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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Philosophy in the New Testament

Philosophical systems abounded in the first century A.D. Among the most notable were Stoicism, Epicureanism, Platonism, Cynicism, Philonism, and Skepticism. The writers of the New Testament mention philosophy only twice. In Colossians 2:8 , Paul warned his readers to beware of philosophy. Paul had in mind no particular philosophy; rather, he condemned any system of thought which denied the full divinity of Christ. The Colossian Christians were threatened by a teaching (probably Gnostic) contrary to the gospel Paul delivered. In Acts 17:18 , Luke mentioned that Epicurean and Stoic philosophers engaged Paul in debate. Their motives were clearly a desire for speculation rather than an active pursuit of the truth of the gospel.

There are conceptual points of contact in the New Testament with various philosophies. The early Christians encountered the wide range of philosophies in their missionary activity. These early Christians adapted concepts familiar to their audience in their witness and writings. Paul, as a learned man, reflected a knowledge of the major philosophies in his letters. Paul quoted from Stoic works in his speech at the Areopagus (Acts 17:28 ). His statement in Philippians 4:11 is similar to Stoic ideas. Paul's question-and-answer style in Romans 3:1-4 and 1 Corinthians 6:2-19 are very similar to Cynic diatribe (a lively semiconversational technique). Philonic or Platonic thought is reflected in Hebrews, for example, where the writer identifies the earthly sanctuary as a copy or shadow of the perfect heavenly sanctuary (see 1 Corinthians 8-10 ). The presence of ideas in the New Testament similar to some of the philosophical notions of the day is undeniable. It must be emphasized, however, that the theological presuppositions of a Christian writer and a first century philosopher were vastly different.

Terence B. Ellis

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Philosophy in the New Testament'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/p/philosophy-in-the-new-testament.html. 1991.

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