Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Philo's Logos; Dunn's Argument

In my latest reading of James D.G. Dunn's Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation, Dunn talked about Philo's conception of the logos and summed up his own argument about the origin of the doctrine of the incarnation.

Regarding the logos, Dunn does not think that Philo regarded the logos as a being who was separate from the transcendent God.  Rather, if I understood Dunn's argument, he argued that the logos for Philo was God when God was close and accessible to creation (which includes human beings).  In short, when God chose to be less transcendent, that was God's logos.

In terms of whether I agree with Dunn on this, I'm not sure.  I tend to agree with Dunn that, when it comes to wisdom in Proverbs 8, we're not dealing with a being independent of God or a hypostasis of God, but rather a poetic personification that concerns God being wise.  (According to Dunn, the concept of hypostasis came later.  Still, there are scholars who see the concept of hypostasis as relevant to interpreting the Hebrew Bible, so I don't know who's right.)  When it comes to the logos being a personal being, I tend to shy away from Messianic Jewish views that Philo's concept of the logos is similar to the Christian belief in Jesus Christ as the second person of the Trinity.  But I'm open to the logos being a personal being, such as an angel----think the divine spokesman whom Alan Rickman played in the movie Dogma.  For one, Philo calling the logos a second god tells me that it may not be the same as the first God.  Second, I think that the logos being a separate being allows God to be transcendent----there's a transcendent God, and God becomes more imminent through God's spokesman, the logos.  With Dunn's scenario, I'm not sure how God can be transcendent and imminent at the same time.

Regarding Dunn's overall argument on how the doctrine of the incarnation developed, Dunn thinks that John 1 is the only passage that explicitly has an incarnation.  He's open to John 1 using an earlier hymn, though.  Why Dunn thinks that the doctrine developed, I'm not entirely sure.  He believes that there was some movement in that direction in other writings----as I John treats Jesus as the Word, for instance----but he maintains that John 1 is the first place where we see Jesus as a personal being who pre-existed his human life.  Perhaps what happened was that Jesus was equated with wisdom, which was with God at creation, and so someone chose to take that in the direction of saying that Jesus personally was present with God at creation.


  1. I read about a third of my large volume of Philo's writings before falling to sleep. The main thought I had was that Philo was attempting some sort of grand synthesis of some idealized notion of Greek philosophy with the Bible. Allegorical interpretation was the vehicle for this, but allegory provides a squishy basis for philosophical derivations.

    Do you think Philo had any conception of logos that was independent of Plato or Heraclitus?

  2. I'm not entirely crisp on how they conceived of the logos, but I wouldn't be surprised if Philo's conception was somehow influenced by Plato's notion of the Demiurge.


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