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Greek Mind, Hebrew Mind

Another note pertaining to ongoing discussions.

It may seem like a small matter, but is perhaps significant that the apostolic salutation in Romans 1: 7 (and elsewhere in Paul’s letters) is “grace and peace” (χάρις καὶ εἰρήνη). For with such an expression the Apostle Paul appropriates and enriches the common greetings of both Greeks and Hebrews. W. Sanday and A.C. Headlam comment:

Observe the  combination and deepened religious significance of the common Greek salutation χαίρειν, and the common Heb. salutation Shalom, ‘Peace.’ χάρις and εἰρήνη are both used in the full theological sense: χάρις = the favour of God, εἰρήνη = the cessation of hostility to him and the peace of mind which follows upon it.

It is suggestive that this particular greeting is unique to Paul in the NT–Paul, a Jew, but one who spoke on the Areopagus and quoted Greek poets as the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul did not find it necessary to invent a new, uniquely Christian salutation out of whole cloth, nor did he find it necessary to use only the language of the Old Testament. He rather takes up elements of the Greek and Hebrew worlds both, and transforms them with Christian significance. He gives to the Greeks, previously feeling in the dark for its proper sense (cf. Acts 17:27), as it were, the true meaning of their χαίρειν, to the Jews the true meaning of their shalom, previously promised but only now fulfilled.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

3 replies on “Greek Mind, Hebrew Mind”

Question to Calvinist Int’l:

While perhaps not a “sui generis ‘third people’ different from Jews and Gentiles….through double disjunction”, the Body of Christ is clearly regarded a third and different category by Paul. Paul seems to indicate that Jews, as God’s special possession, had an advantage over Gentiles/Greeks. Did the Jews not at least have religio-cultural elementary principles vastly superior to those of the Gentiles/Greeks? Did the Jews not have some advantage regarding revelation and the Word? Is it wrong to say that the Jews of Old in some sense better inform the Church and the world than the Gentiles/Greeks of Old?

Best,
Cw

Hello Charles,

Thanks for your very good question. There are a few notions to distinguish here, I think.

The “Body of Christ” which is the third category in Paul is the collective redeemed people, and I think what makes them distinct is not their culture or even general assumptions regarding metaphysics, but their faith.

For instance:

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law” (1 Cor. 9:19-21)

“If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?” (Gal. 2:14)

“I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.” (Romans 14:14-18)

Sometimes we rush to “explain” these as “only” having to do with the ceremonial law of Moses, but if we pause and ask whether or not those ceremonies would have had a foundational role in identifying the “culture” or even “the religious culture” of the Jews, the question is obvious. Christianity takes the essence/heart/truth (choose your word) of the Mosaic Covenant, but it drastically changes the externals of it, and that changes the culture profoundly. This explains the controversy surrounding the Apostle Paul among the Jews.

When we ask if Israel had better “laws” or “ethics,” the question is also complicated. They may have had the “best” laws “on the books,” but this would have to be explained according to their place in redemptive history (otherwise, we would need to become strict theonomists). Further, it seems unlikely that the people of Israel, “on the ground,” ever actually followed their laws very well, and they always took in a good bit of pagan Near-Eastern culture. Thus, the “religio-cultural elementary principles” of the Jews would always themselves be things a step or two removed from the concrete society of Israel.

So, I think I would say that the teaching of the Old Testament “best” informs the teaching of the New Testament, but this does not necessarily answer the subsequent questions about progression in redemptive history, cultural application, or missional ecclesiology.

Also, discerning the “true” teaching of the Old Testament, as well as that of the various schools of Greek philosophy or pagan world religions, is always a difficult exercise that requires humility and patience. There is certainly a religious antithesis between the Old Testament and all other world religions, but there are many points of overlap. This has to be the case because, if you go back far enough into ancient history, there is a singular source: the truth. All competing religions are diversions from the truth and not parallel creations.

Pastor Wedgeworth,

Thanks for your response. I can’t help but agree, in large measure, with what you’ve written in reply.

When I hear ‘Hebrew’, however, I assume it means ‘pertaining to the people of God’. When I hear ‘Hellenistic’, I assume it means ‘pagan’. Maybe it’s something of a misnomer, attempting to walk a tightrope between two worlds?

I have to say
concerning the Jews of Old that tutelage by the Angel of YHWH seems pretty special, if elementary.

While stoicheia falls and the Gentiles are included in a pronounced way with the coming of the regeneration, I assume there remains a prominent line of demarcation between the people of God and pagans. Maybe Van Til overestimated the line. Maybe he was a chavaunist. Who am I to say? I will say I think there’s a lot to glean from his legacy.

The New Testament writers apparently have a tendency to plunder the proverbial Egyptians, reappropriating the symbols of their pagan oppressors. The use of ‘evangelion’, ‘parousia’, ‘kyrios’, and ‘pistis’ (sorry, no Greek font) are purported to be, for example, a co-opting of imperial cult language. Further, I’m told that both Cicero and the Stoics had a notion of ‘palingenesia’. And I wonder about the NT use of ‘stoichea’ in light of the Stoic tradition.

Any thoughts on how pagans inform the NT use of words like ‘palingenesia’, ‘evangelion’, and ‘stoichea’?

Peace of a Christ,
cw

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