Hebrew and Hellenists

Discussion in 'The Gospels & Acts' started by arapahoepark, Feb 25, 2016.

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  1. arapahoepark

    arapahoepark Puritan Board Graduate

    What was the difference between the Hebrews and Hellenists in Acts? I am finding two schools of thought those who say there was not much a difference other than language and the other that the Hellenists were drifting away from the law (championed my Martin Hengel). Those who criticize the latter do so believing there is no law/gospel distinction. What say you?
  2. arapahoepark

    arapahoepark Puritan Board Graduate

    Ok, to simplify: what was the difference between the Hebrews and the Hellenists in Acts?
  3. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I think the question trades on some ambiguity in the term. The description "Hellenist" fits both categories; and like political/religious classifications in our own time (think of the term "conservative"), its very likely that people in that era might have used the same word in overlapping senses.

    It's even possible that in the book of Acts the word can mean either category. Insisting it means one or the other, without considering the context, is too a priori.

    Because of the presence of Greek/foreign persons and influence over the course of several centuries (since Alexander the Great), "Hellenist" described political and religiously-liberal accommodation. The label might be applied or taken voluntarily by Jews who were not too nationalistic, not beholden to the Torah in a strict or Pharisaic way (remember, in those days "Pharisaic" was not such a pejorative). Hellenists were those who were going with the flow, the times; and embracing/using Greek language would reflect that. In regional cities dominated by Greeks, by Phoenicians, Idumeans, Egyptians, Assyrians, and who knows else, the Greek lingua franca was the commercial tongue.

    Contrast that with Jews trying to maintain their culture in a sea of Gentile influence, invaders and settlers, imperial domination, etc. Native Jews used Hebrew in religion, and Aramaic in daily life, probably used Greek when necessary for commerce. So, there comes to be a language-divide between those who cling to the Hebrew as culturally significant, and those who live and move comfortably in the Greek-dominated world at large.

    OT religion continued to gain converts from around the world, as it had throughout its existence. Also, Jews of the diaspora, whose families had settled far from the Israelite coasts, were periodically attracted back to the homeland. They may have grown up speaking Greek at home in Alexandria, Egypt, or in Tarsus for example. These people would often come to reside--long-term or temporarily--in Jerusalem and environs. Such would bring with them patterns of religious devotion; which, having the LXX translation of the OT, was expressed in Greek.

    Now mix in some xenophobia and some elitism from those who express their religion in Hebrew. It is reasonable to conclude that "Hellenist" synagogues in Judea and thereabouts would be looked down upon as second-class by those of a nativist bent. That was the political and social reality into which the NT age is born.

    When Jews of either category come to faith in Jesus Christ, they still have to deal with their segregation tendencies. This is a problem we see the church facing in the early chs. of Acts, and a cause for the intentional address of the issue by raising the office of Deacon. Then there's the inertial resistance to the breaking of the old-wineskins paradigm. Not only do Greek-speaking Jews not have to learn Hebrew to become closer to God through religion; Greeks don't even have to become Jews, and circumcised, and cleave to Moses in all respects!

    I think, if you see the term "Hellenist" as a product of a particular background, and as referring to both a cultural/political divide and to a linguistic issue reflecting a transient population, you can appreciate the flexibility of the term.

  4. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Can I have permission to use some of your posts on www.reformed.org? I am building a new section called "Concepts and Definitions."
    I only have a few dozen definitions at this point. I would be happy to PM you for each topic to give you a chance (If you felt so motivated) to touch up the definition to take out personal remarks that are only appropriate for the Board. Of course, I would give you credit.

    Your answers are just plain better than most of what I find.
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