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The Greek Concept of Creation

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The ancient Greeks had no shortage of creation myths, with many elements taken from the Babylonian model. Two poets, Homer and Hesiod, described the Greek religious system, with its national gods in charge, while living in a royal court full of intrigues and lusts.

In his version Hesiod saw the origin of the universe as deriving from the chaos, the vastness, of space that produced the first goddess, Gaea (earth). She created Uranus (heaven), who became her husband, and they produced many lesser gods. The division between heaven and earth occurred when one of their sons, Cronus, in a fit of jealousy attacked his father Uranus. Zeus, the one who became the chief god, was born from the irate Cronus and his wife Rhea.

Sadly, the only surviving writings about Christianity from the first centuries after the apostles come mainly from men steeped in Greek thought and philosophy. These were Justin Martyr (110-165), Clement (160-220), Origen (185-254) and Augustine (354-430), all former disciples of the thinking of Plato and Aristotle. In this way Greek philosophy entered the Roman church and formed much of its theology.

“The problem with Gentile Christians,” notes church historian Samuele Bacchiocchi, “was not only their lack of familiarity with Scripture, but also their excessive fascination with their Greek philosophical speculations, which conditioned their understanding of Biblical truths. While Jewish Christians often erred in the direction of legalism, Gentile Christians often erred in the direction of philosophical speculations which sundered Christianity from its historical roots” ( God’s Festivals in Scripture and History, 1995, pp. 102-103).

In particular, Origen and Augustine began to interpret much of the book of Genesis as allegory. They viewed the Genesis account as filled with symbolic fictional figures representing truth, human conduct or experience. Gradually, this allegorical method became the norm in the Catholic understanding of much of Genesis. These misconceptions were to heavily influence church authorities down through the years.

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