Nazarene Space

Philo of Alexandria: A First Century Jew Who Believed in the Deity of Messiah

Philo of Alexandria:
A First Century Jew
Who Believed in the Deity of Messiah
James Scott Trimm


Philo was an Alexandrian Jew who was born nearly 20 years before Yeshua and died around 20 years after his death. Philo was a “Hellenist Jew”. Not like the Hellenists of the Maccabean period who abandoned Torah for Paganism, but like Stephen (Acts 7) and the Hellenists in Acts 6. These Hellenists were Greek speaking Jews who remained Torah Observant (at least in there own understanding) while accepting Greek culture.

Josephus' comments about Philo are so brief that we can quote them here in full:

"There was now a tumult arisen at Alexandria, between the Jewish inhabitants and the Greeks; and three ambassadors were chosen out of each party that were at variance, who came to Gaius. Now one of these ambassadors from the people of Alexandria was Apion, who uttered many blasphemies against the Jews; and, among other things that he said, he charged them with neglecting the honors that belonged to Caesar; for that while all who were subject to the Roman empire built altars and temples to Gaius, and in other regards universally received him as they received the gods, these Jews alone thought it a dishonorable thing for them to erect statues in honor of him, as well as to swear by his name. Many of these severe things were said by Apion, by which he hoped to provoke Gaius to anger at the Jews, as he was likely to be. But Philo, the principal of the Jewish embassage, a man eminent on all accounts, brother to Alexander the alabarch, and one not unskillful in philosophy, was ready to betake himself to make his defense against those accusations; but Gaius prohibited him, and bid him begone; he was also in such a rage, that it openly appeared he was about to do them some very great mischief. So Philo being thus affronted, went out, and said to those Jews who were about him, that they should be of good courage, since Gaius's words indeed showed anger at them, but in reality had already set God against himself."
(Antiquities of the Jews, xviii.8, 1)

Philo lived and wrote at the same time as the “New Testament” events were taking place. However Philo was far away in Alexandria Egypt, and apparently unaware of the budding Nazarene movement which had not yet come to Alexandria.  Rabbinic Judaism has forgotten Philo. He is never mentioned or cited in the Rabbinic literature which makes no great mention of any Alexandrian Jews.


Philo is very important to us because he writes much about the Second Temple Era Jewish concept of the “Word” (Greek: LOGOS). In order to understand Philo’s concept of the Word, we must understand Philo’s concept of Elohim. Philo saw a conflict within Elohim. On the one hand, he saw Elohim as beyond man and far removed from the finiteness of this universe. He refers to this concept in Greek as TO ON (that which exists) and TO ONTOS ON “that which alone truly exists”. This concept of Elohim is conceived as virtually outside this universe with no real contact with it. This unknowable Elohim appeared from Ex. 20:21. (In Rabbinic Judaism (i.e. Kabbalah) this unknowable Elohim is called in Hebrew AYN SOF (without end/border; The Infinite One).

For Philo the Word (Logos) was a sort of bridge between the unknowable remote Elohim and the universe. The Word was a manifestation of the unknowable Elohim in this universe, an intermediary or mediator between man and Elohim. (One can immediately see that Philo’s Word parallels Rabbinic Judaism’s (Kabbalah’s) SEFIROT.)

Philo writes much about the concept of the “Word” (Greek: Logos)

…So that the Word (Logos) is, as it were, the charioteer of the powers,…
(On Flight and Finding XIX 101)

This is very important, as we have a first century Jew revealing to us the mystery of the throne-chariot.

The Mishna tells us:

They do not expound upon…
Ma’aseh Bereshit before [more than] two, or Ma’aseh Merkavah before [more than] one unless he was a sage and understands of his own knowledge.
(m.Hagigah 2:1)

In the Mishnah the Ma’aseh Merkavah (account of the throne-chariot) was a secret. But Philo tells us all about the secret, he tells us that the charioteer is the Word (Logos). It is generally accepted that the mysteries of the Ma’aseh Merkavah (account of the chariot – i.e. Ezek. 1-2) and Ma’aseh Bereshit (account of creation) were the material that later came to be referred to as “Kabbalah”. Philo tells us that the big secret of the chariot is that the charioteer is the Word.

Philo says:

...Every man in regard of his intellect is connected with Logos (Word),
being an impression of, or a fragment or emanation of that blessed
(Philo; On Creation LI (146))


Philo gave a very detailed description to the Word (Logos). To Philo the Word was the creator:

As therefore the city, when previously shadowed out in
the mind of architectural skill had no external place, but
was stamped solely in the mind of the workman, so in
the same manner neither can the world which existed in
ideas have had any other local position except the
Logos (Word) which made them...
(Philo; On Creation V (20))

Philo taught that the Word (Logos) was the shadow of Elohim and was the instrument of creation.

...But the shadow of God is his Logos (Word),
which he used like an instrument when he was
making the world.
(Philo; Allegorical Interpretation III XXXI (96))

(Not only does Philo speak of this “Word” but the ancient Targums do so as well. The Targums were Aramaic paraphrases of the books of the Tanak. Throughout the Targums we read of this entity called the “Word” (Aramaic: MEMRA). On many occasions the Targums paraphrase YHWH with the phase “Word of YHWH” and on some occasions the Word (MEMRA) is mentioned in the paraphrase where YHWH is not mentioned. The term is applied to YHWH in Targum Onkelos 179 times, the Jerusalem Targum 99 times and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan 321 times.)

This "Word of YHWH" was, according to Targum Jonathan, the Creator:

And the Word [Memra] of YHWH created man in his likeness,
in the likeness of YHWH, YHWH created,
male and female created He them.
(Targ. Jonathan Gen. 1:27)

This idea is also put forward in the Jerusalem Targum:

And the Word [Memra] of YHWH said to Moses:
"I am He who said unto the world 'Be!' and it was:
and who in the future shall say to it 'Be!'
and it shall be." And He said: "Thus you shall say
to the children of Israel: 'I Am' has sent me to you."
(Jerusalem Targum Ex. 3:14)

The Fragmentary Targum of the Torah also expresses that the Word of YHWH was the Creator:

The first night, when the "Word of YHWH"
was revealed to the world in order to create it,
the world was desolate and void,
and darkness spread over the face of the abyss
and the "Word of the Lord" was bright and illuminating
and He called it the first night.
(Fragmentary Targum Ex. 12:42)

That the Word of YHWH was the Creator can also be seen in the Tanak itself:

By the Word (DAVAR) of YHWH were the heavens made,
and all the hosts of them by the Spirit of His mouth.
(Ps. 33:6)


Philo’s concept of the “Word” (Logos) is the “image of Elohim” which served as the pattern for the creation of man in Gen. 1:26-27. Philo writes:

...For God does not seem to have availed himself
of any other animal existing in creation as his model
in the formation of man; but to have been guided,
as I have said before, by his own Word (Logos) alone...
(Philo; On Creation XLVIII (139))

But the divine Word (Logos) which is above these
does not come into any visible appearance,
inasmuch as it is not like to any of the things
that come under the external senses,
but is itself an image of God,
the most ancient of all the objects of intellect
in the whole world, and that which is placed
in the closest proximity to the only truly existing God,
without any partition or distance being interposed
between them:
(On Flight and Finding XVIII (101))

Now, Bezaleel, being interpreted, means God in his shadow.
But the shadow of God is his Word (Logos), which he used
like an instrument when he was making the world.
And this shadow, and, as it were, model, is the archetype of other things.
For, as God is himself the model of that image which he has now called
a shadow, so also that image is the model of other things,
as he showed when he commenced giving the law to the Israelites,
and said, "And God made man according to the image of God."[Gen. 1:26]
as the image was modeled according to God, and as man was modeled
according to the image, which thus received the power and character
of the model.
(Allegorical Interpretations III 96)

For if it was necessary to examine the mortal body
of the priest that it ought not be imperfect through
any misfortune, much more was it necessary to look
into his immortal soul, which they say is fashioned
in the form of the living God. Now the image of God
is the Word (Logos), by which all the world was made.
(The Special Laws I, 81)

What is the man who was created? And how is that man
distinguished who was made after the image of God? (Gen. 2:7).
This man was created as perceptible to the senses,
and in the similitude of a Being appreciable only by the intellect;
but he who in respect of his form is intellectual and incorporeal,
is the similitude of the archetypal model as to appearance,
and he is the form of the principal character;
but this is the Word (Logos) of God, the first beginning of all things,
the original species or the archetypal idea,
the first measure of the universe.
(Q & A on Gen. I, 4)

Why is it that he speaks as if of some other god,
saying that he made man after the image of God,
and not that he made him after his own image? (Gen. 9:6).
Very appropriately and without any falsehood
was this oracular sentence uttered by God,
for no mortal thing could have been formed
on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe,
but only after the pattern of the second deity,
who is the Word (Logos) of the supreme Being;
since it is fitting that the rational soul of man should bear it
the type of the divine Word (Logos); since in his first Word (Logos)
God is superior to the most rational possible nature.
But he who is superior to the Word (Logos) holds his rank
in a better and most singular pre-eminence, and how could
the creature possibly exhibit a likeness of him in himself?
Nevertheless he also wished to intimate this fact,
that God does rightly and correctly require vengeance,
in order to the defense of virtuous and consistent men,
because such bear in themselves a familiar acquaintance
with his Word (Logos), of which the human mind is
the similitude and form.
(Q & A on Gen. II 62)

This parallels what we read in the Targum:

And the Word (Memra) of YHWH
created man in his likeness,
in the likeness of YHWH, YHWH created,
male and female created He them.
(Targ. Jonathan Gen. 1:27)


To Philo, it was the Word to whom the ancients petitioned and payed, for example Philo writes:

But Hagar flees out of shame. And a proof of this is, that the angel, that is the WORD of God, met her, with the intent to recommend her what she ought to do, and to guide her in her return to her mistress's house. For he encouraged her, and said unto her: "The Lord has heard the cry of thy humiliation," which you uttered, not out of fear, nor yet out of hatred. For the one is the feeling of an ignoble soul, and the other of one which loves contention, but under the influence of that copy of temperance and modesty, shame.
(On Flight and Finding (5))

Likewise we read in the Jerusalem Targum on this same incident:

And Hagar praised and prayed
in the name of the Word [Memra] Of YHWH
who had revealed Himself to her…
(Jerusalem Targum Gen. 16:3)


In order to understand Philo’s concept of the Word (Logos) it is important to understand Philo’s concept of Elohim. Philo says:

"The primal existence is God, and second the God-Word"
(Allegorical Interpretation II, 86)

"The Creator of the world sends out His powers
from an eternal and invisible place"
(Q&A on Genesis, II, 48)

Philo raises the question

"...regarding its Creator, asking of what sort this Being is so difficult to see, so difficult to conjecture. Is He a body or incorporeal or something exalted above these? Is He a single nature... Or a composite Being?...and seeing that this is a problem hard to pursue, hard to take in by thought, he prays that he may learn from God Himself what God is."
(Flight and Finding, 164)

Philo doesn't answer this question here, but he does answer these questions elsewhere. In On the Confusion of Tongues, 62, He calls God "incorporeal" and in a later section, he describes God as a "Triad" (Trinity). He refers to God as “...the Lord God of three natures...”(Philo; On the Change of Names II, 11). He also says: is reasonable for one to be three and for three to be one, for they were one by a higher principle... the place of one, He makes the appearance of a triad [trinity]... He cannot be seen in his oneness without something [else], the chief Powers that that exist immediately with him... the Creative, which is called "Elohim" and the Kingly, which is called "Lord"... he begins to see the sovereign, holy, and divine vision in such a way that a single appearance appears as a triad [trinity], and the triad [trinity] as a unity.
(Philo; Questions on Genesis, IV, 2)

According to Philo God appears as a Triad -- himself and his two Powers: Creative and Ruling. To the "purified soul," however, God appears as One.

… the Father of the universe, who in the sacred scripture is called by his proper name,
‘I am that I am’; and the beings on each side are those most ancient powers which are always close to the living God, one of which is called his Creative Power, and the other his Royal Power. And the Creative Power is God, for it is by this that he made and arranged the universe; and the Royal Power is the Lord, for it is fitting that the Creator should lord it over and govern the creature. Therefore, the middle person of the three, being attended by each of his powers as by body-guard, presents to the mind, which is endowed with the faculty of sight, a vision at one time of one being, and at another time of three; …
(Abr. 119-123).

The reconciliation of these two opposing “powers”, the central power is the Word (Logos):

...the Divine Word (Logos)...fills all things and becomes a mediator and arbitrator for the two sides....from the Divine Word (Logos), as from a spring, there divide and break forth two powers. One is the creative through which the Artificer placed and ordered all things. This is named "God". And the royal, since through it the Creator rules over created things. This is called "Lord" And from these two powers have grown the others. For by the side of the creative power there grows the propitious of which is named "beneficial" while (besides) the royal the legislative, of which is aptly named "punitive". And below these and beside them is the ark."
(Philo on Q&A on Exodus, II.68)


Philo Writes of the Word (Logos):

For there are, as it seems, two temples belonging to God; one being this world, in which the high priest is the divine Word, his own firstborn son. The other is the rational soul, the priest of which is the real true man,
(On Dreams 215)

And if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, neverthless let him labour earnestly to be adorned according to his Firstborn Word, the eldest of his angels, as the great archangel of many names; for He is called, "the Authority", and "the Name of God", and "the Word", and "man according to God's image", and "He who sees Israel". . . For even if we are not yet suitable to be called the sons of God, still we may deserve to be called the children of his eternal image, of his most sacred Word; for the image of God is his most ancient word.
( On the Confusion of Tongues XXVIII:146-147)

Thus, indeed, being a shepherd is a good thing, so that it is justly attributed, not only to kings, and to wise men, and to souls who are perfectly purified, but also to God, the ruler of all things; and he who confirms this is not any ordinary person, but a prophet, whom it is good to believe, he namely who wrote the psalms; for he speaks thus, "The Lord is my shepherd, and he shall cause me to lack Nothing;" (Ps. 23:1.) and let every one in his turn say the same thing, for it is very becoming to every man who loves God to study such a song as this, but above all this world should sing it. For God, like a shepherd and a king, governs (as if they were a flock of sheep) the earth, and the water, and the air, and the fire, and all the plants, and living creatures that are in them, whether mortal or divine; and he regulates the nature of the heaven, and the periodical revolutions of the sun and moon, and the variations and harmonious movements of the other stars, ruling them according to law and justice; appointing, as their immediate superintendent, his own right reason, his first-born son, who is to receive the charge of this sacred company, as the lieutenant of the great king; for it is said somewhere, "Behold, I am he! I will send my messenger before thy face, who shall keep thee in the Road."(Ex. 23:20.)
(On Husbandry 50-51)


Moreover Philo's Word was a "priest" whom he compares to Melkizadek:

XXVI. (82) But Melchisedek shall bring forward wine instead of water, and shall give your souls to drink, and shall cheer them with unmixed wine, in order that they may be wholly occupied with a divine intoxication, more sober than sobriety itself. For the Word is a priest, having, as its inheritance the true God, and entertaining lofty and sublime and magnificent ideas about him, "for he is the priest of the most high God."{38}{Genesis 14:18.} Not that there is any other God who is not the most high; for God being one, is in the heaven above, and in the earth beneath, and there is no other besides Him."{39}{Deuteronomy 4:39.} But he sets in motion the notion of the Most High, from his conceiving of God not in a low and grovelling spirit, but in one of exceeding greatness, and exceeding sublimity, apart from any conceptions of matter.
("De Allegoriis Legum," iii. 26).

The fourth and last of the points which we proposed to discuss, is the appointing as a period for the return of the fugitives the death of the high priest, which, if taken in the literal sense, causes me great perplexity; for a very unequal punishment is imposed by this enactment on those who have done the very same things, since some will be in banishment for a longer time, and others for a shorter time; for some of the high priests live to a very old age, and others die very early, and some are appointed while young men, and others not until they are old. And again of those who are convicted of unintentional homicide, some have been banished at the beginning of the high priest's entrance into office, and some when the high priest has been at the very point of death. So that some are deprived of their country for a very long time, and others suffer the same infliction only for a day, if it chance to be so; after which they lift up their heads, and exult, and so return among those whose nearest relations have been slain by them. This difficult and scarcely explicable perplexity we may escape if we adopt the inner and allegorical explanation in accordance with natural philosophy. For we say that the high priest is not a man, but is the Word (Logos) of God, who has not only no participation in intentional errors, but none even in those which are involuntary.
(On Flight 106-108)


Philo also describes the Word (Logos) not only as the “Son” of the “Father” but as a PARACLETE who is “perfect in all virtue” and procures “forgiveness of sins” as well as a “supply of unlimited blessings”:

…the twelve stones arranged on the breast in four rows of three stones each, namely the logeum, being also an emblem of that reason (Logos, Word) which holds together and regulates the universe. For it was indispensable that the man who was consecrated to the Father of the world, should have as a paraclete, his son, the being most perfect in all virtue, to procure forgiveness of sins, and a supply of unlimited blessings;
(Life of Moses II, 133-134)

(Yeshua as the Messiah is called a PARACLETE in the Greek text of 1Jn. 2:1)


Now here is perhaps the most amazing thing, Philo believed this “Word” (Logos) and the Messiah to be one and the same:

"The head of all things is the eternal Word (Logos) of the eternal God, under which, as if it were his feet or other limbs, is placed the whole world, over which He passes and firmly stands. Now it is not because Messiah is Lord that He passes and sits over the whole world, for His seat with His Father and God but because for its perfect fullness the world is in need of the care and superintendence of the best ordered dispensation, and for its own complete piety, of the Divine Word (Logos), just as living creatures (need) a head, without which it is impossible to live."
(Q&A on Exodus, II, 117)

The truth is that the doctrine of the Deity of Messiah was very much a Jewish idea already in the First Century.  Philo, as a First Century Jew believed in the Messiah as:

* The Word

* The Creator

* The Image of Elohim from which we were created

* The Central aspect of Elohim as a Triad (Trinity)

* The Firstborn Son of Elohim

* A Heavenly High Priest like Melchizadek,

* A Paraclete (Advocate)

All of this was believe by a First Century Alexandrian Jew who by all accounts was unaware of the Messianic fervor surrounding Yeshua of Nazareth far away in Judea.

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