:: Blog | Nov 3/22
I love Thrice. I don't think there's any hiding that fact. The last one of these ...
:: Quest | May 24/13
A long-standing franchise with an ordinary product that all tastes the same ...
:: Writings | Sep 25/16
Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

On the Soul: An Examination of Plato and Paul

In both models, there is but one rational part to the two irrational ones, represented in Phaedrus as the driver of the cart. While for the gods the two steeds - as well as the charioteer - are 'noble, and of noble breed,' for the human, as alluded to above, they are mixed.52 The driver must constantly therefore be struggling to not only handle but to dominate the two horses. Evidently, the ugly, wild horse is analogous to the appetitive element in the soul as it 'prances away and gives all manner of trouble,' urging the other parts on toward the objects if its irrational passions, hungers, thirsts, and fluttering desires.53 The spirited element on the other hand is 'a lover of honor and modesty and temperance, and the follower of true glory,'54 and it serves as 'the natural auxiliary of reason' when not corrupted by bad education.'55 Both these elements are laid out to be governed by the charioteer, the λογιστκον, in order for the ψυχη to be in any state of moral excellence and intellectual purity. Such an achievement is only possible with the proper relation between the three elements of the soul, which conceives of the higher element ruling the inferior ones who must obey.56

The human, according to Plato, is just when each part of the soul is concerned with its own job and does not usurp the functions of the other parts,57 and justice as well as moral excellence is attained through contemplation of the Good. Indeed, the ultimate goal may be said to be harmony with the cosmos, which comes with the vision of the Forms.58 Thus, the genuine philosopher is of the highest nobility for its life is based upon the insights gained from the Good.59 Conversely, improper behaviour of the human can be said to be caused by the improper relation of its inner spiritual parts.60 The ψυχη for that reason plays a large part in not only ethics but politics, as corroborated by the myth of the Cave which portrays certain worthy individuals as experiencing the Good and returning into the false reality to govern those who cannot properly govern themselves for lack of understanding of what is truly real. The vision of the Good allows the human to see how all true reality fits together,61 and it is only the λογιστκον, when at its proper place within the soul, which permits such intellectual pursuits to be of any value. For without the knowledge of the Good, knowledge of any other thing is of no practical use, and every soul inherently pursues the Good.62


For Plato, then, the concept of the soul is central to his philosophical and perhaps theological assertions. While the above exploration was by no stretch comprehensive, it is nevertheless plainly observed that issues concerning ψυχη bleed into a variety of Plato's doctrines - such as epistemology, ethics, and politics. As among the most influential and eminent philosophical scholars of our time, one might ask how much influence he may have had upon those in the intellectual arena of a time nearer his own than ours is. While the self-proclaimed apostle Paul was only active some four hundred fifty years after Plato, he would almost certainly have come into contact with Platonic thought while living in a thoroughly Hellenistic world. The matter of Platonic influence has been argued for both sides of the debate, and while it is beyond the scope of this paper to survey all the cases - a matter to be taken up further in the future - the question of influence will still be touched on here. However, after a lengthy overview of Plato's conception of the soul, we must attempt a summary of Paul's as well in order to provide a proper basis for any form of comparison.

An obvious jumping point from Plato to Paul is to look at the apostle's usage of the word ψυχη. In the writings of Paul the word appears a mere thirteen times,63 thereby giving the impression it may not be a significant notion in his theo-philosophical constructions. Regardless, based upon these thirteen examples of ψυχη, Paul can be shown to suggest three different connotations, the first of which is ψυχη as the life-principle.64 This particular nuance appears in Paul's letters a total of six times out of the thirteen instances of ψυχη,65 perhaps pointing at the given nature of this particular aspect for Paul and his audience. To be sure, in Romans 11:3, Paul quotes the words of Elijah from 1 Kings 19:10, possibly from the Septuagint,66 and says και ζητουσιν την ψυχην μου, which would literally be translated as 'and they seek the soul of me.'67 The majority of English translations however interpret the use of ψυχη to mean 'life,' so that Israel is specifically seeking the life of Elijah. Moreover, in Romans 16:3 Paul makes mention of Prisca and Aquila, whom are commended in the following verse for risking their necks for Paul's ψυχη, here quite plainly meaning they risked their lives for his own. In this same vein, Paul praises one Epaphroditus at the end of Philippians 2 for παραβολευαμενοs τη ψυχη - for 'he risked the soul' - and in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 he writes that he, Silvanus and Timothy were 'well pleased to impart to you not only'68 ευγγελιον του θεου αλλα και ταs 'εαυτων ψυχs. That is, they were not only pleased to impart 'the gospel of God but also our own souls.'69 For this particular usage there is a differing in opinion,70 but the overwhelming sense is that of the three men's lives.71 In addition, 1 Corinthians 15:45 has Paul translating Genesis 2:7, where Adam, through the infusion of God's 'breath of life,' is declared to become 'a living being (NRSV)' - a phrase Paul renders into Greek as ψυχην ζωσαν, which can be translated as 'a living soul.'

  1. Ibid., 403.
  2. Ibid., 413-414; see also Vol.2 p.163.
  3. Ibid., 413.
  4. Ibid., Vol.2 p165.
  5. Taylor, The Mind, 95.
  6. Ibid., 103.
  7. Louth, Mystical, 15.
  8. Taylor, The Mind, 99.
  9. White, Companion, 237.
  10. Louth, Mystical, 16.
  11. White, Companion, 175.
  12. W David Stacey, The Pauline View of Man: In Relation to its Judaic and Hellenestic Background (New York, NY: MacMillan & Co Ltd., 1956), 121.
  13. Ibid. See also Athenagoras Ch. Zakopoulos, Plato and Saint Paul on Man: A Psychological, Philosophical and Theological Study (Thessalonica, GR: Melissa Press, 2002), 87.
  14. Zakopoulos, Saint Paul, 87.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Author's own translation from The Greek New Testament, 4th Ed. (Germany: United Bible Societies, 2001).
  17. The New Testament: Recovery Version (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1991).
  18. While this is the author's translation of the GNT, the Recovery Version of the New Testament as well as the American Standard Version reads the same way. The NASB and NRSV translate the use of ψυχη here as 'selves,' whereas the KJV and NIV read 'lives' - to name a few. Additionally, the Santa Biblia: Nuevo Versión Internacional (Colorado Springs, CO: International Bible Society, 1999) reads 'vida,' which translates to English as 'life.' However, this particular Spanish version makes note by way of an asterisk of when the Greek ψυχη is being translated in the sense of the Hebrew nefesh - which in turn is rendered aliento (breath) or fuerza (strength, force) - and maintains the tradition of interpreting ψυχη as either vida or alma (spirit), thereby recognising the life-principle connotation.
  19. Zakopoulos, Saint Paul, 87.
  20. Ibid., 114.