Hellenized Christianity

A charge that some Mormons make against Classic Christianity is that it was Hellenized by Christians either in an effort to make it more acceptable or on accident as a result of doctrinal negligence. The end result was the Council of Nicea which codified and enforced non-Biblical doctrines.

For individuals with that perspective, I’d like to recommend “When Athens Met Jerusalem” by John Mark Reynolds. At first blush this book may appear to reinforce that idea. Instead, I think this book may illuminate how there are Greek influences on Christianity but they only extend to “how we think”, not “what we think.”

You can listen to a brief review of the book here

You can read that same review here.

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47 thoughts on “Hellenized Christianity

  1. I have to agree with TRD. I don’t have a position on the Hellenization of Christianity because I haven’t studied the issue enough to argue intelligently. But from what I know, the whole point of argument about Greek influences on Christianity focus exactly on the “how” issue.

  2. “In the deep background of the clash between Arius and Alexander over the nature of the Logos lay Greek philosophy. It is something both had in common, even if they applied it differently. Both sides of the conflict simply assumed that divinity is ontologically perfect in such a way that any change at all is impossible for it and improper to attribute to it. Thus God, being divine and therefore absolutely perfect, cannot experience change because to change is always to change either for the better or the worse, and in either case God would not be God if he could change.

    “Absolute static perfection–including apatheia, or impassibility (passionlessness)–is the nature of God according to Greek thought, and nearly all Christian theologians came to agree with this. Of course, they could find in the scriptures several supporting passages that denied change and variability in God. God’s immutability and impassibility, then, became chief attributes of God in Christian theology…”

    Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform“ InterVarsity Press; First Edition edition (April 1999) pg 143

  3. Seth, Thered Art, James and Eric,

    It sounds like the book will be right up your ally for fueling your critiques of Evangelicalism. It should be a field day for quote mining.

    Concerning “I think this book may illuminate how there are Greek influences on Christianity but they only extend to “how we think”, not “what we think.”

    To be fair to Dr. Reynolds I may be putting words in his mouth with that sentence and to be fair to you guys I may be baiting you a little bit with it. But then again, maybe not. I think if you read the book you’ll get an accurate assessment.

  4. I read this book but wasn’t really very impressed. It discusses Greek philosophy like 98 percent of the time. If one is unfamiliar with Greek philosophy and would like an introductory lesson, this is a great book for that; but if one is looking for a real interplay between Christianity and Greek philosophy, this isn’t it. I understand the foundation John Mark was trying to lay, but there are better books out there.

  5. Dear Evangelicals,

    Yes, Christianity was Hellenized from the 1st century onwards. However, this is about the most banal statement one can make. EVERYTHING in the ancient Mediterranean world was Hellenized in that time frame.

    Dear Mormons,

    As I said, it’s a completely banal statement to make. And before you make this banal statement please realize that Mormonism is Americanized to the extreme. My mommy once said something about bricks and glass houses that applies here.

    Carry on.

  6. David,

    I’m happy that you recognize that Christianity, along with it’s doctrines, practices and traditions were Hellenized. In my view, it is appropriate to say that Christianity’s doctrines, practices, and traditions were corrupted and perverted by Greek thinking.

  7. Sure James. Christianity’s doctrines, practices, and traditions were corrupted and perverted by Greek thinking.

    But Mormonism’s teachings on how God is a white male polygamist who requires Masonic ordinances to get to heaven, spent 100+ years of the church’s history punishing black people for being black, and continues to call nothing but wealthy white (mostly American) males to fill the top positions in His one true church in spite of the church’s membership having greater numbers among internationals and minorities? Mormonism’s wisdom on the Garden of Eden being in Missouri and the Constitution being a divinely inspired document?

    That’s all from God. No corrupting outside influences or perversions there.

    Move along, nothing to see here.

  8. Jack,

    Both Mormonism and early Christianity were born into their respective cultures, cultures which molded the way revelations were received. But the difference is that early Christianity had to deal with a void left by the apostles/prophets, a void partly filled by Greek philosophy.

    Mormonism has not had to deal with any such void, and so it remains basically the same religion as it was when it started. Nobody denies that American culture helped to shape Mormonism (granting your strange caricature of Mormonism above), but nothing has come along to corrupt its original form just yet. The same can’t be said of early Christianity.

  9. David,

    Please feel free to be specific in your accusation that I have difficulty with reading comprehension.

    Sincerely,
    James

  10. In my view, it is appropriate to say that Christianity’s doctrines, practices, and traditions were corrupted and perverted by Greek thinking.

    And in my view, the good found in Greek thinking was claimed and redeemed by Christianity and the perverse was discarded.

    nothing has come along to corrupt its original form just yet.

    Says you. But your fellow non-SLC-based Mormon cousins all disagree. If you really look closely at the Brigham Young succession they aren’t without argument.

  11. Oh, my smiley face was meant for the first part of your comment, before you edited it and added the second part.

    I’m not sure the question of succession is directly relevant to the question of whether doctrines have been changed or altered.

    But perhaps a more fundamental issue is that Mormonism invites and welcomes changes. We believe that prophets have that prerogative. If we’ve molded or updated our doctrine through the decree of a living prophet that is cause for celebration in our view.

    But if you don’t have prophets or apostles, and changes are being made, then there is a problem. That is what I perceive to have happened with early Christianity.

  12. James: Nobody denies that American culture helped to shape Mormonism (granting your strange caricature of Mormonism above), but nothing has come along to corrupt its original form just yet. The same can’t be said of early Christianity.

    Tim: Says you.

    This.

  13. James, if Christianity’s doctrines were perverted, that implies that they were once pure. I’m wondering when that was, as it seems that Jesus corrected his apostles over and over again before his death (and was often frustrated at their lack of understanding), and after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul wrote letters to the churches correcting and advising them on doctrinal matters. Paul even corrected Peter.

    Also, since contemporary Latter-day Saints disagree with one another on many doctrines, a doctrinal apostasy must be specific to certain doctrines and not others. This makes me wonder what Latter-day Saints who believe in a doctrinal apostasy (some I’ve met believe it was purely an apostasy of authority, which I think is a much stronger position) mean by it. Could you clarify for me?

  14. Sarah,

    I suppose you could number me among those LDS who find greater significance in the loss of authority than in the loss of doctrinal purity. One of my favorite things about Mormonism is that there is room for disagreement within the bounds of “orthodoxy”. I also appreciate our emphasis on orthopraxy over orthodoxy.

    But I also believe that certain doctrines were taught, or assumed, by the first Christians but which were subsequently changed for the worse. Perhaps the most fundamental of these is the relationship of God and man. Take the Hypostatic Union for example. The underlying assumption by 3rd and 4th century Christians, never challenged, was that the nature of God and the nature of man are mutually exclusive. Jesus is the sole freak incident of the union of the two. I don’t believe that the first Christians held that notion. Thus a loss of a fundamental understanding of who Jesus is occurred.

    I understand that the preferred philosophy of the day can be useful in explaining certain doctrines and in teasing out the nuances and meanings of doctrines. I’m not opposed to that. But there is a fine line between master and slave here. We have to make sure that the doctrine as revealed by God’s messengers is the master, while the exterior, man-made framework we place it into remains the slave.

  15. But there is a fine line between master and slave here. We have to make sure that the doctrine as revealed by God’s messengers is the master, while the exterior, man-made framework we place it into remains the slave.

    Preach on James! I am so glad that Wilford Woodruff listened to you and refused to make the practice of polygamy a slave to the man-made framework known as the “law of the United States.” Oh, wait…

    Look James, Christianity was influenced by Hellenism. Mormonism is influenced by American culture. You can argue that prophets have ensured ultimate doctrinal purity. They can argue that the Holy Spirit working through believers and the Bible has ensured ultimate doctrinal purity. Then we can all engage in fun activities like proof texting and spitting on each other. Why not just accept the obvious (that influence has happened), attempt to understand where the other side is coming from, and move on?

  16. Christianity was influenced by Hellenism. Mormonism is influenced by American culture. You can argue that prophets have ensured ultimate doctrinal purity. They can argue that the Holy Spirit working through believers and the Bible has ensured ultimate doctrinal purity. Then we can all engage in fun activities like proof texting and spitting on each other.

    Actually, someone has already had that debate. It was caught on video.

  17. One of my favorite things about Mormonism is that there is room for disagreement within the bounds of “orthodoxy”

    In Mormonism, knowing the correct mode of baptism is more important than knowing whether or not God the Father was once perhaps a horrific sinner.

    Not my favorite thing at all.

  18. David,
    You misunderstand the issue of polygamy and how it fits into this discussion. The doctrine of polygamy was never changed or influenced by the laws of the United States. Instead, the practice of polygamy was. There is of course an important difference between the principle and the practice of it.

    You said, “Christianity was influenced by Hellenism. Mormonism is influenced by American culture.”

    But it is like I said before to Jack. Mormonism was born into American Culture and it’s doctrines have so far not been influenced by any other exterior influence. Christianity wasn’t born into Hellenism. Christianity was born into Judaism, and later influenced by Hellenism. That is an important difference.

    And again, David, I invite you to be specific about my reading comprehension troubles. I’d to continue living my life not knowing about it.

  19. I’m not surprised Aaron showed up in a thread completely unrelated to God the Father’s past and found a way to bring it up.

    We have been given specific instruction about how to baptize. It would not be smart to mess that up. On the other hand, we simply have not been given specific knowledge concerning some aspects of God’s past. So, we are free to speculate and think about it. It isn’t that we find it less important, it is that God has found it less important to tell us right now. The one apparently matters for our salvation, the other apparently does not.

  20. James ~ The doctrine of polygamy was never changed or influenced by the laws of the United States. Instead, the practice of polygamy was.

    Nonsense, James. Mormons went from teaching that polygamy was an eternal principle required for exaltation that the government could never take away to making it optional and bowing to government demands that it cease. You’re just seeing what you want to see.

    That they allow serial monogamists to practice a form of “polygamy in the next life” doesn’t make up for it. It’s a completely different system now.

    Mormonism was born into American Culture and it’s doctrines have so far not been influenced by any other exterior influence.

    American cultures IS an exterior influence. You aren’t claiming to be the Church of American Culture, you’re claiming to be the only true and living Church of God, so when you assimilate the sinful practices of the surrounding culture into your doctrines (racism and androcentricity, for example), there’s a problem.

    Christianity wasn’t born into Hellenism. Christianity was born into Judaism, and later influenced by Hellenism.

    Wrong again. The Hellenization of Judaism was already taking place throughout the first century AD. Christianity was born into a thoroughly Hellenistic world.

    The weapon has been knocked from your hands, James. Give it a rest.

  21. Jack
    My history buff has to jump in

    Considering Alexander the great conquered Jerusalem in 332 BCE, I’d say the Hellenization of Judaism started probably earlier. Definitely the fact that the Seleucid empire took over after the Ptolemies… I’d say it more likely started early 2nd century BCE. (200-150 BCE or so… give or take a couple of decades ;-))

    Of course.. I wasn’t there to witness it 😉

    But I do agree. Judea was quite properly “hellenized” way before 1st century AD.

    Mick

  22. And this is something all of the LDS fans of Margaret Barker need to reconcile as well. Was Jesus practicing an apostate form of Judaism and failing to correct it?

  23. It seems to me that Jesus was doing quite a bit of correcting while he was there.

    Jack, I think the status of polygamy as a requirement for salvation is rather ambiguous. Brigham Young’s statements, for instance, seem to indicate more of a “this is from God, and if you want exaltation, you’d better not oppose his commands” line of thinking than an “everyone needs to have at least a pair to get in” mentality.

  24. James,

    We have been given specific instruction about how to baptize. It would not be smart to mess that up.

    I agree. Also, we have been given specific instructions about how to perform washings and annointings. It would be smart not to mess that up. Since the way they do that now is completely different from the way they did it when I went through, can we conclude that the specific instructions on how to do an ordinance are not that important?

  25. Hello Jack. As Seth mentioned, changes in the belief and practice of polygamy are not as clear-cut as you seem to suggest. I’d argue (though I’m not terribly well read on this) that while the practice changed the principles behind the practice did not.

    I don’t know that this “weapon” has been knocked from my hands yet. Maybe it will be. I doubt it.

    Mormonism was born into American Culture, which undoubtedly had some influence on the shaping of its theology. One (such as I) might argue that God chose that medium on purpose. Perhaps God deemed it an appropriate environment for revealing his gospel.

    Let us imagine that God had similar thoughts when he revealed the gospel in the 1st century. In this scenario He deemed the social, political, philosophical, and theological environment appropriate for the dispensing of his gospel. The century before or after might not have been appropriate. Why were some of the most defining doctrines of Christianity (Trinity, Hypostatic Union, Original Sin, etc.) not hammered out until centuries later, and by theologians who were immersed in a different philosophical environment than, say, Peter and Paul?

    For example, take the Trinity. As Roger Olsen noted (who I quoted early in this discussion) both Alexander and Arius were guided by Greek philosophy. They didn’t even question the notion that God cannot progress. Yet, we don’t find that sort of thinking in the Bible. As another example, earlier I mentioned the formulation of the hypostatic union. The underlying assumption there is that god and man are fundamentally distinct, and that Jesus is a freak incident of that union. Where does that thinking come from? These are ideas that were born from Hellenistic thinking, and not from the simple testimonies found in the Bible.

    I know that all of this requires much more discussion. I doubt we are willing to hash it all out here. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me. But we can agree that Christianity was immensely influenced by Hellenism, for better or worse.

    But when it comes to fundamental issues such as the nature of God, I doubt anyone could successfully argue that Joseph Smith was very much swayed by the philosophical or theological winds in America. He is villainized for offending traditional sensibilities on that topic.

  26. Christianity wasn’t born into Hellenism. Christianity was born into Judaism, and later influenced by Hellenism. That is an important difference.

    James,

    Which Judaism was Christianity born into? The Judaism of the Pharisees? That of the Sadduccees? That of the Essenes? That of Josephus’ “fourth philosophy?” Was he born into an apocalyptic form of Judaism? Did Joseph and Mary take up with the Theraputae form of Judaism when they fled to Egypt after Jesus was born? Was he born into the hypothetical common Judaism? If the latter, could you please delineate what was the “common Judaism?

  27. David,

    Please, please, help me with my reading comprehension problems. I really don’t want to continue my graduate work until I get those fixed. Go ahead and provide me with specific examples of where I’ve struggled.

    On the topic of washings and anointings, you’ve completely missed the point. Those ordinances were changed precisely because specific instruction was given to do so. The issue isn’t that it shouldn’t ever change, it is that the instructions should be followed.

  28. James ~ As Seth mentioned, changes in the belief and practice of polygamy are not as clear-cut as you seem to suggest. I’d argue (though I’m not terribly well read on this) that while the practice changed the principles behind the practice did not.

    Seth and I have disagreed on this before. Someday I’m going to get around to doing a post laying out all of the statements from early LDS leaders on the subject, because I am well read on it, and I got my ideas on the issue from faithful LDS historians at BYU, not anti-Mormons.

    However, even if we accept the apologetic that it was acceptance of the divine origins of polygamy that was necessary for exaltation, and not practicing it yourself, that still represents a shift in doctrine because the church no longer requires people to hold an opinion on the issue one way or the other. I have LDS friends who don’t think the 19th century practice of polygamy was from God at all. They think polygamy was a huge mistake on JS’s part. Are they going to be disqualified from the CK because of it?

    I don’t know that this “weapon” has been knocked from my hands yet. Maybe it will be. I doubt it.

    You and the black knight have a lot in common.

    Where does that thinking come from? These are ideas that were born from Hellenistic thinking, and not from the simple testimonies found in the Bible.

    I disagree, and if you think that’s accurate, then I think you know very little about the topic concerning all the factors that went into formulating the Trinity.

    But when it comes to fundamental issues such as the nature of God, I doubt anyone could successfully argue that Joseph Smith was very much swayed by the philosophical or theological winds in America.

    A number of his ideas about the nature of God were certainly novel. Some of them weren’t. But he was swayed by the philosophical and theological winds in America all over the place on all kinds of other things, many of which I would categorize as fundamental issues.

    Worse, he certainly didn’t restore a number of things which the ancient church had that the modern church is definitely missing (a friend of mine did an article about this here, “Plainer and More Precious Things: What Joseph Smith Didn’t Restore“). Restoring some perverted Americanized version of the ancient church rather than just restoring the ancient church seems like a rather silly thing for God to do.

  29. Why were some of the most defining doctrines of Christianity (Trinity, Hypostatic Union, Original Sin, etc.) not hammered out until centuries later, and by theologians who were immersed in a different philosophical environment than, say, Peter and Paul?

    They were busy being eaten by lions. It was a little difficult to sit down and think through these issues and consult scriptures on the matter at the time. As soon as their writing hands were free from the jaws of Simba, they got back to the work Peter and Paul had started for them.

  30. James,

    OK, I’ll play along.

    I first said this:

    Yes, Christianity was Hellenized from the 1st century onwards. However, this is about the most banal statement one can make. EVERYTHING in the ancient Mediterranean world was Hellenized in that time frame.

    Here’s the point. That Christianity was Hellenized was totally predictable, completely understandable, and so unremarkable as to render any accusation that “Christianity was Hellenized” obvious to the point of ridiculousness. Hellenism was simply in the air, it was how people saw the world, how they thought, and how they perceived reality. Everyone is influenced by their culture and they were no exception. Does that mean that Christianity was necessarily corrupted by this? No.

    In fact Christianity was spread most widely by a thoroughly Hellenized Jew named Paul. If you want to avoid the Hellenized parts of of Christianity please go to your Bible and rip out everything from Romans to Philemon. In fact, to be on the safe side, just rip out the entire New Testament. It was written in Greek and quotes a Hellenized version of the Hebrew Bible called the Septuagint. You can’t avoid Hellenization unless you avoid Greek altogether, because the Greek language is shot through with Greek philosophical concepts which will unavoidably Hellenize anything you are trying to say.

    This is why your response that:

    I’m happy that you recognize that Christianity, along with it’s doctrines, practices and traditions were Hellenized. In my view, it is appropriate to say that Christianity’s doctrines, practices, and traditions were corrupted and perverted by Greek thinking.

    is a complete non sequitor.

    Of course you might argue that it was really those nasty neo-Platonists in the 4th and 5th centuries who “corrupted” Christianity. I would simply submit that they were understanding Christianity given the categories that they knew. And if you say this caused the gospel to be corrupted, then I can make the same accusation of you. No matter what you do you will corrupt Christianity because living in a post Enlightenment age means you are working with categories of thought so thoroughly different from those of people living 1st century Palestine that you can’t possibly understand the gospel as it was preached then. Either both you and them corrupt the gospel or both of you understand it in your own way. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  31. James

    Couple of quotes and statements you made are making me blink:

    They didn’t even question the notion that God cannot progress. Yet, we don’t find that sort of thinking in the Bible.
    There’s tons of references in the Old Testament on the immutability or unchanging nature of God.
    Psalm 102:27; Mal 3:6; …

    The underlying assumption there is that god and man are fundamentally distinct, [….] Where does that thinking come from?
    Once again from the OT: Num 23:19; 1Sam 15:29

    Granted we can have a discussion on how we interpret these passages and whether or not the Septuagint was subject to Hellenistic influence, but the passages to support those ideas are there in the OT. I’d much rather have an argument as to why 1st – 3rd century Christian made the interpretation the way they did than question where the heck they got it.

    In Him
    Mick

  32. Hellenization only works as a critique when you are dealing with the more stupid versions of Protestantism that are trying to deny that ANYTHING in their religion came from the human element.

    When you’re dealing with some fundamentalist who claims to be solo scriptura, but is ignorant of how he filters the scriptures through the lens of human efforts to understand the scriptures…

    Yeah, Hellenization is a relevant argument in that instance.

    Problem is, a lot of Christians are not like the hypothetical fundamentalist above. They realize that there are human efforts involved in their religion. And, by and large, they are OK with this. The most intelligent Christians I debate with will frankly acknowledge that Nicea, for instance, was a human effort to make sense of scripture, and will then give cogent arguments as to why Nicea reached the correct conclusions.

    It makes no sense to argue with such people that Hellenization had an impact on Christianity. They will simply argue that Hellenization was a framework nurtured by God to help us understand him better. Likewise, a Mormon might argue that the framework of the United States was something God nurtured in order to allow the Restored Gospel to flourish today (I actually hear this exact argument a lot).

    Here’s the thing, the “Hellenization argument” does not work well as a sword at all. It is not a useful tool for actively undermining the legitimacy of other Christian traditions. It’s not suited to the job of theological cut-and-thrust.

    But it does work well as a shield for Mormons.

    When some doof comes around yelling about how unbiblical we are for rejecting the Nicean framework, we can raise the Hellenization argument to demonstrate that it is not the BIBLE we are rejecting, but rather his extra-biblical framework for interpretation of the Bible. It’s a good defensive measure to prevent the ill-informed (which seem to flourish in the anti-Mormon community) from painting us as anti-Biblical.

    So the Hellenization argument parries and deflects well enough for Mormon purposes. But it is not a useful tool for actively undermining the legitimacy of other Christian traditions.

  33. And for the record, I do believe that Hellenization was a tool used by God to help preserve the Gospel through a difficult period of human history. So I think Mormons need to be careful in hanging too much of their apologetic hat on this particular peg.

    In our zeal for advocating for the Restored Gospel, we don’t want to be found mocking the things of God.

    By and large, I don’t consider Nicea to be the focal point of the “Great Apostasy” – as posited by Mormon doctrine. Nicea was a needed corrective to prevent the Christian Church from coming apart at the seams. It didn’t get everything right. But it was much-needed. And there is nothing wrong with a Mormon being grateful for this. Just as our General Authorities have, in the past, spoken warmly of Martin Luther’s Reformation as a necessary step toward the full realization of the Restored Gospel, I think we can also view Nicea as such a necessary step. Christianity was a doctrinal mess at that point. And it needed a unified message for the coming period of intense expansion into Northern Europe and beyond.

    People should be thankful for Nicea. Mistaken or not, it provided a robust theology – which led to certain cultural mindset. To which we can credit both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. It’s not really something for even a Mormon to sneer at.

    The enlightened time we live in today is, in vital ways, a heritage of creedal Christianity. Every Mormon student of history should be grateful for the efforts of those men at Nicea.

    That doesn’t stop Mormons from advocating the position that we shouldn’t be resting on our laurels. But anyway…

  34. Hello gang. I’m stretched a little thin here so bear with me if I don’t cover everything. Before addressing you each individually, I want to reiterate my position. I don’t believe that Hellenization in and of itself is a bad thing. I’m not against any and all influence from Greece. What I’m advocating here is the idea that certain doctrines were formulated in the early centuries of Christianity which are dependent on some sort of Greek philosophical assumption. I’m suggesting that whatever that assumption is it wasn’t held by the primitive Christians, and therefore the doctrine is foreign to Jesus and his apostles and is suspect.

    Jack,
    1) I look forward to your forthcoming post. I’d tentatively suggest that even if it is demonstrated that a shift in understanding took place in regard to polygamy this doesn’t render the argument I’m making about the Hellenization of Christianity mute. It involves another facet of this discussion that hasn’t been explored yet (prophets vs Holy Spirit working through theologians).

    2) If you think you have something to teach us about the role of Greek philosophy in the formulation of the Trinity then by all means write up a blog post and share it. The sources I’ve read, including LDS and non-LDS, suggest that Greek philosophy was front and center. See my quote by Olsen above.

    Tim,
    I think you’ve touched on something important. The earliest Christians, especially Peter, Paul, and their colleagues had little time for hammering out some of the details of Christian belief. Theirs was a message largely communicated through testimony and the sharing of stories. The lack of systematic explanation created a void which was filled by later career theologians. Because the scriptures weren’t clear on some subjects, they turned to philosophy. Suddenly philosophy received a glorified status unheard of, and feared, by the apostles (ex. 1 Cor 1:22-25).

    David,
    1) Thanks for “playing along” by agreeing to finish what you started (though I’m not sure you actually did that). I’ll drop my insistence that you show me where I lack reading comprehension.

    2) I don’t dispute that Christianity from it’s inception was influenced to some degree by Hellenism. For example, the concept of the logos is introduced by John. Paul quotes Greek authors and uses classical rhetoric against Agrippa. That is all fine and well. As I said earlier in this discussion, secular systems can appropriately be used to expound the gospel. But Paul was also deeply distrustful of Greek philosophy, and of secular learning in general as a means of arriving at gospel truths. “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8) See also 1 Cor 1:19-25; 1 Cor 2.

    3) I also won’t dispute that I interpret the gospel through the lens of my own culture, as did the neo-Platonists of the 4th and 5th centuries. That is natural, and understandable. But where I differ from them is the fact that I’m not taking the teachings of Joseph Smith and filtering them through a lens of some modern philosophy foreign to Joseph Smith. I’m not creating doctrines based on the assumptions of a modern philosophy foreign to Joseph Smith, upheld by proof-texting of Joseph Smith’s teachings.

    That is exactly what some important early Christians did. They began with Greek philosophical assumptions, filtered the gospel through it, and declared it orthodox. They began with assumptions foreign to the authors of the scriptures, and forced them into creeds. I’ve given examples of this already (immutability, Hypostatic Union). Justin Martyr went so far as to argue that Plato must have somehow had access to the writings of Moses.

    It isn’t the fact that certain doctrines were influenced by Greek thinking that bothers me. I’m OK with that. It is that the underlying premise of some doctrines find their source in Greek thinking. That is what I’m not OK with.

    Mick L,
    As I’ve suggested above, I think some early Christians invented a doctrine based on Greek thinking and then (secondarily) went to the scriptures for proof-texting. That is what Roger Olsen suggests in the quote I provided early in this discussion. Let me give an example.

    One very important underlying assumption when it came to the formulation of the Trinity was the idea that God is immutable. Did that idea come from the scriptures or from an exterior source? I say it came from an exterior source. As an anecdotal example the great theologian Origen (preceding the debates of Nicea) was influenced by Greek thinking. But in the case of working out the mystery of the Trinity he was more reserved than his later disciples in keeping at bay Greek assumptions. While Arius and Athanasius were adamant that God was immutable, Origen was not:

    [i]”The Father himself and the God of the whole universe is “longsuffering, full of mercy and pity” [ Psalm 86:15]. Must he not then, in some sense, be exposed to suffering? . . . The Father himself is not impassible.”
    Origen, Sermon on Ezekiel, in Bettenson, Early Christian Fathers, 186—87.[/i]

    So here we have a case in which one of the greatest theologians of Christian history, preceding the formulation of the Trinity, concludes, against Greek thinking, that God is not impassible. Where did he get that idea from? Certainly not from the neo-platonism or stoicism. I’d argue he simply saw the obvious idea in the scriptures. I’d argue that the primitive Christians believed it too, even if not so technically or with sophistication.

    Sorry this was long, but I had to cover a lot of bases!

  35. James ~ this doesn’t render the argument I’m making about the Hellenization of Christianity mute.

    The argument you’re making about Hellenization of Christianity has been muted, trampled all over the floor, and tossed in the trash. You’re the only one here who doesn’t see that.

    As for the Trinity, this article here is a good place to start.

  36. Origen did not beleive that God was impassible (as defined by Christian theology not Plato)?

    “And now, if, on account of those expressions which occur in the Old Testament, as when God is said to be angry or to repent, or when any other human affection or passion is described, (our opponents) think that they are furnished with grounds for refuting us, who maintain that God is altogether impassible…”

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf04.vi.v.iii.iv.html?

    I have provided the link to book 2 of Origen’s De Principiis so that people can read this in its context and judge for themselves.

  37. I just wanted to say again how much I’ve appreciated David Clark’s comments on this thread. I also appreciated Seth’s latest comments (starting here).

    I wish more of our conversations around here could be focused on trying to understand each other’s positions rather than just point out problems in them, and I say that knowing full well that I’ve been doing the latter as much as anyone else. But I’m working on it.

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