Monday, November 3, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 19)

In the fourth chapter, Paul states that “every creation of God is good” (1 Timothy 4:4a).  With such words, the Apostle reaches back to the opening words of the Scriptural narrative, affirming the words that close out the first chapter of Genesis, which are “God saw all that He had made---and it was very good!” (1:31a)  One may think that such a statement is hardly revolutionary or counter-cultural, but in the Greco-Roman world, it was. 

Now, before ascertaining the counter-cultural character of this particular statement, which can be heard alongside the declaration of the covenant God’s creation being very good, it is necessary to recognize that this is not an assertion made in isolation.  Paul has written “Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will depart from the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, influenced by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.  They will prohibit marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.  For every creation of God is good and no food is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.  For it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer” (4:1-5). 

What Paul has in mind as these things are written, and the issues to which he addresses himself by these words, are not relevant to this study.  Even though the statement about every creation of the covenant God being good does not stand alone and asks to be heard in context, it is also possible to hear Paul operating on multiple levels of communication.  Though he may be directly addressing a known issue within the church community, it is not preposterous to suggest that Timothy, along with those that will hear this letter, will pick up on statements that may be directed to wider cultural forces that could have a deleterious effect on the church of the Christ. 

The Hebrew mindset, which affirmed their God’s good creation, and by and large looked forward to their God’s redemption of His people and His creation---expecting that which defaced His good creation (death) to be defeated and removed and anticipating a resurrection of the righteous dead (especially Israel) into a restored world that will once again be pronounced as very good (a hope that was rightly carried over into Christianity)---stood in opposition to two major, highly influential, and when it comes to the Greco-Roman world, nearly universally adhered to religious/philosophical “schools” of the day, which were “Stoicism” and "Epicureanism.”  Regardless of which god(s) one worshiped in that day, be it the Caesar or any other deity, one’s religious tendencies could be colored by one of the two philosophical bents.  Naturally, those who worshiped Jesus as Lord and God could fall into the same patterns.  Undoubtedly, as shall be seen, this is something against which Paul wanted to be on guard.    

Plato, with his teaching about “forms,” in which (though this is much simplified) all earthly things were merely imperfect forms of that which existed in the heavenly realms, greatly influenced both the stoic and the epicurean approaches to life.  Essentially, the influential Platonic philosophy reduced all of life to the physical, which was bad, and to the spiritual, which was good.  Regardless of one’s particular philosophy, this would largely be the basis for one’s religious approach to life.  With this as a very shallow foundation, it is now possible to proceed to learn about these ideologies. 

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