There were two Greek philosophic schools of thought in the early 3rd century BC in Athens. These were the Epicureans and the Stoics. The founder of the Stoic Philosophy is Zeno (c. 340–c. 260 B.C.) of Citium in Cyprus. Stoicism was practiced by the likes of Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. The name was taken from the Stoa Poikilē. This was the painted entryway in the agora at Athens, where Zeno used to instruct his followers.
The Stoic philosophy taught that virtue such as wisdom leads to happiness. Also, it taught that judgment should be based on actions, rather than mere words. It asserted that true wisdom comprises in being the master, and not the slave, of circumstances. Therefore, the things that are not in people’s reach are neither to be desired nor evaded, but are to be accepted with calmness. The seeker after wisdom was taught to be not interested in pleasure or pain, and to preserve an intelligent objectivity. Stoicism taught how unpredictable the world can be. Therefore, humans needed to be committed, strong, and in control of their lives.
Adherent of this philosophy believed of a divine mind permeating the universe and governing its affairs. They sensed His authority in the dealings of nations and in the lives of human beings. They also believed in the free will of humans. Thus, the this theology was nobler than that of the Epicureans. For the latter taught that man’s main purpose for living was to gain happiness through the pursuing of sensual pleasures and the rejection of future judgement.
According to this philosophy, the Manual of Ethics, a record of the philosophy of Epictetus, the ex-slave, and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the emperor, show how the slave and the emperor are, in a sense, regarded as equals. Thus, the writings of Seneca portray that the ethics of the Stoics were like those of Christians. Many of the Stoics became teachers for the sons of noble families and exercised positive influence in society.
The Drawback of This Philosophy
Josephus (Life 2 ) taught that there were points of likeness between the Stoics and the Pharisees. The stoic attitude toward the moral life of heathenism introduced many ideas similar to that of the Pharisees. And there were several weaknesses to the moral success of their philosophy:
- The adherents lost sympathy for others as they focused on themselves.
- In their attempt to reach moral perfection through the exercise of their own will, the adherents wrongly thought that humans can actually work out their own salvation.
- In emphasizing the perfect life (like the Pharisees), the adherents made their philosophy merely a cover for their sinful lives. Like the Pharisees, they were hypocrites pretending to lead a life that was not really theirs.
The Stoics and Paul
Clearly, there were many points of similarity between the good teachers of the Stoic school of thought and the apostle Paul who preached to them in Athens (Acts 17:18), nevertheless, even for them, the fundamental truths that he preached appeared as mere dreams. For when Paul preached of Jesus, the resurrection, and the future Judgement that will take place at the end of time, the Stoics in their self-righteousness rejected the fact that they needed forgiveness and salvation.
In His service,