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Home » Church History » “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch » Chapter 1: “Greece and Rome (1000 BCE – 100 CE)”

Chapter 1: “Greece and Rome (1000 BCE – 100 CE)”


Greece had a significant influence on Christianity and ironically had it’s beginnings before even Christianity developed.  Greek influence spread far and wide due to Alexander’s Hellenist conquest, Rome itself adopted and assimilated much of it.

Greek concepts such as an afterlife became deeply ingrained into even Jewish thought and Christian ideas such as Christ, Alpha and Omega.  Greek philosophers gave new compelling views of God, Plato’s gave the concept to look beyond the everyday mundane to a more  deeper or ultimate nature of reality.  They contributed much to Christian thought and theologians could be divided to their different schools of thought.

Even today I have seen their influence.  Christian philosopher Peter Kraft wrote several books detailing how Socrates after taking the hemlock and closed his eyes, opened them to having somehow been transferred to a modern college campus.  After enrolling in Christianity 101   he applies his Socratic method to question and learn who is this Jesus (Socrates and Jesus).

Another work of fiction was the book “the Name of the Rose” revolved around a medieval monastery library which may have contained a copy of Aristotle’s second volume of Poetics.  Some felt the book was extremely dangerous to Christianity and many died from it.

From common grace we know that God is reflected throughout this world even if it isn’t directly.  All good things ultimately come from Him.  We don’t need to fear or reject something just because it didn’t directly descend from high.



In this chapter, MacCulloch described the immense impact Greek culture and thought had upon not only Western culture but also the traditions and thoughts of Christianity that are present today.  For me, the greatest influence the Greeks provided for Christianity that is still very much prevalent today is the philosophy of Plato.

For starters, Plato’s “view of reality and authenticity propelled one basic impulse in Christianity, to look beyond the immediate and everyday to the universal or ultimate.”  His allegory of the cave has eerie similarities with Christian thoughts about repentance and conversion – that we are all imprisoned and must set our eyes elsewhere, above our senses, in order to find true freedom from the illusions of everyday life.  He also focuses a lot of attention on the soul, or the intellect, and the separation between the body and the soul, and this dualism is laced in the Christian understanding of humanity and the afterlife.  He believed that everyone should focus their souls on the Forms (his view of ultimate reality/truth) to the Supreme Soul (i.e. God).

Furthermore, as MacCulloch also points out, our understanding of God as being one and good directly borrows from Platonic thought.  He also “made ethics central to his discussion of divinity.” (loc. 623)  Our thoughts about an unchanging, eternal, perfect, and infinite God are also directly shaped by Plato’s theology.  Unfortunately, this also led to the belief that God was too transcendent that he lacked emotions or passions, and was therefore not subject to change, contrary to how the Scriptures portrayed God; this belief is still prominent in Christianity today.

Also, his negative views on the influence of the arts can also be seen in many Christian fundamentalist circles today, where such things like secular music, movies, video games, and culture are shunned at as having harmful effects upon the youth and their moral/ethical upbringing, which causes them to view the world as being not good, and the spiritual being more real and good.

Suffice it to say, Plato’s impact on Christianity was huge.  Even in the NT when we read Paul, we can hear echoes of his thoughts: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4: 16 – 18)  It would be utterly foolish to overlook or ignore the thoughts of Plato in any serious discussion about theology and Christianity.



  1. Tim Snoddon says:

    Plato opened up the ideology of looking beyond the immediate and everyday aspects of life. The Cave of course is the metaphor for our own imprisonment, our lives being shadows of the ideal “forms.”

  2. Tim Snoddon says:


    The path to rising above the illusions for Plato is through intellect. It is important also to note that to Plato, oneness is goodness. A monotheistic proposal. It goes without saying that at the core of the ideal of Christianity, as well as perhaps for Judaism and even Islam, Anxient Greece, with Plato/Socrates leading the way.

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