Thursday, February 11, 2016

Saint Paul and his use of Classical Authors by Joseph Offord 1907


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In Part I. of The Hibeh Papyri, just edited by Drs. Grenfell and Hunt of Oxford, a papyrus, one side of which is occupied by fragments of a Greek Anthology, gives as one quotation from an Hellenic poet, the sentence quoted by St. Paul (1. Corinthians, xv. 32): "Evil communications corrupt good manners."

The same maxim preserved in rhythm is also to be found in an excerpt from the Thais of Menander; Socrates, however, in his Ecclesiastical History, states that it was an Euripidean sentence.

The chief poetical piece preserved upon the new papyrus contains some thirteen lines from the Electra of Euripides; it is therefore most probable that the other quotations are from his works, including the sentence of Paul's, and therefore Socrates is likely to have been correct. It may also, however, as other Patristic writers tell us, have occurred in Menander's work.

In Acts, xvii. 28, Paul quotes another sentence to be found in at least two Greek poets, in The Phenomena of Aratus, and the Hymn to Jupiter of Cleanthes; but the wording of Paul is more precisely identical with Aratus than Cleanthes. The Apostle, however, speaks of poets, in the plural, and so doubtless refers to both.

However, there may have been a third author who used a similar phrase, for a Catena in Armenian quoting from Chrysostom's commentary upon the Acts, says: "This indeed was said by the poets Themgeanos (Timagenes) and Aratos." This author, Timagenes, is at present unknown, but there is no reason to doubt his existence. Paul, however, evidently had Aratus' Phenomena more particularly in his mind because the word "also," which he uses in the sentence, "we are also His offspring," refers back, not to anything he says, but to the preceding passage of Aratus: "In every way we all have need of Jove." It was natural that Paul of Tarsus should be familiar with the work of Aratus, for the latter was born at Soli, some twenty-four miles only distant.

Aratus, Cleanthes and Timagenes (if there was the final poet) may all have based their similar concepts of mankind being begotten of the Deity, on some idea propounded by Eudoxus, because the poem of Aratus was founded upon a prose Phenomena by that writer.

It is interesting to note that Paul uses a phrase, in 1 Corinthians, iii. 10, "wise Master Builder," which is also quoted, as Hippolytus tells us in The Philosophumena, by the heretic Basilides. This has been thought to be a quotation from some sentence in Aratus, who copied it from Eudoxus where the latter was referring to the Demiurge (see Philosophumena, vii. 2).

Another citation from a classic writer by the Apostle Paul is the well-known statement, in Titus, i. 12: "The Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies." Paul asserts that one of themselves, even a prophet of their own, had uttered this very unflattering report of them. This would appear to indicate a native of Crete, and the sentence has been found in an extract from a work upon oracles by Epimenides, who was born at Phaestos in Crete.

The statement that the author of the condemnation was a "prophet" is quite in accordance with Greek views, who held a poet to be inspired. Epimenides they particularly considered to have been so, for Cicero says of him, that he was "futura prasciens et vaticinans per furorem."

It is common knowledge too that among the ancient Greeks kretisein, meant to lie. Callimachus, in his Hymn to Jove, v. 8, says: The Cretans are always liars"; and Plutarch, speaking of Lysander's diplomacy with Pharnabazus, says: "He was not aware, as the saying has it, that he was playing the Cretan with a Cretan."

In Acts, xiv. 17, it reads: In that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness."

Now the rhythmical character of this passage is very apparent, and an almost identical sentence has been found in an extract from an unknown Greek writer, which reads: "Giving us showers from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling (our) hearts with food and gladness."

There is a most interesting similarity between Galatians, v. 23, KATA TWN TOIOUTWN OUK ESTI NOMOS and the KATA DE TWN TOIOUTWN OUK ESTE NOMOS of Aristotle's Politics, C. iii., chap. 8.

The phrase is used for a similar purpose by Paul and Aristotle. The philosopher wrote it to explain the exceptional character of certain all-powerful citizens, who were so great, or commanded such forces, as to be above restraint of the laws of the state. Paul uses the expression to illustrate the elevating character of divine grace, so transcendent that the Christian is above the law, or rather, so sanctified by his faith that he is not likely to transgress it.

In the above portion of St. Paul's argument in Acts xvii. 28, the Apostle appears to have utilised another extract from a Greek writer, which his hearer would probably have been familiar with. The sentence, which in the French version reads: "Car c'est par lui que nous avons la vie, le mouvement et I'etre," is apparently the same as the "ZWMEN O EN AUTW QNHTA KAI KINOMEQA KAI ESNEM" of
a Greek author, whose name and date unfortunately are uncertain.

Quite recently, however, Professor Rendel Harris has shown strong reason for thinking that this sentence, like the reference to the Cretans, is taken from a work by Epimenides. In a Nestorian Commentary he has traced a passage, probably from Theodore of Mopsuestia, which, in commenting upon Acts xvii. 28, states that Minos, son of Zeus, inscribed upon his father's alleged tomb in Crete the following words: "A grave have I fashioned for Thee, O holy and high One. The lying Cretans are all the time liars, evil beasts, idle bellies; but Thou diest not, for to eternity Thou livest and standest; for in Thee we live and move and have our being."

Diogenes Laertius informs us that Minos and Rhadamanthos were the subject of a long poem by Epimenides, and Professor Rendel Harris suggests that this work is the common source of St. Paul's quotation in the Acts and in Titus, and of Callimachus and the author—almost certainly Theodore of Mopsuestia—utilised in the Nestorian Commentary.

In writing to Timothy, Paul apparently employed ideas, and perhaps intentionally quoted, from both Euripides and Aeschylus, for I. Timothy, vi. 12: "Fight the good fight of faith," and II. Timothy, iv. 7: "I have fought a good fight"—are surely echoes of Alcestis, 664 and 665 (648, 649). Whilst I. Timothy, vi. 15: "The blessed and only potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords" carries us back to Supplices, 518.

"O King of kings of the blessed
Most blessed, and of the perfect
Most perfect, happy Jupiter."

Timothy, vi. 10: "The love of money is the root of all evil," again, is perhaps an echo of Phocylides, v. 37: "The love of money is mother of every ill"; and Acts, xix. 27: "The image which fell down from Jupiter" may be words suggested by Lycophron's Cassandra, v. 361: "She who from the lofty thron of Jove shot like a star."

Leaving Paul, who of course was a Greek scholar, attention may be called to the passage in the Epistle of James, i. 17, " Every good and every perfect gift," which is the same as an hexameter

The Vatican manuscript of the Aphorisms of Epicurus, which was first edited by Wotke in 1888, contains the saying "It is more blessed to give than to receive," which is in Acts, xx. 25, stated to have been a sentence of Jesus. This discovery leads to most interesting inferences, for it would tend to show either that Paul, supposing that the author of Acts correctly quotes him, in error ascribed a maxim of the Greek philosopher to Christ; or that our Lord gave as a proverb, a maxim or sentence identical with one from Epicurus.

A curious fact is that the sentence though definitely assigned to Jesus is not to be found in the Gospels, neither is it among the non-canonical "Logia." Epiphanius (Hoer., lxxiv. 5) quotes the saying: "It is a good thing to be a giver rather than a receiver," but his citation may be from the Acts and so is of little value. The Didache gives: "Blessed is the giver according to the commandment," but this may be based upon Luke, vi. 3: "Give to every man that asks of thee."

Another explanation may be that the scribe of the Vatican manuscript, having knowledge of the sentence given by Paul, slightly altered a maxim of Epicurus so as to be quite similar, because we know, from Plutarch, that Epicurus had said: "Doing good is not only more honourable, but more pleasant than being well treated." There is no serious reason why Christ should not have uttered a thought already enunciated by Epicurus. Aristotle had written: "Doing good, rather than being well treated, is the part of virtue " (Eth. Nich.), but Epicurus' dislike of Aristotle precludes any idea of his having derived his beautiful maxim from any concept expressed by him. Clement of Rome in his Epistle to the Corinthians says: "More gladly giving than receiving."

With the evidence now adduced it will be plain that if there is a quotation he may be citing either Epicurus, which is not very probable, or Christ, or the passage in the Acts. If, however, Clement nowhere quotes the Acts of the Apostles, then the latter suggestion is very unlikely.

A note may be introduced here as to Paul's assertion in Acts, xvii. 23, that at Athens there were "altars to unknown Gods." Pausanias tells us that he noticed such upon the road from Phalerum to Athens; whilst Philostratus in his Life of Apollonius (vi. 3) writes: "It is better to speak well of all the Gods, especially at Athens, where are found also altars to unknown Gods." It is impossible from this to say whether the Altar texts read the plural or singular.

It is worthy of note that almost all the quotations from classic authors in the New Testament are attributable to Paul. Some modern writers who deride Christianity, have sneeringly pointed out how plebeian are the names of some of the Apostles and early Gentile converts to the new faith. Doubtless it was by Divine arrangement that this was so. Had the primitive Christians been of the educated and philosophic classes, their critics now would have said Christianity was merely an adaptation of Pagan religion and speculative thought. But it was necessary also to show that the new religion was such, and its credentials so convincing, as to convert a supremely well-educated and intelligent scholar familiar with the wisdom of both the Semite and the Greek. A proselyte of that character Divine providence produced in St. Paul. Naturally, he in his writings affords evidence of his literary culture. He knew the great authors of antiquity and all that the religion and philosophy they had embodied and produced could tell and yet became a firm and enduring Christian convert.

Dr. G. Adolf Deissmann has pointed out that Paul in Galatians, vi. 17: "Henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear branded on my body the stigmata of Jesus," appears to be quoting or closely following the formula of protective magic charms. He relies especially upon a Greek papyrus of rather late date, the formula of which may, however, be of greater antiquity. "Do not anyone persecute me. I am Papipetou Metoubanes, I carry the sepulchre of Osiris [an amulet of the God's tomb as protection]. Should any trouble me I will use it against them." Paul's wounds, received because of his being a Christian, are as the bastasein of an amulet of a heathen deity acting as a charm against the troubling of an adversary.

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