The (metaphysical) Truth does not allow us to judge Him. According to the Bible, He expects to be believed and accepted so that He can be understood and evaluated. In reality, the Truth is the One who judges us.

Philo of Alexandria was Jesus’s contemporary. A Jew born into a wealthy and influential family, Philo became a member of Alexandria’s intellectual elite at a time when the Egyptian city had exceeded Athens’ reputation, becoming the most cultured Mediterranean city. Philo was not only well educated in Greek culture and philosophy, but also intelligent and persevering.

Loyal to the Mosaic religion and dedicated to Greek philosophy, Philo took on the difficult task of harmonizing the Jewish Scriptures (in the Greek translation—the Septuagint) with the prominent philosophical beliefs of the elites of the time. As a result of this effort, Philo came to formulate the theory that Moses was the first philosopher, inspired by God Himself, while Greek philosophers were actually inspired by Moses.

Philo loved the Scriptures, but like Plato, he believed that the truth was found in the world of ideas, beyond the words of Scripture. That is why he undertook the monumental task of attempting to bring to light the true meaning behind the words of Scripture. To accomplish his purpose, he used the method used by Aristotle to reveal the true meaning of Homer’s writings: allegorical interpretation. Wherever the direct message of Scripture did not match the Greek philosophical view of the universe, God, and men, Philo harmonized them by imagining allegorical meanings behind the words of Scripture.

Although, for the modern reader, the allegorical interpretations of Philo and those who followed him on this path in the Christian church seem arbitrary and illogical, they represented a cultured and coherent approach, according to the majority of the intellectuals of the time. From the considerable distance from this understanding that we find ourselves today, we can see that the allegorical interpretation of the Bible is a mistake.

However, we do not benefit from the same edifying distance when we have to evaluate the multitude of contemporary biblical hermeneutic theories. Note, however, that the Bible is treated with the same conviction today: that it must be harmonized with contemporary intellectual beliefs about God, the world, and people. Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923) gave a decisive incentive to a new hermeneutic approach that has developed and branched out greatly over time—the historical-critical method.

Troeltsch formulated three basic criteria for judging the Bible: criticism, analogy, and correlation. The first referred to approaching the Bible with methodological doubt—nothing is true or false from the start, everything is investigated and the decision is made along the way. The second criterion states that everything we do not know by experience today cannot be considered historical in the Bible either—if today we do not see someone resurrected, no biblical resurrection can be considered a historical event. The third criterion emphasizes that the whole history can be explained by cause-effect relations, because the world is a closed system, which does not allow for supernatural explanations. Any intervention of God in history is dismissed, even as a premise.

The application of these three criteria was meant to extract the historical truth from the Bible. Theories that Jesus did not even exist or that what we know about Him is just a legend were born out of such a hermeneutical approach to the Bible—this despite the historical evidence of the existence of Jesus or the arguments in favour of the historicity of His resurrection.

Two paintings from different eras, the same picture. Philo endeavoured to broaden the meaning of Scripture to include the philosophical beliefs of his day. Today, the tendency is to reduce Bible truth to a minimum that passes the test of contemporary judgment. Although beliefs about the truth and the proper method of finding it have changed, the belief that Scripture must be harmonized with what we believe to be true has remained constant—even if the results we get are different from one era to another.

The challenge is that, at a time when we are convinced that it is our right to judge Him and decide whether He deserves to be accepted, the (metaphysical) Truth does not allow us to judge Him. According to the Bible, He expects to be believed and accepted so that He can be understood and evaluated. In reality, the Truth is the One who judges us.