Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Did Socrates Obtain Salvation?
An Exercise of Dialectic
I will be using SOCRATES own method: Sometimes called the Method of Dialectic. A form of seeking (“boxing in”) knowledge by employing questions and answers. For example, a question is put, such as: “What is courage? The answer offered by the respondent takes the form of a definition. Socrates then proceeds to refute each definition by offering a counterexample designed to show that the definition which was offered was too narrow, too restricted or is biased or uninformed.
Did Socrates obtain “salvation” and entry into “heavenly places” because of what he has done?
a). Primary evidence offered by the proponents of the “salvation of Socrates” is:
Socrates own statement, “an unexamined life is not worth living.”
b). Secondary evidence offered is statements made by Yahshua, such as; “…whosoever
loses his life shall gain it…”
In order to evaluate the question we must initially examine the evidence. We should direct our attention to the primary evidence first. What does Socrates mean by, “an unexamined life is not worth living?” The basis for this statement and consequently the definition is found in Socrates’ philosophy expressed in his “apology” as written by Plato. There are three points pertinent to the question:
1.) The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.
2.) The improvement or “tendance” of the soul, the care for wisdom and truth, is the highest good.
3.) And the most important: Socrates’ principle that virtue is knowledge and his claim that to know the good is to do the good.
Socrates’ view of virtue, of what is right and what is good may be called a rationalistic moral philosophy. Simplistically, Socrates is saying that if we examine our individual lives we will choose the right and do the good by virtue of knowledge. He encapsulates this principle in a famous line: “No one does evil voluntarily.” I cannot agree with this simplistic assertion and will offer my reasons later.
Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, both so called church fathers, held views that placed reason over revelation. Justin Martyr believed that the Bible held that “reason is implanted in every race of man.” In view of this he held that those among the ancient Greeks “who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheist. We might conclude by this statement that Socrates was “saved”, after all Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria are respected church authorities. Associatively, in Romans 2:12-16, Paul writes that there is a law written on the hearts of the unbelievers (v.15), so that they know “by nature what the law requires” (v. 14). In the first chapter of Romans pagan sins (including homosexual practices) are said to be “against nature” (V. 26). This revelation of G-d to men has been called “natural law” and has been available to men since the creation of the world and so men are without excuse. Since Socrates’ proponents resort to ad hominem evidence by using the words of Yahshua to establish their claim, which also must presuppose the authority of the scriptures, then, Socrates would not have obtained heavenly status because he was a practicing homosexual. By his own account this prohibited behavior should have been revealed to him based on his belief that innate truths resided in men’s minds because they knew them in a preexistence life and only needed the proper question to reveal the right knowledge.
We shall also see that from empirical evidence that his statement is not valid. Modern psychology, social and behavioral sciences have served to question the reliability and soundness of Socrates’ findings. First, Socrates may have been subject to delusion or illusion. Secondly, the object of reality is conceived very differently by different persons. In the case of Socrates we might conclude that he was a pre-incarnationist that believed in the pre-existence of souls. This would seemingly place Socrates’ proponents outside his worldview, since their appealing to ad hominem evidence, namely the words of Yahshua, necessarily conflicts with this theory, and if authority is to be appealed to it seems that all authority or none is in order when it relates to something so pertinent as G-d’s word. Thirdly, experience as such does not establish anything except the experience. Even if I possess a true knowledge of human nature, of how to live, of what to strive for, of what will bring me happiness, there isn’t any assurance that with this knowledge I will act upon it and do good. We have learned too much, to quote individual sources concerning the many non-rational forces in human personality, which combat reason-instincts, emotions, passions, impulses, drives-and to which reason appears always to be taking second place. Freud best stated it: the unconscious is understood as a “seething cauldron” of powerful desires against which reason is weak if not helpless.
From Socrates’ proponents’ perspective, he having examined his life and acted upon it rightly would have obtained salvation. However, to obtain salvation there must be something to grant it based on qualification or all humanity would have reason to obtain without effort as an inherent right. In order to validate Socrates’ statement linguistically we must suppose that he presupposes some “uncaused causer” or divinity. For his case to succeed, we must “presuppose” that salvation is the result of reason. But is G-d (the uncaused causer) subject to the law of reason? Can human reason stand in judgment of G-d or His Revelation in scripture? Is not G-d transcendent to all human reason? Is not G-d the creator of human reason and the sovereign over all his creation? If this is not so is He G-d and what does it matter?
Augustine said it well:
(1) My mind understands some immutable truths (such as 7 + 3 = 10).
(2) But my mind is not immutable.
(3) A mutable mind cannot be the ground of immutable truths.
(4) Hence there must be an Immutable Mind (That is, G-d).
Therefore, it seems to me that we must look beyond the limited range of pure reason to “establish” salvation and entry into heavenly places. How do we do this?
First, we have to establish reason as a ground to establish truth epistemologically. We then have to apply what we learn to the evidence purporting the question of Socrates’ “salvation?” We then may discover an element missing in his logic that goes beyond pure reason? In order to do this we have to entertain some hard questions. The central question is how dowe know G-d has spoken infallibly in the Bible, since one of the evidences invoked by Socrates proponents is the words of Yahshua as represented in the Bible. We must consider:
1) If there is a G-d
2) and if he has spoken in the Bible
How can we justify this belief? It cannot be answered by a simple appeal to faith, for the following reasons.
1) An appeal to whose faith? Persons of different religions have different faiths. Which is right?
2) Faith in which book? The Koran, the Bible, the Book of Mormon? They all claim to be G-d’s Word and their claims contradict one another.
3) Belief statements are not a justification they are simply an affirmation. Beliefs are not knowledge; they must be justified before they can be known to be true.
4) There is a difference in “belief that” and “belief in” that must be recognized. “Belief in” requires no evidence but is simply an act of faith. “Belief that” demands evidence.
Into what category does “Socrates’ salvation” fall? It must be defined as “belief that” demands evidence, and the primary evidence cited appeals to Socrates’ own authority as a philosopher; a non sequitur in light of Socrates’ other philosophical conclusion that the only “true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing”, and the second part of this evidence, the words of Yahshua, a more reliable source.
5. All truth claims must be justified, or else anything and everything claimed to be true, is true. Even the Bible warns, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of G-d” (1 John 4:1) And Paul concerning the laws of reason said, “Avoid…contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Tim.6: 20). Peter commanded that believers give “a reason of the hope that is in them” (1 Peter 3:15). G-d in Isaiah 1:18 bids us to “Come now, let us reason together, says the L-rd.” There is ample proof in scripture that we are to exercise reason. So how are we to appeal to reason to justify our beliefs?
I. We start with the presupposition that G-d exists backed up by convincing reasons that support that belief. None of these are without criticism, but it is safe to say that atheists cannot prove there is no G-d. There is neither time nor space here to present the five basic viewpoints of G-d, and I will only survey the one most common to the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Theistic Concept.
1) G-d is both beyond and in the world. Transcendent and immanent. G-d is infinite and unlimited and the universe is finite and limited. G-d is immanently present as the sustaining cause of the universe. (The uncaused causer of Socrates).
2) The world is dependent on G-d for its existence and sustaining sustenance.
3) G-d alone is a Necessary Being. He is a Being that cannot not be. Everything in the world is contingent. What cannot be must be created in order for it to exist passing from non-being unto being.
4) G-d created the world from ex nihilo.
5) G-d can act supernaturally in the world. There is a natural order established by G-d, which is descriptions of the regular way G-d works in His creation, not prescriptions of how He must work. He is sovereign and may supersede this order at will creating miracles.
II. If G-d exists then miracles are possible. Since G-d is all-powerful He can do anything that is not a contradiction. Therefore miracles are possible.
III. There is ample historical evidence that Yahshua lived and that the New Testament documents are a reliable record of what Yahshua taught. But the New Testament tells us that Yahshua claimed to be G-d in human form (John 5:23, 8:58, 10:30.; Mark 2:7.; 14:6), furthermore, Yahshua miraculously fulfilled hundreds of prophecies about the coming Messiah-G-d (Ps. 45:7; 110:1; Isa. 9:6), including where He would be born (Mic. 5:2) when He would die (Dan 9:24.), how He would suffer (Isa 53), how He would die (Ps. 22:15) and his resurrection (Psalms 2, 16). In addition to this Yahshua, lived a sinless life (Heb. 4:15; I Peter 1:19; 1 John 3:4) filled with miraculous confirmations of who He was. Including a virgin birth (Matt. 1; Luke 2) and a confirming voice from heaven three times (Matt. 3, 17; John 12. He performed numerous miracles (John 20:30) including raising the dead (John 11), and died a unique death (John 19). Finally Yahshua predicted (John 2; Matt. 12, 17) and accomplished His resurrection from the dead (John 10:10; Matt. 28). There was miraculous confirmation from birth to resurrection of who Yahshua claimed to be. A miracle is an act of G-d confirming the Word of G-d by a prophet. Yahshua’s claim to be G-d was divinely confirmed to be true: Yahshua is G-d!
IV. All G-d’s statements are true by virtue of His being an absolutely perfect omniscient being. Yahshua is G-d therefore all Yahshua said is true. “It is impossible for G-d to lie” (Heb. 6:18)
V. Yahshua taught that the Old Testament was G-d’s unbreakable truth (John 10:34-35) in all its parts. He proclaimed both its inspiration (Matt. 22:43) and final authority over Satan (Matt. 4:4, 7,10) and over all human teaching (Matt 15:1). Yahshua declared the unity of the Old Testament (Luke 24:27, 44) as well as it inerrancy (John 17:17; Matt. 22:29). He called it the “Word of G-d.” Yahshua affirmed the authenticity, divine authority and historicity of the Old Testament. He placed His own words on par with the Old Testament (Matt. 5:18, Matt. 24:35), and said the apostles would be guiding in remembering (John 14:26; 16:13) and teaching everything He had taught them (Matt. 28:18-20), Acts 1:1; 2:42; Eph. 2:20) Hence, the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament are on the same level as the Old Testament, as was recognized by Paul (I Tim. 5:18) and Peter (II Peter 3:15-16).
VI. Therefore, the whole Bible is the Word of G-d. In conclusion the Bible is the final authority on salvation, faith, our relationship to G-d and on what is right and wrong.
CONCLUSION: The answer to Socrates “salvation” is obvious based on his own methodology and analysis of the evidence. Though the proponents of Socrates could not have appealed to a higher authority than the Bible their error is that they did not counsel the whole of G-d’s Word, and like many who wish to use G-d’s Word to support their own agenda they deliberately distort and take out of context those phrases that foster deception on unsuspecting and ignorant people. The statement cited as evidence is Matthew 10:39 and should be completed as follows, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Companion passages read in Mark 8:35, “whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it,” and in Luke 9:24, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” These passages presuppose a relationship of intimacy and personal knowledge of who Yahshua was and is. I have demonstrated how reason plays a very important part in “belief that”, but lacking in reason is “belief in.” Socrates did not carry his search far enough and this is the part missing in Socrates and his proponents’ thesis. As to the theory that reason alone will produce salvation as alleged in Socrates’ famous dictum: “an unexamined life is not worth living”, I have demonstrated that truth cannot so easily be arrived at through reason solely because of the distorted images we develop with our own limited intelligence. The mind is incapable of totally eliminating external influences and we see truth as through a filter when we rely solely upon reason. Socrates himself admits that the greatest wisdom obtainable is when we acknowledge that we know nothing, which of course contradicts the very essence of his dictum. Pure reason is impossible without the infinite and if we counsel ourselves that we can arrive at pure reason solely by ourselves the counsel of the fool fools us. As we know Socrates did not arrive at total truth as demonstrated by the Word of G-d, which was cited as evidence by Socrates’ proponents. Had his examination not been inadequate he would have discovered that homosexuality was against the natural order, therefore not in harmony with the Creator (Uncaused Causer) and therefore he was not living in truth and not deserving of “salvation.” His complacent willingness to participate in his suicide that by all accounts was unnecessary also demonstrates his inability to arrive at the truth by reason alone. He should have known that man is created in the Image of G-d and self-murder is prohibited. Paul said: there is a law written into our hearts that forbids any excuse to man. And we have the written Word of G-d appealed to by his proponents as the most damaging evidence against Socrates’ “salvation.”
It is not for us to take on the mantle of G-d’s authority and anything is possible with G-d, even Socrates’ salvation. Yet, I am invited to reason with G-d and in conclusion by virtue of that reason and its component element the imparted infinite wisdom of G-d through the agency of the Holy Spirit that produces faith, not blind faith, but reasoned faith; I unfortunately have to conclude sadly that Socrates’ did not obtain “salvation” in the manner purported by his proponents.
So, what can we do with this information? We can further examine this issue comparing to other scripture from the B’rit Chadashah that expound upon that from the Tanakh.
Let us look at a few scriptures that address this issue:
1 Cor. 9:23-27 “Don’t you know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one wins the prize? So then, run to win! Now every athlete in training submits himself to strict discipline, and he does it just to win a laurel wreath that will soon wither away. But we do it to wear a crown that will last forever. Accordingly, I don’t run aimlessly, but straight for the finish line; I don; shadow-box but try to make every punch count. I treat my body hard and make it my slave so that, after proclaiming the Good News to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
Phil 3:14 “I keep pursuing the goal in order to win the prize offered by G-d’s upward calling in the Messiah Yahshua.”
Although we may be walking on the King’s Highway today, we cannot know what we will do tomorrow or the next day. We can fall away from our position in Messiah Yahshua.
Phil 2:12: “So, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed when I was with you, it is even more important that you obey now when I am away from you: keep working out your deliverance with fear and trembling, for G-d is the one working among you both the willing and the working for what pleases Him.”
We can compare these scriptures to the same concept provided by the spiritual and physical wilderness journey of the Israelites and their perceived status as holy in spite of their lack of trust when confronted with reconnoitering the land Adonai had instructed them to take. Not only that, they spread the false report, sequestering supporters in the community against Moshe and Aharon. (Num. 13:25-30).
We find further evidence that people may think they are following G-d but in fact have issues of which they were and are not aware of today that YHVH/Yahshua identifies as areas that need correcting (Rev. 2, 3).
We must carefully consider where we are in our relationship to the Messiah. Does our keeping the mitzvot outweigh our sins? Do we wear tzitziyot and then gossip? Do we tithe, make time for Torah study, keep our tzedeka secret? Do we grumble against G-d’s commands, statutes, and laws? Do we sequester people to support our agendas in business, social events or in religious gatherings? Do we foster dissention in any venue? Do we put anything before our service to YHVH/Yahshua? Do we place ourselves on the throne of judgment?
This must surely have been on the mind of Melech David when he wrote Psalm as he acknowledges that only G-d knows where we stand with him and that He can reveal our faults and guide us along the path to salvation:
Psalm 139: 1-4 “Adonai, you have probed me, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I stand up, you discern my inclination from afar, you scrutinize my daily activities. You are familiar with all my ways that before I speak even a word, Adonai, you know all about it already.”
Psalm 139: 23-4: “Examine me, G-d, and know my heart; test me, and know my thoughts. See if there is in me any hurtful way, and lead me along the eternal way.
By Rabbis Phil and Tamah Davis