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Seneca And The Apostle Paul: A Study In Comparison

2377 words - 10 pages

It is no secret that the pagan philosophy of Stoicism has many parallels with Christian doctrine. In fact, this observation is generally accepted by biblical and philosophical scholars alike. These resemblances are most strongly represented within the moral and ethical teachings of both schools of thought and have been the subject of scholarly debate for many years. However the question lies not in whether such similarities exist but on how they came to be; and this can be answered no better than by the letters of both Lucius Annaeus Seneca, a stoic philosopher, and his contemporary, Paul the apostle. By considering their backgrounds, beliefs, and writings, one can draw one of two conclusions: either Paul was indeed greatly influenced by Stoic teachings or he was merely writing in the language common to his time.
During the first century A.D., when Paul was writing and ministering, Stoicism was the most popular philosophical movement in the Roman Empire. The movement, at first solely a Greek construct, was founded by Zeno of Citium sometime around 300 B.C. (Nash, 67-68). It came to Rome during the first century A.D. – largely due to the literature of one of its followers, Marcus Tullius Cicero – and soon grew to overtake the cultured centre of Roman thought (Thorsteinsson, 13). In principle, Stoicism was both materialist and pantheistic (Nash, 68-69). For the Stoics, everything in the universe was divine. This meant that their concepts of Nature and Natural Law were fundamental to their doctrine. On the one hand, Nature was a guiding principle that was synonymous with God. As such, on the other hand, the universe was ordered and followed a natural law (Hadas, 21, 23). It was this concept that brought another important aspect of Stoicism to the forefront: reason, or logos, governed the universe and it was by living one’s life according to this reason that one could fulfill the Natural Law (Hadas, 23; Nash, 69). The Stoics further believed that the universe was determined and that there was no free will or chance (Nash, 70). To this, they attributed their final major dogma – that of apatheia, or apathy. They explained that because one could not change what Fate had in store for them, the only thing that could be controlled was how one reacted to it. Thus, to the Stoics, what mattered most was that in everything, one should react with a tranquility of soul (Henry 75, Nash, 71).
Stoicism, although at first glance perhaps less evident, shares some similarity in doctrine with Christianity. Although there in only one direct reference to Stoicism in the New Testament (in Acts 17:18, Paul is said to have engaged some Epicureans and Stoics in a debate), it is the indirect connections that cement the theory of the relationship of the two doctrines. Perhaps the most evident of these shared ideas are those of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man that are prevalent throughout both belief systems (Henry, 76). And while the Stoic concept of God...

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