|Christianity Through the Centuries, Expanded Third Edition|
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This third edition of Christianity Through The Centuries brings the reader up-to-date by discussing events and developments in the church into the 1990's. This edition has been redesigned with new typography and greatly improved graphics to increase clarity, accessibility, and usefulness. New chapters examine recent trends and developments (expanding the last section from 2 chapters to 5). New photos. Over 100 photos in all-more than twice the number in the previous edition. Single-column format for greater readability and a contemporary look. Improved maps (21) and charts (39). From a conservative viewpoint for the student/advanced lay person. Contains an index, end notes, and suggestions for further reading. Earle E. Cairns, professor emeritus of Wheaton College, is a graduate of Presbyterian Theological Seminary at Omaha (Th.B.) and the University of Nebraska (Ph.D.). He is a member of the American Society of Church History, the American Historical Association, and the Conference on Faith and History. He taught at Wheaton for thirty-five years and was department chairman for much of that time. He was consulting editor for the New International Dictionary of the Christian Church.
Intellectual Contributions of Greeks
Great as the preparation by Rome for the coming of
Christianity was, it was overshadowed by the intellectual enviroment that
the Greek mind provided. The city of Rome may be associated with
Christianity's political enviroment, but it was Athens that helped to provide
an intellectual enviroment that aided the propagation of the gospel.
The Romans may have been the political conquerors of the Greeks, but as
Horace indicated in his poetry, the Greeks conquered the Romans culturally.
The practical Romans may have built good roads, mighty bridges, and fine
public buildings, but the Greeks reared loftly edifices of the mind.
Under Greek influence the plain rural culture of the early republic gave
way to the intellectual culture of the empire.
1. The universal gospel was in
need of a universal language if it was to make maximum impact on the world.
Just as English has become the universal language in the modern world and
just as Latin was such in the medieval scholarly world, so Greek had become
the universal tongue in the ancient world. By the time the Roman
Empire appeared, most cultured Romans knew both Greek and Latin.
The process by which Greek became the vernacular
of the world is of interest. The Attic dialect used by the Athenians
came into wide usage in the fifth century B.C. with the growth of the Athenian
Empire. Even though the empire was destroyed by the end of the fifth
century, the dialect of Athens, which was that of classical Greek literature
became the language that Alexander, his soldiers, and the merchants of
the Hellenistic world between 338 and 146 B.C. modified enriched, and spread
throughout the Mediterranean world.
|It was this dialect of the common man, known as
Koine and differing from classical Greek, through which Christians were
able to make contact with the peoples of the ancient world and in which
they were to write their New Testament and the Jews of Alexandria were
to write their Old Testament, the Septuagint. Not until recently
was it known that the Greek of the New Testament was the Greek of the common
man of Christ's day because of the marked difference between it and the
Greek of the classics. One German theologian even went so far as
to say that the Greek of the New Testament was a special Greek given by
the Holy Spirit for the writing of the New Testament. Adolf Deissman
made the discovery near the end of the last century that the Greek of the
New Testament was the same Greek used by the ordinary man of the first
century in the papyri records of his business and the documents essential
to his daily life. Since that time such scholars as Moulton and Milligan
have put Deissman's discovery on a sound scientific foundation by comparative
study of the vocabulary of the papyri and that of the New Testament.
This discovery has fostered the rise of numerous modern-speech translations.
If the gospel was written in the tongue of the common man in the period
of its inception, the translators reason, it should be put in the vernacular
of the common man of our time.
2. Greek philosophy prepared for
the coming of Christianity by destroying the older religions. Whoever
came to know its tenets, whether Greek or Roman, soon found that this intellectual
discipline made his polytheistic religion so rationally unintelligible
that he turned away from it to philosophy. But philosophy failed
to satisfy his spiritual needs; so he either became a skeptic or sought
comfort in the mystery religions of the Roman Empire. At the time
of Christ's advent, philosophy had declinded from the peak reached by Plato
to a system of self-centered individualistic thought such as Stoicism or
Epicureanism. Moreover, philosophy could only seek for God and posit
Him as an intellectual abstraction; it could never reveal a personal God
of love. This bankruptcy of philosophy by the time of the coming
of Christ disposed men's mind toward a more spiritual approach to life.
Christianity alone was capable of filling the vacuum in the spiritual life
of the day.
|Another way in which the great Greek philosophers
served Christianity was to call the attention of the Greeks of their day
to a reality that transcended the temporal and relative world in which
they lived. Both Socrates and Plato in the fifth century B.C. taught
that this present temproal world of the sense is but a shadow of the real
world in which the highest ideals are such intellectual abstractions as
the good, the beautiful and the true. They insisted that reality
was not temporal and material but spiritual and eternal. Their search
for truth never led them to a personal God, but it demonstrated the best
that man can do in seeking God through the intellect, Christianity offered
to those who accepted Socrates' and Plato's philosophy the historical revelation
of the good, the beautiful, and the true in the person of the God-man,
Christ. Greeks also held to the immortality of the soul but had no
place for a physical resurrection of the body.
At the time when Christ came, people realized, as
never before, the insufficiency of human reason and polytheism. The
individualist philosophies of Epicurus and Zeno and the mystery religions
all testify to man's desire for a more personal relationship to God.
Christianity came with the offer of this personal relationship and found
that Greek culture, because of its own inadequacy, had created many hungry
3. The Greek people also contributed
in a religious way to making the world ready to accept the new Christian
religion when it appeared. The advent of materialistic Greek philosophy
in the sixth century B.C., destroyed the faith of the Greek peoples in
the old polytheistic worship that is described in Homer's Illiad and Odyssey.
Although elements of this worship lived on and in the mechanical state
worship, it soon lost its vitality.
|After this the people turned to philosophy; but it,
too, soon lost its vigor. Philosophy became a system of pragmatic
individualism, such as is seen in the teachings of Zeno the Stoic and Epicurus.
Lucretius, the poetic exponent of Epicurus's philosophy, founded his teaching
of disregard for the supernatural on the materialistic metaphysich that
considered even the spirit of man as merely a finer type of atom.
Stoicism did consider the supernatural, but its god was so closely identified
with creation that it was pantheistic. While Stoicism taught the
fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man and held to a highly desirable
code of ethics, it left man by rational processes to workout his own obedience
to the natural laws that he was to discover with his unaided reason.
Both Greek and Roman systems of philosophy and religion
thus made a contribution to the coming of Christianity by destroying the
old polytheistic relgions and by showing the inability of human reason
to reach God. The mystery relgions to which many turned, accustomed
the people to think in terms of sin and redemption. Thus when Christianity
appeared, people within the Roan Empire were more receptive to a religion
that seemed to offer a spiritual approach to life.
Excerpted from Christianity through the Centuries, Third Edition - Revised and Expanded by Earle Cairns.
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