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Hebrew v Greek thought

How do you think? When it comes to the Bible and your worldview how do you approach it? William Barrett said “Hebraism and Hellenism – between these two points of influence moves our world.” How true this is. The Bible is written contained within the framework of the Hebrew mind, and it is my belief that you can never fully understand it unless you gain some understanding of the Hebraic mind. Unfortunately less than a 100 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, this way of thinking had begun to wane and a Greek or Hellenistic mind had taken over. This is mainly what we find in the Church today. This in and of itself is not completely bad but without the Hebrew mind much of the Scripture will seem hard for us to understand.

 The main difference between the Greek and Hebrew mind is found in the area of knowing v doing. The Hebrew is concerned with practice, the Greek with knowledge. Right conduct is the ultimate concern of the Hebrew, right thinking that of the Greek. In it’s most simplest of forms the difference between the moral man (Hebrew) and the theoretical or intellectual man (Greek).

 This maybe helps to explain why so many Christian Churches are so focused on the issues of doctrinal orthodoxy (whatever that may be), at the expense of godly living. In many Christian circles, what one believes or espouses is treated as more important than how one lives. For example if I wrote a blog questioning the orthodox position of say Hell and put forward a contrary position, I can guarantee that I would be attacked for all quarters and even accuses of not being a believer. I have seen people put out of Churches for simply raising questions. But on the other hand if I wrote a blog stating that I had had an affair (by the way I haven’t, and don’t plan to as I love my wife very much), I would receive emails and comments from people saying that they would be praying for me or something like that. How warped is this. This is so wrong. How many Christians have been burnt at the stake by the church for simply having a different opinion when the people doing the burning where living debauched lives?

 In the Hebrew way of thinking it should be the exact opposite. Christians are inclined to subject each other to litmus tests of orthodoxy, while the Hebrew mind is concerned mainly with behaviour. Belief in God and acting ethically must be inextricably linked. God demands right behaviour more than anything else, including right ritual and right belief.

 It was gentile Christians, influence by Greek philosophy, who both intellectualized and systematized Christian doctrine. Worse, they radically changed much of it. The Biblical Hebrew, and the Apostolic Era of the Church, had no formal theology as such. Nothing was systemised. The believing community had no entrenched hierarchy through which all doctrine had to filtered and approved.

 What the apostles taught about any given subject was either learned directly from Jesus, then passed on, or determined situationally. They determined Halakha (behaviour or right way of doing things) for believers in much the same way the sages of Israel did. As circumstances changed they rendered decisions about the application of Torah (Matthew 18:18). Acts 15 provides an account of how at least one teaching concerning requirements for gentile believers was formed around 50AD.

 In Christian Circles, it is often more important to believe and espouse “the right thing,” than to live the right way. This is why we are so obsessed with creeds, doctrinal statements etc. I am not saying that these are not important. But I am saying how you live is more important. How you live says more about what you believe than anything else. This mode of thinking is thoroughly western and Greek.

 Another issue is in Greek thought there is the idea of sacred and secular which says that religion is only for a certain area of your life but not for all of if it. In Hebrew thought this division does not exist. For example in the Talmud we even find a prayer about going to the toilet. If someone prayed in Christian circles about this or even admitted that they did it they would be accused of being irreligious. But in Hebrew thought every area of life is considered one and that there is no difference between what is religious and what is not religious.

 In Greek theology, we also have sometimes abandoned the literal interpretation of Scripture in favour of allegorical interpretations. This too is very Greek and was virtually unknown in the Church up until the tile of Origen. This method opens the door to a myriad of creative expositions that leave the student of Scripture confused and disorientated.

 It is not easy to readjust our thinking especially as a Church we have been thinking Greek for around 1800 years. But to get the most out of Scripture and to live our lives in the way that God want us to we do as individuals and a Church start thinking Hebraically. Of course this will take time but if we start by taking small steps we can get there.

Categories: Christianity, Greek, Hebrew