyrcanus in 129 B.C.

4. At the time Antiochus tried to destroy the temple services at Jerusalem (167 B.C.), the Samaritans named their temple on Mt. Gerizim for Zeus.

5. Even Paul attended the temple ceremonials when he was in Jerusalem.

6. But after A.D. 70 Jewish religious life was centered in the synagogue. This is the era of Jewish eschatology—belief in the coming of the Messiah and the “new age.”

7. The Egyptian Greeks wanted the Scriptures in their own tongue. This led to the translation, at Alexandria, of the Hebrew Bible into Greek.

8. Both Jews and Christians all over the Greek-speaking Roman world could now read the Scriptures in Greek.

9. These were the Old Testament scriptures that were read by Jesus and his apostles.

10. Greek thought was making inroads into Jewish thought. See the wisdom literature—Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes—as well as the wisdom of Solomon.

11. Philo, at Alexandria, began to make allegories out of the Old Testament. Example: When the heaven and earth were created, it means “mind and sense-perception.”

12. Early Christians, at the Alexandria school, were influenced by Philo—including Clement and Origen.

13. Greek, art gained ground among Jews. Synagogues are elaborately decorated with Bible scenes.

14. Anti-Semitism is aroused by the refusal of Jews to be assimilated—their racial isolation.

15. Jews suffered persecution in both Egypt and Rome.

16. The early Christians were persecuted in Rome because the Emperor regarded Christianity as a Jewish sect. Later they suffered because they clung to the idea of “the kingdom of heaven.”

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