Aristotelian Causation in the Bible?

There are many who are quick to say that Greek philosophy shouldn’t interfere with Christian thought. That’s hasty, because all truth is God’s truth. If Plato, Aristotle, or Socrates were true about anything they taught, they were simply (accidentally?) speaking God’s truth. Aristotilean Causation (AC) is one form of this truth, and yes, it can be found in the Bible. (If you don’t know what AC is, YouTube has many videos that will explain it to you. Try here and here. And yes, some videos are better than others.)

A fine example of AC can be seen in the death of Saul in 1 Chronicles 10 (which took place ~700 years before Aristotle was born).

We start with this question: What caused Saul’s death?

A1: Material Cause
Arrow heads causing mortal pain.
Metal sword piercing his chest, lacerating his heart.

A2: Efficient Cause
Philistine soldiers shot him up putting him in fear for his life.
He fell on his sword so as to not let the Philistines kill him.

A3: Formal Cause

A4: Final Cause
God killed him.
Because he refused to rely on God’s word/guidance

  • refusing to wait for Samuel to make the sacrifice as promised. 1 Sam 13
  • refusing to kill all the Amalekites, King Agag, and their livestock. 1 Sam 15
  • consulting the witch at Endor (a capital offense). 1 Sam 25

1 Chronicles 10 is the passage that demonstrates all of the above:

[+] When the battle intensified against Saul, the archers found him and severely wounded him. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through with it, or these uncircumcised men will come and torture me! ” But his armor-bearer wouldn’t do it because he was terrified. Then Saul took his sword and fell on it. (1 Chronicles 10:3-4)

[+] Saul died for his unfaithfulness to the LORD because he did not keep the LORD’s word. He even consulted a medium for guidance, but he did not inquire of the LORD. So the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse. (1 Chronicles 10:13-14)

We might quibble on the precise description of each mode of causation as it applies to this example, but the point I’m making here is that all 4 causes are true simultaneously, and do not contradict. A person is speaking truthfully when they say “Saul died by his heart being cut in two” and “Saul committed suicide”. They are also speaking truthfully when they say “God killed him”. These modes of causation do not contradict or conflict with each other.

Such examples can be found all over the Bible:

Q: What caused Joseph to go to Egypt?
Material cause: riding on camels/donkeys
Efficient cause: brothers selling him to Ishmaelite and Midianite traders
Formal cause: slavery
Final cause: God sent him [+]… it was not you who sent me here, but God… (Genesis 45:8; Ps 105:17)

As with the former example, all four modes of causation are true simultaneously.


We increase our understanding of God and His works by understanding different modes of Causation. And Aristotle can be helpful in this regard.

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