In his lecture on Plato, Aristotle, and Stoicism, Ryan M. Reeves (PhD Cambridge), Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, provides an excellent general overview of the contribution and influence of Zeno, the Father of Stoicism, Plato, and Aristotle, on western society. As I made my way through his material on Plato and Aristotle in particular, I could not help wondering if Greek philosophers only restated, in a distorted form, what Moses taught nearly a thousand years before. It might prove to be an intriguing thesis for an ambitious philosophy major to prove, or disprove, “The Influence of Judaism on Greek Philosophy.”
Perhaps the best way to understand Plato is to know something about Dualism. Dualism says there are two competing places for ultimate truth and reality, the material world, and the mind (soul, spirit). Plato wanted to emphasis the mind (soul, spirit), the non-material world, because he believed that the mind (soul, spirit) is more than just our brain. The mind (spirit, soul) has a non-material, spiritual dimension that includes consciousness, sensations, thoughts, emotions, desires, beliefs, and choices. Matter, or materialism, cannot create, or produce these things. If anyone needs proof, try talking to a corpse, a rock, or a piece of clay.
Materialism actually competes with the mind for ultimate truth, or reality, for materialism holds that everything in the universe is made from physical materials, including the human mind (soul, spirit), or brain. Spiritual attributes do not exist in the universe. Therefore, our mind (soul, spirit), and brain, are one and the same. When the body dies, the mind (soul, spirit) dies. Life ceases to exist. If anyone needs proof, try talking to a corpse, or a dead animal, no matter how much each is loved.
For the Christian, the question arises as to whether or not the Bible supports Dualism. Does the Bible recognize a distinction between materialism, the body, with its brain, and the mind (spirit, soul)?
Indeed the Bible does. There is spirit. God is spirit. “Then God said, ‘let Us make man in Our image, according to our likeness…’” There is materialism. Genesis 2:7 (NKJV) states, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
If Plato had been familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, which were available in his day, he could have read how God gave to Adam innate intelligence, with a tremendous vocabulary, and the capacity to put names to other items which God had created. We know that Adam named the animals, and he named Eve when she was created.
Adam named every living creature. “And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him” (Gen. 2:19-20).
Adam named Eve. “And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:21-23).
The main problem with Plato’s view is that the material world is looked down upon. On this point, Plato departs from Moses.
According to Moses, God looked at all of His creation, and declared it to be very good. “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Gen. 1:31).
The Judeo-Christian view of the world returns to the Biblical view as recorded by Moses. The Psalmist declared, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). John Calvin considered creation to be the theater of God’s glory.
As Judaism might have influenced Plato, so the Scriptures might have guided Aristotle. Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) critiqued the thoughts of Plato, and faulted him for neglecting the natural world.
Aristotle started with a “God-like” figure which he called, “The Unmoved Mover.” Again, Moses and the prophets would have called this entity, “The Immutable God.” “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19). “For I, the LORD, do not change” (Mal. 3:6).
Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” was, like Plato’s Demiurge, an impersonal force. The Unmoved Mover could be regarded as a Watchmaker who made the components of the watch, wound it up, and left it to run according to natural laws. The Unmoved Mover was not acted upon, but is the cause of created life.
Long before Aristotle postulated his Unmoved Mover not acted upon, but acting, is the God of Moses who created the heavens, and the earth, and all that is therein. Elohim is not acted upon, but acts.
What vain philosophers, godless infidels, Deists, and evolutionist refer to as natural laws, are really the manifestation of God’s divine providence and faithfulness. The Bible teaches that God can suspend the laws of nature, and, has. There was the day the sun stood still. There was the day Jesus overcame death. There was the day Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus performed miracles. So the laws of nature, are at best, expressions of God’s faithfulness to His creation.
Plato was wrong to point to heaven, and say that ultimate reality is outside of this world. Aristotle was correct to insist that reality is lodged in specific items. But both were wrong not to bow before the Lord God Jehovah, who, in the beginning, created.