Christianity Through the Centuries, Expanded Third EditionChristianity Through the Centuries, Expanded Third Edition
Earle Cairns
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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.
     

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Chapter One
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 hearts.

    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.
    Zondervan, 1996
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