Monday, October 11, 2010

Early Christian Teachers: Philo of Alexandria c15 B.C. to c. 50 A.D.

Okay. Philo was not a Christian, but a Jewish philosopher and interpreter of the Torah. However his ideas of studying would greatly influence the early Christians.

Philo was a Hellenistic (Greek) Jew. He was one of the first to combine the logical processes of the Greeks with the truths of Judaism. He was a Stoic. Stoicism was a type of Greek philosophy founded in Athens in the early 3rd century B.C. They believed that strong emotions resulted in errors in judgment and strove to separate themselves from such emotion. They were very interested in the free will of humanity compared to the gods, or God. They sought to use logical processes to understand the cosmic universe.

Philo regarded the Torah as the "source not only of religious revelation, but also of philosophic truth." ( He wrote commentaries on Jewish law and he also wrote in allegory searching for the inner truths and meanings of the Torah, not just the literal ones. In fact, he often rejected any literal sense of scriptural passages if it raised any type of factual contradiction. He also pointed out that what the scriptures didn't literally state was also important, and that a single word is often the key to true interpretation. He believed that each word should be studied for the inner meaning or truth of the passage.

"According to Philo, God transcends all first principles, incorporeal and cannot even be said to occupy a space or place; He is eternal, changeless, self-sufficient and free from all constraint or necessity (cf. Tripolitis 1978, pp. 5-6 ff.). God freely willed the creation of the cosmos, first in a purely intellectual manner, and then, through the agency of His Logos (Philo's philosophical term for the Wisdom figure of Proverbs 8:22)....Philo calls the thoughts of the Logos "rational seeds" (logoi spermatikoi), and describes them as having a role in the production of the cosmos which, he insists, was brought into being out of non-being by the agency of God." []

Christians took to the idea of the Logos. In fact the introduction of the Book of John in the New Testament has seeds of Philo's writings such as using the term "Word" translated as "Logos." He also taught that God helps His followers based on their love and devotion to him and their fellow man.

Many early Christian teachers would follow his Hellenistic example of understanding the verses through Allegory, word meanings, and the silence of the scriptures. These included Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Augustine.

It should be noted that many of the Jews of Judea did not accept his teachings as they were opposed to the teachings of the Pharasees at that time.

What does all this mean? Human beings have struggled to understand the Bible for thousands of years. Some view a literal interpretation of everything in it. Some look for the allegorical truths, while others debate the meanings of the words. I think all of this together in the Weslayan tradition should be studied, prayed over, and the truths sought out.

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