The questions a man asks not only reveal his character; they also determine what kind and how much of truth he will discover. The questions a religion asks and the answers it gives will do the same. When the Greeks asked, What is man’s relation to God? they got back the answer: Man is finite, God is infinite; man is temporal, God is eternal; man is weak, God is almighty. When the Hebrews asked the same question, they got back the same answers, plus. And it was this plus, this extra, that led them into the heart of their greatest contribution to the world. Their “plus” looked deeper into both the nature of man and the nature of God, and declared that at the deepest level of truth and at the deepest level of communication between God and man, God is holy and man is sinful. Their monotheism was not simply belief in one God; it was ethical monotheism, belief in one God who is the ultimate in ethical personhood, and who has created men in his image as ethical persons.
Now when the Gospel was first preached to the Greeks, and during those first few centuries when the Jewish religion was being adapted to Gentile thought forms, the main source of the controversies that arose was the effort to adapt Jewish answers to Greek questions. Many years ago when I was still a missionary in India, Reinhold Niebuhr opened my eyes to the significance of this for our whole understanding of the history of religions and the relation of Christianity to non-Christian religions. This passage is from his work The Nature and Destiny of Man:
The obsession of the Greek mind with the problem of finiteness and eternity had two consequences, as Greek thought sought to appropriate the “foolishness” of the gospel. One was that it exhausted itself in accepting ...1
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