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Christian History: The Context. The Greek, Roman and Jewish backgrounds of early Christianity. What three cultures had the greatest impact on the development of the Christian Church?. Hebrew Greek Roman. I. The Greek World. Political History 1. Philip II of Macedon (d. 336 BC).

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ChristianHistory:The Context



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What three cultures had the greatest impact on the development of the Christian Church?

  • Hebrew

  • Greek

  • Roman


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I. The Greek World development

  • Political History

    1. Philip II of Macedon (d. 336 BC)


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I. The Greek World development

  • Political History

    2. Alexander the Great (d. 323 BC)

Who played me in the movie?

A blonde Colin Farrell?!


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I. The Greek World development

  • Political History

    3. Division of the Empire

    a. Wars of the Diadochi (“successors”)

    b. Final Division of the Empire

    1) Ptolemaic Empire

    2) Seleucid Empire

    3) Macedonia


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I. The Greek World development

B. Hellenism

1. Definition:

Alexander’s attempt to convey the Greek ideals – the emulation of mid-fifth century Athens under Pericles; the promotion of Greek science, math, art, literature, and philosophy.


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I. The Greek World development

B. Hellenism

2. Significance:

Hellenism exported Greek religion, philosophy, and language throughout the region where the early church spread.


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I. The Greek World development

C. Religion

1. Pantheon of gods and goddesses

a. anthropomorphic

b. capricious

c. immoral

d. supernatural

e. immortal


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I. The Greek World development

C. Religion

2. Hero worship

3. The Delphic Oracle

4. Ruler cult

5. Personification of Fortune and Fate

6. Magic

7. Mystery religions


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

1. Socrates (c. 469-399 BC)

“Socratic method” of questioning

Knowledge is chief virtue

“Correct thoughts lead to correct acts”

Ethical values associated with Christianity

Challenged anthropomorphism of gods

Raised human ethical responsibility

Influenced Plato and Aristotle


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

2. Plato (c. 427-347)

a. The doctrine of the two worlds:The material things around us are not the ultimate realities; instead they are the shadows of universals which exist before and apart from individual, physical objects. As in the parable of the people in the cave seeing shadows cast on the wall, we comprehend only shadows and echoes of reality in this world.

Cf. Hebrews 9:23-24


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

2. Plato (c. 427-347)

b. The immortality and pre-existence of the soul: Plato taught the pre-existence of souls and their transmigration, or reincarnation, after death. Furthermore, because of his belief that only the spiritual has permanence, he affirmed the eternal death of the body. These tenets of his doctrine are opposed to Christian resurrection, but early Christians pointed to Plato’s assertion of the immortality of the soul for support of their hope.


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

2. Plato (c. 427-347)

c. Knowledge as reminiscence:The Platonic doctrine of knowledge is based on a distrust of the senses as the means of attaining true knowledge. The senses can supply infor- mation only about objects of this world, not about ideas. Since true knowledge is only the knowledge of ideas, Plato taught the theory of reminiscence whereby the individual “remembered” ideas held over by the pre-existent soul. Obviously main- stream Christianity did not accept pre-existence or reminiscence, but distrust of sensory perception lingered, especially through Augustine’s theory of knowledge.


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

2. Plato (c. 427-347)

d. The Idea of the Good:The origin of the world is the work of a divine artisan, or demiurge, that took formless matter and gave it form, imitating the beauty of the Idea of the Good. The parallels with Genesis powerfully influenced early Christian thought. The differentiation between the Idea of the Good and the artisan of the universe established a dichotomy between the Supreme Being and the Creator, which is entirely foreign to biblical thought, but which became rooted in the minds of some scholars who wished to assert the impassiveness of God simultaneously with his activity in the world. This source plus Plato’s monotheism led to a discussion of God that utilized Platonic termin- ology for the Idea of the Good: God is impassive, infinite, incomprehensible, and indescribable.


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

3. Aristotle (384-322 BC)

a. He rejected Plato’s doctrine of knowledge by reminiscence and said that learning comes through experience. Thus, he pioneered the study of logic and the sciences of biology, physics, and psychology.


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

3. Aristotle (384-322 BC)

b. Aristotle described the person as a whole being with integrated body and soul: the soul does not exist apart from the body although some aspect of the soul is not physical and survives death.


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

3. Aristotle (384-322 BC)

c. He affirmed the presence of an impersonal, ultimate divinity termed the “Prime Mover,” which was the epitome of knowledge, actively causing all motion and passively attracting all objects by its magnetic, supreme perfection.


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

3. Aristotle (384-322 BC)

d. Most of Aristotle’s works were lost to the West for seven hundred years until the rediscovery of his works on logic revolutionized Christian theology in the thirteenth century. Meanwhile, Plato’s idealistic realism profoundly influenced the theology of early and medieval Christianity through Augustine and others. Islam, however, benefited from Aristotle’s influence on the sciences and, for a time, outperformed the West technologically.


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

4. Stoicism - Zeno of Citium (c. 342-270 BC)

a. The human soul is a spark of the universal World Soul, which endues the individual with personal dignity and joins all humanity as one family. They championed slaves and other outcasts of society.


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

4. Stoicism - Zeno of Citium (c. 342-270 BC)

b. Salvation for the Stoic came through proper exercise of reason and will; only the inner man truly counted.


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

4. Stoicism - Zeno of Citium (c. 342-270 BC)

c. Stoics were highly predeterministic, rejecting Fortune and embracing Fate, whom they considered to be an expression of the benevolent World Soul which moved events toward the best solution for the common good. Therefore, true virtues were self-control and duty: to remain unmoved by the circumstances of life. They held no doctrine of permanent immortality so what mattered was living responsibly in this world.


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

4. Stoicism - Zeno of Citium (c. 342-270 BC)

d. Leading Romans embraced Stoic philosophy, including Cicero and Seneca, Nero’s tutor Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, who incorporated them into his Meditations.


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

5. Epicurus (341-270 BC)

Pleasure is the chief goal in life and is defined as the “absence of pain.” Epicurus did not advocate, however, a life of debauchery. He taught that physical appetites had to be satisfied, but only in moderation, and he ranked spiritual fulfillment above bodily pleasure. He advocated atheistic materialism: all moral and ethical relationships were pursued primarily for personal well-being; also utilitarianism: “What’s in it for me?”


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I. The Greek World development

D. Philosophy

6. Summary of Philosophy

These philosophers were all preoccupied with an insatiable quest for the purpose of life – humanity in search of destiny. Most of them used philosophy as the means to answer the needs of a society with virtually no moral foundation and no personal God. The bankruptcy of philosophy was evident in the fact that they asked questions for which they had no answers, but they prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ to answer these needs.


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I. The Greek World development

E. Summary of Religion and Philosophy

The Greeks described their gods in one of two ways:

1. Anthropomorphism: Gods were “humans writ large,” with the same passions and weaknesses, just greater beings.

2. Logical abstraction: Description depended on logical syllogisms such as: God is perfect, a perfect being must have all knowledge; therefore, God must be omnipotent.


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I. The Greek World development

E. Summary of Religion and Philosophy

Both of these descriptions have fatal flaws:

1. Anthropomorphism: This approach concentrated too much on the desires of humans and blurred distinctions between the natural and the supernatural.

2. Logical abstraction: This approach depended on man’s limited understanding of the universe and divine purpose. For example, consider this syllogism: God is perfect, perfect beings do not suffer; therefore, God cannot suffer. This concept is erroneous according to the New Testament. Also consider immutability and the Incarnation.


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II. The Roman Empire development

  • Augustus Caesar

  • On January 16, 27 BC, Octavian assumed the title “Augustus.”

  • He transformed the republic into an empire which he extended from Spain and Gaul to Syria and North Africa.

  • Through dual government, which combined the rule of the senate and the emperor, he restored order and unity to Roman government torn by civil war for 80 years.


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II. The Roman Empire development

  • Augustus Caesar

    The establishment of the Empire brought about three results critical to the growth of the church:

    1. Roman law

    2. Pax Romana (27 BC – 180 AD)

    3. Roman roads


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Roman Roads in Tunisia development

North Africa

2005


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II. The Roman Empire development

B. Culture

1. The Law

2. Hellenism

3. Language

Latin and Greek


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II. The Roman Empire development

C. Religion

1. Polytheism

2. Syncretism

3. Emperor worship

4. Ceremony

5. Philosophically based


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II. The Roman Empire development

C. Religion

6. Mystery religions

  • These cults were derived mainly from the East

  • They involved secretive ceremonies and initiations

  • Their members were attracted by promises of fellowship and immortality

  • Many cults believed in a savior-god, who had died and risen again

  • Many sought to release the soul from the flesh, which they perceived as contaminated (dualism)

  • Some practiced asceticism and cleanliness; others engaged in ritual debauchery


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II. The Roman Empire development

C. Religion

6. Mystery religions

a.Magna Mater cult: The Great Mother loved a virgin born shepherd and achieved his resurrection after he died.


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II. The Roman Empire development

C. Religion

6. Mystery religions

b. Mithraism

Similarities to Christianity:

  • Communion meal

  • Baptism (in the blood of a bull)

  • Membership from all strata of society

  • Belief in Unconquered One

  • Belief in afterlife/heaven

  • Flood heritage

  • Birthday of Mithras was December 25

  • Worshiped in Mithraeum, an underground cavern/crypt


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II. The Roman Empire development

D. Factors in Graeco-Roman world favorable to the spread of Christianity:

1. Universal language

2. Roman roads

3. Pax Romana

4. Roman citizenship gave privileges to some missionary preachers

5. A unified empire broke down many cultural/nationalistic barriers

6. Mystery religions and Greek philosophy prepared many for the advent of Christ


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III. The Hebrew Nation development

A. Geography

Palestine was located at the crossroads of the great trade routes between Egypt and Mesopotamia, Rome/Asia Minor and Arabia. However it was not a cultural center – just a backwaterprovince.


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III. The Hebrew Nation development

B. History

1.Alexander’s defeat of Persia (331 BC)led to the voluntary dispersion of Jews for commercial enterprises throughout the Alexandrian Empire.

Alexander brought Hellenism into Palestine but allowed the Jews to retain their religious identity.


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2. After Alexander development

a. Ptolemaic Egypt dominated Palestine (331-198 BC)

b. Syrian Seleucids accelerated Hellenization (198-142 BC).


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III. The Hebrew Nation development

B. History

2. After Alexander

c. Maccabean revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes (166-142) and his successors earned Jews their freedom.

d. The Hasmonean dynasty ruled Palestine independently (142-63 BC) until Roman conquest.


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III. The Hebrew Nation development

B. History

3. Roman domination

a. Civil War (67 BC)

b. Pompey conquered Jerusalem (63 BC)

c. Herod (the Great) was pronounced King of Judah by the Roman Senate (40 BC)


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III. The Hebrew Nation development

C. Religious Parties

1. Pharisees

2. Sadducees

3. Zealots

4. Herodians

5. Essenes

6. Samaritans


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III. The Hebrew Nation development

D. Common Tenets

1. Ethical monotheism

2. Eschatological hope


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III. The Hebrew Nation development

E. The Diaspora

1. Voluntary dispersion

2. Involuntary dispersion

3. Synagogues

a. Ten families

b. Five-point liturgy

1) The Shema (Deut. 6:1-4)

2) Prayer

3) Reading of the Scripture

4) Sermon

5) Benediction


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III. The Hebrew Nation development

E. The Diaspora

3. Synagogues(continued)

c. Focal points for winning converts to Judaism:

1) God-fearing Gentiles = proselytes of the gate

2) Proselytes of righteousness

d. Early centers of Christian missionary activity


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III. The Hebrew Nation development

E. The Diaspora

4. Language

a. Greek

b. Septuagint (LXX)

5. Hellenization

Philo of Alexandria (26 BC – 53 AD)


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Summary: development

Jesus Christ came at God’s appointed time in history, fulfilling the Father’s purpose in a well-ordered but morally bankrupt society seeking to answer the meaning of existence.


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