How did the Greeks influence Paul?

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A Hellenist, or a Jew who spoke Greek, who lived in Greek countries, and were influenced by Grecian 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.

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 because, in literature and philosophy, its fame exceeded that of the Greek Athens and Egypt's 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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It is highly probable that a seclusion of their family from Gentile influences was maintained by the parents of apostle Paul. It is also likely that the family itself, before they settled in Tarsus, they had belonged to the Eastern dispersion, or to the Jews of Palestine.


Ruins of the Parthenon in Athens
Ruins of the Parthenon in Athens

In spite of above, Paul himself must be called an Hellenist (a Jew influenced by the Greeks), 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 (Greek) translation at an early age.

For it is observed that, when Paul quotes from the Old Testament, his quotations are from the Septuagint. He quotes not only its very words but also does so from memory. Considering the accurate knowledge of the original Hebrew which he must have acquired under Gamaliel, 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 Paul. He may, on the contrary, have heard it spoken almost as often as the Greek. For no doubt his parents, 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, although 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, see also Acts 23:6, Philippians 3:5).

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