In our study of the New Testament, we often stress the Roman part of the culture in the first century, but that was mostly politics and military. As you read past the first 4 books of the New Testament you realize that there was a strong Greek influence with language, religion and culture.
The New testament was written in Koine Greek and the sign on Jesus cross was written in 3 languages, Aramaic, Latin and Greek. Timothy’s father was a Greek and his mother was a Jewish believer. In Acts 21:37 Roman officers are surprised that Paul spoke to them in the cultured Greek instead of Latin.
There are a couple different kinds of coinage in the Bible one is a Greek form of money called the drachma. It’s mentioned 3 times in the Bible. (Matt 17 – twice, Acts 19)
How many times does the word Greek appear in the Bible? 25 times
Athens is mentioned 5 times
How many of the Greek gods are mentioned in the Bible? 3 – Zeus, Hermes, Artemis
Some of the books of the New Testament were written to Greek dominated cultures. 1 and 2 Corinthians was written to believers in Corinth, Greece. Ephesus was written to a culture dedicated to a Greek goddess, Artemis. 1 and 2 Timothy were written to a half Greek person, Thessalonians, Philippians are in modern day Greece.
That’s quite a bit of Greek influence in the Bible, but the real question is how does that mix with Christianity and the God of Christianity. For people of the New Testament time this was a major area of contention, the state sanctioned religion with the Greek gods vs Christianity. Throughout the entire area of the Aegean Sea, cities were dedicated to Greek gods and goddess. Paul’s second and third missionary journey after passing through Asia Minor traced those same areas. On the second map the Aegean Sea is on the left side, notice that Paul almost made the complete circuit around the Aegean Sea.
Paul through the guiding of the Holy Spirit went head to head with the established religion/culture/influences of his day. From the two maps we can see large overlaps, Paul was specifically being counter cultural. He wasn’t doing that to be different but to do what God wanted him to do. Jesus spoke about a dramatic change in culture in His sermon on the mount in Matthew 5. What does being counter cultural look like in our city?
Let’s look at some phrases from Philippians (Greek city) written to a half Greek person, Timothy.
“your love may abound more and more”
“in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, … Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky”
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
To be loving, gentle, humble, without complaining, thinking good things is utterly counter cultural. See any political discussion, notice any comments on Yahoo, read through your Facebook feed to confirm this.
Dwell on the beautiful things that God has created, don’t permit yourself to argue about trivial things, and love people. If you do that, you will be this unique lighthouse near a tempestuous sea.