Did Paul quote pagan philosophers?

by Matt Slick
6/10/16

Did Paul quote pagan unbelievers in the New Testament?  Yes, he did.  But, he did not quote them for the purpose of supporting them. Instead, he quoted them here and there to aid in defending and spreading the gospel. But, in order for him to do this, he would have had to study their teachings. If Paul could do it, so can we as long as we are putting quotes in the proper context either exposing error and or building a bridge by which we might better present the truth of God's word.

Paul quoted Menander in the book of Acts, Menander in 1 Corinthians, and Epimenides in the book of Titus.  Let's take a look.

  • Acts 17:28, "for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.'"
    • "The first part of verse 28 comes from Cretica by Epimenides, and the second part of the verse from Hymn to Zeus, written by the Cilician poet Aratus. To be sure, both of these lines were directed at Zeus in Greek literature, but Paul applied them to the Creator of whom he spoke."1
    • Paul quoted "the first half of the fifth line, word for word, of an astronomical poem of Aratus, a Greek countryman of the apostle, and his predecessor by about three centuries. But, as he hints, the same sentiment is to be found in other Greek poets. They meant it doubtless in a pantheistic sense; but the truth which it expresses the apostle turns to his own purpose—to teach a pure, personal, spiritual Theism."2
  • 1 Cor. 15:33, "Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.'”
    • "a current saying, forming a verse in MENANDER, the comic poet, who probably took it from Euripides [SOCRATES, Ecclesiastical History, 3.16]."3
    • "The words “Bad company ruins good morals” are found in a play by Menander (4th-3rd century B. C.) but may well have become a common saying by Paul’s time."4
    • "Evil communications corrupt good manners. An iambic line from the ‘Thais’ of Menander, and perhaps taken by Menander from a play of Euripides. More accurately it means “evil associations corrupt excellent morals."5
  • Titus 1:12, "One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons."
    • "Epimenides of Phaestus, or Gnossus, in Crete, about 600. He was sent for to purify Athens from its pollution occasioned by Cylon. He was regarded as a diviner and prophet. The words here are taken probably from his treatise “concerning oracles.” Paul also quotes from two other heathen writers, ARATUS (Ac 17:28) and MENANDER (1 Co 15:33), but he does not honor them so far as even to mention their names.6
    • "A prophet of their own; viz. Epimenides, a native either of Phæstus or of Cnossus in Crete, the original author of this line, which is also quoted by Callimachus. Epimenides is here called a prophet, not simply as a poet, but from his peculiar character as priest, bard, and seer; called by Plato θεῖος ἀνήρ and coupled by Cicero with Bacis the Boeotian prophet, and the sibyl (Bishop Ellicott); described by other ancient writers as a prophet (Alford)."7

As you can see, Paul the apostle clearly quoted unbelievers. But I must say again that it is not in support of their inspiration or their wisdom. Even as we Christians will sometimes quote to a Mormon something out of the book of Mormon, or trade Muslim something out of the Quran, our goal should be to expose the error of those religious systems and promote the truth of Christianity as revealed in the New Testament.

We are free to study other philosophical and religious systems. But, we should do so with the goal of using the information we have to better equip ourselves, other Christians, and expose the error of false systems of thought.

  • 2 Cor. 10:5, "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."
  • 1. Gangel, Kenneth O. Acts. Vol. 5. Holman New Testament Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.
  • 2. Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
  • 3. Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
  • 4. Ellingworth, Paul, Howard Hatton, and Paul Ellingworth. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies, 1995.
  • 5. Spence-Jones, H. D. M., ed. 1 Corinthians. The Pulpit Commentary. London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909.
  • 6. Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.
  • 7. Spence-Jones, H. D. M., ed. Titus. The Pulpit Commentary. London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909.
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.