This week in our Romans study we bump up against a cultural statement that we just don’t always fully understand.  The following section is expanded from Matthew Henry’s commentary and some material from Wikipedia on Hellenistic Greeks.

Parthenon, Athens, Greece

Parthenon, Athens, Greece

I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians,[a] both to the wise and to the foolish – Romans 1:14

– the two divisions of mankind, from the Greeks perspective was Greek and non-Greek. The Greeks referred to everyone else as barbarians. So in Paul’s statement of “Greeks and barbarians” he meant the whole world. The Romans were included in with the barbarians as well, because they were not partakers of Hellenistic (Greek) culture.

The obvious intention of the writer is to place them in each of the higher categories, and so, while after his manner he pays his expected readers a delicate compliment, to insist that his mission is to the highest in position and culture as well as the lowest, cud that, bold in his convictions, he is not ashamed to preach the cross even to them

I am a debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians,…. The meaning is, that he was obliged by the call he had from God, the injunction that was laid upon him by him, and the gifts with which he was qualified, to preach the Gospel to all sorts of men; who are here distinguished into Greeks and Barbarians: sometimes by Greeks are meant the Gentiles in general, in opposition to the Jews; see Romans 1:16; but here they design only a part of the Gentiles, the inhabitants of Greece, in opposition to all the world besides; for the Greeks used to call all others that were not of themselves Barbarians: or else by Greeks are meant the more cultivated nations of the world, and by Barbarians the ruder and more uncivil parts of it; to which agrees the next division of mankind, both to the wise and to the unwise. The Gospel was to be preached “to the wise”; such who thought themselves to be so, and were so with respect to human wisdom and knowledge; though it should be despised by them, as it was, and though few of them were called by it, some were, and still are, though not many; and such wisdom there is in the Gospel, as the wisest of men may learn by it, will be entertaining to them, is far beyond their contempt, and what will serve to exercise their talents and abilities, to search into the knowledge of, and rightly to understand; and it must be preached “to the unwise”; for such God has chosen to confound the wise; these he calls by his grace, and reveals his Gospel to, whilst he hides it from the wise and prudent; and there is that in the Gospel which is plain and easy to the weakest mind, enlightened by the Spirit of God.


A variety of definitions exist:
one whose speech is rude, rough, harsh.
one who speaks a foreign or strange language which is not understood by another
The Greeks used βάρβαρος of any foreigner ignorant of the Greek language and the Greek culture, whether mental or moral, with the added notion, after the Persian war, of rudeness and brutality

What is Hellenistic?

Short Definition: a Hellene, a Greek
Definition: a Hellene, the native word for a Greek; it is, however, a term wide enough to include all Greek-speaking (i.e. educated) non-Jews.

1672 Héllēn – an Hellene, i.e. a Greek. 1672/Hellēn (“Greek”) originally referred to any native Greek and later became synonymous with any Greek-speaking person, i.e. anyone who followed Greek culture (and especially) spoke Greek.

One of the characteristics of the Hellenistic period was in art. During this period art shifted from “ideal” to “realistic”. The ideal art forms began to be judged as immature. To create art that was real-to-life and natural was culturally expected.

The Hellenistic period began about 330BCE when Anthony died and all the area broke into individual regions.

In 31 BCE Octavian (later Augustus) defeated the rulers of Egypt Anthony and Cleopatra in the naval battle of Actium, and completed the demise of the Hellenistic Era.
The battle of Actium is considered the pivotal moment that defines the end of Ancient Greece. After that battle of Actium, the entire Hellenistic world became subject to Rome.