The Influence of Greek Thought on Christianity

To the Greek philosophers, life was one long process of the satisfying of the intellect. But Greek philosophy had gone stale by the time of the uprise of Christianity. The Christian religion revived Greek philosophy by giving it something new and unique to think about. So that in the second and following centuries we find thousands of “Greek-minded” citizens of the Roman Empire considering Christianity, not with the idea of attaining personal salvation by obeying the revealed will of God, but with the view of satisfying their intellect with respect to the Christian doctrines of the existence and nature of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The dominant desire was for knowledge, not for love or faith. Naturally intellectual discussion waxed hot and involved on the exact relationship of God to Jesus Christ and to the Holy Spirit; and presently, little by little, there emerged the doctrine of the Trinity, concerning which a high and unbiased authority states that the mould of thought is that of Greek philosophy, and, again, “the Nicene creed is characteristically Greek”. In unvarnished language, the doctrine of the Trinity is a blasphemous mixture of Greek speculation with divine truth.

Further, certain parts of Christian truth were decidedly distasteful to the Greek-minded. There was, therefore, a gradual tendency to allegorise those parts. Such doctrines as the resurrection of our Lord and of His second coming to establish the kingdom of God upon earth, fell under this baneful allegorising movement. When, with the ascension of Constantine, in A.D. 312, Christianity finally triumphed in the Roman Empire, the bishops and the people were so carried away by this epoch-making event, that it was more or less decided that the Kingdom of God must have come; that Constantine really represented Christ the king, and that the Christianised Roman Empire was the new Jerusalem come to earth. Naturally the true doctrine of the Kingdom of God was lost sight of, and when the supposed new Jerusalem began to deteriorate, the new hope of so-called saints became—heaven. The doctrine of the resurrection of the body was displaced by that of the immortality of the soul. The impersonal theory of Plato was overlaid with Christian sentiment and thereby became the vividly (or vaguely?) personal doctrine which has flourished to the present day. Dr. Laidlaw in his Bible Doctrine of Man (quoted in The Immortality of the Soul, P. E. White) says that “gradually in Christian schools the Greek influence prevailed, and even in the Christian church the idea of the soul’s immortality...took the place of the Scripture doctrine of a future life.”

So much for a mere outline of the effect of Greek thought on the early church. We now arrive at the most interesting, and yet, in one sense, the most perplexing part of the subject—the part played by the eminent fathers of the second and following centuries in permitting, encouraging, even propelling the insidious intellectual attack of Greece. For the same paradoxial situation confronts us as in the case of more than one high ecclesiastic in the 20th century Anglican Church. So in Justin Martyr, in Athenagoras, in Clement and in Origen, we come into contact with men of the highest Christian faith, purity and godly character; yet of these men it must be recorded, even with tears, that they were the enemies of the cross of Christ.

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Author: James B. Norris

Keywords: Hellenism, Hellenistic, Hellenization, Hellenisation, Greek Thought, Greek philosophy, greek mind, greek philosophers, Early Church, Early church fathers, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Clement, Origen, Immortal soul, Immortality of the soul, philosophy, Immortal spirit, Plato, Platonic, Logos, Trinity, Trinitarian, Three gods in one, Holy Trinity, God the Son, Tri-unity, Three in one, God in three persons, Deity of Jesus, Deity of Christ, Three gods, Three persons, Three persons in one god, Incarnation

Bible reference(s): Mat 1:23, Mat 28:19, John 1:1-4, John 3:13, John 5:23, John 6:33, John 6:38, John 6:51, John 6:58, John 6:62, John 8:23, John 8:28, John 8:58, John 10:17-18, John 10:30, John 14:9, John 17:5, John 20:28, Rom 9:5, Philippians 2:6, Col 1:15-16, Eph 4:8-10, Heb 1:2, Heb 1:8, Heb 7:3, 1 John 4:3, 1 John 5:7, 1 John 5:20, Rev 3:14

Source: “The Influence of Greek Thought on Christianity,” The Testimony, Vol. 2, No. 20, August 1932, pp. 250-3. Used with permission.

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