Are Christians Stoics?

socrates“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think”
― Socrates

Ancient Corinth was a sophisticated city – a Roman colony with Greek roots. The people valued the polished, courtly philosopher who could argue his case, regardless of the topic. The content didn’t matter as much as the eloquence. Paul said he did not try to out-perform these orators with fancy talk, but rather relied on the power of the message itself.

He goes on to list the hardships of his servant lifestyle. Such lists are not unique to the writings of Paul and can be found in literature related to worldly philosophy. The Cynic’s reaction to hardship was that the life of the wise does not depend on material prosperity. Hence, in contrast to “boasting” in his philosophical writing, Epictetus writes: “bring on hardships, bring on imprisonment, bring on disrepute, bring on condemnation. This is the proper exhibition …” As a Stoic thinker contemporary with Paul, Seneca wrote of the tortures, burnings, and deaths under Gaius, and of his willingness to die for loyalty.

The Stoic stressed the courage of the man under trial and the Cynic emphasized independence from material prosperity, but for Christians, it’s simple obedience to Jesus.


1 Corinthians 4:1–5

Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.



John T. Fitzgerald, Cracks in an Earthen Vessel: An Examination of the Catalogues of Hardships in the Corinthian Correspondence (SBLDS 99; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988)
Alister E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross (Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990)