Philosophical Traditions in Paul's Word

Religious and philosophical traditions in Paul’s word

There can be found various religious and philosophical thoughts in the words of Paul. The Greek terms mysterion and mystes mean secret ritual and initiant (Mills and Wilson, 2002, p. xxxi). Most importantly, these can not be neglected and demand further investigation and study to look for true meaning. Mystery religion, (Mystery cults, then are essentially voluntary associations of people who have experience a secret ritual initiation thought to guarantee prosperity in this life and happiness in the life to come. The Eleusinian mysteries, centering in the worship of Demeter and Persephone, is the oldest known Greek mystery religion (Mills and Wilson, 2002, p. xxxi), imperial cult (the imperial cult, on the whole as a strong in such eastern provinces as Asia, became a way for provincial appearance of loyalty and patriotism), cynicism, stoicism and Gnosticism are great subjects of Pauline letters. The traditional state cults of the Greek and Roman cities carries on to burgeon but were weakened by the suppression of the polis (city-state), first to leagues and then to empires. Since the primary task of state religious groups had been to guarantee national affluence by upholding peace with the gods, the subjugation of cities to larger political units meant that the quest for prosperity had to be pursued at a higher level, such as the ruler cults. “The growing concern of individuals for their own welfare and salvation encourages the proliferation of mystery religions” (Mills and Wilson, 2002, p. xxxi). Some are colored in his words, whereas some are refuted through other words. Now it will be better to see the whole religious and philosophical traditions in Paul’s word which are given below:-

Mystery religion and Paul’s word

A regular criticism of Christianity found on the theologian experts is that it’s foundation or teachings were from Greek philosophy and religious inspirations. It is not unusual for people to hear from others that the today’s Christianity is nothing more than an odd combination of Hebrew notions adopted from Greek mystery religion and ideas of Greek philosophical thoughts. However, this criticism is not new. In fact, its heyday was during the time of religion movement from 1800 to 1940.

Many theologians as well as other historians pointed the finger at Paul of inserting Greek ideas to the Hebrew upbringing and thus creating a new religion which was neither Jesus nor his early disciples would recognize. This can be recognized through the words of Paul in Bible, “Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (The holy Bible, 1:3-4). The Christian doctrine was greatly colored by the influence of the mystery religion. From the history it is confirmed that the ideas of son of god, virgin mother, crucifixion and resurrection which are the core beliefs of Christianity, were already practiced among the Greeks.

Imperial cult in Paul's word

“Imperial cult" refers to the identification of Roman Emperors as well as some members of their families as the divinely sanctioned authority of the Roman state. This framework was first formulated during the early Roman period of Augustus. Later it was quickly set up throughout the whole emperor. The link between imperial cult and Christianity has been always a topic for particular instrument of pagan immorality and harassment. It became a focal point of theological and historian dispute during the dominance of Christianity under Constantine I. roman emperor adopted Christianity as state religion and thus traditional idea of “imperial cult” was officially abandoned. Many of the roman rites, customs, and practices were perpetuated in the religion of Christianity in new way. On this account, many theologians accused Paul for adding concepts such as salvation by grace, savior, original sin, sacrificing life to forgive sin.

Cynicism in Paul’s word

The cynics are known as an influential group of Greek philosophers who provides the idea of living with nature. “Of course, the Cynics themselves frequently talk of nature, but the context is the old Sophistic antithesis between nature and (Anton and Preus, 1971, p. 471). According to cynic philosophy, the purpose of life is to live a life free from all controls and in agreement of nature and reject all conventional desires for power, health, fame. Many philosophers have noted the similarities between the words of Paul and those of the cynics. The philosophical words of cynicism can be found in many words of Paul.

Stoicism in Paul’s word

Literally stoicism means experiencing pain or trouble without showing emotions. Stoicism developed in the Hellenistic era, the period after the triumphs of Alexander the the Great, and became the philosophical inclination of many Greeks and non-Greeks. “During the Hellenistic period a common culture arose around the Mediterranean, and Stoicism appealed to people of every nationality and status” (Von Dehsen and Harris, 1999, p. 201). Interestingly, Christian theologians were positively amenable to some of the fundamentals elements of Stoicism. There exists an inauthentic communication between St Paul and Seneca incorporated in the Apocrypha. Paul said in I Corinthians, a book of Bible, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.  But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn”. (1 Corinthians 7:8-9, KJV Bible). So, it can be seen that Paul’s words can be considered as similar to the stoicism philosophy.

Gnosticism in Paul’s word

Gnosticism refers to the diverse religious movement consisting of various belief systems united in the teaching that human souls are trapped in material world created by imperfect God. According to Dr. Gwatkin (2009), “"Gnosticism may be provisionally described as a number of schools of philosophy, oriental in general character, but taking in the idea of a redemption through Christ, and further modified in different sects by a third element, which may be Judaism, Hellenism, or Christianity .... the Gnostics took over only the idea of a redemption through Christ, not the full Christian doctrine, for they made it rather a redemption of the philosophers from matter, than a redemption of mankind from sin" (p. 20). However, in the bible, epistles to Timothy [1 Timothy 1:3-5] written by Paul, contains refutations to false doctrine and teachings of Gnosticism. Additionally, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians [2 Co 11:4] also contain a lot to say about the false teachers and their gnosis. Even he warned Timothy against “the gnosis” in 1 Timothy 6:20 by these words, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called”. So, it is obvious clear that the idea of Gnosticism has been refuted through the words of Paul in the Bible.

Structure of the Pauline letter and the purpose of each of its part

The structure of Pauline letters as well as purpose of each part is very important to know and understand to the Christians. It has always been a theological and historical issue to investigate the real meaning of these letters and their structural combination.

Structure of Pauline letters

All the Pauline letters, symmetrical parallelism structures are used to organize and are many times repeated to put in order the subdivisions. These structures, however, are not used as it was in the past. Many of them are difficult to understand and unnoticed in most of the English translations of Bible. Most importantly, all these structures and their “rules of apply” can be seen and demonstrated through Greek language.

The basic structure of Pauline letters can be outlined in three distinct sections: (1) Letter beginning, (2) Letter Body and (3) Letter conclusion

Letter Beginning consists of a. Sender, b. Receiver, c. Formulaic Greeting and d. Thanksgiving. Letter body includes a. initial Exhortation, b. Thesis Statement, c. Theological discussions and d. Ethical Admonitions. The last section ‘Letter conclusion” is consisting of a. Practical matters, b. individual greeting, c. Personal Postscript and d. Doxology or prayer.

The purpose of Pauline letters

In addition to discussion about structure, it is equally important to mention the characteristics and purposes of Pauline letters and these are:-

In all those Pauline letters, he is not the only author. One or more co-authors are mentioned.

Pauline letters are not for all the Christians but for only a small group of them.

The “formulaic greeting” combines variation of using Greek greeting and Jewish greeting.

All the Pauline letters contain the three main sections, but not all of those structure subsections exactly as mentioned above. At the opening of Galatians and end of 1 Thessalonians, sometimes the subsection is excluded. In addition, order of subsections is changed at the ending of many letters. Furthermore, some letters have more than one section of the similar type. The subsection thanksgiving is mentioned twice in the 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

The philosophical aspect of Pauline letters is also important to include here. The Pauline letters are written as an intention to substitute the personal presence of author. The whole letters are designed to uphold a link over the distance and also present a moment of ongoing conversation.

All the letters written by Paul has been a great issue to give different and controversial views by the theologians. According to Christian beliefs, these letters provide their basic understanding of law and its implementation. Many scholars argued that all the Pauline letters has changed the right course of Christianity which was unknown to the early disciples of Jesus.

Church and response of Pauline letters

Before discussion of this, it should be reminded that in Paul’s word there is nothing about “Christian Church” and he did not use the word “Christian”. At the beginning of his ministry he faced man obstacles by the church for his approval as an apostle. Consequently, those problems were solved according to Christian scholars. If look back to the early history of his ministry, it would not be difficult to understand the responses of church to the Pauline letters. In the New Testament, there are thirteen letters of Paul. All these letters inform his beliefs, ministry and activity of his days. The Pauline letters focus on his issues within the life of church. His letters were written over a length of less than twenty years.

Interestingly, Paul never used the word “Church” in the sense “Church” is understood today. He rather uses it in the term of “Gathering of God” which is quite different from other meanings. As for example, when He said, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (Sadler, 1897, p. 200). He described church as “gifted body” as well as “built-up body”. Many church members have emphasized his apocalyptic world view which is still a controversial issue among the theologians.

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