Paul the Hellenist
Life and Epistles of Apostle Paul

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A Hellenist, or a Jew who spoke Greek, who lived in Greek countries, and were influenced by Greek civilization, are associated in the closest manner with the Apostle of the Gentiles (Paul). They are more than once mentioned in Acts, where our English translation names them "Grecians" to distinguish them from the Heathen or proselyte "Greeks." Alexandria was the metropolis of their theology. Philo was their great representative. He was an old man when Apostle Paul was in his maturity. His writings were probably known to the Apostles and they have descended with the inspired Epistles to our own day.

The work of a learned Hellenist, even at the time of Paul, was to accommodate Jewish doctrines to the mind of the Greeks, and to make the Greek language express the mind of the Jews. The Hebrew principles were "disengaged as much as possible from local and national conditions, and presented in a form adapted to the Hellenic world." All this was hateful to the zealous Aramaeans. The men of the East rose up against those of the West. The Greek learning was not more repugnant to the Roman Cato, than it was to the strict Hebrews.

The residents in maritime and commercial towns would not be strangers to the Western developments of religious doctrines. When Apollos came from Alexandria to Ephesus (Acts 18:24) he would find himself in a theological atmosphere not very different from that of his native city. Tarsus in Cilicia, the hometown of the apostle Paul, will naturally be included under the same class of cities of the West, by those who remember Strabo’s assertion that, in literature and philosophy, its fame exceeded that of Athens and Alexandria. At the same time, we cannot be sure that the very celebrity of its Heathen schools might not induce the families of Jewish residents to retire all the more strictly into a religious Hebrew seclusion.

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That such a seclusion of their family from Gentile influences was maintained by the parents of apostle Paul, is highly probable. We have no means of knowing how long they themselves, or their ancestors, had been Jews of the dispersion. A tradition is mentioned by Jerome that they came originally from Giscala, a town in Galilee, when it was stormed by the Romans. The story involves an anachronism, and contradicts the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 22:3). Yet it need not be entirely disregarded, especially when we find apostle Paul speaking of himself as "a Hebrew of the Hebrews," and when we remember that the word "Hebrew" is used for an Aramaic Jew, as opposed to a "Grecian" or "Hellenist." Nor is it unlikely in itself that before they settled in Tarsus, the family had belonged to the Eastern dispersion, or to the Jews of Palestine.

In spite of above, Paul himself must be called an Hellenist, because the language of his infancy was that idiom of the Grecian Jews in which all his letters were written. Though, in conformity with the strong feeling of the Jews of all times, he might learn his earliest sentences from the Scripture in Hebrew, yet he was familiar with the Septuagint translation at an early age.

For it is observed that, when Paul quotes from the Old Testament, his quotations are from the Septuagint; and that, not only when he cites its very words, but when (as is often the case) he quotes it from memory. Considering the accurate knowledge of the original Hebrew which he must have acquired under Gamaliel at Jerusalem, it has been inferred that this can only arise from his having been thoroughly imbued at an earlier period with the Hellenist Scriptures. The readiness, too, with which he expressed himself in Greek, even before such an audience as that upon the Areopagus at Athens, shows a command of the language which a Jew would not, in all probability, have attained, had not Greek been the familiar speech of his childhood.

But still the vernacular Hebrew of Palestine would not have been a foreign tongue to the infant Saul. He may, on the contrary, have heard it spoken almost as often as the Greek. For no doubt his parents, proud of their Jewish origin, and living comparatively near to Palestine, would retain the power of conversing with their friends from thence in the ancient speech. Mercantile connections from the Syrian coast would be frequently arriving, whose discourse would be in Aramaic. In all probability there were kinsfolk still settled in Judea, as we afterwards find the nephew of Apostle Paul in Jerusalem (Acts 23:16).

Moreover, it may be considered as certain that the family of Apostle Paul, though Hellenistic in speech, were no Hellenizers in theology. They were not at all inclined to adopt Greek (Hellenist) habits or opinions. The manner in which Apostle Paul speaks of himself, his father, and his ancestors, implies the most uncontaminated hereditary Judaism. "Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I" (2Corinthians 11:22), "A Pharisee" and "the son of a Pharisee " (Acts 23:6), "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews" (Philippians 3:5).

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