Greek dualism and Hebrew covenant

I am sure as you read through the title and came to the word “covenant” your eye lids drooped and that irresistible urge to sleep set in. Your only hope of staying awake momentarily are the whip-lash inducing head bobs. Of course each head bob is quickly followed by a self-conscious checklist: Did I drool? How long was I out for? Did I drool enough for it to be noticeable? With that said, wipe the drool from your mouth and stretch. Why? Surprisingly covenant is not only interesting but it gives great insight into the character of God, Scriptures, and God’s interaction with man.

Before reading What The Bible Says About Covenant, by Mont W. Smith, I had no idea the influence that Greek thought and philosophy plays on religious presuppositions and direct theology. Due to the fact that the parties in the Bible are Hebrew, it is critical that we understand their perspectives, culture, and traditions. Hebrew and Greek thought is about as comparable as Garfield is to a wild mountain lion on the prowl. I would only want to meet one in a movie theater or anywhere else for that matter. As you can tell from my witty analogy, Greek and Hebrew cultures aren’t close. Each has a way of explaining creation, but that is where the comparisons stop. For the Greeks there are two paths. The first is called the ‘analogy of the gods’ which is  mythology, gods battling for power, trying to outwit each other, living wild debaucheries lives.  From the creation story of man it is obvious that the Greeks had a “low view” of man. They believed based on the Delphi myth that man was essentially evil. The body was made out of the ashes of Titan who battled Zeus for power and lost. He was sent to Earth and was struck by lighting. Add a little dust, some salt and pepper, and BAM! you got man. The second Greek path was very philosophical. Plato and his student Aristotle held that the only good was the mind or “nous” which was the Greek word also used for god. God to Plato was an “eternal life force.” From this philosophical belief it naturally follows a sense of dualism: mind is good, body is bad. The mind is like a bird imprisoned in a cage. Aristotle went even further and said that man was nothing more than a “machana” or machine. If man did evil than it was only his body doing was bodies do: evil. All responsiblity for ones action is taken away.

The Hebrews take a 180 degrees turn on their perspective. For the Hebrews, man was created by one God. Unlike the Greeks, the Hebrew philosophy was that man was created good. A critical part of God’s plan was creating man with a choice. Asking a robot to follow directions is pretty easy and yet there is no fellowship, no love, no relationship. Therefore, it was essential that God created man with the ability both the mental capacity and understanding to make decisions for themselves. Was it a risk? Sure, creating millions of people who might one day despise you is a risky move. You might have better odds at a craps table in Vegas.

Another area of conflict between Hebrew and Greek is their take on power. Power is something that Western culture highly values. We got this from the Greeks. The Greek gods were both good and evil. They could not follow some arbitrary ethical code or societal norms because such capitulation would make their gods inferior and less powerful than the code. To the Greek there was nothing worse than a powerless god. What is the point of having a fast car if the speed limit is always 25?

The Hebrews had a much different take. Power was something we all have been given, and yet restraint in power was more highly regarded. Most unrighteousness and out of control behavior stem from unrestrained power. Righteous, wholesome, moral acts require the restraint of some power. Moses felt that man was given the ability to be almost god-like in our freedom and free-will. He felt that we were not made evil, but that we were forced to use our power in the right way.

In forming a covenant with man God was limiting his power. He was showing his creation he could be trusted by consistently being true to His word.  God was willing to let man choose Him, He would show them His greatness through miracles, signs, dreams, prophecy, but he would not force them to follow Him.


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