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, not unlike Aristotle he supposedly studied all things from architecture and politics to the nature of plants and animals, with an emphasis on the humanities, religion, mysticism and metaphysics for an explanation of things unseen. Insomuch his reign was globally acknowledged – 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; on the other he juxtaposes that everyday behaviour to ultimate deductions such as the Book of Ecclesiastes, which is by all extents a weeping account of utter nihilism. King Solomon (c.970-?931 BC), son of David, was and still is recognized for his piercing intelligibility and equitable judgment, baring the earmarks of ancient philosophical wisdom.
As time would twist it, his 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), and instead embraced a lifestyle of 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. How often do we consider that perhaps Solomon’s methodology, or intelligible approach, actually attracted a secular audience of gentile kings, queens and cultures of all sorts? Sure it is fair to argue in the thick of it he gave way on his beliefs, but is that not a result of his own self-made virtues, or in other words, did he not “lean” and was more so inclined to believe his own understanding? Who is to say the approach or method was wrong? Especially if used as a tool of expression for missiological and evangelical spheres. Scholarly circles have coined this debate, “What Does Athens Have To Do With Jerusalem?” Yet 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 a blog, and not an exhaustive document, I will attempt to summarize this matter as best I can – albeit, as quickly as I can.
All modern Christian theologians, whether liberal, existential or traditional, study the nature of truth, reality, existence and essence, and subsequent topics of law, logic and morality necessarily dependent upon Biblical texts. Without the Bible, any theology misses the mark. Typically theologians utilize both Hebraic and Koine Greek translations to better understand the humanities in relation to the nature of God, hence the Greek theologia (θεολογία) derivative of Τheos (Θεός), meaning “God,” and -logia (-λογία) from logos [λόγος] meaning “logic” or “to reason an account”. In conservative scholarship, the Bible has heralded as “Queen of the sciences” for millennia, enacting a bridge between scientific methods (i.e. hermeneutics) and, more or less, philosophical inquiry harnessed by a single, pervasive Holy Spirit. The Bible, to the biblical maximalist, is more than just a book that is self-referentially coherent, it is anticipated that, ‘if it is true, it must be externally verifiable’. Does God not declare his existence through what is natural? In this case, such an approach has become to mean apologetics, where apologists as it were, “defend” the biblical account from the standpoint of not only scriptural doctrine, but through the logic God implanted within His creature so that all could hold inescapable correspondence with His created reality and therefore Himself, who is in the Judeo-Christian worldview irrefutably the highest source of reality. Of course it ought to be evident that logic is dependent upon reality in order for anything to be conceivably logical at all! The standardized belief seems to be by persistently striving to know the personal God of the Bible who is both rational and relational in nature, a deeper understanding of self and humanity will develop. To abbreviate all 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 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 modernized disbelief in the very possibility of a relational God.
Etymologically, philosophy roots from Ancient Greek φιλοσοφία (philo-sophía), which literally means “love of wisdom”, and has become to mean, broadly speaking, the study of the fundamental nature concerning truth, reality, existence and essence, rooting academic disciplines in aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, 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, a term known among analytic philosophers as Ontology. Nonetheless, where theologians tend to be more scientifically bent, being more concerned with actively answering, philosophers tend to be hypothetically bent or more concerned with actively questioning. Unlike theology again, such a cognitive process is derivative and frequently acknowledged in contemporary circles as solely a skeptical and/or self-referential understanding of reality known in modern philosophy as epistemological skepticism, as goes the adage, “it is all a matter of interpretation”. As such philosophers nowadays tend to arrange former notions, theories, treatise and accounts of reality to bolster one’s own perception of it, and however reasonable or relatable it may be is entirely dependent upon the intellectual at large. So to abbreviate the matter once again, philosophy as a unified whole is strictly an intelligible method, it is broadly speaking a process of understanding and more easily recognized as the process of ontological understanding.
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. Why should we enact any kind of philosophy?
It is not that theologians or common folk utilizing theological guidelines ought to become a philosopher per se, but given that we, as Christians, at some point or another have to evangelize to skeptics, especially today being members of a philosophically tuned society, our approach and method should be as comprehensive and applicable as possible, apologetically and polemically. It is after all our duty as Saints and ambassadors of Jesus Christ to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel…” (Mark 16:15), “… [S]anctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…” (1 Peter 3:15), and in the very least, attempt to provide an answer, however simple or complex, that the unbeliever will understand. In part, this comes with empathizing on a deeper, intimate level with the questioner behind the question; if truth is both internally and externally verifiable, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…” (Romans 1:20) then we ought to be able to sensibly respond to the question on a personal, relational and biblical level. Take for instance, Justin Martyr (AD 100-165), a student of ancient philosophy and later Christian convert became known as one of the first apologists of the early Church, utilized a philosophically stimulated theology to defend the Biblical account against the Roman Emperor, Antoninus Pius (AD 86-161).
Returning to the first question posed concerning the fundamental difference between theology and philosophy, as it is perceived today. At bottom, both the theologian and philosopher are striving for real knowledge and therefore is dependent on the authoritative source of truth, or better yet, who authorizes that truth. Philosophy, as an enterprise and cognitive process has become to mean, not that it is, a self-authoritative profession. Consider for a moment that all scholars are subjected to utilize the same cognitive faculties such as the laws of logic. And to be “without excuse” means the unbeliever must process the reality of things similarly. Did God not design all humans to understand, or at least the propensity to want to understand, how and why things work (2 Peter 3:9)? As Aristotle’s son expressed in Nichomachean Ethics, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” So let me say this as clearly as I can: the problem is not with the “love of wisdom”, it is with sin nature. – And who is without sin? Is it not our antediluvian weakness to “lean” on our own understanding above all else, and to presuppose “it is all a matter of [my] interpretation”? The Biblical account of reality explicitly states the one and only authoritative source of truth is in conflict with our predispositions, which effects how we think, believe and understand things from childhood to adulthood. However it is not without resolve. We are fastened by what the early Church fathers called that “rock of offense”.
With all things considered, my point is that unlike King Solomon, we are at an advantage. 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 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 similar questions with ‘what does Jerusalem have to do with Athens’. In summary: Acts 17:16-34
Matlock Bobechko | June 1, 2016 – 11:46 AM 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.