. How Plato Influenced Early Christianity

Take It from the Church Fathers: You Should Read Plato

statue of Plato, recommended reading by Church fathers

Christianity is the West’s most important worldview. Plato was the West’s most important philosopher. But the two have far more in common than just importance—in fact, Plato helped set the intellectual stage for the early church.

Dean Inge, the famous professor of divinity, writes that:

Platonism is part of the vital structure of Christian theology . . . . [If people would read Plotinus, who worked to reconcile Platonism with Scripture,] they would understand better the real continuity between the old culture and the new religion, and they might realize the utter impossibility of excising Platonism from Christianity without tearing Christianity to pieces. The Galilean Gospel, as it proceeded from the lips of Jesus, was doubtless unaffected by Greek philosophy . . . . But [early Christianity] from its very beginning was formed by a confluence of Jewish and Hellenic religious ideas.” (Emphasis added)

If you’re interested in Christianity’s origins, there are some very good reasons to be interested in Platonism:

  • Plato understood the self as divided between body and soul, with the soul more closely related to goodness and truth; this made Christianity’s later soul-body division easier to understand. (Some early Christians, like Justin Martyr, even regarded the Platonists as unknowing proto-Christians, though this conclusion was later rejected.)
  • Plato’s theory of forms prefigured the Christian understanding of heaven as a perfect world, of which the physical realm is a mere imitation.
  • Both worldviews assume the existence of absolute truth and unchanging reality; again, Plato’s thought helped prepare people for Christianity.
  • Augustine, at the end of a line of influence that began with Plato and passed through Plotinus, understood logic and reasoning—disciplines concerned with absolute truth—as important complements, not enemies, of faith. That faith-reason partnership would characterize Christianity through at least Kierkegaard. (Francis Schaeffer argues that the early existentialist brought modernity past the “line of despair” by conceiving of Christianity as accessible only through a leap of faith, beyond reasoning.)

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This idea—Plato as important precursor to Christianity—is far from new.

Let’s look at a few other thinkers who’ve found Plato important:


“The utterance of Plato, the most pure and bright in all philosophy, scattering the clouds of error . . .”

“I found that whatever truth I had read [in the Platonists] was [in the writings of Paul] combined with the exaltation of thy grace.”

Eusebius of Caesarea

“[Plato is] the only Greek who has attained the porch of (Christian) truth.”

Clement of Alexandria

“. . . before the advent of the Lord, philosophy was necessary to the Greeks for righteousness. And now it becomes conducive to piety; being a kind of preparatory training to those who attain to faith . . . . For God is the cause of all good things, but of some primarily, as of the Old and New Testaments; and of others by consequence, as philosophy. Perchance, too, philosophy was given to the Greeks directly and primarily . . . . For [philosophy] was a schoolmaster to bring ‘the Hellenic mind . . . to Christ.’ Philosophy, therefore, was a preparation, paving the way for him who is perfected in Christ.” (Emphasis added)

To Dean Inge and to the early Church Fathers, readers of Plato, let’s add one more name—C. S. Lewis, who writes:

“. . . if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. . . . The student . . . . feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew [that] the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator.”

So, in the spirit of Lewis, let’s not comment on Plato any further. Take Lewis’ advice and join Augustine, Eusebius of Caesarea, and Clement of Alexandria; go read the legendary thinker for yourself. The Works of Plato collection are now in their most useful format ever.

Then keep reading—what does math have to do with philosophy and culture?

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Written by
David Davidson
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  • That's the problem, Plato influenced these people, leading to all sorts of theological confusion.

    • If that it true at all then the problem is with Neoplatonism, which is highly speculative, and not Platonism. Plato’s epistemology is based on personal, experiential verification of truth (anamnesis), not theoretical speculation.

  • Thanks to Plato’s influence, the church adopted lots of heathen superstitions like the immortality of the soul (in stark contrast with 1 Timothy 6:16) and eternal torment for the lost (in contrast to Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who speaks nothing of hell except to say that it will be destroyed — 1 Corinthians 15; Jesus uses the word Hades just as Old Testament authors used the word Sheol, neither word having anything to do eternal torment; superstition is also read into the word Gehenna, the current interpretation of which can also be attributed to mythology.). Paul was right when he said in his final letter to Timothy that a time would come when men would turn away from the truth and unto fables. All turned away from the sound doctrine of Paul immediately, and the church stands today full of superstition and traditions of men. Don’t read Plato, but read and re-read Paul until you see the true light of God’s truth.

    • Selective reading – You may want to read some other parts of the Bible to get the compete picture of hell, torment, and immortality of the soul:

      For example (there are others):

      Matt 25:31-46 – (read the whole section; Jesus says) “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

      Matt 18:8 – (Jesus says) “It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire.”

      If the damned are condemned to eternal fire doesn’t that imply the saved are also eternal?

      • Wilson how do you personally build Bible doctrine? Tell me, if you have teaching A in the Bible that is clear as day as to what happens to man after death (both the first and second deaths) and teaching B in the same Bible as well (like your texts above) which is only an implied teaching, which do you choose? The church that I left (Seventh-day Adventist) used to be a Bible only one but went from building doctrine on clear teachings of the Bible to being able to construct them on “implied doctrine” as well.
        This is what the whole argument comes down to I believe. I concede that there is an implied doctrine in the Bible of eternal Hell as you have shown above. But I also believe I can refute your verses above in about 5 minutes with much clearer teachings of the Bible about what happens after death.
        The Catholics and Protestants have been ignoring the clearest teachings of the Bible and have gone to the less clear “implied” doctrine. They don’t even follow their own rules of work from what is known to what is unknown. We see this in their doctrine of the Trinity. I concede the doctrine is certainly implied in the word, but I cannot concede that it is the strongest version of God in the Bible…It all comes down brother to the rules we follow in building Bible doctrine.

      • We only receive eternal life through Jesus Christ. Humans don’t have inherent eternal life. If we already had immortal, eternal life there would have been no reason for Christ dying to save us from destruction.

    • Hey Rob, I think you mixed it up along the line. The Bible clealy states that the Gospel of Christ brought immortality and life came into light.

      Read 2 Timothy 1:10
      But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:

      This means the Gospel of Christ when received by a man, makes the man an immortal being.

      I follow the teachings of the Word of God. But while I was studying Plato writings I found a kind of connection between what he’s saying with what the Bible says in the book of Genesis.

      Especially, when he said, “…the true essence of things are the eternal, immutable, immaterial, and invisible, “forms” in the world of forms.

      The Word of God says God calleth forth those things that be not as though they were. Such that things which are made now were not made out of things which do appear. Study Romans 4:17.

      Or better still follow Pastor Chris Live and get his messages about the origin of man.

  • Greetings Rob & Rod: i agree that Greek philosophy and mythology continues to have a misleading influence on modern christianity as it did on Hellenistic Judaism. The word soul only identifies the cognitive sentience of temporary physical life that ceases to exist at death. The doctrinal errors in christianity are intend to deceive. To learn; the True Good News of Salvation and how to understand christian errors and their origin. please visit: http://abibletopic.blogspot.com/ "NAILED to the CROSS" see also " CURSE of the LAW" and "The WORD ROSE or AROSE" and many other topics like "BLOOD MOON"

  • Tobias Edlund and Rod you have hit on an inconvenient truth. The church has been pulled away by vain philosophy which does not help a believer walk in Christ. A worldview based uon a failed philosophy instead of the Word of GOD.

  • But of course "Right now, the Works of Plato collection is on Community Pricing for $30—83% off!—which is an astonishing value for such influential texts, now in their most useful format ever.".

  • God is the only one who is immortal. Paul is stating that God is incapable of dying, the greek here is actually athanasia (deathless). Humans get their immortality through God. Men and angels have come into existence at a point in time where God has existed eternally.

  • Now I understand why you are against meditation. You like the body soul division. I agree more with Rev. Terry Chapman, a Presbyterian minister and spiritual director. Way more. Just because things get meshed doesn't mean God is behind it.

Written by David Davidson