Saturday, July 26, 2014

Plato's Soul

Does Greek philosophy affect your thinking?  That’s probably not a question you have thought about.  What do you know about Greek philosophy?  Whether you know it or not, you probably view the world through the eyes of Greek philosophy.

If you are part of what we now call the western world, your brain is Greek.  The ancient Greeks gave us western civilization. The Romans spread Greek philosophy to world.

When we refer to Greek philosophy we are usually talking about the thoughts, teachings and writing of three important Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  They helped to lay the foundations of Western philosophy and science.

Socrates always emphasized the importance of the mind over the relative unimportance of the human body. His teaching inspired Plato’s philosophy of dividing reality into two separate realms, the world of the senses and the world of ideas.

Plato came to the belief that the material world as it seems to us is not the real world, but only an "image" or "copy" of the real world. He called this thinking the theory of forms.  The forms, according to Plato are abstract representations of things, and properties we feel and see around us.  In other words, Plato recognized two worlds: the apparent world, which constantly changes, and an unchanging and unseen world of perfect forms.

Plato noticed that the world was full of imperfections.  You have probably noticed the same thing.  Plato’s question was, how do I know it’s not perfect.  How do I recognize the imperfections?  How do I know what perfection looks like?

Plato said we can sense imperfection because somewhere out there is perfection.    Each imperfect thing in our world has a perfect counterpart in spiritual world.  He taught that our imperfect world is an imperfect image of the spiritual world.

He applied this thought to our physical bodies.  We realize that our physical body is imperfect but to know that there must be a perfect version out there somewhere.  To Plato, that perfect version is the human soul; The spiritual part of you that leaves when you die and goes to a perfect spiritual plane.  This teaching of Plato, had been adopted by mainstream Christianity.  Plato’s concept of an immortal soul creates a problem when we look in Genesis.

Genesis 1:26,27  Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.   Genesis 1:31, "Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day".

There are a couple of points that I want us to understand from this passage.  Number 1 is that we are not an imperfect copy of our immortal soul; we are a copy of God himself.  We are created in his image.  Number 2, Creation wasn't an imperfect copy; God said that it was very good.  According to Genesis, Plato got it wrong.  He was on the right track with some of his ideas.  There does have to be perfection somewhere for us to know that we are seeing imperfection, but according to Genesis, Adam and Eve were not created with immortal souls.  They didn't need them.  They were created in the perfect image of God.

We were never meant to live as bodyless spirits.  Creation was of perfect physical beings.  Adam and Eve lived in a real perfect physical world, a world without death.  There was no reason for a spirit or soul to ever leave the body.  The only hint you can find in Genesis of a possible disembodied spirit is in Genesis 2:7.  The King James version reads, “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 soul.

I want you to notice something.  Man became a living soul. The soul was not a disembodied spirit.  It was not something that leaves the body.  Man didn't receive a soul, he became a soul.  Modern translations read, man became a living creature, or living being.

How did Greek philosophy become so entrenched in Christian doctrine and thinking?  One of the ways was through the writings of Justin Martyr who lived in the second century.  He wrote extensively to defend Christianity.  He was raised in a pagan home and he was weaned on Greek philosophy.

In his Address To The Greeks  Justin wrote, Plato seems to me to have learnt from the prophets not only the doctrine of the judgment, but also of the resurrection, which the Greeks refuse to believe. For his saying that the soul is judged along with the body, proves that he believed the doctrine of the resurrection.  But Plato, having accepted what they teach concerning the resurrection of the body, teaches that the soul is judged in company with the body.

He also wrote, "while we affirm that the souls of the wicked, being endowed with sensation even after death, are punished, and that those of the good being delivered from punishment spend a blessed existence, we shall seem to say the same things as the poets and philosophers". Do you see how Greek philosophy crept into Christian thinking?

Greek philosophy plants hope in immortality of the soul but Christianity depends on physical resurrection.  We believe in a real physical Jesus coming back for real physical people.  According to the Bible you are a real person,  a living creature.  In the earth made new it will still be true.  Plato was doing the best he could with the information he had, but you have more information, so don’t use Plato to guide your thinking.

In 1 Corinthians 15: 51-53 we read, “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality”. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

I’m eagerly waiting for the day when this corruptible body puts on incorruption, and this mortal body puts on immortality.  I’m eagerly waiting for the day when I will begin spending eternity in a real physical place with a real physical body.  I hope that you are longing for that day too.

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