Did Philo’s philosophy influence how the Bible describes the Son?

SUMMARY

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.

SIMILARITIES

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:

ONTOLOGY

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.

SUBORDINATE

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.

GOD HIMSELF

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

TEACHING MECHANISM

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 Logos.

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 Philo.

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.

– END OF SUMMARY –

PURPOSE

The Old Testament has only one God. But then Jesus Christ appeared and claimed to be “the Son of God” (John 10:36) and the “I am” of the Old Testament (John 8:58). This “I am” may be understood as “the angel of the LORD” who appeared to Moses “in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush,” who is also called “God” and who said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exo 3:2, 4, 14).

So, the writers of the New Testament (NT) had to explain who Jesus is. They wrote things that Jesus never said of Himself, such as that God created and maintains all things through Him (e.g., John 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2-3; 1 Cor 8:6). We would assume, therefore, that God’s Holy Spirit inspired them to understand these things (John 16:12).

However, Philo, a Jewish philosopher, who wrote a few decades before the NT was written, and who interpreted the Old Testament through the eyes of Greek philosophy, brought the Logos of God 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. The purpose of this article is to explain why the description of the Son of God in the NT is so similar to Philo’s Logos. Possible explanations include:

No influence – Based on the differences between Philo and the NT, one could argue that Philo did not influence the NT writers.

But if we decide that Philo did influence them, a number of further approaches are available:

Uninspired – The writers of the NT were not inspired but simply found Philo’s speculations a good explanation of who Christ is. OR

Teaching mechanism – The writers of the NT used concepts from Philo to explain Jesus Christ to enable their Greek readers to understand Him. OR

Philo was inspired – God inspired Philo to merge Moses and Greek philosophy and also inspired the writers of the NT to bring aspects from Philo into the NT.

GREEK PHILOSOPHY

When Philo wrote, Greek philosophy was popular in the Roman Empire. In particular, “the notion of the Logos was deeply ingrained in Greek philosophy during the first century.” (Blogos)  Greek philosophy was also monotheistic. However, the infinitely High God was unable to interact directly with physical matter and the Logos was necessary as an intermediate being through whom God created and maintained the cosmos.

“Logos” is the common Greek word for “word,” “speech,” “principle,” or “thought.” But in Greek philosophy, the word Logos had a very specialized meaning, namely a universal, divine reason or the mind of God:

“Through most schools of Greek philosophy, the term Logos was used to designate a rational, intelligent and thus vivifying principle of the universe” (The Logos in Philo’s Writings).

PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA

Philo (20 BC to 40 AD) was a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who lived at the same time as Jesus (albeit in Egypt). He was committed to the Jewish faith. But he was also “thoroughly educated in Greek philosophy and culture as can be seen from his superb knowledge of classical Greek literature” (Internet Encyclopedia). Furthermore, he was convinced that Greek philosophy, with its monotheistic view of God, “was a natural development of the … teachings of Moses” (Internet Encyclopedia). Consequently, Philo “fused Greek philosophical concepts with Hebrew religious thought” (The Logos in Philo’s Writings).

As a result, he incorporated the Logos of Greek philosophy into his theology:

“The pivotal and most developed doctrine in Philo’s writings on which hinges his entire philosophical system, is his doctrine of the Logos” (The Logos in Philo’s Writings, Chapter 11).

The Old Testament sometimes personifies the Word of the LORD. For example, “by the word of the LORD the heavens were made” (Psa 33:6) and “the word of the LORD came” to the prophets (e.g. Jer 1:2; Ezek 1:3; and Jonah 1:1). Philo identified this personified “word of the LORD” with the logos of Greek philosophy and with the Old Testament Angel of the Lord.

SIMILARITIES

As mentioned, Philo described the Logos as very similar to Jesus Christ in the NT. Similarities include the following:

CALLED LOGOS, SON OF GOD, AND FIRST-BORN

Both Philo’s Logos and Jesus Christ are called Logos (the Word – John 1:1) and the first-born Son of God:

In Philo, the Logos exists before everything else and therefore it is called the “first-born” (First-born Son of God), “the Logos is the ‘first-born’ of God” (Blogos), and the first-begotten Son of the Uncreated Father (First-born Son of God).

Similarly, in the New Testament, the Son is called “the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15; cf. Heb 1:6).

BEGOTTEN

In both Philo and the NT, the Logos was not created but came out of God’s Own Essence:

In Philo, God created the Logos and the Divine Spirit from his own “essence” (Philo’s influence). “The ontology of the Logos would most closely resemble an emanation from the divine essence” (Blogos), and “an extension of a divine being” (Philo’s Logos). The Logos is more than a quality, power, or characteristic of God; it is an entity eternally generated as an extension (First-born Son of God). Therefore, the Logos … is neither uncreated as God nor created as men (Philo’s Logos).

Similarly, in the NT, the Son was “begotten” by the Father, implying that He was not created but came from the being of the Father.

ETERNAL

In the NT, the Son “was” in “the Beginning” (John 1:1-2) and is “the First and the Last” (Rev 1:17).

Similarly, in Philo, the Logos was begotten from eternity (Intermediary Power). The Logos has an origin, but as God’s thought, it also has eternal generation (First-born Son of God). God begat the Logos eternally because it is a manifestation of God’s thinking-acting (God’s Power).

CREATOR AND MAINTAINER

In Philo, the Logos is “the organizing principle of matter” (Blogos), the power by which God made and ordered all things (God’s Power), and the bond holding together all the parts of the world (Universal Bond). “God created through the Logos” (Philo’s influence).

In John, God created all things through the Logos (John 1:1-3; cf. Col 1:16; Heb 1:2; 1 Cor 8:6). God also maintains all things through His Son (Heb 1:3; Col 1:17).

ENTRUSTED POWER

In Philo, the Logos has no autonomous power, only an entrusted one. (P-W). Similarly, in the New Testament:

Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst” (Acts 2:22).

The God of our Lord Jesus Christ … seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph 1:17-21).

ANGEL OF THE LORD

Many Christians identify the Old Testament Angel of the LORD as the pre-existent Christ. Similarly, Philo describes the Logos as the revealer of God symbolized in the Scripture by an angel of the Lord (Angel of the Lord).

REVEALS GOD

In Philo, “God is revealed to His creation through the Logos” (Blogos).

Similarly, in the New Testament, the Son is “the exact representation” of God’s nature (Heb 1:3). Therefore, Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

LIGHT

In Philo, the Logos illuminates the human soul and nourishes it with a higher spiritual food (PvoG). In the mind of a wise man thoroughly purified, it allows preservation of virtues in an unimpaired condition. (Universal Bond).

Similarly, John wrote, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:4, 9).

MEDIATOR

In Philo, the Father is the Supreme Being and the Logos, as his chief messenger, stands between Creator and creature (Philo’s Logos). The Logos is God’s son, a perfect being procuring forgiveness of sins and blessings (Intermediary Power). The Logos was the mediator between God and men (Philo’s Logos). “The Philonic Logos is the bridge between the infinite God and finite creation” (Blogos), God’s envoy to the world (P-W), announcing God’s designs to man (PvoG).

Similarly, in the New Testament, “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5; cf. Heb 8:6; 9:15). Everything that the creation receives from God, including existence, sustenance, knowledge, and salvation, flows through His Son. Also, through Christ, we draw near to God and worship Him. For a discussion, see Word of God.

AUGUSTINE

In his book, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, page 10, (https://www.iep.utm.edu/philo/#H11), C.H. Dodd wrote that Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), one of the most prominent theologians of the early church, wrote (the Confessions vii. 9) that he read in “some books of the Platonists,” “not in so many words, but in substance,” John 1:1-5, 10 and 13. These verses contain the following principles:

    • The Word was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)
    • By him were all things made. (John 1:3)
    • In him was life. The life was the light of men. (John 1:4)
    • The light shines in darkness. The darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:5)
    • He was in the world and the world was made by him,
      and the world knew him not. (John 1:1-10)

Augustine also found John 1:6-9 in these books, but where, in John, these verses contrast John the Baptist to “the true Light,” the books of the Platonists contrast “the soul of man” with “the Word of God, being God, is the true light.”

Augustine’s main point is that he found nothing in these books about the incarnation of the Logos (John 1:10-12, 14).

This is not an agreement between Philo and the NT, but between Greek philosophy and the NT. But since Philo’s Logos is derived from Greek philosophy, it implies an agreement between Philo and the NT.

EXPLANATIONS

The challenge is to explain the many parallels between Philo and the New Testament. Where did the writers of the NT get all this?

Some of the parallels are not things Jesus ever said of Himself. For example, that He is the Logos or that He created and still maintains all things.

Some of the parallels are things Jesus ever said of Himself but we do not find these things in the Old Testament. For example, that He was begotten, that He is the Mediator between God and man, and that He received all things from the Father.

The personifications of “the word of the LORD” in the Old Testament, by which God created and by which God spoke to the prophets, might be able to explain some of the parallels, but these are only personifications. It was Philo that took these personifications and linked them to the Logos of Greek philosophy.

NOT THE SAME

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.

Philo wrote very much and, obviously, there are many differences between Philo and the NT. For example, in the NT, the Word became incarnate. This is probably not something that Philo ever said. On the contrary, in Philo, the Divine Logos never mixes with the things which are created and thus destined to perish (Philo’s Logos).

However, I do not think that such differences mean that Philo did not influence the NT writers. We cannot assume that Philo was correct in all respects and we must assume that the writers of the NT would only write what God inspired them to write.

Some propose that some of the differences between Philo and the NT are so fundamental that they cancel out the similarities and that, therefore, Philo did not influence the NT. For that reason, I would like to comment on some of such proposed differences:

ONTOLOGY

Blogos states that, in Philo, “the ontology of the Logos would most closely resemble an emanation from the divine essence.” I do not see this as a substantial difference for, in the Bible, the Son was “begotten.” And both “emanation” and “begotten” imply coming out of the being of God.

SUBORDINATE TO THE FATHER

In Philo, the Logos is “inferior to God” (Blogos). “The supreme being is God and the next is Wisdom or the Logos of God” (Philo’s Logos). It is then argued that the logos of the NT is equal with the Father.

But the NT also provides clear indications of the eternal functional subordination of the Son. For example, the Father sent the Son, the Father created all things through the Son, and after sin and the consequences of sin have been vanquished, “the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

Some regard any kind of order or hierarchy among the persons of the Trinity as heresy. But what the traditional teaching of the church prohibits is that the Son is ontologically inferior to the Father. Several theological dictionaries define “subordinationism” with respect to ontology only. For example, Erickson defined subordinationism as “the doctrine that in essence and status the Son is inferior to the Father” (Millard Erickson, “Subordinationism,” in Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986) 161.) Therefore, “the subordination of the person of the Son to the person of the Father is perfectly consistent with equality” (Augustus Strong – See Glenn Peoples).

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. In the Nicene Creed, ontological equality is an interpretation of the fact that the Son has been begotten by the Father.

GOD HIMSELF

Blogos argues that the Logos in John is different from the Logos in Philo because “the Johannine Logos is identified as God Himself who took on human flesh (John 1:1-3, 14).”

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. (For a further discussion, see the articles on John 1:1.)

SAME SOURCE

A variation of the “not the same”-option is that Philo and Christianity came to the same conclusions by using the same source, namely, the Old Testament “word of the LORD.” But this is a bit far-fetched:

It is possible, in hindsight, to find similarities between the description of Jesus Christ in the NT and certain statements in the Old Testament but, with respect to who the Son is, the NT is a quantum leap from the Old Testament. It cannot simply be an interpretation of it. And it was a quantum leap in the direction of the Logos of Greek philosophy.

And to say that Philo was able to derive the truth about Jesus Christ merely by interpreting the Old Testament is too much to ask. He derived his thoughts on the Logos explicitly from Greek philosophy; not merely from the Old Testament.

CONCLUSION

The similarities between the Logos in Philo and in the NT far outweigh the differences, which implies that Greek philosophy did influence the writers of the NT via Philo. “A sound argument can be made that certain aspects of Philonic thought were “baptized” as Christian.” 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. For example, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that Philo “laid the foundations for the development of Christianity … as we know it today.”

TEACHING MECHANISM

A second possibility is that the writers of the NT used concepts from Philo to explain Jesus Christ to Greek readers in their own language, like Paul used the unknown god to explain the true God (Acts 17:23). GotQuestions, following this approach, states that “John’s Gospel begins by using the Greek idea of a ‘divine reason’ or ‘the mind of God’ as a way to connect with the readers of his day.”

However, the similarities between Philo and the NT, as listed above, 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 Logos.

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 Philo.

THE APOLOGISTS

I would like to support this conclusion by noting that all of the Christian authors of the first 300 years of the church’s history continued to explain Jesus Christ as the Logos of Greek philosophy:

“One cannot deny that the Philonic Logos … influenced the early church. … Important figures such as Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and Justin Martyr all incorporate threads of Philo into their work.” (Blogos)

For example, Wikipedia states:

One of Justin Martyr’s most important themes involves his description of the logos, a philosophical concept of order of reason and knowledge. Throughout the First Apology, Justin argues that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of the Logos. (1 Apology, Ch. 46)

This theme … was a groundbreaking statement in Christian apologetic writing. The use of the term “logos” indicates that Justin likely drew upon prior philosophical teachings, but Justin makes the argument that these teachings represent only partial truth. For Justin, Christianity represents the full truth.

As Hanson pointed out, the Apologists (the Christian authors during the first three centuries while Christianity was being persecuted by the Roman authorities), “made Christ into a convenient philosophical device. He was the means whereby the supreme God, the Father, was protected from an embarrassingly close relation to the world.” As stated above, this was a foundational principle in Greek philosophy and the very reason for the need of an intermediary being between God and the creation:

“The Philonic Logos is metaphysically necessary, for the absolute Being cannot pass into creation without corrupting His essence.”
(Blogos.org).

My point is this: If the church fathers of the first four centuries, 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.

IMPLICATION

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.

An Eastern Orthodox view of the Trinity – Fr. Thomas Hopko

Purpose

This is a summary of a well-known talk on the Trinity by a well-known Eastern Orthodox theologian, Father Thomas Hopko. I added some comments. I do not agree with everything which Hopko says, but I think he did a brilliant job of reconciling the ancient creeds with the Bible. The reader is advised to listen to that podcast before reading this article. But first, I would like to argue why we should listen to the Eastern Orthodox Christians:

The Eastern Orthodox Church

The beliefs of Eastern Orthodoxy is important because Christianity originated in the Eastern Roman Empire (in Judea) and because most of the Christian theologians of the first centuries, like Athanasius, Origen, the Cappadocian Fathers, and Augustine of Hippo were from the Eastern Roman Empire, including Africa. For that reason also, most of the delegates at Nicaea in 325 AD were from the Eastern Roman Empire (God in Three Persons, Millard J. Erickson, p82-85). However, the Muslim conquests of the seventh century and later significantly weakened the church in the east. At the same time, the church in the Western Roman Empire – the Church of Rome – became a powerful force in Europe. For that reason, the theology of the church in the Western world today has been inherited, largely, from the Church of Rome.

There always were theological differences between the east and the west. For example, over the day on which Passover should be celebrated and the filioque controversy. As another example, at the Council of Sardica, somewhere in 342 to 347, many Eastern bishops left the meeting to hold another council in Philippopolis because they were fearing domination of the council by Western bishops (Pavao, p120). Pavao claimed that “Arianism was exclusively an eastern phenomenon even prior to Nicea” (Decoding Nicea, p115). Consequently, the development of theology in the east followed a different path than in the west. Furthermore, the persecution that the church in the east suffered over the centuries stifled the development of doctrines. The church in the east, for that reason, retained the theology of the early church to a greater extent.

For these reasons, I propose, it is important that we understand how the Eastern Orthodox Church understands the Trinity.

Summary

In this section, I summarize Hopko’s talk. According to Hopko:

The Trinity

The Trinity is the tri-hypostatic Divinity or Godhead; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; one in essence and undivided.

Jesus Christ

synagogue official came and bowed downJesus of Nazareth is “the Christ; the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). He is not created but begotten timelessly of the Father before all ages. Therefore, He is divine with the same divinity as the one true and living God. As the Nicene Creed says, “God from God, true God from true God … homoousios” with the Father. The term homoousios might be better translated as “who is of the same divinity as the one God who is His Father.”

He is the Logos (Word) and Wisdom and Icon (Image) of God. Since John 1:1c means that the Word is divine with the same divinity as God, it should be translated as “and the Word was divine.”

The One God

The one God in whom we believe is not the Holy Trinity. The one God is the Father of Jesus Christ. To say that there is one God who is the Holy Trinity is Modalism. We may use the terms tri-personal or tri-hypostatic divinity but there is no tri-personal God.

Of God

As the Son is the Logos and Wisdom OF God and the Spirit OF God, the Son and the Spirit belong to the Father.

Never Separated

The one true and living God, who is the Father Almighty, has never been and will never be separated from His Son and His Spirit. He would be God without the hundred billion galaxies but He would not be God without the Logos and the Spirit. He has with Him eternally His Son and His Holy Spirit.

One divinity

The church fathers would never have said that the Father is of one essence with the Son. They would only say that the Son is of one essence with the Father. As there is one God – the Father, there is one divine nature. Since the Son is “God from God” (Nicene Creed), His divinity is the Father’s divinity (or nature). The divinity of the Holy Spirit is also the Father’s divinity.

Hopko never explicitly describes the Son as part of God but he does quote Irenaeus saying that the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of God. And at another point, he implies that the Son is “an element of the divinity and being of God.”

Act as One

The Father, Son, and Spirit act as one. Every activity of God (creation, sanctification, redemption, etc.) comes from the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit comes forth from God by the manner of procession; He proceeds from Him. He is not another Son.

The Spirit of God does not proceed from the Father AND the Son together; He proceeds from the Father alone. The Spirit is also the Spirit of the Son because He proceeds from the Father and rests on the Son. Everything that the Son has, divinely or humanly, He has received from the Father. From the Son, the Spirit then proceeds to us. The Son is the agent of all of the Father’s activities in the world, including the sending of the Holy Spirit.

Hypostases

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three Persons or three hypostasies. But hypostases is a better term because there are three instances of divine life in perfect and total unity.

Incarnation

Jesus as human babyThis very one who is begotten of the Father is born as a man (as a human being) from the virgin Mary. The Logos is NOT so perfectly divine, as some say, that He cannot become flesh; that He cannot become man. As the Nicene Creed says, He became flesh (incarnate) AND He became human (was made man). He is a real human being but He is not a mere human being. He is the divine Son of God who is also Mary’s son, who is a real human being just like we are.

He is divine with the same divinity as the one and true living God AND He is human with the humanity which all men and women have.

That is why He has two natures, meaning that He is fully divine but also fully and completely, truly human.

While the Godhead are three divine hypostases (Persons) with one divine nature, Jesus Christ is one hypostasis (one Person) with two natures because divine.

Conclusion

The Holy Trinity is the tri-personal Godhead; the one God and Father, the one Lord Jesus Christ, and the one Holy Spirit in perfect unity.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

Hopko’s Talk

In this section, I provide a summarized transcript of Hopko’s talk which I typed myself. Perhaps the reader will be able to listen to the talk while reading this. I added headings, comments, and text references.

The Trinity

The Trinity is the tri-hypostatic Divinity – the tri-personal Godhead; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; one in essence and undivided.

Importance of the Trinity

The dogma of the Holy Trinity is often called the dogma of dogmas, like the Lord of Lords, or King of kings.

Saint Gregory, the theologian, said that, when it comes to various other doctrines, not to get it completely totally accurate is not supremely dangerous for the salvation of souls, but when it comes to God – how the one God and Father relates to the only-begotten Son and Holy Spirit, if you don’t get that right, everything else is skewed, for all the other doctrines are rooted and grounded in the right understanding of the relationship and the communion that exists between the one God and Father, and His one only-begotten Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The word Trinity

“Trinity” is not a Biblical word. It is a word that emerged in Christian history – very early – in the second and third centuries.

Who is Jesus?

The Trinity can only be properly understood when we begin with contemplating the Person of Jesus. The Trinity doctrine is the elaboration or outgrowth of the confession of who and what Jesus is.

Who Jesus is, is rooted and grounded in the gospel itself. The main question of the gospel is, “Who do you say I am?” That is the main question which Jesus asks in the gospels. After preaching, teaching, doing His miraculous signs – after He does all the things that the Scriptures said that the Messiah would do when he came, namely to bring the kingdom of God to the world and to bring all created beings in perfect harmony with the uncreated (God), Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?

COMMENT: Here, Hopko says much more than what I typed. I think his argument is that God, through Jesus, when “the end” comes, will restore perfect peace in all the universe (1 Cor 1:24) and that the world had a foretaste of this when He was on earth. We see that in how He healed people and how He controlled the winds and the waves of nature.

In response, Christians confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the messianic prophet, priest and king; the Christ; the Son of the living God; the Lord. Christians confess that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnate Word of God; the Logos and wisdom of God in human flesh. He is the Son of God; begotten of the Father before all ages and born of the theotokos Mary; the birth giver of God on earth. He is divine with the same divinity as the one true and living God. In the language of the Nicene Creed, He is “God from God, true God from true God; begotten of the Father; not created, of one very same essence (ousia) – one same being or divinity with God the Father Himself.”

All of that is the result of the confession of who Jesus is. The question is given by Jesus Himself: “Who do you say I am?” And that is where Peter confessed, in what may be called the fundamental Christian Creed: “You are the Christ; the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16).

The Rock

Jesus then said to Peter, “flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matt 16:17). He added that the whole foundation of the covenant church – the ultimate final church on the planet earth would be those who believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God.

COMMENT: This is an interesting interpretation of Jesus’ words: “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church” (Matt 16:18).

God is not the Trinity

It is critically important to note that, in the Bible and, therefore, in the creeds, such as the Nicene Creed (325) and Creed of Constantinople (381), the one God in whom we believe is not the Holy Trinity. The one God is God the Father. In the Bible, the one God is the Father of Jesus Christ. He is the Father who sends His only begotten Son into the world.

And Jesus Christ is the Son of God. In a parallel manner, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and, because the Christ is the Son of God on whom God the Father sends and affirms His Holy Spirit, the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ – the Messiah. This is very important because there are wrong understandings of the Holy Trinity.

Unitarianism

These are those who deny that there is a trinity of divine Persons – of divine hypostasies. Unitarians would say that God is just a unipersonal nomad and that He has no Son; the divinity is His and His alone, and everything that exists in addition to the one God is a creature – has been created by God – has been brought into being out of nothing – not an element of the divinity and being of God Himself.

COMMENT: The Nicene Creed also uses the phrase “out of nothing.” It refers to things that have been created, in contrast to the Son and the Spirit that are “out of” the uncreated being of God.

COMMENT: The phrase “not an element of the divinity and being of God Himself” implies that, in Hopko’s theology, the Son and the Spirit are elements of the divinity and being of God. That is similar to the pre-Nicene Fathers, who thought of Christ as “a derivation and portion of the whole” (Tertullian (AD 165-225), in Against Praxeas 9 “Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III : Against Praxeas”)

Here the orthodox Christian would say that that is just plain wrong. It is an incorrect understanding of what it means that Jesus is THE Son of God, THE Wisdom of God, and THE Icon of God. To say that the Word of God is a creature would be a wrong interpretation of both the New and Old Testaments. To say that the Spirit of God is a created being would just be totally wrong.

Modalism

The other terrible error is usually called Modalism. This is where people say that there is one God who is the Holy Trinity. They say, ‘He who is the Trinity’.

COMMENT: With this, I think, Hopko classifies the western understanding of the Trinity as Modalism (Sabellianism).

We orthodox Christians, following Scripture and the credal statements, can never say this. We say, there is the one God who is the Father, and He has with Him eternally, whom He begets timelessly before all ages, His only begotten Son, who is also His Logos (His Word) and His Wisdom and His Icon (Image), but this only begotten Son is divine with the very same divinity as the one true and living God. He is another (different?) Who from the Father.

Three Instances of Divine Life

There are three ‘Whos’; He who is the Father, He who is the Son and He who is the Holy Spirit. They are three Persons or three hypostasies. But hypostases is a better term because there are three instances of divine life in perfect and total unity.

The Son of God

But it is important to remember that the one God is the Father of Jesus: Jesus is the Son of God. As the Nicene Creed says, Jesus is “God from God; true God from true God.”

God’s Son, who is of the same divinity as the Father and who is born from Him; comes forth from Him. And this one true and living God also has with Him His Spirit who proceeds from Him – who comes forth from Him.

Begetting versus Proceeding

According to the Scriptures, the Son comes forth from God by means of begetting; He is a Son as a son is to a father. That is who and what the Son is.

And the Holy Spirit comes forth from God by the manner of procession. He is not another Son. It is a different kind of relationship.

The Son is the Son of God because He is begotten of the Father, meaning that He has no human begetter. He has no human father. His Father, literally, is God. God, who is His Father, begets Him before all ages.

Begetting versus Born

And then this very one who is God’s Son is born as a man (as a human being) from the virgin Mary. In Greek, the same verb, when it applies to the Father, is “beget.” When it applies to a mother, it is “born.” So, we would not say that Jesus was begotten of Mary humanly; He was “born” of Mary humanly. But we would also not say that He was born of the Father; He was begotten of the Father.

John 1

In John’s gospel, in the beginning, the Logos was with God, and the Logos was divine. All things came to be through Him (John 1:1-2). Orthodox Christians interpret these sentences to show that the Logos is really divine with the same divinity as the Father.

And then in the prologue of John’s gospel, it says that “the logos became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). As the Nicene Creed would say:

the only-begotten …
Who for us men, and for our salvation,
came down and was incarnate and was made man

You have those two words; that He became flesh (incarnate) and He became human (was made man), born of the virgin Mary. So, He who was divine became human.

If we ask who He is, He is the divine Son of God who is also Mary’s son, who is a real human being just like we are. That is why Eastern Orthodox Christians reject Nestorianism.

Arianism

We not only deny Arianism which says that the Logos – the Son of God was a creature. No, He is not a creature. He belongs to the being of God and His being is divine.

Nestorianism

But we also deny the Nestorians who say that the one born of Mary is NOT the same one as the One begotten of the Father; that the Logos is so perfectly divine that He cannot become flesh; that He cannot become man. The Nestorians say that He can be enjoined to or united with a man but He cannot really be born of a woman. Eastern Orthodox Christians say, o yes, He can and He did. Truly divine and truly human. That is why the council of Chalcedon would say that He is divine with the same divinity as the one and true living God – the One who is the one God – AND He is human with the humanity which all men and women have. That is why we say He is of two natures or has two natures, meaning that He is truly divine and truly human.

Jesus is called God.

And when He is divine, we can call Him God.

Thomas did call Him God. He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Some of the sentences of Paul can be read as if Jesus is called God. It depends a little bit on punctuation, but like “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Even certain Old Testament terms, like calling Him Lord in a divine manner, such as, “The LORD (YHVH) says to my Lord, Sit at My right hand” (Psm 110:1). He is using the same term for the one who sits at His right hand as for God Himself, for “the LORD” mean Yahweh and Yahweh is God.

And Jesus in John’s gospel even uses the “I am,” for example, “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). That is a divine name. So, here, the confession is that the man Jesus is the divine Son of God.

Homoousios

And that is what the council of Nicaea defended. The Nicene Creed used one non-Biblical term to make this point, and that term is homoousios, which can be translated “of one essence” or “of the same essence” or “substance.” Sometimes to be clearest, we might better translate it into English as “who is of the same divinity as the one God who is His Father.” And that is how the Bible speaks.

The Trinity in the Bible

Many years ago, I went to my professor of theology and I said to Him, Prof, I do not find the Trinity in the Bible.

Of course, in those days I had a very skewed idea of the Trinity. I thought of the Trinity as one God who is somehow three, like three-leave clover or water could be liquid or steam or ice. In fact, I have come to learn that those symbolisms are modalistic. They are not accurate. You can speak of God as fountain and stream or something like fire and heat and warmth as emanating from God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ and His Spirit, but not all analogies are apt.

To understand the Trinity properly, you begin with Jesus and you read the Scriptures. Then you can contemplate how the one God is God the Father WITH His Son and WITH His Spirit. Very often the preposition “with” is used but “and” is also used. For example, in the baptismal formula, we baptize in the name of the Father and, therefore, also of the Son because there is no Father without the Son and, therefore, also the Holy Spirit because there is no Holy Spirit without the Father and the Son. And there is no Son without the Father and the Spirit. And there are no Son and Spirit without the Father.

The church fathers of the fourth century, like Gregory the theologian, would never have said that the Father is of one essence with the Son. They would only say that the Son is of one essence with the Father. The reason is that the Son’s divinity is the Father’s divinity. The Son is “God from God” (Nicene Creed). He is a divine Person “from” the one God.

In the Old Testament, there is also the “word” of God and the “Spirit of God” who is not God but is “of” God and divine with the same divinity as God. The Spirit of God inspired the prophets. You will read texts like; the heavens were made by the Word of the LORD; all the earth by the breath of His lips.” You will find sentences about the son of man that is presented to the Father (Dan 7:13).

You cannot read the New Testament without God, who is clearly God, who is not Jesus and who is not the Holy Spirit. And you can’t read the New Testament without Jesus Christ who is not God the Father and who is not the Holy Spirit. And you can’t read the Scriptures without meeting at every page the Holy Spirit, who is not the Son and who is not the Father. But when you read the text, you see that the Son and the Spirit are OF the Father – FROM the Father – BELONGING TO the Father.

Yet, they are divine. They present themselves as fully divine and like the two hands of God (quoting Irenaeus). God is not without His hands. He never works with only one hand. When God speaks His word, He breaths, and when He breaths, He speaks. You cannot even think of God without His Son. Then you come to the conclusion that the one true and living God is the Father. The one true and living God is not the Creator. God would be God without the hundred billion galaxies. But God would not be God without the Logos and the Spirit; without the Word of God and the Breath of God.

So, even if you would speak to a good orthodox Jew and ask, is God ever devoid of His wisdom? A good orthodox Jew would say, never! Is God ever without His word? Never! Is God ever without His breath? No, no, He is the living God; the Spirit of God is divine. So, we Christians could say, see, you believe in the Holy Trinity because you cannot conceive of God without His Word and without His Spirit.

The Son of God is a real human being but He is not a mere human being. He is the human being that the Son of God has become when He was born of Mary.

John is the great theological gospel that shows the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But if you just take Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

When they speak of the birth of Jesus, they say He would be called the Holy One, the Son of the Most High; that He will establish the kingdom of God, His Father is God.

He has no human father. He is conceived of the Holy Spirit. Just like the Spirit of God brooded over the emptiness at the beginning of creation, so the same the Holy Spirit brooded over the barren womb of Mary and then God speaks His Word and His Word is incarnate in Mary’s womb. The Word becomes flesh in Mary’s womb.

When He goes to the temple, He says He must be about His Father’s work and He is filled with the Holy Spirit.

At His baptism, The Father speaks and says, “this is my beloved Son” and the Spirit rests on Him in the form of a dove.

The Spirit is the Spirit of God who is His Father, but then He says that the Spirit is His own Spirit because everything that He has, divinely of humanly, He has received from the Father.

In Hebrews, it even said that it was the Spirit of God who led the Son of God to be crucified in the flesh for the salvation of the world. In John’s gospel, He says the Father is always with Him (John 8:29; 16:32).

So, as a Christian, you cannot contemplate God without immediately and necessarily contemplating the Son and the Holy Spirit. The minute I think about God, I think about Christ and the Spirit. You cannot think about one without thinking about all three.

Filioque

The Spirit is the Spirit of the Son because He proceeds from the Father and rests on the Son. That is why we orthodox is against the filioque in the creed (“and the Son” – Athanasian Creed). There was a break with the West. We claim that the Spirit of God does not proceed from the Father and the Son together. We believe that He proceeds from the Father alone. And He rests on the Son from all eternity and does the same thing when the Son becomes man. He rests upon Him as a man too. We can say that the Spirit proceeds to us from the Father THROUGH the Son. That is true. The Son is the agent of all of the Father’s activities in the world, including the sending of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father” (John 15:26).

Three in Perfect Unity

So, you always have these three in perfect unity. Therefore, when I think of one, I immediately think of all three together.

There is one God because there is one Father. And there is one God because there is one divine nature of the Father, which is the nature of the Son and the nature of the Holy Spirit too. So, the Son and the Spirit are of the same essence as the Father. That is what Scripture teaches us, if you put it in philosophical terms. That is what the Bible teaches. They needed that word (homoousios) to defend the Bible.

And when you contemplate the activities of God, you see that every activity proceeds from the Father. The Source of every divine activity – creation, sanctification, redemption, whatever God is doing, it comes from the Father – it is God’s. But the Agent is always the Son. God creates through His Son. He speaks through His Son. He redeems through His Son. So, the Son is His Word. The Son is the Savior, but then, all these activities are accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, every activity of God is from the Father, through the Son in the Spirit. Or, you can say from the Father, AND the Son AND the Spirit.

So, we worship the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit – the Trinity; one in essence; undivided. We pray to thee, o one God and Father, AND thy only-begotten Son AND thy Holy Spirit.

The Son is incarnate and crucified, but the Father is in Him at all time. He is never separated from the Father. Even when He experiences in His humanity the abandonment of God to die the death, He is not separated from the Father. God is in Him. The Holy Spirit is in Him. God, the Father, is raising the dead through Him by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, when we think of the one God and Father, who is never devoid of His Son and Spirit, we think of the one divinity.

No Triune God

In eastern orthodoxy, the term triune God is not a traditional formula. You find the term tri-personal or tri-hypostatic divinity. There is no tri-personal God. There is the one God and Father Almighty. That is the one God. But then that one God is Father eternally with His Son who is God from God, and with His Holy Spirit.

Is the Spirit called theos?

The Nicene Creed did not call the Holy Spirit theos (God). Gregory, the theologian, was the first one to do that – late in the fourth century. The Bible never calls the Holy Spirit theos. The Nicene Creed called the Son “God from God” but it did not call the Spirit “God from God.” The closest thing in the Bible is when it says that Ananias and Saphira lied to “God.”

Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit … You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).

And then Jesus said that the one sin that is unforgivable is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. And blasphemy can only be done against God – a divine Person.

Three Persons with one divine nature

What we say is that the Godhead are three divine hypostases (Persons) with one divine nature. There is one God and Father, whose nature also belongs to the Son and Spirit and there is one divine activity with three who act; the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Then we say that Jesus is one hypostasis (one Person) with two natures because He is fully divine but, because He is also born of Mary, He is fully and completely, truly human.

So, we have, the Godhead being three Persons in one nature, and then we have Jesus Christ being one Person in two natures.

Conclusion

So, how must we think about the Trinity? We begin with the Scriptures, we contemplate Christ, then we contemplate how Christ relates to the one God and Father, how He relates to the one Holy Spirit. We see how the unity of the divine divinity belongs to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is what we must always remember and never forget – it begins with Christ and it begins with the Scriptures. It begins with the activity of God in saving the world in the Person of Jesus. It begins with the question, “Who do you say I am?” And when we say, “You are the Christ, the Son of God,” the result will be the dogma of the Holy Trinity – the tri-personal Godhead; the one God and Father, the one Lord Jesus Christ and the one Holy Spirit in perfect unity.

Article Series on this Website

Jesus Christ and the Trinity

Daniel

      • Is Daniel a Fraud? – It is claimed by liberal theologians that Daniel was written in the second century before Christ, presenting history as if it is a prophecy. 
      • Daniel 2, 7, and 11 – These prophecies should be read together. 
      • Daniel 9 – Discussion of the Four Major Interpretations of the 490 years

Revelation

Other