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dianoigo blog

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Greek philosophy and early Gentile Christianity

I have been listening to some teaching material delivered recently by Christadelphian teacher Dave Burke, apparently at a series of youth weekends in Australia and subsequently posted to his blog. One of my reasons for listening was that Dave and I have interacted for years over the internet on discussion forums and more recently on Facebook, but have never met face to face. Unfortunately we have disagreed more often than we have agreed. One of my personal goals is to behave more nobly in religious dialogue, even when there is disagreement, and particularly when the dialogue takes place on the Internet. It helps when one is able to perceive his dialogue partner as a real human being as opposed to a cyber-theologian. Listening to Dave's disarming Aussie accent and dry sense of humour certainly helped in this regard.

From what I've heard so far, the series of talks Dave delivered entitled, The Servants of the Lord was very impressive. In what amounted to an introduction to biblical scholarship, the sheer volume of material that Dave has able to cover is staggering. I doubt there are many attendees of Christian youth camps who walk away so well equipped with background and tools for biblical exegesis.

Taken in the context of that overall assessment, I hope Dave won't mind if I offer some criticism. When it comes to his comments on early Gentile Christianity, and Justin Martyr in particular, his tendency to view church history through a Christadelphian lens clouds the facts.

Gentile Christianity

In a subsection of his series entitled 'Gentile Christianity', Dave gives following account:
We're going to move into the second century now. The second century takes us into the realm of Gentile Christianity. After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, the Jews dispersed far and wide and so did the Christians. And Christianity had already spread into Gentile lands by the 50s and 60s, but now Christians who originally had been quite happy to remain in places like Jerusalem were forced out and had to go much further afield. Some of them went to Antioch, a lot of them went even further. And this actually had the effect of spreading the Christian message to places which had not heard it before. But unfortunately it also had a side effect and this was that increasingly now there were more Gentile converts than Jewish converts. Jerusalem was no longer the headquarters, the nexus, of the Christian community. The Spirit-guided leadership which they had once relied on had passed away for the most part. And now Christians were finding that as Gentiles were converted, they brought their own worldview, some of their own preconceptions and assumptions and philosophies and theologies with them. And they didn't always leave those ideas behind. Some of them sought to amalgamate Christianity with their pre-existing ideas.1
Now, it may be that Dave just made a poor choice of words here. However, as it stands, he has described the fact that Gentile converts came to outnumber Jewish converts in the early second century as an unfortunate side effect of the dispersion of Christians throughout the Empire!

When Jesus commanded his disciples, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19; cf. Acts 13:47), did he envisage Jewish disciples remaining in the majority? Given that Gentiles outnumbered Jews by about 9 to 1 in the first century Roman Empire,2 would it not be a natural and desirable consequence of the Great Commission for Gentile converts to outnumber Jewish converts?

When Jerusalem ceased to be the headquarters of the church, and Christians were dispersed throughout the Empire following the destruction of the temple, was this 'unfortunate' from a divine point of view? How could it be, when this dispersion of Christians had the effect of advancing the gospel to a great number of Gentiles (as in Acts 11:19-21)? Note also that the Lord Jesus himself had foretold the destruction of the temple as an act of divine judgment (Matthew 23:34-24:2). Yes, in one sense it was unfortunate inasmuch as judgment brings sorrow to God (Ezekiel 33:11), but was it not also part of God's plan for the growth of the church which was itself God's temple (2 Corinthians 6:16)?

Dave paints a very bleak picture of the early second century church. We won't contend in detail here with his assumption that the leadership of the church was no longer Spirit-guided; but if true, this cessation of Spirit activity must have been God's will. Thus, the set of circumstances in which the church found itself in the early second century (no more temple; dispersion leading to many Gentile conversions; [allegedly] no Spirit guidance) can all be linked back to the will of God. Bear in mind as well that Jesus himself had promised to be personally present in the church's growth until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). In what sense then can these developments be deemed 'unfortunate' for the church? And what does Dave think ought to have happened?

Dave highlights that Gentile converts brought their own ideas with them when they came to Christianity, which replaced the Jewish worldview that had previously dominated the church:
as we go through the second century A.D., we will see Gentiles misinterpreting Scripture because of the preconceptions they bring to it, and their failure to understand the cultural and historical context of these writings.3
Now Dave is able to produce some excellent second-century examples in which the confluence of Greek ideas and a low view of the Old Testament (and, in particular, its God) did result in apostasy, such as Marcion and Valentinus. However, he doesn't seem to see much of a qualitative difference between these writings and others such as the Epistle of Barnabas and the works of Justin Martyr. These latter writings are critical of Judaism but show great valuation and esteem for the Old Testament and familiarity with Jewish methods of exegesis.

The Epistle of Barnabas

There is no disputing that the Epistle of Barnabas contains some strange ideas, particularly concerning the Law of Moses and the covenant with the Jews. However, these are not necessarily the result of Gentile failure to interpret Jewish texts. In fact, Paget, arguably the pre-eminent scholarly authority on this document in our generation, emphasizes the "Jewish character" of the work and describes it as a "Jewish-Christian epistle."4 Paget regards it as unclear whether the author was a Jew or a Gentile (leaning guardedly toward the Gentile view), but emphasizes the author's "knowledge and use of Jewish exegetical methods."5

Dave takes issue with the Epistle of Barnabas' Christological interpretation of Genesis 1:26 (Barnabas 5:5), pointing out that such an interpretation has no precedent in Judaism and is also not regarded as plausible by modern scholars. However, this is again not simply a case of Gentiles misunderstanding a Jewish text, but of the early church reading Scripture Christologically; a hermeneutic also found in the New Testament. There are numerous Old Testament texts which the New Testament writers interpreted Christologically in a way unprecedented in ancient Judaism and which modern critical scholarship does not regard as the original meaning of the text (e.g. Isaiah 7:14, Hosea 11:1 or Psalm 102:25-27). Arguably in Barnabas 5:5 a similar Jewish hermeneutic is at work. While Paul does not go as far as the Epistle of Barnabas and suggest that God's words in Genesis were originally spoken to Christ, he does use "christocentric language reminiscent of Genesis 1:26-27" in Romans 8:29.6 7 It is thus not as non-Jewish as Dave might think for the writer of the Epistle of Barnabas to see a Christological sensus plenior in Genesis 1:26-27.

With regard to the issue of authorship of this work, Dave rightly notes that no scholars today attribute the Epistle of Barnabas to Paul's companion of that name. Dave cynically states that it got its name because that is what people did in those days when they wanted to gain credibility for something they had written five minutes earlier. However, the body of the Epistle of Barnabas nowhere mentions Barnabas by name. Some scholars have suggested that the ascription to Barnabas was secondary, i.e. not something the author himself claimed.8 Thus, this is not necessarily a pseudonymous work.9

It should be added that an unfortunate feature of Dave's dialogue at this point is his disregard of the later church consensus regarding which writings from this period were good and which were bad. He moves through Marcion, the Epistle of Barnabas, Valentinus and Justin Martyr. Further along, Dave refers to the Shepherd of Hermas and 2 Clement in a list of no particular order which also includes the Gospel of the Egyptians and the Gospel of Basilides. While Dave does emphasize that Marcion was rejected by the church, he does not for the most part distinguish between those writings which were rejected as Gnostic heresy (e.g. Gospel of the Egyptians, Gospel of Basilides) and those which ultimately gained acceptance among the 'Apostolic Fathers' (Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, 2 Clement). Dave appears to paint most of these writings with the same brush (i.e. as reflecting the corruption of the church by Gentile thought), without exploring the reasons why some came to be accepted by the church and others came to be rejected.

Justin Martyr the Philosopher

Commenting on Justin's background in Greek philosophy, Dave comments:
Justin Martyr, however, brought his pagan Greek preconceptions and philosophical preconceptions to the gospel message, and when he read the New Testament he interpreted it through a pagan Hellenic filter.10
He goes on to criticize Justin for retaining his philosopher's robe after converting to Christianity:
Justin continued to wear his philosopher's robe even after converting Christianity. This is a huge contrast to the men of Ephesus, who when they were converted, scooped up all their magical and philosophical scrolls and burned them, and put that behind them. But Justin Martyr retained many of his former ideas, and he still considered himself a philosopher, and he considered Christianity the highest form of philosophy.11
In the first place, the passage about the men of Ephesus to which Dave is referring (Acts 19:18-19) makes no mention of philosophical writings but only of magical writings. Indeed, the whole pericope has nothing at all to do with philosophy. And when Paul does interact with Greek philosophers (Acts 17:16-34), he engages them on their own terms, even quoting from their writings. As Sterling explains, the author of Acts
sets the scene for Paul’s Aereopagetica by presenting him in debate with certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who charge the Christian missionary with the crime for which Socrates was executed (Acts 17:18, 20; Xenophon, Mem. 1:1:1; cf. also Justin Martyr, 1 Apol. 5:3; 2 Apol. 10:5). This is not the first time in Acts that a disciple or group of disciples appears in a role reminiscent of Socrates (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29; and Plato, Apol. 29d). The speech which follows is an argument that Greek philosophy is a forerunner to Christianity. The author even cites a line from Aratus of Soli who learned his Stoicism from Zeno, the founder of the Stoa (Acts 17:28; Aratus, Phaen. 5).12
The use of Hellenistic philosophy was not an innovation of second century Gentile Christianity. To the contrary, it can be found in pre-Christian Jewish writings, and there are also elements of it in the New Testament (as we saw in Acts 17). So Sterling tells us, "Jewish authors such as Aristobulus, the author of the Wisdom of Solomon, and Philo used Hellenistic philosophy to restate their own understandings of the divine"13 and, "For those who attempt to bring the human experience of God to articulation through critical reflection, philosophy is a natural resource; at least a number of New Testament writers thought so."14 There appear to have been different views in the early church concerning Greek philosophy. For instance, Tertullian in the Latin West did not regard Greek philosophy as being of any use to the church (De praescriptione haereticorum, ch. 7).

As to Justin Martyr himself, while he obviously knew and used Hellenistic philosophy, the way he used it was not as simple as combining Hellenistic philosophical preconceptions with Christianity:
While it is true that he grants a certain legitimacy to some of the opinions of the philosophers, it would be wrong to assume that Justin’s main intention is to reconcile Christianity to Greek philosophy...On the contrary, the similarities Justin enumerates clearly are intended to prove the superiority of Christianity.15
Justin's appeal to philosophical sources can be explained as a rhetorical device, like Paul's in Athens.
Both Apologies and Dialogue operate on a common strategy, of justifying Christianity by appealing to texts, Jewish or Gentile, which the intended reader will grant to carry authority.16
The idea that Justin interpreted the New Testament through a pagan Hellenic filter is even less credible. Dave here fails to recognize the very low esteem Justin had for pagan religion:
Notoriously, Justin’s thrust is directed towards splitting apart religion and philosophy. Towards pagan cult and myth he is vehemently negative: They are crude, superstitious, and immoral both in content and in practical influence.17
We should also be wary of exaggerating the influence that philosophy had on Justin's theology. For instance, in Edwards' study of the background to Justin's Logos concept, he argues that Justin's notion of the Logos is rooted in the biblical tradition and not in Stoic or Platonic philosophy as earlier scholars had generally supposed.18 In a similar vein, Price writes,
The easy and frequent use of "Logos" as a title of the Son came to Justin not from Greek philosophy but from the constant mention of the "word of God" in the Old Testament, as transmitted to him in the Greek of the Septuagint and developed by such Jewish biblical commentators as Philo.19
Furthermore, before censuring Justin for trying to develop a synthesis between Christian and Greek philosophy, Dave needs to ask himself whether he does not, in effect, do the same. A recent article in a publication edited by Dave, commenting on the difficulties that the fossil record presents for a traditional interpretation of early Genesis, expresses the need for "a resolution to this problem that respects both the scientific and Biblical evidence."20 In other words, the writer advocates seeking a synthesis between Scripture and modern science. Indeed, physical sciences aside, the exegetical methods which are used by scholars today in their study of Scripture are fundamentally scientific. Now, "the English word 'science' refers to a practice that to a large extent can be traced back to the early Greek philosophers."21 It was by "revitalizing Greek thought" that medieval philosophers were able to set in motion forces that would ultimately overturn the medieval worldview and create modern Western thought.22

Similarly, Christadelphian apologists like Dave are well known for use of logical arguments in the form of syllogisms in theological deliberations. Whom do they have to thank for this? "The first explicit theory of propositional connectives was developed by a collection of thinkers known as the Stoics" and "The Stoic definition of argument is strikingly modern."23

So Dave faults Justin for practicing Greek philosophy while he himself is quite content to appeal to modern science and logic, both of which have Greek philosophy as their ancestor. The major difference between Justin and ourselves is that human knowledge is far more advanced today than it was in the second century. But to fault Justin on this basis amounts to mere chronocentrism. In fact, those of us who value the role of science and logic in the church today should probably be grateful that Justin and other early Christian intellectuals didn't burn their philosophy books as Dave implies they should have done.

In summary, Dave's criticism of Justin Martyr for using Hellenistic philosophy is unfair on three counts: (1) this was not an innovation of second-century Gentile Christianity; instead he was following precedents set by pre-Christian Hellenistic Jews and, at least to some extent, the New Testament writers. (2) The idea that Justin interpreted the New Testament through a pagan Hellenic filter not only exaggerates the influence of Greek philosophy on his theology, but also ignores Justin's very negative view of paganism. (3) Justin Martyr's attempt at a synthesis of Christian beliefs with Greek philosophy is not fundamentally different from contemporary attempts at a synthesis of Christian beliefs with modern science and logic - methodologies which themselves developed from Greek philosophy and which Dave endorses and uses.

In a follow-up post we will look more specifically at Dave's claims regarding Justin Martyr's theological positions.


1 Burke, D. (Producer). (2014). Servants of the Lord NSW 2014, Session 8 [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.milktomeat.org. Emphasis added.
2 Pasachoff, N.E. and Littman, R.J. (2005). A Concise History of the Jewish People. Rowman & Littlefield, p. 120.
3 Burke, op. cit.
4 Paget, J.C. (1996). Paul and the Epistle of Barnabas. Novum Testamentum 38(4): 359-381. pp. 378-379.
5 Paget, J.C. (2006). The Epistle of Barnabas. Expository Times 117(11): 441-446. p. 442.
6 Grenz, S.J. (2006). The Social God and the Relational Self: Toward a Theology of the Imago Dei in the Postmodern Context. In R. Lints et al (Eds.), Personal Identity in Theological Perspective (70-94). Eerdmans, p. 82.
7 See also Beale, G.K. (2007). Colossians. In G.K. Beale & D.A. Carson (Eds.), Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (841-919). Baker Academic, p. 852)
8 Paget, J.C. (1994). The Epistle of Barnabas: Outlook and Background. Mohr Siebeck, p. 7.
9 The same is true of 2 Clement. This work does not claim to have been written by Clement (in fact, neither does 1 Clement). Far from being a pseudepigraph, Tuckett suggests that the anonymity of 2 Clement's author is "a reflection perhaps of his somewhat self-effacing modesty" (Tuckett, C. (2012). 2 Clement: Introduction, Text, and Commentary. Oxford University Press, p. 17.)
10 Burke, op. cit.
11 Burke, op. cit.
12 Sterling, G.E. (1997). Hellenistic Philosophy and the New Testament. In S.E. Porter (Ed.), A Handbook to the Exegesis of the New Testament. BRILL, p. 313, emphasis added.
13 Sterling, op. cit., p. 314.
14 Sterling, op. cit., p. 342.
15 Droge, A.J. (1987). Justin Martyr and the Restoration of Philosophy. Church History 56(3): 303-319. pp. 306-307.
16 Chadwick, H. (1993). The Gospel a Republication of Natural Religion in Justin Martyr. Illinois Classical Studies 18: 237-247. p. 247.
17 Chadwick, op. cit., p. 238.
18 Edwards, M.J. (1995). Justin's Logos and the Word of God. Journal of Early Christian Studies 3(3): 261-280. p. 261.
19 Price, R.M. (1988). 'Hellenization' and Logos Doctrine in Justin Martyr. Vigiliae Christianae 42(1): 18-23. p. 20.
20 Gilmore, K. (2014). The Bible is not a science textbook. Defence and Confirmation, Vol. 1. Retrieved from https://app.box.com/s/9ym4rw6c2le092pco7u0. p. 16.
21 Preus, A. (2007). Historical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Philosophy. Scarecrow Press, p. 233.
22 Perry, M. et al. (2012). Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society, Volume I: To 1789. Cengage Learning, p. 260.
23 Bonevac, D. and Dever, J. (2012). A Short History of the Connectives. In D.M. Gabbay, F.J. Pelletier and J. Woods (Eds)., Logic: A History of its Central Concepts (175-234). Newnes, p. 177.

24 comments:

Dave Burke said...

Hi Tom, thanks for taking an interest in my talks.

You say:

>>
Now, it may be that Dave just made a poor choice of words here.
>>

Perhaps, but I immediately qualified the point I was making and explained why it was problematic that Gentile believers so rapidly outnumbered Jewish believers.

Look at the emergence of Gnosticism, for example: this was a distinctly Gentile idea. It did not emerge from within a Jewish worldview.

The disconnection between Christianity and Judaism began in the 2nd Century; that is well attested by history, and confirmed by modern scholarship.

The consequences of this breach were significant and largely doctrinal (again, modern scholarship concurs). Look at Justin Marty's words to Trypho the Jew:

--'For these words have neither been prepared by me, nor embellished by the art of man; but David sung them, Isaiah preached them, Zechariah proclaimed them, and Moses wrote them. Are you acquainted with them, Trypho? They are contained in your Scriptures, or rather not yours, but ours. For we believe them; but you, though you read them, do not catch the spirit that is in them. '

Here Justin claims the OT now belongs to Christians rather than Jews, because the Jews have failed to understand it. That is a radical message with severe implications.

Dave Burke said...

>>
Thus, the set of circumstances in which the church found itself in the early second century (no more temple; dispersion leading to many Gentile conversions; [allegedly] no Spirit guidance) can all be linked back to the will of God.
>>

The Diaspora was God's will. The corruption of the Christian message and the estrangement from its Jewish roots was not. Saying that this can 'all be linked back to the will of God' does not prove that all of it was God's will.

If you believe the church continued to be guided by the Spirit up to the present age, you need to explain why it fractured, splintered, and tore itself apart within 200 years of Christ's ascension. Was that God's will?

Today the church is more divided than ever. Is this God's will?

>>
Bear in mind as well that Jesus himself had promised to be personally present in the church's growth until the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). In what sense then can these developments be deemed 'unfortunate' for the church?
>>

I explain why they're unfortunate: division, heresy, and theological disarray—which is precisely what the divinely inspired apostles had predicted would happen.

Constantine was so concerned by it all that he tried to clean up the mess by uniting the church at Nicaea, remember?

>>
And what does Dave think ought to have happened?
>>

Ideally, perpetual guidance from the Holy Spirit in the form of a continuous succession of Spirit-empowered apostles. But that was clearly not God's will.

Dave Burke said...

>>
Now Dave is able to produce some excellent second-century examples in which the confluence of Greek ideas and a low view of the Old Testament (and, in particular, its God) did result in apostasy, such as Marcion and Valentinus. However, he doesn't seem to see much of a qualitative difference between these writings and others such as the Epistle of Barnabas and the works of Justin Martyr
>>

Actually I do. In my talk I mention that the author of Barnabas shows great familiarity with the OT, even though his message is stridently anti-Semitic.

Justin Martyr's theology was far superior than that of Marcion and Valentinus, and in my talk I give him credit for the things he got right.

Dave Burke said...

>>
Dave takes issue with the Epistle of Barnabas' Christological interpretation of Genesis 1:26 (Barnabas 5:5), pointing out that such an interpretation has no precedent in Judaism and is also not regarded as plausible by modern scholars. However, this is again not simply a case of Gentiles misunderstanding a Jewish text
>>

Proof please. Where's your evidence that it's not simply a case of Gentile misunderstanding a Jewish text? As a counterpoint you argue that this is a case of...

>>
...the early church reading Scripture Christologically; a hermeneutic also found in the New Testament
>>

I agree! But reading Scripture Christologically doesn't guarantee theological accuracy.

I believe Barnabas applied an NT hermeneutic and ended up with a wrong interpretation as a consequence of the Gentile biases and misconceptions that he brought to the text.

In any case you acknowledge that scholars find the interpretation implausible, so your point is moot.

Dave Burke said...

>>
It should be added that an unfortunate feature of Dave's dialogue at this point is his disregard of the later church consensus regarding which writings from this period were good and which were bad.
>>

I focus on the later church consensus regarding which writings from this period were inspired and which were not. I don't see anything wrong with this.

In any case, there was no universal consensus regarding which writings from this period were good and which were bad; different church fathers held different views on the subject, and while this is an interesting discussion all by itself it is a digression from the central theme of my talk, which was the emergence of a Christian canon.

>>
While Dave does emphasize that Marcion was rejected by the church, he does not for the most part distinguish between those writings which were rejected as Gnostic heresy (e.g. Gospel of the Egyptians, Gospel of Basilides) and those which ultimately gained acceptance among the 'Apostolic Fathers' (Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, 2 Clement).
>>

That is not true. I do distinguish between them; I simply don't discuss the subject in my talk.

>>
Dave appears to paint most of these writings with the same brush (i.e. as reflecting the corruption of the church by Gentile thought), without exploring the reasons why some came to be accepted by the church and others came to be rejected.
>>

Because I'm focusing on the development of canonical literature.

Dave Burke said...

>>
He goes on to criticize Justin for retaining his philosopher's robe after converting to Christianity:
>>

Excuse me? No I don't. I never once criticised him for this, and I even gave Justin credit for viewing Christianity as not only the highest form of philosophy but *much more than just a philosophy.*

>>
In the first place, the passage about the men of Ephesus to which Dave is referring (Acts 19:18-19) makes no mention of philosophical writings but only of magical writings.
>>

You're reading far too much into this. I could have made a better choice of words, but I wasn't making an attack on Hellenic philosophy.

>>
Indeed, the whole pericope has nothing at all to do with philosophy.
>>

I never claimed that it did.

>>
And when Paul does interact with Greek philosophers (Acts 17:16-34), he engages them on their own terms, even quoting from their writings.
>>

I agree. But he does not endorse the interpretation of Scripture through the filter of Greek philosophy.

>>
As Sterling explains

'...The speech which follows is an argument that Greek philosophy is a forerunner to Christianity.'
>>

No it's not. Paul never says or implies this. He argues that even the Greeks' own philosophers have recognised the truth of our relationship and responsibility to God. That's all he does.

Sterling is massively overstating the case.

Dave Burke said...

>>
The use of Hellenistic philosophy was not an innovation of second century Gentile Christianity.
>>

I never claimed that it was. Philo was steeped in Hellenic philosophy, which he syncretised with rabbinic methodology.

>>
As to Justin Martyr himself, while he obviously knew and used Hellenistic philosophy, the way he used it was not as simple as combining Hellenistic philosophical preconceptions with Christianity
>>

I agree. But did I claim otherwise?

>>
The idea that Justin interpreted the New Testament through a pagan Hellenic filter is even less credible. Dave here fails to recognize the very low esteem Justin had for pagan religion:
>>

You've moved the goalposts in a single sentence. You start by referring to 'a pagan Hellenic filter' and then jump to 'pagan religion.' These are not synonymous.

I agree that Justin had no time for pagan religion. But this says nothing about his personal Hellenic filter, which was undeniably pagan (i.e. non-Jewish).

If I had claimed Justin interpreted Scripture through the filter of pagan religion, you would have a valid argument. Instead you're attacking a straw man.

Dave Burke said...

>>
For instance, in Edwards' study of the background to Justin's Logos concept, he argues that Justin's notion of the Logos is rooted in the biblical tradition and not in Stoic or Platonic philosophy as earlier scholars had generally supposed.
>>

Price is talking about Justin's use of the Logos as a title of the son, *not* about his notion of the Logos. You're trying to use him to prove a point he's not actually making.

>>
The easy and frequent use of "Logos" as a title of the Son came to Justin not from Greek philosophy but from the constant mention of the "word of God" in the Old Testament, as transmitted to him in the Greek of the Septuagint and developed by such Jewish biblical commentators as Philo.19.
>>

I agree. I do not deny this or claim otherwise in my talk.

Dave Burke said...

>>
Furthermore, before censuring Justin for trying to develop a synthesis between Christian and Greek philosophy, Dave needs to ask himself whether he does not, in effect, do the same.
>>

Thanks for your concern, but I can assure you I don't—and your attempt to suggest this by reference to an article in a journal I edit does not suggest otherwise.

You quote somebody who is not me, making an argument on an entirely different subject, concerning an issue which is not synonymous with Justin's interpretive methodology.

>>
Similarly, Christadelphian apologists like Dave are well known for use of logical arguments in the form of syllogisms in theological deliberations. Whom do they have to thank for this? "The first explicit theory of propositional connectives was developed by a collection of thinkers known as the Stoics" and "The Stoic definition of argument is strikingly modern."

So Dave faults Justin for practicing Greek philosophy while he himself is quite content to appeal to modern science and logic, both of which have Greek philosophy as their ancestor.
>>

This is a false equivocation.

Dave Burke said...

>>
In summary, Dave's criticism of Justin Martyr for using Hellenistic philosophy is unfair on three counts: (1) this was not an innovation of second-century Gentile Christianity; instead he was following precedents set by pre-Christian Hellenistic Jews and, at least to some extent, the New Testament writers. (2) The idea that Justin interpreted the New Testament through a pagan Hellenic filter not only exaggerates the influence of Greek philosophy on his theology, but also ignores Justin's very negative view of paganism. (3) Justin Martyr's attempt at a synthesis of Christian beliefs with Greek philosophy is not fundamentally different from contemporary attempts at a synthesis of Christian beliefs with modern science and logic - methodologies which themselves developed from Greek philosophy and which Dave endorses and uses.
>>

This entire paragraph is an exotic mix of straw men and false equivocations which suggests bad faith at best, and intellectual dishonesty at worst.

I suggest a remedial course in logical fallacies.

Tom said...

Dave,

False teachers also emerged in the early church from within a Jewish worldview (e.g. Judaizers). Would it not have been better for you to say that as the Christians dispersed geographically and more Gentiles converted, this brought a new set of challenges to the church, rather than describing the very fact of increasing Gentile converts as an unfortunate side effect?

Is it really radical to assert that the Scriptures belong to those who believe them?

There were divisions in the church even during the first century. This does not mean the Spirit wasn't present.

The question is not whether divisions or false teachings arose but whether the Christian message was preserved in the church through the second century.

The main point of my criticism here was not about heresy or theological disarray; it was that you've characterized the very existence of a predominantly Gentile church as unfortunate. I'm saying that couldn't possibly be called unfortunate because it's a direct consequence of obedience to the Great Commission which was commanded by Christ who promised to be present in it (Matthew 28:19-20).

My claim that Barnabas 5:5 cannot be simplified to a Gentile misunderstanding a Jewish text is based on several points made in the OP:
1) The author shows such a degree of familiarity with the OT, Judaism and Jewish exegetical methods that some scholars think he himself was a Jew (see discussion in Paget 1994).
2) You've agreed that the hermeneutic here is consistent with an NT hermeneutic (which are, of course, Jewish in most cases).

As a specific example, in Hebrews 1:10-12 the writer takes a text from Psalms which in its original context was spoken by the Psalmist to God, and says that these words were spoken by God to Christ. In Genesis 1:26 in the original context we have words spoken by God to himself (using the 'royal we') or to angels, and Barnabas says that these words were spoken by God to Christ. The Christological hermeneutic in Barnabas is actually less radical. I think the burden of proof is on you to show that only Gentile biases could allow for a Christological reading of Genesis 1:26.

I acknowledge that such an interpretation of Gen. 1:26 is implausible in terms of original authorial intent. I do not acknowledge that a sensus plenior interpretation similar to the interpretation of Psalm 102 in Hebrews is implausible.

I'm glad you recognize a distinction between Gnostic literature and the Apostolic Fathers. However, regardless of the overall purpose of your talk being about the canon, at this point you were giving a (largely polemical) survey of second century Christian writings. In that context I think it was important for you to emphasize for your readers which of these documents were ultimately accepted by the church and which were rejected as heresy.

You certainly did criticize Justin Martyr for retaining his philosopher's robe after converting to Christianity. You called this a "huge contrast to the men of Ephesus, who when they were converted, scooped up all their magical and philosophical scrolls and burned them, and put that behind them. But Justin Martyr retained many of his former ideas..."

The unmistakable implication of this comment is that Justin should have put his philosophy behind him, as the Ephesians did.

Which brings me to my next point...

You say you "never claimed" that the pericope in Acts 19 had anything to do with philosophy. Yet, in the words quoted to you above (51:37 mark of Session 8) you did (incorrectly) claim that the men of Ephesus burned their magical and philosophical scrolls, and you explicitly set this out as a "huge contrast" to Justin Martyr's decision to continue as a philosopher!

The comments that you made were very clear and absolutely represent an attack on Justin's continued use of Hellenistic philosophy after converting to Christianity.

More comments to follow.

Jonathan Burke said...

Tom, the history of the church after the time of Constantine in particular, has been characterized overwhelmingly by what can best be described as the works of the flesh, not the fruit of the Spirit. The political intrigues, the repeated schisms, the perpetual excommunications, and in particular the sheer scale of unmitigated violence and bloodshed, belies the guidance of the Spirit.

Tom said...

You can take up with Sterling about the role of Greek philosophy in Paul's speech. (Bear in mind that Acts 17 is probably only a synopsis of what Paul said.) What is clear is that he didn't attempt to subvert philosophy as a discipline (as is clearly the case with magic in Acts 19).

I think you need to further elaborate what you mean by interpreting Scripture through the filter of Greek philosophy. If you mean presupposing that Greek philosophy is true and forcing the Scriptures into that paradigm, then I would agree it's wrong, and so would Justin have. If you mean identifying common ground between Scripture and Greek philosophy for apologetic purposes, or expressing Scriptural truths in terms a Greek philosopher could relate to, then there's nothing wrong.

You never claimed the use of Hellenistic philosophy was an innovation of the second century church. However, in the context of a talk about how Gentile Christianity went bad in the second century, it would be very easy for your audience to infer that Hellenistic philosophy was now introduced into Christian thought for the first time as one of these corrupting influences. It would have only taken a couple qualifying sentences to make it clear that Hellenistic Judaism had already been influenced by Greek philosophy and that scholars believe some New Testament writers also drew on Greek philosophy.

The same is true of the other alleged straw men: your description of the role of Hellenistic philosophy in Justin's writings is inadequate and ambiguous. You do leave your audience with the impression that he simply brought his philosophical preconceptions and imported them into Christianity. You fail to acknowledge in your talk (though you've now acknowledged it) that his Logos Christology is rooted in the Old Testament, or that his appeal to philosophy is largely apologetic.

Since you claim that I've misapplied Price's ideas, let me quote again from him at length:

"In all, we must beware of exaggerating the extent to which Justin and the Apologists imported into Christian theology Hellenic notions in general and Platonic ones in particular. This is not to deny that Justin both knew and employed more Greek philosophy than the Christian writers of the first century, and that he was concerned to present the Gospel in terms as appealing as possible to pagan intellectuals. But the point to be made is that in describing and assessing the influence of Hellenism on Justin the notions of a 'hellenization' of Christianity and of an appropriation of a Platonic Logos doctrine are both inapplicable. The former presupposes a contrast between Judaic and Hellenic modes of thought that in fact had never been clearcut and had by the second century diminished to vanishing point; the second depends on overstating the similarity between Middle Platonism and the theology of the Apologists.

It could be added that to represent Justin as a hellenizer would be also to overestimate his originality. His main apologetic themes, and most of the theology underlying them, derive from Hellenistic Judaism, as a
comparison with texts such as Josephus' Contra Apionem demonstrates clearly." (Price, op. cit., p. 22)

You've also used the word "pagan" to mean "non-Jewish" whereas the most obvious meaning of this word in the context of the second century Roman Empire is pertaining to the Greco-Roman polytheistic religion of the day. I suspect most of your audience understood the word in that sense just as I did. (Perhaps a better word to use when you mean "non-Jewish" would be "Gentile.")

Tom said...

Finally, it is not a false equivocation to draw a comparison between ancient Greek philosophy and modern science, just because you say it is. In both cases we are referring to the main weapons in the intellectual arsenal of the day, and asking, "Does this have a place in Christianity or should the Christian leave it behind after converting?" The fact that the one actually grew out of the other only makes the analogy more appropriate.

Jonathan Burke said...

Tom,

"Finally, it is not a false equivocation to draw a comparison between ancient Greek philosophy and modern science, just because you say it is."

Dave did not say it is a a comparison between ancient Greek philosophy and modern science, just because he says it is.

The issue here is that you did not draw a comparison, you proposed an equivalence. Modern science != ancient Greek philosophy. That was a rhetorical strategy of desperation.

Tom said...

Jonathan, you haven't actually addressed what I said, or made any argument; you've simply asserted your opinion that I am wrong.

Can we please limit ourselves to comments that add value to the discussion?

Fortigurn said...

Tom I did address what you wrote, directly. You drew an equivalence between ancient Greek philosophy and modern science. This is a false equivalence. Philosophy is not science, and science is not philosophy. In particular, ancient Greek philosophy is not modern science. Additionally, logic is not philosophy and philosophy is not logic.

Let me remind you that you failed to provide any evidence for this case of yours; remember the burden of evidence rests on you since you are the claimant.

You tried to make a tu quoque argument against Dave, claiming that harmonizing Scripture with modern science is equivalent to interpreting Scripture with ancient Greek philosophy. Your process of reasoning was tortuous to say the least.

1. The ancient Greeks developed specific forms of logical argumentation.

2. Ancient Greek philosophy used these forms of logical argumentation.

3. These forms of logical argumentation were preserved within the modern scientific continuum, and are applied in modern science.

4. Therefore, harmonizing Scripture with modern science is equivalent to interpreting Scripture with ancient Greek philosophy. It would have at least been slightly less wrong (though still fallacious), to say harmonizing Scripture with modern science is equivalent to harmonizing Scripture with ancient Greek logic.

This is a patently illegitimate argument. When universities offer degrees in modern science, they don't describe them as degrees in ancient Greek philosophy. When you understand why this is, you'll understand why your argument was completely false.

Tom said...

Jonathan, I did not claim that ancient Greek philosophy is modern science.

Nor did I make (or need to make) a rigorous syllogism like the one you've proposed. (It is interesting though that points 1 and 2 of your syllogism seem designed to rob philosophers of the credit for developing specific forms of logical argumentation, ascribing this development instead vaguely to 'ancient Greeks'.)

I did not make an absolute equivocation between modern science and ancient Greek philosophy. I simply observed that Justin sought to show that Christianity was credible in terms of the foremost intellectual discipline of his day (Greek philosophy) just as Christians such as Dave seek to do with the foremost intellectual discipline of our day (modern science).

He can hardly be faulted for doing so. Indeed, the inconsistency is only heightened when one takes into account that ancient Greek philosophy was actually the direct ancestor of modern philosophy and modern science.

Indeed, the distinction between philosophy and natural science is a modern one.

"There was no clear demarcation between philosophy and natural science in ancient Greece" (Amemiya, T. (2007). Economy and Economics of Ancient Greece. Routledge, p. 21)

"Both philosophy and science have their origin ultimately in man's effort to understand himself and the world in which he lives. Initially no distinction was drawn between those questions that are philosophical and those that are scientific. The same individuals who endeavored to solve philosophical problems also frequently sought to solve scientific problems, without always distinguishing between the two. From the beginnings of ancient Greek philosophy on down through the seventeenth century and even into the twentieth we sometimes find the same thinker dealing with both sorts of problems in the same work without distinguishing clearly between them." (Lemos, R.M. (1988). Metaphysical Investigations. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, p. 17)

"Philosophy in the modern world is a self-conscious discipline. It has managed to define itself narrowly, distinguishing itself on the one hand from religion and on the other from exact science. But this narrowing of focus came about quite late in its history - certainly not before the 18th century. The earliest philosophers of ancient Greece were theorists of the physical world. Pythagoras and Plato were at once philosophers and mathematicians, and in Aristotle there is no clear distinction between philosophy and natural science. The Renaissance and early modern period continued this breadth of conception characteristic of the Greeks. Galileo and Descartes were at once mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers, while physics retained the name natural philosophy at least until the death of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)." (Duignan, B. (Ed.). (2011). Modern Philosophy: from 1500 CE to the Present. Rosen Publishing, p. 49.)

"At the beginning, there was no clear distinction between scientific and philosophical research, and philosophers addressed questions that were simultaneously philosophical and scientific. For instance, Leucippus and Democritus' theory of atomism used philosophical arguments, such as the impossibility of dividing things ad infinitum, to develop a scientific theory about the nature of matter. At that time philosophers also carried out systematic observations of nature; for example, the philosopher Aristotle made far-reaching discoveries in biology. Knowledge was simply knowledge and the ancient Greek philosophers investigated the external world (physics, biology), the social world (ethics, politics) and the human mind (psychology) without drawing strict boundaries between these various fields." (Carel, H. and Gamez, D. (Eds.). (2004). What Philosophy Is. T&T Clark, p. 37)

The analogy between the contemporary theologian's use of science and the ancient theologian's use of philosophy can hardly be denied.

Jonathan Burke said...

Tom,

1. You say "I did not claim that ancient Greek philosophy is modern science", but that's precisely what you did when you equated the two.

2. You say "I did not make an absolute equivocation between modern science and ancient Greek philosophy", but that's exactly what you did. You said "Now, "the English word 'science' refers to a practice that to a large extent can be traced back to the early Greek philosophers"".

3. You further said "Dave faults Justin for practicing Greek philosophy while he himself is quite content to appeal to modern science and logic, both of which have Greek philosophy as their ancestor", and as has been pointed out this is totally irrelevant. You were explicitly making a tu quoque argument, charging Dave with doing what he objects to Justin Martyr doing; you even explicitly refer to it as an "inconsistency" in his argument. But appealing to modern science and logic is not the same as appealing to ancient Greek philosophy, nor is it the same as interpreting the Bible with Greek philosophy. So there is no inconsistency in his argument.

4. You say "the distinction between philosophy and natural science is a modern one", but of course this has never been in dispute. This is simply your typical tactic of trying to shift the goalposts. The issue in dispute is whether modern science is equivalent to ancient philosophy. It isn't. There was no clear demarcation between philosophy and natural science in ancient Greece, but there is a clear demarcation between philosophy and modern science in our era.

Additionally, the reason why there was no clear demarcation between philosophy and natural science in ancient Greece is because natural science in ancient Greece was more philosophy than science, which is why so much of it was so utterly wrong, completely useless, and misled the Western scientific continuum for over 1,000 years.

Tom said...

1. No I didn't.
2. No I didn't. (note the word 'traced')

If I had to respond to your points I would simply be repeating myself which I don't consider a good way to spend my time. Overall, saying two things are analogous is not saying they are the same. If you don't see the analogy I'll just leave it there.

In any case, my criticism of Dave for inconsistency was a minor aspect of this post.

Dave's comments on Greek philosophy and early Christianity began with a factually false statement - that the Ephesian converts burned their philosophical scrolls - and unraveled from there.

When I called him out for accusing Justin of interpreting the NT through a pagan Hellenic filter, he claimed he meant 'pagan' as in 'non-Jewish' and not 'pagan' as in the Greco-Roman religion. Not only would this be a very odd use of the word 'pagan' ('Gentile' being the obvious word for non-Jewish), but in his talk Dave had just previously referred to 'pagan theology' which certainly gives the impression he was using the word in a religious sense.

The bottom line is that Dave made some very ill-advised comments about the role of Greek philosophy in early Christianity.

Dave Burke said...

Tom,

>>
The bottom line is that Dave made some very ill-advised comments about the role of Greek philosophy in early Christianity.
>>

I am still waiting for this accusation to be substantiated. There's been a lot of bluff and bluster (laced with an unhealthy dose of bad faith) but nothing substantial.

You seem upset by the suggestion that post-apostolic Christians were influenced by Hellenistic philosophy. Yet this is the academic consensus, so I can't understand why you'd deny it.

Let's look at Justin's own words in 1st Apology, 26:

--'But lest some should, without reason, and for the perversion of what we teach, maintain that we say that Christ was born one hundred and fifty years ago under Cyrenius, and subsequently, in the time of Pontius Pilate, taught what we say He taught; and should cry out against us as though all men who were born before Him were irresponsible — let us anticipate and solve the difficulty.

We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others whose actions and names we now decline to recount, because we know it would be tedious.

So that even they who lived before Christ, and lived without reason, were wicked and hostile to Christ, and slew those who lived reasonably.

But who, through the power of the Word, according to the will of God the Father and Lord of all, He was born of a virgin as a man, and was named Jesus, and was crucified, and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, an intelligent man will be able to comprehend from what has been already so largely said.

And we, since the proof of this subject is less needful now, will pass for the present to the proof of those things which are urgent.'

Here Justin affirms his admiration for prominent Greek philosophers and even claims they can be counted as Christians!

Hardly surprising, then, that he saw no problem with supplementing his own version of Christianity with ideas borrowed from pre-Christian Hellenic philosopers.

Dave Burke said...

Justin's reliance on Plato, Heraclitus, and Stoic philosophy is well documented.

In this he was not alone; it was normative for the apologists to read Scripture through the biased prism of Greek philosophy; a hermeneutic they justified on the grounds that the philosophers had been right all along:

--'The apologists began to claim that Greek culture pointed to and was consummated in the Christian message, just as the Old Testament was. This process was done most thoroughly in the synthesis of Clement of Alexandria. It can be done in several ways.

You can rake through Greek literature, and find (especially in the oldest seers and poets) references to "God" which are more compatible with monotheism than with polytheism (so at length Athenagoras.)

You can work out a common chronology between the legends of prehistoric (Homer) Greece and the biblical record (so Theophilus.)

You can adapt a piece of pre-Christian Jewish apologetic, which claimed that Plato and other Greek philosophers got their best ideas indirectly from the teachings of Moses in the Bible, which was much earlier.

This theory combines the advantage of making out the Greeks to be plagiarists (and therefore second-rate or criminal), while claiming that they support Christianity by their arguments at least some of the time.

Especially this applied to the question of God.

[...]

Justin's "creed", as we saw, spoke of a transcendent God and Father, of his Son (with the angels), and of the Spirit of prophecy. This triple confession is in line with what we know of the baptismal formula.

But when we look at the theology of the apologists, we find that generally their thought is "binitarian" rather than "trinitarian": it speaks of God and his Word, rather than of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The term "Trinity" was not yet in use in the Church. Theophilus is the first to use the Greek word for Trinity (trias, triad), when he takes the first three days of creation as signifying the trinity of "God and his Word and his Wisdom" (To Autolycus 2.15), and Tertullian soon after 200 was using the Latin trinitas of God.

If we suppose that the baptismal confession and central Christian belief was in a threefold form, we have to account for the binitarian thought of Justin and those like him.

The most obvious explanation is that their apologetic is directed towards Greek thought. They began from what appeared to be common ground.

Among the Greeks, a familiar notion was the thought of an utterly transcendent, perfect, unmoving God, and of a second, mediating, active being responsible for the created order, whether as its superior governor or as its immanent soul.

Such a theology was being propounded, for instance, by the Platonist Albinos in Asia Minor at the same time that Justin was himself there, before he moved to Rome.'

(See next post for reference).

Dave Burke said...

Continued from previous post...

--'If Jesus Christ was the Word of God, in addition to the scriptural backgrounds, the idea supplied a pattern for philosophy. God is, as Justin likes to say, superior to any name, immoveable, indescribable, not to be confined to any place, and absolutely good (Apol. 1.10, 1.61 [NE 63], 2.6).

This echoes Plato's Timaeus 28-9, a very popular passage with later philosophers.

God is "that which is in all respects always the same as itself" (Dial. 3, echoing Plato, Phaedo 78d). Yet he is also depicted in Scripture as active in the world, and particularly in its creation and enlightenment.

He [Justin] therefore identifies the Word as an intervening, active principle, who can appear on earth, for instance as the God who confronted Moses at the burning, bush, but who is the whole source of order in creation, who is the Reason or Wisdom enlightening all the great men of the past, Socrates as well as Abraham, and who himself took shape and became a man in Jesus Christ, to make known the whole truth perfectly.

The apologists knew well that logos had various meanings. Elementary Stoic logic distinguished the word immanent (Gk logos endiathetos) from teh word expressed (Gk logos prophorikos).

When logos refers to the inner faculty of thought or reason (as when you think of a word before you say it), that is the immanent word. Once spoken, it is expressed; but it remains rational, articulate, otherwise it would not be logos, but the kind of noise made by irrational beasts (Gk aloga zoa).

Once the idea had occurred that Christ or the Son of God could be called God's Word, logos, this distinction could be very useful. Justin implies it, and Theophilus states it plainly.

God always has logos, because he is always wise and rational. At the creation he speaks, saying "Let there be light", and his logos becomes Word, "another beside himself with whom the Father could converse" (Justin, Dial. 62.4).

This uttering of the logos also reflects Platonic thought, since things consist of form and matter, and it is the form which the mind grasps in understanding them.

Creation is therefore seen in Platonism as the imposing of rational thought on shapeless pre-existent matter; it is precisely what the Demiurge does in Timmaeus.

Justin is happy to regard the opening verses of Genesis as making the same point: The earth is "without form and void" until God speaks and his logos shapes it. He even goes so far as to claim that Plato plagiarised the thought from Moses (Apol. 1.10, 1.59; Plato, Timmaeus 51a).

When God says, "Let us [plural] make man in our own image", it is to his logos that he speaks (Dial. 61.4). This Word is also the ordering principle of creation.

At the burning bush, it is "another god", and not the Father (who has neither name nor location), who appears to Moses (Dial. 60).

Justin uses a Stoic expression, "generative (or, seminal) reason" (Gk spermatikos logos) to account for the truth in non-Christian philosophy.'

Hall, Stuart G. (1991), Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church, pp52-54.

Tom said...

>>>You seem upset by the suggestion that post-apostolic Christians were influenced by Hellenistic philosophy. Yet this is the academic consensus, so I can't understand why you'd deny it.<<<

I don't deny it. Rather, I pointed out that this was neither a post-apostolic development nor an exclusively Gentile development.

I further emphasized that this was not uniformly a negative development. One would absolutely expect that as Christianity spread, Christian thinkers would interact in the marketplace of ideas and try to express their faith in terms intelligible and acceptable to the Gentile mind. Finding common ground is a tried and true apologetic technique and once which Paul himself used in Acts 17 by quoting a Stoic philosopher approvingly.

I also cautioned against exaggerating the influence that Hellenistic philosophy had upon Justin's theology, citing scholarly support. We cannot lose sight of the fact that Justin's writings are apologetic in nature, and that he regards his doctrines as derived from the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus and his earliest followers.

I hold Justin Martyr in high esteem and bless God for his life and work. While he wasn't perfect and his writings weren't divinely inspired, he mightily defended the Christian faith against both pagan and Jewish intellectual opposition and gave his life for the gospel. I will defend his good name any day.