• Michael Burgos

Philo's Trinity: A Review

Updated: May 5

By Michael R. Burgos

Philo’s Trinity, written by R. Euresti Jr., is an anti-trinitarian polemic that seeks to undermine the doctrine of the Trinity by attributing its derivation to paganism as articulated and developed by Philo of Alexandria. To suggest that this book is completely conspiratorial and is filled with bizarre and unsupported accusations is an understatement. For example, Euresti begins this volume by providing his readers with a litany of unsubstantiated assertions. He wrote, “The concept of the Trinity is blatantly pagan. It began in Ancient Babylon and made its way throughout the world.”[1] Like many other of the grandiose claims in Philo’s Trinity, Euresti never provided any evidence for this claim. One would expect Euresti to at least appeal to the triads of Babylonian religion. However, since he made the unsubstantiated claim, I will do the work for him.

Among the pantheon of Babylonian religion it is claimed that there existed two triads of three individual deities. One of the triads included Anu, Enlil, and Enki; pagan gods held respective ownership over an aspect of creation (i.e., Anu ruled the heavens; Enil controlled the land; and Enki the sea).[2] This triad of pagan gods also incorporated other deities, including various goddesses who served as consorts. The second Babylonian triad included the moon god Sin, Shamesh the sun god, Adad the storm god, and the goddess Ishtar.[3] That these triads have absolutely nothing to do with either the derivation of trinitarianism or orthodox Christianity is obvious. The deities who comprised each triad were not viewed as equals,[4] believed to possess the same attributes, or viewed to constitute one and the same God. Rather, these deities belonged to a polytheistic system that long predated the NT and has neither a semblance nor connection to trinitarianism.

Euresti never explained how the Babylonian triads make their way into Philo. Rather, instead of providing any evidence for his claim, he quaintly asserted that it was through creating an admixture of the Scriptures and “Greek philosophy” that Philo influenced the theology of the early church. One would imagine that some form of evidence would be required to substantiate these alleged connections—but Philo’s Trinity offers no such means.

Euresti claimed, “It will be proven in this book that reliance on the mystical teachings of a first century philosopher [i.e., Philo] by Catholic priests, is what led these men to believe in a Trinity.”[5] The evidence Euresti provides for this claim is easily disproven. He cited Philo’s treatment of Genesis 1:26 at Creation 24 wherein Philo wrote:

It is on this account that Moses says, at the creation of man alone that God said, “Let us make man,” which expression shows an assumption of other beings to himself as assistants, in order that God, the governor of all things, might have all the blameless intentions and actions of man, when he does right attributed to him; and that his other assistants might bear the imputation of his contrary actions.[6]

Upon the basis of this excerpt, Euresti claimed, “Unbeknown to biblical Christians today, it was Philo of Alexandria who first gave Genesis 1:26 its polytheistic interpretation.”[7] Euresti never noted that Philo explicitly identifies his “assistants” and repudiated a polytheistic reading of Genesis 1:26. Philo, while noting that the phrase “Let us make” implies “a number of creators,”[8] plainly denied the notion that there are multiple creators: “There is one only ruler and governor and king, to whom alone it is granted to govern and to arrange the universe…for it is clear from the necessity of things that there must be one creator, and one father, and one master of the one universe.”[9] Elsewhere, Philo explains that the phrase “Let us make” is “the Father is conversing with his own powers”[10] and that “God is the sole creator of man.”[11] Therefore, Philo’s interpretation of Genesis 1:26 does not accord with the classical trinitarian reading of the text and instead accords better with one of the multitudinous alternative interpretations.[12]

This sort of argumentation, including a consistently naïve and incomplete assessment of Philo, pervades Philo’s Trinity. Euresti leaned heavily on Philo’s used of the logos as an explanation of patristic exegesis of the prologue of the forth gospel, but neglected to address the use of logos in other Second-Temple literature. This results in a utterly imbalanced presentation that is easily undone by even a cursory assessment of, say, the targumic literature. Are Euresti’s readers to believe the Targums are also derived from Greek philosophy? Moreover, one would expect Euresti to provide a positive exegesis of the prologue while interacting with trinitarian exegesis. However, given that such an exercise would divulge the bankruptcy of his conspiratorial reading of Philo, no treatment is provided. The closest Euresti gets to any substantial treatment of the prologue of the Fourth Gospel is to assert that “the Word of God (expression, speech, life), became flesh.” He went on to suggest that his readers,

Compare John 1:1 to 1 John 1:1 and you have the answer. It clearly states that the Word is the "eternal life" of God. Substitute eternal life for the "logos" or Word and the text becomes simple to understand. In the beginning was "eternal life" and the eternal life was with God, and eternal life was God. Making the Word out to be a second person is not what this verse is teaching. A false interpretation was derived from this simple text because of a philosophical view that was interjected into their doctrine.[13]

Euresti’s treatment betrays even the natural reading of John 1:1-3. If one understands the third clause of John 1:1 to mean “eternal life was God” or, using Euresti’s other definition, “expression was God,” God is relegated to either an attribute (i.e., eternal life) or an action (i.e., expression). Euresti has imported a wooden reading of the prologue of 1 John upon the prologue of the gospel without taking the time to consult either the grammar, syntax, or context of the passage. Using the same interpretive strategy, one might interpret Jesus’ statement “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35) to mean that Jesus is comprised of flour, salt, yeast, and water. Further, Euresti has merely assumed a non-metaphorical reading of both “the Word” and “eternal life” without any substantiation. Indeed, this sort of surface-level eisegesis undermines the entire premise of Philo’s Trinity[14] and demonstrates Euresti’s lack of familiarity with basic hermeneutical method.

Philo’s Trinity is ripe with odd and indefensible assertions that, were the reader not too careful, can be taken to sound more like sacrilegious satire than a sober treatment of historical sources. For example, Euresti wrote, “For many years, the religious world was tricked into believing that the Athanasian Creed was authentic.”[15] Of course, Euresti never provided any evidence of this alleged trickery nor did he acknowledge the fact that both popular and scholarly treatments of the Athanasian Creed have been quite clear about its authorship for many centuries, namely, that the creed reflects the teaching of Athanasius and not his authorship.[16]

In the final analysis, Philo’s Trinity is comprised of an indefensible and conspiratorial set of assertions that cannot bear evidential scrutiny. The text is filled with shallow and unscholarly presentations of ancient sources that both mischaracterizes and maligns writers ancient and modern. The mischaracterizations of contemporary Christianity are so multitudinous that one could easily write an entire volume as a corrective.

[1] R. Euresti Jr., Philo’s Trinity (n.p., 2013), ii. [2] S. M. Hooke, Babylonian and Assyrian Religion (New York: Hutchinson’s Univ. Lib., 1953), 24-7. [3] Ibid., 28. [4] H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness that was Babylon: A Sketch of the Ancient Civilization of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, 2nd ed. (London, UK: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1988), 325. [5] Euresti, Philo’s Trinity, 3. Here, Euresti implicitly mischaracterized trinitarianism as polytheism. This is both inaccurate and disingenuous. [6] Charles Duke Yonge with Philo of Alexandria, The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 11. [7] Euresti, Philo’s Trinity, 5. [8] Conf. 33. [9] Conf. 33. Yonge, The Works of Philo, 249. Cf. Names 4. [10] Flight 13. Yonge, The Works of Philo, 327. [11] Flight 14.

[12] E.g., Kenneth A. Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26, New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H, 1996), 214-5; Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 27-8. [13] Euresti, Philo’s Trinity, 85. [14] For a thorough exegesis of John 1:1-3 see Michael R. Burgos, Against Oneness Pentecostalism: An Exegetical-Theological Critique, 3rd ed. (Torrington, CT: Church Militant Pub., 2020), 49-58; Michael R. Burgos ed., Our God is Triune: Essays in Biblical Theology (Torrington, CT: Church Militant Pub., 2018), 121-9. [15] Euresti, Philo’s Trinity, 73. [16] J. N. D. Kelly, The Athanasian Creed: The Paddock Lectures for 1962-3 (New York: Harper & Row Pub., 1964), 1-14.

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