EPICURUS, ARISTIPPUS, AND THE MAN OF TARSUS

EPICURUS, ARISTIPPUS, AND THE MAN OF TARSUS

Neal Pollard

Epicurus and Aristippus were both Greek philosophers interested in the value of pleasure.  According to Everett Ferguson, Aristippus’ philosophy tilted more toward sensual pleasure while Epicurus “promoted the placid pleasures of the mind, friendship, and contentment” (Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 370).  Epicurean philosophy is summed up as a fourfold thought process: “Nothing to fear in God; nothing to feel in death; good (pleasure) can be attained; evil (pain) can be endured” (ibid., 377).  The most obvious difference between the philosophers was that Aristippus glorified bodily pleasure and Epicurus glorified intellectual pleasures (ibid., 329).  Yet, while Aristippus may have been the forefather of the sexual revolution, Epicurus was dangerous in his attitude that deity (he believed in the Greek mythological gods, but his view would be applied by his disciples to any deity) could not render punishment or reward after death (Bell, A.A., Exploring the O.T. World, 170).  Both men seemed to have a view of life that emphasized getting all the enjoyment you can in this life because there is no afterlife.

That materialistic view has been adopted by many in the modern, western culture.  While charity and good deeds may have some place, it is primarily to enhance one’s own position or pleasure.  Many show through what they value, how they spend their time, and what captures their passion that they are living only for this life.  The Christian must live differently from that.

The apostle Paul speaks of the past resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of His followers in 1 Corinthians 15.  His view of life, shaped by his Savior, was dramatically different.  In 1 Corinthians 15:32, in proving the resurrection of Christ, he says, “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”  This seems to be a quotation of Isaiah 22:13, but Paul also seems to be addressing contemporary philosophies throughout the chapter (cf. 15:29, 33).  Thiselton quotes Anders Eriksson in his now out of print volume, Traditions as Rhetorical Proof, to suggest that “both Isaiah 22:13 and contemporary anti-Epicurean polemic equally designate the libertinist life.  Paul uses it to point to the utter futility of a life without the motivation given by the resurrection of Christ” (Thiselton, A.C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A commentary on the Greek text, 1253).

Paul taught a future judgment where there would be reward and punishment (2 Cor. 5:10).  He also taught of the hope that fuels the individual to live beyond the moment, based on the fact that Christ arose (1 Cor. 15:54-58).  Ancient and modern philosophers encourage man to look within and to a lesser degree to look around himself.  Christians, encouraged by Bible writers like Paul, begin by looking up to God.  Everything else, past, present, and future, is filtered through that worldview.  As time has tested all the philosophies of man, nothing compares to the Christian worldview.  While there may be a certain degree of wholesome pleasure that follows obedience to Christ, Christianity does not make pleasure the top priority.  At least, it does not focus primarily on bodily pleasure on earth.  It points to eternity and the everlasting pleasure the faithful will enjoy in heaven.  The individual must decide which has the clarion ring of truth, but that choice has everlasting consequences and it will influence how one lives on this earth.

 

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