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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Philosophy

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This word (φιλοσοφία = ‘the love and pursuit of wisdom’) is found only once in the NT (Colossians 2:8). But, as Christianity claims the whole realm of human thought and life as its sphere, it could not be indifferent to so important a subject. Nevertheless, the gospel is supremely a proclamation of salvation, and hence its relation to philosophy in apostolic days was incidental and dependent on special circumstances. Moreover, as Hatch points out, the majority of those to whom Christianity was preached were not concerned with philosophy, and the former appealed to a standard which the latter did not recognize (Influence of Greek Ideas, p. 124).

St. Paul’s only recorded contact with philosophers occurred in Athens, where he met some Epicureans and Stoics (Acts 17:18). Unfortunately, nothing certain is known of this interview, though many believe that in his subsequent speech he showed friendliness towards the Stoics. In his Epistles several references are found to certain forms of ‘wisdom’ or philosophy. In 1 Corinthians 1:17-31; 1 Corinthians 2:1-6 he asserts the superiority of the gospel to human wisdom, but the gospel wisdom was only for the mature. In the later Epistles to the Col., Tim., and Tit. he attacks false teaching of a philosophical nature. This insisted on some obsolete Jewish practices, inculcated ‘a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels’ (Colossians 2:16-18), and was concerned with fables and genealogies, knowledge ‘falsely so called,’ and asceticism (1 Timothy 1:4; 1 Timothy 4:1-4; 1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:20, Titus 1:14; Titus 3:9). Some suppose that we are here confronted with the Gnosticism of the 2nd cent., and that these writings belong to that period; but this is improbable. The ideas and practices condemned are partly Jewish, and the philosophy is in an undeveloped state. Nor does Essenism give us the clue, as it had not as yet extended so far. The errors are probably an amalgam of later Jewish speculations regarding an angelic hierarchy (cf. Book of Enoch) and the Oriental speculations which were at that time very prevalent in Asia Minor. The result was to endanger the purity and simplicity of faith in Christ, hence the Apostle’s alarm.

The writer (or writers) of the Gospel of John and 1 John deals with the contention that Jesus Christ did not come ‘in the flesh’ (1 John 4:1-3)-a theory which is perhaps to be attributed to Cerinthus, a contemporary of St. John.

The Epistles of Jude (Judges 1:4; Judges 1:7; Judges 1:10; Judges 1:19) and 2 Peter (2 Peter 2:2; 2 Peter 2:10; 2 Peter 2:21-22) denounce a specially obnoxious type of antinomianism. And from the description of the Nicolaitans in Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:15 it is easy to perceive Docetism again, and probably an early stage of Gnosticism.

From these passages it appears that the writers of this period alluded to philosophy only when it was opposed to their teaching concerning Christ and the purity of the Christian life, and that in such cases it met with their uncompromising condemnation. See, more fully, artt._ Epicureans, Gnosticism, Stoics, etc.

Literature.-Comm. on Epp., etc., mentioned above, also artt._ on same in HDB_, EBi_, EBr_11; artt._ on ‘Philosophy,’ in HDB_, Smith’s DB_; on ‘Gnosticism’ in HDB_, EBr_11; on ‘Gnosis’ in EBi_; on ‘Wisdom’ in DCG_; P. Wernle, Beginnings of Christianity, Eng. tr._, 1903-04; C. v. Weizsäcker, Apostolic Age, Eng. tr._, 1894-95; A. Harnack, History of Dogina, Eng. tr._, 1894-99; E. Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages upon the Christian Church, 1890; F. J. A. Hort, Judaistic Christianity, 1894; A. C. McGiffert, History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age. 1897; W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, 1895.

J. W. Lightley.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Philosophy'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/p/philosophy.html. 1906-1918.

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