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Kristine Kay Hasse Memorial Library Blog

Paul and Ancient Philosophy

by Natalie Whitaker on 2021-05-06T08:00:00-05:00 in Philosophy, New Testament, Humanities | Comments

Aristotle and Plato in the School of Athens by RaphaelRecently, I have been researching parallels in ancient philosophical writings and St. Paul’s epistles. For example, scholars have argued about the different influences on St. Paul’s “Household Codes”, this concept is what, as you may know, Luther refers to as the Haustafel in Luther’s Smaller Catechism.

Ephesians 5:22-6:9 is one of the places in the New Testament where Paul discusses this code:

22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.…

6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord,[b] for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment with a promise: “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”

And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord…. 5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; 6 not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, 8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.

9 And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.

Notice in the bold that these are pairs of reciprocal relationships. Some scholars have argued that this reciprocal system of household ethics Paul writes about has foundations in Aristotle’s Politics ("preliminary analysis of the household" in I.3) and Nicomachean Ethics, who was also interested in the political aspects of ethics and connections to the household through its mirroring of the state, showing how Paul was certainly not writing in a vacuum but engaging in the current philosophical dialogues of his time. The Aristotelian influence on Paul may even extend to Paul’s discussions on vices and virtues as a part of philosophers' dialogues on “virtue ethics”.

Hasse Memorial Library has some helpful resources in exploring these ideas and the possible connections between Paul and other ancient writers. One provocative aspect of exploring this topic is not only for the sake of historical theological studies but also acknowledging how early Church writers engaged with secular culture and conversations. How might Paul’s engagement with these conversations reflect how Christians today should engage with current political, philosophical, and secular conversations?  


Cover ArtPaul in the Greco-Roman World: a Handbook by J. Paul Sampley
Call Number: BS2506.3 .P385
ISBN: 9780567657060
Publication Date: 2016-10-06
v. 1. Paul and adaptability / Clarence E. Glad -- Paul, adoption, and inheritance / James C. Walters, revised by Jerry L. Sumney -- Paul and associations / Richard S. Ascough -- Paul and boasting / Duane F. Watson -- Paul and circumcision / Troy W. Martin -- Paul and commendation / Efrain Agosto -- Paul, exemplification, and imitation / Benjamin Fiore, revised by Thomas R. Blanton, IV -- Paul and rhetorical comparison / Christopher Forbes -- Paul and Greco-Roman education / Ronald F. Hock -- Paul and family life / Margaret Y. MacDonald -- "Better to marry than to burn" : St Paul and the Greek novel / Loveday Alexander -- Paul and frankness speech / J. Paul Sampley -- Paul and friendship / John T. Fitzgerald -- Paul and the games / Alan H. Cadwallader.
v. 2. Paul, hardships, and suffering / David E. Fredrickson -- Paul, honor, and shame / David A. deSilva -- Paul and indifferent things / Will Deming -- Paul and literacy / John C. Poirier -- Paul, marriage, and divorce / O. Larry Yarbrough -- Paul and maxims / Rollin A. Ramsaran -- Paul and memory / Peter-Ben Smit -- Paul and pater familias / L. Michael White -- Paul, patrons, and clients / Peter Lampe -- Paul and performance / Glenn S. Holland -- Paul and self-mastery / Stanley Stowers -- Paul and slavery / J. Albert Harrill -- Paul and social memory / Rafael Rodríguez -- Paul, virtues, vices, and household codes / Stanley E. Porter -- Epilogue : Living in an evil aeon : Paul's ambiguous relation to culture (toward a taxonomy) / J. Paul Sampley.

Cover Art

Community and Authority by Cynthia Briggs Kittredge
Call Number: BS2695.6.O26 K58 1998
ISBN: 1563382628
Publication Date: 1998-11-01

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