The cult of Dionysus (Ephesians 5)

Bilderesultat for dionysus greek god of wine

The cult of Dionysus, the god of wine, also called Bacchus, appears to have emigrated from Asia to ancient Greece. Dionysus worship was notorious for its unrestrained, orgiastic character, involving wine, music, dance and sex (although festivals officially sanctioned bt Greek cities tended to downplay some of the wilder elements).

Euripides, the ancient Greek playwright, included a memorable account of Dionysus worship in his play Bacchae. This play highlights the efforts of Pentheus, king of Thebes, to stifle Dionysus worship in his city. At the end of the play, frenzied female devotees of Dionysus (a group that included Pentheus’ mother) tore the unfortunate king limb from limb.

The cult remained popular throughout the Hellenistic aga. Although suppressed in Rome during the second century B.C., Dionysus worship experienced a resurgence, becoming an authorized religion of the Roman empire. Outsiders sometimes confused Jewish worship with that of Dionysus, possibly for the following reasons:

  • Prior to the Jewish Maccabean revolt, which began in 167 B.C, Greek overlords forced their Jewish slaves to participate in Dionysus worship (see 2 Maccabees 6:7). Observers may have believed that these Jews had become involved in the Dionysus cult voluntarily.
  • Jewish society used symbols also associated with Dionysus worship (such as the vine leaf, gape cluster and cup).
  • Ecstatic worshippers of Dionysus often shouted out meaningless exclamations, Euoe Saboe! This could have been confused with the Jewish term for God, Yahweh Sabbath, which was sometimes pronounced Iao Sabaoth.

Dionysian drunkenness was more than mere self-indulgence; it was a counterfeit spirituality. In the frezied and ecstatic Dionysiac rituals, intoxication with wine was equated with being filled with the spirit of Dionysus. Some of the new believers in Asia Minor were probably carrying this form of worship with them into the church by associating wine with the filling of the Holy Spirit. Paul did not want anyone to confuse a drunken frenzy with the power of the Spirit. He repudiated this notion by denouncing drunkenness and associating Spirit filling with other activities.


 

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