St. Paul and Epicurus

St. Paul and Epicurus

NORMAN WENTWORTH DeWITT
Copyright Date: 1954
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 212
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsrzk
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    St. Paul and Epicurus
    Book Description:

    Everyone who is interesting in the meaning of the Bible will find this a revealing study, for it opens up a new window on the New Testament, a window that was walled up centuries ago by prejudice. Professor DeWitt throws new light on the writings of the Apostle Paul by showing how they were influenced by the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. The Epicureanism could have a place in Christian religion may come as a surprise to those familiar with the conventional concept of the philosophy of Epicurus. As demonstrated in the meaning of the English word epicure, derived from the name of the ancient philosopher, the modern world has long associated Epicurus with the indulgence of sensual pleasure in food and drink. But, as Professor DeWitt makes clear both in this volume and in its predecessor, Epicurus and His Philosophy, the pleasures which the ancient Greek espoused as constituting the chief good of life were not the pleasures of the flesh. The merit and the lure, however, of the Epicurean ethic, which allied happiness with pleasure, were so appealing and so widely acknowledged that Paul had no choice but to adopt it and bless it for his followers with the sanction of religion. He could not, though, admit indebtedness to a philosopher who had long been accused of sensualism and atheism, and there was no choice, therefore, but to consign Epicurus to anonymity. Through his scholarly investigation into the Epicurean source of certain portions of the Epistles, Professor DeWitt provides new explanations or translations for 76 biblical verses. The close scrutiny of biblical passages is carried out, not in a spirit of vandalism, but in a quest for accuracy, and the result is a challenging, readable, and absorbing book.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6213-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-2)
  3. I EPICURUS Life and Teachings
    (pp. 3-20)

    Epicurus, although an Athenian citizen by birth, was neither born nor raised in Athens but on the island of Samos not far from Ephesus. The fact is significant: he grew up entirely free from the political obsession that plagued the Athenians of Athens. He favored a minimum of government control and a maximum of individual freedom, while Plato, an Athenian of Athens, fathered the highly regimented state with a minimum of individual freedom and a maximum of government control.

    These two ideals are still competitors in our modern world. The open type of society which was sponsored by Epicurus has...

  4. II PHILIPPIANS Their God Is the Belly
    (pp. 21-37)

    The Epistle to the Philippians happens to be suitable for beginning a study of Epicureanism in the writings of Paul. The two parties in each community from which the chief opposition arose to the invading Christianity are here typically but briefly presented. The first was the fundamentalist party among the Jews, which is unmistakably identified even for the modern reader by the wordcircumcision.The second party consisted of the ubiquitous and numerous disciples of Epicurus, of which the identity was as plainly manifest to the ancient reader as was that of the Jewish fundamentalists, though to the modern reader...

  5. III THESSALONIANS Peace and Safety
    (pp. 38-57)

    While the chief topic of this Epistle will be Peace and Safety we shall learn something worth while about Paul by calling Epicurus to testify concerning the question of honesty, which arises in First Thessalonians 2:1-8.

    In the Revised Standard it is made to begin: “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our visit to you was not in vain.” We believe this to be wrong and that this error has beclouded the interpretation and translation of the whole paragraph, which consequently calls for fresh scrutiny. We believe the true meaning to be, “our visit to you was not a sham”...

  6. IV GALATIANS The Weak and Beggarly Elements
    (pp. 58-72)

    If we study the writings of Paul with the proper clues and evidences in our minds, we shall find him in certain passages reasoning after the fashion of the Jews and in others after the fashion of the Greeks, and for the most part after the manner of Epicurus. When he reasons like a Jew, he is less appealing and less convincing.

    In this Epistle to the fickle Galatians, for example, he forges a chain of arguments to convince the members of the church of their spiritual sonship in Abraham. If, however, it was necessary for the Galatians to become...

  7. V COLOSSIANS Beguiling Speech
    (pp. 73-87)

    The brief Epistle to the Colossians exhibits a singular neatness. It begins with a sympathetic introduction, passes over to warning and remonstrance, and concludes with friendly admonition and exhortation. This conforms to the rhetorical rule that the first and last parts of a composition should be agreeable to the hearer or reader.

    The letter abounds also in evidences of Paul’s concern with Epicureanism: some ten items of Epicurus’ teachings are identifiable. Some of these were repellent and could only be rejected. One was in part acceptable but in the main offensive. Others were so attractive as to justify adoption. Needless...

  8. VI EPHESIANS The Prince of the Power of the Air
    (pp. 88-105)

    For the purpose of this study it should be remembered as we approach the Epistle to the Ephesians that the country around Ephesus was to Epicureanism what Galilee was to Christianity. The name of Epicurus has always been associated with Athens but he was thirty-five years of age when he took up residence there, and the city was chosen chiefly for its prestige as a cultural capital, from which a world philosophy could best be disseminated. No bid was made for the patronage of the Athenian public and conflicts with the authorities were avoided by confining instruction to the famous...

  9. VII FIRST CORINTHIANS The Logic of the Cross
    (pp. 106-123)

    The heading of this chapter has been chosen with deliberation. In the light of the content of this Epistle it would seem that what we have been accustomed to know in the King James Version as “the preaching of the cross” and now read in the Revised Standard as “the word of the cross,” in reality means “the logic of the cross” as opposed to what we may call “the logic of the atom.”

    The keynote is struck in the first chapter: Paul pours scorn upon philosophy and in chilling irony refers to the atoms in verse 28 as “things...

  10. VIII FIRST CORINTHIANS 13 Faith, Hope, and Love
    (pp. 124-143)

    When the prophet Elisha healed the leprosy of Naaman the Syrian without touch or even presence there was no mention of faith.

    When the Roman centurion begged for the healing of his servant in a similar way, Jesus exclaimed: “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

    If the wordfaithwere proportionately as frequent in the Old Testament as in the New, there would be some seven hundred occurrences. Actually there is one example.

    This astonishing emergence of the wordfaithis but one outstanding feature of the revolution of thought that took...

  11. IX FIRST CORINTHIANS 13 Interim and Recognition
    (pp. 144-166)

    It is an astonishing fact—and the earnest student of the New Testament will profit by learning to live with it—that the passages of Paul’s Epistles which we most prefer as devotional readings exhibit the most influence of Epicurus.

    Among the foremost of these is the hymn to love, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. It falls into two parts: the first seven verses are a unit, as also the last six. The theme of the first unit is brotherly love, which, like faith and hope, should prevail on earth; the theme of the second unit is divine love,...

  12. X PAUL’S KNOWLEDGE OF EPICUREANISM
    (pp. 167-184)

    It still remains for us to scrutinize some evidences of Paul’s knowledge of Epicureanism which do not fall within the scope of particular Epistles. By way of preparation for this scrutiny, however, it will be well for us to cast a sweeping glance at the factors of history and geography, subscribing for the moment to the view of Epicurus that all events are “accidents of time, place, and persons.” We shall also better our understanding by recognizing to what extent the success of Paul’s ministries depended upon the high level of education which was prevailing during his time.

    The first...

  13. APPENDIX Letter to Menoeceus
    (pp. 187-193)
  14. INDEX Verses Newly Explained or Translated
    (pp. 194-195)
  15. INDEX Words and Topics
    (pp. 196-201)