Why did the Apostle Paul quote Pagan Philosophers?
By Peter Salemi
Why did the Apostle Paul quote on three separate occasions’ pagan poets? Christians believe that only the Bible is the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16). Yet the Apostle Paul quotes pagan poets and in doing so some believe that he is giving assent to the sources he quotes as inspired, just as when he quotes OT Scripture as the Word of God. Is the Apostle Paul putting pagan writings on the same level as scripture?
Paul quotes the Pagans
Paul quoted Aratus in the book of Acts and Menander in 1 Corinthians. He quoted Epimenides in the book of Titus. Notice:
· “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.” (Acts 17:28). Here the Apostle Paul is quoting, “Aratus, who -was a native of Cilicia (about 270 B. C). Cleanthes (about 300 B.C.)… Arâtus, Phænomena, and are also found in Cleanthes, Hymn to Jupiter,” (Bullinger’s Companion Bible and the Cambridge Bible).
· “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” (1 Corinthians 15:33). “This passage is taken from the Thais of Menander,” (ibid).
· “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies.” (Titus 1:12). “It is supposed that the reference is to Epimenides.” (Bullinger).
Why would the Apostle Paul quote the Pagan philosophers? Well, why do Christians today quote scientists? Are scientists inspired by God? When a Christian quotes a news source, is that news source inspired by God? Of course not! So why quote it?
Truth is Truth
Paul is not quoting non-Christian sources as inspired, but simply as TRUE. Truth IS truth no matter who said it. Caiaphas the Jewish high priest uttered a truth about Christ (John 11:49). The Bible often uses non-inspired sources (cf. Num. 21:14; Josh. 10:13; I Kings 15:31). But why are they quoted? Why do Christians quote scientists and news sources? Because the truth in those sources corroborates the Bible-God’s inspired truth. Jude alludes to truths found in two non-canonical books (Jude 9, 14). But never does the Bible cite them as divinely authoritative, but simply as containing the truth quoted. The usual phrases, such as, “thus saith the Lord” (cf. Isa. 7:7; Jer. 2:5, kjv) or “it is written” (cf. Matt. 4:4, 7, 10) are never found when these non-inspired sources are cited.
Paul also cites these sources for building a bridge by which he might better present the truth of God’s word to the pagans.
Jesus Affirms this
So the Apostle Paul was “moved” by the “Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21) to inform us that the world does have some truth in it that corroborates the Bible-God’s inspired truth. Just like in this world there is good and evil (see Gen 3:22). There is good in man’s nature (see Romans 2:14), but there is also the fallen nature in man that has cause misery and wreckage in this world that God will correct at Jesus’ coming.
Jesus himself confirms this. In one incident when Jesus was in Tyre a Phoenician colony at the time and he said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24). He was prophesying of the future mission to the Phoenicians because they were part of the lost tribes of Israel and he did NOT want to speak to this heathen woman. This “woman of Canaan” came out crying to Jesus for “mercy” (v.22). Jesus “answered her not a word” (v.23) His mission was for the Israel and the Jews. The Gentile part of his mission was to take place after his resurrection and the end of the 70 weeks prophecy with the Apostle Paul.
Notice what happens! “Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.” (v.25). Jesus answered and said to her, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” (v.26). The “children’s bread” of course is the precious word of God (Matthew 4:4) and the children are the children of the kingdom-meaning Israel and Judah (Jer 31:31).
The “dogs” are hard hearted corrupted gentiles who, with the word of God, Jesus said, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matthew 7:6). They are characterized as “dogs” because dogs “turn again and rend you.” (JFB Commentary). Then they take the holy word of God because of their corrupt minds and “trample them under their feet” in hatred of it, and turn against the person who gave the message, “The profane will despise the gift and put the giver to shame.” (Cambridge Bible, emphasis added).
The woman then says this to Jesus, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” (v.27). Even the gentiles have crumbs, little nuggets of the truth, that we find in their writings, in their understanding that there is a God and that there is a purpose here on earth. It was the “UNKNOWN GOD” (Acts 17:23) that Paul presented to the Greeks whom the Greeks knew was out there but they did not know him, even though they still set up an “altar” for him.
Jesus agreed with the woman and said, “O woman, great is thy faith:” (v.28). Jesus knew that the heathen had some truths that they retained as man drifted farther and farther from the truth during the days after the flood till his day and even today. Jesus said God, “…maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45). God’s words and wisdom he has given completely to Israel and crumbs of it has fallen also to the gentiles. But now it is the churches mission to show the dark world “the way of God more perfectly.” (Acts 18:26). To feed them the whole bread and not just the crumbs because now, “…the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:” (Acts 17:30).
So these quotes from the pagans are crumbs of truth, but the only reason they are is because they corroborate the divinely inspired truth of the Bible!
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