Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Interesting Quote from Epictetus

But what says Zeus? Epictetus, if it were possible, I would have made both your little body and your little property free and not exposed to hindrance. But now be not ignorant of this: this body is not yours, but it is clay finely tempered (ἀλλὰ πηλὸς κομψῶς πεφυραμένος.). And since I was not able to do for you what I have mentioned, I have given you a small portion of us, this faculty of pursuing an object and avoiding it, and the faculty of desire and aversion, and, in a word, the faculty of using the appearances of things; and if you will take care of this faculty and consider it your only possession, you will never be hindered, never meet with impediments; you will not lament, you will not blame, you will not flatter any person.
(Epictetus, Discourses, 1.11)

The above quote reminds me a bit of Romans 9.21 where Paul states: "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay (τοῦ πηλοῦ )some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? "(NIV). Of course, Paul owes his use of this language to Isa 29.16; 45.9. Paul's imagery of the potter and the clay helps further his argument for the acceptance of Gentiles vis-a-vis Israel in God's plan (Rom 9 ff.).

Another example of Paul using similar language and conceptually closer to Epictetus' quote above occurs in 2 Cor 4.7ff.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay (ἐν ὀστρακίνοις σκεύεσιν) to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

What makes Epictetus' and Paul's quote so interesting is the similarities and differences in their conception of the body. Zeus tells Epictetus that his body cannot avoid troubles and to remember that his body belongs to him. Zeus reminds Epictetus that he is given a portion of the gods faculties which if used properly will cause Epictetus to overcome the troubles his body cannot. The body is seen negatively here and suffering is to be avoided.

Paul, on the other hand, uses the suffering of his body to glorify God and to demonstrate Christ's sufferings. Paul's bodily testimony identifies him closely with the gospel he preaches, namely, the cross and resurrection. For Paul, suffering is not something to be avoided, rather it proves the gospel that he preaches. 

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