16 “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” (Acts 17:16-21)
Upon engaging the Athenian crowds in the city’s marketplace, the Apostle Paul encountered some of the Greek Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. A brief summary of these two philosophical systems is appropriate.
Epicurious (342-270 B.C.) taught that the purpose of life was pleasure and freedom from pain, passions and fears. In effect, Epicureans believed in the motto, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” In other words, Epicureanism taught to enjoy life as much as possible because it will be over soon. How many modern Epicureans do you know?
In contrast, Cypriot Zeno (340-265 B.C.), the founder of Stoicism, taught living in harmony with nature and to depend upon reason and other self-sufficient abilities. The Stoics viewed God as a pantheistic “world-soul.” A Stoic is a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining. They prize logic above emotions. E.g. Mr. Spock of Star Trek. How many Stoics do you know who never let anyone see them sweat?
The response by both Greek schools of philosophical thought to the Apostle Paul and the Gospel was contemptuous at worst and flippant at best. Some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” A babbler was an ignorant show-off. He was an ideological scavenger who, like a theological rummager or scrounger, collected scraps of knowledge and/or peddled various ideas.
Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.” Foreign divinities were devalued by the Athenian intellectual elite. That was their perspective of Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead, which is a shorthand term denoting the Gospel. The Athenians looked down upon the person and work of Christ.
Once again, who do you personally know who adheres to either of these ancient Greek philosophies? They may not even realize they do. It is how they live their lives. However, without the truth of the Gospel, their philosophy of life is ultimately meaningless.
Do not be distressed about the various philosophies within our current culture. Remember, our mission field is anyone outside of the Christian faith. Share the Gospel to any and all.
Soli deo Gloria!