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Paul and the philosophers' faith

Discourses of Pistis in the Graeco-Roman world
PhD ceremony:dr. S.J.M. (Suzan) Agteres
When:January 12, 2023
Supervisors:prof. dr. G.H. van Kooten, prof. dr. G.J. van der Heiden
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Religion, Culture and Society
Paul and the philosophers' faith

How can we understand Paul's use of the word group pistis/pisteuĊ (often translated "faith"/"to believe") in the light of ancient discourses? This work offers a multifaceted answer to this question by distinguishing semantic domains based on Graeco-Roman literature, describing corresponding discourses, and reading passages from Paul's letters against this background. This approach shows that Paul uses pistis language to characterize his movement in a philosophical-religious way. Paul's notion "justified by faith" is understood in light of the "golden age" discourse, with a king as "living law" enabling all nations to become righteous from within. In the Platonic tradition, pistis is not opposed to reason but fulfils a bridging function between earthly reality and divine knowledge. Stoics and Epicureans emphasize the attitude of "trustworthiness" (also pistis) in "the wise", which, just as in Paul’s letters, is meant to serve and further relationships. In various philosophical schools, ethical imitation of God is deemed essential and in light of this discourse, pistis Christou is interpreted as an ambiguous expression for both “trust in Christ” and “faithfulness of Christ”. The context of patronage shows how important reciprocal, long-term “loyalty” is and why “'works” may be considered its antithesis. Finally, the apistoi from Paul's letters are shown to be not general “unbelievers”, but people in the vicinity of the congregation who serve multiple gods. The mapping of this variety of ancient contexts demonstrates the creativity and cultural embedding of Paul's language and helps to interpret 'faith' as a versatile and relevant concept in the present.