At the time of the Early EkklA“sia there was an ongoing conflict between Hebrew Judaism and Hellenic Judaism. The Maccabean war of independence, fought through to 139 BCE, wasn’t just about foreign rule, but also about those Jews embracing Hellenism, a civil war, as it were, between Orthodox and Hellenistic Judaism. Hellenic Judaism was the fusing and harmonization of Greek philosophy and Judaism, where the practices of both Jewish exegesis and Stoic philosophy were followed.
Those propagating this Hellenistic Philosophy included the Jewish philosopher Philoi of Alexandria (20 BCE – 50 CE ). Hellenistic Philosophy, as espoused by Philo, was enthusiastically received by the early Gentile Christians, some of whom saw him as a cryptic Christian. Some today believe his concept of the Logosii as God’s creative principle influenced early Christology.iii
Mainstream Judaism rejecting Hellenistic currents eventually (at the Council of Jamnia in 90 CE) prohibited the use of the Septuagintiv, leaving the Masoreticv as the only authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible. Antecedent to this, the Apostolic Decree of circa 48 CE (Acts 15) allowing converts to forgo circumcision made Christianity a more attractive option for interested Pagans than Pharisaic/Rabbinic Judaism which, in response to this quickly-growing Netzarim Judaism, instituted an even more stringent circumcision procedure in response. Hellenistic Judaism continue in existence until Constantine adopted Christianity as the official State religion. Remaining currents of Hellenistic Judaism in all probability, as would be expected, merged into gnostic movements in the early centuries CE.
The Hellenization of Christianity was a complex interaction between Hellenistic philosophy and early Christianity during the first four centuries of the Common Era. The initial conflict between these two modes of thought is recorded in scripture; in Paul’s encounters with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Acts 17:18, his diatribe against Greek philosophy in 1st Corinthians 1:18-31, and his warning against philosophy in Colossians 2:8vi. Over time, however, as Christianity spread throughout the Hellenic world, an increasing number of church leaders were educated in Greek philosophy. The dominant philosophical traditions of the Greco-Roman world at the time were Stoicism, Platonism, and Epicureanism. Of these, Stoicism and particularly Platonism were readily incorporated into Christian ethics and theology. Philo’s blend of Judaism, Platonism, and Stoicismvii strongly influenced Christian Alexandrian writers like Origen and Clement of Alexandria, as well as, in the Latin world, Ambrose of Milan. Clement of Alexandria, early Christian writer of the second and early third century, demonstrated Greek thought in writing: “Philosophy has been given to the Greeks as their own kind of Covenant, their foundation for the philosophy of Christ … the philosophy of the Greeks … contains the basic elements of that genuine and perfect knowledge which is higher than human … even upon those spiritual objects.” (Miscellanies 6. 8) The Church historian Eusebius, c. 263-339 CE, suggested, essentially, that Greek philosophy had been supplied providentially as a preparation for the Gospel. Augustine of Hippo, who ultimately systematized Christian philosophy, wrote in the 4th and early fifth century: “But when I read those books of the Platonists I was taught by them to seek incorporeal truth, so I saw your ‘invisible things, understood by the things that are made’.” (Confessions 7. 20).
This Greek pagan philosophy, now deeply entrenched and mixed within Christian theology, has persisted through the centuries becoming the foundation of Western thought and culture. Many today often blindly view the founding fathers of the United States as purely Christian. One of the most common statements from the “Religious Right” is that they want this country to; “return to the Christian principles on which it was founded”. However, even a little research into American history will show that this statement is unfounded and based on a false premise. The men responsible for building the foundation of the United States had little use for Christianity, and many were strongly opposed to it. They were men of “The Enlightenment”, not men of Christianity. They were Deistsviii who did not believe the bible was inspired truth.
Indubitably, the US Constitution is a masterpiece of civil law providing for, among other things, the protection of religious beliefs against Governmental intrusion – allowing “the free exercise thereof”, while at the same time wonderfully preventing the establishment of religious domination via “state sanctioned religion”. It was the latter of these two concepts that most concerned the signers of the Declaration of Independence and Framers of the Constitution, with but tolerance of the former. They wanted to ensure that no single religion could make the claim of being the official, national religion, such as was the case in England. The cultural climate of the time was one in which freedom from the religious domination of the Church of England and Catholicism was desired by the masses, which provided a perfect habitat for those of the “Enlightenment”.
The 1796 treaty with Tripoli states that the United States was “in no sense founded on the Christian religion”. This was not an idle statement, meant to satisfy Muslims – they believed it and meant it. This treaty was written under the presidency of George Washington and signed under the presidency of John Adams.
None of the Founding Fathers were known atheists. Most were Deists, which is to say they thought the universe had a creator, but that he does not concern himself with the daily lives of humans, and does not directly communicate with humans, either by revelation or by sacred books. They spoke often of God, (Nature’s God or the God of Nature), but this was not the God of the Bible. They did not deny that there was a person called Jesus, and praised him for his benevolent teachings, but they flatly denied his divinity. These Founders of the Constitution were students of the European Enlightenmentix.
Thomas Jefferson — author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, third president of the United States, historian, philosopher, plantation owner, and founder of the University of Virginia — voiced the aspirations of a new America as no other individual of his era. He also in his writings voiced his beliefs:
“As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us. Epictetus indeed, has given us what was good of the stoics; … I take the liberty of observing that you are not a true disciple of our master Epicurus, in indulging the indolence to which you say you are yielding. One of his canons, you know, was that “the indulgence which prevents a greater pleasure, or produces a greater pain, is to be avoided.”” – Jefferson’s letter to William Short, from Monticello, October 31, 1819.
” But while this syllabus is meant to place the character of Jesus in its true and high light, as no impostor himself, but a great Reformer of the Hebrew code of religion, it is not to be understood that I am with Him in all His doctrines. I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance towards forgiveness of sin;…” – Jefferson’s letter to William Short, from Monticello August 4, 1820.
That being said, it is easy to see that the aforementioned tolerance of religious freedom, was in reality a bulwark for the benefit of “The Enlightenment”, not the “Pious”, and in this age that bulwark being no longer necessary is coming to an end. For two-hundred plus years we, in this United States of America, have enjoyed freedom of Religion so that those of the “Enlightenment” could enjoy their freedom from Religion. But figuratively speaking, the air of tolerance toward Judeo-Christian beliefs is wisping away, leaving the putrid stench of moral corruption and malicious bigotry toward anyone who identifies with Yeshua and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
“But know this, that in the last days grievous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof [emphasis added]: from these also turn away.” (2Timothy 3:1-5).
Like the parable of the Kingdom of Heaven of Matt 13; at the founding of the United States of America two seeds were sown. Two hundred years later in these last days the two seeds have grown to maturity. And now the tares are fully distinguishable from the wheat. For the American believers there has been a two-hundred year bastion of grace, to grow into the maturity of the Word, and to shine above the philosophies of this world. And now you see, God had afforded us a little more time in these last days to fulfill His purposes. Not waring in the flesh but;
“pulling down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought into the obedience of Christ” (2Cor. 10:5 MKJV) .
“For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” (1Peter 2:15-16 ASV).