The Greek Versus the Hebrew View of Man

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The Greek Versus the Hebrew View of Man
George Eldon Ladd

Editorial Note: This is an article for students and theologians. It is an extract from Dr. Ladd's book, The Pattern of New Testament Truth, which is an outstanding introduction to the New Testament. Dr. Ladd is Professor of New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Reprinted from George Eldon Ladd, The Pattern of New Testament Truth, pp. 13-40. copyright (c) 1968 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing company. used by permission. footnote numbering appears as in original. The Greek View

Until we can reconstruct with some confidence the emergence of Gnosticism, it is highly speculative to speak of the influence of Gnostic ideas on the emerging Christian faith. There is, however, a body of Greek literature that contains a view of man and the world very close to that of developed Gnosticism, namely, those Greek philosophical and religious writings that reflect the influence of Platonic dualism. These are writings that are well known and datable; and it is profitable to compare their view of man and the world with the biblical view in both the Old and New Testaments. Such a comparison leads to two conclusions: that the Greek view14 of man and the world is different in kind from the biblical view; and that the unity and diversity of the several important strands of New Testament thought can be illustrated in terms of this contrast.

The basic problem is that of dualism. However, dualism means different things in the Greek view and in the biblical view.

The view found in Plato and in later thinkers, influenced by him, is essentially the same cosmological dualism as is found in later Gnosticism. Like Gnosticism, Platonism is a dualism of two worlds, one the visible world and the other an invisible "spiritual" world. As in Gnosticism, man stands between these two worlds, related to both. Like Gnosticism, Platonism sees the origin of man's truest self (his soul) in the invisible world, whence his soul has fallen into the visible world of matter. Like Gnosticism, it sees the physical body as a hindrance, a burden, sometimes even as the tomb of the soul. Like Gnosticism, it conceives of salvation as the freeing of the soul from its entanglement in the physical world that it may wing its way back to the heavenly world. Two further elements found in Gnosticism do not appear in the Platonic philosophers: that matter is ipso facto the source of evil, and that redemption is accomplished by a heavenly redeemer who descends to earth to deliver the fallen souls and lead them back to heaven.

The biblical dualism is utterly different from this Greek view. It is religious and ethical, not cosmological. The world is God's world; man is God's creature, although rebellious, sinful and fallen. Salvation is achieved not by a flight from the world but by God's coming to man in his earthly, historical experience. Salvation never means flight from the world to God; it means, in effect, God's descent from heaven to bring man in historical experience into fellowship with himself. Therefore the consummation of salvation is eschatological. It does not mean the gathering of the souls of the righteous in heaven, but the gathering of a redeemed people on a redeemed earth in perfected fellowship with God. The theologies of the Synoptic Gospels, of John, and of Paul are to be understood in terms of this Hebrew dualism, and each of them stands in sharp contrast to the Greek dualism. The unifying element in New Testament theology is the fact of the divine visitation of men in the person and mission of Jesus Christ; diversity exists in the progressive unfolding of the meaning of this divine visitation and in the various ways the one revelatory, redeeming event is capable of being interpreted.

Since radical differences between Greek and Hebrew ways of thinking have recently been challenged,15 we must now develop our thesis and document it in detail.

The foundations of...
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