In the times just before the New Testament, what religious and philosophical developments prepared for the coming of Christ and the rise of Christianity?
In the last couple of posts, I wrote about how events in the intertestamental period (“400 silent years”), as well as the cultural settings, help paved the way for the coming of Christ. God used not only events of the Silent Years and cultural issues to pave the way for His Son, He also used “religion” and philosophy to pave the way for the ultimate Mission of the Savior of the World!
Among the philosophical developments that prepared for the coming of Christ and the rise of Christianity, four views take the forefront. They include Epicureanism, Cynicism, Skepticism, and Stoicism. Additionally, the religious system of Judaism played a large part in the rise of the Christian church, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.
Epicureanism taught that pleasure (not necessarily sensual pleasure) was the chief good in life. This pleasure was supposedly derived from the exercise of the intellect. This philosophy determined the lives of few people, however.
Cynicism taught that supreme virtue is a simple life. It required an unconventional life that should reject popular pursuits of comfort, affluence, and social prestige. Like Epicureanism, this philosophy determined the lives of few people.
Another Greco-Roman philosophy of the time just before Jesus was Skepticism. Skepticism was relative to life’s situation. Those who followed Skepticism abandoned belief in anything absolute and succumbed to doubt and conformity to prevailing custom. Similar to Epicureanism and Cynicism, Skepticism influenced the lives of few people.
Stoicism, another Greco-Roman philosophy, taught that acceptance of one’s fate was determined by an impersonal Reason that rules the universe. Within the philosophy of Stoicism, temperance and moderation were practiced and taught. This philosophy determined the lives of more people than did the preceding three combined.
A religious development of the time just before the coming of Christ that influenced the rise of Christianity can be seen in Judaism. The Judaic worship service in the synagogue developed into a systematic form of worship that can be seen even today in most modern worship services. The worship service of that time followed this basic format:
• Singing of psalms
• Hebrew Old Testament Law readings (which was intermingled with a loose oral translation in Aramaic or Greek, called a Targum)
• A Sermon, if there was a qualified person available to give one
• A blessing or benediction
In addition to their worship service order, the Jews influenced modern Christianity with the acceptance of guest speakers. Qualified guests were often invited to speak in the synagogues, a practice that allowed Jesus and Paul many opportunities to share and preach. Most evangelical churches today invite guest speakers or evangelists into their church to speak and share about their experiences with Christ, unknowing that the tradition stems, in part, directly from worship systems from the time of Jesus. Kind of cool, don’t you think?
Both philosophy and religious practices during the time just before Jesus had significant influence on the coming of Christ and the rise of Christianity. Philosophies such as Epicureanism, Cynicism, Skepticism, and Stoicism left people needing more and feeling empty. These philosophies did more to confuse the world than they did to satisfy the world. The coming of Christ was just what the doctor ordered to solve these problems that philosophy left unresolved. Religious evolvements such as order of service and guest speakers influenced the church in such a way that they can be seen some two-thousand years later.
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. [Colossians 2:8-9 – NKJV]