We left it a little uncertain just where St Paul stood in relation to the possibilities of natural theology. In order to make further progress we have to look at Jewish traditions that are akin to natural theology. The study of these traditions may make it easier to decide exactly where Paul himself stood; and, even if it does not decide that question, the study of these traditions will be important in its own right. But, because we have started through Paul, we will give pride of place to one particular document, the Wisdom of Solomon; for it shows an unusually high similarity to aspects of Paul's language and thought.
Now we do not know whether Paul had actually read the Wisdom of Solomon, or whether it counted for him as an authoritative scripture. Since he came so close to its diction at a number of points, the probability is that that he knew the book, and, if he knew the book, that it did count for him as an authoritative religious text. If not, it does not matter much for our immediate purpose, because it means only that Paul belonged, though independently, to a very similar tradition of thought. That this was so can be demonstrated from another aspect shared by Wisdom and by Paul, an aspect which by common consent should belong very definitely to revealed theology: namely the understanding of the first man, Adam, in relation to death and immortality. To this therefore we have to devote some attention.
Moreover, when we go back to the Old Testament, we find two similarly significant facts. Firstly, after the story of Adam and Eve is first narrated in Genesis, nowhere in the books of the Hebrew canon does anyone go back to that incident in order to use it as an explanation for the origin of sin, evil, and death. It just does not happen. The phrase of Isaiah 4327, ‘your first father sinned’, refers to Jacob or some other pioneer of the people of Israel. The Hebrew Bible is certainly deeply conscious of the actuality and pervasiveness of sin and evil. But nowhere in all the books of the Hebrew canon is the existence or the profundity of evil accounted for on the grounds that Adam's disobedience originated it or made it inevitable. It is not surprising, therefore, that Judaism, as we know it,3 has no doctrine corresponding to the Christian traditions of ‘original sin’, no idea that sin and evil exist as a heritage passed on from the first human beings.
Even more essential, however, was one detail, namely the place of death in that same story. Traditional Christianity believed, following Paul, that Eve and Adam by their sin brought death into the world. This implies, or appears to imply, that if there had been no sin there would have been no death. But in Genesis itself, though there are possible variations in the interpretation, something like the reverse appears to be intended. The problem created, and created in particular for God himself, by the disobedience of the man and woman is that, as a consequence of what they have done, they may come to live for ever! This is the reason, and the only reason, why! he human pair are expelled from the Garden of Eden. The natural cultural assumption, supported by a mass of evidence in the Hebrew Bible, is that the humans were mortal from the beginning. They would have died, and death as an end to life was perfectly natural, proper, and acceptable, provided that the circumstances were good—in good old age, surrounded by children and later offspring, just as Job died, rightly and well, after his sufferings were over. In Genesis itself, then, there is no reason to understand that the point is that the first human disobedience brought death into the world. The text does not say that and, except through extremes of exegetical ingenuity, it seems to say something quite different.
But all these things, which are lacking in the Genesis text itself, and which are found in Paul and are essential to his argument, are found first in the Wisdom of Solomon and found there together.
Thus Wisdom 223 has:
For God created man with incorruption (evp¾ avfqarsi,a|),9and made him in the image of his own eternity,10
but through the devil's envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his party (meri,j) experience it.
For the main thought of the passage it makes little difference whether man was created with immortality (as if this was a built-in constitutional difference) or for immortality (which would have to be gained or merited). Death was, originally, not part of the human scene: only after the devil's intervention did it emerge as a prospect. Afterwards, according to the thought of Wisdom, humans might gain immortality through the possession of wisdom; but this was after death had entered in. In either case death was not originally part of human destiny. The translation ‘in’ or ‘with’ incorruption therefore seems to be right. REB translates well with its: ‘God created man imperishable, and made him the image of his own eternal self.’
The idea that possession of immortality is a common point between God and humanity is supported by comparison with 1 Enoch 6911, ‘for men were created exactly like the angels, to the intent that they should continue pure and righteous, and death, which destroys everything, could not have taken hold of them, but through this their knowledge they are perishing’. In any case no substantial difference is made: for, if death is not part of the scene for the original humans, it makes little difference whether they ‘were’ immortal from the beginning or ‘were to be’ immortal: in either case they were not going to die. Moreover, the words ‘in the image of his own eternity’ imply that humanity, being made in the image of God, had from the beginning a share in God's own immortality. Again, Wisdom 113 explicitly states that ‘God did not create death’—and formally speaking this is true. The Old Testament speaks of God as the living God and the giver of life, and the creation stories, seen from some points of view, do not tell of his creating death. Elsewhere, however, we do hear that God brings death just as he gives life, so for instance in Hannah's song, 1 Samuel 26, ‘the Lord kills and makes alive’, similarly Psalm 10429 ‘when thou takest away their breath they die’, corresponding to their revival or recreation in the next verse. Thus God, as the giver of life, is not to be construed as one who gave life without limit, as if no person, animal, or insect would ever perish. Such a conclusion, however, Wisdom drew, at least for humans. It would naturally encourage the view that the humans had immortality, or at least the prospect of it, from the start. Anyway, they lost it, and death entered the world. Wisdom's understanding of Genesis is in this regard the same one that is basic to Paul; and like Paul's use of the passage, it works from a broad generalization and fails to pay attention to the numerous details in Genesis which point very clearly in a different direction.
We shall not pursue further, however, the matter of Adam, Eve, and the origin of sin and entry of death into the world. What has been said is sufficient to suggest a strong affinity or common tradition relating the thought of this document to St Paul.
The second theme that is prominent in Wisdom is the theme of idolatry. After Deutero-Isaiah, no Old Testament book devotes more space to idolatry than Wisdom, and if anything it exceeds the great exilic prophet in its concern for the question. The three chapters 13–15 form a solid and continuous polemic against this evil practice. The emphasis the author lays upon it stands out by contrast with the other books of the Wisdom tradition. The original Proverbs seems to make no direct mention of idolatry, though all sorts of other sins are thoroughly castigated in the book. Nor does it trouble Qoheleth. More striking still, the Book of Ben Sira, more nearly contemporary with Wisdom, does not bother much about the subject either.11 It is well known that Ben Sira represents a combination of wisdom traditions with legal traditions, yet, though the law contains severe condemnations of idolatry, Ben Sira does not take up this subject into his (quite lengthy) book. The book that particularly specializes in idolatry is Wisdom.
And Wisdom not only specializes in idolatry, but it handles it in specific ways which have great similarity to Paul's procedure in Romans. For instance, the view that idolatry is the source from which all moral evils flow is common to them both.
The idea of idols was the beginning of fornication;
the invention of them was the corruption of life (Wisd. 1412)
and so, he goes on, later, after idolatry has taken over, a catalogue of moral perversions follows:
They perform ritual killing of children (teknofo,nouj teleta,j) or secret ceremonies (kru,fia musth,ria); or else they conduct the frenzied orgies of foreign rites (evza,llwn qesmw/v). They no longer keep life or marriage pure, but a man lies in wait for another to murder him or torments him by seducing his wife. Everything is mixed up—blood and murder, theft and fraud, corruption, treachery, riot, perjury, disturbance of the good, forgetfulness of kindness, defilement of souls, changes affecting the processes of generation (gene,sewj evnallagh,), disarray of marriages, adultery, debauchery. For the worship of unnameable idols is the beginning, the cause, and the end of every evil. (Wisd. 1423 ff.)
Paul in Romans has a similarly extensive catalogue. He does indeed have an important variation, for he speaks as if, in reaction against idolatry, God had actually inflicted moral corruption upon humanity. He had deliberately given them up to dishonourable lusts, in which homosexual relations are given prime attention. Apart from this aspect of divine abandonment, there is an analogy to the mode in which Wisdom, as just mentioned, begins its catalogue of evils with the ritual killing of children, something that likewise falls into the category of extreme and unnatural vice. And Paul, having started in this way, goes on to a wide-sweeping catalogue of moral faults, very much in the same style as Wisdom, including in the same bag such various faults as covetousness, murder, gossip, slander, and boastfulness. Persons whose background lies in idolatry, he maintains, although they know the decree of God to the effect that those who do these things deserve to die, not only do them but approve of anyone else who does them. Wisdom similarly works up to a ferocious climax: idolaters not only worship animals, but they worship the most revolting animals that exist. ‘They worship the most disgusting animals; for, being compared in point of brutishness, they are worse than all the others’ (Wisd. 1518). They do not have a trace of attractiveness about them. Indeed, when God (in Genesis) approved and blessed his work (of creation), the author tells us, he did not include these particular beasts—not a bad idea, as it happens, indeed a very reasonable thought: can God really have declared ‘good’ absolutely every living creature? Anyway, it is these horrible creatures that are adored by the idolaters, and this powerful rhetorical climax closes the case against them. Both Wisdom and Paul argue in like manner.
One other point about idolatry that has far-reaching importance. To Jews, idolatry meant, primarily, having physical images supposed to represent the divine. It might include, by a natural extension, any indication of polytheism, such as the mention of the names of heathen gods. But apart from these necessary conditions it did not extend to mere thoughts about deity.12 In much Christian theology the concept of idolatry was extended to the realm of ideas: people's ideas of God, if they do not come from divine revelation, are idolatrous, they are human manufacture of likenesses of the divine. Jews generally, perhaps always, did not make this extension of the concept. Philo is a prime example. To show that the Torah was wholly consonant with traditions of Greek philosophy was entirely proper and estimable, and was a most excellent confirmation of Judaism. Idolatry lay in the physical existence of the images, in the treatment of the finite as if it was divine. To share other people's ideas of God, or to use them in order to form one's own ideas of God, there was nothing necessarily idolatrous in that, unless some other characteristic that was repugnant to Jewish religion was added on. This is an additional reason why natural theology had a fertile soil: opposition to idolatry could easily co-exist with the acceptance of large doses of Greek ideas and thought-forms.
Returning to our main theme, Wisdom and Paul alike build their arguments against idolatry on the basis of creation. Idolatry is wrong because it puts the created in the place of the creator; it venerates that which God has made instead of venerating the God who made it.
Now this argument is hardly fully present within the canonical Hebrew books. There are several laws that forbid the use of idols in workship, some of them doubtless very ancient, but most of them fail to provide this particular connection. Thus the prohibition of graven images in the Decalogue of Exodus 20 identifies the images as images of things that are in heaven or in earth or in the waters, in terms that recall the creation story, and the connection with the creation story is also made explicit in the sabbath command; but there is no identification that specifies that the fault of idolatry lies in putting the created things in the place of the creator. And other old laws prohibiting the use of images probably made a bald and simple prohibition without giving any rationale at all. Even that great opponent of idolatry and protagonist of the idea of creation, Deutero-Isaiah, did not make explicit the connection between the two which in later documents becomes so clear. He indeed much emphasizes creation: the God of Israel is the creator God and thus vastly superior to the vain and futile non-existent ‘gods’ supposed to compete with him. And on the other hand he much satirizes the foolishness of idolatry, as already mentioned above. But the particular analysis of idolatry, as allowing the created being to enjoy the place of reverence due to the creator, seems not to be prominent with him. He satirizes more the man-made character of the idol: how foolish to venerate something that you have made yourself! God is not equal with other things, not comparable. But the particular emphasis on worshipping the created thing in place of the creator seems to be lacking or muted. The specific condemnation of the role of animals and animal figures in idolatrous and polytheistic worship is also lacking. And thus in Deutero-Isaiah, and in most of the Old Testament, there is lacking a theory that provides the steps from creation to idolatry, and from idolatry to moral perversion. In both Wisdom and Paul these steps are provided, and are extremely conspicuous. In Romans it is emphasized that:
Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. (Rom. 120 ff., RSV)
Paul then goes on to say how God had therefore delivered them to lusts and dishonourable impurities, as already mentioned. This is the first stage; the second is that they are given up to homosexuality; the third is that they are given up, yet again, to all sorts of ethical depravity, some of it more obviously appalling, some of it more of the character, we might say, of misdemeanours. But the whole account takes its departure from creation, and the false placing of the creatures in the position that belongs to the creator.
Wisdom has a different, but analogous, process to relate. Its writer likewise begins from creation:
For foolish by nature were all men, in whom there was ignorance of God, and who from the good things that are seen were unable to know him who exists. Nor while paying heed to his works did they recognize the craftsman; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars, or turbulent water, or the luminaries of heaven, were the gods who preside over the world. If through delight in the beauty of these things they supposed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these is their Master. (Wisd. 131 ff., RSV)
Wisdom is more inclined than Paul to give an explanation of what went wrong. It begins from the elements of the created world, fire, air, water, and the stars. If people could admire these, there was some sort of excuse, for they were really beautiful things created by God: the only trouble was that they ought, from seeing these things, to have perceived the creator who was behind them. Much much worse, he goes on, are those who give the name of ‘gods’ to idols which are just pieces of wood or stone made by human hands. It is preposterous, he points out, to pray about possessions, about marriage and children, to a lifeless piece of wood, to pray for health to something that has no strength, to pray for a successful journey to something that cannot walk a step itself, and so on (1317 ff.). Again, he says, warming to his argument, what sense is there in a man who goes to sea in a ship and yet prays for safety to a piece of wood more fragile than the ship he sails in, while neglecting the aid of the divine Helmsman whose providence alone can save from danger? This leads on, in very Pauline style, to the sentence already quoted (1412): ‘The idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication’, and here the writer proceeds to offer some more original arguments. Idols got into the world through the vanity of human beings, that is, more or less by foolishness or plain error.
The course upon which he here embarks is that of euhemerism, that is, the explanation of gods as human persons or phenomena which by some error or inadvertence came to be elevated to divine status.13 A father, consumed by grief at the death of a beloved child, made an image of the child, and came to honour a dead human being as if it was a god. Again, kings might live far away from their subjects, and they, wishing to please the ruler, might make a likeness; the multitude, attracted by the charm of the work, came to venerate as an object of worship one whom they had previously known to be a man. And so, whatever the exact explanation, we come back to the gross immoralities that are the result of these processes. To sum up this point, then, both Paul and Wisdom begin from creation and provide an account of the way in which people, failing to recognize the reality of the creator God, entered into idolatry and thence into the vilest immorality. Both say that God, the true God, was known to people, which is why their idolatry was disgraceful and inexcusable. Both hold it clear that God is knowable through the things that he has made (Wisd. 135; Rom. 120). The similarities are very great. And, just as Romans uses this argument in order to establish, among other things, that humanity is without excuse, so the matter of inexcusability is touched on by Wisdom 138: if people mistook air, or fire, or stars, for divine beings, the blame for that might, at first sight, conceivably seem to be slight, because these were real and beautiful creations of the creator; but even so they cannot really be J excused (pa,lin δ¾ ouvδ¾ auvtoi. suggvwstoi,), for, if they had so much perception, how did they not sooner come to know the Master of them all?
But, finally, for this aspect, the Wisdom of Solomon is, by more J or less universal judgement, a vessel of natural theology.
From the greatness and beauty of created things
the Creator of them is by analogy perceived (avnalo,gwj qewrei/tai). (135)
Solomon, who has the gift of wisdom, is a sort of early scientist:14 chronology, astronomy, zoology, botany, and psychology are all within his range, and he learned them all from Wisdom, who was also his guide in natural theology:
For it is he [God] who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists
to know the structure of the world and activity of the elements…
the cycles of the year and the positions of the stars,
the natures of animals and the tempers of wild beasts,
the powers of spirits and the reasonings (δialogismoi.) of men,
the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots. (717 ff.)
Wisdom is a breath of the power of God, a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty… she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God (725). God's immortal spirit is in all things (121). All this comes close to what has commonly been regarded as natural theology and, as I say, scholars show little hesitation in accepting this judgement about the book—a judgement, one must add, not unconnected with the fact that, for many of them, being Protestants, it is an uncanonical book. Naturally, in the Wisdom of Solomon we do not have pure or mere natural theology: it is an element mixed in with all sorts of thoughts that would traditionally count as revealed theology: the story of the Exodus (expanded and elaborated in 16 ff.), the doctrine of creation itself. But this is so of the Letter to the Romans also: no one supposes that it contains nothing but natural theology, the only question is whether an element of natural theology is mixed in with the rest. We may take the key point as this: if it is natural theology to think that God is knowable through one's perception of the world, and to think that this knowledge has been available or accessible to all, then Wisdom contains natural theology.
But if Wisdom contains natural theology, it becomes much more likely that Romans also contains it. The similarity of the type of argument seems so strong. The community of the chain of thought suggests a common tradition, and makes it more probable that Paul is using this common tradition. The emphasis on the place of idolatry, in relation to the accessible knowledge of the creator God on the one hand, and the descent of humanity into fearful immorality on the other, seems to be particularly strong evidence. The fact of this common tradition, if correct, may also go some way to over—come the objections of those who have been most unwilling to accept that there is any element of natural theology or similar thinking in Romans. For example, Käsemann's argument that for Paul creation was not an independent theme may be weakened when we perceive that creation is an essential element in the argument, by now traditional, against idolatry. Equally, his argument that Paul is not interested in the ta,zij and δioi,khsij of the world may be made less convincing in view of the other relations with the book of Wisdom: and Paul's view that homosexual relations are contrary to fu,sij (cf. Wisd. 1426) would seem to suggest a clear implication of a ‘natural’ order in creation which it is wrong to override.
It is interesting also at this point to return to the Areopagus speech, for, as we have seen, many have been willing to concede the presence of natural theology in it when they have denied it in Romans. In this regard we should observe that, paradoxically, the thought of Romans appears to be closer to that of Wisdom than is the thought of the speech in Acts. The Acts speech is also concentrated on the theme of idolatry, and takes creation as starting-point. But—more like the canonical Hebrew books—it concentrates on idols made by human hands and says nothing about humanity having mistaken the created things, such as stars, animals, or the like, for divine beings. The place of the animals in this argument is particularly significant. The older Hebrew polemic against both idolatry and polytheism concentrated on the plurality and vanity of the other gods, and upon the absurdity of the making of images. Apart from the one case of the Golden Calf (Exod. 32), it said little or nothing of the objects that were depicted in these idolatrous cults. Thus it is one of the striking things about the Book of Exodus that, though depicting the sufferings of Israel while in bondage in that land, it says nothing at all about the theriomorphic character which is so conspicuous a feature of the Egyptian religion and its iconography.15 Images were wrong just because they were man-made images, it did not matter of what, and gods were wrong because they were plural, and other than the God of Israel. But later this was to change. Very probably, residence of Jews in great numbers in Hellenistic Egypt was a major factor. The Wisdom of Solomon emphasizes this point: the fact that images are of animals is a particularly disgusting feature, and they were animals more horrible than usual that were used for this purpose. Romans makes exactly the same point: people had exchanged the immortal God for images, not only those resembling mortal man, which would have been bad enough, but resembling birds or animals or reptiles (Rom. 123), which is a good deal worse.
Moreover, as already remarked, Acts 17 says nothing about idolatry leading to foul immorality, and on the contrary speaks of God's overlooking of past idolatry. On the other hand it shares something of the universalist spirit of Wisdom, while Paul in Romans is much more fixed upon the diversity of the two classes of Jews and Gentiles. Again, Wisdom includes the theme of people ‘seeking God and desiring to find him’, somewhat reminiscent of the groping and seeking to find him mentioned in the Areopagus speech (Wisd. 136); and so likewise in the theme of the seeking of Wisdom, becoming her lover, and the like.16 It would seem most natural to suppose that the Areopagus speech rests upon a branch of Hellenistic Jewish tradition related to that of Wisdom and Romans but substantially different in interest and emphasis. Whether this makes it more probable that Paul really spoke a speech of the tenor of that reported by Luke, it is difficult to decide. I would surmise that, if I have been right in the handling of Wisdom and Romans, it makes it slightly more likely that Paul did historically make a speech along these lines, but that Luke in his writing up of it was influenced by traditions which slanted it in the direction of the speech as we now have it. In general, any sort of recognition of natural theology in Romans must have the effect of bringing Romans and the Areopagus speech closer together.
It is not my purpose, however, to prove that the arguments of this part of Romans definitely and necessarily constitute evidence of natural theology. For my purpose it is sufficient to have shown that there is reasonable exegetical ground for the opinion that something like natural theology is there, and that it is entirely understandable and reasonable that the older exegetical traditions of the Churches thought so too. More important for my purpose is that we have moved behind the New Testament and seen the importance of a tradition of natural theology existing within Judaism and operative in the understanding of the Old Testament. We shall have to pursue this possibility back into the Hebrew Bible itself.
As soon as we even mention this possibility, we must mention once again that we are conscious of making a break with the major traditions of biblical theology in this century. To these traditions, very often, indeed predominantly, a major function of the Hebrew Bible and of Hebrew thought was to protect the New Testament from the possibility of infection by natural theology. Natural theology, it was thought, derived from Greek thought, and of the most powerful and developed exemplifications of natural theology this may well be true. The New Testament was a Greek document and might therefore have had some such infection, as its use of Greek words like fu,sij and suvei,δhsij might have indicated, but its world of ideas was Jewish and Hebraic, and that Semitic material was essentially revelational and could be used to explain the New Testament thoughts accordingly. But what if natural theology came into the New Testament out of the Hebrew background anyway? Then all that argumentation becomes vain.
But before we leave this subject something should be added on another and essential factor which affects our understanding of the Jewish natural theology, if we may so call it, of the Wisdom of Solomon. The knowledge of God, let us say, is available or accessible. From the greatness and beauty of created things it can be analogically perceived. But, as the title of the book rightly indicates, the realization of this knowledge is not automatic but depends upon Wisdom. So we quickly come to see that this knowledge, though available, is not quite possessed by all humans merely in virtue of their being human. Humans fall into two classes the wise and the fools. Idolaters, naturally, form the main body of the latter class: as also in Paul, who points out (Rom. 121 f.) that those who failed to perceive God for what he was became futile (evmataiw,qhsan) in their reasonings, their foolish heart was darkened, and thinking themselves to be wise they became fools (evmwra,nqhsan). This is a remarkably intellectualistic approach to the matter of idolatry: there are, it seems, no idolaters who had any sense or any brains of any kind.
‘For a real knowledge of God and His will, man must receive wisdom.’17 Only with grave difficulty (mo,lij) can one divine the things that are on the earth (916); how then can one ever trace out the things that are in heaven? Wisdom, in the thought of this book, introduces subtle complications. On the one hand wisdom is more mobile (kinhtikw,teron) than any other motion, and because of her purity she enters into everything (724); she interpenetrates everything, a thought that reminds us of the Areopagus speech with its God in whom we all live and have our being. Some of the terms used are very Greek in style. But in order to have wisdom one has to ask for it, as Solomon himself did, as he narrates (71 ff.). So it looks as if access to wisdom might be difficult. Not so, it seems, for she goes about seeking those worthy of her (616); she makes herself easily accessible (612: euvcerw/j qewrei/tai u`po. tw/n avgapw,ntwn auvth.n kai. eu`ri,sketai u`po. tw/n zhtou,ntwn auvth,n). But on the other hand wisdom will not enter a soul that devises evil, nor will it dwell in a body (sw/ma) mortgaged or burdened with debt (RSV enslaved) to sin (evn sw,mati kata,crew| a`marti,aj, 14). So it looks somewhat as if it is a matter decided by morality in the last resort. Wisdom is accessible, but sinners will not realize this access, while those who seek it sincerely will have no difficulty in finding it.
Is a position of this kind close to natural theology or is it not? In some ways it seems closer to it, in some ways it is more like revealed theology. One principle is clear, namely that from the created world one can discern the infinitely greater greatness of the creator, and it is fault and foolishness if one does not do so. But the effect of this argument is somewhat spoiled, for our purposes, because it is so tied to the question of idolatry and the provision of an account of how idolatry got started in the first place. The argument is never an account simply of how God is known or of how one normally gets to know God; it is always part of an account of how, where people ought to have known God for what he is, they went astray and followed idols. And, because it is tied to an explanation of the origin of idolatry, it is so concerned about the created world and how one could either (rightly) conclude from it to the reality of God, or (wrongly) take the created things to be themselves divine, thus falling into idolatry. It thus fails to give proper thought to the question whether one might, by other mental processes, come to know something about God, perhaps through simply thinking about God, or through innate intuitions which belong to humanity, or in some other way. The tie to idolatry seems to limit the discussion to some form of cosmological argument. Within this ground, as scholars seem to agree, it does imply a kind of natural theology. But, on the other hand, through the question of attainment of wisdom, it seems to turn away from any idea of a theology working by rational process accessible to anyone, and to turn towards an idea of an access to wisdom determined by moral purpose, purity of heart, and the like. Yet again, however, in keeping with the wisdom traditions of the past, there is no suggestion that access to wisdom is limited by the strict lines of special revelation: in principle anyone can gain wisdom, provided they have morality and purity of heart. But, in spite of the large borrowings made from Hellenistic philosophy and its terminology, the argument suffers in the last resort from a narrow prejudice, in that it seems totally unable to see that any idolater might be a person of intellectual ability or indeed possess any sense or morals at all. And the wholesale taking over of this argument by Paul in Romans seems to be a weakness, for he seems to talk as if all Greeks or Gentiles are complete idolaters, totally sunk in idolatry, which was hardly true and could hardly have fitted with his own experience on his journeys in the Hellenistic world; and not only this, but he seems to extend this by infinite logical consequence to suggest that all of them were full of wickedness, envy, murder, disobedience to parents, and the like, and that they all not only did these things but commended others when they did so. There are therefore some substantial gaps, to put it mildly, between the Hellenistic-Jewish anti-idolatrous rhetoric that Paul inherited and applied, and the realities of life in the Greco-Roman world. Equally, even if we grant that there was natural theology in all this, one can see that it was a very simple natural theology, which covered only a limited range of the problems normally associated with that term.
With our interest in the Wisdom of Solomon, however, we have to consider more generally the place taken by Greek philosophy in the transmission of Jewish thought in this period. Characteristic of the Book of Wisdom is its very substantial usage of terms and ideas familiar to us from Greek thought. We may mention, for example, the clearly marked distinction between soul and body—a concept the indigenization of which in Jewish thought and language is clearly marked in the teaching of Jesus. Even more striking, the idea that the body is perishable and weighs down the soul, an idea which modern theology took to be the most heinous of the errors of the Greek tradition, is here within this, at least semi-canonical, book:fqarto.n ga.r sw/ma baru,nei yuch,n,kai. bri.qei to. gew/δej skh/noj nou/n polufro,ntiδa
For a perishable body weighs down the soul,
and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful
[or: anxious] mind (Wisd. 915, RSV)
Along with this goes the emphasis on immortality, which has already been touched upon. In the Greek Old Testament avqanasi,a occurs five times in Wisdom (34, 41, 813, 17, 153), twice in 4 Maccabees (145, 1613), and nowhere else. We have already mentioned the similar term avfqarsi,a, and it occurs thrice in Wisdom (223, 618 f.), twice in 4 Maccabees, and nowhere else. The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, says a familiar passage, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died and their departure was felt as an affliction; but actually they are at peace. For though in the sight of men they were punished, their hope is full of immortality (31 ff.). In the memory of virtue is immortality (41). Because of wisdom, Solomon says, I shall have immortality, and leave an everlasting remembrance to those who come after me (813). In kinship with wisdom, there is immortality (817). To know God is complete righteousness, and to know his power is the root of immortality (153). Attention to wisdom's laws is the assurance of immortality (avfqarsi,a), and immortality (the same word again) brings one near to God (618 f.). ‘Thy immortal (a;fqarton) spirit is in all things’, says 121.
It is not immediately obvious, however, in what way material of this kind should be evaluated. The presence not only of terms of Greek philosophy, but of ideas of Greek philosophy, is too obvious to be questioned. But how far does this mean that substantial elements of Greek philosophy are taken over?
In our argument in these pages we have been conservative in speaking of the adoption or ‘taking over’ of Greek ideas of natural theology, and we have sought to emphasize the Jewish character of this tradition. Nevertheless one cannot fail to notice the remarkable degree of similarity that sometimes appears.A good example may be found in the emphasis within the Bible on the created universe as the evidence from which humans ought to acknowledge the creator God. Very similar arguments exist in the classical tradition.18 ‘You do not see God’, Cicero wrote, ‘but you recognize him from his works (ex operibus eius).’19 Plato himself had argued that that which has come into existence must necessarily have some cause. To discover the maker and ‘father’ of the universe is no mean task (to.n me.n ou=n poihth.n kai. pate,ra tou/δe tou/ panto.j auvrei/n te e;rgon). From the beauty of the world, however, Plato goes on, we may conclude that its maker looked at an eternal pattern.20 In the same tradition, within Judaism, Philo points out: some, who have the advantage of knowledge, conclude from the harmonious order of the world ‘that all these beauties and this exceptional order have not come into being spontaneously (ouvk avpautomatisqe,nta), but through the action of a world-making designer (u`po. tinoj o=hmiourgou/ kosmopoiou/)’ and so these admirable persons ‘inferred the Maker from his works (avpo. tw/n e;rgwn)’.21 Similarly, in an apocalyptic writing the wicked are blamed for rejecting the undererstanding of the Most High, ‘for what he has done has not taght you, nor has the craftsmanship revealed perpetually in his creation persuaded you’.22Taken along with the examples cited above from Wisdom and elsewhere, these materials suggest an assessment such as the following. It is of course true, as much biblical theology has insisted, that similarities do not prove much and that an idea within the total context of Jewish religion may function in a very different way from the same idea within (say) Stoicism. This is easy to show, so easy as to be obvious. No one is trying to show that Jewish religion and Stoic philosophy, taken as wholes, are the same thing. But the similarities are evidence that certain structures may be present within one as they are present within the other, and the presence of these common structures is significant and indicative just as much as the distinctive elements are. Whether the common structures are ‘borrowed’ or adopted, or whether they have grown up separately and in parallel, may be difficult to decide. The common structures may not be the definitive and distinctive marks of a religion or philosophy: we are not trying to say that they are the determinative element. No one thinks that the New Testament is primarily and essentially a document of natural theology. But that structures held in common with Greek thought are common features of Jewish and of Christian intellectual life within the Hellenistic world has simply to be accepted. Thus, though this chapter has emphasized the Wisdom of Solomon, because of its status as a ‘biblical’ book and its close relationship with Paul, it seems to me that the whole movement of interpretation of the biblical tradition in Greek terms, best exemplified by Philo, has to be positively identified and valued in all this discussion. I quote Henry Chadwick: ‘His [Philo's] Jewish monotheism made especially congenial to him both the Stoic conception of the immanent divine power pervading the world as a vital force and the transcendent, supra-cosmic God of Plato.’23
It was Jewish religion that made attractive the (eclectic) integration of certain Greek ideas and concepts. Among these, we must add, was the concept of nature itself. For many Jews it was proper and seemly to perceive a harmony between ‘nature’ and the command and will of God. Correct Jewish ways were both obedient to the command of God and in accord with nature; there was no contradiction between the two. There was no need to decide whether something was natural because it followed the command of God or whether God had commanded it because it was natural: for both were true expressions of the same thing. Thus, Philo tells us, Moses’ account of creation implies ‘that the world is in harmony with the law, and the law with the world… the man who observes the law is… a citizen of the world, regulating his actions according to the will of nature, in accordance with which the entire world itself also is administered’.24 Again, Moses ‘wished to show that the enacted ordinances are not inconsistent with nature… the first generations, readily accepting obedience to nature (avkolouqi,an fu,sewj avspasa,menoi)… followed the unwritten law with perfect ease… holding that nature itself was, as indeed it is, the most venerable of statutes’.25 Before the Law was given by Moses, therefore, it was perfectly possible to live in accordance with it, since nature gave the necessary guidance. This explains how righteousness was possible in the pre-Mosaic period. Thus, again, according to Philo, Moses says ‘this man [Abraham] carried out the divine law… he did so, not taught by written words, but through unwritten nature (avgra,fw| th/| fu,sei) he received the zeal to follow… wholesome impulse’.26 I do dispute Käsemann's assertion that ‘Paul was no Philo’. Of course they were persons of quite different kinds, and the totality of their ideas was vastly different. But in the particular respects here under discussion it is seriously probable that Philo well represents aspects of ideas that were structurally significant for Paul, as for other parts of the New Testament (e.g. Hebrews, John).
In summarizing what has been said, then, we may emphasize one point which will be significant for what lies ahead. Seen in the light of its Jewish background, it is highly probable that elements of natural theology were used and implied within the New Testament. But it looks as if these elements of natural theology, much as they were tied to the idea of creation and depended on it, were nevertheless not direct reflections of the structure of the created world. Rather, they were internal human constructions arising out of particular problems and controversies of religion in certain stages of its development. The importance of this will have to be considered at a later time.
In conclusion we should add some remarks about the relation between the matter of canonicity and the question of natural theology. An approach through a kind of natural theology was, as we have seen, widespread in Jewish writings in Greek language, but our focus upon the Wisdom of Solomon is particularly important because it is a book that, according to many canons—especially the Roman Catholic and the Greek Orthodox canons—was itself a biblical book. As I said at the outset, we do not know certainly whether Paul knew this book nor whether it counted as authoritative scripture: either he knew the book or he belonged independently to a very similar tradition of thought.27 In either case, as material for the understanding of Paul, the Wisdom of Solomon is of central importance. Scholarship must take full account of it. At least theoretically this is the case; but, speaking more realistically, scholarship is likely to be much affected by the canonical or non-canonical status of the books used as evidence. Wisdom provides a uniquely important link in terms of natural theology between the Hebrew books and Paul. Where Wisdom counts as a fully canonical book, this linkage is fully displayed ‘within the Bible’. Its obviousness is much greater, and the awareness of it within the religious community to which the scholars belong is much more natural and more profound. Where Wisdom is taken to belong ‘only’ to the Apocrypha, consciousness of it and its ideas within the religious community is very low. Except for professional scholars, few will even read the book. Theologians who have a strong canonical emphasis will tend to ignore it. They will know of its ideas and their connections, but, in the end, people will think, none of these is actually ‘in the Bible’. Theological authority will be thought of as belonging to the matter of the canonical books. This being so, if the canon includes the Wisdom of Solomon, it is likely that natural theology will seem to be a more ‘natural’ and indeed a ‘biblical’ option, sustained by a strong continuity running through the Bible. If, on the other hand. Wisdom is taken to be ‘apocryphal’, the continuity of natural theology will be obscured and the rejection of it made more likely. And this fits in very well with what has actually happened.
All this is very relevant to the evaluation of Barth's handling of the relevant scriptural materials. As has been said, where it had been claimed that biblical passages supported natural theology, he tried to show by exegetical means that they did not support it. One of his arguments was that any such passages must be seen in the context of the rest of the Bible, and such context showed their dependence on the revelatory themes which dominated elsewhere. This argument has convinced some people: for example, Wisnefske writes: ‘Barth deftly shows how these passages only make sense when related to the “main line” of Scripture which is God's revelation of grace in his covenant with Israel and its fulfilment in the Messiah.’28 But Barth's arguments along this line are invalid. First, he simply uses a harmonizing procedure, by which the majority material is made to silence the contrary position of the minority. Secondly, in so far as Christological and Messianic understandings of the Old Testament are involved, these, even if possible constructions, are not more than constructions superimposed on the text by Barth and others, and therefore their validity as ‘context’ is at least questionable. Thirdly, the appeal to the totality of scripture very much depends on what books are included in scripture. As soon as books like the Wisdom of Solomon are included, indeed as soon as the theoretical possibility of their inclusion is even considered, then the totality of scripture tilts somewhat more towards natural theology. And Barth had no more genuine theological reason for holding to the Protestant canon than anyone else had. Fourthly, Barth chose the meaning of ‘context’ to suit his own case. If one takes it in another way, and says, biblical passages have to be understood in the light of the context of a current of natural theology that has accompanied the creation of scripture from the beginning, then Barth turns out to be a denier of context. In any case, he had closed up the whole question from the beginning through his conviction that the Bible had theological relevance only through its relation to revelation. None of these arguments has validity if taken as an open question where different opinions can be discussed.
I do not say this with the intention of supporting the validity of any existing canon or the desirability of alterations in any such canon. It is said purely with the purpose of illuminating what has actually happened in our theological traditions. For the scholar the Wisdom of Solomon is equally vital evidence whether it is fully canonical or not. But the degree of conviction that scholarly argument can achieve within the theological and religious community is very much conditioned by the existing traditions about the canon of scripture. Thus I would not commit myself to the opinion of Professor Hartmut Gese that the Reformers’ decision to confine the Old Testament canon to the Hebrew books was a mistaken one.29 But he seems to be right in saying that they had no good theological reason for their rejection of the ‘Apocryphal’ books. They seem to have reasoned by a confused medley of ancient traditions (especially from Jerome), arguments that authorship proved canonicity, arguments that canonicity proved authorship, and personal preferences based on theological content.30 And, at least under the older intellectual conditions, a canon of scripture, once established, becomes self-authenticating: people quickly forget the reasoning (if any) by which it was established, and they cease to read anything outside the canon with the thought that it might be authoritative; indeed, generally, they cease to read extra-canonical books or to know anything about them.
The relation between the Wisdom of Solomon and the question of natural theology is a powerful illustration of this. And this leads on to one of the further themes that are involved: natural theology is one of the central issues in ecumenical relations between the Churches.
Before we go further with these matters, however, we have to go behind the thought of Hellenistic Judaism, which we have exemplified from the Wisdom of Solomon, and enter into the area of the Hebrew Bible itself, in order to see how far the seeds of natural theology are to be found there. That will be the matter of the next chapter.
Luke 338 has Adam in the genealogy; and Jude 14 mentions that Enoch is the seventh after Adam. These are what I count as ‘incidental’, i.e. not directly related to the typological relationship of Adam and Christ.
Incidentally, C. E. Raven, Natural Religion and Christian Theology (2 vols., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), i, 33 ff., deploys the complementary argument that even in Paul the ‘Fall’ of Adam is ‘by no means a fundamental concept’. It is introduced, he says, only in Rom. 512 ff. and 1 Cor. 1521 f., 45 ff.; 1 Tim. 213 f., he says, ‘is probably not Pauline and in any case refers to the primary guilt of Eve rather than to the abiding effects of the Fall’. In particular, he points out, relevantly to our theme, ‘in his great indictment both of the pagan and of the Jewish world in Romans 1–3, he [Paul] never suggests that they, like all mankind, are corrupted by Adam's sin’.
I say ‘as we know it’ because traditions more like the Christian idea of almost universal inherited sin and guilt are to be found in the Judaism of the intertestamental period. The fact remains that the biblical heritage could be utilized and interpreted in the main trends of later Judaism without anything close to ‘original sin’ being recognized.
What is here argued is stated in fuller form in my Read-Tuckwell Lectures from Bristol University, soon to be published as The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality.
For a recent discussion, see C. Link, Die Welt als Gleichnis (Munich: Kaiser, 1976), 122 ff.
According to the Wittenberg theologian Johann Deutschmann, not only was Adam a theologian but he was an orthodox Lutheran, and his teaching was in full accord with the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord. Before the Fall he may have worked by natural theology, but after the Fall natural theology, though it might have truth in it, no longer worked for blessedness or salvation. See H. J. Birkner, ‘Natürliche Theologie und Offenbarungstheologie’, NZST 3 (1961), 282.
Brunner had left himself defenceless at this point, for he emphasized the ‘Fall’ in traditional terms, just as much as Barth did. See his hostile correspondence with Ludwig Köhler in 1926, in which he contemptuously sweeps aside the very justified argument of that Old Testament scholar to the effect that the story of Adam and Eve was no story of a catastrophic ‘Fall of Man’. The dialectical theology was an ingenious mixture of modern and primitive ideas. Its use of the idea of the Fall belonged to the latter: it was really not even Paul's idea, it was the idea of traditional, essentially of Reformational, Christianity. For the Köhler—Brunner correspondence see KBRS 41 (1926), esp. 105 f., 121 (Köhler), 113 f., 141 f. (Brunner). I am deeply indebted to my friend Dr Robert Hanhart of Göttingen for his help in enabling me to gain access to this interesting material.
For a brief discussion, see my article ‘The Authority of Scripture: Genesis and the Origin of Evil in Jewish and Christian Tradition’, in Christian Authority (Henry Chadwick FS; Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1988). 59–75.
There are some detailed questions of text and language here. The first is whether the meaning is ‘with incorruption’, i.e. created with intrinsic immortality, or ‘for incorruption’, i.e. with the intention or prospect of immortality to be gained or merited. That evpi, in Wisd, means ‘in’ or ‘with’, but not the final sense ‘for’, is argued by J. M. Reese. Hellenistic Influence on the Book of Wisdom and Its Consequences (Analecta Biblica 41, Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1970). 66 and note. Dr Peter Hayman of Edinburgh has urged the understanding ‘for immortality’ (to be gained in the future), but seems to me to go too far in saying that this is ‘expressly stated’. In view of the different possible shades of meaning of int, this cannot be claimed, and the contrary is indicated by the passage from Enoch cited here below and kindly mentioned to me by Dr Hayman himself.
Here there is a variation of text. I follow Rahlfs, Fichtner, and others in reading avi?δio,thtoj, ‘everlastingness’, which gives a good parallelism. Dr Hayman prefers the ivδio,thtoj of the major uncials BSA, which gives the sense ‘peculiar character’.
Sir. 3018 f. uses the familiar topos of the powerlessness of an idol: what use to an idol is the offering of produce, since it cannot eat or smell?—but this is an analogy, to be applied to a person whose mouth is closed, so that it is useless to pour out good things on such a person. It is not directly an attack on idolatry: rather, it uses the characteristics of idolatry’, taken to be familiar, to make a point about wisdom and foolishness.
See D. Novak, The Image of the Non-Jew in Judaism (New York: Mellen. 1983), ch. 4, ‘The Law of Idolatry’, 107–65.
For a parallel to this juxtaposition of euhemerism with natural theology, cf. Aristeas 134–7, and M. Hadas. Aristeas to Philocrates (Letter of Aristeas) (New York: Harper. 1951). 154 f.
We will return to this aspect later on: see below, Ch. 9.
For a remark that does notice the role of animals in Egyptian religion, see Aristeas 138—not surprisingly in a document from a time when large numbers of Jews were living in Egypt.
On the use of terms for love in the important passage Wisd. 82, see my ‘Words for Love in Biblical Greek’, in L. D. Hurst and N. T. Wright (eds.), The Glory of Christ in the New Testament (G. B. Caird Memorial Volume; Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1987). 3–18 and esp. 11.
As B. Gärtner well puts it (The Areopagus Speech and Natural Revelation (Uppsala: Gleerup, 1955), 126 f.).
For the choice of examples here cited I am indebted to seminar notes kindly passed to me by Dr David Mealand of Edinburgh.
- 19.Tusc. Disp. 1. 28.
Plato, Timaeus, 28c.
Philo, Praem. (7) 42 f.
Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch 5417 f.; cited from L. H. Brockington's version in H. F. D. Sparks (ed.). The Apocryphal Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 984). 874.
From his article ‘Philo and the Beginnings of Christian Thought’, in A. H, Armstrong (ed.), Cambridge History of Later Greek and Medieval Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1967). 137–57; quotation from 141.
Philo, De opif. mundi, 3.
Philo, Abraham, 5 f.
Ibid. 275 f.
On questions of the nature of ‘scripture’ and ‘canonicity’ in this period I have not altered my opinion since the writing of my Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983).
Ned Wisnefske, Our Natural Knowledge of God (New York: Lang, 1990), 73.
‘Das biblische Schriftverständnis’, in his Zur biblischen Theologie (Munich: Kaiser, 1977), 13.
See R. A. Bohlmann, ‘The Criteria of Biblical Canonicity in Sixteenth Century Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Reformed Theology’ (dissertation, Yale University, 1968).