Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Stoics in the New Testament

 Zeno of Citium - a cheerful chap

The Stoics are mentioned once in the Bible, namely in Acts 17:18, where they and their Epicurean counterparts engage Paul's discussion on Jesus Christ and the resurrection. They were followers of the philosopher Zeno of Citium (336 - 264 BC), and Citium was a city-kingdom on the southern coast of Cyprus, which was either Phoenician or still so much influenced by them that Zeno's Cynic mentor Crates called his pupil "little Phoenician" (Diogenes Laertius, vii.3).

Although the Stoics and Epicureans were proverbially Greek, these competing schools of thought showed remarkable similarities between the proverbial Jewish schools of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Neither the Epicureans nor the Sadducees believed in angels or spirits and such, but both the Pharisees and Stoics did (Acts 23:8) and since Paul came from the Pharisee tradition (Acts 23:6, Philippians 3:5), he probably got along wonderfully with the Stoics.

Paul was from Tarsus, which was also the home of a major center of Stoicism, and since Paul's writing is riddled with respectful references to Greek and Roman writings (see our article on Homer) and Stoicism was the major school of Greek thought in Paul's days, it's beyond reasonable doubt that he was intimately acquainted with Stoicism. In fact, even though Paul's writings were later physically bundled with Jewish ones to form the Bible, it's impossible to tell whether Paul's theology was a continuation of Judaic or Stoic thought.

Paul drew freely from any source that might explain the gospel, and that, to some extent, is the gospel. Or as Paul himself said: "I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22).

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