STUDY 2 - THE NEW TESTAMENT
WORLD: THE GREEKS
For this study see: M.C.Tenney, pp.63-79; R.H.Gundry, pp.21-27
Further reading: F.F.Bruce, New Testament History, pp.39-52.
N.J.Bull observes: "The Romans were a practical people. They conquered
and organised, built cities and roads, made laws and customs. But much
of their thought, culture and religion came from the Greeks". 
1. THE GREEK PRESENCE
The Greek spirit and language pervaded the Mediterranean
world. Palestine was dominated by Greek rulers from 333-142 B.C. The
Decapolis was a league of ten cities linked by the city-state ideal
The Greek culture
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were Greek philosophers whose teaching
was far reaching. Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) was a pupil of
Aristotle. During his reign he conquered the world and spread the Greek
culture, or Hellenism, wherever he went.
The Greek language
With Alexander the Greek language spread through the world. It was the
lingua franca of the Roman world. Common or koine Greek was the
language of the market-place and lasted for six centuries. This
everyday Greek is the language of the NT.
Jews at Alexandria in Egypt translated the OT into Greek between 250
and 200 B.C. It is called the Septuagint (LXX) from a legend that it
had been translated by 70 scholars in 70 days. The LXX was the Bible of
the apostles, Paul and the NT church.
The New Testament
The influence of Greece is seen in the NT. One of the early problems in
the life of the Jerusalem church concerned ministry to Hellenistic, or
Greek-speaking, Jewish Christians. The seven men chosen to deal with
the daily administration had Greek names - Stephen, Philip, Procorus,
Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas (Acts 6:5). It was common for
Hellenistic Jews to have both Hebrew and Greek names. Saul of Tarsus
has been described as a Hellenistic Jew. Saul was his Hebrew name, and
Paul (Lat. Paulluus; Gk. Paulos) was one of his Latin names. Roman
citizens had three names. 
2. GREEK PHILOSOPHY
The impact of Greek philosophy, beginning with Socrates
(c.470-399 B.C.) has never been lost to the West. The good life was
analysed, knowledge was taught and the virtues of prudence, justice,
temperance and fortitude imparted. The thoughts of Plato and Aristotle
have found their way into Christian thought and theology. Augustine and
Aquinas represented them in the Middle Ages. At first Greek philosophy
concerned itself with the place of man in the state. Plato's Republic
is a classic example of this. But after the fall of the Greek city-
states, when everything seemed so uncertain, different kinds of
questions were asked. How could man survive in a world where everything
was going wrong? How could one live a life of virtue in a world of
evil? How can one find happiness when surrounded by suffering?
Different philosophical schools supplied different answers to these
questions. (Consider the elements in Rom.8:38-39 here).
The Cynics were disciples
of Diogenes, who chose to live like a dog. (The word 'cynic' means
'canine'.) He lived in a large kind of pitcher and did not wash
himself. In order to cope with the world a Cynic would retreat from it
and live a life of indifference.
The Sceptics were
followers of Pyrrho, a late soldier of Alexander's army. The Greek word
skepsis means 'reflection' or 'enquiry' - and the school taught that we
could be sure of nothing. Certain knowledge was doubted. Doubt became
dogma. The person who adopted this doctrine switched off from the
world. Why learn? Why worry if we cannot be sure of anything? The
school had a popular following.
The Epicureans were named
after their teacher Epicurus (342-270 B.C.). He taught that pleasure
was the highest good. But his differentiation between active pleasure
(the fulfilment of desire) and passive pleasure (which is free from
emotional disturbance - or unhappiness) led to asceticism.  The
greatest evil was fear, and the chief source of fear was dread of the
gods and death. Epicurus sought to allay these fears by saying that
they were unnecessary. The world came into being by chance and the gods
were not interested in human affairs. There was no sensation after
death as the atoms of the soul were scattered. The poet Lucretius was a
disciple of Epicurus.
The Stoics. Stoicism was
founded by Zeno, a Phoenician born in Cyprus, and was widespread in the
NT world (Acts 17:18). It had similarities with Christianity with
its emphasis on the brotherhood of man, the rule of God, and the need
to live a disciplined life in the will of God. Stoicism held that God
is the reason (Gk. logos) behind the whole universe. The Logos is in
every man, and virtue lies in living in harmony with nature. Men are
free to choose a life of discipline to duty. As the offspring of God
all men are brothers and should live as such. All classes may live by
God's laws and so be virtuous. Suffering, cruelty and injustice may
give a man the best opportunity to live virtuously. In spite of its
parallels with Christianity, Stoicism was cold, devoid of passion,
sympathy and love. Brotherhood and love were seen as principles - not
living realities. Duty was stressed. A Stoic sought to live a life
detached from the external forces of good and evil and the changes of
fortune. Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius were Stoics.
3. THE MYSTERY RELIGIONS
At the opposite extreme to schools of philosophy were the
popular mystery religions. Ordinary men and women could find solace and
hope, for this world and the next, in these cults. Travel in the Roman
world enabled the interchange of trade, ideas and religions. Rome
assimilated the philosophies and religions of the countries she
conquered. The world of the first century was a new age world.
The cult of the goddess Isis
came from Egypt and was popular among Romans. It spread throughout the
Middle East and traces of its presence have been left in places like
Antioch and Pompeii. The cult had an initiation rite which had three
symbolic parts: a death, a visit to the underworld and a resurrection.
As the cult spread Isis became identified with other goddesses such as
The cult of Cybele, the
earth mother, came from Phrygia. Romans called the goddess Magna Deum
Mater, since she was believed to be the mother of Zeus, head of the
pantheon of gods. Baptism in blood (taurobolium) initiated members. A
bull was ceremonially slain and then its blood was dripped through a
grating on to the initiate below.
The cult of Mithras came
from Persia. Mithras was the sun god and a hero god, the saviour who
assured life in heaven after death. The mighty warrior was always
pictured as a bull. The cult included the practice of taurobolium. It
was popular with the Roman legions, and spread through India and Asia
Minor to the West. Mithras was the Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun
which daily vanquished darkness and renewed its invincible power.
Shrines to Mithras have been unearthed in the city of London.
In the strict sense Gnosticism refers to the second century
heresy which concerned Irenaeus and Hippolytus. Basilides, Valentinus
and Marcion held organised gnostic beliefs. In a wider sense the term
has been applied to Zoroastrianism, Mandaeism, the Hermetic literature,
and the Dead Sea scrolls. Although it is agreed that Gnosticism as such
was not organised as a cult in the first century, the seeds of
gnosticism were abroad. The doctrine or concept of salvation through
special knowledge or gnosis held a central place. This kind of belief
is indicated by the Fourth Gospel and some of the Pauline Epistles.
Timothy is warned in the pastoral epistle, "Turn away from godless
chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge
(gnōsis)" (1 Tim.6:20). 
1. N.J.Bull, The Rise of the Church, p.5.
2. F.F.Bruce indicates: "As a Roman citizen Paul had three
names - praenomen (first name), nomen or nomen gentile (family name)
and cognomen (additional name or surname)" (New Testament History,
p.223). 'Paul' was his cognomen.
3. Earlier, Aristippus (c.435-366 B.C.), founder of the
Cyrenaic school of hedonism, taught that the pursuit of immediate
pleasure is the chief purpose of life.
4. See: E.M.Yamauchi, Pre-Christian Gnosticism, London,