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“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”

“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”

“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” - Tertullian

An old question asked by a Roman citizen living in Carthage, Africa and considered as the founder of Western theology. Influenced by Stoic philosophy, Tertullian eventually found his way over to the Christian faith where he is most known to have first used the word “trinity” in relation to the Godhead. Having had a foot in both camps, Tertullian felt the tension between these two prominent movements that dominated his culture. Placing this question back into context, here is Tertullian’s complete question:

“What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church with the Academy, the Christian with the heretic?… After Jesus we have no need of speculation, after the Gospel no need of research.”

This is not a question regarding Jerusalem and Athens, thought at face-value it certainly gives off that impression. Rather, Tertullian is categorizing two ideas that can be associated with these locations. On one side, you have Jerusalem, the place of origin for Judaism and the Christian religion. The study of the monotheistic God (theology) would eventually overshadow the seeking of knowledge (philosophy) which lived at center-stage in Athen, Greece. The Jews (and eventual Christians) believed in a God who was not only monotheistic, but also self-existent (Exodus 3:14), Creator (Genesis 1-2), and giver of life (Psalm 36:9). It is for this reason that Tertullian raises this question regarding philosophy vs. theology. Another way he could have asked the question is: “What is the relationship between reason and faith,” or even more so, “What is the relationship between man and God?”

The dualism of faith and reason is still alive today. For some reason, many have adopted the idea that the two cannot live in harmony with one another. When in reality, the world of reason and knowledge lives inside of the spiritual realm. Rather than divorce faith from reason, philosophy from theology, man from God, reunite the two to secure their fulfillment. The academic disciplines are spheres of human work where we exercise dominion over what God has made. God gave us a mind to think and a body to use, but their mere existence does not discredit the validity of God’s existence. Though the soul is not the body, this does not vilify the existence of the body. This is the struggle of faith and reason. From the writings of an apologetic work in the year of 125 AD:
“The soul is spread through all parts of the body, and Christians through all cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, but it is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, though they are not of the world. The soul is invisible, but it is sheathed in a visible body.”

Tertullian never adopted this idea. For him, with the rise of Christian thought, there was no longer a place for Greek philosophy and the progression of knowledge. Though the two exist through the human experience, coexisting seemed not to be an option for him. However, we have a choice in how we approach this divide. We can either avoid reason and resist the pull of integrating these two dominating experiences, or we can find ways engage reason in our foundational theological understandings. For Paul, this decision was simple: “For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). The body and the spirit work together in glorifying God. With our hands, feet, tongues, ears, and yes, minds, we glorify God.

“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Well, everything.

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