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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI


Part I: The Silences of God

Chapter 1

Four Centuries of Silence

     IN THE FOUR hundred years which immediately preceded the birth of Jesus Christ, God allowed mankind to conduct a unique experiment. In these years there was made the profoundest search for the meaning of life which the human intellect is ever likely to make. This search took place not only in Greece, where the circumstances are probably most familiar to Western readers, but also toward the East, in India.
    It was a time when exceptional individuals were engaged in a quest for ultimate truth under peculiarly favourable conditions. And it was a period when God remained silent, in which He contributed no further light by means of revelation from the time that Malachi had put away his inspired pen (somewhere about 400 B.C.) until a Child was born in Bethlehem and "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." By the search for truth in this context, I have in mind the search for the meaning of life, a meaning which cannot be found until man has first come personally face to face with his God.
    It was in this special sense, I believe, that Paul spoke of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ as being only "in the fulness of time" (Galatians 4:4). It was this same circumstance, I think, which led him to exclaim after his visit to Athens -- as though with sudden insight -- that it was only after (in the wisdom of God) men by wisdom had not known God, that it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe (1 Corinthians 1:21). Let us examine briefly the events of these four hundred silent years, first in Greece and then in India.

The Golden Age of Greece

     It is almost universally conceded that the period from Pericles to Aristotle marked the highest point in human history in terms of pure intellectual achievement. Yet it was followed within a few

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hundred years by what must surely have been one of the darkest and most appalling periods of history for free man and slave alike. It ended in a situation, during the time of the Roman Empire, in which the elite of society came to look upon suicide as the only logical escape, while the slave could scarcely hope for the privilege of even this much control of his own life. Farrar wrote some years ago of even the more honourable segment of society of this time: (1)

     Its marked characteristic was despairing sadness, which became specially prominent in its most sincere adherents. Its favorite theme was the glorification of suicide, which wiser moralists had severely reprobated, but which many Stoics praised as the one sane refuge against oppression and outrage.
     It was a philosophy which was indeed able to lacerate the heart with righteous indignation against the crimes and follies of mankind, but which vainly strove to resist -- and which scarcely even hoped to stem, the ever-swelling tide of vice and misery. For wretchedness it had no pity; on vice it looked with impotent disdain. . . .
     Even for those who had every advantage of rank and wealth, nothing was possible but a life of crushing sorrow ended by a death of complete despair.

     Both Zeno and Cleanthes (his successor in the School of Stoics) committed suicide. Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, Seneca, and many other writers of the times underscored the frequency of suicide under the empire. In Trajan's time, suicide had become almost a national pastime; the number of Latin phrases to describe it accordingly multiplied to an extraordinary degree! The more violent solution was essentially Roman, but even in Greece it had led to such a total resignation to the "bludgeonings of chance" that men in the end either sought to escape the hurts and cruelties of fate and the boredom of life by allowing themselves no feelings whatsoever (which is Stoicism), or by abandoning all restraint and adopting a policy of eating and drinking and being merry and living only for the pleasure of the moment (which is Epicureanism).
     Meanwhile in India, by a different route, the same basic problem led to a rather similar kind of pessimistic solution -- the goal being individual extinction, not by suicide, but by the destruction of all personal desire, the achievement of Nirvana. This was the annihilation of individual identity (which is Nihilism).
     Such, then, was the fruit of philosophy uncorrected and unenlightened in its development by revelation. The search for the meaning of life was a dismal failure and resulted in almost universal pessimism. The answer was suicide or abandonment of all

1. Farrar, Frederick W., The Early Days of Christianity, Burt, New York, 1882, p.10, and footnote.

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self-restraint or the negation of all human responsiveness. It was really the annihilation of man as man, while God was both unknown and unknowable.
     Looking back upon those centuries -- which at the outset seemed to hold such promise for so many reasons but which ended up in such a sad denial of everything rewarding that life has to offer when lived as God intends it to be lived -- one cannot help but feel that this disappointing experiment was allowed to run its course while God deliberately remained silent, only that He might show once for all the inability of man to discover the meaning of life by the mere exercise of his own intellect and without the aid of revelation. Only then did God break in on the darkness and reveal the truth in the face of Jesus Christ. Only then did He send forth His Son to reveal Himself to man, to show man the reality of his own fallen nature, to demonstrate to man his true potential as originally created, and to set forth the way of salvation whereby that potential might be recovered once again and realized in a meaningful life. Only then was hope restored to a world which seemed to have accepted hopelessness as an inescapable fact of life.
     For all the profoundness of his search, man had not been able to diagnose correctly his own sickness and the consequent sickness of society. Nor had he been able, for all his searching, "to find out God." The end of his search had led only, as Paul observed, to the erection of an altar to God Unknown (Acts 17:23).
     What happened, then, that such promise brought forth so little that was either comforting or reassuring or helpful to man as he faced the central issues of his existence, leading rather only to a weary and disillusioned Pilate asking, with little hope of finding the answer, "What is truth?" (John 18:38).

     It began indeed with great promise. Probably no period in history witnessed such a sudden liberation of the human mind from stifling and restrictive devotion to the orthodoxies of the past. Only in the last century of our own times have we witnessed a similar rejection of all that has hitherto seemed so reasonable and meaningful in our world view. The age of Pericles which initiated the Golden Age of Greece provides some striking parallels in many ways. It could indeed be that both periods will prove to share this in common also, that they are harbingers of a sudden breaking of the silence of God: that God will again burst upon an unexpecting world, only this time not in the quiet way of the stable in Bethlehem, but with a shout and the mighty trumpet of the archangel.

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     Pericles (490 - 429 B.C.) epitomized his age. He was a general of no mean calibrer, a scholar, a philosopher, a patron of the arts, and a great orator. Will Durant speaks of the society in which he lived as being one of extraordinary ferment: (2)

     No age has ever rivaled that of Pericles in the number and grandeur of its philosophical ideas, or in the vigor and exuberance with which they were debated. Every issue that agitates the world today was bruited about in ancient Athens, and with such freedom and eagerness that all Greece except its youth was alarmed.

     For reasons which it is not necessary to enter into here, circumstances had contrived to turn Athens into a working democracy while Sparta had remained essentially an aristocracy. In Athens the climate was such as to favour the freest possible exchange of ideas and to encourage every form of art, especially public debate and monumental civic architectural embellishment. It was a golden age indeed, spent in an environment that was naturally beautiful and healthful in every way for the privileged who were free.
     In due course, unfortunately, the Athenians became missionary-minded with respect to their own democratic way of life and soon engaged to convert neighbouring Sparta. The Spartans were rugged individuals, accustomed to a military discipline, despising the effete Athenians and their profitless discussions: and they took violent exception to the superior pose of their neighbours. The end result was at first a disaster for Athens. The Athenians sought to improve their neighbours by force, and in the Peloponnesian War (431 - 404 B.C.) their missionary zeal, coupled with their irresolution, reduced them to a state of material impoverishment from which they recovered only in part -- their land being laid waste, their olive orchards (upon which so much of their wealth had depended) being almost totally destroyed, and their pride subdued. The struggle itself engendered in them a certain corruption of spirit, as so often happens in wars between relatives.
     Something sinister crept into Athenian life, as it did in Rome once the Empire was established. For somewhat the same reason, victor and defeated alike were affected with the same blight. Losing the sense of honour -- for the war between Athens and Sparta had become more and more vicious and nasty (as Shakespeare said, "The nearer in blood, the nearer bloody") -- people no longer behaved honourably, but masked their behaviour with fine words. The former love of serious discussion was debased to ingenious dispute,

2. Durant, Will, The Life of Greece, Part II of The Story of Civilization, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1939, p.349.

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by which the most despicable actions were made to appear noble. It became more important to win the argument than to arrive at the truth -- as must sometimes seem to be the case in our own legal wranglings today. Those who loved wisdom and sought it for its own sake were replaced by those who sought only to appear to be wise, and the legitimate tactics of the sophists degenerated into mere sophistry. Men became cynics. But not all men: for there was one who sought to restore integrity and he, Socrates, was made a martyr for his pains.

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle

     We know very little of Socrates except through the eyes of others. He wrote nothing. His methods of arguing and his conversations are recorded for us by Plato, who was his pupil for many years. We assume that Plato has left us a true picture.
     In appearance Socrates was anything but handsome. To some extent he almost reminds us of Paul in this respect! The only description we have tells us that in outward appearance he was "grotesque." He was stout but not tall, with prominent eyes, snub nose, broad nostrils, and wide mouth. Plato says nevertheless that he was all glorious within, the most righteous man of his age.
     Socrates' great contribution was not in the answers he gave, for he is not recorded to have given a single answer of his own to the stream of questions he proposed. His great contribution was rather in his method. To every question asked of him, he turned the tables on his questioner and propounded a further one in return! He simply demanded the right to ask, to challenge, to probe, to doubt. He became the first exponent in Greece of a personal morality, an individual integrity based rather on private conscience than on public behaviour. It was this which finally exasperated his own countrymen of the older generation and led to the demand that he be put to death as a dangerous and unorthodox corrupter of youth.
     As we have noted, sophism had become sophistry. War had degraded the free spirit of inquiry of a former generation into a wrangling over words: method had become of greater importance than content, and winning an argument than discovering the truth. It was possible to prove that black was white by a series of graded misrepresentations, each of which was too subtle to be exposed by the less sophisticated. Socrates sought to undermine all this by challenging every supposedly logical conclusion. He did not challenge the reality of the gods, nor the value of piety and religious

3. Plato. Epinomis. viii, 326.

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exercise. He sought to purify rather than ridicule. But in spite of his intentions, he succeeded in subtly shifting the direction of argument from man's relationship to the gods and his destiny, to "What is man?" He converted a corrupt religious orthodoxy into an exhilarating humanism. He converted sin into mere ignorance, which sufficient education could correct. He made the search for truth of greater importance than the search for holiness.
     Nevertheless, under his influence and through the minds of his disciples, the forms of argument and analysis were honed to a new kind of precision, and the Greek language became the most perfect vehicle of logical expression. It became, in fact, the instrument whereby the religious perceptiveness of the Old Testament saints was woven by Paul through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit into a Christian theology. As Barr has shown,
(4) Hebrew could never have become the language of theology in the sense that Greek did; and but for this transformation, the whole fabric of Christian faith would have remained experience-oriented and, being unstructured, its impact outside the Hebrew nation would have remained uncertain and cloudy. The Christian faith swept the Mediterranean world because it was cast in a Greek mold, in a language whose capacity for the conveying of compulsive logic was to a large extent perfected by the Sophists and by Socrates and his successors, Plato and Aristotle
     Yet, even while this refining process was going on, the subject matter of philosophy drew steadily away from the objective of truth which had been conceived by the Old Testament prophets in experiential form. Pindar
(5) at the opening of the fifth century B.C. had accepted the oracle of Delphi piously; Aeschylus defended it politically; Herodotus, about 450, criticized it timidly; Thucydides, at the end of the century, openly rejected it. As Durant says, (6) "The Sophists must not be blamed or credited for all of this; much of it was in the air . . . their role in the deterioration of morals was likewise contributory rather than basic." But the Sophists unwittingly quickened the disintegration of the old order.
     Had the trends of the time continued until intellectualism had discredited itself by its own corrupt practices,
all might have been different. The old orthodoxies might have returned, purified and "modernized" perhaps, but essentially as before. But Socrates by his very integrity had the effect of destroying the old faith by his honest questionings, while substituting in its place, not a new faith, but

4. Barr, James, The Semantics of Biblical Language, Oxford, 1961, chaps. 2 and 9.
5. Durant, Will, The Life of Greece, Part II in The Story of Civiization, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1939, p.361.
6. Ibid., p.362.

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entirely new lines of inquiry which turned men's attention (via Plato, 427 - 347 B.C.) first of all to the question of the nature of man rather than his destiny: and then (via Plato's pupil, Aristotle [384 - 322]) to the nature of the universe rather than its purpose.
     Socrates died in 399 B.C. Plato eulogized him as "truly the wisest, and justest, and best of all men whom I have ever known."
(7) Yet this same Socrates initiated a purely philosophical movement, entirely divorced in the end from any religious association, which left men without faith, without hope, and without any certainty whatever except that the only wise course was to doubt everything. Centuries later, his followers were to gain almost universal assent to the fatal idea that human intellect is capable of discovering the whole truth (in which "truth" can be equated with our current phrase, "the ultimate meaning of life"), not by the exercise of faith but by the exercise of doubt, a principle underlying the methods of scientific inquiry today.
     The Greek concept of human nature which identified sin with ignorance and saw education as the answer to all individual and social ills is still with us -- in spite of centuries of dismal failure in its application. It utterly defeated their search for a social Utopia, and when transplanted into Roman thinking, the results were not merely equally futile but even more disastrous for reasons we may now look at briefly. And insofar as Western man still seeks to build his Utopias along the lines of the Greek idea, the same tragic error continues to repeat itself with the same disastrous results. The amazing thing is that the dialectic method, which Socrates received from the Sophists who preceded him, was passed down through Plato to Aristotle, who turned it into a system of logic so complete that it has remained essentially unaltered for two thousand years. Yet basically the whole tremendous adventure had proved a failure. As Durant has put it so effectively:

     Every hypothesis had been conceived, aired, and forgotten; the universe had preserved its secret, and men had grown weary of a search in which even the most brilliant minds had failed. Aristotle had agreed with Plato on only one point--the possibility of acquiring ultimate truth. Pyrrho voiced the suspicions of his time in suggesting that it was above all on this point that they had both been mistaken.

     Pyrrho was born at Elis about 360 B.C. His pupil, Timan of Phlius, sent Pyrrho's opinions abroad into the world in a series of Satires: (9)

7. Plato, Phaedrus, last line.
8. Durant, Will, The Life of Greece, Part II in The Story of Civiization, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1939, p.642.
9. Ibid.

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These opinions were basically three: that certainty is unattainable, that the wise man will suspend judgment and will seek tranquillity rather than truth, and that, since all theories are probably false, one might as well accept the myths and conventions of his time and place. Neither the senses nor reason can give us sure knowledge: the senses distort the object in perceiving it and reason is merely the sophist servant of desire, i.e., "the plaything of bias."

     There are no certainties: the same gods exist or do not exist, according to the different nations of mankind. Indeed, nothing is quite true. Even life is an uncertain good. Such broadness of mind, which today we seem to feel must be applauded, had the logical effect of leading to complete mental confusion. Arcesilaus, one of the followers of Plato, introduced complete skepticism into the thought of his day by setting up shop for himself and lecturing one morning for one opinion and the next morning against it, proving each so well as to destroy them both!
     But Aristotle had a special part to play in this stream of influence, due to the fact that he became a tutor of Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great (ruled 336 -323 B.C.)

     In a work that has become a classic of its kind, Edward S. Creasy, speaking of the influence of Alexander on subsequent human history, observed: (10)

      The lasting importance of Alexander's conquest is to be estimated, not by the duration of his own life and empire, or even by the duration of the kingdoms which his Generals after his death formed out of the fragments of that mighty dominion. In every region of the world that he traversed Alexander planted Greek settlements and founded cities in the populations of which the Greek element at once asserted its preponderance
     Such was the ascendancy of the Greek genius, so wonderfully comprehensive and assimilating was the cultivation which it introduced, that within thirty years after Alexander crossed the Hellespont, the Greek language was spoken in every country from the shores of the Aegean to the Indus and throughout Egypt--not, indeed, wholly to the extirpation of the native dialects, but it became the language of every court, of all literature, of every judicial and political function, and formed a medium of communication among the many myriads of mankind inhabiting these large portions of the Old World. . . .
     The infinite value of this to humanity from the highest and holiest point of view has often been pointed out, and the workings of the finger of Providence have been gratefully recognized by those who have observed how the early growth and progress of Christianity were aided by the diffusion of the

10. Creasy, Edward S., Decisive Battles of the World, Volume X in The World's Great Classics, Colonial Press, New York, 1900, pp. 61-62.

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Greek language and civilization throughout Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt, which had been caused by the Macedonian conquest of the East.

     It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of Alexander's conquests as a catalyst to prepare the world for the coming of the Lord. It is equally important to bear in mind that he came upon the stage of history at the very height of the great Greek intellectual adventure, for he had Aristotle as his tutor. But it is no less important to remember that what he conveyed to the rest of the world in terms of Greek thought was not so much a finished system of philosophy which had discovered at long last answers to the most profound questions which trouble men (questions regarding personal significance, the meaning of life, human destiny, and the nature of God), but rather a spirit of openness and doubt. It was a spirit of openness to new ideas which laid aside the narrow-minded and highly localized religious views that had hitherto characterized the Middle East, where every nation had its own gods and priestly rituals and rigid orthodoxies. But it was also a spirit of doubt which in the end replaced all the old assurances and certainties that had half-satisfied man's religious instincts in the past. Alexander destroyed this religious insularity, not by encouraging disrespect for the old ways and the old deities, but by spreading abroad a spirit of tolerance for new ideas and new philosophies of life.
     Alexander drew together the East and the West in an entirely new way by an amalgamation of populations: not by uprooting people as the Assyrian and Babylonian monarchs had done, but by inviting the colonization of each new conquered region by those from other regions previously within his jurisdiction. There came about an extraordinary mixing of the races as a consequence. Through the dissemination of Greek as a common tongue -- as Durant has put it -- "a cultural unity was now established which lasted in the eastern Mediterranean for almost a thousand years. All educated men learned Greek as the common medium of diplomacy, literature and science."
(11) A book written in Greek could be understood anywhere in the Middle East or around the Mediterranean Sea by anyone who could read; a cursive script developed and became more or less standardized, replacing the multitude of different orthographies that previously existed.
     The unification of this world, especially during the time of the Roman Empire, made travel possible both for business and for

11. Durant, Will, The Life of Greece, Part II in The Story of Civilization, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1939, p.600.

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pleasure. The enormous number of slaves who flooded the market also allowed the mass production of books. One educated slave would read aloud to twenty others, who would transcribe his words and thus multiply copies of the great works of antiquity, until libraries both private and public became almost commonplace. It has been said that the facilities for education were actually more widespread from around 200 B.C. onward than they were in 1850 A.D. (12) Even newspapers, likewise transcribed by hand by slaves, came to be published, thus making possible the wide dissemination of news. One daily paper was published in Rome, called Acta Diurna, i.e., "Daily News." (13) The papyri show us how common writing was, even among ordinary folk; and Romans of any distinction either had their sons educated by Greeks who not long ago had been slaves, or by sending them to the University of Athens, or Antioch or Tarsus and elsewhere. Both Cicero and Horace were thus educated. The Roman conquests extended the influence that Alexander had initiated, because of the extraordinary number of slaves on the market, especially during the period of Augustus and his successors. The peoples whom they conquered were sold into slavery, and a very large number of these people were better educated than those who purchased them. Such slaves often became the tutors of their masters and their children. The numbers of individuals involved are extraordinary. (14) Ten thousand might be sold in a single day in Rome. Caesar actually sold 63,000 Gauls on a single occasion. In Athens there were 400,000 slaves to 20,000 free men. In Rome there were probably 650,000 slaves at least, and it is estimated that there were more than 60,000,000 slaves in the Empire. Augustus himself personally left over 4,000 slaves in his will! Since Eastern slaves tended to be more educated than their masters, under the Romans such men had the opportunity of bettering themselves and often purchased their freedom. Hundreds of thousands did not achieve this desirable goal, of course, and their lot was truly appalling, since they had no status of any kind. They were merely "things" and were fed to beasts to entertain the populace with as little thought as men fed scraps of meat to their dogs. Yet those who were educated were in sufficient numbers that they effectively prepared the way (by educating the children of wealthier Romans) for the dissemination of Greek culture and the preparation of a seedbed for the literature of the New Testament. The publishing of books became so common that the multiplication and spread of the Gospels and Epistles could actually 

12. Angus, S., The Environment of Early Christianity, Duckworth, London, 1914, p.15 footnote.
13. Ibid., p.16.
14. Ibid., pp. 22, 38.

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be taken for granted and could occur remarkably quickly.
     Durant points this out:

     The stream of books now swelled to proportions unknown before...In the book shops that crowded a district called Argiletum...impecunious bibliophiles furtively read snatches of the books they could not buy. Placards on the walls announced new titles and their cost...Books were exported to all parts of the Empire or were published simultaneously in Rome, Lyons, Athens and Alexandria. The Roman author, Martial, was pleased to learn that he was bought and sold in Britain. . . .

     One of the greatest of all libraries was that founded by Ptolemy in Alexandria. It is probable that there were over a half-million volumes in its holdings. Polybius tells us that libraries were quite common in the second century B.C. (16) Augustus himself established two libraries in Rome.
     Another significant effect of Alexander's conquest -- an effect not nearly so evident in the Roman conquests which came later -- was the liberation of the colossal fortunes hoarded by oriental despots, and their release as productive wealth and as a means of establishing a leisure class which became patron of the arts. Many of these patrons travelled widely, and indeed, cosmopolitanism reached its height during the time of the Empire. As wealthy men may travel in style today, so they travelled then in safety and over established routes. And as they travelled, many of them read -- like the modern traveller on plane or train. So was the eunuch travelling and reading, whom Philip led to the Lord (Acts 8:28). Numerous bodyguards were not required. Those who carried the gospel could walk or ride or travel by boat with every assurance of reaching their destination. And Paul could, with confidence, convey money from one city to another, or have a friend bring him books and parchments from some distant town.
     Free speech seems to have been permitted everywhere, and oratory was always praised.
(17) In addition, the cynics who formed one division of the Stoics of Socrates' time seem to have made popular a kind of preaching ministry as they wandered from place to place, challenging the artificiality of their own culture. In spite of what one might suppose to the contrary, there was a great tolerance in religious matters. Only later, when the republic had become the Empire and the authority of the Senate usurped by autocratic individuals like Augustus (63 B.C. / A.D. 14), did it become dangerous to

15. Durant, Will, Caesar and Christ, Part III of The Story of Civilization, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1944, p.234.
16. Angus, S., The Environment of Early Christianity, Duckworth, London, 1914, p.18.
17. Ibid., pp. 74-75. 

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have personal opinions in such matters -- and even then the danger existed for the most part in the larger cities. In the country and in the provinces there was still much tolerance and openness toward new ideas.
     Yet for all this exchange of ideas and freedom of thought, there were no certainties about the great issues of life. It was a time of great disillusionment and pessimism. The scholar had replaced the prophet, and reason had taken the place of revelation. As a consequence, morality had probably reached the lowest ebb it has ever reached among people who were otherwise so civilized. Hope was virtually non-existent. The solution sought by those who remained in the empire, representing the old nobility of the republic, was almost universally accepted as suicide. And for the rest of the population, the innumerable multitude of men without faith or money or education or any kind of personal integrity or freedom, it was to live like animals from day to day, demanding bread for life and an endless round of circuses to help them forget it. Each new spectacle quickly dulled their senses until they urged the authorities to even more desperate attempts at satisfying their hunger for thrills and excitement. Whole battles were re-enacted in the arenas in which men slaughtered each other by the thousands. So totally removed from any moral sense was the religious sentiment of the day that the greatest massacres were reserved for the hungry populace on religious holidays.
(18) And the best seats, the front seats, were reserved for the holiest vestal virgins. Angus remarked: (19)

     In studying the religious life of the Graeco-Roman period one is first struck by its religious destitution and by the earnest striving after a new faith.
     The Gospel of Jesus Christ could not have come at a better time to find men in a serious mood...A crisis in religious life had occurred when the idea of a strictly local god was shattered and with it the traditional culture and the national faith.

     In a curious way, it came about that the morality of the gods became lower than that of the worshipers. Thus religious faith, per se, ceased

18. Ibid., p.43. "Gladiatorial games were introduced 264 B.C. under the pretext of religion: they were defended as a means of sustaining the military spirit, like duels in Germany. Gladiatorial shows were given at the public games and at the banquets of the rich. The combatants were slaves, criminals or captives; later even freemen entered the arena, so great was the glory of successful combat. Exhibitors vied with each other in the numbers exposed to slaughter. Caesar put 320 pairs up at once; Agrippa caused 700 pairs to fight in one day at Berytus; under Augustus 10,000 fought; Titus, 'the darling of the human race,' put up 3000; Trajan amused Rome for 123 days by exhibiting 10,000 captives in mutual slaughter. Rome's holiest vestals had seats of honour in the arena. Claudius liked to witness the contortions of the young gladiators."
19. Ibid., p.68.

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to have any potent influence on moral behaviour. Not every man was thus degraded, however, and not infrequently one sees in the literature of the day a growing sense of hope that there might yet come by some process of incarnation some Great One who would right wrongs, who would provide certainties where there were none, who would show men how to live and what to live for, and who would rule the world in righteousness and restore the old ways. In Virgil, both in the Georgics and the Aeneid, we meet with a conception of a Messiah. (20) There is no difficulty in supposing that he derived these beliefs from an Eastern source, either from a Greek version of Isaiah, perhaps, or from the Jewish Sibylline Books. The Romans could hardly have had so much to do with Syria from the second century B.C. onward without learning something of Jewish messianic hopes. Moreover, in the library at Alexandria was a copy of the Old Testament in Greek written specifically at the request of Ptolemy and supposedly produced by seventy or seventy-two Jewish scholars, whence its name "the Septuagint." According to Tacitus, the majority of the Jews were persuaded that the time was drawing near for the Orient to get the upper hand again and that from Judea should come the future ruler of the world; Suetonius wrote that an ancient and persistent idea was circulating that the rulers of the world in the future should arise from Judea. There is no question that Cicero strongly believed in a Messiah who would put the world straight, a belief which he almost certainly obtained from well-to-do Jewish friends who formed part of the community in Rome.
     Certainly the stage was being set around the Mediterranean. It remains only to be seen what had been happening during these years to the East, in India.

The Rise of Philosophy in India

     Europe has drawn its inspiration from west of Mesopotamia and owes very little to the culture of India and the Far East. From Babylonia, via the Sumerians, we derived much of our original technology; from Palestine, our spiritual heritage; from Greece, our philosophical insights; and from Rome, much of our legal and administrative expertise. We are apt to suppose that to the east of Mesopotamia little happened either in the realm of technology or philosophy. Actually a great deal happened.

20. Messianic hope: Taylor Caldwell, in her masterly study of Cicero under the title Pillar of Iron (Doubleday, New York, 1965), presents an intriguing and quite accurate picture of how widespread this hope was among educated Gentiles. See also S. Angus, The Environment of Early Christianity, Duckworth, London, 1914, pp.137-38, for a discussion of this point.

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     In China, technology followed a course of development which would astound most Western readers if they but knew the levels of sophistication which it achieved while we, for our part, were still barely civilized. (21) But the Chinese did not engage in philosophy in the true sense of the word. They were intensely practical, and the idea of pursuing truth for its own sake did not appeal to them. They loved wisdom only in a canny sort of way, as an aid to personal success or social acceptance or political advancement.
     The people of India, however, had a natural philosophical bent which engaged them in contemplation of the deepest and least immediately practical mysteries of life.
(22) They reflected upon the nature of the gods and the problem of evil and human destiny, subjects which interested the Chinese scarcely at all. But unlike the Chinese, the people of India were virtually without any drive for technological improvement beyond barely getting by.
     Hence it came about that neither in China nor in India did "science" arise, for science results only from the application of truly philosophical speculation to a sophisticated technology. Philosophy and technology must be married before science can emerge.
(23) Thus Western culture, which was the child of such a wedding, advanced so remarkably as to cast the philosophical achievements of India and the technological achievements of China into almost total shade. We grow up, for the most part, with little or no awareness of the Indian powers of philosophical penetration on the one hand, or the Chinese capacity for invention on the other. Only in comparatively recent times has this awareness begun to stir, especially in relation to ancient Chinese civilization, largely as a consequence of Needham's massive -- one might say, encyclopedic -- work on the subject, in process of publication by the Cambridge University Press. (24)
      It is the philosophy of India, however, that concerns us here, and more particularly that part of it which came into being during these same silent centuries in which we have traced very briefly the course of Greek and Roman philosophical development.

21. Chinese technology: for a useful and fairly detailed study of this, see "The Technology of Hamitic People," Part IV, "The Part Played by Shem, Ham and Japheth in Subsequent World History" (chapter 3), and "A Christian World View. The Framework of History" (chapters 4 and 5), Part V, all in Noah's Three Sons, vol.1 of The Doorway Papers Series.
22. Indian philosophy: see Volume I of the Doorway Papers, specifically "The Part Played by Shem, Ham, and Japheth in Subsequent World History" (chapter 3), Part I, and "A Christian World View: The Framework of History" (chapter 4), Part V, all in Noah's Three Sons, vol.1 of The Doorway Papers Series.
23. The emergence of science: see "A Christian World View: The Framework of History" (chapter 4), Part V in Noah's Three Sons, vol.1 of The Doorway Papers.
24. Needham, Joseph, Science and Civilization of China, Cambridge University Press, 1954 and ff.

     pg.14 of 18     

     As the striking resemblances among the Aryan languages admitted little doubt that they have all sprung from one source, so the religions of the various branches of the Aryan race appear to have had at one time a common faith. (25) It is generally agreed that the chief deity, "the God of Heaven," was acknowledged by the Greeks, Romans, and Hindus to be wise, powerful, good, and supreme. Moreover, He bore a kind of relationship to the human race which is best described by the title "Heavenly Father." The people of India derived their religious faith initially from Persia and with it a profound involvement and concern for the great problem of evil, the problem of human suffering. Indeed, Hindu philosophers were even more specifically engrossed, not so much in the problem of suffering, as in the problem of undeserved suffering. Their whole object was to find some way of mitigating human tragedy by giving meaning and value to grief and pain. According to Maritain, (26) they went astray at the very outset, being misled by the dualism of Zoroaster which came to them from Persia. It led them to suppose that there was no escape from evil, no possibility of a heaven of bliss hereafter, no ultimate triumph of good over evil. And so they sought, instead, to find means of accepting evil in such a way that it no longer proved an insupportable burden to the human heart and mind.
     About 500 B.C. an Indian philosopher named Guatama, later to be named Buddha (which means "the enlightened one"), spent a lifetime reflecting upon the problem of how man could find peace in the face of inescapable evil both within himself and in the universe. Having no revelation of God to guide him such as exists in the Old Testament, he became wholly dependent upon his own intellect and powers of reason. To him the answer to the enigma of suffering was not to be sought in any appeal to a Saviour-God, but rather by finding a way of reaching such a state of abnegation of human desire in any form that the soul ceases to have any real selfhood of its own with which to react to the hurts of life. The objective was to annihilate individuality.
    Man should seek, Gautama held, so to sublimate his own will that by the end of his life there would be no part of his self left to suffer. Since such a state was exceedingly difficult to achieve wholly within a single lifetime, the individual was almost certain to die with a residuum of individuality still remaining. The sufferer was therefore destined to be reincarnated and to begin a new existence with

25. On this see "Primitive Monotheism", Part II in Evolution or Cretion? vol.4 of The Doorway papers Series and "The Trinity in the Old Testament", Part V in The Virgin Birth and The Incarnation, vol.5 of The Doorway Papers Series.
26. Maritain, Jacques, An Introduction to Philosophy, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1955, p.43 

     pg.15 of 18     

that residuum. If through that second life he was less successful in reducing what remained of self, he might enter a third life with even more -- and as a consequence, be more subject to the pain of living than he had been two lives ago. The object was so to live that in each subsequent life the self would be progressively reduced until the final goal was reached in which it ceased altogether. In some mystical way such a soul was re-absorbed into the universe in such a form or state as to be totally immune to further suffering. Perfection was to be achieved by annihilation of the individual as such. This was Nirvana.
     To us this seems a terribly pessimistic view of life. Gandhi himself said, "I do not want to be re-born."
(27) The philosopher Bhartri-hari said: "Everything on earth gives cause for fear, and the only freedom from fear is to be found in the renunciation of all desire." (28) Thus Indian philosophy, which started centuries before Buddha with a concept of God as the "God of Light," ended up first ignoring His existence and then denying it. The search for truth unguided by revelation led to a complete pessimism and even the denial of the worth of existence itself.
     The Vedas which originated with a hardy Aryan race to the north were full of optimism. But Buddha, representing the same racial stock five hundred years later, denied even the value of life. Some centuries later still, the Puranas presented a view of life as totally pessimistic as it seems possible for man to conceive. Philosophy unguided by revelation led Rome into the same pessimism.
     When God is publicly silent and no longer steps in to correct man's unaided reasonings about his own nature and destiny and relationship with Himself, then hope decays in human society as a whole. And when God is privately silent, personal hope also weakens and decays. It is the silence of God that is our basic problem. When the righteous or the innocent suffer unaccountably, when the wicked prosper, when prayer is unanswered and the heavens are as brass -- when God seems to be dead -- then human suffering becomes totally meaningless and all we are left with is a search for escape. By Stoicism or Epicureanism in Greece, by suicide in Rome, by annhilism in India, men have sought to come to terms with the problem. 

27. Gandhi: quoted by R. Rolland, Prophets of the New India, New York, 1930, p.49
28. Bhartri-hari: quoted by Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage, Part I of The Story of Civilization, Simon and Schuster, 1935, p.517.

     pg.16 of 18     

     Human reason in India, like human reason in Greece, when left to its own resources discovered less and less about God, until He became in Greece merely Unknown (Acts 17:23), and in India denied altogether. It may not be so surprising, therefore, that a modern educational system fashioned by intellectuals having little faith in revelation but great faith in the powers of the human intellect should have produced in increasing numbers thousands of young people who have lost their way, and in their bewilderment turn again to the "wisdom" of India in their search for escape. Indian philosophy proves more congenial in that it reflects their own despair. It is not that God is dead, it is only that God is silent: and total silence is virtually the same thing.


     Can we not discern in all this that God had a purpose in terminating a long succession of inspired writings some four hundred years before He broke through the gloom in the person of Jesus Christ as a light to lighten the Gentiles? It was that man might discover for himself how total is his inability to arrive at truth in spiritual matters, in things that concern his own destiny and his relationship to God. Only at the end of this period of silence, after that in the wisdom of God, men "by wisdom knew not God" (1 Corinthians 1:21), did God send forth His Son. He came only "in the fulness of time" (Galatians 4:4), when the time was ripe, and not before. He came when both Greeks and Romans had been reduced to erecting an altar to the Unknown God (Acts 17:23). Never will man be able to say that the Incarnation was not necessary, that man would in time have been able to "find out the Almighty unto perfection" (Job 11:7), given sufficient intellect.
     But in this interval some positive gains accrued, in that the Mediterranean world was knitted together with a common language of culture (Greek), a common system of law (Roman), and with avenues of travel and transport in safety opened up throughout the Empire. The way was prepared for the great missionary endeavour of the early church, and even the ministry of travelling preachers had already been established as a precedent for the journeys of Paul and Peter and the other apostles. There is evidence, too, that the liberal policies of Alexander the Great and his successors had engineered a climate of opinion favourable to new ideas which had not existed at any time previously. Provincialism in the realm of religious faith centred in strictly national deities had been broken down. One consequence of this was that almost all men were left without any 

     pg.17 of 18     

certainty in their religious faith, with the sole exception of the Jewish people, who, by reason of their study of the prophecies of Daniel regarding the near approach of the coming of their Messiah, were living in an atmosphere of great expectation. This expectation is indicated in Luke's Gospel (3:15); if we are to judge from Latin authors of that period, it was an expectancy shared by many Gentiles of a more thoughtful mien. These latter had been stimulated by the tremendous increase in the circulation of books, among which were important parts of the Jewish Scriptures. This literary activity naturally prepared the way for the spread of the gospel in printed form. It was a time of preparation, yet it was a time in which God had remained silent.
     God had remained silent, both in the sense that He gave no public manifestations of His power or presence, and in the sense that He had withheld any further revelation in written form. The records we have from the apocryphal books which treat of the experiences of the Jewish people during this interval reinforce this silence in view of the fact that despite their desperate struggle to maintain some kind of national identity and their extraordinary sacrifices in terms of loss of life, it does not appear that God intervened on their behalf even when the circumstances seemed most proper for such intervention nor were any inspired writings added to the Old Testament Scriptures.
     One must conclude that God's covenant relationship with this people which had been sustained from Genesis to Malachi was for these four hundred years, suspended. And its suspension was accompanied by the cessation of any public manifestation of His presence or power.
     And then, suddenly, a heavenly host announced to a few shepherds the birth of the Messiah. . . .  

     pg.18 of 18     

Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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