Not Traditional, Original

T 1.11 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 11, Avoid the Philosophies and the Wisdom of the World

God is God of all and Jesus Christ is the central figure throughout Scripture and both are incredibly important in everything a believer thinks and does. Salvation and the power of the spirit in a person’s life allowing believers to have a more than abundant life is a terrifically exciting topic and of utmost importance too. But this topic, avoiding the philosophies and wisdom of the world, is no less important because without understanding the philosophy of the word and avoiding the philosophy of the world people can be talked out of the greatness and simplicity that is in Christ, the abundance of life that’s available now as well as the eternal rewards that can be granted by learning and adhering to the standard of wisdom given by God in Scripture.

The spiritual battle is waged in our minds. And the competing armies are the wisdom of Scripture versus the wisdom of the world. Will you accept the wisdom, the philosophy, of Scripture in all the areas of your life, or will you be seduced into believing the wisdom, the philosophy, of the world in different areas of your life?

The first conflict in the bible is a philosophical one, a battle over whose wisdom to follow..

Now the serpent was more subtle than any animal of the field which Yahweh God had made. He said to the woman, “Has God really said, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees of the garden, but not the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden. God has said, ‘You shall not eat of it. You shall not touch it, lest you die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You won’t really die, for God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took some of its fruit, and ate; and she gave some to her husband with her, and he ate it, too. (Gen 3:1-6 WEB)

In Genesis chapter 3 the serpent told Eve that the wisest thing to do about the tree in the middle of the garden would be to eat the fruit because it would make her like God! It says that Eve saw that the tree was to be desired to make one wise! God told them not to eat! The wise thing would have been to do what God said.  But the serpent enticed with his wisdom.  It was a battle of wisdoms and we all lost that fight.

In its simplest form philosophy is just the love of wisdom. But God’s wisdom follows the rules of God’s word while worldly wisdom has its own rules that can make the word of God void. But make no mistake, the Scriptures are very concerned about where you get your wisdom. There are hundreds and hundreds of references about wisdom and wise people in scripture.

Get wisdom. Get understanding. Don’t forget, and don’t deviate from the words of my mouth. Don’t forsake her, and she will preserve you. Love her, and she will keep you. (Pro 4:5-6 WEB)

Believers are charged to get wisdom.  The words of God’s mouth are the source of true wisdom.  James advises us that if we lack wisdom to ask of God and he will liberally give it.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach; and it will be given to him. (Jas 1:5 WEB)

So, wisdom is something we want, and that is available. Wisdom is such an important topic in Scripture as the word wisdom alone is used over 200 times in the ESV version and about 50 times just in the New Testament.  Note that the young Jesus increased in wisdom.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (Luk 2:52 WEB)

When people were needed to run things for the new church, wisdom was a quality that was looked for.

Therefore select from among you, brothers, seven men of good report, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. (Act 6:3 WEB)

Look at these wisdom references:

But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds for our glory, (1Co 2:7 WEB)

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; (Eph 1:17 WEB)

Additionally, the word wise is used over 200 times in the WEB version, often when comparing people wise in the word of God to people wise in the world.

We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You have honor, but we have dishonor. (1Co 4:10 WEB)

In the Scriptures, James wrote about two sources of wisdom.  One is the pure, peaceful, gentle wisdom from above, and the other is the wisdom of the world.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good conduct that his deeds are done in gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and don’t lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, sensual, and demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition are, there is confusion and every evil deed. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (Jas 3:13-18 WEB)

So, wisdom can be godly or devilish, depending on the source. God’s wisdom comes from his word.

Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, even as Yahweh my God commanded me, that you should do so in the middle of the land where you go in to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who shall hear all these statutes and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”  (Deu 4:5-6 WEB)

Moses here is speaking to the children of Israel when he tells them that their wisdom and their understanding are in God’s statutes, God’s words to them. Do you see the promise there that says that other nations will see God’s statutes and say that Israel is a nation of wise and understanding people? Of course, that is an Old Testament verse. But the principle is the same. Here’s one from the new covenant.

From infancy, you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus. (2Ti 3:15 WEB)

Paul simply tells Timothy that it is the Scriptures that are able to make him wise.  God’s wisdom comes from scripture.

The point in the verses above is that the source of this wisdom is the word of God delivered to God’s people.  As we read above, “Get wisdom. Get understanding. Don’t forget, and don’t deviate from the words of my mouth.”  God’s wisdom is limited to what he has revealed.  That’s not what you or I think about what he has revealed, it’s about what he actually has revealed

The book of Hebrews says that we received the word of God from God by way of the prophets and Jesus Christ, who, besides being the Messiah, is the greatest prophet of all.

God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son. (Heb 1:1-2a WEB)

The source for truth and the wisdom of all things spiritual is God, who reveals things to his spokespeople, the prophets, who relay the message to the rest of us.  This is confirmed in many places in scripture.  Look at these verses.

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people; and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets who have been from of old), (Luk 1:68-70 WEB)

That verse says that God has spoken: “by the mouth of his holy prophets who have been from of old”.  That is how we got God’s word. It wasn’t by philosophers, it wasn’t by poets, it wasn’t by men reasoning and debating until they thought they figured it out.  It was by revelation from God. God himself is the source and He communicated through his spokespeople, the prophets, including his Son, Jesus. And he has been doing that from ancient times. Here are more examples.

Yahweh spoke by his servants the prophets, saying, (2Ki 21:10 WEB)

We haven’t obeyed Yahweh our God’s voice, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets. (Dan 9:10 WEB)

Yahweh’s word came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and Yahweh’s hand was there on him. (Eze 1:3 WEB)

But the things which God announced by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled. (Act 3:18 WEB)

Now all this has happened, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, (Mat 1:22 WEB)

The issue that we are exploring is wisdom, and right now we are looking at the source of the wisdom.  Philosophy, the love of wisdom, is not innately good or bad. What is good or bad, godly or devilish, is the source of wisdom.

We are charged to follow the original Apostles’ traditions, their teachings and practices.

So then, brothers, stand firm, and hold the traditions which you were taught by us, whether by word, or by letter. (2Th 2:15 WEB)

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother who walks in rebellion, and not after the tradition which they received from us. (2Th 3:6 WEB)

In this tradition, the apostles warned to avoid world wisdom sources.

Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ.  (Col 2:8 WEB)

The philosophy that we are warned against includes Greek philosophers. Greek philosophy is mentioned in scripture:

Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also were conversing with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be advocating foreign deities,” because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. They took hold of him, and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is, which is spoken by you? For you bring certain strange things to our ears. We want to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the strangers living there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing.  (Act 17:18-21 WEB)

Paul speaks against world wisdom in his Corinthian letters. Corinth was a Greek city with powerful leanings to philosophy.  The Apostle Paul went there and spoke, not from a philosophical point of view, but with a view to demonstrating the power of God in people’s lives:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1Co 2:1-5 ESV)

Paul says that there is no comparison between the wisdom of the world and the power of the word of God to accomplish what it has the power to do.

And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1Co 2:13-16 ESV)

Paul writes that he imparted the teaching about Christ not in words taught by human wisdom.  He says that we have the mind of Christ (when we walk in the renewed mind (Rom 12:2)). Paul is talking to the Greeks in Corinth about the liabilities of worldly philosophy, human wisdom. Paul didn’t quote Plato, Aristotle, or the other Greek philosophers when talking to them about what is truly powerful.  He taught scripture.  And he demonstrated the spirit.

It is important to acknowledge that the people being talked about as promoters of philosophy and world wisdom of the world are not just the unreligious:

Timothy, guard that which is committed to you, turning away from the empty chatter and oppositions of what is falsely called knowledge; which some profess, and thus have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you. Amen.  (1Ti 6:20-21 WEB)

This verse says some have professed some new knowledge and have wandered from the faith.  Now, this could include the Gnostics, a popular group at that time, but is not limited to them.  This could be any of a bunch of people promoting some new “science” or knowledge that opposes what scripture teaches.

The above verse also describes a process that has gone on for ages, that is, saying that there is new knowledge or science that proves something in the bible wrong.  And that is a double edge sword.  For example, there was a time when the Catholic Church taught that the earth was flat!   They got that from verses like this one.

Thus were the visions of my head on my bed: I saw, and behold, a tree in the middle of the earth; and its height was great. The tree grew, and was strong, and its height reached to the sky, and its sight to the end of all the earth. (Dan 4:10-11 WEB)

The interpretation that the words about an end of the earth meant the earth was flat was clearly wrong.  This is an example of taking a figure of speech literally which is clearly something to be avoided.  But this error doesn’t justify either discarding the bible or reinterpreting it every time a scientist, or psychologist, or philosopher declares something unscriptural to be true.

Remember how the discussion went in the garden of Eden.  The serpent advised Eve that she had her facts wrong.  The serpent told her that what God said was wrong, that she wouldn’t die, she would “be like God”, knowing good and evil, and implied that God didn’t want that for her.  That’s Satan’s M O.  He has been presenting new facts, new information, new wisdom, that shows God’s word is wrong since the garden.  He lies about what is true all the time.

But the worldly wisdom we are to be on guard against is not just from famous Greek philosophers or scientists but anyone considered wise.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good conduct that his deeds are done in gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and don’t lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, sensual, and demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition are, there is confusion and every evil deed. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.  (Jas 3:13-17 WEB)

The above section talks about discerning the source of wisdom for anyone “among you” that is considered wise.

It’s important to realize that when scripture talks about philosophy it’s not limited to famous Greek philosophers talking about abstract concepts.  This topic is so much wider than that.  Yes, we are certainly talking about the concepts of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and the other philosophers who are recognized as philosophers talking about forms or something abstract.  Philosophy is actually a common, everyday activity in discussions about everyday activities. The scriptures have some insight and godly guidance on everything in life.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, (2Pe 1:2-3 ESV)

A godly life is a 24/7 activity. The knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord is relevant in all things so as to be godly around the clock.  It is true that some decisions have no bearing on being godly and we have the freedom to choose as it pleases us.  For example, it may not make a difference to godliness whether you take the freeway or back roads to get to work, as long as you are on time, you drive safely, and get there on time.   Another example is that it may not make any difference in the order of things you do in a meeting but scripture does say that all things should be done decently and in order (1 Cor 15:40). Scripture relates to all things in life because we are to be godly in all things so scripture contains all we need pertaining to life and godliness, i.e., godly life in all things.

Now, we are talking about wisdom as it pertains to life and godliness, not the best way to make bread or craft something.  Those can be good things to do, and there are best practices, i.e. wisdom, in those as well as many other endeavors.  Scripture even talks about a spirit of wisdom that some have for tasks such as these.

Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver—by any sort of workman or skilled designer. (Exo 35:30-35 ESV)

So, it is available to be given the wisdom to be able to craft things via the spirit.  The verse says Yahweh “filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft.”  Wow, skill. intelligence, knowledge, craftsmanship, artistic designs, for work in every skilled craft, what a set of talents. That is awesome, something that is available via the spirit as those things are not in scripture anywhere. But we are more concerned about issues of life in our discussion of philosophy, the study of wisdom.

Philosophy is carried on by everyone from the farmer to the ditch digger to the teacher to the elected official and is carried on in homes, schools, workplaces, sports arenas, and in every imaginable place around the world. It’s carried on by everyone everywhere. Every believer is given this warning.

Let no one deceive himself. If anyone thinks that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. (1Co 3:18 WEB)

This is a general charge to everyone. “If anyone thinks he is wise among you” means that any of us can think we are wise. So, are we wise in the world or in the word of God? The activity of a philosopher is to study wisdom. As believers that is part of what we are charged to do. We are studying wisdom right now. We are studying philosophy right now.

To one degree or another, we are all philosophers.

“At various times everyone philosophizes… This philosophizing takes place whenever one reflects upon either the fundamental presuppositions of thought and action, or the ends to which the conduct of human life should be directed.”[1]

“Everyone philosophizes,” it says in a Christian philosophy book. Why, how could that be? Because philosophy is just the exercise of people expressing what they think about what people do. Yes, it really is that basic. The Complete Idiots Guide to Philosophy elaborates:

“The fact is, philosophy is unavoidable. Even if you think you don’t already have a philosophy, you actually do. Like everybody else, you live your life according to ideas and assumptions about what the world is like that you picked up along the way.”[2]

How does everyone philosophize, you may ask? Most people just talk, right? They really are trying to be philosophers, are they?  No, it’s simpler than that.  Wisdom is being concerned about how to do things the best way.  Everyone is concerned about that.  Wisdom is focusing on why things are done a certain way.  Everyone wants to do the wisest thing.

Not only that, you probably see or even use philosophical methods regularly. They may be so ingrained that you are not aware of them at times. For example, do you know somebody, perhaps yourself, that is regularly looking for the flaws in an argument? They want to find the angle, the mistake, the reason why what they’re hearing might not be true before they accept it. I know a lot of people that way. Some people even call that healthy skepticism. It’s actually something that’s taught in a lot of elementary schools. One thing it’s also called is the Socratic method, named after Socrates who is credited with starting it. It’s a commonly used philosophical method.  And I am not saying it’s wrong to look for the flaw in someone’s argument, just that it is a common philosophical thing to do.

Or, how about this, do you believe that society’s needs are more important than individual desires? That is part of Confucian philosophy popular in China and other Eastern cultures. Or do you think that values like freedom and equality, that the individual’s success is what is crucial? That is part of Western philosophy from Plato down through the ages.[3] Those are common philosophical positions seen in many places.

When you see a person struggling, are you more inclined to say, “that person needs more help”, or “that person needs to do more to help themselves.”? Those are philosophical statements because they are discussions of what you think someone should get or do based upon what you think.

I am emphasizing the point that philosophizing is not just talking about particular abstract ideas of philosophers, what Plato said or Socrates said, it is talking about why anyone does anything. Understanding that puts the warnings against relying on the wisdom of the world, philosophy, in a finer light. We’re not just concerned about what Plato or Aristotle said. We are concerned about what anyone says about why things happen, and why people do things. We absolutely are not just concerned with Plato’s, Descartes’, or Confucius’ ideas on abstract concepts, we are both concerned with how they but also how everyone else thinks.

And that point is further strengthened when we look again at how James 3:13 starts.  “Who is wise and understanding among you?” is how it starts.  It’s talking about the wise among us.  Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato are not among us.  James isn’t as concerned here about what we think of Plato as what is the source of wisdom for any person who is giving you advice.  And what is the source of the advice that you are giving both to yourself and others?

I was in a group discussion and a grandmother started sharing about her grandkids. I’m paraphrasing, but she said something like, “boys really are mostly spit and vinegar, there always running, fighting, and moving constantly. They’re just wired that way.” She was sharing her wisdom. Some people agreed.  But there were grandparents in the group that had grandsons that were not always running, fighting, and moving constantly, but this grandmother remained convinced. She was sure what she was saying was true. She got her wisdom from her experience. Her experience in her world was that was how boys are. Wisdom of the world is not always Plato and Aristotle, sometimes it’s grandpa and grandma, ma and pa speaking about how they think things are. It could even be a sixth-grader talking to a fourth-grader because the sixth-grader thinks they are wiser.  It could be anybody older or more experienced than someone else thinking they are wiser.  That’s pretty much all of us at different times, isn’t it?

A proverb I hear often is “you get what you pay for”. That is a philosophical statement, a bit of worldly wisdom. I’ve heard it most often when someone is trying to sell me something, but others have made the comment too. I was buying a pair of glasses one time and the frames alone were over $200. I made a comment about that being a lot of money for a few pieces of bent and polished metal to hold some lenses. The clerk said just that, “you get what you pay for”.

So, is that wisdom from God? I am going to say no.  Look at this proverb:

“It’s no good, it’s no good,” says the buyer; but when he is gone his way, then he boasts. (Pro 20:14 WEB)

This proverb talks about what happens in a negotiation.  Both sides of the negotiation say things to make the price better for them.

You see, a lot of people think that Godly wisdom just has to do with salvation, believing Jesus was raised from the dead and accepting him as Lord.  But it has to do with all the details of life.  Some think that how you work and spend your money, and go out and play, all of that has little to do with God’s wisdom.  No, God is interested in every aspect of our lives and his wisdom needs to be what we seek in not only faith decisions but the ordinary things of life as well.

So, God has some wisdom for us in the buying and selling of things. So, should you just pay more when someone says that you get what you pay for?  Okay, sure, some things have a fixed price. But many things even with a fixed price have different prices in different stores. Let’s say that you are looking to buy a certain fitness watch. The suggested price from the manufacturer for the watch is $200. But you can usually get that watch for $160 at a discount store. And then occasionally it’s on sale for as little as $120. “You get what you pay for” would imply that you got something more for paying two hundred dollars than you did for paying $160, or even 120.

An online free dictionary says that the idiom you get what you pay for really means the less you pay for something the lower the quality it will inevitably be.  That sounds more reasonable, but it is not what they say.

Or, how about buying cars? Let’s say you’re looking at a certain make and model of SUV that has a sticker price of $40,000. Most everybody knows that that is not the price that you will wind up paying for that vehicle, although I have known a person or two that did pay the sticker price for a car because they were not aware of the importance of negotiating with a car dealer.  (And I do know that there are some dealers that work with a “no-hassle” lower-priced system where they have priced cars at the lowest price that they are willing to sell them for instead of starting with the MSRP and negotiating with the buyer.)

A recent article that I read says that the wisest approach to used car purchases is to find a source for prices outside of the dealership with whom you are dealing.  Edmunds.com is an example of such a source.[4]  The article said that a good negotiator should be able to reduce the price by 10 to 15%.  Certainly, a person doesn’t get more by paying the extra 10 or 15% they could’ve saved by negotiating.

However, there are limits. So, instead of saying “you get what you pay for”, you might say “higher-quality items generally cost more.” The point of this exercise is to show that oftentimes the wisdom that people follow is a wisdom of the world. I’ve heard too many salespeople rattle off “you get what you pay for” too many times not to believe that it is worldly wisdom designed to help sellers negotiate a price that is better for them.

There are countless examples of philosophical discussions like this in real life in many areas.  When is it okay to get divorced is a philosophical as well as a moral question. Is it okay for a woman to get an abortion? Is love really just love so same-sex relationships as well as polygamy and even what are called incestual relationships really just false taboos?  How far can you go in defending yourself likewise is a philosophical decision as well as having moral and legal components?  How much should you save?  How much should you give to God and to others? What is your philosophy in getting vaccinated?  How should you raise your kids?

All of the above topics are philosophical but not necessarily what some people consider as part of classic Greek philosophy.  But when scripture is talking about not being swayed by worldly wisdom and philosophy it is talking about all of this.

Whether or not Greek philosophy was inspired was a topic around at the time of the apostles. And I have talked to people who have said they believed what the first-century Jewish philosopher, Philo, said millennia ago, that God spoke through the prophets of Israel, who, in turn, influenced the Greek philosophers and he claims that is why there is, to Philo at least, a strong correlation between scripture and philosophy. That is not what the Scriptures teach. And that is especially important here. God spoke, according to Scripture, through his prophets. Now it is true, that he has communicated, in dreams and other ways, to different men specifically at times like Nebuchadnezzar in his dream. But the claim that after God spoke to his prophets the philosophers picked up on that is unsubstantiated.  But I remember that being suggested as a possibility in Catholic high School.

Wisdom from above is something precious, and to be desired. But in this article, we are also looking at the danger of ungodly philosophy, the wisdom of the world, how it is something that we are only warned against, but never charged to accept in any form.

James above says that there are two sources of wisdom, one is godly from above, and the other one is demonic, devilish. That’s a pretty stark contrast. So, when looking at how Scripture talks about worldly wisdom, which category are we to put it in, godly or devilish? Since there are only two sources, the ultimate source of worldly wisdom is the devil.

Let’s look at scripture references on the dangers of world wisdom. Beware of that philosophy, the scriptures say:

Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. (Col 2:8 WEB)

This verse clearly puts philosophy, with vain deceit and the traditions of men, in the devilish category.  This is a strongly worded warning of the source and potentially destructive nature of the philosophy that is based on the wisdom of the world.

This verse does make a case for Christian philosophy as a wonderful thing as long as it is after Christ, and not after the philosophical traditions and elements of the world. There is Christian wisdom to seek, but it is definitely not the philosophies of the Greeks and other nations of the world. It’s not the philosophy of who might be considered wise in the standard of the world.  That includes wily old veterans in any field, grandparents, old pros; they may have wisdom but it’s only what we want if it is based on what God has revealed in his word. Christian wisdom is sticking to what has been revealed. Again, “Get wisdom. Get understanding. Don’t forget, and don’t deviate from the words of my mouth.”  That doesn’t leave much wiggle room.

The apostles’ tradition was that all godly wisdom comes from God, and is contained in God’s word which came through his prophets.  Believers become wiser in God’s eyes as they set their minds on things above:

If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. (Col 3:1-2 WEB)

Believers transform themselves into wiser people when they renew their minds

Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:2 WEB)

It is not an easy task.  In fact, scripture calls it warfare:

For though we walk in the flesh, we don’t wage war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ; (2Co 10:3-5 WEB)

“Throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ”  is the war between our ears.  It is the process of renewing our minds to the mind of Christ.  It is how we become wise with Godly wisdom.

Seeking God’s wisdom in every area of our lives is part of the Apostle’s tradition. So is avoiding worldly wisdom in any form that it may come in.

Future articles will discuss how soon after the apostles the church began embracing worldly philosophic methods and not too long after that worldly philosophical ideas.

[1]Introduction to Philosophy, P. 12

[2] The Complete Idiots Guide to Philosophy, J Stephenson PhD, Alpha books, 2005, P. 4

[3] ibid, p.31-32

[4] https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Savings/art-deal-haggle-car/story?id=11845530

last edited 1/3/2022

December 22nd, 2021 Posted by | Philosophy, Tradition | no comments

Philosophy in Christianity – Welcome Addition or Intrusion of Worldly Reasoning?

This article discusses the controversy over philosophy in Christianity. Remember the point of this website is to see how different doctrines developed over time, and how they compare to original Christianity in order to understand how we got so many divisions and what we must do to restore the church. This article will just look at how philosophy, with controversy, became part of Christianity.  Later articles will discuss how these concepts align with the tradition of the apostles in original Christianity.

First, I want to look at what some systematic theologians have commented about philosophy or how they used it in their works.

Grudem defines philosophical theology as “studying theological topics largely without the use of the Bible, but using the tools and methods of philosophical reasoning and what can be known about God from observing the universe”[1] Grudem then puts philosophy in the category of extra-biblical reasoning. Remember extrabiblical reasoning is the practice of using thinking and or terms outside of the bible to develop Christian doctrine. Grudem acknowledges that there will be some consideration of philosophy at points in his work.

One point that theologians make also is that God reveals his truth in his creation.  Some of the arguments they make are presented from examples and other sources outside scripture.

Theissen contrasts theology and philosophy by saying that theology has a “solid objective basis”, but philosophy “rests merely upon the assumptions and speculations of the philosopher.” Yet they both are seeking the same thing, a way of explaining everything, a comprehensive worldview. He goes further to say “philosophy has definite value for the theologian.” He adds that philosophy can support the Christian position, argue for the existence of God and other things in the spiritual plane. But, most of all, philosophy does not have a Genesis story, and a salvation story so, according to Theissen, the theologian is drawn to God’s revelation in Scripture. Theissen says that philosophy will never bring someone to Christ.[2]

Paul Tillich was a Christian philosopher and Lutheran theologian and considered one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. As far as Scripture is concerned Tillich wrote that “Theology moves back and forth between two poles, the eternal truth of its foundation and the temporal situation in which the eternal truth must be received. Not many theological systems have been able to balance these two demands perfectly.  Most of them either sacrifice elements of the truth or not able to speak to the situation.… They confuse eternal truth with the temporal expression of this truth. This is evident in European theological orthodoxy, which in America is known as fundamentalism. When fundamentalism is combined with an anti-theological bias, as it is, for instance, in its biblistic – evangelical form, the theological truth of yesterday is defended as an unchangeable message against the theological truth of today and tomorrow.” [3]

Notice that there are no scriptures in Tillich’s comments. I have Tillich’s three-volume set named Systematic Theology. The first thing I noticed when glancing through it is there are, relatively speaking, very few Scripture references. What I do see is about 900 pages of theological philosophy.

As an example, Tillich writes “Revelation is the manifestation of the mystery of being for the cognitive function of human reason. It mediates knowledge – a knowledge, however, which can be received only in a revelatory situation, through ecstasy and miracle. This correlation indicates a special character of the “knowledge of Revelation.”[4] These are the first three sentences of the section in Volume 1 entitled The Knowledge of Revelation. This section on revelation is three pages long and there is not a single biblical reference.

Tillich is obviously an extremely intelligent, and even popular theologian – philosopher. But he is an example, in my opinion, of philosophy run amok in Christian theology.  Everything I read of his is examining not Scripture but concepts from under the authoritative analysis of philosophical methods. What I see in his writing is that Scripture is not the authority, philosophy is.

From this, we see there are varying degrees of acceptance among these theologians from the stand that philosophy can really lead you away from scripture but has its uses to the full embracing of all things philosophical.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy the section on Christianity and Philosophy starts with this:

“In the history of Christian theology, philosophy has sometimes been seen as a natural complement to theological reflection, whereas at other times practitioners of the two disciplines have regarded each other as mortal enemies.”

Next, we will look at what some Christian historians recorded about the infusion of philosophy into Christianity.

The truth is that there has been a long-running controversy over the role of philosophy in Christianity. We’re talking all the way back to the second century. Before that, everything points to a strong rejection of philosophy in the first century of Christianity. But that didn’t last.  Frend in The Rise of Christianity categorizes a changeover at the end of the sub-apostolic period as one from detesting philosophy to one embracing it as a weapon. He writes that in the days of the original apostles, Jews and Christians associated philosophies with pagan morality and refers to this verse.

Be careful that you don’t let anyone rob you through his philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the elements of the world, and not after Christ. (Col 2:8 WEB)

In Colossians (2:8) Paul associated philosophy with “empty deceit, according to human tradition,” to be contrasted with the way of Christ.

But I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve in his craftiness, so your minds might be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (2Co 11:3 WEB)

In second Corinthians (11:3) we see Paul entreating the Corinthians not to let themselves be seduced “from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Frend notes that Paul writes nothing positive about the Stoics and Epicureans whom Paul met in Athens.  Frend continues that this attitude toward philosophy continues throughout the New Testament as does the church Fathers that came immediately after like I Clement and Polycarp.  Frend notes “that Christians could have anything in common with pagans and their ideas were abhorrent to Polykarp.[5]” Frend also acknowledges that there were succeeding early church fathers like Iraeneus that believed heretics derived many of their heresies from philosophy.

Williston Walker in The History Of The Christian Church doesn’t discuss this shift in attitude over philosophy but calls the period from 70 A.D. to 110 A.D. a period of Christianity that is “non-– Pauline.” He says that not only is very little known about this time but is a period where Christian beliefs and practices were modified.[6]  This suggests that Christianity was being Hellenized but come short of saying it precisely. But the next historian we will look at does say just that.

Justo L Gonzales in The Story Of Christianity notes that there was a movement within Judaism at this time (sub-apostolic period) “to show the compatibility between the ancient faith in the best of Hellenistic culture.” He goes on to say that the Hebrew prophets preceded the Greek philosophers, and thus the Greek philosophers got their wisdom from the Hebrew prophets[7]. Remember that Christianity at this time, immediately after the apostles, was still considered a part of Judaism.  Gonzalez goes on to say that in this time frame Christians were finding two philosophical traditions attractive: Platonism and Stoicism.[8]

Philosophy does not seem to be embraced quickly in the early days of Christianity. Acknowledgments that the philosophy might possess truths and insights valuable for the deeper understanding of Scripture were always begrudging. Even at the end of the patristic period, John of Damascus (c. 750) wrote, “let us use whatever we can from the Greeks, for we received many things from the Greeks that will enable us to fight against the Greeks,”[9]

Thus, the inclusion of philosophy in Christian communication is given as a matter of necessity, namely, to be able to battle intellectually with multiple groups in society who were denigrating Christianity. (Just remember that just because something happened in Christian history does not make it right. “The end justifies the means” is not a verse from Scripture.)

Frend writes that from the outset the Christians were at a disadvantage. He writes that although Christians were articulate the Gnostics and other heretical groups were more capable intellectually and more in tune with the dialogue of the times.  Friend writes that Christianity at this time was “hardening into formal and legalistic tradition” which didn’t help its image. Orthodox Christianity appeared to outsiders as introspective, “frogs squatting around on marsh discussing who was the most sinful among them.” It was an intellectual battle and the Christians were on the losing side[10].

Notice the emphasis on the intellectual in the above paragraphs.  The battle was over who had the more persuasive words and the rulebook was philosophy. Compare that to:

My speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, (1Co 2:4 WEB)

This verse is another scripture that compares the advantages of human wisdom with the power of the spirit brought by Christ. In the comparison of human wisdom with its persuasive words versus the spirit, the spirit wins in Scripture. In philosophy, persuasive words win.  The shift we are discussing is one from ignorant and unlearned men demonstrating the spirit in power (Acts 4:13) to elite learned people for the most part unable to demonstrate power waging intellectual battles using the tools of philosophy.

Part of the reason for this, according to Frend, is that “God active in history on behalf of his people had little in common with the God of Stoicism or Platonism who existed but did not come into contact with matter, let alone intervene in nature.”[11]  People, maybe including the believers of that time, didn’t understand that our God was a God who enabled us with power for abundant living, and so instead chose to battle on the intellectual front rather than the spiritual.

That is not to say that defending the gospel with reasoning was not part of the original Christians’ charge given by the apostles.  The charge in scripture is to examine, reason, and defend what the gospel says. See the words examining, reason, and defense emboldened in the verses below:

Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Act 17:11 WEB)

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be prepared with a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; (1Pe 3:15 EMTV)

It is even right for me to think this way on behalf of all of you, because I have you in my heart, because, both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the Good News, you all are partakers with me of grace. (Php 1:7 WEB)

Paul also wrote the warning against the wisdom of this world in the first chapter of Corinthians.

For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, I will bring the discernment of the discerning to nothing.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the lawyer of this world? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom didn’t know God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save those who believe. For Jews ask for signs, Greeks seek after wisdom, (1Co 1:19-22 WEB)

It is written in Scripture to examine, to reason, and to defend the gospel at the same time we are to avoid the wisdom of the Greeks and the world.  The wisdom of the Greeks is philosophy. Paul charges us to examine, to reason, and to defend without using the wisdom of the world, philosophy.

Frend also notes that at this time the church was becoming increasingly Orthodox especially in Rome. For Irenaeus (circa 185) Rome became the example of a church emphasizing the importance of apostolic succession[12].  Remember apostolic succession means that the power and authority vested in the original apostles are transferred from Bishop to Bishop through ordination. But that also signifies that gift ministries like apostles and prophets manifesting the spirit are no longer in operation. There is clearly a shift from the emphasis of manifesting the power of the Holy Spirit to the intellectual and philosophical.

So thus emerged the age of Christian apologetics. This is the witness of the age. Christian apologists wrote letters to pagan magistrates and leaders but they were really open letters targeted to influence provincial opinion. The amount of writing done suggests that there was a place in society for this expression of Christian philosophy.[13]

According to Frend the apologetic movement looked to both Jewish models and the methods (but not the ideas) of philosophers.”[14]

Not all church fathers embraced this movement.

In the second century, the church father Tertullian wrote The Demurrer Against The Heretics[15].  In it, he says (in a form of older English) that

“these are the Doctrines of Men and Devils, derived from the Wisdom of this World, by Men who have curiously itching Ears; to which Wisdom our Lord having given the distinguishing Term and Denomination of Folly, “hath chosen the foolish Things of the World to confound the Wise.” For a rash Explication both of the Divine Nature and Dispensations, and the Manner of God’s Proceeding in the Work of Creation is the subject Matter of all wordly Philosophy. And from this corrupt Fountain did Heresies originally flow…from which the Apostle restraining us, hath especially bid us to beware of Philosophy, in his Epistle to the Colossans, saying, “Beware lest any Man spoil you thro’ Philosophy and vain Deceit, after the Tradition of Men, and not after Christ.” The Apostle had been at Athens, and from his learned Conversation there, had become acquainted with that human Wisdom, Which carries with it an Affectation and Pretence, as well as a Corruption of the Truth; and which is divided into a Multiplicity of Sects that strenuously oppose and contradict each other. But what Relation is there between Athens and Jerusalem? What Communion hath the Academy with the Church? or what part have Hereticks with Christians?”

There is nothing supportive of Christian philosophy in these comments by Tertullian who was writing at the beginning of the third century which is after the age of apologists started.

But as time went on more and more church fathers supported philosophy.  By the third century, Christians put forth that their God was the supreme being of the philosophers which enabled them to be accepted among the intellectual crowd. The danger of course was that instead of talking about Christian truth in scriptural terms Christian truth was now discussed philosophically.[16]

Continuing this new tradition, the great Doctor of the Church, Augustine, argued that philosophy was a complement to theology when the philosophical insights used were rooted in an intellectual commitment to the truth of the Christian faith.

The prevailing attitude of people in support of the use of philosophy in Christian theology is that it is a necessary discipline to enhance biblical interpretation and explanation.[17]

Philosophy only became increasingly dominant as the centuries wore on. Here’s some insight that shows you how dominant philosophy was in the Middle Ages. And note that that philosophy was not always Christian:

Michael Psellus (1017-1078) was primarity responsible for the medieval revival of serious philosophical studies in the Byzantine East. He especially liked Platonism, and this led to the rise of the (mostly, but not always) Christian Platonism that became the dominant tradition of Byzantine civilization by the later Middle Ages.   The Platonist revival of the Western Renaissance followed from this.[18]

Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, on the eve of the Council of Florence, was sent to Constantinople where he encountered Byzantine Platonism and scholarship. He reported that that caused a great awakening about things such as the nature of the infinite, upon God, the person of Christ, even celestial movements.[19] Notice this another reference to Byzantine Platonism which is a dominant philosophy from the world. This reflects how entrenched in worldly thinking the church was by the Middle Ages.

There are more on a list of famous Christian philosophers including Thomas Aquinas and Soren Kierkegaard.

In more recent times Christian theologians have embraced philosophy for the sake of philosophy.  Look at this quote

“Quite apart from its relationship to Christianity, we believe that philosophical debate has merit. Its questions are significant and of fundamental and enduring value. It is true that philosophical thought can significantly contribute to theological understanding. However, the heirs of philosophy must be recognized and refuted, to confirm the reasonableness of Christianity.”[20]

In modern times there are books written promoting the advantages of incorporating philosophy into Christianity. First, it is presented that philosophizing is a common activity by people:

“At various times everyone philosophizes… This philosophizing takes place whenever one reflects upon either the fundamental presuppositions of thought and action, or the ends to which the conduct of human life should be directed.”[21]

According to philosophical theologians, the value of philosophy is that it “can help liberate one from the grip of prejudice, provincialism, and poor reasoning. In philosophical reflection, we can gain distance from her own beliefs and those of others, and view them with some skepticism.”

The authors of Introduction to Philosophy proceed to the point of extolling both the need and virtue of philosophy:

“A Christian has a specific interest in and responsibility to study philosophy… Since all truth is God’s truth, and since philosophy is a quest for truth, then philosophy will contribute to our understanding of God and his world. Furthermore, history shows that philosophical arguments and concepts have played a large and important role in the development of Christian theology… While not all theologians agree on the value or appropriateness of these arguments, all admit that some knowledge of philosophical roots is necessary to the understanding of Christian theology.”[22]

The above statements acknowledge the development of Christian doctrine by philosophical means as opposed to just sticking to what is revealed in scripture.

A more in depth look at the methods of philosophy is necessary to understand the implication of the statements above. Previously on this website we have looked at some of the origins of philosophy and its thinking processes.

In philosophy logical arguments break down into two basic kinds, deductive and inductive.[23]  Rules for the validity of deductive arguments are in the form of deductive syllogisms, consisting of a major premise, minor premise, and a conclusion, and these were first systematically set down by Aristotle.

Aristotle is credited with defining the rules for deductive reasoning. “Simply put, deductive reasoning is arguing from the general to the particular. If all horses are four-legged animals (the general), and the black beauty is a horse (the particular), then it follows that black beauty is also a four-legged animal.” This series of propositions is called a syllogism, the standard form of a deductive argument. Inductive reasoning is the reverse whereby one argues from the particular to the general. For example, all observable elements of a wall are stone. Therefore, this is a stone wall.[24]

Inductive reasoning is the other form of reasoning with its own set of rules. Inductive reasoning is used to construct Christian doctrine by looking at a comprehensive view, examining the parts of the whole, and making conclusions as to whether or not something is true.

Part of the process here includes using “a priori” claims. A priori comes from the Latin meaning before. A priori claims are things that you can base your argument on because they are self-evident.  You don’t have to prove these claims because everyone knows that they are true, or at least that is the claim of the philosopher.  In math, all angles in a triangle add up to 180 degrees.  When you are arguing math you don’t have to prove that.  Or that 1+1=2. In your argument, you can assume them to be true. When you use a priori claims you are starting with an assumption that something is true.  That is part of this process.

There are also “a postieri” (from the Latin meaning after) claims.  These are conclusions reached after experimenting to find the truth.  They are a vital part of the scientific method.

An example of inductive reasoning is used when saying water baptism is the standard for all time.

I have read books that said that water is assumed (a priori claim) when the word baptism is used in the Bible. The inductive argument that follows goes like this. There was a practice of baptizing in water in the Old Testament. John baptized with water, and he also baptized Jesus in water. In the New Testament, Philip baptized with water, and even Peter asked “who can forbid water?”  Now add in the assumption (a priori claim) that the definition of baptism implies water (which it does not, but we need to go along to see how the reasoning works) and what you have is that every time it mentions baptism it means baptism in water. The only exceptions are the day of Pentecost and in other places where the descent of the spirit is explicitly detailed. Plus, in looking at the documents in the early days of the church after the apostles we see that water baptism is practiced. Thus, looking at all these details, we come to the conclusion, falsely I believe, that water baptism is the God-given standard for all time. We have taken all the pieces, accepted the assumption that baptism means with water, and found a way to inductively prove that water baptism is the standard. Even the mandates of “John baptized with water but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost” are handled with the explanation that Holy Ghost baptisms were just a few exceptions and water baptism is the norm.

In contrast to that, you could just read what is written. The word baptize is translated wash in Mark 7:4,8. The prophecy could be translated “John washed with water but you shall be washed with the Holy Ghost”. This is a classic case of everything that is done in the Old Testament are examples and foreshadowing of the things that are done in Christ’s church (Heb 10:1, ICor 10:11).  What does the prophecy say about water washing and spirit washing? For example, cars in the 20th century use gasoline but cars in the 22nd century will use electricity. No one misunderstands that that means that electricity is going to replace gasoline as the fuel. Or Roman soldiers used swords but today soldiers use guns. Again, is there any misunderstanding that sentence means that guns have replaced swords as the weapon for soldiers? No of course not.  The prophecy clearly says spirit washing replaced water washing.

Now, there were water baptisms mentioned in the book of Acts, but when we see those circumstances we see that apostles were sent to make sure that Spirit baptism occurred. All of these factors teach us that the assumption that baptism automatically means water is false, and part of the mission of the apostles in the first-century church was to bring in spirit baptism as a replacement to water-baptism as it so plainly says in “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit”. Yes, it looks like the practice was lost not long after the apostles, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the mandate then, and more importantly, it’s still the mandate today. (See T 1.8 Tradition in Original Christianity, Part 8, The Spirit Baptism Mandate, John Baptized With Water, But You Will Be Baptized with the Holy Spirit for more)

Likewise, the Cessation doctrine starts with the assumption (a priori claim) that the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit ended with the apostles.

The classic example of inductive reasoning in Christianity is the Trinity and so we will look at it here. First, there is no deductive proof of the Trinity so in order for the proof to work the Trinity must be assumed to be true.

For example, there is no proof, philosophical or otherwise, for even the existence of God. In making their arguments for or against God philosophically, both Christians and non-Christians start with their assumption that either God exists in the case of the Christian, or the God doesn’t exist in the case of the atheist.

No proof of God means that there is no proof of a solitary God or a triune God, so likewise the Trinitarian starts with the axiom (a priori claim) that God is triune. Then the logic flows in inductive reasoning “from the parts to the whole.”

So, the logic flows like this:  if God is a triune God, then what would we expect to find?   We expect to find that there is only one God in the Bible.  We expect to find that God exists in three persons named the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We expect to find that Jesus preexisted before his birth from all eternity and was never created or brought into existence. We expect to find that the attributes of God are attributed to Jesus. We expect to find that Jesus was called God and worshiped as God by the first Christians.  There are more requirements in this list of expectations.  But theologians seeking to prove the Trinity have used this inductive method of logic to first assume a triune God and put the pieces together to prove what has come to be is called essential Christian doctrine in Orthodox Christianity.

The Trinity is so important, in fact, that it has been declared “whosoever will be saved, we all before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic [that is, the church’s Orthodox] faith; which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt, he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity (Athanasian Creed)”.  One author goes on to say that salvation by grace alone, Christ’s atonement, and the resurrection may be all of first importance but they don’t make the gospel Christian! The Trinity does.[25]

However, despite the fact that the above is written in an introductory book to Christians, the fact is that the Athanasian creed above is rarely mentioned in churches, and the doctrine contained therein not promoted.[26]  In Theology Is As Clear As Mud To Americans in 2020 we see that while most Americans (72%) will at least partly agree with the statement that there is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, only 36% disagreed with the statement that Jesus is not God and 55% at least partly agreed that Jesus is the greatest being created by God.  Both of these latter statements are not Trinitarian statements. That indicates that the doctrine is either not understood or just not agreed with, no matter how much it is preached from the pulpit or written about in books or articles. Nevertheless, this is the dominant doctrine in Christianity since the 4th century.

The things in the paragraph above point to the added complexity that this inductively developed doctrine brings to the table, and the problem that it creates for people.  As mentioned in other places both the use of inductive combined with deductive reasoning and the whole development of the Deity of Christ, the Trinity as well as Mary as the mother of God among other developed doctrines were intellectual battles among very intelligent learned bishops where the final victories were celebrated as intellectual victories.

Let’s look at more verses used in the proof of the Trinity:

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all. (Eph 4:4-6 WEB)

The above verses talk about one Spirit, one Lord (Jesus Christ), one God and father of all, the three persons named as the Trinity. However, this is not proof of the Trinity because all of the requirements of the Trinity are not fulfilled in these verses. For example, it does not say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of the same substance. It does not say here that they are all co-eternal.  In applying philosophical methods to this verse and others like it, there is not enough to deductively prove the Trinity. But given the assumption of a triune God, this verse is consistent with that assumption of the Trinity and thus is used in an inductive proof of the Trinity.

The Trinitarian view is that the Trinity has internal consistency within a comprehensive view of scripture and accounts for all the facts of stated about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without contradiction.  Of course, you must start with the assumption of a Trinity which philosophy allows you to do and you must use extrabiblical arguments as well as concede that even with that the doctrine will be not understandable.

Likewise for this verse:

I and the Father are one.”  (Joh 10:30 WEB)

This verse does not prove that Jesus is God as the Father is God. But used in an inductive argument it is consistent with the Trinity once you make the assumption of a triune God that includes the Father and the Son.  But if “oneness” with the Father makes one God, then what happens in this verse:

that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. (Joh 17:21 WEB)

Here we have the same kind of “oneness” that we see in John 10:30 above expressed in John 17:21 to include all of us believers. If John 10:30 makes Jesus God the same as God the Father, then John 17:21 makes you and I and every other believer on the same level of godhood as the Son of God and God the Father, according to that logic.

Thus, according to what is involved here you can’t prove the Trinity or the Incarnation without philosophy, specifically including inductive logic methods using a priori claims, and this is why many modern theologians promote philosophy as absolutely essential to understanding Christianity.

These are not fluke examples. There just are no verses that prove the Trinity by themselves. Look at this:

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him;  (Eph 1:17 WEB)

The above verse discusses the Father, the Son, and the spirit but in no way teaches that they are all God, or co-eternal, or other important elements of the Trinity.  How about this famous one:

Without controversy, the mystery of godliness is great: God was revealed in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, and received up in glory. (1Ti 3:16 WEB)

How can “God was revealed in the flesh” not prove the Trinity? It must, right? The truth is that scholars agree that most texts do not say God there. Instead of Theos in the Greek, the Greek word used mostly in the texts is hos which simply means which or who. The verse talks about the mystery of godliness which was manifest in the flesh.  Every being with Holy Spirit, which includes all true Christians, manifest godliness whenever they walk in the spirit. Every time someone speaks in tongues or hears from God or heals someone, they are manifesting godliness. No, this verse does not prove the Trinity.

Or how about the verses used to prove he is co-eternal?  Look at Colossians 1:

who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.  (Col 1:15-17 WEB)

What about “by him all things were created”? Doesn’t that mean he is God? The Greek word translated “by” is en,  which means in, not automatically making him the causal agent. Things created in someone are not the same as created by someone.  Or how about “all things were created by him” later in the verse?  That preposition is dia, which means “through”, or even “because of”.  Again, created through someone is not the same as created by someone.

The word image is ikone in Greek, meaning likeness or representation. That is saying that Christ is a representation of God as opposed to God himself. Coupled with that he is the “firstborn of all creation” and the above elements, the logic here is that Jesus Christ was created first (first born) and all other things were created on account of him. Without the assumption of the Trinity, biblical hermeneutics would lead one here to that firstborn here should be interpreted like all the other places that firstborn is used, the first child of the parent, with the implication that he didn’t exist and now he does.

“He is before all things.”  If I said to you “before anything else I want you to pray” it means that praying is the most important thing, it is first and foremost.  Likewise, “He is before all things” means Jesus Christ is foremost or most important.

Thus, if you don’t assume the Trinity this verse doesn’t prove the Trinity.  However, like the above verses, if you assume the Trinity then this verse can be used to help inductively “prove” the Trinity as long as you argue that “firstborn of all creation” does not mean that Jesus Christ had a beginning. You just have to assume here that firstborn doesn’t mean created like all those other places in Scripture despite the fact that all other usages of “firstborn, including the first usage refer to a created being.  “Begotten, not made” is the argument we have all heard.  Firstborn of all creation in the proof of the Trinity does not mean that Christ has a beginning or was created, rather it means he was more important than all creation. It has to be that way because that is the only way that phrase fits into the comprehensive view of a triune God.

Hopefully, now you are beginning to see why scholars have said that there are no verses that prove the Trinity directly nor is the Trinity directly taught in Scripture. For every verse that supposedly proves the Trinity, without the assumption that the Trinity exists there is a valid counterargument to disprove the Trinity. That is why the doctrine of the Trinity was developed using extra-biblical means, the inductive logic methods and a priori claims used in philosophy as well as words like homosousias (of one substance) not found in scripture. The New Bible Dictionary says:

“As already indicated, Scripture does not give us a fully formulated doctrine of the Trinity, but it contains all the elements out of which theology has constructed the doctrine.”[31]

The doctrines of salvation, atonement, and many others are fully formulated in Scripture.  The Trinity is not.  It can’t be read as is or deducted from scripture.  It has to be constructed using these a priori, inductive tools of philosophy.

However, the Trinitarian position is that every one of the above verses I discussed is consistent with an inductive proof of the Trinity once you include the “given”, the assumption that the Trinity exists before you start the proof.  But this opens the door that it is okay to go to scripture with assumptions or preconceived ideas and find ways that scriptures can be interpreted to prove your assumption.  So water baptism as the norm in the church age is inductively provable.  The cessation of spiritual manifestations is inductively provable, and so forth.

How is the Trinity explained and taught today? It’s just preached while admitting that it is confusing. One website writes, “The most difficult thing about the Christian concept of the Trinity is that there is no way to perfectly and completely understand it. The Trinity is a concept that is impossible for any human being to fully understand, let alone explain.”[27]

Still, as regards including philosophical things in the study of Christianity, Christian philosophical theologians argue that you cannot be aware of false philosophy unless you are first aware of it. They say the Christian church has been led into false teaching because they are not adequately trained to detect false teaching. The good counterfeit will be as close to the truth as possible. That’s why false non-Christian philosophies dressed up like Christian philosophies are the most dangerous.

One famous pro-philosophy Christian writer is CS Lewis who said “to be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray her uneducated brethren who have, under God no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”[28] Here CS Lewis clearly delineates between good philosophy and bad philosophy and he promotes the necessity of the use of philosophy in studying God.

Some writers contend that in order to think properly, that is, correctly and comprehensively about the world or the Word, one must use philosophy. Philosophy is required in the systematization of Christianity, and also required for proper communication. In the end, the authors contend that it is philosophy which enables the Christian to make sense out of his faith.[29]

The fact still remains that there is no scriptural endorsement of philosophy, only warnings about its dangers, and in contrast to that, there are numerous books that say without philosophy you cannot understand essential Christian doctrine, especially the Trinity.

And all of this is despite the fact that studies have shown that the majority of Christians, at least in this country, either do not understand or believe the doctrine of the trinity with its philosophically based proof.[30]

I can’t remember being at services where a preacher closed it with a call to the Trinity.  They close their services with an altar call and preach verses like:

that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom 10:9-10 WEB)

The philosophically based method of inductive reasoning developing Christianity theology is used to say verses like Romans 10 : 9-10 are insufficient by themselves for salvation because the doctrine of the Trinity is the more important doctrine.  That is controversial, to say the least.

The same method allows for making claims like the word baptism means with water, and the gifts of the spirit have ceased, by making a priori claims or assumptions, and then finding verses that substantiate that claim.

Philosophy has now been controversially used in the church for nineteen centuries.


[1] Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, Zondervan, Grand Rapids,1994, p. 21

[2] Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry C Theissen, Erdman’s, Grand Rapids, revised 1979, P. Three

[3] Systematic Theology, Volume 1, Paul Tillich, the University of Chicago press, Chicago 1950 1P. Three

[4] Ibid, p. 129

[5] The Rise of Christianity, W. H. C. Frend, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984, p. 230

[6] A History Of The Christian Church, Williston Walker, Scribner, New York, 1959, P. 31

[7] The Story Of Christianity, Justo L Gonzales, Harper one, New York, 2010, P. 19

[8] ibid., P. 22

[9] The Rise of Christianity, P. 230-231

[10] Ibid.

[11] The Rise of Christianity, P. 230

[12] The Rise of Christianity, P. 232

[13] The Rise of Christianity, P. 234

[14] The Rise of Christianity, P. 231

[15] Joseph Betty, Tertullian’s Prescription against Hereticks. Oxford (1722) pp. 1-87, Chapter VII

[16] The Story of Christianity, P. 182

[17] (DOC) How is philosophy related to theology Philosophical and Moral Theology | Regenerated mbc – Academia.edu

[18] The Story of Christianity, David Bentley Hart, Quercus, 2007, p. 145-146

[19] The Story of Christianity, Hart, P. 178 – 179

[20] Introduction to Philosophy, A Christian Perspective, Norman L Geisler and Paul D Feinberg, Baker books, Grand Rapids, 1980, P. 5 – 6

[21] Introduction to Philosophy, P. 12

[22] Introduction to Philosophy, P. 20 – 22

[23] Introduction to Philosophy, P. 28

[24] Introduction to Philosophy, P. 41 – 42

[25] Delighting In The Trinity, Michael Reeves, University press academic, Downers Grove, 2012, P. 14

[26] What is Athanasian Creed?

[27] What does the Bible teach about the Trinity? | GotQuestions.org

[28] Good Philosophy Must Exist | Bible.org

[29] Introduction To Philosophy, p.78

[30] Theology Is As Clear As Mud To Americans in 2020

[31] New Bible Dictionary, Erdman’s, Grand Rapids, 1962, P. 1299

last edited 1/24/22

July 12th, 2021 Posted by | Divisions, Philosophy | no comments

The Logos in the Gospel of John

The location of the authorship of the Gospel of John is debated to be among Ephesus, Patmos, or some smaller place in Asia Minor. Its time of authorship is estimated at around 90 AD. As this time is later than the dispersion of the Jews it is not unreasonable to think that many Jews and the sect of Judaism called Christianity were now more affected by Greek culture than Jewish. No matter whether you believe that the gospel of John was divinely inspired and written, or a human memoir of a first-century disciple also named John, there is no doubt that that the prologue to the gospel was culturally relevant, and as such presented Jesus in relation to the very popular Greek philosophical concept of the Logos.

As we have seen in previous articles, Stoicism was the most popular of the philosophies at that time and presented the Logos as the energizing framework of the universe, the Divine Reason. Before the Stoics, philosophers like Plato and Heraclitus had written about the Logos as the divine reason or plan.

Philo was a Jewish writer writing at the same time as some of the events of the Book of Acts and before the gospels were penned. He was an influential Jew living in perhaps the intellectual center of the world at that time, Alexandria. Philo wrote extensively about the theology of the Old Testament being the greatest of the philosophies. He also focused heavily on the Word of God as the “Logos” and heavily integrated this concept with Judaism.

The Logos was, therefore, a controversial topic of the first century much like evolution, communism, and hate crimes are controversial topics today.

In the first 14 verses of the Gospel of John, we have a cultural link between Christianity and Greek philosophy.

In the following verses I have substituted “Logos” for “word”:

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. The Logos was in the beginning with God. All things were made through the Logos; and without the Logos was not anything made that hath been made. In the Logos was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not.

There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Logos became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-14)

As a result of this prologue I see the first-century conversation going something like this:

You Stoics, Platonists, and many others of you philosophers talk about the Logos. Yes, God, in an instant, planned as only he could plan. And in that instant, that plan, that divine reasoning, that Logos, created all that ever was, is and will be. True life exists in knowing and walking in the Logos. And that Logos, in the fullness of times, generated a man, born of flesh, but a perfect living fulfillment of the Logos. Just as the Logos is the light, so this man is the living light of the world. Many cannot see that he is the living manifestation of the Logos, the light of the world. But to those of you who do, you will become the children of God.

So the Logos that you have been talking about, the Divine Reason, exists, and the perfect form of the Logos exists in the person of Jesus Christ.

© copyright 2011-2020 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

March 1st, 2011 Posted by | Philosophy | no comments

Philo of Alexandria on the Logos

The following article gives us insight into the process of Hellenization, the incorporation of Greek concepts and ideas into another culture.  In this case, the culture being Hellenized is Judaism.  The Old Testament is a book about how Yahweh leads and communicates with his people.  The source of knowledge is by revelation:

Surely the Lord Yahweh will do nothing, unless he reveals his secret to his servants the prophets. (Amo 3:7 WEB)

Wisdom likewise is given by God, and the source of God’s wisdom is God.

For Yahweh gives wisdom. Out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding. (Pro 2:6 WEB)

The wisdom of the philosophers came from their own investigations.  Now some even say that some of the philosophers went to Israel and got ideas from the writings of Moses and the prophets, but clearly, much of the wisdom of the philosophers is from other sources including their own ideas.  However in the world at that time, and even now, to some degree, Greek philosophies were highly respected and followed.

Philo was one of a number of philosophers who tried to reconcile the Bible with the writings of the philosophers.  As such Philo was a Hellenized Jew, and his writings reflect that.

In our study, we have been looking at the Greek word “Logos” in our quick overview of ancient philosophy, and again, how philosophy relates to the development of Christianity.  We have already discussed how Logos has different meanings.  A simple definition of the word just means reason, purpose, plan, or design. In some religious and philosophical contexts, however, the word takes on much more meaning.  In the Old Testament when it says the “word of God” came to a prophet it is talking about the Logos. While the meaning of “word” here might just mean “message”, there are verses that attribute power to the “word of God”, thus going beyond, at least metaphorically, the simple definition of Logos as “message.” The Stoics viewed the Logos as the energizing framework of the universe, the Divine Reason. Here we will look at how at least one Jew, Philo of Alexandria, perceived the Logos in a similar manner.

The Logos dominates Philo’s writings.  In “On The Creation”, in which Philo discusses the creation account of Genesis, Philo uses the analogy of an architect’s plan to describe how the Logos, this Divine Reason of God, works.   Philo talks about how the architect

“sketches out in his own mind nearly all the parts of the city which is about to be completed – the temples, the gymnasium, the prytanea, and markets, the harbour, the docks, the streets, the arrangements of the walls, the situations of the dwelling houses, and of the public and other buildings.”[i]

This architect then having this whole city structured in his mind goes about the business of building this incredible artifice stone by stone.  This is Philo’s analogy of the divine reason, the Logos. The Logos is not God per se. The Logos is the interaction of an incomprehensible God with his creation. The Logos is God’s architectural plan of creation being carried out. As such, the Logos has incredible scope and power. Thus we have this focus on the reason of God, which Philo presents as this incredible philosophy which is the philosophy of all philosophies. This philosophy, the Logos and the wisdom of Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament is the predecessor of Greek philosophies, the predecessor of any true philosophy anywhere.

The above is an oversimplification really. In actuality, Philo weighs and criticizes the arguments of various philosophers throughout his works. For example in “On The Eternity Of The World” Philo systematically discusses the views of Democritus, Epicurus, “the principle number of the stoic philosophers”[ii], Aristotle, and Plato on whether the world is eternal, or subject to destruction. He notes that

“Democritus, Epicurus and the principle number of the stoic philosophers affirm both the creation and the distractibility of the world…”[iii]

On the contrary, he notes that Aristotle declared the world was uncreated and indestructible and accused anyone who argued with this “terrible impiety”[iv]. He then says that Plato also affirms that the world is uncreated and indestructible, and credits Aristotle’s position to being a pupil of Plato.  After stating these positions Philo goes on to argue against the Aristotelian – Platonist tenet that the world is indestructible.  In the process, Philo is presenting the “Logos” as an expression of God, a divinely energized plan.

So in reality what Philo is doing is picking and choosing from among the philosophers those tenets that agree with his interpretation of Scripture.

Philo refers to the Logos as the Divine Reason and as the idea of ideas, “the” Form (Platoism):

“And if any were to desire to use more undisguised terms, he would not call the world,  which is perceptible only to the intellect, anything else but the reason of God ,  already occupied in the creation of the world ;  for neither is a city,  while only perceptible to the intellect,  anything 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 – (25) this is the doctrine of Moses, not mine. Accordingly he, when recording the creation of man, in words which follow, asserts expressively, that he was made in the image of God – and if the image be 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 then 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 of God.[v]

“The idea of ideas, the reason of God” above is the Logos.  The above quote shows how Philo can be shown to be expressing Plato’s Forms’ theory of philosophy (“if the image be part of the image, then manifestly so is the entire form”). The image of God is a Form. Man is an expression of the Form of God. It also is another expression of Philo’s example of God as the divine architect, with his Divine energizing plan being the Logos.

Philo discusses the Logos as having a life of its own in a sense in the next quote.  Philo describes the Logos as an indestructible Form of wisdom:

“For as, whence a musician or grammarian instead, the music and grammar which existed in them dies with them, but their ideas survive, and in a manner live as long as the world itself and doors; according to which the existing race of men, and those who are to exist hereafter in continual succession, will, to the end of time, become skillful in music and grammar. Thus, also, if the prudence, or the temperance, or the courage, or the justice, or, in short, if the wisdom of any kind existing in any individual be destroyed nevertheless the prudence existing in the nature of the immortal universe will still be immortal; and every virtue is directed like a pillar in the imperishable solidity, in accordance with which there are some good people now, and there will be some hereafter. (76) unless, indeed, we should say that the death of any individual man is that instruction of humanity and of the human race, which, whether we ought to call it a genus, or a species, or a conception, or whatever else you please, those who are anxious about the investigation of proper names may determine. One seal has often stamped thousands upon thousands of impressions in infinite number, and though at times all those impressions have been effaced with the substances on which they were stamped, still the seal itself has remained in its pristine condition without being at all injured in its nature.”[vi]

This again follows the model of Plato’s Forms theory.  Men, being created in the image of God, are examples of the divine Form to the extent that they show temperance, encouragement, justice, or wisdom of any sort.  Philo’s example of the seal being used  “thousands upon thousands of impressions”  shows his application of Plato’s theories of Forms where God is a seal, and we each are stamps of that seal.

In the next quotation we see Philo describing the Logos as the agent of creation:

For God, while he spake the word, did at the same moment create; nor did he allow anything to come between the word and deed; and if one may advance a doctrine which is pretty nearly true, his word is his deed.[vii]

Here Philo represents the Logos as a God-energized plan.  The plan was spoken, the plan energized, creation happened.   The above quote shows the Logos as the agent of creation in general.  The quote below shows the Logos as the energizing force of the details of creation:

“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.”[viii]

So here we have the mental image of the Logos of God.   It’s not only that when God spoke creation happened, but creation to the nth degree was energized at the moment that God thought; every plant, animal, tree, mountain, star, and all of creation that would ever exist came into being at that moment.

Philo continues to differentiate the Logos.  Marian Hillar, in describing the complexity of Philo’s concept of the Logos, delineates all of the following as elements in Philo’s concept of the Logos:

  • the utterance of God
  • the divine mind
  • God’s transcendent power
  • The first-born son of God
  • the bond that holds together all the parts of the world
  • immanent reason
  • immanent mediator of the physical universe
  • the angel of the Lord, revealer of God
  • multi-named archetype
  • soul-nourishing manna in wisdom
  • intermediary power
  • “God”[ix]

People familiar with Christian theology will recognize the similarity of Philo’s concept of the Logos as seen in the above list to modern Christian theological definitions of the “word of God”.  But there is a distinct difference between Philo and modern Trinitarian Christianity in that, Philo presents the Logos as subordinate to the supreme God.  This Logos, while existing before all else in creation is still generated and is thus a “firstborn”, an eldest son.[x]  When talking about God’s use of the word “we” Philo doesn’t argue that this or any other part of the doctrine of the Logos are arguments for the deity of the Messiah, or have elements of a triune God.  Rather he is more closely aligned with the stoic philosophy of the Logos as a divine framework of energized reasoning that is an intermediary between God and men.

[i] THE WORKS OF PHILO, Complete And Unabridged, New Updated Version, Translated by C.D. Yonge, Forward by David M Scholer, Hendrickson Publishers, 2006, p . 4 (On The Creation(17))
[ii] ibid, p. 708 (On The Eternity Of The World (8-16))
[iii] ibid
[iv] ibid
[v] ibid, p . 4 (On The Creation(24-25))
[vi] ibid, p. 120 (The Worse Attacks The Better (75-76))
[vii] ibid, p.102 (The Sacrifices of Cain and Abel (65))
[viii] ibid, p.287 (Who is the Heir of Divine Things(140))
[ix] Philo of Alexandria (c.20 BCE—40 CE), Marian Hillar, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophyhttp://www.iep.utm.edu/philo/
[ix] THE WORKS OF PHILO, p . 240 (On the Confusion of Tongues(23))

© copyright 2010 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

January 29th, 2011 Posted by | Philosophy | no comments

Philo of Alexandria

Philo of Alexandria was a Jew that lived from about 20 BC to 50 A.D. As such he lived at the same time both as Jesus Christ, and Paul the apostle.

Philo is a source of information about Hellenistic Judaism.  (That is not to say that he is especially well regarded among the Jews. I recently had the opportunity to speak with a Rabbi about some of these matters. This Rabbi had never heard about Philo, and proceeded to refer me to Maimonides, or Moses Ben Maimon, considered by some to be the greatest Jewish  philosopher of the medieval period.  The Rabbi I was talking to credited Maimonides with introducing the Western world to the ideas of Hellenistic Judaism.  In fairness Philo is not well-known to Christians either. There are only a couple of translations of his work.  Josephus is a much more well known writer of the period.)

Philo is considered a significant source for studying Hellenistic philosophy because of his participation in middle Platonism and other Hellenistic philosophical traditions. He is also significant for insight into first century Hellenistic Judaism, and for insights into the early church and writings of the New Testament. [i]

Philo was “spoken of by Josephus is one of the most eminent of his contemporary countrymen and as the principle of the embassy which was sent to Caligula to solicit him to recall the command which it issued for the erection of this statue in the Temple at Jerusalem. The embassy was unsuccessful, though the death of the Emperor saved the sacred edifice from the meditated profanation; but we see that Philo suffered no diminution of his credit from its unsuccessful result, since, at a subsequent period, his nephew, Tiberius Alexander, married Berenice, the daughter of King Agrippa.”[ii]

Some say Philo was the first of the Neo-Platonists who attempted to reconcile the doctrines of the Greek philosophies with the revelations contained in sacred scriptures. In the process, he introduced eastern traditions to Platonism. [iii]

Alexandria at the time of Philo was a huge center of learning.  Half of its population (estimated at 1 million people) was Jewish. The library at Alexandria is historically famous. It is accepted that these Jews recognized similar wisdom in many of the sayings of the philosophers and consequently tried to reconcile the wisdom of the philosophers to that of the Scriptures.

The impact of comparing the Hellenization of Judaism to a study of original Christianity is that it shows how prominent philosophy was in the Jewish World at large at the time this small Jewish sect called Christianity was forming.  Just as these Jewish Christians were influenced by their Jewish background, part of this Jewish background is Hellenized Judaism where philosophy is highly esteemed.  Thus the integration of philosophy and matters of faith needs to be investigated.

Philo the Philosopher and Platonist

Philo’s writing is focused on philosophy and its integration with the books of the Bible.  From the beginning of his writing (starting with his work “On The Creation”), Philo’s exposition of everything in the Bible focuses on the Bible as the supreme philosophy, and he even names Moses as the very highest philosopher:

But Moses, who had early reached the very summits of philosophy…[iv]

Plato is openly revered in Philo’s works:

“And since, as that sweetest of all writers, Plato, says…”[v]

Philo credits Moses with being the predecessor to the Greek philosophers.  Here Heraclitus is named:

“Is not this the thing which the Greeks say that Heraclitus, that great philosopher who is so celebrated among them, put forth as the leading principle of his whole philosophy, and boasted of it as if it were a new discovery?  for it is in reality an ancient discovery of Moses, that out of the same thing opposite things are produced having the ratio of parts to the whole,  as  has here  been shown.” [vi]

Philo was not the first to make these claims:

“He was no innovator in this matter because already before him Jewish scholars attempted the same. Artapanus in the second century B.C.E identified Moses with Musaeus and with Orpheus. According to Aristobulus of Paneas (first half of the second century B.C.E.), Homer and Hesiod drew from the books of Moses which were translated into Greek long before the Septuagint.”[vii]

Here in the writing of Philo and his contemporaries, we have a perspective that spiritualizes philosophy contrary to the perceived attitude of Paul in writing disparagingly of philosophy, see Paul Wrote About the Lure and Futility of Philosophy for more. Whereas in that article the philosophies of the world are placed at odds with the wisdom of the faith, it is important to recognize that there was a large contingent of Jews that promoted concepts such as Moses was the greatest philosopher, Moses was the teacher and inspiration of the Greek philosophies, and that there is a way to reconcile the philosophy of the Greeks with the wisdom of the Scriptures.

Philo the Historian

While Philo is writing more as a philosopher than a historian, his writings do provide a source for historical facts.   For example in The Special Laws, III, Philo discusses the norms of marriage and sexuality in the world at the time.   Of course, his purpose is to show that Moses as the supreme philosopher provides a better philosophy in the law regarding these areas than the leaders in the other countries around Israel.  But the side effect is that we learn what some of the practices were in these other countries.

For example:

“for the magistrates of the Persians marry even their own mothers, and consider the offspring of such marriages the most noble of all men, and as it is said, they think them worthy of the highest sovereign authority.”[viii]

Philo goes on to elucidate some of the problems with this marital philosophy. With this marital structure, a man can be both the son and the husband of the same woman. The children of this marriage produce brothers to the fathers, and grandchildren to the mothers.  What is so incredible about it is that as the above quote declares these children are considered “the most noble “.

Philo continues to go on about places where men are permitted to marry their sisters by one parent, but not the other. Notably, the Athenian lawgiver, Solon, was famous for enacting one of these laws.  And Philo writes at length about how the philosophy of some cultures promotes the sexual love of boys.   Interestingly, he calls that pleasure one which is “contrary to nature.”[ix]

Of course, we are presented with these facts to show their inadequacy against what Philo presents as the superior philosophy of Moses regarding these matters.  Nevertheless, records like this give us valuable insight into the practices at the time that Christianity was forming.

This article demonstrates how Philo esteems philosophy and integrates the spirituality of the Old Testament with Greek philosophy. Of particular interest to our study is Philo’s handling of the Logos which we will examine in the next article.

[i] THE WORKS OF PHILO, Complete And Unabridged, New Updated Version, Translated by C.D. Yonge, Forward by David M Scholer, Hendrickson Publishers, 2006, p . xix (Preface to the Original Edition)
[ii] ibid.
[iii] ibid.
[iv] ibid, p.3 (On the Creation, (8))
[v] ibid, p.683 (Every Good Man Is Free, (13))
[vi] ibid, p. 294, (Who Is The Heir Of Divine Things,(214))
[vii] Philo of Alexandria (c.20 BCE—40 CE), Marian Hillar, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,  http://www.iep.utm.edu/philo/
[viii] THE WORKS OF PHILO, p. 595, (The Special Laws, III(12))
[ix] ibid, p. 598, (The Special Laws, III(39))

© copyright 2011-2021 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

January 13th, 2011 Posted by | Philosophy | no comments