Is Christianity influenced by some of Plato's ideas?

In particular, I thought that the notion in Christianity of God creating man in his own image was heavily reminiscent of Plato's forms, where God is the perfect ideal form and mankind the imperfect physical manifestation.

Are there any other notable instances of Christianity being influenced by Plato? Is it fair to say that it was influenced by his ideas?

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    That particular example, no, because the passage about God creating man in his own image predates Plato. However, Christianity was heavily influenced by neoplatonism. I'm not an expert in this area so I'll leave it to someone else to give an answer, but I think the doctrines of the Trinity and the Real Presence were both influenced by neoplatonism. Before Thomas Aquinas, neoplatonism was sort of the official philosophy of the Greek and Roman churches. – David Gudeman Jul 20 at 17:18
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    "Christianity is Platonism for the people." thus spoke Nietzsche. – sand1 Jul 20 at 17:28
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    I believe the notion of God as a being who is "perfect" in various ways (perfectly good, for example) was also an influence from Greek philosophy, as is the idea of a soul fundamentally from the body, and the idea of Christ as the "Logos". – Hypnosifl Jul 20 at 23:20

I would like to reecho Mr. Gudeman's comments in the following areas:

  1. "The notion of God creating Man in his own image", is purely Biblical in origin, specifically, from The Book of Genesis, which "predates" both Christianity and Plato by several thousand years.

  2. Plato lived between the years, 427-347 BC/BCE and his Academy stood in Athens, until the birth of The Pax Romana-(around 27-26 BC/BCE). While Plato, the man, lived 80 yeas and his Academy was in session for over 350 years, Platonic Philosophy has moved through History, rather uninterruptedly, for nearly 2400 years.

  3. The early years of the Church-(both the Western and Eastern Churches), were anti-pagan and had largely estranged themselves from Greek Philosophy-(though never entirely abandoned their interest in Greek Philosophy). However, during the latter part of the 1st millennium AD/CE, followed by The Late Middle Ages-(1050-1400 AD/ CE), Greek Philosophy had a revival, which was more specifically referred to as, "Neoplatonism". Christian Neoplatonic scholarship was welcomed and studied by the Greco-Byzantine Church for much of the duration of The Byzantine Empire, whereas the Roman Catholic Church, while also welcoming and studying Christian Neoplatonism during the same time period, eventually moved more towards the study of Aristotle, led by Thomas Aquinas, beginning in the 1200's AD/CE.

  4. As Mr. Gudeman said in his comment, the Doctrine of The Trinity, was heavily influenced by Platonic Numbers. I will add the following information: In a Platonic Universe, One is not necessarily One and the Many isn't necessarily the Many. However, in the Platonic Grand Scheme of Things, numerical values, are interchangeable. A simple equation of 1 + 1 + 1= 3, is not so simple in a Platonic or Christian Neoplatonic Universe. The simple equation of 1 + 1 + 1 =3.....can also-(and apparently does) = 1, in a Platonic and especially, in a Christian Neoplatonic Universe.

  5. In addition to Platonic Mathematics, Plato's emphasis on the Transcendental, appealed to Christian Theological Thinkers of The Middle Ages-(Both Western and Eastern Churches). While to the best of my recollection, Plato does not write about an Angelic Spirit or Soul transcending into the Heavens after death. However, Plato did write extensively on the existence of Parallel worlds. These parallel worlds are comprised of the Transcendental world of Ideas and Forms-(i.e. Mystical Geometries) and the Real World. It is the Transcendental world of Mystical Geometries which served as the Grand Mirror and the Real world as its Supreme reflection or mirror of that Transcendental, Mystically Geometric world. Plato's Transcendentalism, was of great interest to Medieval Christian Theologians who then inserted the Spiritual or Angelic dimension of Jesus, as well as the Christian All Stars-(i.e. Mary, Joseph, The Apostles, Paul, the Gospel Writers and the Saints), into their Christian Neoplatonic Theology.

  • Pretty fuzzy use of 'uninterruptedly' – CriglCragl Jul 20 at 23:23
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    How so? I'm curious. – Alex Jul 21 at 0:41
  • 1/2 Im not sure 3 was stated strongly enough. My understanding (not certain) is that John accepted much of the contemporary greek philosophy by directly addressing what greek philosophers had been long debating about the relationship between god and the logos of his universe. John 1:1 saying logos = god, or is a subset of him. Ive heard that’s no small matter and he was accepting or even importing the greek framework. – Al Brown Jul 21 at 17:42
  • 2/2 The rest of john relates to this too. Describing Christ as the truth, as love, as the logos was part of that. Same commenter said we think it’s easy now to say “God is love” or “God is truth” but that was new, and even now we dont think deeply of what that could mean. – Al Brown Jul 21 at 17:42
  • Thanks for the comments. I would say you are correct with regard to St. John accepting "much of the contemporary Greek Philosophy" and their diversified meanings of the word, "Logos". I am sure St. John was familiar with the Greek Philosophers, though his Gospel, from what I remember, was quite distinct from even the most mystical and transcendental of Greek Philosophers-(such as Pythagoras and even Plato) and in a way, his Gospel was also quite distinct from the other 3 Gospel Writers-(Saints Mark, Matthew and Luke). – Alex Jul 21 at 20:20

The short answer is definitely, and this is widely recognized. However, the influence was not direct and it is perhaps less accurate to cite Plato specifically than to refer to a Platonic and Stoic milieux in which the Hebrew scriptures "mingled" with Roman Stoicism and its Socratic lineage.

The relevant hermeneut here would be St. Augustine, who was well versed in neoplatonism and in many ways reconstructed the foundations of Christianity in this form. The concept of a soul, an afterlife, and one universal God are all expressed by Socrates in Plato's Phaedo. These are not typically Judaic ideas and were introduced into Christianity, along with nearly everything else, by St. Paul, the "Apostle to the Greeks," or Gentiles.

Philo, the great Jewish philosopher and contemporary of St. Paul, was among the first to view the God-Creator of Jewish monotheism as analogous to the Ideas of Plato. The early Christian philosopher Origin, hugely influential though sadly deemed heretical, was well versed in Plato and Aristotle. Again, the most well-known and explicit influence of Plato on the strange development of Christianity came through Augustine.

But the vast matrix of ideas surrounding the rise of the Christians sects and their tormented evolution between the forces of Jewish text, Roman law, and Greek Philosophy is a complex subject, to put it mildly. As the "Platonism of the masses" I would say that Christianity is more directly influenced by Stoicism and its Socratic roots than by the actual dialogues of Plato.

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    Nietsche's quote is from the preface of Beyond good and Evil (Christenthum ist Platonismus für’s Volk); Mrax wrote that "religion is the opium for the people" in his Critique of Hegel's Phphy of Right. – sand1 Jul 21 at 9:17
  • Ah, thanks, you are correct. – Nelson Alexander Jul 21 at 15:05

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