Confronting the Hellenism of Today

“Man,” said the Greek philosopher Protagoras (481-411 BC), “is the measure of all things of what is and what is not.” This philosophy provided the foundation for Hellenism, which was devoted to the supremacy of human beings and human accomplishment. The cultural tradition of the Greeks, Hellenism was the prevalent worldview before and during the growth of early Christianity.

Hellenism was based in the belief that human beings are the ultimate source of truth and authority in the universe. Since the human being was considered the “measure of all,” human wisdom was deemed to be the greatest wisdom. What could not be understood or explained was viewed as false. Human accomplishments in athletics, the arts, and architecture became the motivating drive of society. The human body was considered the ultimate in beauty, so nudity, in art, in the baths, and in sport, was common. The accumulation of material possessions in order to provide oneself with luxury and comfort was a common pursuit. What could me more natural than to get the most out of life. After all, life’s greatest goal was to be the best at any pursuit.

The Hellenists tried to build their society on their gods, which were human creations. In effect, they worshiped themselves. Because they had nothing greater than themselves on which to base their worldview and society, their society eventually collapsed. No society can exist for very long when it creates its own view of truth.

Was Hellenism, at its roots, really new? No. The first evidence of it is recorded when Satan asked Eve, “Did God really say”? (Gen. 3:1). Eve, and then Adam faced an earth-shaking choice: who, or what, was the ultimate source of truth in the universe? When Adam and Eve decided to disobey God’s command not to eat from the tree (Gen. 2:16-17), they decided for themselves what was right and best for them and didn?t depend on God. They crowned themselves as the ultimate authority in the universe.

In contrast, the worldview of Christianity is based on God as the ultimate truth and authority. His revelation is the source of our vision for society, our knowledge, our morality, and even truth itself. The resulting values are absolute, not merely creations of our imaginations, and form a strong basis for society and the belief in the dignity of each person who is created in God’s image. In such a worldview, God is the ultimate authority in the universe. Life is to be lived for him, not for us. God has created the ultimate beauty, not humankind. Truth is what God revealed and allowed his people to discover.

The core beliefs of Hellenism haven’t disappeared with the advancements of today’s culture. Today Hellenism is called Humanism, and it still promotes the idea that the human being is the ultimate authority in the universe. Thus truth is what the human mind can discover, demonstrate, and understand. The glorification of human accomplishment, the drive to be number one, the obsession with comfort and pleasure, the focus on the human body and sexuality, the lack of compassion for other people, and the commitment to the will of the majority as being right are built on a foundation that is as old as the Garden of Eden and was well articulated by ancient Greek philosophers.

Today we commonly hear phrases like: “Just do it.” “If it feels good, go with it.” “I can do whatever I want with my body.” Within our public educational system, Hellenistic teaching is prevalent. Truth is defined as that which each person can logically understand and demonstrate (or at least that which the majority of people decides is right).

What does this mean to believers today? We live in the same type of world as the early Christian missionaries did. Our great task, then, is to declare that God alone is supreme and obey him. Our great temptation is that we may compromise and live as Hellenists or Humanists, and lose the opportunity to bring God’s life-transforming love and truth to a spiritually needy world.


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