John’s gospel quite different from the synoptic Gospels in that he includes a few stories from the “other disciples.” For example, in Galilee Jesus finds Philip and simply tells him, “follow me.” Philip is featured in John in several contexts (6:5–8; 12:21–22; 14:8–10). In the other gospels Philip. only appears in the lists of apostles.
At the feeding of the 5000, Philip does not anticipate the miracle, but focuses on the problem of feeding such a large group (John 6:5-8). We know that Jesus’ question was a test, and we have a sense that Philip did not “pass” the test. But what is it that Philip should have said or done?
In this context, what was Philip to think? Jesus asks him where they were to buy food – the only answer to that question would seem “nowhere” since we do not have the money, nor is there a place to buy sufficient food. Perhaps Philip was to search his memory for a scriptural context for the event in which he was about to participate. If he knew the scripture well (as was implied at the time of his calling), then he ought to have recalled that the Lord did in fact provide food for Israel in the wilderness, and that one of the images of the messianic age was supposed to be provision of food, so that no one would be hungry in true Israel. Philip therefore looks at the problem from a perfectly acceptable human perspective (this is too great of a problem to handle!), while Jesus looks at the problem from a divine perspective – God owns all the food in the world and provided for his people in the wilderness in the past.
Near the end of Jesus’ ministry, several Greek converts to Judaism ask to see Jesus. They ask Philip to arrange this meeting, but Jesus has told the disciples not to go to Gentiles. This raises a problem, so Philip tells Andrew (John 12:21-22). This too can be taken as a misunderstanding of the scripture. It is not that Gentiles will never be able to come the to the Messiah, Isa 25:6-8 makes it clear that the nations will come to Zion at the time of the Messiah’s banquet. But there is a stream of Judaism which did not think any nations would survive this encounter! Of all the disciples, Philip (the guy with the Greek name) should have understood this most clearly. If he lived in a gentile city, what did he think would happen to his neighbors when messiah came?
At the last supper, Philip misunderstands Jesus’ statement “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:8-10). Jesus says that he is about to go back to the father, but Philip cannot seem to understand this rather complex theological statement. Just show us the father, Philip says, and forget about these theological claims about yourself. “Philip’s words here are easy to understand because they represent the general human longing to gain a firsthand personal and practical confirmation of theological ideas and assertions” (Borchert, John 12-21, 112).
Here is the problem – Philip’s practicality prevents him from hearing the deep resonations of Jesus’ statement about himself. Jesus is claiming to be God here, Philip sets that aside rather easily. Jesus rebukes Philip, although Jesus does uses the plural pronoun. All the disciples misunderstand that the messiah is not just a deliverer, but the Glory of God incarnate.
Is Philip a rationalist? (Borchert says this, more or less.) Not really, but his pre-conceived ideas about who messiah could be has blinded him from hearing this (somewhat clear) revelation form Jesus that the Messiah is in fact God, dwelling among men, so that he can solve the problem of sin once for all.