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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Notes on Philippians 3

On Phillipians 3:1-4:1

            As I may have mentioned in one of the Simple Church Minute commentaries (and I say may in that this is really a minor point), verses were added to the New Testament by a printer named Robert Stephanaus in 1551 (a).  This chapter shows the randomness of how chapters were made, as 4:1 belongs in chapter 3, and these notes treat it as such.

            This chapter is referred to as a digression; Paul, before and afterword, is writing on another theme, but inserts this extended idea.  This was not an uncommon way of writing in Paul’s time.  Some unbelieving scholars build all kinds of ideas off this structure, but it is not an example of anyone playing with the text over the centuries.
            In verse 1, Paul states that he is repeating himself.  This is a principle of all education—we learn by repetition.  “Finally” while normally used a synonym for “in conclusion” as in TEV, can also, and here is, marking the beginning of a digression (b).
            In verse 2, “dogs, evil doers, mutilation”.  Cynic philosophers, of whom there were many, particularly in Tarsus, where Paul grew up, were called dogs.  Here, Paul uses it as a general derisive word.  There were “Beware of Dog” signs in Rome in his day.  “Mutilation (or “amputation”)” can refer to circumcision or castration, and in the Greek the word is a word that sound similar to the word for circumcision, thereby being a parody in sound (d).  “Cutting oneself off”, as appears in Galatians 5:12, can refer to castration or cutting oneself off of community.
            In verse 3, Paul builds on this point: “We are the circumcision” refers to being God’s Chosen People, and ties to OT verses Dt. 10:16, 30:6, Lev. 26:41, Jer. 4:4, 9:25,26. Worshipping God in the Spirit, in the Old Covenant, was connected to prophesying with musical instruments, 1 Chron. 25:1-6.  Jews of that day would have maintained that didn’t happen anymore (an ironic comparison to what many of the 20th century said about spiritual gifts).  Paul elsewhere compares worshipping in the Spirit to spiritual gifts.  We must remember that the people of surrounding beliefs thought of worship as a ritual in a building, but Jesus and the apostles taught that worship was how a believer lived one’s life.
            Verses 4-11 are biographical of Paul’s journey from Jewish zealot against believers in Jesus to apostle of Jesus.
            Verses 5 and 6 tells of Paul’s qualifications (before Jesus) as far as obeying the Law.  What we might miss is that this was the Diaspora Jew’s confession of faith.  “Zeal” in that day did not imply violence, but the main examples in Jewish history, Phineas in Num. 25:7-13, the Maccabees in the 160’s B.C., and the Zealots contemporary to Paul’s time all exhibited violence as part of the story.
            In Verse 7, Paul differentiates between what a person holding to the Law counted as important verses a person of the Spirit.  Watchman Nee, in Release of the Spirit, notes that, as, in the Greek, “pneuma” is always lower case, it is oftentimes unclear whether a statement in the New Testament is referring to a believer’s spirit or the Holy Spirit, and as we grow in faith, it should be unclear as a practical manner. (c)  “Gain” and “loss” were marketplace, not spiritual, terms.
            In verse 8, Paul mentions “rubbish” or “dung” (KJV), which is something dogs eat, referring back to the “dogs” comment in verse 2. “My” is a confession of faith—Jesus Christ my Lord. (d)
            In 9, the conclusion is that the righteousness of Jesus is sufficient, the righteousness of the Law is not.
            In 10, “know” implies intimacy, although obviously not sexually, as the word is sometimes used in the Old Testament, and that spiritual intimacy is prerequisite to accepting the “fellowship” of his sufferings.  This is not a stretch, as Ex. 33:13 shows that the desire of the Old Covenant believer was “to know Him”.  That reflected both the corporate covenant and personal longing, which is analogous to the relationship to Jesus being both personal salvation and to the spiritual group, the Bride of Christ.
            11:  Suffering preceding resurrection was part of Old Covenant belief, and was an analogy to Jesus’ completion of that covenant.
            13-14:  “prize of the upward call”.  In the ancient Olympics, the winner received a palm branch, a symbolic prize of minimal earthly value.  We are called to salvation, striving for the goal, which he phrased previously as a) that I might win Christ (v. 8), be found in Him (v. 9),  that I may know Him (v. 10), and I might attain the resurrection of the dead (v. 11).  Athletic competition terms were often used as an analogy by ancient moralists.  “Reaching forward to those things which are ahead” is analogous to growing in faith and spiritual maturity, which is what the believer is called to once one answers the call to faith in Jesus.
            15: Corollary A:  If we are wrong, the Spirit will reveal this to you.
            17: Corollary B: Mature believers live as an example to younger believers.  Paul probably was dealing with the idea that some were prematurely thinking they were perfect/mature already.
            18-19:  Many who would distract a believer walk in the opposite of God’s way.  Paul wrote that their glory is their shame (an opposite).  “God is their belly” is a reference to “dogs” in verse 2, and then “rubbish/dung” in verse 8.  “Mind is on earthly things”—Paul throughout this chapter uses words that to some degree relate to each other, but also are different, to tie thoughts together.  This is interesting when we note how Paul discusses in _ how some in _ complained that he wasn’t a good speaker.  “Weeping” shows love, but the description shows outrage.
            20: “Our citizenship is in heaven”—that’s now, not, as Marx wrote in our age, “pie in the sky by and by.”  Unbelievers think we are hoping in the future or have been socially persuaded, but the believer knows how God changed things in out spirit at salvation.  “Citizenship” is a correct translation, and “conversation” (KJV) is not.  Keener notes that, unlike in Israel, most persons in the church in Philippi were Roman citizens, and assuredly those who were the homeowners of where the church met, and, therefore, had a greater degree of social acceptance than did the church in many other places.  “Savior”—in Phillipi, the deities and the emperor were referred to by this term.  Paul is making the contrast by stating what Jesus will do.
            21:  The Greeks considered the bodily resurrection of the dead to be vulgar.
            4:1: “Crown”:  to the Greeks, a reward for athletes (Paul is making a tie in to what he said previously, again) and heroes; in Jewish culture, a reward in heaven. 

(a)    Barna and Viola, Pagan Christianity, 228-229, referring to Geisler and Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible: Revised and Expanded, 340-341, 451,  Metzger and Coogan, The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 79.

(b)   Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary—New Testament.  This work contributes to a comment on almost every verse in this writing.

(c)    Watchman Nee, Release of the Spirit, 20. 

(d)   Davidson, Stibbs, and Nevan, The New Bible Commentary, 1039.  I am not quoting this because I believe this to be an exceptional commentary, but because it is one I happen to own.

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