Christianity and early Pagan culture

One of the most important debates in the early church was how Christians should relate to the surrounding pagan culture and particularly the legacy of the Greek and middle eastern world such as its poetry, philosophy and classical literature. Should Christians use these ideas to further the teaching of Christ or were they tainted by Pagan associations of idol worship and polytheism (many Gods).

Justin Martyr 103-65 was concerned that Platonism should not be used as a way to communicate the gospels. Justin was born to pagan parents in Roman Judea and converted to Christianity as a young man at the great Asian city of Ephesus, partly in admiration of the courage of Christians who were facing execution for their faith but also out of fascination as to how the old testament prophesies had been fulfilled through Christ. Whilst pondering on Christs words he was convinced that "this is the only sure and useful philosophy"

Justyn had been an itinerant teacher who wore the distinctive cloak of the philosopher. When he reached Rome he lived in a small room above Myrtinus's baths. He left three great written works but was eventually betrayed to the Roman authorities and was executed in AD 165. For Justin Christianity brought the quest for ancient wisdom into focus in both the Jewish law and platonic logos (reason) and both are fulfilled in Christ mainly because God had planted the seed of divine wisdom in the whole world, building on the idea of a "seed bearing word" divinely planted in the human mind. These are shown in Paul's letters to the Romans and in his Athens address in Acts 17 but also presented in the contemporary language of philosophy.

Justin believed that "Whatever had been said well" ultimately draws on divine wisdom and insight that was fully accomplished in the life and teachings of Jesus. Justin commended the study of Greek culture to Christians in order to understand the teachings and give a more more coherent and intelligent use of its ideas than would otherwise have been the case. Tertullian a third century lawyer who converted to Christianity was critical of Justin as he felt the true gospel might get diluted and should not come under secular influences at all.

Summary and references from Christian history- An Introduction by Alister G.McGrath



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