Who Influenced the New Testament World?

It has been fascinating during my studies, to hear about different influences that have changed the way people see themselves and their world. Today, we accept things like a ‘sub-conscious’ or an ‘inner spirit’ without really thinking about where those ideas came from. They are part of our cultural thinking, and we refer to them effortlessly during conversations. Yet, they have not always been known concepts. They were introduced at a particular time by a particular philosopher.

The same has been true for centuries, and one aspect of studying the New Testament, is knowing which philosophers influenced the thinking at the time. This isn’t disputing any inspiration from God, but it’s recognising that the books were physically written by humans, and those people lived in a culture, and there were certain philosophies that we see reflected in what they wrote. They couldn’t have written about ‘outer space’ or ‘gravity,’ and especially not ‘cyber’ or ‘virtual’ because those things were not yet thought about. Here is a brief summary of the philosophies that were well-known the New Testament world. You can decide whether some of the thinking is incorporated into what was written. (I am only including the snippets of their teachings that I found interesting—you can do your own research if you want to know more!)

Socrates (470 -399 BC)

Socrates said: “The only wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” He was killed by being forced to drink a cup of hemlock. He didn’t write anything, so we mainly know of his teaching via his pupils.

Plato (428 – 348 BC) Plato was heavily influenced by Socrates. He wrote a story, with Socrates teaching about cave dwellers:

‘A group of people lived deep in a dark cave. They sat behind a fire, and a puppeteer moved puppets, casting their shadow on the cave wall, telling the story of the world. This is how the cave people understood the world. But one day, a man left the group, and walked past the fire and out into the sunshine. At first he was blinded by the light, but gradually his eyes adjusted, and he saw that the plants and animals in the real world were better in every way to the shadow images he had seen previously. He went back into the cave and tried to tell his friends, but they refused to listen because his eyes could no longer see in the dark cave, and they decided he was blind.’ Plato wanted to teach people to ‘see’ the real world.

Plato said that the material world is transitory, and humans are capable of reaching an ideal state, which is eternal. He thought the intellect was the most important part of a person, and he differentiated between the intellect/spirit and the material/physical. Two separate parts of humans.

He also had an interesting idea for how society should operate: Plato divided people into those who were ‘rational’ (had wisdom) and said they should govern. The ‘spirited’ people were brave, so they should be soldiers and teachers. ‘Sensuous’ people should be providers, part of commerce, because they were temperate (knew moderation). This, he said, would bring social order and justice. [Looking for politicians who are wise might be difficult today, when being fast-talkers and good presenters seems more likely to get them elected than being wise. I guess Plato lived in a different time.]

Aristotle (384 – 323) Aristotle was Plato’s pupil. He thought that thinking (which he called ‘contemplation’) was superior to doing things. He thought the point of life was to contemplate God, and to serve him, and to pursue happiness. (I confess to be slightly confused by this, as he also said that contemplation is how humans can imitate gods, so not sure he was referring to God.) He taught that good action leads to good habits which leads to good disposition. All things should be tempered by moderation.

Sometime around Plato and Aristotle we had the Stoics. Stoicism taught that God was omnipresent, and everything was subject to his will. People should therefore not worry about what they cannot change (apatheia). Whatever happens, should be accepted. They said everyone should be treated well, because everyone shares the same spirit. Virtue is to know God’s will, and to follow it.

Plotinus (204 – 270 CE) He was a Neo-Platonic philosopher, and he tried to build on Plato’s work. He not only separated the body and soul, but also decided that ‘matter’ or the physical body was evil, and only ‘reason’ or spirit, are good. Therefore, the soul is more important than the body.

They all said lots more, obviously, but a lot of it was boring or confusing or both, so I have given you a brief overview. Interesting, huh?

I will tell you more about my studies in another blog. Thank you for reading.

Hope you have a philosophical day. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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A View of History…..


What is your view of history? It seems there are three main views (do let me know if you think there are more.)

The first idea is that time is like an old fashioned clock. It has been wound up, the pendulum is swinging and slowly, slowly, it is winding down. There was a beginning to life on earth and there will be an end. That is all there is to it. How individuals live and behave is pretty meaningless in terms of history. In millions of years from now, there will be no life on earth and no one to remember it. There will be nothing.

The next idea is that time is circular, more like a spiral. Everything that happens has happened in the past and will happen in the future. Events repeat – possibly after thousands of years, but basically the same things happen over and over again. Whilst this clearly doesn’t apply to specific inventions (the Romans had central heating but no internet!) in terms of humanity, empires rising and falling, people doing the same things over and over, history repeats.

I guess this idea is behind the philosopher who said,

“Every river flows into the sea, but the sea is not yet full. The waters return to where the rivers began, and starts all over again. Everything leads to weariness – a weariness too great for words. Our eyes can never see enough to be satisfied; our ears can never hear enough. What has happened before will happen again. What has been done before will be done again. There is nothing new in the whole world. ‘Look!’ they say, ‘here is something new!’ but no, it has all happened long before we were born. No one remembers what has happened in the past, and no one in days to come will remember what happens between now and then.”

The last idea is that history is more like an arrow that has been shot from a bow. It is going somewhere. We might not see the big picture, but there is a clear aim, there is somewhere that all this life on earth ultimately leads to.

So, which view is your view? I’m not sure if it’s possible to hold the third view if you have no belief in God or an afterlife. What do you think? I would be very interested to hear from anyone who does hold that view and who doesn’t believe in God. It is certainly the view held by religious people but if there is no God, I’m not sure where life could be leading. What do you think?

I thought about this a lot when I was a teenager. Actually, I was a very unhappy teenager – all those hormones whizzing round made for a very troubled person. I also could never summon enthusiasm for things that I felt had ‘no point’ (a common view amongst middle children I believe.)

This was something of a problem at school and I frequently skipped lessons and rarely troubled much about homework. It wasn’t helped by our family having very little money. Why learn French if the only foreign country you are likely to visit is Wales? I was also brought up to believe that the best thing for girls to be was a wife and a mother, so what use was chemistry going to be? (I do now, as an adult, think that being a wife and mother is an excellent thing to be. However, I also think that other careers are also excellent. I do sometimes wonder if I might have made a good journalist, going around the world and giving other people a voice. Some better qualifications would have been helpful. Too late now…)

I did actually, for a while, get very depressed. I was brought up in a religious family, but we were pretty much taught rules and knowledge. I really couldn’t see the point of life. If the point was to have fun, and I clearly wasn’t, then why bother? If there was a Heaven, why not just go there straight away?

No one ever told me (or at least, if they did, I never heard) that there was a plan and that I was part of it. I never heard anyone explain the last view with the addition that the God who had ‘shot the arrow,’ actually had a purpose for me, there was a point to being alive, right now, even if I didn’t always see it. I wish someone had told me that. That’s why I’m telling you.


Thank you for reading.

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