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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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in general, is defined, "the knowledge and study of nature and morality. founded on reason and experience." Philosophy owes its name to the modesty of Pythagoras, who refused the high title of σοφος , wise, given to his predecessors, Thales, Pherecydes, &c, as too assuming; and contented himself with the simple appellation of φιλοσοφος , quasi φιλος της σοφιας , a friend, or lover of wisdom: but Chauvin rather chooses to derive the name from φιλια , desire to study, and σοφια , studium sapientiae; and says that Pythagoras, conceiving that the application of the human mind ought rather to be called study than science, set aside the appellation of wise, and, in lieu thereof, took that of philosopher.

A knowledge of the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms, or the science of natural history, was always an object of interest. We are informed that Solomon himself had given a description of the animal and vegetable kingdoms, 1 Kings 4:33 . Traces of philosophy, strictly so called, that is, the system of prevailing moral opinions, may be found in the book of Job, in the thirty-seventh, thirty-ninth, and seventy-third Psalms; also in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, but chiefly in the apocryphal book of Wisdom, and the writings of the son of Sirach. During the captivity, the Jews acquired many new notions, particularly from the Mahestani, and appropriated them, as occasion offered, to their own purposes. They at length became acquainted with the philosophy of the Greeks, which makes its appearance abundantly in the book of Wisdom. After the captivity, the language in which the sacred books were written was no longer vernacular. Hence arose the need of an interpreter on the sabbatic year, a time when the whole law was read, and also on the Sabbath in the synagogues, which some think had been recently erected, in order to make the people understand what was read. These interpreters learned the Hebrew language at the schools. The teachers of these schools, who, for the two generations preceding the time of Christ, had maintained some acquaintance with the Greek philosophy, were not satisfied with a simple interpretation of the Hebrew idiom, as it stood, but shaped the interpretation so as to render it conformable to their philosophy. Thus arose contentions, which gave occasion for the various sects of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. In the time of our Saviour, divisions had arisen among the Pharisees themselves. No less than eighteen nice questions, if we may believe the Jewish rabbins, were contested at that period between the schools of Hillel and Shammai; one of which questions, was an inquiry, what cause was sufficient for a bill of divorce. If the Shammai and Hillel of the Talmud are the same with the learned men mentioned in Josephus, namely, Sameas and Pollio, who flourished thirty-four years before Christ, then Shammai, or Sameas is undoubtedly the same with the Simeon who is mentioned, Luke 2:25-35 ; and his son Gamaliel, so celebrated in the Talmud, is the same with the Gamaliel mentioned, Acts 5:34 ; Acts 22:3 .

Anciently, learned men were denominated among the Hebrews חכמים , as among the Greeks they were called σοφοι , wise men. In the time of Christ, the common appellative for men of that description was γραμματευς in the Hebrew סופר , a scribe. They were addressed by the honorary title of rabbi, רבי , "great," or "master." The Jews, in imitation of the Greeks, had their seven wise men, who were called rabboni. Gamaliel was one of the number. They called themselves the children of wisdom: expressions which correspond very nearly to the Greek φιλοσοφος , Matthew 11:19 ; Luke 7:35 . The heads of sects were called "Fathers;" the disciples were denominated "sons," or "children," Matthew 12:27 ; Matthew 23:1-9 . The Jewish teachers, at least some of them, had private lecture rooms; but they also taught and disputed in synagogues, in temples, and, in fact, wherever they could find an audience. The method of these teachers was the same with that which prevailed among the Greeks. Any disciple who chose might propose questions, upon which it was the duty of the teachers to remark and give their opinions, Luke 2:46 . The teachers were not invested with their functions by any formal act of the church, or of the civil authority: they were self-constituted. They received no other salary than some voluntary present from the disciples, which was called an "honorary," τιμη , honorarium, 1 Timothy 5:17 . They acquired a subsistence, in the main, by the exercise of some art or handicraft. That they took a higher seat than their auditors, although it was probably the case, does not follow, as is sometimes supposed, from Luke 2:46 . According to the Talmudists, they were bound to hold no conversation with women, and to refuse to sit at table with the lower class of people, Matthew 9:11 ; John 4:27 . The subjects on which they taught were numerous, commonly intricate, and of no great consequence; of which there are abundant examples in the Talmud.

St. Paul bids the Colossians beware lest any man should spoil them "through philosophy and vain deceit;" that is, a vain and deceitful philosophy, such as was popular in that day, and had been compounded out of all preceding systems, Grecian and oriental. An explanation of this philosophy is given under See GNOSTICS , and See CABBALA .

On these ancient systems of pretended wisdom, Dr. Burton justly remarks: "Philosophy is indeed the noblest stretch of intellect which God has vouchsafed to man; and it is only when man forgets that he received his reasoning powers from God, that he is in danger of losing himself in darkness when he sought for light. To measure that which is infinite, is as impossible in metaphysics as in physics. If it had not been for revelation, we should have known no more of the Deity than the Heathen philosophers knew before: and to what did their knowledge amount? They felt the necessity of a First Cause, and they saw that that Cause must be intrinsically good; but when they came to systems, they never went farther than the point from which they first set out, that evil is not good, and good is not evil. The Gnostics thought to secure the triumph of their scheme by veiling its weaker points in mystery, and by borrowing a part from almost every system. But popular, and even successful, as this attempt may have been, we may say with truth, that the scheme which flattered the vanity of human wisdom, and which strove to conciliate all opinions, has died away, and is forgotten; while the Gospel, the unpresuming, the uncompromising doctrine of the Gospel, aided by no human wisdom, and addressing itself not merely to the head, but to the heart, has triumphed over all systems and all philosophers; and still leads its followers to that true knowledge which some have endeavoured to teach ‘after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.'"

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Philosophy'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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