On the cusp of East and West, nearly one thousand years before Jesus Christ (c.4 BC–AD 30) and roughly four hundred years before ancient Ionian philosopher, Thales of Miletus (c.620–?540 BC), who is generally credited as the first of his kind (specifically natural philosophy, distinct from the poets and “myth-makers”), the industrious yet sapient thinker and perhaps more reputably known as the world’s first philosopher king reigned over ancient Israel during the Golden Age of the unified Davidic monarchy. As history would herald and legend surround, he supposedly studied all things from architecture, politics, the arts and poetry to the nature of plants and animals with an emphasis in the humanities and metaphysics for an explanation of things unseen (extra-biblical legends attempt to expand the scope of his knowledge as a mystic, exorcist and astrologer) insomuch that his reign was globally acknowledged (1 Kings 4:29-34) – I say that loosely – for his unorthodox yet profound earthly wisdom, a capacity prayed for in his youth. He is on one hand the principal author of practical wisdom literature, particularly, the Book of Proverbs, and on the other he juggles everyday behaviour with ultimate deductions in the Book of Ecclesiastes, which would largely be a weeping account of nihilism if God were unaccounted for. King Solomon (c.970-?931 BC), son of David, was and still is recognized for his piercing intelligibility and equitable judgment, bearing the earmarks of ancient ‘philosophical’ wisdom.
As time would twist it, Solomon’s wisdom got to his head, rejecting not only his own proverbial intents to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5), but instead led a lifestyle embracing over-abundance and self-indulgence where wealth, women and idolatry merely represented his own self-conscious deviancy, “…Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Though history speaks a warning through his later theological complacency, it was not in vain. It is interesting to consider that Solomon’s methodology, or intelligible yet practical approach, actually attracted a secular audience of gentile kings, queens and cultures of all sorts. Sure, it is fair to say in the thick of it he gave way on his beliefs, but is that not a result of his own self-made virtues, that is to suggest, did he not “lean” and was more so inclined to believe his own understanding? Who is to say his approach or method of reasoning was wrong? Especially today, in our more academically rich society, if used as a tool for missiological and evangelical purposes. Tertullian (AD 155–240) and later scholarly circles have coined the scope of this debate, “What Does Athens Have To Do With Jerusalem?” And before we can react with any sort of legitimacy, however disagreeable, we must first understand: What is the fundamental difference between theology and philosophy? Being it an article, more or less, and not an exhaustive document, I will attempt to summarize this matter as best I can – albeit, as quickly as I can (sort of).
WHAT IS THE SCOPE OF THEOLOGY?
Most contemporary theologians, whether traditional, liberal, existential, Protestant, Orthodox or Roman Catholic, study the relation and nature of God and man through the Biblical texts, sometimes accompanied by apocryphal (i.e. Tobit, Sirach, etc.), pseudepigraphal (i.e. Enoch, Jubilees, etc.) and historical texts (i.e. Philo, Josephus, etc.) among other writings. Hence the use of the Greek theologia (θεολογία) derivative of Τheos (Θεός), meaning “God,” and -logia (-λογία) from logos (λόγος) meaning “word”, “logic” or “to reason an account”. In general, and in regards to man, theologians attempt to understand truth, reality, existence and essence through a Biblical lens in the studies of language (Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek), history, religion, anthropology, law, morality, spirituality and the sciences dependent upon the Biblical text necessarily, and thus what is referred to as Theology proper is the explicit study of the God’s being, attributes, nature, character and works. The sheer breadth of such study was inevitably demarcated into five primary inner spheres of theology (or first-order theology) with second-order disciplines of study. The primary spheres include: Biblical Theology (also called Exegetical Theology), Historical Theology, Moral Theology, Practical Theology and Systematic Theology.
In conservative theological scholarship, any ‘theological’ aims systemized from outside the Biblical account will just simply miss the mark. For over millennia Theology was heralded as “Queen of the sciences” (from Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) and therefore the Bible and it’s doctrines (from latin docere, meaning “teaching”) were seen as the necessary bridge for true real knowledge, that is to say, spiritual inquiry and revelation harnessed by a single pervasive Holy Spirit was the necessary guide to appropriate philosophical, historical, scientific and linguistic methods (i.e. hermeneutics). The Bible then, to the Biblical maximalist, is more than just a book that is self-referentially coherent, thematically cohesive and empirically consistent, it is anticipated that, ‘if Scripture is God breathed and true, and God is the source of truth, reality and creation, then God and His law must be externally verifiable’. Does God not declare his existence through what is natural? (Romans 1:18-20) This question concerning the general revelation of God in nature brings into light the second-order disciplines of Natural Theology and Philosophical Theology (or Christian Philosophy), usually studied in the outer sphere of Apologetics that likewise tends to emphasize evidential aspects of Historical Theology (and Archaeology) and Moral Theology (or Ethics). Therefore, Apologetics is contingent on the first-order theological disciplines and utilizes scientific, philosophical and historical data to support its missional approach and method.
The standardized belief seems to be that by persistently striving to know the personal God of the Bible who is both rational and relational in nature, a deeper and special understanding of self, humanity and God will grow. To abbreviate all the theological disciplines, it is simply asking, arguing and answering life’s most necessary and significant questions from the Biblical account of truth, reality, existence and essence; in one course it is organizing information and in another it is problem solving, all to understand the cohesive, coherent and consistent nature of the intrinsic Word with the extrinsic world. This same driving force for understanding reality is what ancient to present philosophers attempt to articulate; notwithstanding the modernist disbelief in the very possibility of a relational God.
Etymologically, philosophy roots from ancient Greek philo-sophía (φιλοσοφία), which literally means “love of wisdom”, and has become to mean the study of the fundamental nature concerning truth, reality, existence and essence, forming first-order academic disciplines in Metaphysics, Ethics, Aesthetics, Epistemology, Language and Logic with second-order branches in politics, law, education, medicine, history, religion, art, literature, mathematics, cosmology and the sciences. In short, the philosopher has his hand in every pot. As with theology, philosophy too is about asking, arguing and attempting to answer life’s most necessary and significant questions by organizing information and problem solving such into overarching perspective of reality; ‘Philosophy proper’ then to the philosopher would be the study of Metaphysics (‘ta meta ta physica’, literally means “after the Physics”), or even more specifically, General Ontology (the word ‘ontology’ derives from the Greek ‘on’ and in the plural ‘onta’, which is the present participle of ‘einai’, the verb ‘to be’ meaning ‘being’. ‘Being’ is in this ancient sense is much broader than one’s soul and material existence – all that there is, all that exists, is included within Being). Ontology is descriptively understood as the primary component to metaphysics, integrating aspects of epistemology, meaning, ethics, logic and other fields of study to focus on ultimate subjects such as existence in itself, the essential nature of ultimate reality, perception, knowledge, general principles of being, transcendental properties of identity, unity, truth and goodness. This seems to be why its philosophical grip is so pervasive – it attempts to be, or resolve, the true and real undercurrent of everything. Ontologists then attempt to connect the dots, or perhaps it is better to say, synthesize all aspects of experience into a unified whole or ‘truth’ as it were.
One question that might come to mind is that if philosophy is the study of reality without God’s Word, why even bother with it at all? For centuries, conservative theologians considered philosophy a lower form of theological corruption, or at very best, its servant. Philosophy was widely held to be the handmaiden of theology (from Latin philosophia ancilla theologiae) and espoused by the medieval scholastic theologian Thomas Aquinas (AD 1225-1274) who argued that the logical methods employed in philosophy could be used as a tool to sharpen theological doctrine against secular knowledge. With that in mind, should contemporary Christians enact some kind of philosophical reasoning in some shape or form too?
With all things considered, my point is that unlike King Solomon, we as Christians are at a moral advantage. We are fastened by what the early Church fathers called that “rock of offense”. Through the belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone, and then being born again in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, our capacity to love and trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding ought to be more intimately understood, and therefore, the true believer in this sense is less susceptible to fall away, if indeed it is possible, or be led into temptation from philosophical deviations or spiritual doubts. Once more, “If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7) I do not suppose St. Paul had to face a similar question with ‘what does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?’ (Acts 17:16-34).
Matlock Bobechko | June 1, 2016 – 11:46 AM EST substantive revision July 30, 2018 – 10:47 PM EST
 Roughly five hundred years before King Solomon, rabbinic tradition credits Moses as author of the Biblical book of Job (c.1592-1271 BC). Written in the format of dramatic poetry, also under the genre of wisdom literature or The Ketuvim (literal translation, “The Writings”, כְּתוּבִים Kəṯûḇîm), akin but not identical to Plato’s Republic (c.380 BC), it records a scathing philosophical critique about the intellectual inadequacy imbedded in the nearby cultural philosophies of the time. These philosophies are personified by three wise men, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, who use Job as the catalyst to have a theological discourse about God’s moral relation to humankind in light of evil and suffering (an on-going debate we still see today in moral philosophy). Albeit, in latter cases, the conclusions drawn may very well be theologically or religiously motivated, but the discourse within it is far from anti-philosophical, in fact, ancient thought is often categorized as a melting pot of overlapping paradigms.
 Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature, 9, 26.
 Jonathan Hill, The History of Christian Thought, 16-7.
 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, X., 631.