The Greeks had two philosophic schools of thought – the Epicureans and the Stoics. Epicurus founded Epicureanism and he lived in Athens, from about 342 to 270 B.C. He gathered with his students in a garden, and hence the Epicureans were called the School of the Garden.
The theories of Epicurus offered a physical and a moral answer to the troubles of the universe. Although Epicurus didn’t believe in polytheism, he didn’t publicly condemn it. He believed that the gods in their tranquility were detached from human affairs such as suffering, sin and death. For this reason, the gods didn’t ask for sacrifices nor answered human petitions.
Epicureanism considered superstition to be the great root of wrongdoing and wretchedness which chained people. Man’s main purpose for living was to gain happiness. And the first step to do that was the rejection of future judgement. The next step was to realize that happiness can be gained through the pleasures of the senses. But since pleasure is often counterbalanced by the pain that follows; Epicurus advised that people should avoid sensual overindulgences. Epicurus himself exercised self-control and patriotism (Diogenes Laërtius x. 10).
Epicurus regarded human laws as merely conservative measures, for he didn’t believe in a higher moral law. Therefore, each man decided his own law. And most men chose a life of ease and self-indulgence. Sometimes, cautious thinking stabilized an Epicurean’s inclination from falling into the level of animalism because the mere physical gratification of appetites resulted in degradation of the moral values.
Epicurus didn’t believe in creation and control but taught that matter had existed from eternity, and that the infinite atoms of which matter was made of through a process of attraction and repulsion produced many combinations, which in turn produced nature. Some of the modern discoveries in physics have been attributed to Epicurus.
The poem of Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, is probably the clearest expression of this faulty, erroneous, and atheistic system of belief. Horace said: “Cease to ask what the morrow will bring forth, and set down as gain each day that Fortune grants” (Odes i. 9; Loeb ed., 29). He also said, “Show wisdom. Strain clear the wine; and since life is brief, cut short far-reaching hopes! Even while we speak, envious time has sped. Reap the harvest of to-day, putting as little trust as may be in the morrow!” (ibid. 11; Loeb ed., p. 33).
Paul’s response to Epicureanism
Paul addressed Epicureanism in his preaching especially in Athens (Acts 17: 22–3). He proclaimed the sovereignty of the living God, Creator, Ruler, and Father of humanity. He taught that the Creator seeks to have an intimate relationship with His creatures (Acts 17: 27,28). And he expressed God’s willingness to grant forgiveness through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, if people may choose to accept it and repent (2 Timothy 2:25–26).
The apostle taught the need for divine law that God would write it in the hearts of His children (Hebrews 10:16). Through this law humanity can achieve true and lasting happiness and peace (Romans 12:1). Also, the apostle stressed the nobility of a life that should rise above gratifying the physical senses (Galatians 5:16). And he taught the need to live a life that promotes the welfare of others rather than self (Romans 12:9-13). Finally, he pointed to man’s moral accountability to Christ as judge whom the resurrection proved Him to be the Son of God (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Thus, unlike Epicureanism, Paul presented God as the Being who is not detached from His creatures but is very much involved with them so much so that He sacrificed His innocent Son to pay the penalty of their sins (Romans 8:32; John 3:16). Such divine infinite love sets Christianity above all the pagan Greek philosophies.
In His service,