Philosophy [N] [S]

The Old Testament. Biblical philosophy is not an abstract monologue but a dialogue with God. The Bible never attempts to prove the existence of God, bur starts from the premise that God exists (i.e., Gen 1:1 ); philosophy, in contrast, takes up questions concerning the nature of the universe and existence that do not necessarily presume the verity of God. Therefore, philosophy can be an effective tool if properly used as a means of understanding pretheological questions, but not as a method of supplanting the revelation already made available by faith through God's Scriptures. The limitations of human reason, especially in light of the moral degeneracy in humans, requires God's help in resolving philosophical questions.

The sacrificial structure of the Hebrew Scriptures reveals a simple, nonesoteric approach to the questions concerning solidarity with God and oneself. Faith was a prerequisite for abiding in the covenant. There is rarely a philosophical concern, although in the psalms occasionally deeper questions concerning the afterlife are considered in the light of theodicy.

The New Testament. It is not surprising that Paul, "the apostle to the Gentiles, " is more philosophical and deals with the problem of onerous philosophy more than any other writer in the New Testament because of the pragmatic issues of polytheism and atheism he confronted. The only time the world "philosophy" is used in the Bible is in Colossians 2:8. The problem addressed by Paul is probably an incipient form of gnosticism. One fascinating aspect of this passage is the idea that one can be taken "captive" through philosophy. Paul is not anti-intellectual, as is evidenced by the fact that he quotes Greek poets in Acts 17:28; also, in Acts 17 he directs his teachings toward Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, which shows that he was knowledgeable of their philosophy. He even agreed with it where he could. But, when the apocalyptic element is understood, it becomes clearer the philosophical deficiency that Paul was pointing out. The recipients of the second-person plural pronoun in Colossians 2:8 are Gentiles (e.f., 1:27 ). The philosophy is more clearly spelled out in 2:16: "Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths" (NRSV). Food laws and calendar observance were not required for the Gentiles' newfound faith. The observance of these nationalistic requirements was synonymous with being under the influence of "elemental spirits of the universe, " that is, the evil spirits that swarmed the cosmos. To be under this demonic influence was not necessary because Christ "disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it" ( Col 2:15 ).

Another aspect of the philosophy was esoteric speculation. Two examples are given: "worship of angels" and "dwelling on visions." Hebrews 1 also addresses the problem of the worship of angels (Christ was erroneously thought to be an angel). In Colossians, Paul contrasts arrogant, earthly, speculative philosophy with humble, transcendental, and righteous philosophy derived from God.

The problem of exploitative philosophy in Colossians 2:8 is not simply an aversion toward a theory of analysis underlying deportment, thought, knowledge, and the constitution of the universe. Rather, it is unwarranted speculation that encroaches on the freedom of another. The regulations "do not handle, do not taste, do not touch" (v. 21) reveal that a personal, introspective analysis concerning one's desire for meaning is not in view, but a philosophy that requires a change in behavior in another. It is the type of conjecture that places cultural, not moral demands on one and begins with the supposition of ethnic and religious superiority. This predicament was precisely the quandary of gnosticism. The elitism that proliferated gnosticism was largely based on the philosophical premise that gnostics were superior and held a secret knowledge.

The term "philosopher" (literally "lover of wisdom") appears in Acts 17:18. It is clear that the first time Christianity was taught in Athens, an intellectual hub of the ancient world, the message of monotheism was equated with obtuseness. Ironically, much of their philosophy was derived from superstition.

Epicurean philosophy originated from its founder Epicurus, who died in 270 b.c. Epicureans did not believe in an afterlife; therefore, one should neither fear death nor believe in supernatural beings. There was no jurisdiction over the state of affairs of humans. That which brought the most felicity now was the highest aim in life. Unlike the Stoics, the Epicureans rejected fate because there were no governing principles or beings that controlled one's destiny. The body was an indispensable part of human nature. Eventually, against the concept envisaged by Epicurus, this philosophy became associated with hedonistic practices because there was no infinite reference point to dictate morality.

Stoic philosophy was founded by Zeno around 300 b.c. In contrast to Epicurean philosophy, individuals achieve well-being and peace through their consonance with nature (which was in a constant state of change) by having the qualities of bravery, justice, self-control, and a competent intellect. All people have the divine spark of godhood (i.e., the logos) within them. Stoicism was monistic or even pantheistic because of the belief that divinity was so immanent that nature itself was part of the divine spark.

Therefore, providence governed the affairs of humans. The form of Stoic philosophy found in the New Testament was amalgamated with Roman polytheism. Paul was "deeply distressed" because the city was "full of idols." Undoubtedly, some of these idols were worshiped by the Stoics (not the Epicurean atheists).

Paul's sermon is directed toward Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. Addressing Stoic fatalism, he points out that God created the world and does not dwell in idols ( 17:24 ). Unlike Stoic pantheism, God "gives to all mortals life and breath and all things" (v. 25). God is not so immanent that he is the creation itself.

Unlike the Epicureans, Paul announces that God requires repentance by all (v. 30) "because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness" (v. 31). The resurrection of Christ is the "assurance" that all will raise from the dead and stand before God (v. 31). The resurrection of Christ, with the subsequent philosophical and logical argument that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 15, stands in sharp contrast to hedonistic Epicureanism. Like Colossians 2, Acts 17 demonstrates how philosophy, erroneously applied, can lead to "captivity" (e.g., Epicurean hedonism) and the control of "elemental spirits of the universe" (e.g., Stoic idolatry).

Even though Paul's philosophy in Acts 17 is logical, it is not acrimonious. Paul practices the principle he sets forth in 1 Corinthians 9:22: "I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some." The fact that Paul quotes some of their poets (17:28) corroborates the notion that he was not anti-intellectual; instead, he gives a reasonable, philosophical deposition when challenging the intellectuals of Athens.

Another example of Paul's cultural sensitivity can be found in Acts 19:9. Paul argued in the Hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus for two years. Tyrannus was probably a school named after a Greek philosopher. The Jewish apostle to the Gentiles was undoubtedly skilled in Greek rhetoric and philosophy.

In Romans 1:18-23 Paul's philosophical logic is essential a "teleological" argument, that is, a testimony of the existence of God based on the order and purpose of the universe. Paul uses philosophical reasoning to discredit pagan superstition.

Eric W. Adams

Bibliography. J. Guttmann, Philosophies of Judaism: The History of Jewish Philosophy from Biblical Times to Franz Rosenzweig; J. Hick, ed., Classical and Contemporary Readings in the Philosophy of Religion; C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain; G. Vesey, ed., The Philosophy in Christianity; H. A. Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Church Fathers.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Philosophy'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.

Philosophy. [N] [B]

It is the object of the following article to give some account (I.) of that development of thought among the Jews which answered to the philosophy of the West; (II.) of the systematic progress of Greek philosophy as forming a complete whole; and (III.) of the contact of Christianity with philosophy. I. THE PHILOSOPHIC DISCIPLINE OF THE JEWS. --Philosophy, if we limit the word strictly to describe the free pursuit of knowledge of which truth is the one complete end is essentially of western growth. In the East the search after wisdom has always been connected with practice. The history of the Jews offers no exception to this remark: there is no Jewish philosophy, properly so called. The method of Greece was to proceed from life to God; the method of Israel (so to speak) was to proceed from God to life. The axioms of one system are the conclusions of the other. The one led to the successive abandonment of the noblest domains of science which man had claimed originally as his own, till it left bare systems of morality; the other, in the fullness of time, prepared many to welcome the Christ --the Truth. The philosophy of the Jews, using the word in a large sense, is to be sought for rather in the progress of the national life than in special books. Step by step the idea of the family was raised into that of the people; and the kingdom furnished the basis of those wider promises which included all nations in one kingdom of heaven. The social, the political, the cosmical relations of man were traced out gradually in relation to God. The philosophy of the Jews is thus essentially a moral philosophy, resting on a definite connection with God. The doctrines of Creation and Providence, of an infinite divine person and of a responsible human will, which elsewhere form the ultimate limits of speculation, are here assumed at the outset. The Psalms, which, among the other infinite lessons which they convey, give a deep insight into the need of a personal apprehension of truth, everywhere declare the absolute sovereignty of God over the material and the moral world. One man among all is distinguished among the Jews as "the wise man". The description which is given of his writings serves as a commentary on the national view of philosophy ( 1 Kings 4:30-33 ) The lesson of practical duty, the full utterance of "a large heart," ibid. 29, the careful study of Gods creatures, --this is the sum of wisdom. Yet in fact the very practical aim of this philosophy leads to the revelation of the most sublime truth. Wisdom was gradually felt to be a person, throned by God and holding converse with men. ( Proverbs 8:1 ) ... She was seen to stand in open enmity with "the strange woman"), who sought to draw them aside by sensuous attractions; and thus a new step was made toward the central doctrine of Christianity: --the incarnation of the Word. Two books of the Bible, Job and Ecclesiastes, of which the latter at any rate belongs to the period of the close of the kingdom, approach more nearly than any others to the type of philosophical discussions. But in both the problem is moral and not metaphysical. The one deals with the evils which afflict "the perfect and upright;" the other with the vanity of all the pursuits and pleasures of earth. The captivity necessarily exercised a profound influence. The teaching of Persia Jewish thought. The teaching of Persia seems to have been designed to supply important elements in the education of the chosen people. But it did yet more than this. The contact of the Jews with Persia thus gave rise to a traditional mysticism. Their contact with Greece was marked by the rise of distinct sects. In the third century B.C. the great Doctor Antigonus of Socho bears a Greek name, and popular belief pointed to him as the teacher of Sadoc and Boethus the supposed founders of Jewish rationalism. At any rate we may date from this time the twofold division of Jewish speculation, The Sadducees appear as the supporters of human freedom in its widest scope; the Pharisees of a religious Stoicism. At a later time the cycle of doctrine was completed, when by a natural reaction the Essenes established as mystic Asceticism. II. THE DEVELOPMENT OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY. --The various attempts which have been made to derive western philosophy from eastern sources have signally failed. It is true that in some degree the character of Greek speculation may have been influenced, at least in its earliest-stages, by religious ideas which were originally introduced from the East; but this indirect influence does hot affect the real originality of the Greek teachers. The very value of Greek teaching lies in the fact that it was, as far as is possible, a result of simple reason, or, if faith asserts ifs prerogative, the distinction is sharply marked. Of the various classifications of the Greek schools which have been proposed, the simplest and truest seems to be that which divides the history of philosophy into three great periods, the first reaching to the era of the Sophists, the next to the death of Aristotle, the third to the Christian era. In the first period the world objectively is the great centre of inquiry; in the second, the "ideas" of things, truth, and being; in the third, the chief interest of philosophy falls back upon the practical conduct of life. After the Christian era philosophy ceased to have any true vitality in Greece, but it made fresh efforts to meet the conditions of life at Alexandria and Rome.

  1. The pre-Socratic schools . --The first Greek philosophy was little more than an attempt to follow out in thought the mythic cosmogonies of earlier poets. What is the one permanent element which underlies the changing forms of things? --this was the primary inquiry, to which the Ionic school endeavored to find an answer. Thales (cir. B.C. 639-543) pointed to moisture (water) as the one source and supporter of life. Anaximenes (cir. B.C. 520-480) substituted air for wafer. At a much later date (cir. B.C. 460) Diogenes of Apollonia represented this elementary "air" as endowed with intelligence.
  2. The Socratic schools . --In the second period of Greek philosophy the scene and subject were both changed. A philosophy of ideas, using the term in its widest sense, succeeded a philosophy of nature, in three generations Greek speculation reached its greatest glory in the teaching of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. The famous sentence in which Aristotle characterizes the teachings of Socrates (B.C.465-399) places his scientific position in the clearest light. There are two things, he says, which we may rightly attribute to Socrates --inductive reasoning and general definition. By the first he endeavored to discover the permanent element which underlies the changing forms of appearances and the varieties of opinion; by the second he fixed the truth which he had thus gained. But, besides this, Socrates rendered another service to truth. Ethics occupied in his investigations the primary place which had hitherto been held by Physics. The great aim of his induction was to establish the sovereignty of Virtue. He affirmed the existence of a universal law of right and wrong. He connected philosophy with action, both in detail and in general. On the one side he upheld the supremacy of Conscience, on the other the working of Providence.
  3. The post-Socratic schools . --after Aristotle, philosophy took a new direction. Speculation became mainly personal. Epicurus (B.C. 352-270) defined the object of philosophy to be the attainment of a happy life. The pursuit of truth for its own sake he recognized as superfluous. He rejected dialectics as a useless study, and accepted the senses, in the widest acceptation of the term, as the criterion of truth. But he differed widely from the Cyrenaics in his view of happiness. The happiness at which the wise man aims is to be found, he said, not in momentary gratification, but in life-long pleasure. All things were supposed to come into being by chance, and so pass away. The individual was left master of own life. While Epicurus asserted in this manner the claims of one part of mans nature in the conduct of life, Zeno of Citium (cir. B.C. 280), with equal partiality advocated a purely spiritual (intellectual) morality. Opposition between the two was complete. The infinite, chance-formed worlds of the one stand over against the one harmonious world of the other. On the one aide are gods regardless of material things, on the other a Being permeating and vivifying all creation. This difference necessarily found its chief expression in Ethics. III. CHRISTIANITY IN CONTACT WITH ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY. --The only direct trace of the contact of Christianity with western philosophy in the New Testament is in the account of St. Pauls visit to Athens, ( Acts 17:18 ) and there is nothing in the apostolic writings to show that it exercised any important influence upon the early Church. Comp. ( 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 ) But it was otherwise with eastern speculation, which penetrated more deeply through the mass of the people. The "philosophy" against which the Colossians were warned, ( Colossians 2:8 ) seems undoubtedly to have been of eastern origin, containing elements similar to those which were afterward embodied in various shapes of Gnosticism, as a selfish asceticism, and a superstitions reverence for angels, ( Colossians 2:16-23 ) and in the Epistles to Timothy, addressed to Ephesians, in which city St. Paul anticipated the rise of false teaching, ( Acts 20:30 ) two distinct forms of error may be traced in addition to Judaism, due more or less to the same influence. The writings of the sub-apostolic age, with the exception of the famous anecdote of Justin Martyr (Dial. 2--1), throw little light upon the relations of Christianity and philosophy. Christian philosophy may be in one sense a contradiction in terms, for Christianity confessedly derives its first principles from revelation, and not from simple reason; but there is no less a true philosophy of Christianity, which aims to show how completely these meet the instincts and aspirations of all ages. The exposition of such a philosophy would be the work of a modern Origen.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Philosophy'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary". . 1901.


fi-los'-o-fi (philosophia):

1. Definition and Scope

(1) Intuitive Philosophy Is Universal

(2) Speculative Philosophy Belongs Mainly to Western Thought

2. Greek Philosophy

3. Philosophy in Old Testament and Judaism

(1) Of Nature

(2) Of History

(3) Post-exilic

(4) Alexandrian

4. Philosophy in the New Testament

(1) The Teaching of Jesus Christ

(2) Apostolic Teaching

(3) Attitude of New Testament Writers toward Philosophy


1. Definition and Scope:

Only found in Colossians 2:8; literally, the love and pursuit of wisdom and knowledge. In its technical sense, the term is now used for the conscious endeavor of thought, by speculative process, to interpret the whole of human experience, as a consistent and systematic unity, which would be the ultimate truth of all that may be known. The term is also used, in a wider sense, of all interpretations of experience, or parts of experience, however obtained, whether by revelation, intuition or unconscious speculation. No hard-and-fast line can be drawn between the two kinds of philosophy. Some of the ruling conceptions of speculation, such as God, spirit, order, causation, true and false, good and evil, were not discovered by reason, but given in experience.

(1) Intuitive Philosophy Is Universal.

The human mind has always and everywhere furnished itself with some kind of explanation of the universe. From the lowest animism and fetishism up to the higher religions, ideas are found which served men as explanations of those features of experience which attracted their attention. They were often regarded as given by vision, intuition or some other method of revelation. In the higher religions, the mind reflected upon these ideas, and elaborated them into systems of thought that bear some resemblance to the speculative theories of western thought. In China, both Confucianism and Taoism developed theories of human life and destiny that bear some resemblance to Stoicism. The religions of Assyria and Babylonia enshrined in their legends theories of the world and of man and his institutions. In India, men's belief in the Nature-gods gradually developed into pantheistic Brahmanism, which reduced the multiplicity of experience into one ultimate being, Brahma. But the desire for moral salvation and the sense of pain and evil produced a reaction, and led to the pessimistic and nihilistic philosophy of Buddhism. In Persia, the moral consciousness awoke earlier, and the attempt to systematize the multiplicity of polytheism issued in the dualistic philosophy of later Zoroastrianism. The whole realm of being was divided into two kingdoms, created and ruled by two lords:

Ahura Mazda, the creator of light and life, law, order and goodness, and Anro Mainyus, the author of darkness, evil and death. Each was surrounded by a court of spiritual beings kindred to himself, his messengers and agents in the world (see PERSIAN RELIGION (ANCIENT)). Of all these religious philosophies, only those of Assyria and Babylonia, and of Persia, are likely to have come into any contact with Biblical thought. The former have some affinity with the accounts of creation and the flood in Genesis; and the influence of the latter may be traced in the dualism and angelology and demonology of later Judaism, and again in the Gnostic systems that grew up in the Christian church, and through both channels it was perpetuated, as a dualistic influence, in the lower strata of Christian thought down through the Middle Ages.

(2) Speculative Philosophy Belongs Mainly to Western Thought.

It arose in Greece about the beginning of the 6th century BC. It began with the problem of the general nature of being, or ontology. But it was soon forced to consider the conditions of knowing anything at all, or to epistemology. These two studies constitute metaphysics, a term often used as synonymous with philosophy in the stricter sense. Speculation about ideal truth again led to inquiries as to the ultimate nature of the kindred ideas of the good (ethics) and the beautiful (aesthetics). And as these ideas were related to society as well as to the individual, the Greeks developed theories of the ideal organization of society on the basis of the true, the good and the beautiful, or politics and pedagogics. The only branch of speculation to which the Greeks made no appreciable contribution was the philosophy of religion, which is a modern development.

The progress of philosophy in history divides itself naturally into three main periods:

(a) ancient, from the 6th century BC to the 3rd century AD, when it is almost exclusively Greek, with some practical adaptations of Greek thought by Roman writers; (b) medieval, from the 3rd to the 16th century, where some of the ruling conceptions of Greek thought were utilized for the systematization of Christian dogma, but speculation was mainly confined within the limits of ecclesiastical orthodoxy; there were, however, some independent Arabian and Jewish speculations; (c) modern, from the 16th century to the present time, in which thought becomes free again to speculate upon all the problems presented by experience, though it only realized its liberty fully in the hands of Locke, Hume and Kant.

2. Greek Philosophy:

Greek philosophy was the only speculative system that could have had any influence upon Biblical thought. Its main development was contemporaneous with the later Old Testament writers, but the two peoples were in every way so remote one another that no interchange of ideas was probable.

During the last two centuries BC, Greek thought spread so widely that it came to dominate the cultured thought of the world into which Christianity entered, and it would have been strange if no trace of its influence were found in the New Testament. In the first stage of its development, from Thales to Socrates, it was concerned almost entirely with attempts to explain the nature of reality by reducing the phenomenal world into some one of its elements. Socrates changed its center of gravity, and definitely raised the problems of morality and knowledge to the position of first importance. His principles were developed by Plato into a complex and many-sided system which, more than any other, has influenced all subsequent thought. He united ultimate reality and the highest good into one supreme principle or idea which he called the Good, and also God. It was the essence, archetype and origin of all wisdom, goodness and beauty. It communicated itself as intermediary archerypal ideas to produce all individual things. So that the formative principles of all existence were moral and spiritual. But it had to make all things out of preexisting matter, which is essentially evil, and which therefore was refractory and hostile to the Good. That is why it did not make a perfect world. Plato's system was therefore rent by an irreconcilable dualism of mind and body, spirit and matter, good and evil. And his mediating ideas could not bridge the gulf, because they belonged only to the side of the ideal. Aristotle was Plato's disciple, and he started from Plato's idealistic presuppositions, but endeavored to transcend his dualism. He thus applied himself to a closer and more accurate study of actual experience, and added much to the knowledge of the physical world. He organized and classified the methods and contents of knowledge and created the science of logic, which in the Christian Middle Ages became the chief instrument of the great systematic theologians of the church. He tried to bring Plato's ideas "down from heaven," and to represent them as the creative and formative principles within the world, which he conceived as a system of development, rising by spiritual gradations from the lower to the higher forms, and culminating in God, who is the uncaused cause of all things. But underneath all the forms still remained matter as an antithetical element, and Aristotle rather concealed than solved the dualism of Plato.

Meanwhile, the moral principles of Socrates were being developed with a more directly ethical interest, by the Cyrenaics and Epicureans, into a system of Hedonism, and, by the Cynics and Stoics, into a doctrine of intuitive right and duty, resting inconsistently upon a pantheistic and materialistic view of the universe. But the spiritual and ethical elements in Stoicism became only second to Platonism in the preparation of the Greek world for Christianity. During the last two and a half centuries BC, Greek philosophy showed signs of rapid decline. On the one hand, Pyrrho and his school propounded a thoroughgoing skepticism which denied the possibility of all knowledge whatsoever. On the other hand, the older schools, no longer served by creative minds, tended to merge their ideas into a common eclecticism which its teachers reduced into an empty and formal dogmatism. The most fruitful and fateful product of Greek thought in this period was its amalgamation with Jewish and oriental ideas in the great cosmopolitan centers of the Greek world. There are evidences that this process was going on in the cities of Asia, Syria and Egypt, but the only extensive account of it remaining is found in the works of Philo, the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria (see PHILO, JUDAEUS). He tried to graft Plato's idealism upon Hebrew monotheism.

He starts with Plato's two principles, pure being or God, and preexisting matter. In his endeavor to bridge the gulf between them, he interposed between God and the world the powers of God, goodness and justice; and to gather these into a final unity, he created his conception of the Loges of God. In the formation of this conception, he merged together the Platonic idea of the good, the Stoic world-reason, and a number of Jewish ideas, the glory, the word, the name, of God, the heavenly man and the great high priest, and personified the whole as the one mediator between God and the world. Christian thought laid hold of this idea, and employed it as its master-category for the interpretation of the person of Christ.


3. Philosophy in Old Testament and Judaism:

There is no speculative philosophy in the Old Testament nor any certain trace of its influence. Its writers and actors never set themselves to pursue knowledge in the abstract and for its own sake. They always wrought for moral purposes. But moral activity proceeds on the intellectual presuppositions and interpretations of the experiences within which it acts. Hence, we find in the Old Testament accounts of the origin and course of nature, a philosophy of history and its institutions, and interpretations of men's moral and religious experiences. They all center in God, issue from His sovereign will, and express the realization of His purpose of righteousness in the world.

See GOD.

(1) Of Nature:

All nature originated in God's creative act (Genesis 2) or word (Genesis 1). In later literature the whole course and order of Nature, its beauty and bounty, as well as its wonders and terrors, are represented as the acts of God's will (Isa 40; 41; 42; 43; 44; 45; Ps 8:19; 29; 50; 65; 68; 104, etc.). But His action in Nature is always subordinated to His moral ends.

(2) Of History:

Similarly, the course and events of the history of Israel and her neighbors are the acts of Yahweh's will (Amos 1; 2; Isaiah 41:2; 43:3; 45:9,10,14) In the historical books of Samuel and Kings, and still more of Chronicles, all the events of history are represented as the acts of God's moral government. In a more general way, the whole of history is set forth as a series of covenants that God, of His free grace, made with man (see COVENANT). The Noachic covenant fixed the order of Nature. The covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob accounted for the origin and choice of Israel. The covenants with Moses and Aaron established the Law and the priesthood, and that with David, the kingship. And the hope of the future lies in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-35). God's covenants were all acts of His sovereign and gracious will.

(3) Post-exilic:

In post-exilic times, new experiences, and perhaps new intellectual influences, drove the Jews to probe deeper into the problem of existence. They adhered to the cardinal principle of He thought, that God's sovereign will, working out His purpose of righteousness, was the first cause of all things (see RIGHTEOUSNESS). But they found it difficult to coordinate this belief with their other ideas, in two ways. Ethical monotheism tended to become an abstract deism which removed God altogether out of the world. And the catastrophes that befell the nation, in the exile and after, raised the problem of suffering and evil over against God's goodness and righteousness. Therefore in the Wisdom literature we find some conscious speculation on these subjects.


(a) The Book of Job discusses the problem of evil, and repudiates the idea that life and history are the process of God's rewards and punishments.

(b) Ecclesiastes comes to the conclusion that all phenomenal experience is vanity. Yet its ultimate philosophy is not pessimistic, for it finds an abiding reality and hope in the fear of God and in the moral life (12:13,14). The same type of thought appears in Ecclesiasticus. Both books have been attributed to the circle of the Sadducees. Some would find in them traces of the influence of Epicureanism.

(c) In Proverbs a more optimistic side prevails. Wisdom is gathered up into a conception or personification which is at once God's friend, His agent in creation, His vicegerent in the world, and man's instructress and guide (chapter 8).

(d) The teaching of the Pharisees especially reveals the tendency to dualism or deism in later Judaism; they interposed between God and the world various agents of mediation, the law, the word, the name, the glory of God and a host of angels, good and bad. They also fostered a new hope of the future, under the double form of the Messianic kingdom, and of resurrection and immortality. How far these tendencies were due to the influence of Persian dualism cannot here be considered.

(e) Essenism represents another effort to get from the world to God by a crude kind of mysticism and asceticism, combined with an extensive angelology.

(4) Alexandrian:

Among the Hellenistic Jews in Alexandria, Aristobulus, the authors of The Wisdom of Solomon and 4 Maccabees, and preeminently Philo, all deal with the two chief problems of Judaism, dualism and evil. But they approach them under the direct influence of Greek thought. The Hebrew idea of wisdom was merged into the Greek conception of the Logos, and so it becomes the mediator of God's thought and activity in the world.

4. Philosophy in the New Testament:

Philosophy appears in the New Testament as intuitive, speculative and eclectic.

(1) The Teaching of Jesus Christ:

Jesus Christ came to fulfill the law and the prophets, and, out of His filial consciousness of God, He propounded answers to the practical demands of His time. His doctrine of God the Father was a philosophy of Nature and life which transcended all dualism. In the kingdom of heaven, the good would ultimately prevail over the evil. The law of love expressed the ideal of conduct for man as individual, and in his relation to society and to God, the supreme and ultimate reality. This teaching was given in the form of revelation, without any trace of speculation.

(2) Apostolic Teaching:

The apostolic writings built upon the teaching and person of Jesus Christ. Their ruling ideas are the doctrines which He taught and embodied. In Paul and John, they are realized as mystical experiences which are expressed in doctrines of universal love. But we may also discover in the apostolic writings at least three strands of speculative philosophy.

(a) Paul employed arguments from natural theology, similar to those of the Stoics (Acts 14:15-17; 17:22-31; Romans 1:19), which involved the principles of the cosmological and teleological arguments.

(b) John employs the Philonic term "Logos" to interpret the person of Christ in His universal relation to God, man and the world; and the main elements of Philo's scheme are clearly present in his doctrine, though here it is no abstract conception standing between God and man, but a living person uniting both (John 1:1-18). Although the term "Logos" is not mentioned, in this sense, in Paul or Hebrews, the Philonic conception has been employed by both writers (Romans 5:8; 8:29; 1 Corinthians 15:24,25; 2 Corinthians 5:18,19; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 1:15-17; 2:9,10; Hebrews 1:1-3,5,6). Paul also expresses his conception of Christ as the manifestation of God under the category of wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:20; 2:7; Ephesians 1:8; Colossians 2:3).

(c) Both in Paul and He appear original speculations designed to interpret individual experience and human history as they culminate in Christ. Paul's interpretation consists of a series of parallel antitheses, flesh and spirit, sin and righteousness, law and grace, works and faith, Adam and Christ. But the author of He adopts the Platonic view that the world of history and phenomena is but the shadow or suggestion of the spiritual and eternal reality which lies behind it, and which partially expresses itself through it.

(3) Attitude of New Testament Writers toward Philosophy:

In the one place in which the term philosophy appears in the New Testament (Colossians 2:8), it seems to mean "subtle dialectics and profitless speculation .... combined with a mystic cosmogony and angelology" (Lightfoot, at the place), the first beginnings of Gnosticism in the Christian church. Paul warns his readers against it, as he also does the Corinthians against the "wisdom" of the Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:19; 2:5,6). A similar tendency may be in view in the warning to Timothy against false doctrines (1 Timothy 1:4; 4:3; 2 Timothy 1:14,16). But with the true spirit of philosophy, as the pursuit of truth, and the endeavor to express more fully and clearly the nature of reality, the spirit and work of the New Testament writers were in complete accord.


Introductions to philosophy by Kulpe, Paulsen, Hoffding, Watson and Mackenzie. Histories of Greek philosophy by Ritter and Preller, Burnet, and Zeller, and of general philosophy by Erdmann, Ueberweg, Windelband and Rogers; E. Caird, The Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophies; Hists of the Jews by Schurer, Graetz and Kent; Old Testament Theologies by Schultz and Davidson; New Testament Theologies by Beyschlag and Weinel; Philo's works and treatises thereon by Dahne, Gfrorer and Drummond; Harnack, What Is Christianity? Bigg, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria; Lightfoot, Colossians.

T. Rees

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'PHILOSOPHY'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.