What Philo Teaches, and Why He Cannot be Used in Support of Trinitarianism
This appendix continues our discussion, started in chapter 3, on Philo and his teachings. It is somewhat detailed, so most readers may wish to skip it. It consists of two parts. The first part points to the fact that scholars who specialize in Philo are aware that Philo’s logos is not a real person, much less a divine person; hence there is no basis for the trinitarian use of Philo’s logos for interpreting “the Word” in John’s Prologue.
The second part is a compilation of Philo’s own statements on the logos (“the Word”). These statements show us what Philo really means by logos, and demonstrate that his logos, which he sometimes calls “the second god,” is not really a person, much less a divine person. Hence Philo’s logos offers no help to the trinitarian interpretation of “the Word” in John’s Prologue.
What Philo means by logos
Earlier we mentioned Kenneth Schenck’s A Brief Guide to Philo. On pages 58-62, Schenck explains in seven points, under seven headings, what Philo means by the logos. Here are the seven headings, quoted verbatim:
1. The logos as God’s directive force in the world
2. The logos as the image of God
3. The logos as the instrument of creation
4. The logos as the container of the world of ideas
5. The logos as the glue/prop of creation
6. The logos as the soul’s guide to God
7. The logos: A second god?
The first six points are not directly useful for the trinitarian interpretation of John 1:1 despite some tangential relevance. Only point #7 offers something that may be useful. The question mark in point #7 is Schenck’s. So what does he say in point #7 regarding the “second god”? We now quote in full his discussion on point #7 (omitting a few sentences near the end, due to their technical nature). From Schenck’s explanation of what Philo means by the logos, we see that Philo offers nothing that is useful for trinitarianism but in fact offers much that can be used against the trinitarian appropriation of Philo.
[Start of Schenck’s seventh point (pp.61-62)]
Philo somewhat startlingly could refer to the logos as a “second God”:
“I am the God who appeared to you in the place of god” [Gen.31:13] … Inquire carefully if there are two gods in what it says … For in truth God is one, even if there are many whom people improperly call “gods”. Therefore, the sacred word [logos] in this case has revealed who is truly God by way of the articles. It states in the one place, “I am the God.” But in the other instance it indicates the one we should not call god by omitting the article: “the one who appeared to you in the place” not “of the God” but only “of god.” Here it calls God’s oldest Word [logos] “god.” (Somn. 1:227-230)
In this passage, Philo speaks of how many mistake God’s governor and representative, the logos, for him. Those without wisdom cannot understand God without some sense of him having a body and being like humans. These understand God by way of him having a body and being like humans. These understand God by way of his angel or messenger, his Word (logos).
The distinction between God, whose essence is unknowable, and the logos is significant for Philo. When he is speaking imprecisely, he can speak of the logos as if it were simply God’s reason in action (e.g. Opif. 36). But when he is in technical philosophy mode, he draws an important distinction between God and his reason (logos):
To his chief messenger [=archangel] and oldest word [logos] the father who gave birth to everything gave a special gift to stand on the boundary and separate what has come into existence from the one who has created. And this same logos is a constant suppliant to the immortal for the disturbed mortal and an ambassador of the ruler to the subject. And he rejoices in the gift and tells us the whole story with pride as he says, “I stood in the middle between the Lord and you,” neither being uncreated like God nor created like you. I was between the extremes. (Her. 205-206)
In this passage Philo puts the logos on the created side of the creation. In the end, a comparison of Philo with the philosophical traditions he utilizes points us toward seeing the logos as something with independent existence from God. But we probably should not understand it to be a person either.
[7 sentences omitted]
Because the Monad was a distinct entity from God for Philo, it would appear that we must consider the logos a hypostasis, although not a personal one.
[End of Schenck’s discussion]
The scholarly ISBE article “Philo, Judaeus” says that the fluidness of Philo’s language has given rise to terms such as “second God” which are often misunderstood:
While, therefore, Philo thinks in a cultural perspective akin to that characteristic of the author of the Fourth Gospel, two vast differences sway his doctrine. On the one hand, it is speculative, not ethically personal. On the other hand, it fails completely to determine the nature of his mediator [the Logos] in itself, vacillating in a manner which shows how vague and fluid the conception really was …
[Philo’s thought is] a strange mixture of philosophy and religion, of rationalism and piety, of clear Greek intellectualism and hazy oriental [middle-eastern] mysticism.
The following is a statement on Philo by Eusebius of Caesarea, with my explanations enclosed in brackets. It is included here to show that even in the early church, Philo was known as a pious Jewish monotheist:
I will produce a man [Philo] who is a Hebrew, as the interpreter for you of the meaning of the Scripture; a man who inherited from his father a most accurate knowledge of his national customs and laws, and who had learnt the doctrines contained in them from learned teachers; for such a man was Philo. Listen then, to him, and hear how he interprets the words of God.
Why, then, does he use the expression, “In the image of God I made man,” as if he were speaking of [the image of] some other God, and not [speaking] of having made [man] in the likeness of himself? This expression is used with great beauty and wisdom. For it was impossible that anything mortal [i.e. man] should be made in the likeness of the most high God the Father of the universe; but it could only be made in the likeness of the second God, who is the Word of the other [i.e. the Word of God]…
This is what I wish to quote from the first book of the questions and answers of Philo. (Eusebius, On Providence, Fragment I, P.E. 7.21.336b -337a, translated by C.D. Yonge)
Scholarship is aware that Philo’s Logos is not a person
The following excerpt from Catholic Encyclopedia says that: (i) Philo’s Logos is an intermediary between God and the world; (ii) Philo calls the Logos “God” in three places; (iii) Philo says that the word “God” as applied to the Logos is often misunderstood; (iv) Philo does not regard the Logos as a person, but as a concept and a power.
… the Logos is an intermediary between God and the world; through it God created the world and governs it; through it also men know God and pray to Him (“De Cherub.”, 125; “Quis rerum divin. haeres sit”, 205-06.) In three passages the Logos is called God (“Leg. Alleg.”, III, 207; “De Somniis”, I, 229; “In Gen.”, II, 62, cited by Eusebius, “Praep. Ev.”, VII, 13); but, as Philo himself explains in one of these texts (De Somniis), it is an improper appellation and wrongly employed, and he uses it only because he is led into it by the Sacred Text which he comments upon. Moreover, Philo does not regard the Logos as a person; it is an idea, a power, and, though occasionally identified with the angels of the Bible, this is by symbolic personification. (Catholic Encyclopedia, “The Logos”)
Two other authorities, ISBE and Encyclopedia Judaica, agree with Catholic Encyclopedia that Philo’s logos is not a person. See the following four excerpts, the last of which shows that Philo’s logos is not a person despite early Gnostic depictions of logos as a “hypostasis” (an approximate equivalent of “person”). In the following excerpts, the italics are mine:
Philo applies the term logos, or the holy logos, to Scripture itself, i.e., the Law. It is not a person, according to Philo, nor is it an intermediary between God and man, although it is identified with the biblical angel of the Lord (Mig. 174, etc.). Rather, it is sometimes the same as wisdom (I LA 65, etc.), because it is the most inclusive expression of the thoughts and ideas of God, which in turn are identified with the Law, or the Torah. (Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed., vol.13, p.174-175)
Concerned with the problem of the relation of a perfect God to an imperfect world, Philo proposed a series of intermediate causes, of which the main one is the Logos, described variously as the word of God, the supreme manifestation of divine activity, and as moral law. (Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed. vol. 13, p.88)
After all has been said, his Logos really resolves itself into a group of Divine ideas, and is conceived, not as a distinct person, but as the thought of God which is expressed in the rational order of the visible universe. (ISBE, “Logos,” section 3, subheading “Philo”)
Some accounts of Gnosticism, whose doctrine implies a logos-hypostasis, would even date gnostic sources before John. (Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed., vol.13, p.175)
Philo’s own words
The remainder of this appendix contains direct quotations of Philo on various topics, as taken from The Works of Philo, a translation of Philo’s works by C.D. Yonge. The text of this book, which is in the public domain, was republished in 1993 by Hendrickson Publishers. The Scripture verses in brackets were inserted by Yonge, and are not part of the original words of Philo.
The quotations are grouped under three headings to show that Philo: (i) believes in one and only God; (ii) does not believe that the Logos of God is a real divine person; (iii) speaks of the “second deity” as the words, thoughts, or intentions emanating from a divine Being. For those who do not wish to read all the quotations, here are three representative quotations illustrating points (i), (ii), and (iii), respectively (note the boldface):
“so there must also be a ruler and lord in the universe, and he must be the true real ruler and lord, the one God, to whom it was becoming to say, that ‘All things belong to him.’” Of Cain and his Birth, Part 2, XXIV (77)
“God is represented in another passage as saying, ‘Abraham has kept all my law.’ [Gen.26:5] And law is nothing else but the word of God, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is not right, as he bears witness, where he says, ‘He received the law from his words.’ [Dt.33:4] If, then, the divine word [Logos] is the law, and if the righteous man does the law, then by all means he also performs the word of God.” On the Migration of Abraham, XXIII (130)
“Why is it that he speaks as if of some other god, saying that he made man after the image of God, and not that he made him after his own image? (Genesis 9:6). Very appropriately and without any falsehood was this oracular sentence uttered by God, for no mortal thing could have been formed on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe, but only after the pattern of the second deity, who is the Word of the supreme Being; since it is fitting that the rational soul of man should bear it the type of the divine Word; since in his first Word God is superior to the most rational possible nature. But he who is superior to the Word holds his rank in a better and most singular pre-eminence, and how could the creature possibly exhibit a likeness of him in himself?” Questions and Answers on Genesis, II (62)
These three quotations show that trinitarianism has no basis for the view that John was inspired by Philo’s logos to use the logos (“the Word”) in John 1:1 as a reference to a second divine person, namely, Jesus Christ. On the contrary, when Philo speaks of the “divine word,” it often means the word or teaching that proceeds from God. For example, the second of the above quotations says that “the divine word is the law”; it does not refer to a divine person called “the Word”.
For those who want to read Philo further, we include additional statements from Philo in the following three sections which correspond to the same three categories (i), (ii), (iii), already mentioned.
1. Philo’s monotheism and belief in God as the only creator
“Therefore God exists according to oneness and unity; or we should rather say, that oneness exists according to the one God, for all number is more recent than the world, as is also time. But God is older than the world, and is its Creator.” Allegorical Interpretation, II, I (3) (p.63)
“It told me that in the one living and true God there were two supreme and primary powers—goodness and authority; and that by his goodness he had created every thing, and by his authority he governed all that he had created.” The Cherubim, Part 1, IX (27) (p.120)
“so there must also be a ruler and lord in the universe, and he must be the true real ruler and lord, the one God, to whom it was becoming to say, that ‘All things belong to him.’” Of Cain and his Birth, Part 2, XXIV (77) (p.129)
“When, therefore, the soul that loves God seeks to know what the one living God is according to his essence, it is entertaining upon an obscure and dark subject of investigation, from which the greatest benefit that arises to it is to comprehend that God, as to his essence, is utterly incomprehensible to any being, and also to be aware that he is invisible.” On the Posterity of Cain and his Exile, V (14) (p.186)
“he [Abraham] is assigned to the one only God, whose minister he becomes, and so makes the path of his whole life straight, using in real truth the royal road, the road of the only king who governs all things” On the Giants, XIV (64) (p.216)
“… the one wise God” Concerning Noah’s Work as a Planter, IX (38) (p.264)
“for it is not becoming for hearing to have leisure to attend to anything except to that speech alone which sets forth in a suitable manner the virtues of the one and only God” On Mating with the Preliminary Studies, XX (113) (p.419)
“On this account, I imagine it is, that when Moses was speaking philosophically of the creation of the world, while he described everything else as having been created by God alone, he mentions man alone as having been made by him in conjunction with other assistants; for, says Moses, ‘God said, Let us make man in our image.’ The expression, ‘let us make,’ indicating a plurality of makers.
“Here, therefore, the Father is conversing with his own powers, to whom he has assigned the task of making the mortal part of our soul, acting in imitation of his own skill while he was fashioning the rational part within us, thinking it right that the dominant part within the soul should be the work of the Ruler of all things, but that the part which is to be kept in subjection should be made by those who are subject to him.
“And he made us of the powers which were subordinate to him, not only for the reason which has been mentioned, but also because the soul of man alone was destined to receive notions of good and evil, and to choose one of the two, since it could not adopt both. Therefore, he thought it necessary to assign the origin of evil to other workmen than himself,—but to retain the generation of good for himself alone.
“On which account, after Moses had already put in God’s mouth this expression, ‘Let us make man,’ as if speaking to several persons, as if he were speaking only of one, ‘God made man.’ For, in fact, the one God alone is the sole Creator of the real man, who is the purest mind; but a plurality of workmen are the makers of that which is called man, the being compounded of external senses; for which reason the especial real man is spoken of with the article; for the words of Moses are, ‘The God made the man;’ that is to say, he made that reason destitute of species and free from all admixture. But he speaks of man in general without the addition of the article; for the expression, ‘Let us make man,’ shows that he means the being compounded of irrational and rational nature.” On Flight and Flying, XIII (68) to XIV (72) (p.435)
“[God, in ‘his sacred legislation’, i.e., the law] has invited men to the honour of the one true and living God; not indeed that he has any need himself to be honoured; for being all-sufficient for himself, he has no need of any one else; but he has done so, because he wished to lead the race of mankind, hitherto wandering about in trackless deserts, into a road from which they should not stray, that so by following nature it might find the best and end of all things, namely, the knowledge of the true and living God, who is the first and most perfect of all good things; from whom, as from a fountain, all particular blessings are showered upon the world.” The Decalogue, XVI (81) (p.692)
“And there are some of the Gentiles, who, not attending to the honour due to the one God alone, deserve to be punished with extreme severity of punishment, as having forsaken the most important classification of piety and holiness, and as having chosen darkness in preference to the most brilliant light” The Special Laws, I, IX (54) (p.710)
“… the one sole Governor of the world alone” On the Life of Moses, I, LI (284) (p.641)
“the one only and truly living God” The Special Laws, I, LVII (313) (p.743)
“the one and truly living God” The Special Laws, I, LX (331) (p.745)
“the one only true and living God” The Special Laws, II, XLVI (255) (p.780)
“the one true and living God” The Special Laws, III, XXII (125) (p.798)
“the one true and living God, who is the Creator and the father of the universe?” On the Virtues, X (64) (p.850)
“the one only and true ruler, the Holy One of holies” On the Virtues, XX (123) (p.888)
“to look upon the nature of the One as the only supreme God” On the Virtues, XXVII (162) (p.893)
“the one real creator of the whole world” Questions and Answers on Genesis, I (34) (p.1082)
“There is no existing thing equal in honour to God, but he is the one Ruler, and Governor, and King.” A Treatise Concerning the World, I (p.1132)
“the one first cause, the uncreated God, the Creator of the universe” A Treatise Concerning the World, I (p.1132)
“God is both the Father, and the Creator, and the Governor, in reality and truth, of all the things that are in heaven and in the whole world” A Treatise Concerning the World, VII (p.1136)
2. The Word of God in Philo’s teachings
“for you will find that God is the cause of it [the world], by whom it was made. That the materials are the four elements, of which it is composed; that the instrument is the word of God, by means of which it was made; and the object of the building you will find to be the display of the goodness of the Creator.” Of Cain and his Birth, Part 2, XXXV (127) (p.134)
“the law calls the word and reason of God; for it is written, ‘Thou shalt not turn aside from the word which I command thee this day, to the right hand nor to the left,’ So that it is shown most manifestly that the word of God is identical with the royal road.” On the Posterity of Cain and his Exile, XXX (102) (p.197)
“At all events, God is represented in another passage as saying, ‘Abraham has kept all my law.’ [Gen.26:5] And law is nothing else but the word of God, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is not right, as he bears witness, where he says, ‘He received the law from his words.’ [Dt.33:4] If, then, the divine word is the law, and if the righteous man does the law, then by all means he also performs the word of God.” On the Migration of Abraham, XXIII (130) (357)
[NOTE: Philo equates “law” = “the word of God”= “the divine word”; there is no suggestion that any of these is a divine entity or being.]
“the powers of Him who utters the word, the chief of which is his creative power, according to which the Creator made the world with a word.” On Flight and Flying, XVIII (95) (p.438)
“for there is a passage in the word of God [Lev.26:3], that, on those who observe the sacred commands of God, the heaven will shower down seasonable rains, and the earth will bring forth for them abundance of all kinds of fruits.” On Rewards and Punishments, XVII (101) (p.885)
“As therefore the uncreated God outstrips all creation, so also does the word of the uncreated God outrun the word of creation, and is borne on with exceeding swiftness in the clouds. On which account God speaks freely, saying, ‘Now you shall see, because my word shall overtake you.’ [Num.11:23, LXX]” On the Birth of Abel and the Sacrifices Offered by Him and His Brother Cain, XVIII (66) (p.147)
“for the one raises his eyes to the sky, beholding the manna, the divine word, the heavenly, incorruptible food of the soul, which is food of contemplation: but the others fix the eye on garlic and onions, food which causes pain to the eyes, and troubles the sight, and makes men wink.” Who is the Heir of Divine Things? XV (79) (p.378)
“the merciful power of God is the covering of the ark, and he calls it the mercy-seat. The images of the creative power and of the kingly power are the winged cherubim which are placed upon it.” On Flight and Flying, XIX (100) (p.438)
“But the divine word which is above these does not come into any visible appearance, inasmuch as it is not like to any of the things that come under the external senses, but is itself an image of God, the most ancient of all the objects of intellect in the whole world, and that which is placed in the closest proximity to the only truly existing God, without any partition or distance being interposed between them: for it is said, ‘I will speak unto thee from above the mercy seat, in the midst, between the two cherubim.’ [Ex.25:22] So that the word is, as it were, the charioteer of the powers, and he who utters it is the rider, who directs the charioteer how to proceed with a view to the proper guidance of the universe.” On Flight and Flying, XIX (101) (p.438)
“they have abandoned all connections with pride, and having connected themselves with lawful persuasion, choosing to become a portion of the sacred flock, of which the divine word is the leader, as his name shows, for it signifies the pastoral care of God.” On the Change of Names, XIX (114) (p.464)
“But while he is taking care of his own flock, all kinds of good things are given all at once to those of the sheep who are obedient, and who do not resist his will; and in the Psalms we find a song in these words, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, therefore shall I lack nothing’ [Ps.23:1].” On the Change of Names, XX (115)
“therefore the mind which has had the royal shepherd, the divine word, for its instructor.” On the Change of Names, XX (116) (p.464)
“But he who was conducted by wisdom comes to the former place, having found that the main part and end of propitiation is the divine word, in which he who is fixed does not as yet attain to such a height as to penetrate to the essence of God, but sees him afar off; or, rather, I should say, he is not able even to behold him afar off, but he only discerns this fact, that God is at a distance from every creature, and that any comprehension of him is removed to a great distance from all human intellect … he came to the place, and looking up with his eyes he saw the very place to which he had come, which was a very long way from the God who may not be named nor spoken of, and who is in every way incomprehensible.” On Dreams, that They are God-Sent, XI (1.66 and 1.67) (p.491)
[NOTE: Here Philo says that the function of the divine word (God’s self-revelation, God’s image) is to impart a glimpse of God who is a “very long way” away, who is “at a great distance from every creature” and “who is in every way incomprehensible”.]
“the intermediate divine word… For God, not condescending to come down to the external senses, sends his own words or angels for the sake of giving assistance to those who love virtue. But they attend like physicians to the disease of the soul, and apply themselves to heal them, offering sacred recommendations like sacred laws, and inviting men to practice the duties inculcated by them, and, like the trainers of wrestlers, implanting in their pupils strength, and power, and irresistible vigour. Very properly, therefore, when he has arrived at the external sense, he is represented no longer as meeting God, but only the divine word.” On Dreams, that They are God-Sent, XII (1.68 to 1.70) (p.491)
“For there are, as it seems, two temples belonging to God; one being this world, in which the high priest is the divine word, his own firstborn son. The other is the rational soul, the priest of which is the real true man …” On Dreams, that They are God-Sent, XXXVII (1.215) (p.508)
“And the divine word, like a river, flows forth from wisdom as from a spring, in order to irrigate and fertilize the celestial and heavenly shoots and plants of such souls as love virtue, as if they were a paradise.” On Dreams, that They are God-Sent, XXXVI (2.243) (p.536)
“‘The river of God was filled with water;’ [Ps.65:10] and it is absurd to give such a title to any of the rivers which flow upon the earth. But as it seems the psalmist is here speaking of the divine word…” On Dreams, that They are God-Sent, XXXVII (2.245) (p.536)
“For, in good truth, the continual stream of the divine word, being borne on incessantly with rapidity and regularity, is diffused universally over everything, giving joy to all.” On Dreams, that They are God-Sent, XXXVII (2.247) (p.537)
3. “The second deity”
“Why is it that he speaks as if of some other god, saying that he made man after the image of God, and not that he made him after his own image? (Genesis 9:6). Very appropriately and without any falsehood was this oracular sentence uttered by God, for no mortal thing could have been formed on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe, but only after the pattern of the second deity, who is the Word of the supreme Being; since it is fitting that the rational soul of man should bear it the type of the divine Word; since in his first Word God is superior to the most rational possible nature. But he who is superior to the Word holds his rank in a better and most singular pre-eminence, and how could the creature possibly exhibit a likeness of him in himself?” Questions and Answers on Genesis, II (62) (p.1095)
Note: Philo is saying that man is the image of the image of the “pattern” or “type,” that is, the image of the divine word. Compare:
“And the invisible divine reason, perceptible only by intellect, he calls the image of God. And the image of this image is that light, perceptible only by the intellect, which is the image of the divine reason…” On the Creation, VIII (30) (p.20)
“the divine word is full of instruction, and is a physician of the infirmity of the soul.” Questions and Answers on Genesis, III (28) (p.1116)
“God is willing to do good, not only to the man who is endued with virtue, but he wishes that the divine word should regulate not only his soul but his body also, as if it had become its physician.” Questions and Answers on Genesis, III (51) (p.1127)
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