Republished with permission from JODT, 12:36.

The origin of the Pauline project is not an unimportant question. Paul represents his doctrines as emerging not from human agency (Gal. 1:1,11) but from divinity, claiming an apostolic commission by way of direct encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ (Acts 9; Gal. 1:12), and subsequent visions and revelations of the Lord (2 Cor. 12:1,7). Paul betrays no lack of confidence that his gospel and many following prescriptions are authoritative and thus should be heeded. Significantly he reckons the source of that authority as the truth of Christ in him (2 Cor. 11:10).

However, the Pauline claim of divine grounding does not go unchallenged. Assertions such as Bren’s – that Paul was driven by a fundamental dissatisfaction with the Law system and developed an original system to combat it (Bren, 1903) [that Paul was in conflict with doctrines of the Old Testament], or Boyarin’s – that Paul was motivated by Hellenistic philosophical concerns (Boyarin, 1993) [that Paul was influenced and directed by Platonic thought], are representative denunciations of the divinity factor as the sole impetus for Paul’s doctrines.

It would seem an obvious reality that if these be accurate criticisms, and the doctrinal grounding be not divine, then the spiritual and ethical demands of Paul are merely theoretical and unbinding[1]. Hence for an accurate appraisal of the authority and applicability of such central imperatives as the appropriation of the righteousness of God exclusively through belief in Jesus (Rom. 3:22; Gal. 3:22, etc.) and the subsequent walking in a manner worthy of such a calling (Eph. 4:1; Col. 1:10), such assertions – (1) that Paul was in conflict with the Old Testament, and (2) that he was directed in large part by Platonic thinking – will be considered here.

 

PORTRAIT OF PAUL

Paul was born in Tarsus (Acts 22:3), the capital city of Cilicia, which in addition to its status as an important trade hub was a university city that produced such thinkers as Athenodorus and Nestor – men who were alive during Paul’s boyhood. (Picirilli, 1986)  Tarsus would have afforded him opportunity to interact with Hellenistic ideas, but evidently he did not spend much time there as he spent at least his formative years in Jerusalem studying under the guidance of the revered Gamaliel. He had a rich pedigree, being the son of a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5), and a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-28).  That pedigree and training gave him access to Hellenistic and Roman thought, but it is clear that his greatest influence was his Hebraic training, which culminated in his own position as a “Hebrew of Hebrews” and a Pharisee. He was a staunch persecutor of the burgeoning Christian church until his conversion (Acts 9), after which he became the central figure in the codifying of Christian theology.

The biblical account states with clarity that Paul received this theology by divine revelation (Gal. 1:11-24) and that it represented a fulfillment of Old Testament Law rather than a contradiction of it (Gal. 3:21-25). Yet Paul was a Hellenized Hebrew who interacted with Epicureanism and Stoicism (Cumming, 1973; Acts 17:18ff), and the theology he penned did represent impressive augmentation (to say the least) to the Law system. Additionally, Hellenistic influences were readily accessible in Paul’s day, as Lange tells us,

 

the writings of Plato, Xenophon, and later philosophers were widely disseminated throughout the Hellenistic world and especially in Alexandria, and many of their ideas by the first century B.C. had become the common property of educated men, though the source of these ideas was not always known. (Lange, 1936)

 

Does this environment legitimize suggestions that Christianity is a logical outgrowth of Hellenistic doctrines (Stoops, 1916) or justify the scholarly regard of Christianity as a fusion between Judaism and Hellenism (Lange, 1936), and thus favor an origin for Pauline theology inconsistent with the assertions of the biblical account?

Bren finds Paul fundamentally dissatisfied with the Law (Bren, 1903), intimating that the Pauline project is a synthesis of Hebraic and Hellenic teaching:

 

the one thriving by self sacrifice, the other by self realization. These rivals, it is sometimes asserted, cannot form alliance. In Paul’s writings we find together utter self surrender to the will of another (“I no longer live, but Christ”) and the straining activity after perfection. These two live merely not side by side; they work in with one another; partners in the same business; (Bren, 1903)

 

Paul’s “theory”, Bren says, is one “of great originality in his day”. (Bren, 1903) Consequently, in this thinking, such ingredients were combined to form an innovative path to right standing with God.

Ficino, following another stream of interpretation, observes connection between the later Platonists and the apostle Paul (and others), saying:

 

I have found beyond a shadow of a doubt that the principal mysteries in Numenius, Philo, Plotinus, Iamblichus, and Proclus were in fact received from St. John, St. Paul, Hierotheus and Dionyseus the Areopagite. For whatever the Platonists have to say about the divine mind, about the angels, and about other theological matters that strike one as admirable clearly they appropriated from them. (Allen, 1984)

 

Ficino’s assertion is that the later Platonists gained much from Pauline thought, finding it compatible with fundamental elements of Platonism. Such an assertion is representative of assumptions (like Boyarin’s) that Paul was profoundly influenced by Platonic doctrines, if only indirectly. Being committed to Plato himself, Ficino viewed Plato as a kind of gentile prophet whose most exact followers are the Christian Platonists, since they complete what Ficino perceived to be anticipations of Christ and Christian theology, rather than the neo-platonists who, despite their considerable contribution represented a stream of thought heretical to Plato’s ideas. For Ficino, Plato was elevated nearly (at least) to the same level as the Hebrew prophets in anticipation of Christ.

Is Bren correct in citing Pauline disagreement with the Old Testament system, are Ficino and Boyarin correct in reckoning (primarily) Hellenistic motivations to Paul, or is Pauline theology in fact consistent with the biblical account? There are certain intersecting topics to be found in Pauline theology, Platonic conceptions, and Old Testament doctrine that shed light on this question. In particular this project will consider the respective dualistic outlooks in order to uncover (1) a dependence of Paul on Plato, (2) an inconsistency on Paul’s part with the Old Testament, or (3) an independence of Paul from Plato and consistency of Paul with the Old Testament.

PLATO, THE OLD TESTAMENT, AND PAUL

 

Platonic Dualism

Plato’s cosmogony, metaphysics, and epistemology represent a synthesis of two competing pre-Socratic views: Parmenides’ monism – the idea that being is unchanged and understood only by reason; and Heraclitus’ idea of the hidden reality of constant change (‘one cannot step twice into the same river’). Plato seems motivated by a desire to recognize a noumenal and unchanging world and still at the same time explain the appearances of change. Oakeley sees this as central in Plato’s metaphysics:

 

As a metaphysician Plato felt primarily the need of understanding the world as a unity. In him culminated the search of Greek thought for the One. But this One must be unity of value. (Oakeley, 1926)

 

Plato’s quest for unity is apparent in his divided line theory, which puts forth metaphysical and epistemological foundations: that which changes is in the metaphysical realm of ‘becoming’, while the unchanging and intelligibly grasped is ‘being’. He can thus offer an explanation for the appearances, while at the same time acknowledging unchangeableness in being. He is recognized as “the first to make a sharp distinction between visible, corporeal reality and an intelligible, incorporeal world of Ideas” (Bos, 2002). His system can be charted as follows:

 Intelligible world of being

Knowledge

Pure Intelligence     A

Reason                        B

–––––––––––––––––––––

Visible world of becoming

Opinion

Belief                            C

Illusion                        D

The D and C levels represent opinion, and find their focus in the visible world of becoming. The B and A levels represent knowledge, and are interactions with the intelligible world of being.

On opinion and the visible world of becoming: the D level represents the lowest level. On the epistemology side, imagination or illusion, and on the metaphysics/ontology side, the interaction is with shadows, images, or reflections. This is where people commonly interact with the visible world of becoming.  The C level is the realm of belief or perception where objects or the antecedents of images are perceived.

On knowledge and the intelligible world of being: the B level in epistemology represents deductive reason, while the metaphysics/ontology focuses on the lower forms (mathematics, etc..); the A level represents on the epistemology side, pure thought, and on the metaphysical/ontological side the higher forms – equality, justice, and including goodness – the highest of the forms.

If Plato’s metaphysics and epistemology assert a dualistic ontology, his cosmogony accounts for it. Nothing comes into being without sufficient cause, thus the visible, tangible cosmos came into being by divine causation (Tim., 28). God[2] fashioned a single living creature (the universe), as perfect as conceivable (Tim., 29) and containing all life. The universe-god would then function as the creator of mortals (Tim., 69), demonstrating itself to be a visible and supreme god (Tim., 92). Good and evil find their balance likewise in these creative acts: good is ascribed of God in reality (Rep., 379a-c), yet the existence of evil must be explained by some causation other than God, as Plato is direct in his assertion that evil does not originate from God (Rep., 379c). The cosmos is God’s only creation (Tim., 30-31), and that divine created being (his children) brought forth the physical realm (Tim., 69) as an expression of perfection. But the physical realm is inadequate for such a task, ultimately veiling (with ‘evil’) the true goodness of God. Arguably the Platonic cosmogony was a significant factor[3] in the later rise of the Gnostic dualism which exalted the (good) spirit over the (evil) flesh, being himself more inclined to an ascetic perspective[4] leaning even to an “other-worldly side” (Stewart, 1915). Vlastos discusses evidence of such a leaning observed in Plato’s theory of forms[5], he says:

 

Plato’s Form-mysticism is profoundly otherworldly. The ontology of non-sensible, eternal, incorporeal, self existent, contemplable Forms, and of their anthropological correlate, the invisible, immortal, incorporeal transmigrating soul, has far reaching implications for the mind and for the heart…all we can find here are images, copies, shadows of the real world which we shall fully know only when liberated from the ‘oyster shell’.[6]

 

This otherworldly interpretation perceives death as ally to enlightenment. But what endures, body or soul? Plato is fairly specific in the Gorgias:

 

Death, it seems to me, is actually nothing but the disconnexion of two things, the soul and the body, from each other. And so when they are disconnected from one another, each of them keeps its own condition very much as it was when the man was alive…(Gor., 524b)

 

And again in the Apology:

 

For the state of death is one of two things: either it is virtual nothingness, so that the dead has no consciousness of anything, or it is, as people say, a change and migration of the soul from this to another place. (Apol., 40c)

 

And finally, in the more mythical presentation of the Timaeus:

Anyone living well during his life would upon death return to his native star, while those failing to live in this regard would return for a second tour of duty, this time as a woman, and if there was further moral failure, the third coming would be as an animal. (Tim., 42; 90-91)

 

From this personal ontology of the soul and death, built on metaphysical dualism, rises the ethical principle that things done in the body are of significance to the soul, since the soul will subsist beyond the (original) body, while the body is merely an instrument to facilitate (or hinder) the virtue of the soul. Lange argues that Plato’s brand of asceticism is not an extreme one (if it can be labeled as asceticism at all):

 

Plato, unlike the Neoplatonists and other extremists, does not look upon the body as something utterly despicable and shameful but merely deprecates the limitations it imposes on the spirit. He is not an ascetic who would torture the body and deny the legitimacy of bodily needs (Rep., 571DE). He would merely train the body to be an efficient servant of the mind. (Lange, 1936).

 

In Lange’s reading, it is the physical body that limits the spirit, hence even if Plato is understood as less than ascetic, Vlastos’ ‘otherworldly’ appraisal would still be appropriate since the physical body has no eternality or value in itself, but serves as purely instrumental for the ordering of the spirit.

 

Old Testament Dualism

The Old Testament provides a radically different narrative on cosmogony and ontological dualism. The creation of all that is – corporeal and non – takes place at the very command of a pre-existent God (Gen. 1) with direct creative involvement of the Spirit of God (Gen. 1:2) and One who calls Himself the first and the last (Is. 48:12) and identifies Himself as being distinct from the Spirit and the Lord God (Is. 48:16), yet being Deity.[7] Here, in contrast to Plato’s conception, there is no intermediary and independent demiurge and no lacking in the created materials to reflect the goodness of God (note that only man himself was created in the image of God – not creation as a whole or in general), hence the culminating assessment of creation as “very good” (Gen. 1:31).

While at this point a Creator/creation distinction is obvious, such a distinction was deliberate and not a result of demiurgic failure. The purpose of this created universe is spelled out with precision as “telling of the glory of God” (Ps. 19). This is, again, quite distinct from the Platonic universe intended as a direct reflection – the very image – of the divine. The Old Testament conception of corporeal reality is akin to what is often termed as ‘general revelation’: that God has revealed Himself in to a certain degree and in limited fashion within that which is created. His rights as Creator and sovereignty over all nature (Is. 40) are made clear within nature. Thus the Old Testament attitude toward the purpose of corporeal nature is instrumental to a lofty end (telling the glory of God). This represents a marked contrast with Plato, whose corporeal nature is (at least to some degree) ineffectual and flawed from the start.

This cosmogony is a necessary piece for grasping the particular brand of dualism found in the Old Testament. The spiritual is exalted over the physical – but by design and within a teleological purpose. The corporeal is instrumental and invaluable in allowing humanity to glimpse the glory of God. It must be noted at this juncture that such an instrument, sufficient to its designed end, is insufficient for the further end of providing human access to personal fellowship with the Creator. The Old Testament record never asserts creation as intended for such a purpose, and if such interfacing is desired by the Creator, more is needed, and due in no small part to the entrance of evil into the universe, an appearance which begs examination.

The account of the fall of man (Gen. 3) presupposes the fall of the Serpent – an event initiated by five assertions of the created cherub’s will in opposition to God’s will (Is. 14) and simply characterized as the finding of unrighteousness in him (Ezek. 28). In this context, unrighteousness is revealed as that which is counter to God’s holiness and first making its appearance in this cherubic rebellion. As for the origin of evil, we discover this statement in Isaiah:

I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these[8] (Is. 45:6b-7).

 

The term calamity, translated from the Hebrew ra’ah, could be better rendered as evil.[9] Whether evil in this immediate context would reference moral evil or natural evil is inconsequential to the discussion of origin, as the less severe of the two (natural evil) would still offer a challenge to typical definitions of divine goodness.[10] While characterizing God as the author of sin[11], per se would not be consistent with the Old Testament, it would be inconsistent with the Old Testament not to recognize God as injecting into His initial created beings (particularly the Serpent, as well as Adam and Eve) the ability to violate His goodness. It is no coincidence that each exercised that ability and failed morally. The resulting condition, mere generations after these offenses, is evident from the commentary of Gen. 6:5: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”. Later characterizations showed no improvement on that condition: “The heart is more deceitful than ell else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) The human heart and mind, in this warped condition, needed further revelation to grasp the glory of God and to discern how to restore fellowship with the Creator. Special revelation served that purpose – direct verbal interaction by God with His creatures to make them aware of (1) their need for Him[12], (2) His provision for continued interaction and fellowship with them,[13] and (3) the means of appropriating that provision.[14] The hierarchy of general and special revelation is clear in the Old Testament (see Ps. 19, etc.) but it does not create a dualistic devaluing of the corporeal in terms that would encourage asceticism. On the contrary, the Old Testament God shows Himself to be quite interested in both eternal physical considerations[15] and temporal enjoyment of creation on the part of his creatures[16] while still maintaining the primacy of spiritual devotion.[17]

 

Pauline Dualism

Pauline usage of soma (body) in the epistles is extensive, with more than ninety references – the consistent theme is that the body is of value to God, is an instrument for good or evil, and is ultimately redeemable and eternal. Sin is not to reign in the mortal body (Rom. 6:12). The body and its members are to be instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:13). The body represents a battlefield between spiritual and fleshly living (Rom. 7:23). The believer is to put to death the deeds of the body (not the body itself) (Rom. 8:13). The body will be redeemed (Rom. 8:23). The body is purposed for the Lord (1 Cor. 6:13). The immoral man sins against his body (1 Cor. 6:18). The body is a temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19). The believer is to glorify God in his body (1 Cor. 6:20). The body is to be disciplined for service (1 Cor. 9:27). Believers corporately make up one body (1 Cor. 10:17; 12:20; Eph. 2:16; 3:6; 4:4, etc.). Christ gave His own valuable body on behalf of others (1 Cor. 11:24-27). The body will be resurrected and transformed into an imperishable body (1 Cor. 15:35ff; Php. 3:21). Believers will be judged for deeds done in the body (2 Cor.5:10). Christ can be exalted in the bodies of believers (Php. 1:20). Severe treatment of the body is of no value (Col. 2:23). The body should be considered dead to impropriety (Col. 3:5). The body will be preserved complete, along with spirit and soul (1 Thess. 5:23).

These characterizations are not fully consistent with, for example, Boyarin’s assessment of Pauline valuation of the physical:

 

Nevertheless the image of the human being that Paul maintains is of a soul dwelling in or clothed by the body, and, however valuable the garment, it is less essential than that which it clothes. It is “the earthly tent that we live in”; it is not we. The body, while necessary and positively valued by Paul, is, as in Philo, not the human being but only his or her house or garment. (Boyarin, 1993)

 

While Boyarin’s observation seems plausible at the face, there is a very significant nuance that is overlooked in his observation: Plato’s principle of transmigration of souls gives no consideration to physical permanence, but Paul, while he references the body as a temporary dwelling until death (2 Cor. 5:1-4), recognizes that the body is in actuality a permanent fixture requiring a redemption not unlike that needed by the soul (1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The Pauline doctrine asserts the believer to be rejoined eternally, after separation of death and physical resurrection and transformation, with the original body. This represents a markedly high priority in Paul on not just corporeal flesh in general, but the human body in particular.

If then the body is viewed so highly and necessarily by Paul, then upon what basis is Paul accused of a Platonic dualism? Boyarin’s observation reveals a problematic grammatical equivocation:

 

Paul was motivated by a Hellenistic desire for the One, which among other things produced an ideal of a universal human essence, beyond difference and hierarchy. This universal humanity was (and still is) predicated on the dualism of the flesh and the spirit, such that while the body is particular, marked through practice as Jew or Greek, and through anatomy as male or female, the spirit is universal. (Boyarin, 1993)

 

Note the terms flesh and spirit used in the clause discussing dualism, while in the following clauses the ratio is completed with body (as particular) and spirit (as universal). The implication here is that flesh and body are synonymous as spirit and spirit are equal. While this may be an innocently motivated interchange it is a vitally misleading one. Paul certainly holds to a dualistic concept, yet the contrast in view is not between body and spirit but between flesh and spirit. Wilder, favoring a more naturalistic origin for the Pauline canon, nonetheless offers a critique to this error in another writer:

 

The author strangely makes the familiar and recurrent error of identifying the term “flesh” in Paul with the body, in those numerous and important uses of the term where something quite different is meant. He is thus led not only to a gross exaggeration of Paul’s asceticism, but to a misunderstanding of the profound moral and metaphysical dualism in the apostle’s thinking…the antinomy of “flesh” and “spirit” for Paul was not that of body and soul…and his struggle was not with bodily appetite, but with all the temptations of the lower nature. (Wilder, 1944)

 

Wilder’s critique is apt, since Paul refers in his epistles to the sarx (flesh) on more than eighty occasions, many of them referencing the physical body (as synonymous with soma) in a non-pejorative sense[18], however the term is also used, as Wilder observed,  to reference a more-than-material force which competes with the spirit for control of the body. It is this lexical usage that provides the strongest evidence of Pauline dualism: Fleshliness is associated with bondage under Law, irrespective of physicality (Rom. 7:5-6). The flesh is a source of nothing good (Rom. 7:18; Gal. 5:19). The flesh is distinguished from the mind (Rom. 7:25). One can (in the physical body) walk according to either the flesh or the spirit (Rom. 8:4). Flesh and spirit are opposing directors of the mind (Rom. 8:5; Gal. 5:17). One ‘in the flesh’ cannot please God (Rom.8:8). Believers are not under obligation of the flesh (Rom. 8:12-13; Gal. 5:24). The flesh can be offset by putting on Jesus Christ and walking in the Spirit (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:16). Fleshliness is associated with spiritual immaturity (1 Cor. 3:1). The flesh cannot contribute to the sanctification of the believer (Gal. 3:3).

These descriptions reveal an immediate and vital distinction between body and flesh and consequently show dissimilarity between Paul’s flesh/spirit dualism and Plato’s body/soul dualism, making Plato an unlikely source of Pauline inspiration due to (among other factors) the broad metaphysical implications. But if Paul did not cultivate his dualism from Platonic and other Hellenistic influences, then from whence does it emerge? Is it framed on fundamental dissatisfaction with the Old Testament system, or does it come forth from that same system?

 

Comparative Ontology

Four noteworthy contrasts between Old Testament and Platonic ontology have been given consideration above, and can be illustrated as follows:

Old Testament                                                  

Metaphysical – sharp Creator/creation distinction

Teleological – cumulative creation as revelation

Axiological – corporeal nature as initially good

Ethical – considers eternality of the body

Platonic

Metaphysical – interconnectedness of (lower) creator and creation

Teleological – cumulative creation as image

Axiological – corporeal nature as initially/fundamentally flawed

Ethical – considers temporality of the body

 

If Paul diverges from the Old Testament in any these four areas, not only will questions of Platonic influence persist, but Paul’s own assertions, necessitating consistency (2 Tim. 3:26-17, etc.) with previous revelation, would be undermined.

First, on the relationship of Creator and creation, Paul presents God as fully sovereign and transcendent[19] while at the same time immanent and actively and directly involved with His creation.[20] The efficaciousness of the immanence is dependent upon the transcendence and holiness of God, without which the precisely defined motivation and activity pertaining to immanence would not be possible. There is therefore no ontological or essential interconnectedness between Creator and creation, however, on account of the transcendence the relationship which is possible is of the very most intimate kind.[21] Paul recognizes a sharp Creator/creation distinction (Rom.1:18-25) while acknowledging (in lock step with the Old Testament record) God’s active involvement in the affairs of the world.

Second, in each instance that Paul discusses the intention of God in creation, the purpose is centrally defined as revelatory[22] – even the ‘new creation’ serves an important revelatory role[23] (2 Cor. 5:17-21). The image of God is found not in cumulative creation, but is only exactly found in Christ, Himself (Col. 1:15) and represented in man in general, and whereas that image of God in man was tarnished at the Fall[24], it can be restored only by right standing with God through divine intervention.[25]

Third, Paul represents corporeal nature as initially fundamentally good but essentially flawed as consequence of sin (Rom. 5:12-21), and fully redeemable by divine accomplishment (Rom. 8:19-23; Col. 1:20). The last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-50) provides evidence and example of the importance of the corporeal in God’s eternal program. The dualistic problem (as previously discussed) is not corporeal vs. noncorporeal (as in Plato, Hellenism, et al) but is related to the influence and consequences of sin on all aspects of the human person.

Finally, Paul’s ethical doctrines consider not just the spirit (although, as in the Old Testament, the primacy of spiritual devotion is evident) but also the eternality of the body. The doctrine of physical resurrection is, in Paul’s own estimation, at the very heart of his gospel (1 Cor. 15:12-20; 35-49ff) and the basis of the believer’s hope (1 Thess. 4:13-18) and pattern of living (Php. 3:8-21).

 

Conclusion

The Pauline doctrines considered here are resoundingly consistent with Old Testament thought (a prerequisite to the veracity of his divine revelation claim), typically offering a marked contrast to Platonic and Hellenistic conceptions. In areas where there appears some compatibility between Paul and Plato, Plato’s views also correspond to Old Testament thought. These cases provide evidence that Paul is not guilty of disagreement with the Old Testament and shows no evidence of Platonic influence.

 


Bibliography

Allen, Michael J. B. “Marsilio Ficino on Plato, the Neoplatonists and the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity” in Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 4, (Winter, 1984), 555-584.

Attfield, Robin. “Christian Attitudes to Nature” in  Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 44, No. 3, (Jul. – Sep., 1983), 369-386.

Benn, A.W. “The Later Ontology of Plato” in Mind, New Series, Vol. 11, No. 41, (Jan., 1902), 31-53

Bos, Abraham P. “’Aristotelian’ and ‘Platonic’ Dualism in Hellenistic and Early Christian Philosophy and in Gnosticism” in Vigiliae Christianae, Vol. 56, No. 3, (Aug., 2002), 273-291

Boyarin, Daniel. “Paul and the Genealogy of Gender” in Representations, No. 41, (Winter, 1993), 1-33.

Bren, R. “The Ethics of St. Paul” in International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 13, No. 4, (Jul., 1903), 493-498.

Bury, R. G. “The Ethics of Plato” in International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 20, No. 3, (Apr., 1910), 271-281

Couch, Mal (gen. ed.). A Bible Handbook to the Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999)

Cumming, Alan. “Pauline Christianity and Greek Philosophy: A Study of the Status of Women” in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 34, No. 4, (Oct. – Dec., 1973), 517-528.

Feyerabend, Karl. Langensheidt’s Hebrew English Dictionary to the Old Testament (Berlin: Langensheidt, 1956)

Forde, Steven. “Gender and Justice in Plato” in The American Political Science Review, Vol. 91, No. 3, (Sep., 1997), 657-670.

Lange, Stella. “The Wisdom of Solomon and Plato” in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 55, No. 4, (Dec., 1936), 293-302

Nash, Ronald. Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999)

Oakeley, Hilda D. “The Religious Element in Plato’s Philosophy” in International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 37, No. 1, (Oct., 1926), 67-80.

Picirilli, Robert E. Paul the Apostle (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986)

Plato. Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus, H.N. Fowler (trans.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005)

——-. Laches, Protagoras, Meno, Euthydemus, W.R.M. Lamb (trans.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006)

——-. Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus, H.N. Fowler (trans.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005)

——-. Republic, Books I-V, Paul Shorey (trans.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003)

——-. Republic, Books VI-X, Paul Shorey (trans.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006)

——-. Lysis, Symposium, Gorgias, W.R.M. Lamb (trans.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001)

——-. Timaeus and Critias, Desmond Lee (trans.) (New York: Penguin Books, 1981)

Vlastos, Gregory. Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991)

Schmidt, Nathaniel. “The New Jesus Myth and Its Ethical Value” in International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 22, No. 1, (Oct., 1911), 19-39

Shorey, Paul. Platonism Ancient and Modern (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1938)

Stewart, Herbert L. “Was Plato an Ascetic?” in The Philosophical Review, Vol. 24, No. 6, (Nov., 1915), 603-613

Stoops, J. Dashiell. “Ideals and Institutions-New Testament and Old” in International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 27, No. 1, (Oct., 1916), 82-90.

Vlastos, Gregory. Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991).

Wasserman, Emma. “Paul Among the Philosophers: Romans 6-8” in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Vol. 30, No. 4, 387-415

Wilburn, Ralph G. The Historical Shape of Faith (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1966)

Wilder, Amos N. “Paul through Jewish Eyes” in  Journal of Bible and Religion, Vol. 12, No. 3, (Aug., 1944), 181-187


[1] There is a third alternative maintained by some, that the Hellenistic and legal motivations were instruments utilized by God in Paul for the development of the Pauline project, and that the resulting doctrines are binding. In this case, Paul’s doctrinal foundations are more psychological cultural than spiritual. I find this view untenable on several counts and inconsistent with Paul’s own renouncements of his personal involvement in the formulation of the doctrine. If this third view be true, then Paul is seriously misrepresenting elements far too significant to his thesis. Such inconsistency would seem to preempt any divine influence (at least as Paul defines it), leaving the same result as that of the non-divine origin perspective. The plausibility of this third view, while a worthy topic of discussion, will not, due to the scope of this present project, be considered further here.

[2] The existence of this unknowable and alien God is not explained by Plato’s causation statement, and is explained by some in an allegorical manner: “The introduction of a creative God in the Timaeus is, of course, purely allegorical. Nothing existed before Existence itself; and no external power was needed to combine the abstract elements into which it is decomposed by thought, as in reality they had never been separated. So much is now generally admitted.” (Benn, 1902). Oakeley discusses a contrasting argument which presents the Timaeus as showing a kinship to Christianity: “Especially is the dualism of the Platonic conception emphasized – the picture of the Demiurges doing the best possible with a material only in part submissive to creative form – as essential to a truly religious view of the world…” (Oakeley, 1926). In short, the debate is whether or not Plato’s presents a truly ‘religious’ world view or simply uses a mythical mode to communicate a secular one. In either case, the dualism of Plato is inarguable as a grounding for his metaphysical and epistemological conceptions.

[3] Bos, as an example, suggests that Plato was perhaps not as impactful as Aristotle on this development, but views Plato as foundational nonetheless.

[4] Stewart defends such a statement in part based on, among other factors, Plato’s apparent negativity regarding important aesthetic conditions of his time.

[5] Vlastos, 66-80

[6] Ibid., 79

[7] This, coupled with the plural pronouns referencing God (e.g., Gen. 1:26), forms the basis for the later termed doctrine of the Trinity.

[8] Biblical references throughout will be from the New American Standard Bible, 1995.

[9] Feyerabend, 322.

[10] Questions along this line could include, for example: “If God is so good, how can He allow natural disasters which kill thousands…or famines…or man’s inhumanity to man…etc.?” The Epicurean trilemma presents challenges to classical definitions of goodness regardless of whether the evil discussed is moral or natural, thus an argument to soften the evil from moral to natural still accomplishes little to resolve the issue.

[11] One who would directly cause one to sin in particular by way of deception (as the Serpent did Eve).

[12] Ps. 32:3-4; 78:21-22; Is. 59:17-18; 64:6-7.

[13] Ps. 32:5-6; 100:5; Is. 30:18; 53; 61:1-2.

[14] 2 Ki. 17:14; Ps. 116:13; Joel 2:32.

[15] Gen. 13:15; ex. 32:13; Jos. 4:24; 1 Sam. 13:13; 2 Sam. 7:13, 24; Ezra 9:12; Ps. 23:6;  37:18; 48:8; 72:19; 78:69; 89:4, 37; 104:5; 148:6; Ecc. 1:4; 3:14; Is. 34:17; 60:21; 65:18; Jer. 7:7; Eze. 37:26-28; Joel 3:20; etc.

[16] Gen. 2:15-16; 8:22; 9:7;15:18-21; 28;14-22; Ex. 11:2-3; 16:1-31; Ps. 23; Ecc. 5:18; 9:9; Jer. 31:5, etc.

[17] Deut. 6:1-9; Ps. 90; 119:9-11; Ecc. 11:9.

[18] 2 Cor. 10:3 and Eph. 6:12 provide important examples of the non-pejorative sense, indicating that the believer’s warfare is not fleshly: i.e., not an issue of body vs. soul/spirit.

[19] Rom. 8-9; Eph. 1; Col. 1:15-17; 3:1; etc.

[20] Rom. 5:1-8; 1 Cor. 15:9-28; Eph. 1:7-10, 13-14; Col. 1:17; etc.

[21] Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 6:17; Eph. 4:4; etc.

[22] Acts 17:22-31; Rom. 1:19-20; Eph. 1:8-10; Col. 1:15-18 (For Him…that He might come to have first place in all, and be seen in such fashion…cf. Php. 2:9-11).

[23] In the sense of revealing the reconciliation of God, albeit not in the authoritative sense of special revelation.

[24] Hence the reference to Adam’s progeny as being in his image (Gen. 5:3).

[25] Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10; etc.

%d bloggers like this:
Read previous post:
A Time to Kill: Self-Defense and Just War

An Excerpt from The Bible in Government and Society (by Christopher Cone, TSP, 2012), republished with permission. ___ On March...

Close