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What does it mean to be a Greek?

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What does it mean to be a Greek


The ethnicity or tribal affiliation has been identity-forming since time immemorial, this is true for all peoples, tribes and languages, but it also has a discriminating, i.e., a distinguishing function. We do not deal with the politically negative aspect, because it is instrumentalized in an evil way. We consider primarily the Greek as the counterpart of the Jew. The apostle Paul makes this distinction for the first time in the Epistle to the Romans, not chronologically, but thematically and thus according to the New Testament canon. In Romans 1:16 he talks about the gospel, which is God's power for salvation, both for the Jew - first - and for the Greek.

But what distinguishes the two, not as a qualitatively separating thing, but as a qualitatively different thing? As is well known, the Jews have a law that is in writing and can be read by anyone. The Jews gave the name Tanakh (pronounced Tanach; the emphasis is on the last syllable) to the book in which the law is written. The name is an acronym made up of the first letters of three Hebrew words, they are the words Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim, in English they are: 1. the five books of Moses, that is the Torah, then 2. the Prophets, that is the group of Nevi'im and, all good things come in threes, the third group, the Ketuvim; (for this the table) The Greeks, on the other hand, do not have such a law, and yet, they are not without law. They do by nature what is written in the law. Paul concludes, "Thus these who have no (written) law are a law unto themselves. Interestingly, both Jew and Greek know the tipping point, the scales of justicia. It is their conscience.

Now someone could stand up and say: Well, then there is no difference between Jews and Greeks! But wait, there is a difference, and a very important one at that. The difference between a Jew who has the Tanakh and one who "is a law unto himself" is the difference in tolerance. A Jew has a firmly delineated norm that establishes him. The Greek, on the other hand, has a fluid boundary and thus has greater latitude, for it is not the letter of the Torah that sets the limit for him, but his conscience and the law of his neighbor. We can therefore say that the law of the Jew is restreactive and the law of the Greek is extensive. The Greek may be more tolerant of his law than a Jew may be of the Tanakh. The Jew feels bound by the written law, the consequence is, he tends to be more strict and exact.

In terms of cultural history, this small difference had enormous implications, and this is the real subject of our remarks, for we want to explain what a Greek is.
So what is Paul pointing to when he distinguishes the Greek as distinct from a Jew? The biblical term Greek stands first of all for the Greeks themselves, who lived between Macedonia in the north and Achaia in the south and on the Greek islands. Then the term also stands for the Greek-speaking area of the eastern countries lying on the Mediterranean Sea and the areas behind it, such as the countries of today's Iraq and Iran and all the way to India. Furthermore, the term stands for the entire cultural area of the countries bordering the Mediterranean, including Spain and North Africa. Greek culture did not stop there, however, but encompassed the entire European continent. And when the time came, the "Greeks" conquered the world, starting from Central South and North America, later Australia and New Zealand, and then to the Far East, all the way to the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan. At some point, Greek culture also reached introverted China, though not yet penetrated. Nevertheless, the influence of Greek thought can be found in theater, literature, music, and most conspicuously in science. In short, the Greeks permeate the entire world culture, but without eliminating local uniqueness.

Why do you think that is? We think it is above all the attractive aesthetics of the fine arts, which exert an almost magical attraction on us people and that in all fields. Modern science is also unthinkable without the Greek scholars. It was and is promoted by the freedom of the Christian people. This becomes particularly clear in the history of art and science of Christianity. During the first centuries of Christianity, Catholicism rose, through it art became impoverished and science was suppressed and treaded water. The representation of reality was abstracted in pictures. At the latest with the Renaissance, the creative power of "the Greeks" gained a renewed vitality and penetrating power; and through the Reformation, this culture began its worldwide triumphal procession. But this was only possible through liberated Christianity.

The Greek culture also had and has its dark sides, which are still creeping after Christianity as a shadow and are doing their mischief. With its gnostic world views and the religious rites connected with it, it has managed to nestle with us and even to mix with it, almost inseparably they seem to be interwoven with it. The most visible expression of this can be found in the cults of the Roman Catholic Church, but also in its daughters, who have diligently learned and cribbed from it. The Roman Catholic system is an original imprint of Greek culture. It represents both the sunny and dark sides of that culture. Rome is the Greek par excellence. But true Christianity has brought the pearls of science and art of Greek culture to new maturity and to shine, and all this against Rome.

Now the apostle Paul did not want to write a cultural history and he did not do it, he was concerned with the spread and proclamation of the gospel and that in the whole world. His message is: Justified by faith. Both must believe, the Jew as well as the Greek, because with own religious efforts there is nothing, but also absolutely nothing to lift, because the poison of the lie, with which the serpent had "bitten" the first human pair, works in both, makes therefore their whole religious work from the outset impossible.

As we have seen, the Jew and the Greek are very similar after all. However, the Jew has a slight advantage with regard to his book, the Tanakh, to be able to believe in the Savior Jesus Christ, if he leaves aside the human traditions. On the other hand, the Greek has it easier, because he gets a positive impression of Jesus in the kindness of God, we also call it the grace of God, because in comparison to his own gods, who, among other things, cruelly, murderously and fornicatingly move through the world, thus do not recommend themselves at all, the Son of God actually descended from heaven to earth and led a holy and pious life and thus became the true figure of light.

With all commonality there is nevertheless a difference between Jews and Greeks, of it the apostle speaks in Romans 1, he says: We preach Christ as crucified, to the Jews an offence and to the nations foolishness. Is that right? If you are a Jew, ask yourself: Is the crucifixion of Jesus really a nuisance to me? And if you are a Greek, that is, from the nations, ask yourself: Is the crucifixion of Jesus a foolishness to me?
I cannot answer the question for you, but if you agree with Paul's statement, then you are on the best way, because Jesus is looking for the sincere.

Berlin, Nobember 4, 2022

© Copyright by H. Randy Rohrer

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