Should a Christian study subjects such as Greek philosophy?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Does God have anything to say on the subject of Greek philosophy? Is it wrong to pursue it?

Answer: The Bible does not directly address the subject of Greek philosophy in the way that you probably mean, like Plato vs. Jesus. However, the world had been “Hellenized” before Jesus’ birth, and even the Near East could not escape the effects of such a foundational culture — culture being much more a 3-D tapestry than a function of timelines and geography. As such, it would be difficult for me to draw out Greek philosophy because of the way it was wound into the first-century culture... subsequently, percolating up through the Scripture.

Additionally, the land of Jesus’ time was populated by diverse groups. There were the Jews, a people who, in many ways, lived more parallel to the underlying culture than embedded within it. Then there was the native population of pagans, who enjoyed the temple of Artemis (Acts 19:24; some translations translate as Artemis [Greek Goddess] and some as Diana [Roman goddess]) showing their Grecian roots. And we cannot forget the Romans, whose armies and administrators affected the culture as iron affects the flesh. Please note, however, that quite a bit of Roman culture was co-opted from Greece. So, what was the net effect on the days of New Testament writings? I cannot say. But I can show you one solid example where the apostle Paul weighs in by his actions.

“that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “ ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:27–28, ESV)

In Acts 17:27-28, we see Paul trying to establish rapport with his Athenian audience. He quoted verbatim from two Greek poets, Epimenides (600 BC) and Aratus (315–240 BC), both of whom extolled the virtues of the god Zeus! I find this interesting for two reasons. First, Paul had this citation in his academic arsenal. But note well the venue. He was thinking on his feet. No teleprompters, no index cards, no talking points — nothing! Yet he could quote these pagan poems verbatim.

Second, the audience was (by and large) familiar with these poems also, showing that Paul and the Athenians had a common base in literature. What was Paul’s purpose — to show off? No. To extol the virtues of Zeus? Hardly. He sought to connect with the native population by explaining the unknown God (Jesus Christ) in terms of the known god (Zeus). In this, we have a positive model for being wise in the sayings of the world. As a general rule, it is the purpose of the tool, and not the tool itself, that matters for the man of God. With that rule obeyed, the Bible does not restrict the study of Greek philosophy — or any other discipline, for that matter.

In fact, for people who are specializing in an apologetics ministry, being conversant in Greek philosophy would probably be helpful, since even people without special training have probably heard of Socrates, Aristotle or Plato. But more importantly, these ancient Greeks have influenced Western thought in ways that the layman might not be aware of. So, if you were ministering to those who had an informed philosophical objection to the Gospel, you should know these basics. That being said, I’d rather see a Christian study his Bible than Greek philosophy. A Christian’s main tool is God’s word. So, before learning another mental martial art, a believer should already be an expert with his primary weapon — the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17).

The problem with studying worldly topics is one of resources. Studying philosophy may be helpful… but it will compete for your time and energy. Therefore, whether or not to proceed in secular academia (or any other enterprise, for that matter) is between God and you. Again, let us look to the apostle Paul for a final word on this.

“All things are permitted for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are permitted for me, but I will not be controlled by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12, LEB)

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)