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Grecia, Grecians

GRECIA, GRECIANS. Grecia is Greece, the home of the Hellenes. Greeks and Grecians, however, are to be distinguished. Greeks are generally those of Hellenic race (e.g., Acts.16.1; Acts.18.4; and probably John.12.20), but the word may be used to indicate non-Jews, foreigners, and aliens (Rom.1.16). Grecians were Greek-speaking Jews, people of the Dispersion, from areas predominantly Greek (Acts.6.1; Acts.9.19).

Greece and its associated island groups form the SE end of southern Europe’s mountain system, a rugged peninsula and archipelago, not rich in fertile or arable land. The southward movement of the Indo-European-speaking tribes, who became the Greek people, ended here. These tribes, or their predecessors, had established ordered life in the peninsula and islands by the twelfth century before Christ. Their civilization vanished before 1000 b.c., in a dark age of destruction and invasion occasioned by further waves of wandering tribes, just as Celt, Roman, Saxon, Dane, and Norman, ripples of the same folk-movement of related peoples, centuries later made a succession of construction and destruction in Britain. Out of four centuries of chaos emerged the complex of peoples on island and mainland who are called the Greeks. Their own generic name was Hellenes, but Grecia was a portion of the land that, lying in the NW, naturally came first to the attention of Rome. After the common fashion of popular nomenclature (See also Palestine), the name of the part that first became known was extended to include the whole. Mediated through Rome, the term Greece was applied to all Hellas, and all Hellenes were called Greeks by Western Europe.

Geography, as always, played a part in the history of the people. The formation of the city-state was a natural development in an isolated plain or in a river valley ringed by precipitous terrain. Seafaring naturally developed from the nearness of the sea. And from seafaring and the dearth of fertile land in a rugged peninsula, sprang colonization and the spread of Greek colonies that marked the first half of the pre-Christian millennium. As early as the eighth century before Christ, Greek ports and trading posts were scattered from the Crimea to Cadiz. In these same centuries the first flowering of Greek thought and poetry began. In Ionia the foundations of scientific and philosophical thought were laid. On Lesbos, in those same years, Sappho and Alcaeus wrote supreme lyric poetry. In short, the active, inquisitive, brilliant, inventive Greek race was visible in full promise around the eastern end of the Mediterranean before the bright flowering of fifth-century Athens. That century was one of the great golden ages of man. Greece, interpreted by the dynamic people of Attica, in one brief noontide of human spirit, made immortal contributions to literature, art, philosophy, and political thought. Everything Greek in all future centuries was deepened and colored by the achievement of Athens. Hellenism, which had centuries of dynamic life ahead of it, was shaped by Athens in the short years of its spiritual supremacy. The glory of Athens faded, and her strength was sapped in lamentable war with the dour and uncreative autocracy of Sparta.

On the ruins of a Greece fatally weakened from within, Philip of Macedon, in the mid-fourth century before Christ, built his empire. His son Alexander, in one of the strangest acts of conquest in all history, extended that empire to India, swept the vast state of Persia out of existence, and, as his father had unified Greece, brought under his single rule the great complex of states and kingdoms that lay between the Dardanelles and the Indus, the Caspian and the Nile. When Alexander died in Babylon at the age of thirty-three in 323 b.c., his generals divided the world; and out of the division arose the Oriental kingdoms that the Romans conquered when their empire rounded the Mediterranean Sea.

The Greek language, Greek thought, and Greek culture, in the wake of Alexander, provided a unifying element in all the Middle East. Without the vast flow of the Greek tide eastward, the NT could not have been born. Greece provided its language and fashion of thought. Hellenism was a stimulus to the human mind. To reason, question, and speculate, was a habit with the Greeks. Hence the logical mind of Greek-speaking Paul of Tarsus, heir of both Hellenism and Judaism. Hence the “Grecians” of the NT—Stephen, for example, and Philip—who sweep fresh, bold, and vigorous into the life of the early church, ready to reform and to rethink old concepts. Paul needed his Greek education, as he needed the Judaism of Gamaliel. Paul’s synthesis of the covenants, so compelling in its logic, so fundamental in Christian theology, was the work of a Greek Jew. It was thought that was trained in the Hellenism of Tarsus that solved the problem of the Testaments and brought out from the stores of Judaism the wares that Christians could recognize and use.——EMB