Thursday, June 27, 2013

What should Christians read?

Should Christians read pagan literature? Joel Miller says the apostle Paul did, and argues that all truth is "God’s truth, wherever you find it":
...[T]he most famous picture of this is the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill. Surrounded by idols, enveloped with pagan superstition, Paul didn’t quote Leviticus or Isaiah. He shared the gospel with pagans by quoting more pagans, namely the astronomer Aratus and his poem The Phenomena. “In him we live and move and have our being,” quoted the apostle, a line he put good effect (Acts 17.28).

On at least two other occasions Paul did the same thing, likely quoting Epimenides of Crete in Titus 1.12 (“Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons”) and another poet in 1 Corinthians 15.33 (“Bad company ruins good morals”). While early church historian Socrates Scholasticus ascribed the 1 Corinthian quote to the Athenian tragedian Euripides (Ecclesiastical History 3.16), it turns out the quote is more likely from the comic writer Menander and his play Thais.

What? you exclaim. The apostle and theologian Paul idly wasting time with comedies! It depends on what we mean by waste, right?

Paul was evidently quite familiar with pagan literature. He quoted it too ably and too easily for his awareness to be forced. The references had to have been quick to mind for him to so readily apply them. After all, he was not in a position to run to a library and browse through a dozen codices looking for a choice line. He knew his stuff by memory.

Not only did Paul possess fluency in the cultural currents of his world, he undoubtedly found leisure, pathos, and humor in the works of pagan writers. I wouldn’t call that waste. .... [more]