Who was Apostle 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.

St PhilipAt 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 misunderstanding prevents him from hearing 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.

Was 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.

4 thoughts on “Who was Apostle Philip?

  1. I honestly had to look up the word rationalist in order to come to a better understanding of what that means. By definition, I feel like Philip was a sort of rationalist, however, a naive rationalist. It seems to me that Philip did believe in Jesus, he was, however, blinded by his own sense of knowledge of the Messiah to see who Jesus really was. To some degree, all the disciples deal with that and frankly it’s still something we wrestle with in one form or another. We are so like Philip here, especially, at Bible college. As we are steeped with the knowledge of Christ our hearts begin to grow cold to the Spirit moving in us. Philip wanted a quick fix to his problems, both within the frame of theology and also general knowledge. God is not like that, however, He is the great Revelator–revealing in His own time. The disciples wanted the answer right away, their knowledge forced them to seek answers to their questions. Proverbs 19:11a says, “A man’s wisdom gives him patience.” Like this verse says, we should be patient in receiving answers from God and learn from the mistakes of Philip, but also marvel at his faith as well. We need to understand those areas where we are rationalists as well and seek to know Christ more fully as who He is, not who we want Him to be!

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  2. I think we can all tend to be somewhat rationalistic, similar to Philip. We live in physical bodies that interact with the physical world and I think that it is sometimes hard to remember that we also live in a spiritual world controlled by the one true God. God is in control, not only over spiritual matters but also physical matters. It is easy for us to look at the tangible problems around us and feel like we somehow have to ‘fix’ it but just as Philip needed, we all need a reminder that all things are possible withy God (Matthew 19:26) and that he owns and is in control of all things (Psalm 50:10). He ultimately works all things out for us and we can trust in His sovereign kingship (Ephesians 3:20).

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