What would other deep thinkers in the ancient world have thought of Paul’s teachings? Short answer: not much.
Earlier this year I posted on one of my favorite Greek philosophers, Epicurus (341 – 270 BCE). Epicurus acquired a bad reputation already in antiquity, and still has one among many people today, mainly because his views are widely misunderstood and often simply misrepresented. As it turns out, he advocated views that have widely become dominant in our world, and for good reasons. For that reason I’ve always read him as remarkably prescient, entertaining ideas that would not become popular for two thousand years.
And they stand precisely at odds with the views of the apostle Paul. I’ve recently begun to think about this more deeply — especially since they talk about the same *topics* but take completely different stands on them..
Unfortunately, we do not have very many of Epicurus’s writings. In fact, the most important sources we have are simply three long letters, quoted in toto by a significant but little-read author named Diogenes Laertius, writing around the year 200 CE or so, in his book called “Lives of Eminent Philosophers.” In this book he discusses the lives, writings, and views of major philosophers down to his own day, and he often quotes their writings. Diogenes’ work comes to us in ten “books,”, and the entire tenth book is devoted to Epicurus. That’s where we find