‘Oefen je dag en nacht daarin!’: Pistis als levenshouding in Paulus en de hellenistische wijsbegeerte

Translated title of the contribution: ‘Practise these things by day and night!’: Fundamental Attitude in Paul and Hellenistic Philosophy

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The Pauline concept of pistis (faith, trust, persuasion) is in most scholarly evaluations either diagnosed as having an especially Jewish origin, alien to Hellenistic vocabulary, or as originating in Greek semantics, alien to similar Old Testament notions. In both cases, a distinction is made between the meaning of ‘trusting reliance’ or ‘faith in’, that is, pistis with a personal, relational object, and the meaning of ‘intellectual assent’ or ‘faith that’, that is, pistis with a cognitive, propositional object. In this essay, an alternative possibility is suggested by considering the use of pistis as a fundamental attitude (ēthos) as it was developed in Hellenistic philosophy, combining relational and cognitive elements. The argument is based on sources that belong to the diverse philosophical traditions that flourished throughout the Hellenistic age, including Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Platonism. They demonstrate that pistis played a significant role in the central endeavour which these philosophical schools had in common, that is, gaining a good fundamental attitude or ēthos. In order to shed light upon this relationship between pistis and ēthos, and to highlight the relational and cognitive aspects involved, the author discusses four different elements. First, the focus is on an important source of this connection, i.e. Aristotle’s Rhetoric, according to which pistis is a technical term for the three kinds of proof of which ēthos is considered the most persuasive: the speaker’s ēthos is decisive for his/her credibility or ‘pistis-worthiness’. Second, Hellenistic philosophy is interpreted as ‘art of living’, requiring rigorous exercise to accustom to the right, faithful (pistos) attitude (ēthos), whereby philosophers represent the ‘living proof’ of the truth of their traditions. Third, the teacher-student relationship is reviewed as a process of imitation constituting a mimetic chain of faithfulness. Fourth, the dogmatic tendencies in philosophical traditions are addressed, such as the authority of founding figures, the respect for ancient wisdom, and the loyalty to a particular school. These four distinctive elements in Hellenistic philosophy will then be used to see similar patterns in the letters handed down from the Pauline tradition. Thus, the author demonstrates that precisely in the conception of pistis as a fundamental attitude, Hellenistic philosophy and the Pauline letters share a common ground. Moreover, it is through this shared horizon that Paul’s use of pistis can be understood in a broader way, encompassing both cognitive notions (proof, persuasion, assent), and relational aspects (trust, reliance, loyalty).
Translated title of the contribution‘Practise these things by day and night!’: Fundamental Attitude in Paul and Hellenistic Philosophy
Original languageDutch
Pages (from-to)220-238
Number of pages19
JournalTijdschrift voor Theologie
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • pistis
  • faith
  • geloof
  • ethos
  • levenshouding
  • attitude
  • Paul of Tarsus
  • Ancient philosophy

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