The Greek Theological Paradigm

Beyond the radical and unprecedented physical change involved in a growth spurt, there is the basic new awareness and crisis of identity. High school represents more than the threshold of bodily change and a new bedtime. A new understanding, mood, character, and outlook sweep over the soul. This inner change is necessary if one is to avoid becoming a modern Baby Huey- internal aptitude at odds with external developments.

Changing Horizon

The church in the first centuries after Christ underwent a similar transformation. The world that the first Christians had preached an early end to, did not after all come to an end. The apocalyptic horizon dipped and was subsumed under a new understanding of the church’s mission.

Apocalyptic ideas began to assume the role of inherited furniture, handed down to believers and not to be discarded, but no longer treasured.

–David J Bosch

The postponement of the parousia produced a crisis whereby the early church experienced a paradigm shift. The Jews had anticipated the coming of Christ, but didn’t discern the twofold nature of it in Old Testament prophecies. Christ who was to be the end of history now came to be understood as the center of history, and the preoccupation with eschatology turned to protology- Christ’s eternal pre-existence.

The earlier emphasized truth of the coming kingdom of God was not negated, but within the changing paradigm it was re-seen in a new light. God’s kingdom DID in fact come, but not in the way some (particularly the Zealots) had anticipated, i.e. the emancipation of Palestine from Roman occupation and the installment of the Davidic kingdom in Jerusalem.

The parable of the four types of soils (Matt. 13, Mark 4), unveils that the kingdom of God came in the way of the divine life sown into the human heart and will grow until harvest when the kingdom of God will come manifestly on earth.

Greek Help and Hindrance

The early affinity with Judaism (cf. Acts 15 and 21) was gradually replaced by an affinity and susceptibility to Hellenism. This new context was both a help and a hindrance.

From the Greeks came a wealth of terms and concepts which were imported and appropriated by the Christian community. Euangelion, musterion, logos, ekklesia were all highly charged, technical terms that were appropriated by the New Testament authors. The Greek assisted vocabulary would only increase with the christological and trinitarian debates in the 5th century.

Hans Küng describes how a new paradigm is often accompanied by new vocabulary. “In times of epochal upheavals theology thus acquires a new shape, even in its literary expression.”

The Greek linguistic heritage became a powerful tool to drill with into the bedrock of the biblical revelation. The lasting legacy is the clarification of the person and work of Christ, the Trinity, and salvation as the organic process of deification.

The early Christians did not simply express in Greek thought what they already knew; rather, they discovered, through Greek religious and philosophical insights, what had been revealed to them.

–Paul Knitter


To understand the actions of the church one must understand the convictions of the church. We must understand the church’s view of itself before we can understand it’s view of the world.

Borsch selects John 3:16 as THE missionary text that exemplifies the Eastern understanding of mission. He sums it up as:

The motive of mission was the divine love, the goal of mission was the divine life, and the result of mission was the church.

The eastern church understood salvation more as a divine and mystical process (theosis) rather than a judicial event. Thus emphasis was placed more on Christ’s incarnation than on His crucifixion. Based on the experience of God’s love and life (for them, in the liturgy), Christians were supplied to live godly and ethical lives expressing the image of God within the structures of society to inspire others to become part of the church. At the same time, doctrinal clarity and polemics advanced and preserved the church within the culture of Hellenistic philosophy.

4 thoughts on “The Greek Theological Paradigm

    • Yeah it’s pretty amazing. The author of the Bible is also the Lord of history and authors interpretive communities to grasp His textual intent. God produced the text of the Bible and God also produces the right readers of the Bible to understand it in a way that only they could.


  1. Very timely…

    I was just discussing how the the language we use to describe various aspects of ministry (service) to our fellow Christians may convey various meanings. This causes me to consider what a good definition of “mission” would be.

    For example, when you go on a “mission trip” what are you doing? What is happening, or should be happening, intrinsically and extrinsically? What does it look like?

    I guess I’m really asking if there is another way to describe or better define these sorts of ventures.



    • That’s precisely the point of this book- that throughout church history there have been different paradigms for understanding what mission means and looks like. And those in one paradigm could hardly understand or agree with those in another paradigm because they are using different interpretive models (although working with the same reality).

      This also gets into the whole recent discussion (in some circles) on what the mission of the church is. That understanding is going to affect what your definition of mission is. I have written on this before here:

      This article hits the main points in the recent discussion on what the mission of the church is:

      A “mission trip” typically involves a lot of community projects and a little gospel play or presentation at the end. A least thats what it meant when I was in high school. Obviously the mission of the church thought isn’t building houses. That is a good deed to “demonstrate God’s love to people.”

      I think the recent change of emphasis from “mission trips” to “living on mission” reflects the view that something is lacking in traditional mission trips involving building houses or community projects without much explicit preaching of the gospel. That’s kind of been the latest debate: is mission mainly preaching or tackling social issues? “Living on mission” views mission as an everyday affair in your daily life versus an irregular or special event or trip.

      To me a mission trip in the truest sense is what Acts describes- a trip to preach the gospel and raise up a local church. And I understand the mission of the church as a whole to be preaching the gospel, proclaiming the truth, planting local churches, building up the body of Christ, and bringing in the kingdom of God. They key difference is in the last two. The mission of the church is to build up the church and bring in the kingdom, not merely to save people or and certainly not merely to solve social issues.

      Bosch offers this definition of mission on p. 228: “the activity of proclaiming and embodying the gospel among those who have not yet embraced it.”


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