5. Warnings and appeals, 3:1-21

i] Paul gives a warning concerning the Judaizers


Paul begins his dissertation on the heresy of sanctification by obedience / nomism by warning his readers that the heretics, "those mutilators of the flesh", have no part in God's chosen people.


i] Context: See 1:1-11. Some commentators argue that chapter 3 is an interpolation, possibly extracted from some other Pauline document, now lost, and placed in Philippians by an editor. Chapter 3 does seem to be out of place, but note the comment in "Context", 2:19-30. Particularly jarring is the "as for the rest, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord", v1a. This may serve as the conclusion of 2:19-30, but it probably serves to introduce chapter 3. Some commentators argue that it serves as an intended end to the letter, so Bruce, Silva, ... Having signed off his letter Paul then decides (possibly the next day) to press on and deal with an issue always on his mind, namely, the heresy of sanctification by obedience, a doctrine peddled by the Judaizers, members of the circumcision party.

It does seem likely that Paul now sets out to address the issue of sanctification by obedience, but it is no afterthought. This chapter presents as a further development of the proposition, 1:27-30. Paul has presented the positive side of his argument in chapter 2, known in rhetoric as the probatio, and now he develops his refutatio, an argument against those who undermine the gospel, those who do not conduct themselves worthy of the gospel of Christ.

So, the passage before us introduces a larger section where Paul warns the church about false teachers, 3:1-21. These members of the circumcision party, based in the Jerusalem church, have been following up on Paul's missionary work, seeking to correct his supposed overemphasis on grace and depreciation of law-obedience. For these nomist believers, submission to the law of God is a necessary requisite for the gaining of holiness and thus access to the full blessings of new life in Christ, v1-4/4a. Yet, if anyone is going to be rewarded for their righteousness, then Paul is certainly a candidate - a righteous Israelite through and through, v4a/b-6. None-the-less, Paul has found a righteousness that is apart from the law, a righteousness found in Christ through faith, a righteousness that brings with it the full blessings of God's promised new life apart from law-obedience, v7-9. Paul defines these consequences in v10 as:

• knowing Christ, in the sense of becoming at one with the divine;

• experiencing the complete transforming power of the risen Christ;

• identification with the suffering Christ in his death for the ultimate victory over sin and self.

All this, of course, is encapsulated in the resurrection of the dead, v11. In the rest of the chapter Paul seeks to apply his teachings to the Philippian situation.


ii] Background: See 1:1-11, The troublemakers in Philippi. It is most likely that "the dogs, the evil workers who mutilate the flesh", v2 (and probably "the enemies of the cross of Christ", v18), are the judaizers, members of the circumcision party. So, the problem underpinning Paul's words in chapter 3 is likely to be the same one referred to in 1:15-17, namely nomism - sanctification by obedience. The problem of nomism is addressed in detail by Paul in Romans and Galatians, but given the evangelistic work of the circumcision party, the problem had spread into many of Paul's mission churches.

Nomism (pietistic Christianity), the heresy promoted by the members of the circumcision party, is the belief that, although a person is justified (set right before God, judged covenant compliant) on the basis of Christ's faithfulness appropriated through faith, it is still necessary to add law-obedience in order to restrain sin and shape holiness (sanctify) for the full appropriation of God's promised blessings.


Paul's argument against this heresy is that the full entitlement of covenant blessing is ours in Christ apart from the law. To return to the law is to undermine grace.



iii] Structure: A Warning concerning the Nomist Heretics:

An exalted exhortation, v1a;

An introduction / statement of intent,

namely, to again deal with an important subject, v1b;

A warning - beware of the mutilators of the flesh, v2;

A reason for the warning -

the heretics have no part with God's children, v3;

If the law blessed, Paul would be extra blessed, v4.


iv] Interpretation:

We are probably best to follow Fee who argues that 3:1-4a should be treated as a single literary unit serving to introduce the chapter as a whole. The opening phrase, "further", to loipon, is best taken as transitional, not "finally", but "as for the rest (of what needs to be spoken to)". Paul frames "the rest" with an essential spiritual quality, namely, to "rejoice in the Lord", cf., 2:18. The issue, one that has dogged Paul over his entire ministry and may well be troubling the Philippians at this very moment, finds its appropriate place in the great scheme of things when the focus of our life is our delight in the Lord. It is no great burden for Paul to raise the issue again, and he happily does so for the security of his readers. To this end he urges them to have nothing to do with the teachings of the "mutilators of the flesh" (Judaizers, members of the circumcision party, nomist believers peddling the heresy of sanctification by obedience). The reason is simple enough: it is the Philippian believers who are the true circumcision, the true children of God; it is they who have received the full appropriation of the promised blessings of the covenant, namely, the Spirit; and it is they who learnt long ago not to put any reliance on the Torah / Law to progress their standing as believers.

Text - 3:1

A warning about the workers of iniquity, v1-4a. "Hang with the Lord rather than the Law. I know, I've worked this subject with you before, but it's my bag, I can't drop it, and anyway, it's to help you stay on track."

to loipon adj. "further" - the rest. Here the neuter articular adjective serves as an adverb, "as for the rest (of what needs to be spoken to)", Fee.

en + dat. "[rejoice] in [the Lord]" - [brothers of me, rejoice] in [lord]. As already indicated, "rejoice" is probably not a concluding exclamation to the letter, a kind of "good-by". Paul is calling on his reader to be infused with delight, a delight "in the Lord." Again we are confronted with a phrase that can have any number of meanings. The preposition may be local, incorporative, "delight / rejoice in union with the Lord"? Bruce thinks not. It is possibly causal / basis; "because of your union with the Lord", ie., Christ is the source / ground of rejoicing. Hawthorne opts for a combination of both, indicating "both the true basis of Christian joy and the sphere in which it thrives." Possibly the preposition indicates the object of rejoicing. Hanson opts for all three possibilities, "the Lord is the source, object and sphere of joy." The repetition of the phrase "in the Lord" throughout this letter indicates that it has become an idiomatic statement encapsulating the general idea of being a believer, of being a person who has responded to the gospel and is now in an eternal relationship with the Lord, daily walking with his compelling Spirit. What we need to do is delight in this reality rather than be brought down by life (in particular, those pesky nomist heretics).

men .... de "..... and ..." - on the one hand [the same things to write to you is not troublesome for me] but on the other hand [it is a safeguard for you]. An adversative comparative construction

emoi "for me" - Dative of interest, advantage.

grafein (grafw) pres. inf. "to write" - The infinitive serves as the subject of an assumed verb to-be. "I don't mind repeating what I've written before", TEV.

ta "the same things" - the same. The article serves as a nominalizer turning the pronoun into a substantive, the accusative subject of the infinitive "to write."

uJmin dat. pro. "to you again" - to you. Dative of indirect object.

uJmin dat. pro. "[it is a safeguard] for you" - Dative of interest, advantage. "Better safe than sorry", Peterson.


The Gk. imperative for "see", blepete, is repeated three times and used with three words commencing with the Gk. letter Kappa, k. The alliteration formed by this arrangement intensifies the exhortation. "Stay clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies who run around imposing their piety on everyone else."

blepete (blepw) pres. imp. "watch out for" - watch out. Often the imperative carries the sense "consider, take note of", but here the stronger sense "beware" is likely, so Varner.

kunaV (wn onoV) "dogs" - the dogs, [watch out the evil workers]. Accusative direct object of the verb "to see." A strong descriptive of a person; "be on your guard against those curs", Phillips. Probably just a derogatory statement in its own right, although Jews would often refer to Gentiles as "dogs", which would serve to increase the insult when applied to people with Jewish heritage.

thn katatomhn (h) "those mutilators of the flesh" - [watch out] the mutilators. Accusative direct object of the verb "to look at, see." The mutilation in mind is surely circumcision; "the snippers, cutters." For the members of the circumcision party, circumcision was the rite which evidenced a person's standing as one of God's chosen people and thus their right to access the promised blessings of the covenant. "All they are interested in is appearances - knife-happy circumcisers", Peterson.


As it turns out, believers are the true circumcision, the true children of God and thus the inheritors of the promised blessings of the covenant. They are so because they serve God, not by striving to follow the Law, but by following the leading of the Spirit. God's special people, his chosen people, are those who have put their confidence in Jesus' faithfulness, not their own.

gar "for" - Here more reason rather than cause, explaining who are the true circumcised, certainly not the mutilators.

hJmeiV "we" - Emphatic by use and position.

hJ peritomh (h) "the circumcision" - [are] the circumcision. Usually translated "the true circumcision"; "it is we, not they, who have received the true circumcision", TEV.

oiJ ... latreuonteV (latreuw) pres. part. "we who serve God" - the ones serving [by the spirit of god, the ones boasting in christ jesus and the ones having confidence not in the flesh, are the circumcision]. The participle serves as a substantive standing in apposition to the pronoun "we" rather than the predicate nominative "the circumcision"; "for we, who worship by God's Spirit ....... are the truly circumcised", Berkeley. There is some confusion in the translation of the word "worship". The two words which may prompt this translation are latreuw, which means something like "to give worthy service", and proskunew, which means "to express reverential fear, to adore, to wonder at". The NIV11 rightly translates the word here as "serve" rather than the NIV "worship". The addition of "God" follows Lightfoot who argued that the word, when used in a cultic setting, carries the implied object "God". Yet, the word is primarily a service word in its own right and doesn't require an object, so Koester, NTS 8, "[we are those] who work as missionaries in the Spirit of God."

oiJ pneumati (a atoV) dat. "by the Spirit / by [his] Spirit" - The NIV takes the dative as instrumental expressing means. Local is possible, as Koester above, NASB, although Moule argues that the following local en Cristw implies that the dative here is instrumental, "by means of" = "under the guidance of God's Spirit", Cassirer.

qeou (oV) gen. "of God / his" - of god. The genitive may be taken as adjectival, possessive, or ablative, source / origin. Missing in some manuscripts, so possibly, although unlikely, "whose service is spiritual." Some take "God" as the genitive of direct object of "serving", "the ones serving God", but latreuw is usually followed by a dative, not a genitive. So best, "we serve by means of God's Spirit."

kaucwmeno (kaucaomai) pres. mid. part. "who boast" - the ones boasting / glorying. The participle serves as a substantive, standing in apposition to the pronoun "we". The sense here may express either self-confidence or joy, "we rejoice", TEV. Most translations opt for self-confidence, pride; "our pride is in Christ Jesus", Barclay, CEV, ...

en + dat. "in" - in [christ jesus]. Again we struggle to pin down any particular sense to this phrase; cf., 3:1 and 2:19. We may opt for goal / object, expressing the goal toward which the action is directed, as Barclay above, so Bruce. We may opt for cause / basis, "we rejoice because of / on the ground of our relationship with Christ Jesus", cf., TH.

pepoiqoteV (peiqew) perf. part. "who put [no] confidence" - the ones having confidence. The participle serves as a substantive standing in apposition to the pronoun "we". The perfect tense is used with a present meaning.

en + dat. "in [the flesh]" - [not] in the flesh. Probably as for "in Christ Jesus", local / cause, ground, basis. The negation ouk negates "in flesh"; the negation mh is used with participles. The use of the word "flesh" here is not neutral. It can mean "all that in which human beings place their trust", O'Brien, or more particularly a confidence before God which rests on blamelessness in fulfillment of the law. When it comes down to it, Paul probably has in mind "works of the law." Possibly just "we put no trust in external ceremonies", TEV, but probably more is intended. "We don't boast in what we have done", CEV, is surely better. A believer's confidence lies in Christ and in his indwelling compelling Spirit guiding our daily lives "according to the Spirit", Rom.8:4. The Judaizers argued that a believer's spiritual life / sanctification progressed by works of the law, by obedience, faithfulness. They had set aside their confidence in the Lord for a confidence in the flesh; cf., Fee. "The circumcision of the flesh, as preached by the Judaizers, became for Paul the symbol of a total mindset that is opposed to the Spirit and leads to death (Rom.8:5-8, Gal.5:16-21", Silva.


If it were possible to have confidence before God on the basis of personal godliness then Paul is well in line for innumerable rewards; "if an orthodox pedigree and upbringing, followed by high personal attainment in the religious and moral realm, ensured good standing in the presence of God ..... then Paul need fear no competition", Bruce. Commentators divide on whether 4a should be included with this section or with Paul's privileges and personal achievements in v4-6.

kaiper + part. "though" - even though. This conjunction with a participle forms an adverbial concessive clause which concedes a point for argument sake; "we ... put no confidence in the flesh (v3), although if anyone has a reason to find some value in it, I do."

egw "I myself" - i. Emphatic by use and position, as NIV; "as far as I am concerned", Cassirer.

ecwn (ecw) pres. part. "have reasons for" - could be having. The participle is adverbial, concessive with kaiper; "although I have grounds for." The syntax expresses "have as one's own", not "I might have confidence", cf., JB, TEV...

pepoiqhsin (iV ewV) "such confidence" - confidence. "Actual present confidence, not merely grounds for confidence", Varner. "Although, so far as I am concerned, I am the very man to have confidence also about outward matters", Cassirer.

kai "-" - and = also. Adjunctive. Possibly ascensive, "even in the flesh", NJB, but better adjunctive, "also". Paul is a person who has confidence in Christ, but also "in", grounded on the basis of (en, local, basis / ground) sarki, "the flesh." He has good reason to be confident in his religiosity, but he doesn't base his confidence there, but rather on Christ.

en sarki (sarx oV) "-" - in the flesh. Paul uses the phrase quite often and with different meanings, ranging from the physical flesh to the whole of existence without God. As already noted, existence "in the flesh" is not evil, but in that it is devoid of God, not "in the Spirit", evil is easily nourished. Here, prompted by the previous references to circumcision, the phrase serves as an alias for "the Law": the moral and cultic regulations of religious Israel, as derived from the scriptures, and used to confirm and progress the righteous standing of a child of God.


Philippians Introduction

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