Philip According to Tradition
Clement of Alexandria, in passing, claims that Philip is the man who asked for time to go bury his dead father, and to whom Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their dead.”1
The Acts of Saint Philip the Apostle When He Went to Upper Hellas(2)
This writing gives the tradition that Philip went around wearing the clothes “of a recluse” and that the philosophers of Athens thought he was one of them because of it. After hearing Philip preach, the philosophers requested three days to research about this Jesus. Instead, they wrote a letter to the Jewish high priest Ananias, describing the miracles that Philip was doing, and asking for help. Ananias, enraged, took an army of five hundred men and went to Athens, joined with the philosophers, and went to kill Philip, whom they said was called “the son of thunder.”3
Ananias then gives a speech, saying that Jesus caused people to leave the Law of Moses, and so they crucified Him to keep His teaching from being fulfilled, after which the disciples stole the body and performed fake miracles, claiming it was by the power of the risen Jesus. As Ananias ran to grab Philip to scourge him, he was suddenly blinded and his hand withered. The five hundred soldiers were blinded as well. And after Philip uttered a prayer that these men might believe, Jesus descended from heaven, causing all the idols of Athens to fall to the ground, demons to cry out, and people to flee. Yet the high priest refused to recognize Jesus. Philip restored the high priest’s sight, but still he refused to believe, so the 500 soldiers requested to be healed as well so they could “cut off this unbelieving high priest.”4
Instead, Philip caused the ground to open up and swallow the high priest to the knees, then the stomach, then the neck, each time giving him the opportunity to repent. Finally, when he refused, the ground swallowed him whole, leaving nothing but the high priest’s garment.
It is then said that Philip founded a church there in Athens, where he remained for two years, appointing elders, before going to preach in Parthia.5
The Journeyings of Philip the Apostle
(aka “The Acts of Philip”)
This writing places Philip in Hierapolis with Bartholomew (Nathanael), Stachys (possibly a reference to a man mentioned in Romans 16:9) and Philip’s sister, Mariam.6 The focus of his preaching there dealt with snake-worship that was prominent in that city.7 After converting the wife of the proconsul, Philip and company were arrested, beaten, scourged, and then drug through the streets. The next day, the proconsul prepared to put Philip and Bartholomew to death. Philip, according to the story, was stripped of his clothing, and iron hooks were driven through his ankles and heels, and he was hung upside-down in a tree, while Bartholomew was stretched out and nailed to the gate of the temple of the serpent. Philip said to John, who had just then arrived, “I shall not endure it any longer; but I will accomplish upon them my threat, and will destroy them all [with fire from heaven]!”8
After Bartholomew, John, and Philip’s sister begged him to remember Jesus’ attitude on the cross, Philip responds by saying, “Go away and do not mollify [attempt to soothe] me; for I will not bear they that hanged me head-down and pierced my ankles and heels with irons. And John…Go away from me, and I will curse them, and they shall be destroyed utterly to a man.” Then Philip utters a curse, “Let the great Hades open its mouth; let the great abyss swallow up these the ungodly, who have not been willing to receive the word of truth in this city.” And then it happened, the ground opened up, and over 7,000 people fell into the abyss—alive. Then the people cried out to God, asking for forgiveness. It’s then that Jesus appears.
Jesus chastises Philip for returning evil for evil, but Philip responds with “Why are you angry with me, Lord? Because I have cursed my enemies? For why do you not tread them underfoot, because they are yet alive in the abyss? And do you know, Lord, that because of you I came into this city, and in your name I have persecuted all the error of the idols, and all the demons? The dragons have withered away, and the serpents. And since these men have not received your light, therefore I have cursed them, and they have done down to Hades alive.”
Jesus responds by saying that when Philip dies, he will have to spend 40 days outside of Paradise, in terror under the flaming and turning sword before he will be allowed in. After Jesus returned the people up from the abyss, Philip gave them a final message before finally dying,9
Polycrates (AD 130-196), bishop in Ephesus, records as accepted fact that Philip died in Hierapolis,10 and an inscription has been discovered there showing that their church building was dedicated to the memory “of the holy and glorious apostle and theologian Philip.”11
Hippolytus says, “Philip preached in Phrygia, and was crucified in Hierapolis with his head downward in the time of Domitian, and was buried there.”12
One ancient writing says that Philip was of the tribe of Zebulon.13 Later writings mention Galatia (Gaul) as his area of mission work.
Legends of a later origin record that Joseph [of Arimathaea] was sent by Philip from Gaul to Britain along with 11 other disciples in 63 AD, and built an oratory at Glastonbury, that he brought the Holy Grail to England, and that he freed Ireland from snakes.14
-Bradley S. Cobb
1 Matthew 8:21-22. Clement of Alexandria, Strata, or Miscellanies, 3.4.25. Found in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. Page 385. Note: The editors of The Ante-Nicene Fathers, for some reason, published book three (from which this information comes) in Latin instead of English (like the rest of the volumes). The Latin quote is: Quod si usurpent vocem Domini, qui dicit Philippo: “Sine mortuos sepelire mortuos suos, tu autem sequere me:” at illud considerent, quod similem carnis formationem fert quoque Philippus, non habens cadaver pollutum. Translated, it reads: If they quote the Lord’s words to Philip, “Let the dead bury their dead, but you do follow me,” they ought to consider that Philip’s flesh is also formed in the same way; [the] body is not a polluted corpse. This was written in opposition to the heresies of Marcion.
2 Hellas was “the city of Athens” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 503).
3 This name was given by Jesus to James and John, not to Philip. The Journeyings of Philip the Apostle also attributes this name to Philip.
4 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 506.
5 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 507. It is worth pointing out that the biblical record refutes the idea of Philip first bringing the gospel to Athens. The apostle Paul stated clearly in Romans 15:20 that he did not build on another man’s foundation (that is, labor where another apostle had begun the work); yet Paul preached in Athens (Acts 18). Thus the “Acts of Saint Philip the Apostle when He went to Upper Hellas” is clearly a work of fiction.
6 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 497. Philip’s family was never discussed in the biblical record, so there is no way of knowing if he had a sister and what her name really was.
7 The Journeyings of Philip the Apostle says that Hierapolis was called “Ophioryma,” which means “Serpent Town.”
8 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, pages 499-500.
9 The Journeyings of Philip the Apostle was apparently written by Christians in Hierapolis, possibly seeking to elevate their standing in the universal church by claiming apostolic origins. The book relates that Philip commanded a church building (which they call a “church,” proving its late date of composition) to be built by Bartholomew on the site where Philip died. It is important to note that there are multiple sources (some earlier than this work) which place the death of Andrew in Hierapolis. This work also seems to argue that Christians must live in complete chastity.
10 See The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, pages 773, 748. This information also appears in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 5.24. However, Clement of Alexandria appears to claim that Philip did not die a martyr’s death (see his The Stromata, or Miscellanies, book 4, chapter 9). It should be pointed out, though, that Clement also views Levi and Matthew as two different people in this same sentence, when they were in fact the same man.
11 Sir William Ramsay, Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, Vol. 1, part 2: West and West-Central Phrygia, pages 552-553. Ramsey gives the inscription in Greek.
12 Hippolytus on the Twelve Apostles. See The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, page 255.
13 Genealogies of the Twelve Apostles, see Sir E.A. Wallis Budge’s Contendings of the Apostles, Book 2, page 50. See also, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia entry on Philip.
14 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Joseph of Arimataea.” See also Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, “Joseph,” 9.