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Acts 17:18 – “What will (Paul) the babbler say”

The Apostle Paul is in Athens, and he encounters certain philosophers from the schools of Epicureans and Stoics. The Epicureans were followers of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who emphasized pleasure and the avoidance of pain as the ultimate goals in life. The Stoics, on the other hand, followed the teachings of the Greek philosopher Zeno and believed in living in accordance with nature, virtue, and reason.

Stoics were a “sect of ancient philosophers, the followers of Zeno, who’s morality was couched in paradoxes: that a wise man is void of all passion or perturbation of mind: that pain is no real evil, and that a wise man is always the same, always free, and nothing happens to a wise man that is beyond expectation.”

Pantologia: A New Cyclopaedia, Comprending a Complete Series of Essays, Treatises, and Systems, Alphabetically Arranged ; with a General Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Words ; the Whole Presenting a Distinct Survey of Human Genius, Learning, and Industry. Spa – Tze. United Kingdom: Kearsley, 1813.

Stoics v. Epicureans: Elevated arguments leading to lofty confidence

The extravagancies and absurdities of the Stoical philosophy may in some measure be ascribed to the contests which subsisted between Zeno and the academics. These disputes gave rise to the dogmas of Stoicism and drove them to the utmost extremity to express themselves with more confidence than they would otherwise have done. This is perhaps why such extravagant notions are ascribed to the Stoics (and why they thought of Paul as a babbler).

Jones, William. J-Z. United Kingdom: T. Harjette, 1824.

Then Paul comes along

When Paul preached to these philosophers about Jesus and the resurrection, they found his teachings unusual and foreign to their confident philosophical beliefs and religious practices. They referred to him as a “babbler,” which implies that they thought he was speaking without much understanding or knowledge. Others accused him of being a “setter forth of strange gods” because they perceived his message about Jesus and the resurrection as introducing new and unfamiliar deities.

Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? Others said: He seems to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. Acts 17:18

The passage highlights the clash between Paul’s Christian beliefs and the philosophical views of the Epicureans and Stoics. It also demonstrates the challenges he faced in conveying his message to a diverse and intellectually curious audience in Athens.

The Epicureans and Stoics were both highly respected philosophical schools in the ancient world. Their teachings were well-known and widely debated. This means that Paul’s encounter with them was not simply a matter of two individuals meeting on the street. It was a public event that would have attracted a lot of attention.

The fact that Paul was able to engage in a meaningful conversation with the Epicureans and Stoics is significant. It shows that he was a skilled debater and that he had a good understanding of their philosophical views. This suggests that he was not simply trying to convert people to Christianity, but that he was also interested in learning from them and engaging with their ideas.

It is also interesting that the philosophers in Athens did not outright dismiss Paul and his message but rather engaged with his ideas, albeit with different reactions.

The fact that they referred to him as a “babbler” shows that they found his teachings intriguing enough to warrant attention, even if they were skeptical. Their curiosity led them to inquire about Paul and his message rather than dismissing him without further consideration.