02.01.05 Epicureans The Epicureans were originally Greeks who followed the philosophy of life developed and taught by the Athenian teacher Epicurus (341-270 B.C.). The purpose of his philosophy was to bring stability to an unstable social environment caused by the death of Alexander the Great and the empire division that followed. The religions of the Greeks and Romans had lost their vitality and never succeeded in changing the heart.
Into the volatile Middle East came Philodemus (110 – 30 B.C.), an influential Epicurean philosopher and poet to the Roman world in the century prior to the time of Jesus. He was born in Gadara, the Greek city where Jesus healed the demoniac and 2,000 swine committed suicide in the Sea of Galilee. He, as other Epicurean philosophers, promoted the common saying that “pleasure is the beginning and end of living happily.” Epicureanism is essentially a feelings-based philosophy of life. It states that all experiences related to pain are directly associated with evil while pleasure is associated with the highest good. The function of wisdom is to measure the cost of pain and to best achieve the full pleasure of life. Happiness was totally a human responsibility and achievement because the gods were not interested in what people did.
02.01.05.A. FRAGMENT OF PHILODEMUS’ EPICUREAN WRITING. The Epicureans believed that the sole purpose of life was the pursuit and achievement of pleasure. Internet Photo: www.bibleistrue.com
Historians have said that by the first century (B.C.), Gadara was equal to Athens in philosophy, art, and other aspects of Greek culture. Certainly this underscores the significant influence Hellenism had upon the close proximity to the Jewish people. It has rivaled Judeo-Christian ethics throughout history and, today, it is embodied in popular humanistic philosophies. The Syrian King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 B.C.) attempted to replace Judaism with Hellenistic Epicureanism. There is no record that Jesus ever encountered promoters of this philosophy, although He probably did while traveling through the Greek cities of the Decapolis. The Bible does indicate, however, that the Apostle Paul had dialogues with such philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:18). Among the Jewish people, the Hellenists and Sadducees endorsed this lifestyle while maintaining some Jewish traditions for cultural reasons.
In response to the hard issues of life, the philosophy of Epicureanism (Gk. apicuros) exalted self-indulgences and happiness as the ultimate goals in life. Some six decades before the birth of Jesus, Julius Caesar told the Roman senate that there was no future life after death and no immortality of the soul; one needed to live for the present. Therefore, by the time Jesus came on the scene, there was a discouraged Gentile audience searching for hope. They accepted Him, and within a century the Gentile church exploded in numbers, far outpacing the number of Jewish believers.
. The Greek word Hellen means Greek. Bietenhard, “Greek.” 2:124.
. DeLaney, Dictionary. 2-3; Cressey, “Epicureans.” 1:465.
. De Lacy, “Epicureanism and the Epicurean School.” 3:2-3; Bruce, New Testament History. 39-41.
. Lang, Know the Words of Jesus. 196.
. Geikie, The Life and Words. 1:28.