The Prologue of John, The Logos, The Creation, Philo and Wisdom – Part 2

This is a continuation of The Prologue of John, The Logos, The Creation, Philo and Wisdom – Part 1. In this post we’ll be looking at some instances Philo of Alexandria used the concept of the Logos (or The Word) in his writings and see if we can’t learn something about the Prologue of John from how Philo uses this concept.
What are the features of the Word according to John in his prologue? I would argue they are as follows:

1. Was from the beginning with God
2. Being Divine
3. All Creation coming to be through him/it.
4. When incarnated revealed the Father

So let’s see if we can look to see if there are similarities in Philo’s works. In his work “The Allegorical Interpretation II” Philo says:

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.

And in “the Allegorical Interpretation III” he says:

But the shadow of God is his word, which he used like an instrument when he was making the world. And this shadow, and, as it were, model, is the archetype of other things. For, as God is himself the model of that image which he has now called a shadow, so also that image is the model of other things, as he showed when he commenced giving the law to the Israelites, and said, “And God made man according to the image of God.”{46}{#ge 1:26.} as the image was modelled according to God, and as man was modelled according to the image, which thus received the power and character of the model.

So we can see in these passages that according to Philo, the Word (Logos) is second to God himself, not part of God, but second to him, and was used, like an instrument, in making the world. This would usage of the word as an instrument would explain John’s phrase “Through him were all thing made,” (πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο). In the same way something could be made through some instrument, for example a document could be made through the use of a computer, so the world could be said to be made by God, through the Word. It can also be noted that Philo thinks that the Logos was in a sense an image of God, and thus the image of man is really the image of the Logos, which is the image of God. This is not so much relevant to the prologue of John, but may be very relevant when looking at Colossians and some other early Christian texts. We see here some king of concept of a Demiurge, not in the negative Gnostic sense, but in a more positive sense of the Demiurge being used by God for creation.
So we have a parallel here, both John and Philo describe the creation as coming into being through the Logos. But was the Logos eternal or was it created. Well in the same text by Philo “the Allegorical Interpretation III” we get an answer:

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.

We get confirmation of this in his work “Who is the Heir of Divine things”:

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 separated that which had been created from the Creator.

So Philo conceived of the Logos as being created, and also as personal, (calling him and Archangel), but what’s clear is that the Logos was not eternal. Does this clash with John 1:1? I don’t think it does, in the beginning does not mean from eternity, it mean’s simply in the beginning, in the beginning of God’s works, and all things came through the Logos. With that in mind it would certainly be logical to say that he was there from the beginning even though he’s not eternal. We get more explinanation on the Logos’ status as creation further on in the text:

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;”{69}{#nu 16:48.} neither being uncreate as God, nor yet created as you, but being in 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.

So being that that everything was made through the Logos, he has a higher status than the rest of creation, and works as a kind of intermediary between creation and God (sound familiar). But none the less, there from the beginning, not “uncreated”, not “eternal” and through which all things came to be. So far it fits with John’s prologues picture of the Logos.
Let’s look further in Philo’s work “Questions and Answers on Genesis II”:

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? (#Ge 9:6). Very appropriately and without any falsehood was this oracular sentence uttered by God, for no mortal thing could have been formed on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe, but only after the pattern of the second deity, who is the Word of the supreme Being; since it is fitting that the rational soul of man should bear it the type of the divine Word; since in his first Word God is superior to the most rational possible nature. But he who is superior to the Word holds his rank in a better and most singular pre-eminence, and how could the creature possibly exhibit a likeness of him in himself?

So here Philo talks about the word as a kind of second Deity, a subservient Deity to God YHWH himself, who is the “supreme Father of the Universe.” So with this in mind we might be able to interpret John 1:1 as referencing the Logos as a second Deity, subservient to YHWH himself. That would explain how from the beginning, the Logos could be with God, but yet be God (or a God, or Divine) himself.

Philo’s motivation for this move is probably more philosophical that biblical, although it does have biblical precedence in Proverbs 8, and precedence in some of the Duetero-Canonical texts, such as the Wisdom of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon. But what’s important we have here a 1rst century Jew, positing the Logos as a second subservient Deity.

I can already hear Trinitarian apologists screaming “you’ve given up monotheism; the bible clearly says there is only one God.” Well there are plenty of answers to that; one is to actually read the context of the scriptures saying there is only one God. But Philo has his own answers. Let’s look at Philo’s work “On Dreams”:

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.” (1.228) A very glorious boast for the soul, that God should think fit to appear to and to converse with it. 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. (1.229) 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); (1.230) 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;

Here Philo again puts it to us that there is a second God, the word, and he anticipates the reply that there is only one God. His answer is interesting, especially when we look at John 1:1. He points to the use of the article as referencing the one True God, YHWH, and then points to the lack of the article as being the Logos, the second God, the Demiurge of God. Isn’t this exactly what we see in John 1:1 “1Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.” The Logos was with with the God, and God (Without the article) was the logos. Philo would have recognized this instantly, and understood it as talking about the second God, through which everything was created, the Logos. He would not read it as the Logos being identified as YHWH himself.

Notice in this passage that it’s explaining how it could be written that people saw God, or that God appeared to them. Philo is saying that they didn’t actually see God YHWH himself, no one can see God, but rather they saw his Logos, who in a sense represented God to them. This goes perfectly well with the end of John’s prologue:

18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

If we have Philo’s concept in mind it all makes sense, the son is the Logos, he represents YHWH to men, but he is not YHWH himself.
I want to look now at one more passage; this one is found in Philo’s “On the Confusion of Tongues”:

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.”{41}{#de 14:1.} And again, “God who begot Thee;”{42}{#de 32:18.} and in another place, “Is not he thy father?” Accordingly, it is natural for those who have this disposition of soul to look upon nothing as beautiful except what is good, which is the citadel erected by those who are experienced in this kind of warfare as a defence against the end of pleasure, and as a means of defeating and destroying it. (146) And even if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let him labour 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.

I don’t know about you, but this passage sends chills up my spine. Philo calls the Logos the “first-born,” he posits the Logos as the first son of God, to which we can all try and emulate, so that we also may be called “sons of God.” According to Philo even if no one is worthy to be called a son of God, the first born of God is. In John’s prologue he says very clearly “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,” This fits perfectly with Philo’s usage of “son” describing the Logos as somehow uniquely the son, every though others may be called “God’s Son,” the Logos was the first born.

So what am I saying with all this. I’m not saying that John copied Philo; I’m not saying that John was dependant on Philo. What I’m saying is that in 1rst century Judaism, at least some strands, the concept of the Logos as a second Deity, a created Deity through which all creation came to be, one who could be called the “first born of God,” and one who worked as an intermediary between God and creation was a live concept, this was not out of the blue. I don’t know if Philo came up with this himself, or if he took it from elsewhere, there is reason to think he took it from elsewhere as it parallels texts in Proverbs, the Wisdom of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon. The point is this idea was around before John, and must be taken into account when exegeting the Prologue of John. The parallels exist. It’s much more likely that John and people who read John’s prologue who were well read Jews, would read the prologue as talking about a second, created Deity, subservient to YHWH, in light of the same concepts Philo had, as opposed a problem for which to invent the Trinity Doctrine.

Read Part 3 here.

The Prologue of John, The Logos, The Creation, Philo and Wisdom – Part 2

7 thoughts on “The Prologue of John, The Logos, The Creation, Philo and Wisdom – Part 2

  1. David says:

    Philo explicitly says that the Logos is “neither…uncreated as God, nor yet created as [humans], but being in the midst between these two extremities.” So the Logos is neither created nor uncreated. Either Philo is contradicting himself, or he’s using the word “created” in two different senses. Since we want to make this Logos stuff the basis of an interpretation of John, we’ll assume the latter.

    We’ll start by assuming that “uncreated” means “unoriginated in any way, totally absolute and not reliant on anything.” So when we deny that the Logos is uncreated, we mean simply that It has Its origin in the Absolute – that is, God. We don’t necessarily mean that the Logos could have failed to exist, or that there was a time when it was not, just that it comes from somewhere in some sense.

    If we decide that the word “created” should mean “brought into being in the manner described in Genesis 1” – which, in a discussion of Biblical theology, ought to be the first thing that comes to mind when the term “creation” gets used – then we end up saying that while the Logos isn’t unoriginated or Absolute, it wasn’t brought into being like the world was either.

    (Incidentally, if we take the whole “without Him, NOTHING was made that has been made” seriously, we’re going to have to conclude that either a) the Logos was an active participant in its own creation – that it was the agent through which it was made – manifestly absurd! or b) there is a sense of the term “made” in which the Logos was not made. The latter is obviously going to lend itself towards Orthodox thinking.)

    If, to avoid confusion, we come up with a specific word (eg, begetting) to describe the “non-creative origination” of the Logos – which we really ought to do if we want to avoid equivocation on the word “creation” – then it seems to me that we’re well on the way to the Athanasian formula – the Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten.

    If we make an identification of the Logos with God’s Wisdom, things get even worse for the unitarian. To my mind, saying that God could have lacked Wisdom, or that there was a time when He was without it, is straight-up blasphemy! Interpreting the passages describing Wisdom’s creation (before the Aeons, no less!) as ways of affirming that God’s Wisdom is dependent on God in a way that God is not dependent on anything else seems to be the easiest way out of the dilemma. Certainly you wouldn’t seriously expect me to believe that God could have been a fool, or that there was a time when He was ignorant!

    Sirach 1:4 would appear to confirm my suspicions that any Christology invoking the Wisdom tradition will end up being trinitarian or binitarian: “Wisdom was created before all things, and prudent insight FROM ETERNITY.” If you’re describing the “creation” of something that has been around forever, then you’re obviously assigning a wider semantic range to the term “creation” than it has in, eg, the Nicene creed.

    If we take into account the use of the cognate “memrah” (the aramaic term for “word”) in the Targums, we find still further evidence that these things are more complex than you’re letting on. Quoting the Jewish Encyclopedia: “Instead of the Scriptural “You have not believed in the Lord,” Targ. Deut. i. 32 has “You have not believed in the word of the Lord”; instead of “I shall require it [vengeance] from him,” Targ. Deut. xviii. 19 has “My word shall require it.” “The Memra,” instead of “the Lord,” is “the consuming fire” (Targ. Deut. ix. 3; comp. Targ. Isa. xxx. 27).” The list is a lot longer, but you can get a good idea of the flavor from these first few examples. Basically, when the rabbis were worried that something in the Hebrew original was too anthropomorphic, they replaced the relevant word for “God” with “Word of God.” It’s really just a way of saying God without saying God, if you catch my meaning, but if somebody with a trinitarian/incarnational bent had been exposed to that manner of speaking…

    In any case, I think I’ve said enough to explain why I believe that it is precisely traditional trinitarian thought that has the Jewish pedigree you attribute to Arainism.


    1. David, thanks for Your reply.

      The Originist tradition which explicitly drew from Philo, interpreted the “Logos” as being created in the sense that there was a time when it was not.

      When he says “both created and uncreated”, if we are to understand Philo as being more or less unified in his thought, it must mean that the logos is “made” and inferior to the father, and also that it is not “uncreated” in the same sence that the Father is uncreated.

      It seems to be that Philo is saying that the logos is created in the sense that it is made by God, like everything else, but uncreated in the sense that it is not part of the “world” but rather what holds “the world” together.

      I think you’re taking the “without him NOTHING was made” too literally … 1 Corinthians 15:27 makes it Clear that God is not included in those Things subject to Christ, had Paul not made that Clear it still would not have been justified to read “all Things” as including God.

      If I say “me and friend ate everything” obviously we didn’t eat each other, I think the same principle applies to “without him Nothing was made”.

      I have no problem With the Language of Begeting obviously, the question is whether or not we can take from that term an ontological equality With God, or that it can be consistant With a view of God that sees him as co eternal With Christ. But I do think that there are good reasons (1 Corinthians 1:15: πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως, the genetive form of Paseys implies that Jesus belongs to creation) to think that begotten is compatible With being, in a sense, created.

      Proverbs 8 Wisdom is used metaphorically, it’s personifying wisdom, but it could be interpreted as describing an actual person … but that doesn’t mean we can say that “wisdom” as a quality which may be personified in a metaphorical sense Can be literally the same as “wisdom” being a name of a person.

      Proverbs 8 can be interpreted both ways, but that doesn’t mean it is saying that the quality of wisdom is a person.

      Sirach says Wisdom was created from eternity from the begining (πρὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς ἔκτισέν με) which means the begining of ages, the begining of eternity. Wisdom is still created here, in the begining, before the ages, I don’t have a problem With that Language at all.

      You’re interpretation of the memra (I have to admit I am not all that familiar With the targums), does it come from Daniel Boyarins work? I’ve read about it a while back, and I seem to remember thinking that binitarianism was a term that was more Place apon the data than taken out from it, it seems to me like classical Originist/Justin Martyrish Logos theology fits just as well as as would a proto-trinitarian theology.

      Again I thank you for Your insightful comments, I found them very interesting and helpful


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s