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This now famous line, which Socrates spoke at his trial, has rippled throughout Western Civilization. If I could sum up Socrates’ legacy in one maxim, it would be this quote. It is imperative that we know ourselves and by extension the reason why we are here. It doesn’t matter that Socrates got the idea from the phrase, “know thyself (γνῶθι σεαυτόν), that was inscribed on the temple of Delphi.2 Actually, the maxim, “know thyself,” goes even further back, originating with Heraclitus. The point is that Socrates made this phrase his own because he lived it.
Previously, I discussed how Socrates was convicted of “corrupting the youth” and “impiety.”1 He was accused of impiety because he tried to expand the meaning of piety beyond mere ceremony into intellectual understanding and the development of virtue. What good is honoring the gods if you are ignorant of what you are doing and you are, in fact, a rotten person?
In the previous post, we saw that there were real and contrived reasons for why Socrates was brought to trial. Even though he was implicated in support of the previous tyrannical regime, he probably would have been fine if he had kept his head down and stayed under the radar. But he did just the opposite.
On the appointed day of his death, Socrates, at 70 years old, is in a jail in Athens, Greece. His friends and family are allowed to see him. Socrates calmly discusses matters of the afterlife before drinking the hemlock.
After his 51 A.D. encounter with the Greek philosophers at the Areopagus, the Apostle Paul would probably have answered the above question with, “Not much.” Up until this time, Hebrew faith and Greek philosophy had been developing on parallel paths. It seems as though they had nothing in common. After all, the Greeks were the philosophical people and the Jews were the people of faith. Obviously, this is an oversimplification, but you get the point.
But here was the one chance for the two to come together – faith and reason in tandem. The Apostle Paul would bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures to the Greeks, the primary purveyors of philosophical ideas in the ancient world. With the meeting of the two, faith would have the philosophical language by which to express itself, and reason would have the revelation it needed in order to reason rightly.
Well, it didn’t quite happen that way. Paul preached on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a central tenant of the Christian faith, and received a tepid response at best. According to the account in Acts 17, when Paul mentioned the resurrection, some began to scoff at him while others asked him to return so that they could hear more. He ultimately left with only a smattering of converts. What happened?