Is the Christian concept of the Trinity influenced by Philo's philosophy?
Interpretation of the question
You provide some interesting similarities between Philo’s logos and the Son of God in the New Testament. But I would like to see some references.
You asked whether Philo's philosophy influenced the Christian concept of the Trinity. But the parallels between Philo’s work and the New Testament, which you provide, do not add up to the traditional Trinity doctrine because they present the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three separate Beings. In the traditional Trinity doctrine, as we know, the three are one Being with one mind and will. So, I am going to interpret your question as asking whether Philo's philosophy influenced the description of the Son in the New Testament.
You asked whether Philo's philosophy influenced “Christian theology." However, that makes the target a bit wide, for there are many different conflicting Christian theologies and not all of them are consistent with the Bible. Therefore, I interpret your question as to whether Philo influenced the New Testament.
You mention the possibility that Philo and Christianity came to the same conclusions using that same source, namely, the Old Testament. I do not think that that is an option. Firstly, you cannot get the NT simply by interpreting the OT. Secondly, Philo explicitly merged interpretation of the OT with Greek philosophy.
PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA
Philo of Alexandria was a Jewish philosopher who lived at the same
time as Jesus. He wrote a few decades before the NT was written. He was committed to the Jewish faith but he was convinced that Greek philosophy "was a natural development of the … teachings of Moses" (Internet Encyclopedia).
Consequently, in his writings, he interpreted the Old Testament through the eyes of Greek philosophy. At the time, “the notion of the Logos was deeply ingrained in Greek philosophy.” (Blogos) As a result, Philo incorporated the Logos of Greek philosophy into his interpretation of the Old Testament.
Philo described the Logos as the Son of God and as very similar to the description of Jesus Christ in the NT. Both Philo’s Logos and Jesus Christ in the NT:
- Are called Logos (the Word) and the first-born Son of God;
- Were not created but came out of God’s own essence;
- Are eternal;
- Created all things and still maintain all things;
- Received their power from God;
- Reveals God;
- Illuminate human souls;
- Are the Mediator between God and man.
NOT THE SAME
Firstly, it is possible to argue, based on differences between Philo and the NT, that Philo did not influence the NT writers. But that is unlikely. The similarities are too many and too specific.
There are many differences between Philo and the NT. Some propose that some of such differences are so fundamental that they cancel out the similarities and that, therefore, Philo did not influence the NT. For that reason, I comment briefly on some of such proposed differences:
In Philo, the Logos was an emanation from the divine essence (Blogos). This does not seem to be a substantial difference. In the Bible, the Son was “begotten.” This also implies coming out of the substance or being of God.
In Philo, the Logos is “inferior to God” (Blogos). It is then argued that the logos of the NT is equal with the Father. But the NT also provides clear indications of the subordination of the Son. For example, the Father sent the Son. What the traditional teaching of the church prohibits is that the substance of the Son is inferior to the substance of the Father (ontologically inferiority). In Philo, since the Logos is an emanation, He is ontologically subordinate to the High God. But that is not a difference between Philo and the NT; it is a difference between Philo and Christian philosophy. Ontological equality is nowhere explicitly taught in the NT.
Blogos, referring to John 1:1-3, argues that the Logos in John is God but, in Philo, the Logos is an emanation from God. However, as the Wikipedia article on John 1:1 shows, there exists substantial doubt whether John 1:1 identifies the Word as God. Whether the predicate in John 1:1c (theos) is definite, indefinite or qualitative depends on the context. Since the Word, in the context, is “with God,” the Eastern Orthodox translation of John 1:1c, namely that the Word was “divine with the very same divinity as the one true and living God,” seems possible.
The similarities between the Logos in Philo and in the NT far outweigh the differences, which implies that Philo did influence the writers of the NT. If we accept this, a number of options are available:
THE BIBLE IS NOT INSPIRED.
Firstly, we could argue that the writers of the NT were not really inspired in this regard but simply found Philo’s speculations a good explanation of who Christ is. That would make the NT the product of the evolution of human thinking. This is what critics of the Bible would claim.
Another possibility is that the writers of the NT used concepts from Philo to explain Jesus Christ to Greek readers in their own language. However, the similarities between Philo and the NT are too great to be simply explaining truth in Greek thought-forms. These are major conceptual similarities.
PHILO WAS INSPIRED
The significant conceptual similarities between Philo and the NT mean that Philo was substantially right about the Logos. I would like to explain this as follows:
Firstly, God prepared the Greek world to receive 'the kingdom of God'
from the Jews. For that reason, God inspired Greek philosophers to
move away from Greek polytheism to monotheism and with many truths
with respect to the Intermediary Being, which the Greeks called the
Secondly, to make it easier for the writers of the NT to explain Jesus
as the Logos of Greek philosophy, God also inspired Philo to interpret
the Old Testament in terms of Greek philosophy.
Thirdly, God inspired the writers of the NT to explain Jesus Christ as
the logos of Greek philosophy, as harmonized with the Old Testament by
I would like to support this conclusion by noting that all of the Christian authors of the first 300 years after Christ died continued to explain Jesus Christ as the Logos of Greek philosophy. If these church fathers, who lived in the same Greek culture as the writers of the NT, interpreted the NT in terms of Greek philosophy, that seems to be a strong indication that that is what the NT also does.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
If the above is right, namely that God inspired the writers of the NT to understand Jesus Christ in the same way as Greek philosophy explained the Logos, then we should do the same.
This is a summary of the article, Did Philo's philosophy influence how the Bible describes the Son?