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I recently returned from a two-week class at the University of Florida in which we talked a lot about the use and purpose of invective in Greek and Latin literature. Our professor argued that when the apostle Paul prohibited filthy language (aiscrologian:  “foul language, abuse”) in Colossians 3:8 that he had in mind the iambic tradition of invective.* One of the students was skeptical about how the apostle Paul would know about this Greek literary tradition (Archilochus, Hipponax, et al.), and in response, the professor argued that the apostle was in fact very steeped in Greek literature. He pointed to Paul’s speech on Mars Hill in Athens, where he says in Acts 17:26-27, “And he made from one  blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though he is not far from each one of us…” (New Geneva Study Bible). The word for “grope” is pselaphao, which according to our professor, occurred only one other time in all of Greek literature.** Where? In the Odyssey, when Odysseus blinds the Cyclops, and the poor monster is left to grope around. What an interesting picture the Holy Spirit through Paul gave to the Athenians. They were searching for God, but like a blinded Cyclops, they were groping around in the dark for him. Here, in the gospel, the Athenians had the opportunity for real sight. If my professor was right, this passage shows just how well-read Paul was.
*  I am not convinced that this was really what Paul was referring to.
** He was wrong. A quick search on shows that the word occurs three other times in the New Testiment, but in the sense of touching or handling (e.g., touching Jesus’ side). It occurs eleven other times in other Greek texts besides Homer. However, the word is rare enough that my professor’s point is still valid, I think.

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