In our Wednesday night Bible Study course “That the World May Know”, teacher Ray Vander Laan tells of the Greek Philosopher Protagoras (481-411 BC) saying “Man is the measure of all things of what is and what is not.” This philosophy provided the foundation for Hellenism, which was devoted to the supremacy of human beings and human accomplishment. The cultural tradition of the Greeks, Hellenism was the prevalent worldview before and during the growth of early Christianity.
Hellenism was based on the belief that human beings are the ultimate source of truth and authority in the universe. Truth is defined as that which each person can logically understand and demonstrate (or at least that which the majority of people decides is right). Since the human being was considered the “measure of all”, human wisdom was deemed to be the greatest wisdom. What could not be understood or explained was viewed as false. Human accomplishments in athletics, the arts, and architecture became the motivating drive of society. The human body was considered the ultimate in beauty, so nudity in art, in the baths, and in sport was common. The accumulation of material possessions in order to provide oneself with luxury and comfort was a common pursuit. What could be more natural than to get the most out of life? After all, life’s greatest goal was to be the best at any pursuit.
Hellenists tried to build their society on their gods, which were human creations. In effect, they worshipped themselves. Because they had nothing greater than themselves on which to base their worldview and society, their society eventually collapsed. No society can exist for long when it creates its own view of truth.
Was Hellenism, at its roots, really new? No. The first evidence if it is recorded in Genesis 3;1 when Satan asked Eve, “Did God really say …?” Eve, and then Adam, faced an earth-shaking choice: who, or what, was the ultimate source of truth in the universe? In deciding to doubt and disobey God’s command about eating fruit from the tree, Adam and Eve decided for themselves what was right and best for them and didn’t depend on God. They crowned themselves as the ultimate authority in the universe.
In contrast, the worldview of Christianity is based on God as the ultimate truth and authority. His revelation is the source of our vision for society, our knowledge, our morality, and even truth itself. The resulting values are absolute – not merely creations or our imaginations – and form a strong basis for society and the belief in the dignity of each person who is created in God’s image. In such a worldview, God is the ultimate authority in the universe. Life is to be lived for Him, not for ourselves. God, not humankind, has created the ultimate in beauty. Truth is what God has revealed and allowed people to discover.
Hellenism’s core belief haven’t disappeared with today’s cultural advancements. Today, Hellenism goes by other names: Humanism, or its contemporary expression, Postmodernism – and still promotes the idea that the human being is the ultimate authority in the university. Thus truth is what the human mind can discover, demonstrate, and understand. The glorification of human accomplishment, the drive to be number one, the obsession with comfort and pleasure, the focus on the human body and sexuality, the lack of compassion for people, and the commitment to the will of the majority as being right are built on a foundation that is as old as the garden of Eden and was well articulated by ancient Greek philosophers. And the Hellenistic perspective is the dominant paradigm within our public education system. In
Man We Trust. God!
Ray Vander Laan from “Early Church – Becoming a Light in the Darkness”