18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.
Then certain Epicurean
Paul debated two philosophical groups, Epicureans and Stoic philosophers, in the marketplace or the city square.
Epicureanism claimed there was no connection between the divine and people. This philosophy was essentially atheistic materialism, holding that everything came from atoms or particles of matter. No life existed beyond the now. Epicurus (341-270 BC) argued that the world was purely material, made of atoms. Epicureans did not believe in the afterlife and wanted to free people of the gods. The ultimate end of life for the Epicurean was freedom to pursue pleasure, contentment, and nobility. Pleasure and happiness were the ultimate goals of life. Epicureans were not hostile to the gods, but they saw them as utterly indifferent to humanity. There was no such thing as providence. Their idea was that “you only live once; you might as well enjoy it while you have it.”
and Stoic philosophers encountered him.
The Stoics believed only a divine spark survived death; the idea of resurrection was foreign to their thinking. Stoicism was the most popular philosophy of that day, but most people were not Stoics. Pantheistic Stoicism put logic above any other approach to truth, contending that the physical universe pivoted on the reasoning of logos. Logos was a rational principle that bound the cosmic order together. Stoics were highly self-sufficient. The universe operated under passionless conformity of the human will to this law. Nothing moved the Stoic, whatever the circumstance.
Zeno (320-250 BC) founded the philosophy that connected the divine with the material. Stoics lived in accordance with natural laws. They did believe in divine providence but were pantheists: All is god, including human beings.
A result of Stoic philosophy was the attempt to master the self. A person becomes a master of self by indifference to pleasure and pain; the goal is to feel nothing.
And some said, “What does this babbler [seed-picker] want to say?”
Some philosophers called Paul a “babbler,” an incoherent speaker—what we would call a seed-picker today, which is the meaning of “babbler.” A philosophical seed-picker gathered information like a bird picking at whatever it finds randomly, seeking any philosophical scrap. Paul was to them a collector of snippets of knowledge. It was a term of philosophical contempt. They viewed Paul with no intellectual coherence, indiscriminate with his philosophical system.
Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.
The philosophers at Areopagus rejected the idea of “resurrection.” They viewed resurrection as a novel idea from gods of other cultures; a resurrection was foreign to their thinking. The Epicureans asserted that death ended everything. The Stoic disengaged the divine from the material.
There is a need for different strokes for different folks.
Evangelists need to divide their approach to people with a biblical background and their approach in the public square.
Paul changed his approach to winning different groups of people. With the Jews, he used Scripture to prove that Jesus was the Messiah; with the Gentiles, he used reason.
The philosophers of Athens promoted thought similar to prevailing thought in our day. Pantheism is popular today. There are parallels to post-modernism as well. The post-Christian mind of our day is, at root, skeptical about anything certain, banal and flowing in trivia without a metanarrative. These people have no ultimate presupposition onto which they can hang an integrated view of life.
Another similarity to our day is the ancients’ skeptical view that rejected ultimate truth, holding that life has no purpose. These people in our day have no hope of the future beyond the grave. This skepticism invades every aspect of culture and education. Christianity offers hope beyond the present.