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LECTURE 6 NOTE B.—P. 288.

PHILO AND THE FOURTH GOSPEL.

The most diverse opinions prevail as to the extent to which the Fourth Gospel and other books of the New Testament have been influenced by the Alexandrian philosophy—some, like Harnack and Weiss, denying its presence altogether; others, like Pfleiderer, seeing its influence in John, Hebrews, Ephesians, and Colossians etc. It will put the matter in a clearer light if we look briefly, first, at Philo’s own philosophy, and at the sources from which it was derived.

The three main sources of Philo’s philosophy were Platonism, Stoicism, and the Old Testament.

1. From Plato, the chief contribution was the theory of ideas—of an ideal or noetic world in the Divine mind, after the pattern of which this visible world was made (cf. the Timaus). It is to be observed, however, that there is not the slightest indication in Plato that this idea of the world was conceived of as a personal agent, or as anything else than an attribute of the Divine mind, in which it resides like a plan in the mind of an architect.905905The “ideas,” however are also regarded as the immanent forms or essences of things, which become what they are through “participation” in them,—a point of contact with the Stoical doctrine noted below.

2. The indebtedness of Philo to Plato is very obvious; but it is not from Plato that Philo derives the term Logos. He obtains this term from the Stoics. By the Logos, however, the Stoics as little as Plato understood a distinct hypostasis in the sphere of the Divine—a second Divine Being. The Logos, with the Stoics, is simply the 451Divine Reason itself—that eternal Divine Reason which is immanent in the universe, and in substance is one with it (fire). There was a further doctrine which the Stoics held, however, which is of great importance for the understanding of Philo. Together with their fundamentally pantheistic conception of the all-pervading Divine Reason, they held that this Reason develops or manifests itself in a multitude of powers or forces, called also Xeiyoe. This is the famous Stoical doctrine of the λόγοι σπερματιοί—the Logos-seeds or powers (δυνάμεις) which develop themselves in particular things. The theory is very different from Plato’s; yet the step was not great to identify these seed-like Χόψοι of the Stoics—the immanent rational principles of things—with the “ideas” of Plato, which also in their own way were active powers or principles. Here, then, we have another premiss of the theory of Philo. Philo takes over this doctrine of the Stoics bodily,—identifies their active ιόψόμ with the “ideas” of Plato,—identifies them, further, with the Old Testament angels and Greek demons,—and gathers them up, finally, as the Stoics also did, into the unity of the one Logos.

3. But Philo went a step further. It is the peculiarity of his theory that this Logos is distinguished from God Himself as the absolute and highest Being—is hypostatised—projected, as it were, from the Divine mind, and viewed, though in a very wavering and fluctuating way, as a personal agent.906906It is a point on which opinions differ as to whether Philo’s Logos was conceived of as a personal agent—was hypostatised (see Drummond’s Philo of Alexandria, which upholds the negative); but the above seems the preferable view. Now, where did Philo get this last conception? Not from Platonic or Stoical philosophy— not from Greek philosophy at all. He got it from the same source whence he derived his immovable Monotheism, his firm faith in Divine Providence, his doctrine of angels, etc.,—from the Old Testament. The Old Testament also has its distinction between God in His hidden and incommunicable essence and God as revealed; and has its names for this Revelation-side of God’s nature (His name, glory, face, word, angel of Jehovah, etc. Cf. Oehler’s Theol. of the Old Testament, pp. 181–196; Newman’s Arians, pp. 92, 153). There is, in particular, the doctrine of the (personified) Divine Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs. These germs did not lie without development on the soil of Judaism, as seen in the curious doctrine of the Memra, or word of Jehovah, in the Targums (cf. Edersheim’s Jesus the Messiah, i. pp. 47, 48; ii. pp. 659–664—Appendix on “Philo of Alexandria and Rabbinic Theology”)—the Memra being a distinct hypostasis whose name is substituted for Jehovah’s; and that they were developed on Greek soil is evidenced by the apocryphal Book of Wisdom, in which we have, as Schurer points out, nearly all the elements of Philo’s doctrine already present (Hist. of Jewish People, Div. ii. vol. iii. p. 232). We cannot err, therefore, in attributing Philo’s doctrine of the hypostatic Logos to the same Old Testament source.

Once this is granted, many things are clear. The predicates with 452which Philo clothes his Logos—those of Creator, High-Priest, Archangel, Intercessor, etc.—are plainly drawn over upon it from the Old Testament. But it is also clear how Philo’s doctrine should become in a certain way a preparation for the gospel. Comparing his view with that of the Gospel of John, we see, indeed—notwithstanding assertions to the contrary—a fundamental contrast. The evangelist has his feet on a fact which line seeks to interpret; Philo moves throughout in the region of speculation. An incarnation would conflict with the first principles of his philosophy. The whole substance of the doctrine in the Fourth Gospel is different from Philo’s speculations. Even in their respective conceptions of the Logos, John and Philo are at variance; for Philo means by Logos the internal Reason, never the spoken word; while John means the word uttered, spoken. His view is in accordance with the Palestinian, not with the Greek conception. I cannot therefore but agree with Harnack when he says: “John and Philo have little more in common than the name” (Dogmengeschichte, i. p. 85). Even the term Logos does not occur after the Prologue. But suppose the resemblances had been greater than they are, would this necessarily have been to the prejudice of the Gospel? I cannot see it; for it has just been shown that the one peculiar thing in Philo’s theory,—that which brings it into relation with the Gospel,—viz. its hypostatisation of the Logos, is precisely that feature which he did not get from Greek philosophy, but from the Old Testament. It was a very different thing for one whose mind was stored, as Philo’s was, with the facts of the Old Testament Revelation, to come in contact with the suggestive teachings of Plato, from what it would have been for another with no such preparation (cf. Newman’s Arians, pp. 91, 92). Philo, working with these ideas, struck out a theory which is not unchristian, but goes forward rather to meet the Christian view, and find its completion in it. That there is a Divine Reason in the universe, and that this universal Logos is none other than He who is the life and light of men, and who in the fulness of time became flesh,—this is not less Christian teaching because Philo in some respects was in accord with it. John, if we assume him to have heard of this doctrine of Philo’s, had no reason to reject it so far as it went. It harmonised with the truth he held, and furnished a fitting form in which to convey that truth. Whether even this much of Alexandrian influence is present in the Gospel, it is not easy to determine. Meanwhile, it is only doing justice to this great Jewish thinker to see in him an important link in the providential preparation for Christian conceptions—even if we do not go further, and speak of him, with Pfleiderer, as “the last Messianic prophet of Israel, the Alexandrian John the Baptist, who stretches out a hand to John the Evangelist” (Religionsphilosophie, iii. p. 176, Eng. trans.).

On Philo’s philosophy, and his relation to the Gospel, the works of Siegfried, Drummond, Zeller, Schurer, Edersheim, Harnack, Pfleiderer, Hatch (Hibbert Lectures), Martineau (Seat of Authority), Godet, Dorner, etc., may be consulted.

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