Philo Judaeus
and the Trinity

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Here are some informative passages from Philo regarding God the Father, God the Word, and God the Holy Spirit:

God the Father

"For some men, admiring the world itself rather than the Creator of the world, have represented it as existing without any maker, and eternal; and as impiously as falsely have represented God as existing in a state of complete inactivity, while it would have been right on the other hand to marvel at the might of God as the creator and father of all, and to admire the world in a degree not exceeding the bounds of moderation." (On the Creation, De Opificio Mundi, II. (7)).

"And those who describe it as being uncreated, do, without being aware of it, cut off the most useful and necessary of all the qualities which tend to produce piety, namely, providence: for reason proves that the father and creator has a care for that which has been created; for a father is anxious for the life of his children, and a workman aims at the duration of his works, and employs every device imaginable to ward off everything that is pernicious or injurious, and is desirous by every means in his power to provide everything which is useful or profitable for them.  But with regard to that which has not been created, there is no feeling of interest as if it were his own in the breast of him who has not created it." (On the Creation, II. (9-10)).

"Now the whole of time being divided into two portions day and night, the sovereignty of the day the Father has assigned to the Sun, as a mighty monarch: and that of the night he has given to the moon and to the multitude of the other stars." (On the Creation, XVIII. (56).

"Who then is he that sows in them the good seed save the Father of all, that is God unbegotten and better of all things?" (On the Cherubim, XIII, 44).

"But we pointed out that God when ceasing or rather causing to cease, does not cease making, but begins the creating of other things, since He is not a mere artificer, but also Father of the things that are coming into being." (Allegorical Interpretation, Book I, VII, 18.).

"And it appears to me, that it is not without reason that both these things are called praiseworthy; for these two things, the heaven and the mind, are the things which are able to utter, with all becoming dignity, the praises, and hymns, and glory, and beatitude of the Father who created them: for man has received an especial honor beyond all other animals, namely, that of ministering to the living God." (On Dreams, Book I, VI., 35).

"Therefore the heaven, which is the archetypal organ of music, appears to have been arranged in a most perfect manner, for no other object except that the hymns sung to the honor of the Father of the universe, might be attuned in a musical manner..." (On Dreams, Book I, VII, 37).

"Not meaning the sun which appears to us, but the most brilliant and radiant light of the invisible and Almighty God...And do not wonder if, according to the rules of allegorical description, the sun is likened to the Father and Governor of the universe; for in reality nothing is like unto God..." (On Dreams, Book I, XIII, 72-73).

"For such a life as this becomes the world, namely, continually and without ceasing to be giving thanks to its Father and Creator, so as to stop short of nothing but evaporating and reducing itself into its original element, in order to show that it stores up and conceals nothing, but dedicates itself wholly as a pious offering to God who created it." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XLI, 200).

"Akin to these powers is the creative power which is called God: for by means of this power the Father, who begot and created all things, did also disperse and arrange them; so that the expression, 'I am thy God' [Genesis 17:1], is equivalent to, 'I am thy maker and creator;' and it is the greatest of all possible gifts to have him for one's maker, who has also been the maker of the whole world." (On the Change of Names, IV, 29).

"But he to whose lot it falls, not only by means of his knowledge, to comprehend all the other things which exist in nature, but also to behold the Father and Creator of the universe, has advanced to the very summit of happiness.  For there is nothing above God; and if any one, directing towards him the eye of the soul, has reached up to him, let him then pray for ability to remain and to stand firm before him; for the roads which lead upwards to Him are laborious and slow, but the descent down the declivity, being rather like a rapid dragging down than a gradual descent, is swift and easy." (On Abraham, XII, 58-59).

"And why should I remember only that father who was created and born? We have also the uncreated, immortal, everlasting God for our father, who sees all things and hears all people, even when silent, and who always sees even those things which lie hidden in the recesses of the mind, and whom I look upon and invoke as a witness of my sincere reconciliation..." (On Joseph, XLIII, 265).

"But the Creator of the universe, the Father of the world, who holds together earth and heaven, and the water and the air, and everything which is composed of any one of these things, and who rules the whole world, the King of gods and men, did not think it unbecoming for Him to take upon Himself the part of arbitrator respecting these orphan maidens." (On the Life of Moses, II, XLIII, 238).

"Let us, therefore, reject all such impious dishonesty, and not worship those who are our brothers by nature, even though they may have received a purer and more immortal essence than ourselves (for all created things are brothers to one another, inasmuch as they are created; since the Father of them all is one, the Creator of the universe); but let us rather, with our mind and reason, and with all our strength, gird ourselves up vigorously and energetically to the service of that Being who is uncreated and everlasting, and the maker of the universe, never shrinking or turning away from it, nor yielding to a desire of pleasing the multitude, by which even those who might be saved are often destroyed." (The Decalogue, XIV, 64).

"And after this commandment relating to the seventh day he gives the fifth, which concerns the honor to be paid to parents, giving it a position on the confines of the two tables of five commandments each; for being the concluding one of the first table, in which the most sacred duties to the Deity are enjoined, it has also some connection with the second table which comprehends the obligations towards our fellow creatures; and the cause of this, I imagine, is as follows: The nature of one's parents appears to be something on the confines between immortal and mortal essences.  Of mortal essence, on account of their relationship to men and also other animals, and likewise of the perishable nature of the body.  And of immortal essence, by reason of the similarity of the act of generation to God the Father of the universe." (The Decalogue, XXII, 106-107).

"...because the priesthood is the most fitting honor for a pious man, who professes an eagerness for the service of the Father of all, to serve whom is not only better than all freedom, but even than royal authority." (The Special Laws, I, X, 58).

"For such men will lay claim to a more venerable and sacred kind of relationship; and the law confirms my assertion, where it say that those who do what is pleasing to nature and virtuous are the sons of God, for it says, 'Ye are the sons of the Lord your God' [Deuteronomy 14:1], inasmuch as you will be thought worthy of His providence and care in your behalf as though He were your father.  And that care is as much superior to that which is shown by a man's own parents, as I imagine the being who takes it is superior to them." (The Special Laws, I, VIII, 317-318).

"The fifth commandment is about the honor due to parents.  For this also is a sacred command; having reference not to men, but to Him who is the cause of birth and existence of the universe, in accordance with whom it is that fathers and mothers appear to generate children; not generating them themselves, but only being the instruments of generation in his hands.  And this command is placed, as it were, on the borders between the two tables of laws relating to God and those relating to man, and so it bounds the five which concern piety, and that five also which comprehend a prevention of injury to one's fellows.  Since mortal parents are the boundaries of the immortal powers, which, generating everything according to nature, have permitted this lowest and mortal race to imitate their own powers of generation, and so to propagate its own seed; for God is the beginning of all generation, and the mortal species of mankind, being the lowest and least honored of all, is the end." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XXXV, 171-172).

"But the new blessing which is promised is the acquisition of that wisdom which is not taught by the outward senses, but is comprehended by the pure mind, and by which the best of all emigrations is confirmed; when the soul departs from astronomy and learns to apply itself to natural philosophy, and to exchange unsure conjecture for certain apprehension, and, to speak with real truth, to quit the creature for the Creator, and the world for its Father and maker..." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XX, 98).

"I now proceed to the fifth commandment, relating to the honor due to parents; which is...on the borders between those which relate to the affairs of men and those which relate to God.  For parents themselves are something between divine and human nature, partaking of both; of human nature, inasmuch as it is plain that they have been born and that they will die; and of divine nature, because they have engendered other beings, and have brought what did not exist into existence: for, in my opinion, what God is to the world, that parents are to their children; since, just as God gave existence to that which had no existence, they also, in imitation of His power, as far at least as they were able, make the race of mankind everything." (The Special Laws, II, XXXVII, 224-225).

  • "...of what punishment is that man worthy who denies the one only true and living God and now honors the creature above the Creator, and chooses to honor not only the earth and the water, or the air, or the fire, the elements of the universe, or again the sun and moon, and the planets and fixed stars, and the whole of heaven, and the universal world, but even stocks and stones, which mortal workmen have fashioned, and which by them have been shaped into human figures?  Therefore, let such a man be himself likened to images carved by the hand; for it ought not to be that that man should have any soul himself who honors things destitute of soul or life, and especially after he has been a disciple of Moses, whom he has often heard announcing to him and under the influence of divine inspiration declaring those most sacred and holy admonitions, 'Take not the name of other gods into thy soul for a remembrance of them, and utter not their names with thy voice, but keep both thy mind and thy speech far from all other interpositions, and turn them wholly to the Father and Creator of the universe, that thus thou mayest cherish the most virtuous and godly thoughts about His single government, and mayest speak words that are becoming and most profitable both to thyself and to those that hear thee.'"
  • (The Special Laws, II, XLVI, 255-256).

"God is not a tyrant who practices cruelty and violence and all the other acts of insolent authority like an inexorable master, but He is rather a sovereign invested with a humane and lawful authority, and as such He governs all the heaven and the whole world in accordance with justice.  And there is no form of address with which a king can more appropriately be saluted than the name of father; for what, in human relationships, parents are to their children, that also sovereigns are to their states, and God towards the world, having adapted these two most beautiful things by the unchangeable laws of nature, by an indissoluble union, namely the authority of the leader with the anxious care of a relation; for as parents are not wholly indifferent to even ill-behaved children, but, having compassion on their unfortunate dispositions, they are careful and anxious for their welfare...and indeed in the excess of their liberality they even give more to such children than to those who have always been well conducted, knowing well that to these last their own moderation is at all times an abundant resource and means of riches, but that the others have no other hope except in their parents, and that if they are disappointed in that they will be destitute of even the necessaries of life.  So in the same manner, God, who is the father of all rational understanding, takes care of all those beings who are endowed with reason, and exercises a providential power for the protection even of those who are living in a blameable manner, giving them at the same time opportunity of correcting their errors..." (On Providence, Fragment II, 4-6).

" that they scarcely ever turn their minds at all to behold the true Father of the universe.  For He is in truth the one real and genuine Father of all; and we, who are called fathers, are only instruments of His, serving to generation..." (Questions and Answers on Genesis, III, 48).

You sometimes hear people saying that calling God 'Father' is unique to Christianity, which is odd because the synagogue also prays to God the Father.

The Father is God

Russian Wooden Church Poster

God the Word: the Logos

While Philo's allegorical method of scriptural interpretation had its hits and misses — many more misses than hits, alas — his most spectacular 'hit' was his decoding of the Old Testament references to "the Word of God".  He already knew many of the titles and attributes of the Word, without any awareness of the revelation of God in Christ. How did Philo know about the marriage supper of the Lamb?: "But the fitting lot of those who have been held worthy of a wisdom that needs no other teaching and no other learning is, apart from any agency of their own, to accept from God's hands Reason [λογον] as their plighted spouse, and to receive Knowledge, which is partner in the life of the wise." (Philo Judaeus, The Posterity and Exile of Cain, Chapter XXIII, Loeb edition p. 371). These things do not come out of the clear blue sky. Can anyone imagine they come from pagan philosophy? They come from the Bible, the Old Testament; the curious can go back and reconstruct the interpretive maneuvers that lead to these deductions. Should Christians object? On what grounds? Not invented here?:

The Logos 
Shepherd Fountain
Rock of Israel Manna
Discerner Angel
Priest Creator
Image Light
Lord and God Beginning
Firstborn Son

We are going to arraign Philo on what charges? For stealing our secrets? To brush up on what the Old Testament says about the Word of God, which is where Philo got his information from in the first place, see:

The Logos

In the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, the Word of God became the 'Logos,' meaning:

"logos, a.) the word or that by which the inward thought is expressed, Lat. oratio; and, b.) the inward thought itself, Lat. ratio...thought, reason." (Intermediate Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon). Incommensurable numbers, like the ratio of the side of a square to its diagonal, are called 'alogos,' as are brute animals.  (In modern Greek, 'alogon' is a horse!)

The Good Shepherd

"To be a shepherd is so good a thing as to be justly attributed not only to kings and wise men and perfectly purified souls, but even to God the ruler of all...For he speaks thus: 'The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall lack nothing' (Ps. xxii (xxiii). 1).  This psalm should be rehearsed by every lover of God, and in an especial sense by the universe.  For like a flock, earth and water and air and fire and all plants and animals in them...are led according to right and law by God the Shepherd and King, who has set over them His true Logos and first-begotten Son, who takes over the care of this sacred flock like the vicegerent of a great king.  For it is said somewhere, 'Behold I am; I send my angel to thy face, to keep thee in the way' (Exod. xxiii. 20).  So let the whole universe, the greatest and most perfect flock of the self-existent God, say, 'The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall lack nothing.'  And let each individual also say the same..." (Philo Judaeus, De Agr. 50-3, quoted in Dodd).

"...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.  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' [Psalm 23:1]; therefore the mind which has had the royal shepherd, the divine Word, for its instructor, will very naturally ask of his seven daughters, 'Why is it that you have contended with such haste to come hither this day?...[Exodus 2:18]" (On the Change of Names, XIX, 114-116).

  • "Now every flock that has no shepherd over it necessarily meets with great disasters, owing to its inability by itself to keep hurtful things away and to choose things that will be good for it. Accordingly Moses say in his Prayer 'Let the Lord, the God of the spirits and of all flesh, appoint a man over this congregation, which shall go out before their face and which shall come in, and which shall lead them out and which shall lead them in, and the congregation of the Lord shall not be as sheep that have no shepherd' (Numb. xxvii. 16f.). For when the protector, or governor, or father, or whatever we like to call him, of our complex being, namely right reason [ο ορθος λογος], has gone off leaving to itself the flock within us, the flock itself being left unheeded perishes, and great loss is entailed upon its owner, while the irrational and unprotected creature, bereft of a guardian of the herd to admonish and discipline it, finds itself banished to a great distance from rational and immortal life."
  • (The Posterity and Exile of Cain, Chapter XIX, p. 365 Loeb edition).

The Good Shepherd

New Testament: "I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine." (John 10:14).


Philo's life span overlapped that of Jesus of Nazareth. What did he think of the prophet of Galilee? Since he never mentions Him, we cannot know whether his attitude was one of contemptuous indifference, puzzlement, sympathy, or horror. We do know he was not a Christian. It seems unlikely he had never heard rumors that his beloved Logos had become incarnate and dwelt among us, because he was well-informed and connected to the Jewish power elite of the first century. Some people use the fact that Philo never mentions Jesus as proof that Jesus never existed. On this basis, one could prove the non-existence of a variety of emperors and prominent persons. Although in two very interesting and informative exceptions to the rule, the Embassy to Gaius and Against Flaccus, Philo dips his toe into political controversy, for the most part he was not a chronicler of current events but rather a Bible expositor. He mentions contemporary figures no more than would be expected in that line of inquiry.

The Messiah

It used to be thought remarkable that Jesus fulfilled so many of the Messianic prophecies, though some remain to be fulfilled in His second coming. Then they changed the rules. Instead of fulfilled prophecy serving as proof that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah, it became evidence that, either He never existed or at any rate He never did that! See: "If it can be shown, on the contrary, that the narrative in question is formed less out of instructive thoughts and their poetical clothing, as is the case with a parable, than out of Old Testament passages and types, we shall not hesitate to designate it a mythus." (David Friedrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, Part II, Chapter II, §55, p. 259). This procedural innovation ensures one's most cherished views can never be disconfirmed by reality. This Copernican Revolution in Bible study would lie far in the future for Philo, who lived and died quite innocent of the follies of the German enlightenment.

Not only does Philo never mention Jesus, he doesn't mention any of the other 'false messiahs' that we know about from Josephus. In fact the reader restricted to Philo, as opposed to Josephus and the New Testament, would hardly be aware that the Judaism of the day was riven into hostile factions. Philo was an evangelist for Judaism to the pagan world, and he does not dwell on the negative.



"He exhorts the swift runner to hasten breathlessly to the most high divine Logos, which is the fountain of wisdom, in order that drawing from the stream he may find as a prize everlasting life instead of death." (Philo Judaeus, De Fuga, 97).

"It is in this way that the word of God waters the virtues; for the word of God is the source and spring of noble conduct. The lawgiver intimates as much by the words: 'A river goeth out of Eden to water the garden. From thence it is parted into four heads' (Gen. ii. 10). For there are four main virtues, wisdom, courage, temperance, justice. . .These have sprung from the Divine word [του θειου λογου] as from a single root; and that word is likened to a river by reason of the unbroken flow of the constant stream of words and doctrines ever sweet and fresh, by which it brings nourishment and growth to souls that love God." (Philo Judaeus, The Posterity and Exile of Cain, Chapter XXXVII, Loeb edition pp. 401-403).

"But when the fountain of wisdom, God, imparts each form of knowledge to the mortal race, He needs not time for the work." (The Sacrifices of Abel and Cain, XVII.).

"Therefore speech is compared to a river...'For a river goes out of Eden to water the Paradise, and from thence it is divided into four branches' [Genesis 2:10]: and by the name Eden he means the wisdom of the living God, and the interpretation of the name Eden is 'delight,' because I imagine wisdom is the delight of God, and God is the delight of wisdom, as it is said also in the Psalms, 'Delight thou in the Lord.' [Psalm 37:4].  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...'The river of God was filled with water' [Psalm 65:9]; 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, which is full of streams and wisdom, and which has no part of itself empty or desolate, or rather, as some one has said, which is diffused everywhere over the universe, and is raised up on high, on account of the continued and incessant rapidity of that ever-flowing spring.  There is also another expression in the Psalms, such as this: 'The course of the river makes glad the city of God.' [Psalm 46:4].  What city?  For the holy city, which exists at present, in which also the holy temple is established, is at a great distance from any sea or river, so that it is clear, that the writer here means, figuratively, to speak of some other city than the visible city of God.   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...And who can pour over the happy soul which proffers its own reason as the most sacred cup, the holy goblets of true joy, except the cup-bearer of God, the master of the feast, the Word? not differing from the draught itself, but being itself in an unmixed state, the pure delight and sweetness, and pouring forth, and joy, and ambrosial medicine of pleasure and happiness; if we too may, for a moment, employ the language of the poets." (On Dreams, Book 2, XXXVI-XXXVII, 240-249).

"Therefore he exhorts him who is able to run swiftly to strain onwards, without stopping to take breath, to the highest Word of God, which is the fountain of wisdom, in order that by drinking of that stream he may find everlasting life instead of death." (On Flight and Finding, XVIII, 97).

"...for the intellect is the fountain of words, and speech is its mouth-piece, because all the conceptions which are entertained in the mind are poured forth by means of speech, like stream of water which flow out of the earth, and come into sight." (The Worse Attacks the Better, XII, 40).

"We must now speak also concerning that highest and most excellent of fountains which the Father of the universe spake of by the mouths of the prophets; for he has said somewhere, 'They have left me, the fountain of life, and they have digged for themselves cisterns already worn out, which will not be able to hold water' [Jeremiah 2:13]; therefore, God is the most ancient of all fountains.  And is not this very natural? For it is He who has irrigated the whole of this world; and I am amazed when I hear that this is the fountain of life, for God alone is the cause of animation and of that life which is in union with prudence; for the matter is dead.  But God is something more than life; He is, as He himself has said, the everlasting fountain of living." (On Flight and Finding, XXXV, 197-198).

New Testament: "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:38).


Rock of Israel

"And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ." (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Paul's identification of Jesus as the rock which Israel encountered in the wilderness perplexes modern readers, but as with so many other things, Philo was there first. He identifies this rock as the wisdom of God:

"For Moses speaks to the Israelites of God, "Who led ye then through that great and terrible wilderness, where there were biting serpents, and scorpions, and thirst; where there was no water? who brought forth for thee out of the hard rock a fountain of water? who fed thee with manna in the desert, which thy fathers knew not?". . .Moreover, the soul falls in with a scorpion, that is to say, with dispersion in the wilderness; and the thirst, which is that of the passions, seizes on it until God sends forth upon it the stream of his own accurate wisdom, and causes the changed soul to drink of unchangeable health; for the abrupt rock is the wisdom of God, which being both sublime and the first of things he quarried out of his own powers, and of it he gives drink to the souls that love God; and they, when they have drunk, are also filled with the most universal manna; for manna is called something which is the primary genus of every thing. But the most universal of all things is God; and in the second place the word of God. But other things have an existence only in word, but in deed they are at times equivalent to that which has no existence." (Philo Judaeus, Allegorical Interpretation, Book II, Chapter XXI).

Paul does not take the trouble to explain his reference, probably feeling it's one of those things everybody knows.



Philo identifies the bread in the wilderness with the Logos: ". . .for this bread which he has given us to eat is this word of his." (Philo Judaeus, Allegorical Interpretation, Book III, Chapter LV.)

"And Moses shows this in other passages also, when he says, 'And in the morning the dew lay round about the hosts; and when the dew that lay in the morning was gone up, behold! upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, small as coriander seed, and white like the hoar-frost upon the earth.  And when they saw it, they said one to another, what is this? for they knew not what it was, and Moses said to them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat, this is the thing which the Lord hath commanded you.' [Exodus 16:13].
"You see now what kind of thing the food of the Lord is, it is the continued word of the Lord, like dew, surrounding the whole soul in a circle, and allowing no portion of it to be without its share of itself." (Allegorical Interpretation, III, LIX. (169).

"And in the same manner also the soul very often, when it is delighted, is yet unable to explain what it is that has delighted it; but it is taught by the hierophant and prophet Moses, who tells it, 'This is the bread, the food which God has given for the soul' [Exodus 16:15], explaining that God has brought it, his own word and his own reason; for this bread which he has given us to eat is this word of his." (Allegorical Interpretation, III, LX. (173)).

"Those also who have inquired what it is that nourishes the soul, for as Moses says, 'They knew not what it was' [Exodus 16:15], learnt at least and found that it was the word of God and the divine reason, from which flows all kinds of instinctive and everlasting wisdom.  This is the heavenly nourishment which the holy scripture indicates, saying, in the character of the cause of all things, 'Behold I rain upon you bread from heaven' [Exodus 16:4]; for in real truth it is God who showers down heavenly wisdom from above upon all the intellects which are properly disposed for the reception of it, and which are fond of contemplation.  But those who have seen and tasted it, are exceedingly delighted with it, and understand indeed what they feel, but do not know what the cause is which has affected them; and on this account they inquire, 'What is this which is sweeter than honey and whiter than snow?' And they will be taught by the interpreter of the divine will, that 'This is the bread which the Lord has given them to eat.' [Exodus 16:15].  What then is this bread?  Tell us.  'This,' says he, 'is the word which the Lord has appointed.' [Exodus 16:16].  This divine appointment at the same time both illuminates and sweetens the soul, which is endowed with sight, shining upon it with the beams of truth, and sweetening with the sweet virtue of persuasion those who thirst and hunger after excellence." (On Flight and Finding, XXV, 137-139).

"But he who advanced further outwards, not only seeing, but seeing God, was called Israel; the meaning of which name is, “seeing God.” But others, even if they ever do open their eyes, still bend them down towards the earth, pursuing only earthly things, and being bred up among material objects; 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 their eyes on garlic and onions, food which causes pain to the eyes, and troubles the sight, and makes men wink, and on other unsavory food, of leeks, and dead fish, the appropriate provender of Egypt." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XV, 79).

"The fountain of the divine wisdom runs sometimes with a gentler and more quiet stream, at other times more swiftly and with a fuller and stronger current. When it runs down gently, it sweetens much as honey does; when it runs swiftly down, it comes in full volume as material for lighting up the soul, even as oil does a lamp. In another place he uses a synonym for this rock and calls it 'manna.' Manna is the divine word [λογον θειον], eldest of all existences, which bears the most comprehensive name of 'Somewhat.'" (The Worse Attacks the Better, Chapter XXXI, 115-118, Loeb edition p. 281).

New Testament: "For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.'  Then they said to Him, 'Lord, give us this bread always.'  And Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.'" (John 6:33-35).


"Such also is the word of God, being profitable both in its entirety and also in every part, even if it be ever so small.  May it not be also likened to the pupil of the eye? For as that, being the smallest portion of the eye, does nevertheless behold the entire orbs of existing things and the boundless sea, and the vastness of the air, and the whole immeasurable space of heaven, which the sun, whether rising in the east or setting in the west, can bound; so also is the word of God, very sharp-sighted, so as to be capable of beholding every thing, and by which all things that are worth seeing can be beheld, in reference of which fact it is white [i.e., manna].  For what can be more brilliant or visible at a greater distance than the divine word, by participation in which all other things can repel mists and darkness, being eager to share in the light of the soul?" (Allegorical Interpretation, III, LIX. (170-171).

"God spake and it was done -- no interval between the two -- or it might suggest a truer view to say that His word was deed.  Now even amongst us mortals there is nothing swifter than word, for the outrush of the parts of speech leaves behind the hearer's understanding of them.  As the perennial streams which pour through the outlets of their springs never cease their motion, and cannot rest, for the oncoming flow ever impels them, so the current of words, when it begins to move, keeps pace with that swiftest of things in us - swifter than the flight of birds - the understanding.  Thus as the Uncreated anticipates all created being, so the word of the Uncreated outruns the word of the created, though that ride with all speed upon the clouds.  Therefore it is that He does not hesitate to say, 'now thou shalt see if my word shall overtake thee or not' (Numb. xi. 23), implying that the divine word has outrun and overtaken all things." (The Sacrifices of Abel and Cain, XVIII, 66).

"And I marvel also at that sacred word which runs on with zeal, in one continued course, without taking breath, 'In order to stand in the midst between the dead and the living; and immediately,' says Moses, 'the plague was stayed.' [Numbers 16:48]" (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XLII, 201).

"For it is the divine Word which divided and distributed every thing in nature; and it is our own mind which divides every thing and every body which it comprehends, by the extertion of its intellect in an infinite manner, into an infinite number of parts, and which, in fact, never ceased from dividing.  And this happens by reason of its resemblance to the Creator and Father of the universe; for the divine nature, being unmingled, uncombined with any thing else, and most completely destitute of parts, has been to the whole world the cause of mixture, and combination, and of an infinite variety of parts: so that, very naturally, the two things which thus resemble each other, both the mind which is in us and that which is above us, being without parts and indivisible, will still be able in a powerful manner to divide and distribute all existing things." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XLVIII, 2325-236).

"And these things were also subjected to other necessary divisions, which made distinctions between them; winged animals being distinguished from terrestrial, terrestrial from aquatic creatures...Thus God, having sharpened His own Word, the divider of all things, divides the essence of the universe which is destitute of form, and destitute of all distinctive qualities, and the four elements of the world which were separated from this essence, and the plants and animals which were consolidated by means of these elements." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XXVII, 139-140).

"After this the scripture proceeds to say, 'And he divided them in the middle,' not explaining who did so, in order that you may understand that it was the untaught God who divided them, and that He divided all the natures of bodies and of things one after another, which appeared to be closely fitted together and united by His word, which cuts through everything; which being sharpened to the finest possible edge, never ceases dividing all the objects of the outward senses, and when it has gone through them all, and arrived at the things which are called atoms and indivisible, then again this divider begins from them to divide those things which may be contemplated by the speculations of reason into unspeakable and indescribable portions, and to 'beat the gold into thin plates' [Exodus 39:3], like hairs, and Moses says, making them into one length without breadth, like unsubstantial lines." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XXVI, 130-131).

New Testament: "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Church at Pokrov

Theophanic Angel

"On this first occasions hers [Hagar's] was a voluntary flight, not a banishment, and when she met the angel or divine reason [Logos], she returned to her master's house. (Gen. xvi. 6 ff.)." (On the Cherubim, I.).

"But Hagar flees out of shame.  And a proof of this is, that the angel, that is the word of God, met her, with the intent to recommend her what she ought to do, and to guide her in her return to her mistress's house." (On Flight and Finding, I, 5).

"Behold the armed angel, the reason [Logos] of God, standing in the way against you (Number xxii. 31), the source through whom both good and ill come to fulfillment. See where he stands...If you had learnt from the first that it is not your life-pursuits which bring your share in good or ill, but the divine reason [Logos], the ruler and steersman of all, you would bear with more patience what befalls you, and cease from slandering and ascribing to us what we have no power to bring about." (On the Cherubim, XI, 35-36).

"But the dream [Jacob's ladder] also represented the archangel, namely the Lord Himself, firmly planted on the ladder; for we must imagine that the living God stands above all things, like the charioteer of a chariot, or the pilot of a ship; that is, above bodies, and above souls, and above all creatures, and above the earth, and above the air, and above the heaven, and above all the powers of the outward senses, and above the invisible natures, in short, above all things whether visible or invisible; for having made the whole to depend upon himself, he governs it and all the vastness of nature." (On Dreams, Book I, XXV, 157).

"...for until a man is made perfect he uses divine Reason as the guide of his path, for that is the sacred oracle of scripture: 'Behold, I send my angel before thy face that he may keep thee in the road...' [Exodus 23:20]" (On the Migration of Abraham, XXXI, 174).

"But it was an angel who altered the name of Jacob, being the Word, the minister of God; in order that it might be confessed and ascertained, that there is none of the things whose existence is subsequent to that of the living God, which is the cause of unchangeable and unvarying firmness. . ." (Why Certain Names are Changed, Chapter XIII).

"But these men pray to be nourished by the word of God: but Jacob, raising his head above the word, says that he is nourished by God himself, and his words are as follows; "The God in whom my father Abraham and Isaac were well-pleased; the God who has nourished me from my youth upwards to this day; the angel who has delivered me from all my evils, bless these children." [Genesis 48:15.] This now being a symbol of a perfect disposition, thinks God himself his nourisher, and not the word: and he speaks of the angel, which is the word, as the physician of his evils, in this speaking most naturally." (Philo Judaeus, Allegorical Interpretation, Book III, Chapter LXII).

Jesus, the Word of God, is the 'Angel of the covenant': "See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.  The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight - indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.'" (Malachi 3:1).

An 'angel' is a messenger. If Philo's identification of the 'Word' as an 'angel' is a reference to the mission of Christ, that is not problematic from a Christian standpoint. However, the concept of Christ as 'angel' or messenger would in time provide an entry-way into the Arian heresy. As will be seen, should we give a hearing to the accuser, Philo is at minimum a subordinationist, and perhaps a semi-Arian. Still, demanding perfection is unreasonable under the circumstances. The marvel of Philo is how much he did know; we cannot hold him to the unattainable goal that he should know everything, lacking the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Theophanic Angel

Priest and Prophet

"...since no created being is capable of discerning the secret intention of an invisible mind, but God alone; in reference to this Moses says that 'all secret things are known to the Lord God, but only such as are manifest are known to the creature.' [Deuteronomy 29:29].  And therefore it is enjoined to the priest and prophet, that is to say to Reason [Logos], 'to place the soul in front of God, with the head uncovered,' [Numbers 5:18], that is to say the soul must be laid bare as to its principal design, and the sentiments which it nourished must be revealed, in order that being brought before the judgment seat of the most accurate vision of the incorruptible God, it may be thoroughly examined as to all its concealed disguises..." (On the Cherubim, Part 1, V, 16).

"For we say that the high priest is not a man, but is the word of God, who has not only no participation in intentional errors, but none even in those which are involuntary.  For Moses says that he cannot be defiled neither in respect of his father, that is, the mind, nor his mother, that is, the eternal sense; because, I imagine, he has received imperishable and wholly pure parents, God being his father, who is also the father of all things, and wisdom being his mother, by means of whom the universe arrived at creation; and also because he is anointed with oil, by which I mean that the principal part of him is illuminated with a light like the beams of the sun, so as to be thought worthy to be clothed with garments." (On Flight and Findings, XX, 108-109).

"But if you examine the great high priest, that is to say Reason, you will find him entertaining ideas in harmony with these, and having his sacred garments richly embroidered by all the powers which are comprehensible either by the outward senses or by the intellect..." (On the Migration of Abraham, XVIII, 102).

Mark you that not even the high-priest Reason, [ο αρχιερευς λογος] though he has the power to dwell in unbroken leisure amid the sacred doctrines, has received free license to resort to them at every season, but barely once a year (Lev. xvi. 2 and 34)." (Philo Judaeus, On the Giants, Chapter XI, Loeb edition p. 471).

New Testament: "Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession." (Hebrews 4:14).

While unillumined by the knowledge that the Word had come in the flesh, what Philo knew about the Logos -- His titles, His attributes -- is already ten times more than the modern-day new religious movements know.  Can you believe it -- there are folks out there who imagine 'the Logos' means a 'thought', 'plan', or 'concept' in the mind of God that someday He would create a Savior!  When John identified Jesus as the 'Logos,' he was using a technical term of wide currency in contemporary Jewish theology. That he fails to define the term suggests contentment with the conventional meaning. If John really had meant something completely different from what his contemporaries would have understood, it would have been helpful if he had called Jesus a 'thought' or a 'plan' in the mind of God rather than the 'Logos,' a word which no reader of that time and place would have understood to mean 'thought' or 'plan.'


Philo knew that God the Father had created the world by His Word.  As even the pagans had noticed, things in this world are ordered rationally.  A beautiful order and regularity is visible in the created world: "Lift up your eyes on high, And see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, By the greatness of His might And the strength of His power; Not one is missing. (Isaiah 40:26). Philo connected this rational underpinning of creation to the fact that God had created by His word: "By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth...For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast." (Psalm 33:6-9). (The same Greek word, 'Logos', means both 'word' and 'reason'):

"But through the 'Word' of the Supreme Cause he is translated, even through that Word by which also the whole universe was formed." (The Sacrifices of Abel and Cain, 8).

"Let us leave these merely particular buildings, and contemplate that greatest of houses or cities, this universe.  We shall see that its cause is God, by whom it has come into being, its material the four elements, from which it was compounded, its instrument the word of God, through which it was framed, and the final cause of the building is the goodness of the architect." (On the Cherubim, 127).

"As, then, the city which was fashioned beforehand within the mind of the architect held no place in the outer world, but had been engraved in the soul of the artificier as by a seal; even so the universe that consisted of ideas would have no other location than the Divine Reason ['Logos'], which was the Author of this ordered frame." (On the Creation, V. 20).

"But now the mind begins to be improved, so as to be able to contemplate the governor of all the powers; on which account he says himself, 'I am the Lord God' [Genesis 31:13], I whose image you formerly beheld instead of me, and whose pillar you set up, engraving on it a most sacred inscription; and the inscription indicated that I stood alone, and that I established the nature of things, bringing disorder and irregularity into order and regularity, and supporting the universe firmly, so that it might rest on a firm and solid foundation, my own ministering Word." (On Dreams, Book I, XLI, 240-241).

"...for God gives to the soul a seal, a very beautiful gift, to show that he has invested with shape the essence of all things which was previously devoid of shape, and has stamped with a particular character that which previously had no character, and has endowed with form that which had previously no distinctive form, and having perfected the entire world, He has impressed upon it an image and appearance, namely, His own Word." (On Dreams, Book 2, VI, 45).

The New Testament also ascribes creation to the Word: "He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him." (John 1:10).  Where did Philo get the doctrine of the creative Word?  From pagan philosophers?  That's not what he says -- he says he got it direct from Moses!:

"And if any one were to desire to use more undisguised terms, he would not call the world, which is perceptible only to the intellect, any thing else but the reason ['Logos'] of God, already occupied in the creation of the world; for neither is a city, while only perceptible to the intellect, any thing else but the reason of the architect, who is already designing to build one perceptible to the external senses, on the model of that which is so only to the intellect - this is the doctrine of Moses, not mine. Accordingly he, when recording the creation of man, in words which follow, asserts expressly, that he was made in the image of God - and if the image be a part of the image, then manifestly so is the entire form, namely, the whole of this world perceptible by the external senses, which is a greater imitation of the divine image than the human form is.  It is manifest also, that the archetypal seal, which we call that world which is perceptible only to the intellect, must itself be the archetypal model, the idea of ideas, the Reason ['Logos'] of God." (On the Creation, VI. (24-25)).

This "seal" impressed its form onto the hot wax of the created world: "For the world has been created, and has by all means derived its existence from some extraneous cause.  But the word itself of the Creator is the seal by which each of existing things is invested with form.  In accordance with which fact perfect species also does from the very beginning follow things when created, as being an impression and image of the perfect word...For the same quality remains in it, as having been stamped upon it by the divine Word which abides permanently and never changes." (On Flight and Finding, II, 12-13).


English readers of the Bible take Genesis 1:27 to mean that man, the creature, is himself the direct image of God: "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Genesis 1:27).  The Greek Old Testament used by Philo reads a little bit differently: "And God made man, according [kata, after] to the image of God he made him, male and female he made them." (Brenton Septuagint).  Taken literally, this does not say, 'man was made the image of God,' but that he was made after the image, suggesting that man is the image of an image, a 'second generation' image, the Xerox copy of a Xerox copy.  So Philo takes Moses to mean, by the 'first generation' Image, the Logos:

"...for the Creator, we know, employed for its making no pattern taken from among created things, but solely, as I have said, his own Word (or Reason) ['Logos'].  It is on this account that he [Moses] says that man was made a likeness and imitation of the Word, when the Divine Breath was breathed into his face...Now the copy of a perfectly beautiful pattern must needs be of perfect beauty.  But the Word of God ['Logos'] surpasses beauty itself, beauty, that is, as it exists in Nature.  He is not only adorned with beauty, but is Himself in very truth beauty's fairest adornment." (On the Creation, XLVIII. 139).

So Philo says our being made 'in the image' of God refers to the Word, which is the Image of God:

"The images of the creative power and of the kingly power are the winged cherubim which are placed upon it [the ark].  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.' [Exodus 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 Finding, XIX. (101).)

"We must say, then, that here too we have a form which God has stamped on the soul as on the tested coin.  What, then, the image impressed on it is we shall know if we first ascertain accurately the meaning of the name.  Bezalel means, then, 'in the shadow of God'; but God's shadow is His Word, which he made use of like an instrument, and so made the world.  But this shadow, and what we may describe as the representation, is the archetype for further creations.  For just as God is the Pattern of the Image, to which the title of Shadow has just been given, even so the Image becomes the pattern of other things, as the prophet made clear at the very outset of the Law-giving by saying, 'And God made the man after the Image of God' [Gen. i. 27], implying that the Image had been made such as representing God, but that the man was made after the Image when it had acquired the force of a pattern." (Allegorical Interpretation, Book III, XXXI, 95-96).

Notice here that there is a man who was created, — that would be Adam,— and there is a man who was not created, but provides the pattern after which Adam was formed, and that would be the Logos, the Word of God:

"What is the man who was created? And how is that man distinguished who was made after the image of God? (Genesis 2:7).

"This man was created as perceptible to the senses, and in the similitude of a Being appreciable only by the intellect; but he who in respect of his form is intellectual and incorporeal, is the similitude of the archetypal model as to appearance, and he is the form of the principal character; but this the word of God, the first beginning of all things, the original species or the archetypal idea, the first measure of the universe." (Questions and Answers in Genesis, Book I, Chapter 4).

In after times, this whole idea of a 'primal Adam' would become a major generator of heresy. It's in the Kabbalah and it's the reason the Mormons alleged that Adam was God:

Philo can't be blamed for the bad use made of his good ideas; that the Logos is the uncreated Image of God is New Testament doctrine. This teaching was developed in a bizarre direction by the Kabbalists, medieval Jewish gnostics, and travelled from them to Joseph Smith's intrepid little band. Even the Mormons do not really believe, nor even understand, this doctrine any more.

We are made after the image of God, not in physical conformation, but insomuch as we are reasoning beings gifted with a mind:

"And Moses calls the one which is above us the image of God, and the one which abides among us as the impression of the image, 'For,' says he, 'God made man,' not an image, but ' after that image.' [Genesis 1:27].  So that the mind which is in each of us, which is in reality and truth the man, is a third image proceeding from the Creator.  But the intermediate one is a model of the one and a copy of the other." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XLVIII, 231).

"For if it was necessary to examine the mortal body of the priest that it ought not be imperfect through any misfortune, much more was it necessary to look into his immortal soul, which they say is fashioned in the form of the living God.  Now the image of God is the Word, by which all the world was made." (The Special Laws, I, XVI, 81).

"...and if they feel shame throughout their whole soul, and change their ways, reproaching themselves for their errors, and openly avowing and confessing all the sins that they have committed...they will then meet with a favorable acceptance from their merciful Savior, God, who bestows on the race of mankind His especial and exceedingly great gift, namely, relationship to His own Word; after which, as its archetypal model, the human mind was formed." (On Rewards and Punishments, XXVIII, 163).

"...but the great Moses has not named the species of the rational soul by a title resembling that of any created being, but has pronounced it an image of the divine and invisible being, making it a coin as it were of sterling metal, stamped and impressed with the seal of God, the impression of which is the eternal Word....On which account it is said too, that 'Man was made after the image of God' [Genesis 1:27], and not after the image of any created being." (Noah's Work as a Planter, V, 18-19).

"What, then, is the surest freedom? The service of the only wise God, as the scriptures testify, in which it is said, 'Send forth the people, that they may serve me.' [Exodus 8:1]...For it is very suitable for those who have made an association for the purpose of learning to desire to see him; and, if they are unable to do that, at least to see His Image, the most sacred Word..." (On the Confusion of Tongues, XX, 97).

This is consistent with the New Testament doctrine:

"But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them." (2 Corinthians 4:3-4);

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." (Colossians 1:15).

As much as Philo understood, from his study of scripture, about the Word of God, he never realized, as did John, that God's Word had been made flesh in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  He died in the mid-first century, quite possibly without ever having heard the Christian gospel preached by a sympathetic witness.

Philo realized also that, in us, the image had become tarnished and encrusted with dirt, and needed a good cleaning to be seen: "...perhaps God would not disdain to give to souls completely purified and cleansed, so as to appear in His image, a knowledge of heavenly things either by means of dreams, or of oracles, or of signs, or of wonders.  But since we have on us the marks of folly, and injustice, and of all the other vices strongly stamped upon us and difficult to be effaced, we must be content even if we are only able by them to discover some faint copy and imitation of the truth." (On the Eternity of the World, I, 2).


"And it is easy otherwise by means of argument to perceive this, since God is the first light, 'For the Lord is my light and my Savior' [Psalm 27:1], is the language of the Psalms; and not only the light, but He is also the archetypal pattern of every other light, or rather He is more ancient and more sublime than even the archetypal model, though He is spoken of as the model; for the real model was his own most perfect Word, the light, and he himself is like to no created thing." (On Dreams, Book I, XIII, 75).

"But according to the third signification, when he speaks of the sun, he means the divine Word, the model of that sun which moves about through the heaven, as has been said before, and with respect to which it is said, 'the sun went forth upon the earth, and Lot entered into Segor, and the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire.' [Genesis 19:23-24]." (On Dreams, Book I, XV, 85).

New Testament: "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (John 9:5).

"When therefore you hear that God has been seen by man, you must consider that this is said without any reference to that light which is perceptible by the external senses, for it is natural that that which is appreciable only by the intellect should be presented to the intellect alone; and the fountain of the purest light is God; so that when God appears to the soul He pours forth His beams without any shade, and beaming with the most radiant brilliancy." (On the Change of Names, I, 6).

"Do you think that you would be unable to look at the unmodified light of the sun? If you were to try to do so, your sight would be extinguished by the brilliancy of his rays, and be wholly blinded by a close approach to that luminary, before it could perceive anything, and yet the sun is only one of the works of God, a portion of the heaven, a fragment of compressed aether, but you are nevertheless able to gaze upon those uncreated powers which exist around Him, and emit the most dazzling light, without any veil or modification?" (On the Unchangeableness of God, XVII, 78).

"...but to God, as dwelling in pure light, all things are visible; for He penetrating into the very recesses of the soul, is able to see, with the most perfect certainty, what is invisible to others..." (On the Unchangeableness of God, VI, 29).

Philo understood "light" or "sun" to be a symbol of God the Father as well as of the Logos, His shining Image: "For he not only desires that the wicked deeds which are hidden shall be made manifest, and therefore turns upon them the beams of the sun, but he also by this symbolical language calls the Father of the universe the sun, that Being by whom all things are seen beforehand, and even all those things which are invisibly concealed in the recesses of the mind; and when they are made manifest, then he promises that He who is the only merciful being, will become merciful to the people." (On Dreams, Book I, XV, 90).

"For as when the sun arises, the darkness disappears and all places are filled with light, so in the same manner when God, that sun appreciable only by the intellect, arises and illuminates the soul, the whole darkness of vices and passions is dissipated, and the pure and lovely appearance of bright and radiant virtue is displayed to the world." (On the Virtues, XXX, 164).

"Take this sun, which is perceptible by our outward senses, do we see it by any other means than by the aid of the sun? And do we see the stars by any other light than that of the stars? And, in short, is not all light seen in consequence of light? And in the same manner God, being His own light, is perceived by Himself alone, nothing and no other being co-operating with or assisting Him, or being at all able to contribute to the pure comprehension of His existence; therefore those persons are mere guessers who are anxious to contemplate the uncreated God through the medium of the things which He created, acting like those persons who seek to ascertain the nature of the unit through the number two, when they ought, on the other hand, to employ the investigation of the unit itself to ascertain the nature of the number two; for the unit is the first principle.  But these men have arrived at the real truth, who form their ideas of God from God, of light from light." (On Rewards and Punishments, VII, 45-46).



Lord and God

One of things which perplexes readers of the New Testament is the way "Lord" and "God", two titles of God used apparently synonymously in the Old Testament, get split up in the New, apportioned respectively to Jesus and to His Father: "...yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist." (1 Corinthians 8:6).  Yet it was already a truism of first century Jewish theology that "Lord" and "God" were the names of two distinct powers of God:

"Therefore He who stands upon the ladder of heaven says to him who is beholding the dream, 'I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; be not afraid.' [Genesis 28:13]. This oracle and this vision were also the firmest support of the soul devoted to the practice of virtue, inasmuch as it taught that the Lord and God of the universe is both these things also to his own race, being entitled both the Lord and God of all men, and of his grandfathers and ancestors, and being called by both names in order that the whole world and the man devoted to virtue might have the same inheritance; since it is also said, 'The Lord Himself is his inheritance.' [Deuteronomy 10:9]...therefore God is the name of the beneficent power, and Lord is the title of the royal power." (On Dreams, Book I, XXV-XXVI, 159-163). (The Septuagint Old Testament used by Philo substitutes the Greek 'kyrios', "Lord", for the Divine Name.)

"...the one in the middle [at Mamre, Genesis 18] is the Father of the universe, who in the sacred scripture is called by his proper name, I am that I am; and the beings on each side are those most ancient powers which are always close to the living God, one of which is called his creative power, and the other his royal power.  And the creative power is God, for it is by this that he made and arranged the universe; and the royal power is the Lord, for it is fitting that the Creator should lord it over and govern the creature.  Therefore, the middle person of the three, being attended by each of his powers as by body-guards, presents to the mind, which is endowed with the faculty of sight, a vision at one time of one being, and at another time of three..." (On Abraham, XXIV, 121-122).

"But the ark is the depository of the laws, for in that are placed the holy oracles of God, which were given to Moses; and the covering of the ark, which is called the mercy-seat, is a foundation for two winged creatures to rest upon, which are called, in the native language of the Hebrews, cherubim...But I myself should say, that what is here represented under a figure are the two most ancient and supreme powers of the divine God, namely, his creative and his kingly power; and his creative power is called God, and his kingly power is called Lord, by which he rules over the beings whom he has created, and governs them with justice and firmness; for He, being, the only true living God, is also really the Creator of the world; since He brought things which had no existence into being; and He is also a king by nature, because no one can rule over beings that have been created more justly than He who created them." (On the Life of Moses, II, XX, 97-100).

"Do you not see that the most important and greatest of all the powers of the living God are His beneficent and His punishing power? And His beneficent power is called God, since it is by means of this that he made and arranged the universe.  And the other, or punishing power, is called Lord, on which His sovereignty over the universe depends." (The Special Laws, I, LVI, 307).

Third of Three Father Only
The Apostle Paul Philo Judaeus
Oaks at Mamre Destroyer

Modern readers may be startled to see 'God' and 'Lord' advanced as the names of distinct 'powers' or attributes of the one living God, but Philo, like our modern textual critics, had noticed that the Biblical names of God are not sorted out randomly, but rather there's a pattern to their use.  Indeed, modern scholars allege a different author comes on line whenever the pattern changes: purportedly, the 'Elohist' calls God 'Elohim,' the 'Yahwist' calls Him 'Yahweh,' etc.  Philo, who believed so strongly in the sole Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch that he actually claimed the description of Moses' death with which Deuteronomy concludes was a 'prophecy' delivered by Moses himself, found the solution to this mystery in the idea that God, transcendent and unknown in His essence, deals with mankind through the exercise of His 'powers,' like goodness and wisdom.  Thus these various titles ascribed to God are the proper names of individual attributes or 'powers.'

For example: "Therefore, at the creation, he changed the appellations and use of names; but as the name God is an indication of His beneficent power, the sacred writer has more frequently employed that in his account of the creation of the universe, but after everything was perfected then he called Him Lord, in reference to the creation itself, for this name betokens royal power and the ability to destroy; since, where the act of generation is, God is used first in order, but when punishment is spoken of the name Lord is placed before the name God." (Questions and Answers on Genesis, II, 16).

This way of thinking has left traces in the New Testament: Simon the magician, emulating Jesus Christ, claimed to be an incarnation, not of the 'Logos,' but of that 'power' called 'Great': "But there was a certain man called whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, 'This man is the great power of God.'" (Acts 8:9-10).  'Powers' is also used in the New Testament of orders of created beings, as in Ephesians 3:10. One should be careful to realize that 'God's goodness' is a 'power' in the first sense, not in the second; 'God's goodness' is not a creature.

The attentive reader will note that, in the sentence, 'God is the name of one of the powers of God,' 'God' has been used in two different significations, once as the name of a 'power' or attribute of God, once as the name of Him whose attribute is thus described.  In this double signification of the same one term lies the potential for fallacious reasoning, namely, equivocation.  Thus we see the new religious movements misusing the Bible fact that 'theos' in the New Testament is more commonly ascribed to God the Father, whereas 'kyrios' is more commonly ascribed to God the Son, to deny the Deity of the Son.  They might as well, by the same logic, deny the lordship of the Father!

Under the heading of 'Lord and God' falls the visitation at Mamre. Philo's understanding of God's appearance to Abraham at Mamre has already been touched upon:

  • “The things which are expressed by the voice are the signs of those things which are conceived in the mind alone; when, therefore, the soul is shone upon by God as if at noonday, and when it is wholly and entirely filled with that light which is appreciable only by the intellect, and by being wholly surrounded with its brilliancy is free from all shade or darkness, it then perceives a threefold image of one subject, one image of the living God, and others of the other two, as if they were shadows irradiated by it. And some such thing as this happens to those who dwell in that light which is perceptible by the outward senses, for whether people are standing still or in motion, there is often a double shadow falling from them.

  • “Let not any one then fancy that the word shadow is applied to God with perfect propriety. It is merely a catachrestical abuse of the name, by way of bringing before our eyes a more vivid representation of the matter intended to be intimated. Since this is not the actual truth, but in order that one may when speaking keep as close to the truth as possible, the one in the middle is the Father of the universe, who in the sacred scriptures is called by his proper name, I am that I am; and the beings on each side are those most ancient powers which are always close to the living God, one of which is called his creative power, and the other his royal power.

  • “And the creative power is God, for it is by this that he made and arranged the universe; and the royal power is the Lord, for it is fitting that the Creator should lord it over and govern the creature. Therefore the middle person of the three, being attended by each of his powers as by body-guards, presents to the mind, which is endowed with the faculty of sight, a vision at one time of one being, and at another time of three; of one when the soul being completely purified, and having surmounted not only the multitudes of numbers, but also the number two, which is the neighbor of the unit, hastens onward to that idea which is devoid of all mixture, free from all combination, and by itself in need of nothing else whatever; and of three, when, not being as yet made perfect as to the important virtues, it is still seeking for initiation in those of less consequence, and is not able to attain to a comprehension of the living God by its own unassisted faculties without the aid of something else, but can only do so by judging of his deeds, whether as creator or as governor. This then, as they say, is the second best thing; and it no less partakes in the opinion which is dear to and devoted to God. But the first-mentioned disposition has no such share, but is itself the very God-loving and God-beloved opinion itself, or rather it is truth which is older than opinion, and more valuable than any seeming.

  • “But we must now explain what is intimated by this statement in a more perspicuous manner.

  • “There are three different classes of human dispositions, each of which has received as its portion one of the aforesaid visions. The best of them has received that vision which is in the center, the sight of the truly living God. The one which is next best has received that which is on the right hand, the sight of the beneficent power which has the name of God. And the third has the sight of that which is on the left hand, the governing power, which is called lord. Therefore, the best dispositions cultivate that being who exists of himself, without the aid of any one else, being themselves attracted by nothing else, by reason of all their entire attention being directed to the honor of that one being. But of the other dispositions, some derive their existence and owe their being recognized by the father to his beneficent power; and others, again, owe it to his governing power. My meaning in this statement is this:--

  • “Men when they perceive that, under the pretext of friendship, some persons come to them, being in reality only desirous to get what they can from them, look upon them with suspicion, and turn away from them, fearing their insincere, and flattering, and caressing behavior, as very pernicious. But God, inasmuch as he is not liable to any injury, gladly invites all men who choose, in any way whatever to honor him, to come unto him, not choosing altogether to reject any person whatever; and, in truth, he almost says in express words to those who have ears in the soul, “The most valuable prizes shall be offered to those who worship me for my own sake: the second best to those who hope by their own efforts to be able to attain to good, or to find a means of escape from punishments. For even if the service of this latter class is mercenary and not wholly incorrupt, still it nevertheless revolves within the divine circumference, and does not stray beyond it. . .For I receive him who wishes to be a partaker of my beneficent power to a participation in my good things, and him who out of fear seeks to propitiate my governing and despotic power, I receive so far as to avert punishment from him. . .”

  • “But that what is seen is in reality a threefold appearance of one subject is plain, not only from the contemplation of the allegory, but also from that of the express words in which the allegory is couched. For when the wise man entreats those persons who are in the guise of three travellers to come and lodge in his house, he speaks to them not as three persons, but as one, and says, “My lord, if I have found favor with thee, do not thou pass by thy servant.” [Genesis xviii. 3.] For the expressions, “my lord,” and “ with thee,” and “do not thou pass by,” and others of the same kind, are all such as are naturally addressed to a single individual, but not to many. And when those persons, having been entertained in his house, address their entertainer in an affectionate manner, it is again one of them who promises that he by himself will be present, and will bestow on him the seed of a child of his own, speaking in the following words: “I will return again and visit thee again, according to the time of life, and Sarah thy wife shall have a son.” [Genesis xviii. 10.].”

  • (Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, A Treatise on the Life of the Wise Man  Made Perfect by Instruction, or, on the Unwritten Law, that is to say, on Abraham, Chapters XXIV-XXV).

What to make of this? One thing is clear, we're not in any flat, Unitarian Kansas anymore.


"...but this is the word of God, the first beginning of all things, the original species or the archetypal idea, the first measure of the universe." (Questions and Answers on Genesis, I, 4).

"...These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God..." (Revelation 3:14).

He is our physician: "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).

"Jesus answered and said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." (Luke 5:31).

In Him is life: "For he says also in another passage: 'Whosoever shall flee thither shall live.' [Exodus 21:13, Deuteronomy 19:4].  But is not everlasting life a fleeing for refuge to the living God? and is not a fleeing from His presence death? (On Flight and Finding, XV, 77-78) [...] "These then are the reasons on account of which they who have committed unintentional homicide fly only to those cities which belong to the ministers of the temple...Perhaps we may say that the most ancient, and the strongest, and the most excellent metropolis, for I may not call it merely a city, is the divine Word, to flee to which first is the most advantageous course of all." (On Flight and Finding, XVIII, 94).

He is the way: "But Moses does not think it right to incline either to the right or to the left, or in short to any part of the earthly Edom; but rather to proceed along the middle way, which he with great propriety calls the royal road [Numbers 20:17], for since God is the first and only God of the universe, so also the road to Him, as being the king's road, is very properly denominated royal...this royal road, which we have stated to be true and genuine philosophy, 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, since Moses' words are not to depart either from the royal road, or from this word, as if the two were synonymous, but to proceed with an upright mind along the middle and level road, which leads one aright." (The Posterity and Exile of Cain, XXX, 101-102).

Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6).

Circumincession is the New Testament doctrine that the Father is in the Son, and the Son in the Father.  Philo anticipates this, at the same time excluding the Word from things created, as he sometimes does: "...for as the hearth is the abode of a man, so is speech of the mind: at all events, it displays itself, and all the notions which it conceives, arranging them and setting them in order in speech, as if in a house.  And you must not wonder that Moses has called speech in man the abode of the mind, for he also says, that the mind of the universe, that is to say, God, has for His abode His own Word.  And the practiser of virtue, Jacob, seizing on this apprehension, confesses in express words that, 'This is no other than the house of God' [Genesis 28:17]...What, then, can it be except the Word, which is more ancient than all the things which were the objects of creation, and by means of which it is the Ruler of the universe, taking hold of it as a rudder, governs all things." (On the Migration of Abraham, I, 4-6).

Firstborn Son

"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 first-born son." (On Dreams, Book I, XXXVII, 215).

"The high priest, then, being equipped in this way, is properly prepared for the performance of all sacred ceremonies...the twelve stones arranged on the breast in four rows of three stones each, namely the logeum, being also an emblem of that Reason which holds together and regulates the universe.  For it was indispensable that the man who was consecrated to the Father of the world, should have as a paraclete, his Son, the being most perfect in all virtue, to procure forgiveness of sins, and a supply of unlimited blessings..." (On the Life of Moses, II, XXVI, 133-134).

"And in another passage we read 'The Lord spake unto Moses saying, Sanctify to me all the first-born: all that is first brought forth, all that openeth the womb among the children of Israel, whether of man or beast is mine' [Exodus 13:2], so that it is openly asserted in these words, that all the first things, whether in point of time or of power, are the property of God, and most especially all the first-born...and if there is anything, in short, which openeth the womb, whether of man which here means speech and reason, or of beast which signifies the outward sense and the body; for that which openeth the womb of all these things, whether of the mind, so as to enable it to comprehend the things appreciable only by the intellect, or of the speech so as to enable it to exercise the energies of voice, or of the external the invisible, spermatic, technical, and divine Word, which shall most properly be dedicated to the Father." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XXIV, 117-119).

This next passage is interesting because it already makes clear that, in Philo's mind, the Messiah was to be a divine incarnation, not a mere man:

". . .'Behold, a man whose name is the East!' [Zechariah 6:12 LXX].  A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine Image, you will then agree that the name of the East has been given to him with great felicity.  For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his Father, has formed such and such species, looking to his archetypal patterns." (On the Confusion of Tongues, XIV, 62-63).

The "man whose name is the East [ανατολη]" is, in our version, the 'Branch:' "And speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH [tsemach]; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD. . ." (Zechariah 6:12 KJV). This is plainly the Messiah, and Philo calls him "the eldest son." The Targum also perceives this verse as Messianic: ". . .behold the man Messiah is his name;'' (quote of Targum, John Gill's Exposition of the Bible, Zechariah 6:12). This passage plainly links the Messiah with the divine image, the eldest son, who in Philonic theology is the logos. This is noteworthy because one often finds the contrary stated: "No philosophising Jew had ever thought of identifying the Messiah with the Logos; no Philo, for instance, ever entertained the idea of such an equation!" (Adolf Harnack, What is Christianity? p. 204). Of course, Philo did not know that the Messiah had come. In our version, Jesus does not lack for a connection to the 'East' or the rising sun, because He is also called the 'Morning Star.'

"Because, like archers shooting at random at many objects, and not aiming skillfully or successfully at any one mark, so these men, putting forward ten thousand principles and causes for the creation of the universe, every one of which is false, display a perfect ignorance of the one Creator and Father of all things; but they who have real knowledge, are properly addressed as the sons of the one God, as Moses also entitles, them, where he says, 'Ye are the sons of the Lord God.' [Deuteronomy 14:1].  And again, 'God who begot thee' [Deuteronomy 32:18]; and in another place, 'Is not He thy father?' [Deuteronomy 32:6]...And even if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let him labor earnestly to be adorned according to His first-born Word, the eldest of His angels, as the great archangel of many names; for He is called, the authority, and the name of God, and the Word, and man according to God's image, and He who sees Israel...For even if we are not yet suitable to be called the sons of God, still we may deserve to be called the children of His eternal Image, of His most sacred Word; for the Image of God is His most ancient Word." (On the Confusion of Tongues, XXVIII, 144-147).
"For God, like a shepherd and a king, governs (as if they were a flock of sheep) the earth, and the water, and the air, and the fire, and all the plants, and living creatures that are in them, whether mortal or divine; and he regulates the nature of the heaven, and the periodical revolutions of the sun and moon, and the variations and harmonious movements of the other stars, ruling them according to law and justice; appointing, as their immediate superintendent, his own right reason [λογος], his first-born son, who is to receive the charge of this sacred company, as the lieutenant of the great king; for it is said somewhere, "Behold, I am he! I will send my messenger before thy face, who shall keep thee in the road." [Exodus 23:20.] Let therefore all the world, the greatest and most perfect flock of the living God, say "The Lord is my shepherd, and he shall cause me to lack nothing," and let every separate individual say the same thing; not with the voice which proceeds from his tongue and his mouth, extending only through a scanty portion of the air, but with the wide spreading voice of the mind, which reaches to the very extremities of this universe. . ." (A Treatise on the Tilling of the Earth by Noah, Chapter XII).

New Testament: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." (Colossians 1:15).

Dissident 'Christian' Unitarians wish to say that Jesus, the Word, is called the firstborn Son for some reason connected with His birth at Bethlehem. But Philo already called the Logos God's "firstborn son." Of course whatever Philo does or doesn't do is in no way binding on the church of the apostles, but it seems an odd coincidence that the Logos was already called God's son by the Jews of Jesus' day, and Jesus, the Word of God, is also called the Son. . .but that has nothing to do with His being the Word! If you believe in the power of chance to this extent, then you might as well believe in Darwinian evolution.

It is worth noting in this connection that Celsus, a pagan anti-Christian polemicist, perceived the equation of 'Son' with 'Logos' as common to both Jews and Christians; speaking in the character of a Jew, he says, “If your Logos is the Son of God, we also give our assent to the same.” (Celsus, quoted in Origen, Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 31). However Origen specifically denies that the Jewish scholars with whom he was in personal contact conceded this point.

The Firstborn

How is a word begotten? Speaking of the creature, he says, "But if we are to keep to exact propriety, then it is plain that the mind is the familiar and natural father of the uttered word, because it is the especial property of the father to beget, and the word is born from the mind; and it will be a certain proof of this if we recollect that when it is set in motion by counsels it sounds, and when they are absent it ceases to sound...for whenever the mind publishes abroad different heads of designs...then also the word, flowing forth like a fountain, is borne to the ears of the bystander..." (Questions and Answers on Genesis, III, 43).

Plato Home

God the Holy Spirit

Philo also has interesting things to say about the Holy Spirit:

"Such a divine spirit, too, is that of Moses, which visits the seventy elders that they may excel others and he brought to something better...For it is written, 'I will take of the spirit that is on thee and lay it upon the seventy elders' [Numb. xi. 17]. But think not that this taking of the spirit comes to pass as when men cut away a piece and sever it.  Rather it is, as when they take fire from fire, for though the fire should kindle a thousand torches, it is still as it was and is diminished not a whit...If, then, it were Moses' own spirit, or the spirit of some other created being, which was according to God's purpose to be distributed to that great number of disciples, it would indeed be shredded into so many pieces and thus lessened.  But as it is, the spirit which is on him is the wise, the divine, the excellent spirit, susceptible of neither severance nor division, diffused in its fullness everywhere and through all things, the spirit which helps, but suffers no hurt, which though it be shared with others or added to others suffers no diminution in understanding and knowledge and wisdom." (On the Giants, VI. 24-28).

"God, since His fullness is everywhere, is near us, and since His eye beholds us, since He is close beside us, let us refrain from evil-doing. It were best that our motive should be reverence, but if not, let us at least tremble to think of the power of His sovereignty, how invincible it is, how terrible and inexorable in vengeance, when He is minded to use His power of chastisement. Thus may the divine spirit of wisdom not lightly shift His dwelling and be gone, but long, long abide with us, since He did thus abide with Moses the wise." (On the Giants, Chapter XI, p. 469 Loeb edition).
"For when Moses was now on the point of being taken away, and was standing at the very starting-place, as it were, that he might fly away and complete his journey to heaven, he was once more inspired and filled with the Holy Spirit, and while still alive, he prophesied admirably what should happen to himself after his death, relating, that is, how he had died when he was not as yet dead, and how he was buried without any one being present so as to know of his tomb [Deuteronomy 34:6 (!)], because in fact he was entombed not by mortal hands, but by immortal powers..." (On the Life of Moses, II, LI, 291).
"And if, indeed, any one assuming the name and appearance of a prophet [Deuteronomy 13:1], appearing to be inspired and possessed by the Holy Spirit, were to seek to lead the people to the worship of those who are accounted gods in the different cities, it would not be fitting for the people to attend to him being deceived by the name of a prophet.  For such an one is an imposter and not a prophet..." (The Special Laws, I, LVIII, 315).
"But the class of prophets loves to be subject to such influences; for when it is divining, and when the intellect is inspired with divine things, it no longer exists in itself, since it receives the divine spirit within and permits it to dwell with itself; or rather, as he himself has expressed it, as spirit falls upon him; since it does not come slowly over him, but rushes down upon him suddenly." (Questions and Answers on Genesis, III, 9).
"Whenever, therefore, he [Abraham] was possessed by the Holy Spirit he at once changed everything for the better, his eyes and his complexion, and his size and his appearance while standing, and his motions, and his voice; the Holy Spirit, which, being breathed into him from above, took up its lodging in his soul, clothing his body with extraordinary beauty, and investing his words with persuasiveness at the same time that it endowed his hearers with understanding." (On the Virtues, XXXIX, 217).

Philo aspired to be a temple of the Holy Spirit: "Now the God and governor of the universe does by Himself and alone walk about invisibly and noiselessly in the minds of those who are purified in the highest degree.  For there is extant a prophecy which was delivered to the wise man, in which it is said: 'I will walk among you, and I will be your God.' [Leviticus 26:12]...Do thou, therefore, O my soul, hasten to become the abode of God, His holy temple, to become strong from having been most weak, powerful from having been powerless, wise from having been foolish, and very reasonable from having been doting and childless." (On Dreams, Book I, XIII, 148-149).

New Testament: "What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, 'I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.'" (2 Corinthians 6:16).

At Pentecost, the Spirit came to abide with the disciples: "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever - the Spirit of truth..." (John 14:16-17).  Philo did not know the Spirit could abide forever: "...and this very frequently happens to the race of prophets; for the mind that is in us is removed from its place at the arrival of the divine Spirit, but is again restored to its previous habitation when that Spirit departs, for it is contrary to holy law for what is mortal to dwell with what is immortal." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, LIII, 265).

Although he does not limit the uncreated "powers" of God to the three of Christian orthodoxy, for practical purposes, Philo's God is the Father, His Word, and His Holy Spirit.


Only One God

Though the Jehovah's Witnesses try to tease Philo out of the monotheistic fold for their own purposes, he doesn't want to go:

"Since then it has been shown that no mortal can in solid reality be lord of anything, and when we give the name of master we speak in the language of mere opinion, not of real truth; since too, as there is subject and servant, so in the universe there must be a leader and a lord, it follows that this true prince and lord must be one, even God, who alone can rightly claim that all things are His possessions." (On the Cherubim, XXIV, 83).

"But this work which is His own He has bestowed freely, for He needs it not.  Yet he who has the use does not thereby become possessor, because there is one lord and master of all, who will most rightly say 'all the land is mine (which is the same as "all creation is mine"), but ye are strangers and sojourners before me' (Lev. xxv. 23). (On the Cherubim, XXXIII., 119).

"By his account of the creation of the world of which we have spoken Moses teaches us among many other things five that are fairest and best of all.  Firstly that the Deity is and has been from eternity. This with a view to atheists, some of whom have hesitated and have been of two minds about His eternal existence, while the bolder sort have carried their audacity to the point of declaring that the Deity does not exist at all, but that it is a mere assertion of men obscuring the truth with myth and fiction.  Secondly, that God is one.  This with a view to the propounders of polytheism, who do not blush to transfer from earth to heaven mob-rule, that worst of evil polities.  Thirdly, as I have said already, that the world came into being.  This because of those who think that it is without beginning and eternal, who thus assign to God no superiority at all...
"He that has begun by learning these things with his understanding rather than with his hearing, and has stamped on his soul impressions of truths so marvellous and priceless, both that God is and is from eternity, and that He that really IS is One, and that He has made the world and has made it one world, unique as Himself is unique, and that He ever exercises forethought for His creation, will lead a life of bliss and blessedness, because he has a character moulded by the truths that piety and holiness enforce." (On the Creation, LXI. 170-172).

"It says also in another case, 'Ye shall not make together with Me gods of silver, and gods of gold ye shall not make to yourselves' (Exod. xx. 23).  For he that thinks either that God belongs to a type, or that He is not one, or that He is not unoriginate and incorruptible, or that He is not incapable of change, wrongs himself not God; for it says, 'to yourselves ye shall not make'; for we must deem that He belongs to no type, and that He is One and incorruptible and unchangeable." (Allegorical Interpretation, Book I, XV, 51).

"'And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone, let us make for him a helper corresponding to him' [Gen. ii. 18].  Why, O prophet, is it not good that the man should be alone?  Because, he says, it is good that the Alone should be alone; but God, being One, is alone and unique, and like God there is nothing.  Hence, since it good that He Who IS should be alone -- for indeed with regard to Him alone can the statement 'it is good' be made -- it follows that it would not be good that the man should be alone. [...] God is alone, a Unity, in the sense that His nature is simple not composite, whereas each one of us and of all other created beings is made up of many things.  I, for example, am many things in one.  I am soul and body....But God is not a composite Being, consisting of many parts, nor is He mixed with aught else...The 'one' and the 'monad' are, therefore, the only standard for determining the category to which God belongs.  Rather should we say, the One God is the sole standard for the 'monad.'  For, like time, all number is subsequent to the universe; and God is prior to the universe, and is its Maker." (Allegorical Interpretation, Book II, I, 1-3).

"But let Melchizedek instead of water offer wine, and give to souls strong drink, that they may be seized by a divine intoxication, more sober than sobriety itself.  For he is a priest, even Reason ['logos'], having as his portion Him that IS, and all his thoughts of God are high and vast and sublime: for he is priest of the Most High, not that there is any other not Most High -- for God being One 'is in heaven above and on earth beneath, and there is none beside Him' [Deut. iv. 39] -- but to conceive of God not in low earthbound ways but in lofty terms, such as transcend all other greatness and all else that is free from matter, calls up in us a picture of the Most High." (Allegorical Interpretation, Book III, XXVI, 82).

"Knowing thoroughly that such judges are never deceived so as to wander from a sound opinion, but that, having learnt from the beginning to understand who is the true king, namely, the Lord, they indignantly refuse to worship him who deprives God of his honor, and seeks to appropriate it to himself, and who invites his fellow servants to do him service.  On which account they say with confidence, 'Shall you be a king and reign over us?' [Genesis 37:8].  Are you ignorant that we are not independent, but that we are under the government of an immortal king, the only God? And why should you be a lord and lord it over us? for are we not under domination, and have we not now, and shall we not have for ever, and ever the same one Lord? in being whose servants we rejoice more than any one else can do in his liberty; for to be the servant of God is the most excellent of all things which are honored in creation." (On Dreams, Book 2, XIV-XV, 99-100).

"...'thy weight shall be a true and just one.' [Deuteronomy 25:15].  But a true and just measure is, to conceive that it is the only just God alone who measures and weighs everything, and who has circumscribed the nature of the universe with numbers, and limitations, and boundaries." On Dreams, Book 2, XXIX, 194).

"And it is the nature of unity not to be capable of either addition or subtraction, inasmuch as it is the image of the only complete God; for all other things are intrinsically and by their own nature loose; and if there is any where any thing consolidated, that has been bound by the word of God, for this word is glue and a chain, filling all things with its essence. And the word, which connects together and fastens every thing, is peculiarly full of itself, having no need whatever of any thing beyond." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XXXVIII, 187-188).

"Therefore admiring this same disposition when thus taking to flight, and submitting to a voluntary fall [Genesis 17:3] by reason of the confession which the mind had made respecting the living God, namely, that he stands in truth and is one only, while all other things beneath Him are subject to all kinds of motions and alterations, He speaks to it, and allows it to enter into conversation with Him, saying, 'And I, behold my covenant is with thee.' [Genesis 17:4]" (On the Change of Names, VIII, 57).

"'Whoever,' said he, 'is on the side of the Lord, let him come to me.' [Exodus 32:26].  It was but a brief sentence which he thus uttered, but the meaning concealed under it was important; for what was intimated by his words was the following sense: 'If any one does not think anything whatever that is made by hands, or anything that is created, a god, but believes that there is one ruler of the universe only, let him come to me.'" (On the Life of Moses, II, XXXII, 168).

"Let us, therefore, reject all such impious dishonesty, and not worship those who are our brothers by nature, even though they may have received a purer and more immortal essence than ourselves (for all created things are brothers to one another, inasmuch as they are created; since the Father of them all is one, the Creator of the universe); but let us rather, with our mind and reason, and with all our strength, gird ourselves up vigorously and energetically to the service of that Being who is uncreated and everlasting, and the maker of the universe, never shrinking or turning aside from it, nor yielding to a desire of pleasing the multitude, by which even those who might be saved are often destroyed.
"Let us, therefore, fix deeply in ourselves this first commandment as the most sacred of all commandments, to think that there is but one God, the most highest, and to honor him alone; and let not the polytheistical doctrine ever even touch the ears of any man who is accustomed to seek for the truth, with purity and sincerity of heart; for those who are ministers and servants of the sun, and of the moon, and of all the host of heaven, or of it in all its integrity or of its principal parts, are in grievous error; (how can they fail to be, when they honor the subjects instead of the prince?) but still they sin less grievously than the others, who have fashioned stocks, and stones, and silver, and gold, and similar materials according to their own pleasure, making images, and statues, and all kinds of other things wrought by the hand; the workmanship in which, whether by statuary, or painter, or artisan, has done great injury to the life of man, having filled the whole habitable world." (Decalogue, XIV, 65).

"Therefore, God, removing out of His sacred legislation all such impious deification of undeserving objects, has invited men to the honor of the true and living God; not indeed that He has any need Himself to be honored; 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 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, and upon the things and people in it." (The Decalogue, XVI, 81).

"The first law is the fountain of all those concerning the government of one supreme Ruler, and they show that there is one first cause of the world, one Ruler and King, who guides and governs the universe in such a way as conduces to its preservation, having banished from the pure essence of heaven all oligarchy and aristocracy, those treacherous forms of government which arise among wicked men, as the offspring of disorder and covetousness." (The Decalogue, XXIX, 154).

"And Moses is constantly prophseying and telling his people that there is one God, the creator and maker of the universe; and at other times he teaches them that He is the Lord of all created things, since all that is firm, and solid, and really stable and sure, is by nature so framed as to be connected with Him alone.  And it is said in the scriptures that, 'Those that are attached to the living God do all live.' [Deuteronomy 4:4]" (The Special Laws, I, V, 30-31).

"There is also a third class, who have entered on the contrary path, guiding a multitude of men and women, of old and young, filling the world with arguments in favor of a multiplicity of rulers, in order by such means to eradicate all notions of the one and truly living God from the minds of men.  These are they who are symbolically called by the law the sons of a harlot.  For as mothers who are harlots do not know who is the real father of their children, and cannot register him accurately, but have many, or I might almost say all men, their lovers and associates, the same is the case with those who are ignorant of the one true God.  For, inventing a great number whom they falsely call gods, they are blinded as to the most important of all existing things which they ought to have thoroughly learnt, if not alone, at all events as the first and greatest of all things from their earliest childhood; for what can be a more honorable thing to learn than the knowledge of the true and living God?" (The Special Laws, I, LX, 331-332).

"Now of those principles of justice relating to God, the first law enunciated is one which opposes the polytheistic doctrine, and teaches us that the world is ruled over by one sole governor.  The second is one forbidding men to make gods of things which are not the causes of anything, by means of the treacherous arts of painters and sculptors, whom Moses banished from his own constitution which he proposed to establish, condemning them to everlasting banishment, in order that the only true God might be honored in truth and simplicity." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XXXV, 169-170).

"Now if the God of the Universe, the only God, is also his God in a special sense and by special grace, he surely must needs be himself a man of God. . .Such a reasoning has the one and only God for its owner; it becomes God's companion and makes straight the path of its whole life, treading the true 'King's way,' the way of the one sole almighty king, swerving and turning aside neither to the right not to the left." (Philo Judaeus, On the Giants, Chapter XIV, Loeb edition p. 477).

"Since then those men had undertaken this expedition of their own accord and spontaneously, in the cause of piety and holy reverence for the one true and living God, not without great danger to those who had entered in the contest, the Father of the universe received them with approbation, and at once pronounced those who had slain those men to be pure from all curse and pollution, and in requital for their courage he bestowed the priesthood on them." (The Special Laws, III, XXII, 127).

"...the government to be undertaken is not one over any ordinary nation, but one which is the most populous of all nations everywhere, and one which puts forth the most important of all professions, the worship of the one true and living God, who is the Creator and the Father of the universe...For whatever advantages are derived from the most approved philosophy to its students, full as great are derived by the Jews from their laws and customs, inasmuch as through them they have rejected all errors about gods who have been created themselves; for there is no created being who is truly God, but such a one is so only in appearance and opinion, being destitute of that most indispensable quality in God, namely, eternity." (On the Virtues, X, 64-65).

"All those men therefore who, although they did not originally choose to honor the Creator and Father of the universe, have yet changed and done so afterwards, having learnt to prefer to honor a single monarch rather than a number of rulers, we must look upon as our friends and kinsmen...since even if they were blind previously they have now received their sight, beholding the most brilliant of lights instead of the most profound darkness." (On the Virtues, XXXIII, 179).

"But that Governor or Guider, being surrounded on all sides by unalloyed light, was difficult to be perceived and difficult to be understood by conjecture, since the power of sight was obscured by the brilliancy of those beams.  But nevertheless the sight, although a great violence of fire was poured upon it, held out against it out of an immense desire of seeing what was before it.  And the Father pitied its sincere desire and eagerness to see, and gave it power, and did not grudge the acuteness of the sight thus directed a perception of Himself, as far at least as a created and mortal nature could attain to such a thing, not indeed such a perception as should show him what God is, but merely such as should prove to him that He exists; for even this, which is better than good, and more ancient than the unit, and more simple than one, cannot possibly be contemplated by any other being; because, in fact, it is not possible for God to be comprehended by any being but Himself." (On Rewards and Punishments, VI, 38-39).

"This is the mind in which the prophet says that God walks as in His palace; for the mind of the wise man is in truth the palace and the house of God.  And He who is the God of all things is peculiarly called the God of this mind; and again this mind is by a peculiar form called His people, not the people of any particular rulers, but of the one only and true ruler, the Holy One of holies." (On Rewards and Punishments, XX, 123).

"I have now, then, without making any concealment or softening the truth in any degree, explained the curses and punishments which it is fit for those persons to endure who have despised the sacred laws of justice and piety, and who have submitted themselves to the adoption of polytheistic opinions, the end of which is impiety through forgetfulness of the instruction originally imparted to them by their forefathers, which they learnt in their earliest infancy, when they were taught to look upon the nature of the One as the only supreme God, to whom alone those persons may properly be assigned as His inheritance who pursue the genuine truth instead of cunningly invented fables." (On Rewards and Punishments, XXVIII, 162).

"What is the meaning of the expression, 'Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil?' [Genesis 3:5].  Whence was it that the serpent found the plural word 'gods,' when there is only one true God, and when this is the first time that he names him? But perhaps this arises from there having been in him a certain prescient wisdom, by which he now declared the notion of the multitude of gods which was at a future time to prevail amongst men; and, perhaps, history now relates this correctly at its first being advanced not to any rational being, nor by any creature of the higher class, but as having derived its origin from the most virulent and vile of beasts and serpents, since other similar creatures lie hid under the earth, and their lurking places are in the holes and fissures of the earth." (Questions and Answers on Genesis, I, 36).

"In the first place, then, we must say this, that there is no existing being equal in honor to God, but there is only one ruler and governor and king, to whom alone it is granted to govern and to arrange the universe.  For the verse -- 'A multitude of kings is never good, Let there one sovereign, one sole monarch be [Homer Iliad 2.204]", is not more justly said with respect to cities and men than with respect to the world and to God, for it is clear from the necessity of things that there must be one creator, and one father, and one master of the one universe." (On the Confusion of Tongues, XXXIII, 170.)

The Bible of course concurs:

There's no good reason to accuse Philo of bad faith in this matter. His interest in pagan philosophy is no real evidence to the contrary, because some of these thinkers were moving in the direction of monotheism. The best of pagan theology was, not truly monotheistic, but featured a sharply hierarchical pantheon whose highest God was ontologically of a different order than the rank and file deities. That is not what the popular myths presented to the believer; rather, they told of wars for supremacy between Zeus and the Titans. If Zeus' present supremacy was a victory narrowly eked out over Saturn, achieved by unspeakable means, then the pagan pantheon was nowhere close to monotheism. However, many of the philosophers were highly critical of the popular myths, and in some cases even suffered persecution for failing to respect the gods of the city. Philo respected their reasoned contributions to the discussion, not their paganism. Realizing that Christian philosophers like Thomas Aquinas and Augustine would eventually develop systems incorporating the thought of Aristotle and Plato and amalgamating it with the Christian gospel, it seems unfair to blame Philo, who was not even a Christian, for taking an interest in philosophers who would ultimately be 'baptized' into the fold, posthumously and unwillingly.

Monotheism is one of Philo's first principles, to which he constantly reverts. His continual assertion of monotheism is no mere pro forma statement but as deep a commitment as any he has. It is unfair to hit him with a 'guilt by association' rap: because a polytheist author like Margaret Barker quotes him, he must not be quite a monotheist. She quotes the Bible, too. The fact that he does not worship a featureless, unipersonal God does not make him a polytheist. Christians do not worship such a God either. She accuses him of lack of clarity on the issue:

"The question: 'How many gods?' was known to Philo and not clearly answered." (Margaret Barker, The Great Angel, p. 118).

The question was clearly answered; Philo's answer is 'one.' Philo's 'logos' is not an alien or a separate being from God the Father, but, as they say, "of one substance." She has no such concept:


Philo was interested in Abraham's visitors at Mamre and made several circumambulations around them, one given above. How did Philo understand this passage?: "Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.  So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, 'My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant." (Genesis 18:1-3).  The trinitarian Abraham realizes his three visitors equate to one 'LORD' and so addresses them; how did Philo Judaeus see it in the first century?:

"For Abraham went with all zeal and speed and eagerness and bade Sarah...hasten and knead three measures of meal and make 'buried' cakes, when God came attended by His two highest potencies, sovereignty and goodness, and He, the one between the two, called up before the eye of the soul, which has power to see, three separate visions or aspects. Each of these aspects, though not subject iself to measurement - for God and His potencies are alike uncircumscribed - is the measure of all things.  His goodness is the measure of things good, His sovereignty of its subjects, and the Ruler Himself is the measure of all things corporeal and incorporeal, and it is to serve Him that these two potencies assume the functions of rules and standards, and measure what lies within their province.
"It is well that these three measures should be as it were kneaded and blended in the soul, that she, convinced that God who is above all exists - God who overtops His potencies in that He is visible apart from them and yet is revealed in them -- may receive the impression of His sovereignty and beneficence." (Philo, The Sacrifices of Abel and Cain, XV.).

God and His two highest uncircumscribed potencies came to call!  Philo's vision of the "powers" of God yields the raw material for a doctrine of the Trinity, even if he himself does not arrive there; his "uncreated powers" are not enumerated as three, nor as ten sefirot for that matter, but left uncounted.  More:

"The voice told me that while God is indeed one, His highest and chiefest powers are two, even goodness and sovereignty. Through His goodness He begat all that is, through His sovereignty He rules what He has begotten. And in the midst between the two there is a third which unites them, Reason [Logos], for it is through reason [Logos] that God is both ruler and good.  Of these two potencies sovereignty and goodness the Cherubim are symbols, as the fiery sword is the symbol of reason [Logos].  For exceeding swift and of burning heat is reason [Logos] and chiefly so the reason of the (Great) Cause, for it alone preceded and outran all things, conceived before them all, manifest above them all." (Philo, On the Cherubim, IX, 27-28).

By "powers", Philo does not mean anything subsidiary; "Lord" and "God" are "powers" of the living God, according to Philo:

"But here we must observe that Moses says, that 'Noah pleased' the powers of the living God, 'the Lord and God,' but that he tells us that Moses himself pleased the Being who is attended by those powers as his body guard, and who without them, is conceived only according to his essence." (On the Unchangeableness of God, XXIV. (109)).

Nor does he necessarily mean anything created:

"Do you think that you would be unable to look at the unmodified light of the sun?  If you were to try to do so, your sight would be extinguished by the brilliancy of his rays, and be wholly blinded by a close approach to that luminary, before it could perceive anything, and yet the sun is only one of the works of God, a portion of the heaven, a fragment of compressed aether, but you are nevertheless able to gaze upon those uncreated powers which exist around Him, and emit the most dazzling light, without any veil or modification." (On the Unchangeableness of God, XVII. (78)).

There is not a vast distance to be traversed between how Jewish theologians like Philo were talking about 'God the Father', 'the Word' and 'the Holy Spirit', and how Paul and John came to describe the living God.  Philo's authentic first century Judaism is the seed-bed out of which Christianity arose.  Two modern religions arose from Second Temple Judaism: Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.  Which of the two is more ancient and authentic? The new religious movements assume it is the religion of the Rabbis. But the religion of the Rabbis was formed in reaction against Philo's way of thinking, which the Rabbis perceived as tainted by the 'heresy' of Christianity.  So they turned their backs on the Septuagint, the Jewish apocrypha and Philo Judaeus, once their own proud heritage. In the Talmud, the Septuagint is even likened to the golden calf: "It came to pass once upon a time that five Elders wrote the law in Greek for King Ptolemy. That was an evil day for Israel, such as the day when Israel built the Calf, because the Law could not be translated in conformity with all its requirements." (Massekhet Soferim 1.6-10, quoted p. 113, 'Josephus, the Bible, and History,' ed. Louis H. Feldman). Had the church not preserved these writings, they would have been lost:

"Yet the use made of his work by the Christians compelled his people to regard him as a betrayer of the law and to avoid his goal as a treacherous snare. For centuries Greek philosophy was banned from Jewish thought, and Philo's works are not mentioned by any Jewish writer. Strangers possessed his inheritance, and his name alone, 'Philo Judaeus,' bore witness to his nationality." (Norman Bentwich, Philo-Judaeus of Alexandria, pp. 196-197).

Judaism grew inward-looking, xenophobic and racialist. Seeking to cut out the gangrene that had led to the catastrophe of Christianity, they mutilated their own heritage. Turning away from Philo's high theology, Rabbinic theology devolved downwards towards crass anthropomorphism and fairy-tale cosmology.  Consequently, when the new religious movements project the modern-day religion of the Rabbis, purged of everything 'tainted' with Christianity, back into the first century, they falsify history. The religion of the Rabbis didn't even exist then! Talmudic Judaism is not Christianity's elder brother in the faith; it is in fact a younger sibling. Some sects of Judaism, like the Sadducees, could not survive the destruction of the temple; others, like the Zealots, could not survive the destruction of the nation. Philo, alas, once the pride of the nation, was dropped, abandoned by the synagogue on guilt-by-association grounds with Christianity. What was allowed to survive, struggling on into the Talmud, is a mere shadow of what once was.

The new religious movements hope to eliminate distinctive Christian doctrines like the Trinity by arguing that, since you can't put new wine in old bottles, therefore Jesus must have been serving up the old wine of Rabbinic Judaism: so when God appeared incarnate among men, He could not have revealed the nature of God as in any way differing from conventional wisdom, or it would have startled people.  The double fallacy of this is that not only was the Lord perfectly capable of serving up new wine, but this is not an instance of it: the Rabbinic Judaism they seek to project back into the first century is an even newer religion than the Christianity they hope thus to eliminate.

Once the Christian revelation of God had come in its fulness, Philo was left behind and his imperfect understanding became a source for heresy.  Still, it is remarkable how much he did know...and according to him, he learned it all from Moses!: "I myself was initiated under Moses the God-beloved into his greater mysteries..." (On the Cherubim, XIV, 48).

Though I've never seen a Christian commentary on the mercy seat atop the ark, from which God spoke, overshadowed by the wings of two cherubim, as an image of the triunity of God, Philo so perceives it.  Here is his very eccentric view of Exodus 25:22:

"And He apportioned cold and heat, and summer and spring, the different seasons of the year, divided by the same dividing Word.  And the three days which passed before the creation of the sun, are equal in number to the three days of the first week which came after the creation of the sun, the number six being dissected equally in order to display the character of eternity and of time.  For thus God allotted three days to eternity before the appearance of the sun, and those which came after the sun he allotted to time; the sun being an imitation of eternity, and time and eternity being the two primary powers of the living God; the one His beneficent power, in accordance with which He made the world, and in respect of which He is called God; the other His chastening power, according to which He rules and governs what He has created, in respect of which He is further denominated Lord, and these two he here states to be divided in the middle by Him standing above them both. 'For', says he, 'I will speak to you from above the mercy-seat, in the midst, between the two cherubim;' that he might show that the most ancient powers of the living God are equal; that is to say, His beneficent and His chastening power, being both divided by the same dividing Word." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XXXIV, 165-166).

The New Testament compresses and collapses Philo's rather diffuse scheme; in the New Testament, the title 'Lord' is taken on by the Word portrayed here in the midst, 'God' is commonly reserved for the Father.


Philo the Heretic

It's said of the dog who walks upright on his two hind feet, 'the wonder is not that he walks well, but that he walks at all.' Withholding one's applause until the dog walks easily or balletically stints the dog's achievement, won only by long and diligent effort.  It's the same with Philo Judaeus, a near-trinitarian.  If one demands he be an orthodox trinitarian before admiring his achievement in Old Testament exegesis, one demands the impossible, because Philo was not in receipt of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Was Philo an Arian?: "And the Father who created the universe has given to his archangelic and most ancient Word a pre-eminent gift, to stand on the confines of both, and separate that which had been created from the Creator.  And this same Word is continually a suppliant to the immortal God on behalf of the mortal race, which is exposed to affliction and misery; and is also the ambassador, sent by the Ruler of all, to the subject race.  And the Word rejoices in the gift, and, exulting in it, announces it and boasts of it, saying, 'And I stood in the midst, between the Lord and you' [Numbers 16:48]; neither being uncreate as God, nor yet created as you, but being the midst between these two extremities, like a hostage, as it were, to both parties: a hostage to the Creator, as a pledge and security that the whole race would never fly off and revolt entirely, choosing disorder rather than order; and to the creature, to lead it to entertain a confident hope that the merciful God would not overlook His own work.  For I will proclaim peaceful intelligence to the creation from Him who has determined to destroy wars, namely God, who is ever the guardian of peace." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XLII, 205-206).  What does 'neither uncreate nor yet created' mean? 'Begotten, not made'? Or 'created, yet not as one of the creatures'?

He spoke of the Logos as also himself "immortal": "In reference to which I admire those who say, 'We are all one man's sons, we are men of peace' [Genesis 42:11]...since how, I should say, could you, O excellent men, avoid being grieved at war, and delighted in peace, being the sons of one and the same father, and he not mortal but immortal, the man of God, who being the Reason of the everlasting God, is of necessity himself also immortal?" (On the Confusion of Tongues, XI, 41).

Sometimes Philo seems to speak of the Word as created, which is the heart of the Arian heresy: ". . .for the word of God is over all the world, and is the most ancient, and the most universal of all the things that are created." (Philo Judaeus, Allegorical Interpretation, Book III, Chapter LXI). So it is easy to understand why the church stopped reading him at a certain point, though he had been popular with the early writers. Some, at least, of his thinking is amenable to heresy, though on these crucial  points in dispute between the heretics and the orthodox he is inconsistent. The lack of a trinitarian vocabulary, of 'one God in three persons,' hampers him. Here is a heretical passage from Philo to warm the hearts of Jehovah's Witnesses everywhere: "But it is not right for the man who anchors on the hope of the alliance of God to crouch and tremble, to whom God says, 'I am the God who was seen by thee in the place of God.' [Genesis 31:13 LXX]...And do not pass by what is here said, but examine it accurately, and see whether there are really two Gods.  For it is said: 'I am the God who was seen by thee;' not in my place, but in the place of God, as if he meant of some other God.  What then ought we to say?  There is one true God only: but they who are called Gods, by an abuse of language, are numerous; on which account the holy scripture on the present occasion indicates that it is the true God that is meant by the use of the article, the expression being, 'I am the God (ho Theos);' but when the word is used incorrectly, it is put without the article, the expression being, 'He who was seen by thee in the place,' not of the God (tou Theou), but simply 'of God' (Theou); and what he here calls God is his most ancient Word, not having any superstitious regard to the position of the names, but only proposing one end to himself, namely, to give a true account of the matter..." (On Dreams, Book I, XXXIX, 227-230).  This unfortunately could have been penned by the Watchtower Society.  It implies that the Word is God, but not true God, versus the New Testament: "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.  He is the true God and eternal life." (1 John 5:20).  So a fair appraisal of Philo's theology would be that it is markedly subordinationist. He tells us that the Word occupies a second rank of 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].
62. 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 before 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?" (Philo Judaeus, Questions and Answers in Genesis, Book 2, Question 62).

Ouch. But many people nowadays claim, incorrectly, that the doctrine of the trinity is a New Testament doctrine altogether. A fairer review of the evidence suggests that an earnest and unprejudiced student of the Old Testament would arrive at an understanding of the trinity. . .only just not an orthodox one! Christians, who have to incorporate into their understanding of God Jesus' self-revelation, are obliged to come to terms with John 5:23, a demand for equal honor. Philo was constrained by no such circumstance.

Impatient listeners often slam the door on Old Testament explications of the Trinity with the contention that since no religion which relies on the Old Testament alone teaches the triunity of God, the Trinity cannot be an Old Testament doctrine.  Even if this objection were accurate it would fail of its object, because the Old Testament is the New veiled, and the New Testament is the Old unveiled; thus, using the New as metal detector to reveal the hidden treasures within the Old is long-standing and legitimate Christian practice.  But the objection is not even accurate.  Philo knew no Bible but the Old Testament, and he was a 'trinitarian' of sorts, albeit a subordinationist.  For all practical purposes, Philo's God is the Father, His Logos, and His Holy Spirit.  Nor did he learn of the triunity of God from the pagan philosophers, who themselves knew of no such thing.

Some Philo readers over-estimate the degree to which he is heretical by Christian lights through failing to distinguish the different senses in which he uses words like 'logos,' reason or Word, and 'sophia,' wisdom.  These words are inevitable ones to any writer in Greek on philosophical or theological topics, so Philo can hardly be blamed for not always using them in the same signification.  There is a human wisdom as well as God's own wisdom: "In order to show that the sacred genus of wisdom is of a twofold nature, the one kind being divine, and the other human; and the divine kind is unmingled and unadulterated, on which account it sacrifices to the pure, and unalloyed, and only God existing in unity; but the human kind is of a mixed and alloyed nature..." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XXXVIII, 182-183).  So when Philo says that wisdom is created: "Moreover, after the creation of the world human wisdom was created, as also after the creation of world the Paradise was planted..." (Questions and Answers on Genesis, I, 6) -- the careless reader may assume it's divine wisdom which is created, thus accusing him of outright Arianism, when he has said plainly it's human wisdom which is created.

Philo had not yet solved the dilemma posed to monotheism by a God who is revealed in scripture as interacting with His own word: "He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions." (Psalm 107:20).  At times he stumbles into expressions like this, falling into the arms of waiting Jehovah's Witnesses: "Why, then, does he use the expression, 'In the image of God I made man' [Genesis 9:6 LXX], as if he were speaking of that of some other God, and not of having made him in the likeness of Himself? This expression is used with great beauty and wisdom.  For it was impossible that anything mortal 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; for it was fitting that the rational type in the soul of man should receive the impression of the Word of God..." (On Providence, Fragment I).  Some of the early Christian writers, like Origen, unsuspectingly followed Philo into realms where Christian theology should not venture.  Once Christian theology had learned to stand on its own two feet — the two testaments, in the second of which it is revealed that "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30) — no more was heard of any "second God."

Other heresies from the Christian perspective include 'Origenist'-style ideas, ultimately derived from Plato. Here he suggests the pre-existence of the human soul: "For while the soul of the wise man, descending from above from the sky, comes down upon and enters a mortal and is sown in the field of the body, it is truly sojourning in a land which is not his own. . .when it transfers itself out of the abode of the mortal body and returns as it were to the metropolis of its native country, from which it originally emigrated into the body.  Since to say to a dead man, 'Thou shalt go to thy fathers' [Genesis 15:15], what else is this but to propose to him and set before him a second existence apart from the body. . ." (Questions and Answers on Genesis, III, 10). Or, maybe not: "Whence came the soul, whither will it go, how long will it be our mate and comrade? Can we tell its essential nature? When did we get it? Before birth? But then there was no 'ourselves.'" (Philo Judaeus, On the Cherubim, Chapter XXXII.) With some of these ideas it's difficult to get an exact fix; surely this suggests the Platonic idea of pre-existence: "Now some of the souls have descended into bodies, but others have never deigned to be brought into union with any of the parts of earth." (On the Giants, Chapter III, Loeb edition p. 451). We do find the underlying assumption of this theory, "So if you realize that souls and demons and angels are but different names for the same one underlying object, you will cast from you that most grievous burden, the fear of demons or superstition." (Philo Judaeus, On the Giants, Chapter IV, Loeb edition p. 453).

Since the Christian theologian Origen propounded many of these same ideas, they have been discussed exhaustively from the Biblical perspective, and ultimately found incompatible with God's revelation.  Perhaps the 'Origenist heresy' ought to be called the 'Philonic heresy,' because many of the ideas for which Origen was condemned came from Philo Judaeus. Or to go back further, the Platonic heresy. The Platonic idea that the body is the prison of the soul goes with the package: "For it is not possible for one who dwells in the body and belongs to the race of mortals to be united with God, but he alone can be so whom God delivers from that prison house of the body." (Philo Judaeus, Allegorical Interpretation, Book III, Chapter XIV). Some of these ideas lead nowhere but to gnosticism and really can find no Christian home. So Philo cannot be the Christian's constant companion; but so long as the ways converge, he can be a delightful travelling companion, noticing and picking up the most beautiful artifacts along the roadside.

Sometimes Philo says things that sound consistent with the Christian teaching that God created ex nihilo, from nothing. In offering his interpretation of the two cherubim shadowing the mercy seat, he explains that God brought things into being which had no prior existence:

"But I myself should say, that what is here represented under a figure are the two most ancient and supreme powers of the divine God, namely, his creative and his kingly power; and his creative power is called God; according to which he arranged, and created, and adorned this universe, and his kingly power is called Lord, by which he rules over the beings whom he has created, and governs them with justice and firmness; for he, being the only true living God, is also really the Creator of the world; since he brought things which had no existence into being; and he is also a king by nature, because no one can rule over beings that have been created more justly than he who created them." (Philo Judaeus, On the Life of Moses, Book Three, Chapter VIII).

This sounds promising, because Christians believe God created things which had no prior existence, including elemental matter; however, the pagan philosopher Plato thought that God created from pre-existing matter, and Philo sometimes leans towards that view. In the present day, the Mormons defend this position.

Philo's 'negative theology' denies that God can be known in His essence:

"...on which account in the great song it is said (the speaker assuming the character of God), 'Behold! behold! it is I!' [Deuteronomy 32:39]...He does not say, 'Behold me, for it is wholly impossible that God according to His essence should be perceived or beheld by any creature, but He says, 'Behold! it is I,' that is to say, behold my existence; for it is sufficient for the reasoning powers of man to advance so far as to learn that there is and actually exists the great cause of all things, and to attempt to proceed further, so as to pursue investigations into the essence or distinctive qualities of God, is an absolute piece of folly; for God did not grant this even to the all-wise Moses; not though he addressed innumerable requests to Him, all having this object; but an oracle was delivered to him, telling him, 'Thou shalt see my back parts, but my face thou shalt not see' [Exodus 33:23];...but He himself alone is incomprehensible; and He is incomprehensible by any direct and immediate access...but He may be understood in His subsequent and consistent faculties; for they, by means of the works accomplished by them, declare not His essence, but His existence." (The Posterity and Exile of Cain, XLVIII, 168-169).

Like the ' 'Ein Sof' of the Kabbalists, God as He is in Himself cannot be known, only His 'powers' can be encountered. Unlike the Kabbalists, however, Philo was at heart a monotheist and an orthodox Jew, albeit one unlike any now living:

Philo is sadly neglected in the evangelical world today. Many people have never read him at all. They are depriving themselves of many beauties in his prose, as well as, it must be admitted, more than a few absurdities. No one can understand first century Judaism without reading Philo. He was neither a prophet without honor in his own Alexandrian country, nor did the Palestinians dislike him; by all accounts he was a popular, mainstream figure. He only became unpopular years later when the Rabbis, rightly or wrongly, blamed him in particular and Greek learning in general for Christianity. Because nature abhors a vacuum, thus the Rabbis, who crafted a novel religion out of the ruins of second temple Judaism, get wafted in the evangelical imagination back several centuries from where they actually belong; first century Judaism is ceded to them, unwon, unfought-for, quite anachronistically. What they are telling us is authentic first century Judaism are people who not only were not popular at the time, but didn't even exist at the time.

Certainly Philo is a double-edged sword. He is, or can be, dangerous in that his theology veers toward Arianism, or at times even further afield toward gnosticism. Can a man who admires Socrates as much as Philo possibly be a Bible-believer? But let's have fair play. Do they ask that same question about the neoplatonist Augustine? Philo says he learned his doctrine from the Bible:

"I myself was initiated under Moses the God-beloved into his greater mysteries, yet when I saw the prophet Jeremiah and knew him to be not only himself enlightened, but a worthy minister of the holy secrets, I was not slow to become his disciple." (Philo Judaeus, On the Cherubim, Chapter XIV, pp. 37-39 Loeb edition).

His habits of exegesis seem so willful that the modern reader can scarcely believe him. However, dismissing this all as Greek philosophy encounters the obstacle, that it's not what the Greek philosophers taught:


A Philo Miscellany

Philo advances various other odd-ball theories which would later meet with a cold shoulder from an unsympathetic Christendom, including the claim that the stars are rational, animate beings, one of the tenets of the 'Origenist heresy.'  Philo even claimed to know someone who thought stars could go mad: "And I recollect having before now heard some man who had applied himself to learning in no careless or indolent spirit, say that men were not the only beings which went mad with vain opinions, but that the stars did so too." (On Dreams, Book 2, XVI, 114).  Philo was no lone voice in the wilderness; his works open the door to a lost Alexandria where Bible scholars dissected and classified the mental illnesses of stars.  How original was Philo?  No one can now know, because the other voices with whom he is ever arguing -- 'Some say this, some say that,' have fallen silent; only Philo's works remain.

Here he sticks a toe into the waters of heliocentrism, egged on by the seven-branched candlestick:

"This much alone we must remind our readers of at this moment, that the sacred candlestick and the seven lights upon it are an imitation of the wandering of the seven planets through the heaven.  How so? some one will say.  Because, we will reply, in the same manner as the lights, so also does every one of the planets shed its rays.  They therefore, being more brilliant, do transmit more brilliant beams to the earth, and brilliant beyond them all is he who is the center one of the seven, the sun.  And I call him the center, not merely because he has the central position, as some have thought, but also because he has on many other accounts a right to be ministered unto and attended by the others accompanying him as bodyguards on each side, by reason of his dignity and his magnitude, and the great benefits which he pours upon all earthly things." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XLV, 221-223).

Philo is prone to 'arguing in the alternative,' as when one responds to a charge of denting a borrowed pot with the argument, 'a.) it was like that when I borrowed it, b.) the pot is not dented, and c.) I never borrowed any pot.' He's already made the Logos the central candlestick: "Concerning the candlestick above mentioned, the artist speaks again a second time and says, that from its different branches there are three arms projecting out on each side, equals in all respects to one another, and having on the top lamps like nuts, in the shape of flowers supporting the lights; the seventh flower being fashioned on the top of the candlestick of solid gold, and having seven golden places for lights above them; so that in many accounts it has been believed to be fashioned in such a manner because the number six is divided into two triads by the Word, making the seventh and being placed in the midst of them, as indeed is the case now." (Who is the Heir of Divine Things, XLIV, 218-219).  So does that stop him from making it the sun, too? Not when he's rolling.  (And besides, the Word is the "Sun of righteousness" (Malachi 4:2)!)  Philo's tendency to 'argue in the alternative' is one of the reasons you see such a wide range of theories as to what he really meant. Furthermore there is always, as with any literary collection from antiquity, the possibility the Philonic library incorporates works from different authors; or perhaps he changed his mind. His brief venture into heliocentrism doesn't prevent him from reverting the immovable earth of Ptolemaic orthodoxy elsewhere in his writings.

Another point of interest: It was a truism to Philo that 'today' in scripture means 'eternally': "Moreover, she confirmed this opinion of hers by the sacred scriptures, one of which ran in this form: 'You who cleave unto the Lord your God are all alive to this day' [Deuteronomy 4:4]: for she saw that those who sought refuge with God and became his suppliants, were the only living persons, and that all others were dead.  And Moses, it seems, testifies to the immortality of those persons, when he adds, 'You are all alive to this day;' and this day is interminable eternity, from which there is no departure; for the period of months, and years, and, in short, all the divisions of time, are only the inventions of men doing honor to number.  But the unerring proper name of eternity is 'today;' for the sun is always the same, without ever changing, going at one time beneath the earth, and at another time above the earth, and by him it is that day and night, the measures of time, are distinguished." (On Flight and Finding, XI, 56-57).

Philo's allegorical method of scriptural interpretation has few modern admirers. And truly, his wilder flights cannot be defended as 'interpretation' at all. People today generally prefer literalism. The popular historical-critical method aims to place a lid on the passage, holding down the sense to what modern readers conjecture the people of the day might have been likely to understand. Philo was not moved by these objections, he blows that lid off, because if you understand what you are saying, you are not really a prophet:

  • "...and Moses says, that if they are truly pious they shall not be deprived of a proper knowledge of the future; but that some other prophet [Deuteronomy 18:18] will appear to them on a sudden, inspired like himself, who will preach and prophesy among them, saying nothing of his own (for he who is truly possessed and inspired, even when he speaks, is unable to comprehend what he is himself saying), but that all the words that he should utter would proceed from him as if another was prompting him; for the prophets are interpreters of God, who is only using their voices as instruments, in order to explain what He chooses."
  • (The Special Laws, I, XI, 64-65).

Like practically everyone on earth who lived prior to Louis Pasteur's experiments disproving spontaneous generation, Philo Judaeus believed 'abiogenesis' was not only possible, but happened all the time: "The honey, perhaps, because the bee which collects it is not a clean animal, inasmuch as it derives its birth, as the story goes, from the putrefaction and corruption of dead oxen, just as wasps spring from the bodies of horses." (The Special Laws, I, LIII, 291).

The progressive Philo favored democracy: "But there are two species of cities, the one better, the other worse.  That is the better which enjoys a democratic government, a constitution which honors equality, the rulers of which are law and justice; and such a constitution as this is a hymn to God." (On the Confusion of Tongues, XXIII, 108).

"For the divine Word brings round its operations in a circle, which the common multitude of men call fortune. And then, as it continually flows on among cities, and nations, and countries, it overturns existing arrangements and gives to one person what has previously belonged to another, changing the affairs of individuals only in point of time, in order that the whole world may become, as it were, one city, and enjoy the most excellent of constitutions, a democracy." (On the Unchangeableness of God, Chapter XXXVI).

". . .being desirous of the establishment of democracy in the soul, the most excellent of constitutions instead of tyrannies and absolute sovereignties, and wishing also to introduce law and justice instead of lawlessness and injustice, which had prevailed up to that time." (On Abraham, Chapter XLI.)

Philo was an advocate of silent prayer: "And even if they bring nothing else, still when they bring themselves, the most perfect completeness of virtue and excellence, they are offering the most excellent of all sacrifices, honoring God, the Benefactor and Savior, with hymns and thanksgivings; the former uttered by the organs of the voice, and the latter without the agency of the tongue or mouth, the worshippers making their exclamations and invocations with the soul alone, and only appreciable by the intellect, and there is but one ear, namely, that of the Deity which hears them." (The Special Laws, I, L, 272).

Was Philo a Platonist...or a Stoic?  He says he's the follower of Moses: "But we who are the followers and disciples of the prophet Moses, will never abandon our investigation of the nature of the true God; looking upon the knowledge of Him as the true end of happiness; and thinking that the true everlasting life, as the law says, is to live in obedience to and worship of God; in which precept it gives us a most important and philosophical lesson; for in real truth those who are atheists are dead as to their souls, but those who are marshalled in the ranks of the true living God, as His servants, enjoy an everlasting life." (The Special Laws, I, LXIII, 345). His kinship and admiration for Greek philosophy is a sore point with those who despise this secular occupation; but his detractors overlook the extent to which he was indeed, as he advertised himself, first and foremost, a Bible student. While his affinities lie with neo-Platonism, he is no slavish follower of any school other than Moses'.

Philo joins the crowd of those who have expressed the 'negative' form of the Golden Rule: "Moreover, it is ordained in the laws themselves that no one shall do to his neighbor what he would be unwilling to have done to himself." (Hypotheca, 7.4).

In a striking image Philo likens the Logos to the pupil of the eye:

"Such also is the word of God, being profitable both in its entirety and also in every part, even if it be ever so small. May it not be also likened to the pupil of the eye? For as that, being the smallest portion of the eye, does nevertheless behold the entire orbs of existing things and the boundless sea, and the vastness of the air, and the whole immeasurable space of heaven, which the sun, whether rising in the east or setting in the west, can bound; so also is the word of God, very sharp-sighted, so as to be capable of beholding every thing, and by which all things that are worth seeing can be beheld, in reference to which fact it is white. For what can be more brilliant or visible at a greater distance than the divine word, by participation in which all other things can repel mists and darkness, being eager to share in the light of the soul?" (Philo Judaeus, Allegorical Interpretation, Book III, Chapter LIX.)

Perhaps he was thinking of Psalm 119, "The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple."(Psalm 119:130). In a related train of thought, the Lord said, "The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness." (Luke 11:34). It is somewhat difficult to understand the thought here expressed, but perhaps Philo can help: "As, therefore, the sun extends his rays from heaven to the boundaries of the earth, tempering and dissolving the exceeding violence of the heat that is in them by cool air, for he mixes his rays with that, in order that that portion of them which gives light being separated from that portion which gives heat, he may remit somewhat of his power of burning, but retain the power by which he gives light, and so be received with welcome, when meeting that kindred and friendly light which is situated in the eyes of man; for the meeting of these two lights in the same place, coming from an opposite direction, and the reception of the one by the other, is what causes that comprehension which we arrive at by our faculty of sight. . ." (Philo Judaeus, On the Unchangeableness of God, Chapter XVII). Sight, whether spiritual or physical, is perceived as a meeting or agreement of two 'lights,' the little light within and the Greater without.

So all in all, Philo is a mixed bag, a storehouse of good things mingled with worthless and unprofitable things like numerology. Chew the meat and spit out the bones. The study of his works is rewarding on its own merits, and also a useful corrective against the made-up 'first century Jews' who populate every new religious movement's church history. He is a real, historical person, whereas their 'first century Jews' are little wind-up Unitarian dolls made after the heresiarch's own image.

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