The famous historian Adolf Harnack once asserted, “The attempts at deducing the genesis of the Church’s doctrinal system from the theology of Paul, or from compromises between Apostolic doctrinal ideas, will always miscarry; for they fail to note that to the most important premises of the Catholic doctrine of faith belongs an element which we cannot recognise as dominant in the New Testament, viz., the Hellenic spirit.”*
And it is not that he sees this difference between Jewish and Greek thought as a minor divergence. He claims, “Judaism and Hellenism in the age of Christ were opposed to each other.”** Harnack’s thesis, I would suggest, still predominates today, even if heavily nuanced and rebuffed largely by Hengel.
Yet the idea that Greek thought with its metaphysical interest or abstracted language does not match the biblical idiom of the Bible is beyond false.
The Old Testament shows an interest in metaphysics
The tabernacle in the Old Testament made heaven and earth meet (the invisible God in the visible world); angels, or “the watchers,” oversee the earth (invisible angels rule visible empires); the stars live to serve God (Job 38:7); God’s wisdom takes on human form (Prov 8); and the symbolic matrix of Israel’s faith and institutions point to spiritual realities, which Hebrews clearly states (~ Chs 8–10).
If anything, the Old Testament is extremely interested in metaphysics, what lies beyond the vale. The whole theme of seeing God (Exod 24:10) testifies to this. How can we see the invisible God? Yet we must. Moses must see what his heart yearns for. God passes before him and we learn through Moses’ spiritual vision of God’s essence character (Exod 34).
Providence guided Greek thought
Since we confess God’s providence, we must confess that the common language of the NT era can and should be used to describe Bible truth. Paul knows it:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:15-17).
“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:16-17).
Just read Hebrews or John to see more of this. The Greek lexicon provided the best possible language due to providence to describe biblical truth. And it’s not at all opposed to the Old Testament idiom; it’s in continuity with it.
So confidently confess that the Logos of God pitched a tent in human flesh to assume our humanity that he might heal it. It matches the biblical idiom, it uses Bible words (that overlap with Greek ones), and it’s true.
*Adolf Harnack, History of Dogma, Volume 1, trans. Neil Buchanan (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1901), 72.