The Apostle Philip was one usually mentioned after Peter, Andrew, James and John. Sean McDowell, in his book Fate of the Apostles, considered Philip as among the “middle-level apostles”. [1]

Apart from the four episodes which Philip played a key role in the Gospels (his conversion in John 1, the feeding of the five thousand in John 6, the introduction of Jesus to the Greeks in John 12, and his request to see the Father in John 14), nothing much can be learned about Philip. Moreover, because he shares the same name as Philip the evangelist (Acts 6:5, 8:4-8, 21:8-9), it is not far fetched that Christians confuse one with the other, and often do! [2]

Not until the second century did traditions about Philip begin to emerge. [3] Clement of Alexandria for instance, noted that Philip was the disciple who wanted to bury his own dead before following Jesus [4] One might have run into the Gospel of Philip as mentioned by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code, who speculated that from the said Gospel, one may find that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. As one of the main characters pointed out, the Gospel of Philip tells of an incident where the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth.[5]

This of course is difficult to sustain. For one, the Gospel of Philip is dated to around mid-fourth century.[6] Moreover, the Gospel of Philip is used by the Gnostics and later on, the Manicheans. These groups account for what Irenaeus described as those who are unable to trace their succession back to the apostles. [7] Thus, while it may at all be true that Jesus was married, the silence of the church tradition makes it one which is at best relegated to speculation.

Philip is consistently known to have ministered in Hierapolis whom Papias was the first to bear witness to. [8] Eusebius also noted that Papias knew the daughters of Philip and heard miracles stories from them [9]

Whether Philip died a martyr or not is highly uncertain. None of the earliest church fathers who mentioned his ministry wrote of his manner of death. The earliest known resource we have of his death is a fourth century apocryphal text called the Acts of Philip.[10] McDowell cautioned that “Like the other Apocryphal Acts, the Acts of Philip contains many bizarre legendary tales, but it likely retains a historical core (emphasis mine).”

In the document, Philip was crucified upside down in Hierapolis. Later writers, such as Isidore of Seville affirmed this tradition.[11] This however, was contested by the latin text entitled The Apostolic Acts of Abidas (Book X) where instead of being martyred, Philip died peacefully in a ripe old age of 87.[12] Because documents of Philip’s martyrdom appear several centuries later, McDowell considered the martyrdom of Philip ”as plausible as not.”

[1] McDowell, Sean. The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus. Chapter 9, The Martyrdom of Matthew. Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2015. 193.

[2] Ibid., 195.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Clement of Alexandria. Stromata, Book 3. Chapter 4 verse 25. Accessed November 18, 2016. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/clement-stromata-book3-english.html.

[5] Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code: A Novel. New York: Doubleday, 2003. 246.

[6] McDowell, 196.

[7] Irenaeus. Against Heresies 3.3.1 ; 3.4.1 ; 4.26.2.

[8] Papias, Expositions of the Oracles of the Lord, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.9.

[9] Eusebius, Eccclesiastical History 3.39.8-9.

[10] McDowell, 205.

[11] Ibid., 206.

[12] Ibid., 207.

 

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