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Do You Read Scripture Like Jesus or Like Plato?

Torah, Western Wall, Jerusalem

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.”  (Isaiah 55:8)

Whatever church or congregation you belong to, the way you understand and live out God’s Word are likely influenced by Greek thought.

The early Greek philosophers, such as Socrates and Plato around the 5th century BC, introduced the world to valuable concepts such as logic, reason, and textual criticism that heavily influenced the early Church in ways we are still uncovering.

How does the Hebraic mindset differ from the Greek when it comes to understanding God’s Word and living a holy Christian life?

Shelves with religious books near the Western (Wailing) Wall

Shelves with religious books near the Western (Wailing) Wall

What Is Good and Holy?

In traditional Hebraic culture, everything is meant to be holy.

God created the entire physical world and He declared it to be “good.”  After He made mankind, He declared it to be “very good”  (Genesis 1:25, 31).

Continuing to Genesis 3, the man and woman sinned, and we now live in a fallen world.  But God is interested in the redemption of everything He made because He still wants all of it to be very good.

That is why He made a covenant with the descendants of Abraham to be a Holy People.

Moses Pleading with Israel (1907 Bible card, Providence Lithograph Company)

God spoke to all of Israel at Mount Sinai and through Moses gave them the commandments, which separated them from unholiness.  They were given reminders and practices to separate various items and days as well as their character.

These separations showed the world what is holy from unholy, clean from unclean.  But they also sinned, so God later gave them judges and then kings to guide, rule, protect, and deliver this chosen nation.


Ultimately He sent their Jewish Messiah — Yeshua — to spiritually redeem not only them, but His whole creation of mankind.

However, In Greek thinking, Plato introduced the idea that the spiritual world is good and the physical world is bad.

This means that the soul (our reasoning and thinking ability) is good.  But the body (our five senses for example) cannot be relied on.

And that means Scripture cannot be read for its simple and plain meaning.

Reading Scripture Like the Greek Plato Would

The church theologian Clement of Alexandria in the early 3rd century picked up on Plato’s idea that we cannot trust what we see or read with our own eyes and applied that to how we understand the Bible.

Clement’s teachings influenced the theologian Augustine in the 4th century who formalized the idea that behind the Holy-Spirit-inspired words of Scripture was an allegory or layers of deep meanings.

As an example, Augustine supported the birth of Yeshua on the winter solstice day of December 25 when pagans were celebrating the birthday of their sun god.  The day was known as dies solis invicti nati (day of the birth of the unconquered sun).

Augustine found deeper meaning in associating Yeshua’s birth with the winter solstice by saying,

“He [Jesus] who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, when light begins to increase.”  (Sermon 192)

Celebrating Yeshua’s birth on the winter solstice has made it even more difficult to share the Jewish Yeshua with the Jewish People because they see Him as the “Christian pagan Jesus” — no different than the pagan Greek gods.

Sadly, the only people fit for positions of authority in the church were those who had been trained to reason and think in such philosophical terms.

This allegorical and philosophical approach to interpreting Scripture is called Neo-Platonism.

It contributed to the idea that only clergy could tell the people what the Bible said.  That led to only one official translation of the Bible for the Western Church, which the priests read to the people in one official Church language—Latin.

Jerome completed the official Latin version of the Bible known as the Vulgate in AD 405. Above is the prologue of the Gospel of St. John in the 1592 version of the Vulgate, commissioned by Pope Clementine VIII (1922 reprint).

The Holy, Isolated Spiritual Life

The way to become holy with a worldview where spirituality is good and the physical is not good is to hide oneself away from the big bad world, as Plato might call it.

This belief in solitude contributed to the time known as the Dark Ages, which began with the Fall of the Roman Empire around AD 450.

During these years, the Church clergy and others turned inward with the rapid growth of a monastic, solitary lifestyle movement.

The light of God was scarcely to be found.

Those who kept away from the world, living a separate kind of spiritual existence were viewed as spiritually superior to those who were daily involved with the world.

The Christian monastery evolved from the aesthetic lifestyle of the “Desert Fathers and Mothers” who lived mostly in the deserts of Egypt and Syria, beginning in the 3rd century AD. They renounced the pleasures of the five senses and worldly possessions. (Illustration: AD 985 from the church booklet Menologion of Basil II)

These monastic Christians certainly loved God, as they understood Him.

They supported themselves by selling handmade goods and trading with locals.  And they produced much devotional literature read by Christians to this day.

But their separation from society and even each other doesn’t line up with a down-to-earth Savior, who both communed alone with God and spent time with fishermen, his family and friends, and even tax collectors and prostitutes.

Orthodox Jewish men studying together.

As well, we know that Yeshua engaged in discussion and debate with the religious leaders, since the age of 12!

Similarly, in the Jewish Beit Midrash (House of Learning), we find fellowship and lively discussion, even debates over spiritual topics among students and their rabbis (teachers).

Although students look up to their Rabbi as a tzadik (righteous one), who has attained more holiness than themselves, the Rabbi is still approachable and willing to discuss and debate issues.

In the days of the apostles, we see the formation of elders and deacons, those who shepherd and teach others.

Their authority was respected and honored as well, but they were not separated from the people, as Greek thought would dictate.  They were intimately involved in serving the people (Acts 6:1–6).

The Apostle Paul (c. 1657), by Rembrandt

Likewise, Yeshua called His disciples to be actively engaged in the world, fulfilling His Great Commission:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19–20)

This can be easier said than done, for certain.  

So, how did Rabbi Shaul (Apostle Paul) persuade some Greek mindsets to think Hebraically about Yeshua?

Living the Holy, Engaged Spiritual Life

Paul was so accustomed to both the Hebrew faith and Greek academia, he knew how to build bridges between the two to reveal the supernatural truth of God and Messiah Yeshua.

As one example, Socrates once considered how death might be like the most pleasant night of undisturbed sleep.  He said, “Now if death is like this, I say that to die is gain [kerdos in Greek].”

And when Socrates considered how death might mean he would see the great philosophers like Homer, he said, “Let me die again and again” (as recorded by Plato in The Apology of Socrates).

The Jewish Apostle Paul no doubt knew this about Socrates and used his thoughts on what might happen after death to explain a far greater revelation that the Greeks could never fathom on their own:

The Lord's Prayer, by James Tissot (1836-1902), depicting Yeshua (Jesus) teaching the disciples how to pray (Luke 11:1-13)

Yeshua Teaches the Disciples to Pray, by James Tissot

He said that  “Messiah will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For me, to live is Messiah and to die is gain [kerdos]”  (Philippians 1:21).

Paul’s words would have been difficult for a Jewish Israeli to grasp, which is why the Apostle Peter warned that in Paul’s letters “are some things hard to understand”  (2 Peter 3:16).

But a typical Greek or Roman who grew up reading and studying Socrates, would immediately understand that whether Paul lives or dies, knowing Messiah is far more advantageous, profitable, and gainful (kerdos) to him than meeting any Greek philosopher Socrates could ever hope for.  And it’s far better than any pleasant night’s sleep.

Living and dying is advantageous only in Messiah.

Each of us has a unique understanding of a particular group of people.

Perhaps it’s a former religion or our ethnic culture.  We know the lingo, the philosophy of life, the way of living.  We can build bridges with these people as Paul did with the Greeks.

This does not mean we merge non-Biblical traditions and thinking with God’s ways.  Rather, we help unbelievers understand God’s ways using their own life experiences.

Paul explained it this way:

“To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Messiah’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some”  (1 Corinthians 9:21–22).

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