From: David W. Odell-Scott (
Date: Fri Mar 13 1998 - 11:23:01 EST

Let me suggest that one of the difficulties I encounter when considering the
various discussions of philosophy in the epistles of Paul is that we must be
careful not to assume that our identification of what is philosophy is
shared with all ancient writers or thinkers whose work we might identify as
philosophy. The problem is that in some quarters "philosophy" designates
natural argument as opposed to those who were more cynical or skeptical
about such intellectual enterprises. So, when Paul criticizes those who
claim to know, we might proceed by not assuming that we know what or which
group he was critical of. I've suggested for instance that Paul's critique
of those who claim to know God is like a skeptical argument against natural
theology ("Encounter" spring 95, vol 56.2 127-146; and "A Post-Patriarchal
Christology" (Scholars Press, 1991). So it might be the case that when Paul
is critical of philosophy he is making an identification and a critique of a
particular school of thought, rather than "philosophy" per se (what ever
that is). I've assumed that when Paul critiques claims to knowledge or
philosophy he is attempting to disestablish the means by which some assert
their privilage in their community.

Of course the celebrated rhetorical question put forth by Tertullian "What
have Athens and Jerusalem to do with each other?" expresses something of the
problem. Tertullian took it that the academy in Athens was representative
of "philosophy". But of course Tertullian identification is itself overtly
limiting and selective with respect to the diversity of what we would regard
as philosophical movements or schools in the West at the time. Why not
Ephesis or Tarsus or even Rome instead of Athens? Each of these could be
identified with very different philosophical methods and/or convictions.
That would have put a very different spin on the quotation, not to mention
the problem with Tertullian's identification of Jerusalem as prepresentative
of Christianity.

David W. Odell-Scott

Associate Professor of Philosophy
Coordinator of Religious Studies

Philosophy Department
Kent State University
Kent, Ohio 44242-0001

Voice (330) 672-2315
FAX (330) 672-4867

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