🔼The name Stoics in the Bible
The Stoics are mentioned once in the Bible, namely in Acts 17:18, where they and their Epicurean counterparts engage Paul's discussion on Jesus Christ and the resurrection. They were followers of the philosopher Zeno of Citium (336 - 264 BC), and Citium was a city-kingdom on the southern coast of Cyprus, which was either Phoenician or still so much influenced by them that Zeno's Cynic mentor Crates called his pupil "little Phoenician" (Diogenes Laertius, vii.3).
Although the Stoics and Epicureans were proverbially Greek, these competing schools of thought showed remarkable similarities between the proverbial Jewish schools of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Neither the Epicureans nor the Sadducees believed in angels or spirits and such, but both the Pharisees and Stoics did (Acts 23:8) and since Paul came from the Pharisee tradition (Acts 23:6, Philippians 3:5), he probably got along wonderfully with the Stoics.
Paul was from Tarsus, which was also the home of a major center of Stoicism, and since Paul's writing is riddled with respectful references to Greek and Roman writings (see our article on Homer) and Stoicism was the major school of Greek thought in Paul's days, it's beyond reasonable doubt that he was intimately acquainted with Stoicism. In fact, even though Paul's writings were later physically bundled with Jewish ones to form the Bible, it's impossible to tell whether Paul's theology was a continuation of Judaic or Stoic thought.
Paul drew freely from any source that might explain the gospel, and that, to some extent, is the gospel. Or as Paul himself said: "I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22).
🔼Paul and Stoicism
Although Stoicism went through its own evolution and wasn't always the same, certain perspectives remained signature to this movement. Where Jews loudly lamented fate, bewailed the present and were anxious about the future, Stoicism and hence Christianity avoided getting overly excited (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 1 Timothy 2:2, Matthew 6:25-34, Galatians 5:24) and emphasized virtue and subsequent peace of mind through living in harmony with nature (which in turn was a continuation of Cynicism).
Like Paul, Zeno loved logic and rhetoric (Acts 17:2) and recognized the same divine nature of creation as Paul did (Romans 1:20). The obvious difference between Zeno and Paul's take on the universe is that Zeno was a pantheist, who thought that the universe itself was divine, whereas Paul believed that the Creator was reflected in creation. But they agreed on the idea that God is one (Stoics were outspoken monotheists) and that He makes all things work together (Romans 8:28).
Zeno and Paul also roughly agreed on the Logos as universal reason that governs everything (Colossians 1:17, Ephesians 1:10), and they also agreed that humans are to do God's will (in stead of the other way around, which is basically what most pagan rituals are motivated by: getting God to do what you want). Stoics and Christians alike believed that whatever you serve (whether money, virtue, Logos) is what will master you, and will in turn permeate your whole existence (Matthew 6:33, Luke 16:13).
Both Paul and the Stoics favored askesis, that is training one's mind to virtue (hence our word English "ascesis"; Hebrews 12:1, 1 Timothy 4:7-10) and both Christianity and Stoicism played with the concept of cosmopolis or City of God (Revelation 21:2).
Stoics believed that all humans are manifestations of one universal spirit, and that made all social ranks and distinctions superfluous. Human equality and brotherhood were important Stoic concepts and these ideas became much more prominent in Christian thought than they had ever been in Jewish thought (Romans 12:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, Galatians 3:28).
🔼Paul versus Stoicism
A very big word in Stoicism is καταληψις (katalepsis), which denotes comprehension but literally in the sense of grabbing hold of and mastering something. This word consists of κατα (kata), meaning down on or down in, and ληψις (lepsis) meaning receipt or the act of receiving (Philippians 4:15 only). The latter noun comes from the verb λαμβανω (lambano), meaning to take in whatever way. The word καταληψις (katalepsis) doesn't appear in the New Testament, but καταλαμβανω (katalambano) appears central to John's famous statement that "the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it".
Paul had certain specific objections against Stoicism, most generally philosophy's tendency to keep going beyond the reach of practical application (Colossians 2:8), but possibly more so because Paul believed that no amount of reason would reach Logos (1 Corinthians 1:20).
Paul agreed with Zeno that Logos is a natural phenomenon (it exists in nature, as "first-born" of creation — Colossians 1:15), but disagreed that it had to be wrought from chaos with great intellectual pains. Paul and his colleagues maintained that Logos had become flesh and dwelt among mankind as part of its natural character; it simply showed up as part of humanity and along with the rest of us. It did not have to be drawn from nature by means of complex technologies, such as for instance iron that was smelted from rock through much cleverness and hard work (John 1:1-5, Ephesians 2:8).
To the Stoics, Logos was as absolute and dispassionate as the Grand Unified Theory is to science, but to Christians, Logos is a living and emotional human being, capable of both intense feelings and the most mundane reflections. And humanity's reaction to an encounter with this Logos too shudders with feelings and emotions long before something of an analysis can be attempted. Stoic-Logos is just the Way Things Are but Christ-Logos reaches out to humans the way a parent would to a drowning child.
Paul agreed with Stoics that knowledge is good, but disagreed that it is essential. Stoics believed that reason is mankind's greatest asset, but Paul explained that the greatest thing that can be known is the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). Love, to Paul, was not simply a feeling but rather a Sitz im Leben as much as a modus operandi of social cohesion; a measurable force that inevitably brings about greater things than reason or constraint, plans or deliberation.
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Stoics
The name Stoic comes from the word στοα (stoa), which means porch or platform, and derives from the Stoa Poikile — the "Colorful Porch" — in Athens from which Zeno of Citium first taught this philosophy. This noun στοα (stoa) in turn comes from the ubiquitous verb ιστημι (histemi), which means to stand. A porch was named "standing place" probably because of two reasons, namely because it was held up or flanked by a colonnade, but also because it was the designated place for teachers to stand and deliver their lectures.
The name Stoic literally means Belonging To The Standing Place. Note that in Latin, the word pilatim means "with pillars" and derives from the verb pango, meaning to set or fix, and which is also used to describe the composing or writing or establishing of an agreement or contract. In other words: in the mind of first century Romans, a colonnade would be construed as a visual representation of a covenant, which is of course an idea most central to Judaism and quite befitting the Jewish temple.
The temple complex built by Herod in Jerusalem thus too had a stoa attached to it, which in English usually referred to as the Royal Stoa. It's described in detail by Josephus (Ant.XV) but it's clearly not the same as Solomon's stoa mentioned in the New Testament (John 10:23, Acts 3:11 and 5:12).
What Solomon's stoa actually referred may not be immediately clear. Solomon's temple obviously had something like it — equipped with two ostensibly named pillars Jachin and Boaz, between which the king would take his stand (1 Kings 7:15-22, 2 Kings 11:14 and 23:3, but also see Judges 16:25 and statements such as Hannah's in 2 Samuel 2:5-8 and Solomon's in Proverbs 9:1) as well as many unnamed pillars in the Hall of Justice where Solomon was to judge (1 Kings 7:2-7) — but Solomon's temple was destroyed.
And speaking of the destruction of the temple: another derivative of this same verb is the noun σταυρος (stauros), which is the word for the item Jesus was nailed to: a cross or stake (Matthew 27:32, Philippians 2:8, Galatians 3:13, Hebrews 12:2).
Contrary to common perception, the Bible does not merely contain the private wisdoms of some local ethnic group but describes the development of understanding as it occurred all over the world. As we note in our article on the Exodus: "Solomon was not simply the king of some country; he embodied the intersection of all major trade routes, and oversaw the peaceful debate between all mankind's cultures".
Here at Abarim Publications we hold that the references to Solomon's stoa in the New Testament serve to indicate the function and location of Stoicism in the larger Body of Christ.
Also note that the Stoa Poikile or "Colorful Porch" was dubbed such because of its huge mural depicting the battle of Marathon. This battle is obviously highly significant to the gospel, but read our article on the root שמר (shamar) for more.