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Holman Bible Dictionary

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Additional Resources
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Greece, Greeks, Grecians
• International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Greece, Graecia
Greece, Religion in Ancient
Greece, Sons of
Greek - Greece
Hebrew - Greece

(greece) Located between the Italian Peninsula and Asia Minor, Greece itself is a peninsula with the Adriatic and Ionian Seas on the west and the Aegean Sea on the east. These seas, in turn, are a part of the larger Mediterranean Sea. Greece owes its rough terrain to the fact that it is the southern end of the central European mountain range. Another geographical feature is the numerous islands that lie in close proximity to the Greek mainland. The southernmost area, the Peloponnesus, is itself virtually an island, connected to the mainland by only a narrow neck of land known as the Isthmus of Corinth.

Its mountainous nature has played an important role in the development of the country. First of all, it has an unusually long shoreline for such a small area, resulting from the fact that there are numerous bays and inlets, giving it many natural harbors. Since its mountains were heavily forested in earlier times, shipbuilding and the sea trade developed. Secondly, the rough terrain discouraged a sense of unity among its people since communication between them was not easy. Finally, the land for agriculture, while fertile, was limited so that what was produced could not sustain a large population. Small grains, grapes, and olives were the main agricultural products while the mountains provided pastures for sheep and goats.

Historical Developments About the time of the great prophets in Israel (after 800 B.C.), city-states began to develop in Greece. The limited food supplies had forced Greeks to leave the homeland. As a result, colonies were established on the Mediterranean islands, Asia Minor, Sicily, Italy, and in the Black Sea area. Colonies provided the basis for trade; and trade, in turn, encouraged the growth of cities since the economy was not tied to agriculture.

The high-water mark for the city-states was 500-404 B.C. The dominant city-states of the period were Athens and Sparta. About 500-475 B.C. Athens beat off a threat from the Persians. There followed what is known as the Golden Age of Athens. Under its great leader—Pericles—art, architecture, and drama flourished. Peloponnesian city-states feared the power of Athens, however, and united under the leadership of Sparta to war against Athens. The defeat of Athens in 404 B.C. began a period of decline for the city-states.

About 350 B.C. Philip II came to the throne of Macedonia, a territory in what is now largely northern Greece. In the years that followed Philip brought all the Greek peninsula under his control, only to be assassinated in 336 B.C. He was succeeded by his twenty-year-old son, Alexander, whose schoolmaster had been the great philosopher, Aristotle.

Alexander was one of the most outstanding military and organizational geniuses of human history. By the time of his death in 323 B.C., he had conquered an empire that spanned the Middle East from Greece to the western reaches of India, as well as Syria-Palestine and Egypt. Wherever he went, he left colonies that became dispensers of Greek language and culture, known as Hellenism. When the Romans took over much of this territory two centuries later, they imposed their legal and military system. They, in turn, were conquered by Greek culture. Thus we speak of the Graeco-Roman culture. When Christianity arose, it had Greek, which many linguists call the most flexible language ever devised, as a vehicle to spread its concepts. Christian theologians in later centuries would wed Christian concepts with Greek philosophical methods and ideas to develop Christian theology.

Greece and the Bible Very few references to Greece appear in the Old Testament with most of them being found in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 8:21; Daniel 10:20; Daniel 11:2. See also Zechariah 9:13). This is not true of the New Testament, however, especially as regards Paul's ministry. Some of his most fruitful work was done in Greek cities. Philippi, in Macedonia, was the first church founded by Paul on European soil (Acts 16:1). It would become Paul's special favorite among his churches and would be the recipient of his most intimate and loving letter, the Epistle to the Philippians. In the district of Thessaly, Paul founded two churches, Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:1-14). The Thessalonians also would be the recipients of Pauline letters, two of which are in the New Testament (1 and 2 Thessalonians). Just as Paul had problems while at Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9), so he had problems explaining to the church about the return of the Lord.

Bible students have long debated about Paul's success or lack of it at Athens (Acts 17:16-33). While the worship of the Greek gods had declined, Paul's experience in the marketplace at Athens shows that it was not entirely dead. It was, however, the sense of the failure of the older religions that led to the rapid acceptance of the Christian religion throughout the Roman empire. Paul, however, did not win a large number of converts at Athens, but he did win some.

No city received more attention nor provoked more correspondence from Paul than Corinth. Located on the narrow isthmus that connects the Peloponnesus to the rest of Greece, Corinth was a brawling, sinful seaport town, the crossroads of the Mediterranean (Acts 18:1-17). Here Paul met two people who would be among his most valuable helpers, Priscilla and Aquila. He would be brought to trial; he would establish one of his most troublesome and controversial churches, and later he would write at least four letters to that church. Two survived to become a part of the New Testament.

The Greek influence on the New Testament and Christianity is immeasurable. Koine, the Greek of the streets, is the language of the New Testament. At least five New Testament books are written to churches in Greek cities (Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Corinthians). All the other books in the New Testament are written in the Greek language. As the Christian gospel moved out into the the Mediterranean world, it had to communicate its values to people who were steeped in Greek culture and religion. Both gained from the relationship with people being transformed by the gospel and Christianity gaining a vehicle for its spread.

John H. Tullock

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'GREECE'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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