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What are Greeks?

17-01-2013 - Posted by Andre Piet


Jews and Greeks

In the NT, Greeks are mentioned quite often (25x). Greeks are obviously people who belong to Greece. Initially, one thinks of the inhabitants of Greece, but in the NT, a different meaning is first of all in view. The term Greeks is commonly used in distinction to the term Jews. Here are a few examples from the first epistle to the Corinthians:

… in fact, Jews signs are requesting, and Greeks wisdom are seeking, – 1Cor.1:22-

… yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God, -1Cor.1:24-

And become not a stumbling block to Jews as well as to Greeks and to the ecclesia of God, -1Cor.10:32-

For in one spirit also we all are baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and all are made to imbibe one spirit. -1Cor.12:13-

Corinthians are residents of Greece. But Paul consistently distinguishes them from the Jews amongst them. This means that with the term Greeks, he refers to people who do not live a Jewish-lifestyle.

the Greek dispersion

The first time the NT mentions Greeks is in John 7:35, and the way this is done is significant.

The Jews, then, said to themselves, “Where is he about to go, that we shall not find him? He is not about to go to the dispersion of the Greeks and teach the Greeks?

“The Greek dispersion” is literally: the diaspora of the Greeks. A curious term! Elsewhere, “diaspora” refers to the twelve tribes, which are scattered abroad (James 1:1; 1Pet.1:1). But why is this then spoken of as “the diaspora of the Greeks“? Answer: the Greeks, here, are Jews who had adopted a Greek lifestyle and, in our terms, were assimilated.

a Greek in the temple…

When we understand that these Greeks are people who lived a non-Jewish lifestyle, we also have a better understanding of why Paul’s preaching was offensive to many Jews. In his preaching, a Jewish or Greek lifestyle did not make any difference. This was for the Jews a completely unacceptable message. Illustrative is the reason for Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem. He was accused of having brought a Greek into the temple (Acts 21:28). This is remarkable, because Trophimus was not a native of Greece; he came from Ephesus (Acts 21:29). He is called a Greek, because he lived as a Greek, i.e., he lived a non-Jewish lifestyle. The accusation of the Jews proved to be unjustified, but it makes it clear why Paul’s message to them was a stumbling block. Paul had, indeed, not brought a Greek into the temple, but he certainly taught that Greeks have an equal access to the Father and jointly form a spiritual temple. They are not in a second-class position, but are fellow citizens of the saints and belong to God’s family (Eph.2:17-22)!