Gospel of John and the “Other Disciples” – Philip

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.

13 thoughts on “Gospel of John and the “Other Disciples” – Philip

  1. Interesting stuff here P.Long, I guess that is why you get paid the big bucks mi amigo. But now to the dicussion. I thought it was interesting point that you made in regards to the feeding of the 5000 when Jesus asked Philip where they should get the food for the crowd. His answer as was pointed out was nowhere, but the fact remains that Jesus is God, and God provided for the Israelites while they were in the desert. Why Philip wasn’t aware of this, to us is uncomprehendable.

    But the concept that we are left with is this. Philip is practical, and could not understand the theological dynamics of what was Jesus speaking. But could it also be said that someone could look to deep into a theological conversation to where they miss the entire point of the conversation? It is a fine line that we must walk on to be practical, but yet view the bible in a deep theological sense

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    • I think you bring up good question Jed. “But could it also be said that someone could look to deep into a theological conversation to where they miss the entire point of the conversation?” Could it be that Philip was struggling with this problem when Jesus was declaring He was the Way? Maybe Philip was thinking too “deep”. Yet, it also seems that Philip may have not been thinking “deep” enough for Jesus’ statement. He (Philip) may have been looking past this statement and on to something else. It seems that Philip may have not been the smartest of the disciples. Maybe he had a hard time learning, or maybe he was just like us.
      I can see how Christians in American culture today act like Philip did two thousand years ago. We look beyond what Jesus truly intends to do with our lives and we start to think we have something else to put above God. We don’t pursue Him like we should, or sometimes we get caught up thinking too “deep” about what Jesus said that we miss what He intended in the first place. Like Jed said, “It is a fine line that we must walk on to be practical, but yet view the bible in a deep theological sense”

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      • I do not think that Philip was thinking deeply at all. I took this into consideration after this statement, “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. However, Philip is not alone in missing what Jesus’ meaning is. “All the disciples misunderstand that the messiah is not just a deliverer, but the Glory of God incarnate.”
        I am right with you on your second paragraph Joe Pederson. In today’s society, people want the actual proof that they can see with their own eyes that Jesus is the Messiah. After all we have the Bible, actual historical evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. It is interesting that even though people read this, they still do not believe. They believe that George Washington was once our president; they do not need an actual visual sighting for proof that he was president. Yet, people still need actual, visual proof that Christ is the Messiah.

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  2. Oh Philip. He reminds me of how human people really are. Even though, he was an “other” disciple of Christ, he had his flaws. He wanted proof of what Jesus was telling him. He wants Jesus to show him the Father. As it was sad, Philip was missing the whole point.
    With Philip and the feeding of the 5,000, we probably would have reacted the same way in which Philip did. I think that the majority of everyone would have done what Philip did, looking at the situation from a human perspective. I believe that none of us would not known what to do in that situation that Philip was in.

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  3. I think that Jesus gave Philip many times to tell Jesus that he believes he is the messiah and that the messiah is also God. Philip also failed at the chance to recall scripture. Seems like Philip both gets a bad wrap and he can’t seem to do much right especially when it comes down to religious points. It must be hard for him to mess up at those points not only for what he is doing, but doing that in the presence of the messiah.

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  4. I agree with everybody. Seriously.

    Phillip has always been the disciple that needs to have proof to believe. He speaks too soon and puts his foot in his mouth and cannot ever trust what he hears. But, it seems that there are several disciples that people say this about. Thomas, who is always doubting and Peter, who always “talks without speaking” are recurrent traditional church examples. The truth is, we all,to a certain extent long for proof and talk without speaking. It is sad to me when people label the individual disciples with negative attributes, when we struggle with the same things. Just because we have a retrospective vies on the life of Jesus does not mean we are any better Christians than Philip, Peter or Thomas, we just have more to be held responsible for.

    Philip, even after his “foot in mouth moments” went on to be a powerful presence in early Acts. He was with Jesus, as John records, and grew from it.

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    • Yeah Joe, you bring up a great point. Why does it seem that are several disciples that people say this about? From outsiders looking in, it seems like we are quick to say that they are doubting, not looking deep enough. I do think Phillip misses the point in the feeding of the five thousand, but I do not know if we can say, “ugh you dummy you missed it,” only because it does seem like there is something in us that needs to see it with our own eyes to believe what is going on. Why do we think it is so easy for the disciples to believe that Jesus was the Messiah? That is what everyone was longing for, it almost seemed like when Jesus came….people were like this is way too good to be true. It’s interesting that it wasn’t until the disciples saw Jesus rise from the dead that they started to change the world. Sometimes seeing is believing and I don’t think we can blame them because the most influential person in all of history has come to present Himself to the world.

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  5. It seems to me that getting too far into analyzing Philips personality could risk missing the point of his minimal yet valuable involvement in the Gospels. I feel like the things I learn most from the biblical accounts of Philip revolve around his cultural identity – his knowledge of scripture and cultural messianic preconceptions. We also know that he was an instrumental figure in ministry to the Gentiles. Was he a rationalist? I would argue to say that although his faults highlighted in the Gospels might have been rooted in his rationale, he did not necessarily anchor his beliefs in practical rationale anymore than the average disciple, or resident of Bethsaida for that matter. What is most notable is that he’s too deep into his culture’s theological/messianic framework, and perhaps a bit too preoccupied with earthly sensibilities, to see with clarity Jesus’ deepest convictions and purposes.

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  6. Dang after reading this it made me feel bad for Philip. I feel like the Bible makes him look like the dumb one out of the bunch! Poor guy! I feel like Philip was the desciple most of us can relate to. There definately was purpose to him being recorded. I know that is hard for most people to grasp the concept of Jesus and his Father. Poor Philip only wanted some proof of everything. Yes, he was a disciple, but he also was human and is not perfect. I really like what Joe said about getting annoyed when people put lables on the disciples for things they screw up on, because we too struggle with the same things!!!

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  7. We are blessed to have a better understanding than what Philip did. Philip was probably just an average Jew, that didn’t really fully know who Jesus was. He was another tool in the ministry of Christ to reach the Jews. Over 5,000 mouths to feed, and there isn’t any restaurants in site. His response to Jesus seems like something I probably would have said. Being the people pleaser I am I would have volunteered to make a food run to the nearest city. As a man I know we look to solve the problem. We often miss the point by trying to find a solution. This I have learned in marriage. Philip needed reminders throughout his life to look at things outside of his own perspective. In life we are challenged to lean not on our own understanding.

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  8. Too often do we have “cookie cutter Jesus” in our American churches as Joe points out in regards to us behaving like Philip. To be honest, I haven’t really read much about Philip simply because… unfortunately up until this point, I have simply skimmed the Gospels in favor of the Epistles. Could this be the Protestant “Philip” equivalent? Easily discarding the “abstract” Gospels for the “more practical” writings of the Epistles? I don’t know… just a thought.

    I would also like to comment on the feeding of the 5000. If I didn’t know any better and I read the comment “God owns all the food in the world and provided for his people in the past”, this could be a hard pill to swallow. Knowing the amount of poverty and starvation in the world, if God owned all the food, couldn’t he just give it to those in need? Again, I know better but just for the sake of argument, this would be tough if I were on the outside looking in. The pattern is interesting though. Jesus FIRST asks Philip what to do and then when Philip claims impossibility/does nothing, Jesus THEN provides the food. This is eerily similar to How God works now. He uses the Church to go and do and when we fail or can’t, God works a miracle.

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  9. I feel as if many from the first century misinterpreted who the Messiah really was. The Messiah was supposed to be someone who would deliver, a lot like what the Judges did. Many didn’t realize that the Messiah who would save the world for good would be divine. As many have already stated, Phillip seems to be needing some sort of proof rather than just having faith. I like that Joe J. pointed out that it appeared that all of the disciples seemed to have major flaws; such as Thomas doubting and Peter speaking without thinking. I’m not really sure how to unpack Phillip’s words at the last supper. As far as Phillip’s answer to Jesus’ test at the feeding of the 5,000, I believe Phillip was putting Jesus in a box like we so often do. He had seen all of the miracles and seen all of the blessings in his life, but yet he still didn’t think of the possibility of Jesus performing a miracle to feed the crowd. We do this. God works miracles in our lives and performs all of these amazing acts and when there seems to be an impossible task, we take our eyes off of God and forget that He can perform miracles and do ANYTHING.

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  10. I agree that Philip isn’t necessarily a rationalist. It seems that his reactions were completely logical in consideration of what the Jewish expectation for a Messiah was. It was not that he was not looking for signs, but looking for the wrong ones in the wrong forms perhaps. I know that for myself I would have almost definitely responded the same way when it came to the problem of feeding the people. It is hard to look at the big picture sometimes and I think Philip wasn’t thinking this is a test but just a normal everyday occurrence and when you are in that mindset you react in a practical “what do I have to work with” mentality. It reminds me of when Jesus calmed the storm in Matthew 8, the disciples are called “you of little faith.” They called to Jesus for help, but it never occurred to them that he could calm a storm despite all he had done among them! They were thinking practically not looking at the big picture, they were in the middle of the storm and were reacting in a knee jerk fashion.

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