PAGAN INFLUENCE IN THE WRITINGS OF PAUL
Compiled by: Abdul Hakeem Omalay
[I have included Source Links and Biblical Footnotes for Additional Information]
In Paul’s letters and recorded speeches, there are considerable allusions and references to pagan culture. When Paul recounts his conversion experience in (1.) Acts chapter 26, verse 13, he actually quotes a line from a play by Aeschylus [Agamemnon 1624]. It may be Paul was trying to impress the procurator Festus, which is why he uses the phrase “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” in addition to the words recorded in (2.) Acts chapter 9, verse 4 (“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”).
Paul used two pagan quotes in the hope of sparking a discussion at the Areopagus, recorded in (3.) Acts chapter 17, verse 28. The phrase “in him we live and move and have our being” is found in the poem Cretica, written by Epimenides in the 6th century BC, although in the poem the description is applied to Zeus.
Paul then builds on this quote, adding “your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’.” This is a direct quote from the Stoic thinker Aratus [Phainomena 5], although Aratus ascribes the origin of humanity to Zeus.
Acts 17:28 New International Version (NIV)
28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[a] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[b]
Acts 17:28 [a] From the Cretan philosopher Epimenides
Acts 17:28 [b] From the Cilician Stoic philosopher Aratus
The epistles attributed to Paul also contain some pagan quotes.
(4.) In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 33, he quotes a line from Euripedes’ play Aiolos (“Bad company ruins good morals”), and the line also appears in a play called Thais by Menander, who probably initially coined it as a maxim.
1 Corinthians 15:33 New International Version (NIV)
33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.”[a]
1 Corinthians 15:33 [a] From the Greek poet Menander
(5.) In Titus chapter 1, verse 12, Paul warns Titus about the moral failings of the people Titus is living among on Crete, again quoting the poet Epimenides who says “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” However, it’s worth pointing out the lie Epimenides referred to was the claim that Zeus was mortal, which was apparently believed on Crete.
Titus 1:12 New International Version (NIV)
12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”[a]
Titus 1:12 [a] From the Cretan philosopher Epimenides
(6.) Publius Terentius Afer (Terence) (Latin comedy writer) 190 BC:
“But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home.”
(Andria Act IV — at this link pp 34-44.)
1 Timothy 5:4
“But if any widow have children or nephews let them learn first to show piety at home”
There are at least six references which can be attributed to pagan authors:
1.)Acts chapter 26, verse 13 – Aeschylus (c. 525–456 B.C.)
2.)Acts chapter 9, verse 4 – Aeschylus (c. 525–456 B.C.)
3.)a.Acts chapter 17, verse 28 – Epimenides (c. 6th Century B.C.)
3.)b.Acts chapter 17, verse 28 – Aratus (c. 315 BC/310 BC – 240 B.C.)
4.)1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 33 – taken from Euripedes, and probably Menander (c. 341-42 c. 290 B.C.)
5.)Titus chapter 1, verse 12 – Epimenides (c. 6th Century B.C.)
6.)1 Timothy chapter 5, verse 4 – Publius Terentius Afer known as – Terence
(c. 195/185–159 B.C. )