Saturday, August 12, 2017

Greek Thinking vs. Hebrew Thinking

My friend Heather posted this for discussion on Facebook: 
Greek thinking / Hebrew thinking
A lot of times in theological discussion I see people argue that what they consider a "wrong" viewpoint was based on "Greek thinking" and then go on to say that a Hebrew perspective would be more like this or that. The only thing is, I think this Greek / Hebrew thinking argument is often used in very inconsistent ways - and - not necessarily based on how Greeks or Hebrews even really think! Somewhere along the way we got a caricature of what "greek thinking" and "hebrew thinking" actually is.
So let's explore this. What is "Greek" or "Hebrew" thinking as you conceive of it, and where do you get the idea for what you construe Greek or Hebrew thinking to be?

There were a lot of responses, many like this one:

It's not just language as a factor but also cultural nuances. Greek thinking is primarily a linear logic whereas Hebrew thinking used block logic. They are very different and have a big impact on interpretative analysis....Ancient eastern cultures thought in blocks of concepts and were ok with some mystery and paradox. Greek logic primarily thinks in a this or that rather than being open to the possibility of both.
Then there were others that spoke about the differences between the two languages, and either tried to pit Greeks and Hebrews against each other semantically, or deny that there were semantic differences.  Here is my response:
I find it interesting that a lot of the conversation here has focused on language. But language reveals as well as constructs metaphysics. If we are serious about comparing the Hebrew and Greek minds, we need to examine their metaphysics. Both are Realist, rather than Nominalist. That is, both affirm the existence of universals, and thus affirm relationship and participation; "both- and" thinking. Medieval Christian philosophy united BOTH the Hebrew AND Greek perspectives, providing Christians with a model for the Christian mind and warrant for "thinking God's thoughts after Him" in order to lead virtuous lives. BOTH Intellect AND will were essential for following Christ. We can thus see the foundation for the Pre-Reformation affirmation of synergism.

On the other hand, we have the modernist perspective: nominalism, which denies the reality of universals, and affirms only the existence of particulars. This eliminates the possibility of real relationship and participation, and instead exults autonomy and voluntarism. For nominalists, the only possibility is either-or thinking, and then the choice becomes even starker: EITHER will OR intellect. God becomes inscrutable; all that matters for Christian life is His will. Thus, nominalism provides the basis for the Reformation's obsession with monergism, election and predestination.

Often, contemporary Christians caricature Greeks as only concerned with the intellect, and Hebrews as concerned with the will. The idea then is that either we must choose to be "intellectual" Greeks or "faithful" Hebrews. But we make this error because we live and breathe in an atmosphere polluted by nominalism, which forces us to think in an either/or manner, pitting Greeks against Hebrews, and Hebrews against Greeks; intellect against will, and will against intellect.

If we recall that the Bible is a premodern document, rather than a modern one, we will realize that we need to read it as Realists, rather than Nominalists. Once we do that, the whole issue of "Hebrew" vs. "Greek" perspective evaporates, and we can agree with Paul that "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:28)

No comments: