Church History 101: Justin Martyr on Plato’s debt to Moses

This little chestnut, that Plato owed his ideas about creation and body and soul, and other such things, to Moses crops up heaps in the writings of the church fathers. They seem particularly keen to own elements of Platonism as Christian, from Justin Martyr to Augustine. Here’s Justin Martyr’s version:

“And that you may learn that it was from our teachers— we mean the account given through the prophets— that Plato borrowed his statement that God, having altered matter which was shapeless, made the world, hear the very words spoken through Moses, who, as above shown, was the first prophet, and of greater antiquity than the Greek writers; and through whom the Spirit of prophecy, signifying how and from what materials God at first formed the world, spoke thus: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was invisible and unfurnished, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved over the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and it was so.” So that both Plato and they who agree with him, and we ourselves, have learned, and you also can be convinced, that by the word of God the whole world was made out of the substance spoken of before by Moses. And that which the poets call Erebus, we know was spoken of formerly by Moses.”

Justin Martyr does point out a difference, in a sense, between the Platonist separation of body and soul. He says part of the Christian hope is that we will be reunited with out bodies in the afterlife. That both are immortal.

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