Citizens of Heaven.
Philippians 3:2-21 as a Deutero-Pauline Passage

Darrell J. Doughty
Drew University

This article was published in NTS 41 (1995), 102-122, but was actually written several years earlier. This version is essentially the same, but has been modified at places to reflect my changing views. Since I no longer assume, for example, that any of the Pauline writings derive directly from Paul himself, language that reflects such an assumption has been qualified.

The identity of Paul's opponents in Philippi continues to elude historical illumination. It is usually assumed that the persons referred to in Phil 1.15-17, who "preach Christ from envy and rivalry" (v 15) and attempt to afflict Paul in his imprisonment (v 17), are with Paul in Ephesus (or wherever Paul is thought to be imprisoned). Attempts to discern the identity of the opponents in Philippi, therefore, usually focus on the teachings in 3:2-21. Most attention is given to the warnings against "dogs," "workers of evil," and "mutilation of the flesh" in 3:2, and against "enemies of the cross" in 3:18-19, which seem to represent direct evidence for at least the presence of opponents. These warnings are followed by affirmations (3:3-16 and 20-21) which are assumed to distinguish Paul's own understanding of Christian existence from that of his opponents, and thus to reflect the views of the opponents in "indirect" ways.1 This evidence, however, has been worked over again and again with no consensus regarding the identity of the supposed opponents.

See W. SCHMITHALS, "Die Irrlehrer des Philipperbriefes," in Paulus und die Gnostiker. Untersuchungen zu den kleinen Paulusbriefen (Hamburg: Herbert Reich, 1965), 47-88; A.F.J. KLIJN, "Paul's Opponents in Philippians iii," NovTest 7 (1964), 278-284; H. KOESTER, "The Purpose of the Polemic of a Pauline Fragment (Philippians III)," NTS 8 (1961/62), 317-332; J. GNILKA, "Die antipaulinischen Mission in Philippi," BZ 9 (1965), 258-276; R. JEWETT, "Conflicting Movements in the Early Church as Reflected in Philippians," NovTest 12 (1970) 362-389; P. SIBER, Mit Christus Leben (ZŁrich: Theologischer Verlag, 1971). The history of the debate concerning the opponents of Paul is summarized by E.E. ELLIS, "Paul and his Opponents: Trends in Research," in Christianity, Judaism, and Other Graeco-Roman Cults. Festschrift M. Smith (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 264-298.

Schmithals conceives the supposed opponents in Philippi as Jewish-Christian Gnostic libertines, who regarded circumcision as a symbol of their spiritual liberation from the flesh and as the distinctive mark of their Jewish origin, to which they appealed as a sign of their personal authority, but who may or may not have demanded circumcision from the Philippians. Most scholars, however, perceive the opponents as Jewish-Christian Judaizers, who explicitly demanded circumcision and submission to the law as a condition for participation in the promises of salvation. But scholars differ as to the actual identity of these opponents, whether they were similar to those known from 2 Corinthians (Gnilka), or Galatians (Jewett), or perhaps from Colossians (Koester), and whether they were moral libertines (Gnilka), or legalistic perfectionists (Koester), or whether opponents of both varieties were present (Jewett).

The assumption that generally determines our understanding of the Pauline writings is that these documents were addressed to specific problems arising from concrete historical situations of particular communities.2 It is assumed, therefore, that the polemical teachings found here reflect the presence of opponents of some kind, and that the task is to determine their identity.3 Our understanding of this material, however, is different. We will argue that the portrait of the apostle and the understanding of Christian existence for which he serves as an example are deutero-Pauline. The concrete controversies that characterized Paul's own life are no longer in view. The teachings of Paul have been universalized. What we have here represents the testimony of the apostle for believers in all times and places.

From this perspective, the polemical teachings in Phil 3 have little to do with specific opponents. They apply rather to "opponents" of every kind, wherever they appear. They reflect the self-understanding the faithful communty, characterized by a fundamental dichotomy between the community and the outside world as such: between those who have received the "upward call of God" (v 14), whose citizenship is "in heaven" (v 20), who, following the example of Paul, have forsaken "confidence in the flesh" (v 3), and those outside, who set their minds on "earthly things," and whose "destiny is destruction" (v 19). All this is now conceived as the significance of the apostle's legendary rejection of Judaism.

Since none of the writings traditionally attributed to Paul are assumed here to have been actually written by him, the phrase "deutero-Pauline" should be taken to refer here to material that differs from what we find in writings traditionally ascribed to Paul, or, more important, material that appears to be later than what we find in those writings, or is similar to what we find in other writings generally recognized to not to have been written by Paul, e.g., the Pastoral Epistles and Acts. I have avoided using the term "post-apostolic" because I am no longer certain how early the concept of "apostles" emerged in Christian history.

1. The Community and the World

a) The warnings in Phil 3:2 obviously refer to persons regarded as threatening to the life of the community. That specific opponents are in view, however, is not obvious. Koester rightly observes (319f) that the primary aim of such polemic "is not to describe the opponents, but to insult them."4 Such warnings, therefore, would apply to "opponents" of all kinds. The term kunas ("dogs") refers in general to persons regarded as unclean and immoral, and in Rev 22:15 characterizes all those outside the community. Likewise, the warning against "workers of evil" (kakous ergatas) may refer to "false apostles" (cf. 2 Cor 11:13). But there is no reason to assume that specific persons are in view here (contra Schmithals, 62; Koester, 320; Gnilka, 262; Jewett, 382).5 Such warnings reflect the self-understanding of the community, according to which the faithful are blameless and innocent (Phil 2:15), while all those outside the community, or who seek to mislead the faithful, are immoral (cf. Rev 22:15; 2 Pet 2:12ff; 2 Tim 3:1-7; 2 Cor 6:14-7:1).

The warning against "mutilation of the flesh" (blepete tÍn katatomÍn) functions in a similar way. In the present context, the term katatomÍ ("to cut in pieces") serves as a derogatory allusion to circumcision, and the usual assumption is that the reference here is to a demand for circumcision advanced by Judaizing opponents. As it stands, however, this warning would also apply to Judaism as such. And that Judaism as such is in view here is indicated by the fact that, in contrast to the previous warnings, the allusion is not to persons whose identity remains vague, but to a specific act regarded as the distinguishing mark of Judaism.6 Taken together, the warnings in v 2 define the "boundaries" of the faithful community, over against paganism, deceitful Christian workers, and Judaism, and thus encompass adversaries of all kinds, real or imagined. They reflect a fundamental dichotomy between the faithful community and the outside world.7

b) In Phil 3:17-19, at the conclusion of the passage, an appeal is made to the faithful to hold Paul as an example (summimÍtai mou ginesthe). It is obviously assumed that there are persons who conduct themselves differently than the example of Paul, and who the community might be tempted to follow. That specific opponents are in view, however, is improbable.

Over against the apostolic example stand those who "conduct themselves" (peripatousin) as "enemies of the cross of Christ" (v 18).8  It is doubtful that this warning is directed against particular opponents (contra Schmithals, 76, 87).9  Here as elsewhere the verb peripateŰ refers to a way of life rather than specific immoral conduct (cf. Rom 6:4; 8:4; 1 Cor 3:3; 2 Cor 5:7). And the assumption is that there are "many" (polloi) who live in such a way. Gnilka rightly observes (275) that "Paul's view here extends beyond the situation in Philippi, to take in all the diverse forms of unfaith that opposed him on his missionary travels... The enemies of the cross were not only numerous but also diverse." Such persons are assumed to be well known to the deutero-Pauline readers of this passage from the apostle's other writings ("of whom I have often told you").

The allusions in v 19 are to all kinds of festive and sexual licentiousness (Jewett, 379). For this very reason it is doubtful that such teachings are directed against particular opponents.10 In the Greek world the stomach (koilia) was generally regarded as the seat of human sensuality; and the most that can concluded from the accusation hŰn ho Theos hÍ koilia is that the reference is to persons whose conduct was regarded by the community as immoral.11 In a similar way, the term aischunÍ refers to shameful conduct in general, and to sexual licentiousness in particular (Schmithals, 80f.; Jewett, 381; Bultmann, TWNT , 1, 190). But the fact that persons are said to "glory" in such conduct does not identify them as as sexual libertines (contra Schmithals, 80f.). Such accusations represent polemical characterization,12 the assumption being that such conduct is typical of the pagan world as such (cf. 1 Thess 4:4).

c) Warnings against evil and immoral persons appear at the beginning and conclusion of this passage (vv 2 and 17-19). Such warnings apply to "opponents" of every variety. The community conceives itself as surrounded by "enemies of the cross" (v 18). Significantly, in both cases these warnings are immediately followed by affirmations of Christian identity: "We worship God in the spirit, and place no confidence in the flesh" (v 3); "Our citizenship is in heaven" (v 20).13 These affirmations reflect the self-understanding of the faithful, who have received the "upward call of God" (v 14), who, in contrast to those outside, no longer place their confidence "in the flesh" or set their minds on "earthly things" (v 19), and for whom Paul is presented in Phil 3 as the paradigmatic representative (v 17).

2. Paul, Judaism, and Confidence in the Flesh

For most interpreters the affirmation "We are the circumcision" (Ímeis gar esmen hÍ peritomÍ) in v 3 identifies the opponents supposedly in view as Judaizing Christians. But possible interpretations of this passage are related to assumptions concerning its authorship. If this passage were written by Paul, it might be reasonable to assume that Judaizing opponents of some kind are in view. If the teachings in this passage are addressed to a deutero-Pauline situation, however, other interpretations might be more plausible. And, conversely, the plausibility of a different interpretation of these teachings would support their deutero-Pauline character. We will first argue that the image of the apostle in Phil 3:4-9 is deutero-Pauline, and then propose an interpretation of this material that reflects a deutero-Pauline situation. But these arguments are interdependent.

a) The portrait of Paul in vv 4-9 is exceptional. Elsewhere Paul's previous persecution of the church of God testifies that his call to be an apostle was by the grace of God (1 Cor 15:9-10; Gal 1:13-15). In Phil 3, however, it serves as evidence for his righteousness under the law (cf. Gnilka, 264). Nowhere else in the Pauline writings is Paul identified as a Pharisee. And nowhere else in these writings is there an appeal to Paul's blamelessness with regard to righteousness under the law.14 Only in Acts, where Paul's strict observance of the law is a central concern, are both his identity as a Pharisee and his persecution of the church set forth as evidence of his blameless conduct as a Jew (Acts 22:3-5; 26:4-5, 11).15 Nowhere else does Paul refer to Christ as "my Lord" (v 8), although such language is implied by the accounts of Paul's Damascus experience in Acts ( 9:5; 22:8; 26:15). Nowhere else does Paul speak in such a way of "gaining Christ" (v 8) or being "found in Christ" (v 9); and the meaning of this language is obscure. The motif of the "knowledge of Christ" (v 9) appears elsewhere in the NT only in 2 Pet 3:18: Schmithals suggests (67) that Paul polemically sets the true knowledge of Jesus Christ over against the pseudo-knowledge of his opponents. Apart from the exceptional language, however, there is no reason for such an assumption. The desire for knowledge is portrayed here as Paul's own.

Some interpreters perceive the affirmations in vv 4-9 as an allusion to Paul's Damascus experience.16 Missing here, however, is what John SchŁtz refers to as Paul's "biography of reversal."17 Elsewhere Paul's Damascus experience is portrayed as a wondrous act of God's grace (Gal 1:13-16; 1 Cor 15:9-10. In Phil 3, however, it is a matter of Paul's own attitude (Ígeomai). It is a calculated judgment.18 Life in Christ is something one chooses because it is regarded as superior to one's former way of life. E.P. Sanders rightly observes that Phil 3:6-9 "remains the only passage in which Paul unambiguously says that there is a righteousness which is actually obtainable through the law".19 Elsewhere, righteousness based on law is represented by Paul as an impossible possibility (Rom 3:20; 9:31; 10.4; Gal 2:15). In Phil 3, however, righteousness based on law is a previous "advantage" (kerdos) that is now "surpassed" (huperechŰ) by the knowledge of Christ (v 8). Elsewhere in the Pauline writings dikaiosunÍ dia pisteŰs IÍsou (v 9) stands over against dikaiosunÍ ex ergŰn nomou (Gal 2:16; Rom 3:20-22). The opposite of "faith," as the new possibility for human existence, is "works of law" (Rom 3:28; 9:31f; cf. Gal 2:15; 3:5). In Phil 3, however, the focus on "works of law" is significantly absent. The issue has to do not with the abrogation of "works of law," as the vain attempt to achieve righteousness (Rom 3:20; 3:28; 4:1-5), but with the relative worthlessness of the emÍ dikaiosunÍ hÍ ek nomou that Paul in fact achieved through his former life in Judaism (vv 5-8).20

Characteristic of this passage is that themes that may once have had particular significance for Paul and his communities now serve to illuminate the meaning of Christian existence in general. Nowhere else in the Pauline writings do we find an explicit reference to "placing confidence in the flesh." There "boasting" (kauchasthai) is the mark of human existence under sin.21 Jews boast in the law (Rom 3:27-31), and Greeks boast in wisdom (1 Cor 1:18-31). Paul's opponents in Corinth, who parade their Jewish credentials, are said to "boast in a worldly way" (kauchasthai kata sarka) (2 Cor 11:18). And in 2 Cor 1:9 "confidence in ourselves" (pepoithotes eph' eautois) is contrasted with confidence "in God" (epi tŰ TheŰ). But the motif of placing "confidence in the flesh" (en sarki pepoithenai) in Phil 3:3-4 universalizes these ideas. "Confidence in the flesh" is the mark of existence outside the community, while "boasting in Christ" is the mark of Christian existence. The antithesis between "boasting in Christ" and "confidence in the flesh" sets the Christian community over against everything that is worldly and human.22

b) In a similar way, the teachings in vv 2-9 cannot really be understood as a characteristic Pauline polemic against Judaizing opponents. Like the warning in v 2 (blepete tÍn katatomÍn), the affirmation "We are the circumcision" in v 3 sets the faithful community over against Judaism as such.23 This is also the significance of the portrait of the apostle in vv 4-6. The arguments in 2 Cor 11:22-23 are often appealed to here as a parallel.24 But there are important differences. In 2 Cor 11 there is no mention of Paul's past as a Pharisee, his persecution of the church, or his righteousness under the law. In Phil 3:4-6, on the other hand, there is no reference to Paul's life as a Christian, and in particular to his conduct as a "servant of Christ," which in 2 Cor 11:23 distinguishes him from his opponents. The focus in Phil 3 is entirely on Paul's former life in Judaism. There is nothing in these verses that would apply specifically to Jewish Christian opponents. The portrait of the apostle in vv 4-6 rejects the advantages of Judaism as such.

Nothing quite like this is found elsewhere in the Pauline writings. There Paul's unfolding of Christian faith reflects the perspective of a Jew within Judaism (Rom 3-4; Gal 3). The teachings in Phil 3:2-9, however, affirm the identity of the Christian community over against Judaism. This reflects the self-understanding of a Pauline community in a later situation. Both the derogatory characterization of Judaism (blepete tÍn katatomÍn) and the claim to be the "true Israel" (Ímeis esmen hÍ peritomÍ) are typical of Christian anti-Jewish polemic in the second century.25 The references here to "circumcision" and "righteousness based on law" serve as designations for Judaism as such. The faithful community in Phil 3 defines itself over against Judaism. But even this has a special meaning.

I now regard this as too simple. With the possible exception of the argument in Rom 4:1-24, almost everything we find in the Pauline writings relating to Judaism reflects a time when Judaism and Christianity have gone their separate ways, and serves only to justify that separation. From this perspective, however, what we find in Phil 3 represents an even later situation.

c) Gerd LŁdemann has shown that for some Jewish Christian groups in the second century anti-Paulinism was largely traditional, "an item of doctrine."26 For such groups, the original character of Paul's own controversy with Judaism is no longer the issue. Paul has become the representative of Gentile Christianity, over against which such communities define themselves. The same is true for the community addressed by Phil 3, but from the reverse perspective. Paul's own controversy with Judaism belongs to their received tradition; but the concrete issues in that controversy are no longer in view. All that remains is Paul's legendary renunciation of "righteousness based on law" (Phil 3:9), which is understood here to be synonymous with Judaism. But even this lies in the past. In Phil 3 Paul's renunciation of Judaism is paradigmatic for the relationship between the faithful community and the outside world as such.27

The Pauline community addressed in Phil 3 defines itself over against Judaism. But Jews are perceived here only as the traditional and foremost representatives of those who place "confidence in the flesh." The real issue in Phil 3 is the rejection of "confidence in the flesh" as such, for which Paul's legendary renunciation of Judaism is portrayed as a primary example (kaiper egŰ...) (v 4). In vv 4-9 the "advantages" associated with Paul's previous life in Judaism are portrayed as examples of confidence in the flesh, and Paul's renunciation of Judaism is paradigmatic for all those who "no longer place confidence in the flesh" (v 3), who, like Paul, regard the advantages associated with the flesh as worthless in comparison with the "knowledge of Christ" (v 8). The rejection of "confidence in the flesh" in v 3 establishes the theme of the entire passage, and is taken up again at the end, in the distinction between those who set their minds on "earthly things" (v 19) and the faithful who have their "citizenship in heaven" (v 20).28

The affirmations in v 3 may be conceived here as a summary of Paul's own preaching, but they represent the self-understanding of the community in a new situation. Paul's preaching has been universalized. The antithesis between "boasting in Christ" and "confidence in the flesh" reflects the dichotomy between the faithful community and the world as such. Paul's renunciation of "righteousness based on law" now signifies the renunciation of all worldly advantages. Beginning with v 8, therefore, Paul's controversy with Judaism is left behind, and the focus is on the personal relationship of the apostle with Christ. Verse 8 unfolds the meaning of Paul's own experience for Christian existence in the present. The advantages associated with Paul's former life in Judaism and regarded as loss for the sake of Christ (v 7), are now conceived in a universal sense: "Indeed I regard everything (panta) as loss... I suffered the loss of all things (ta panta)." As Lohmeyer rightly observed, the antithesis is between Christ and everything worldly.29

3. The Meaning of Suffering

Some interpreters perceive polemical allusions to Gnostic opponents, or at least spiritual enthusiasts, in vv 10-16. The ouch... ÍdÍ ("not... already") affirmations in v 12 are imagined to be directed against opponents who claim "fulfillment" (teleiotÍs) as a present reality (Schmithals, 71; Koester, 322; Gnilka, 273).30 The existential meaning of such claims is then found in v 10. According to Schmithals (68), the self-consciousness of the opponents found expression in their "Gnostic denial of resurrection" and disdain for "bodily suffering as such." According to Koester (323f), "Paul is arguing here against a group which thinks of the resurrection as already achieved," a claim that "renders Christian existence unhistorical and beyond all sufferings and the reality of death." And for Gnilka (267) the issue has to do with two different forms of Christian existence, determined by the morphÍ thanatou, on the one hand, and by the morphÍ doxÍs, on the other. Against such claims, Paul supposedly argues that "fulfillment" is an apocalyptic, future reality, attained by sharing the suffering of Christ, and by resurrection from the dead.

Such proposals are very problematic. To begin with, it is doubtful that the imagined Pauline argument would represent a meaningful response to persons who claimed fulfillment as a present reality. As Gerhard Sellin observes, affirmations of spiritual fulfillment in Hellenistic religiosity presuppose a world-view of their own, in which salvation is conceived not in an historical, apocalyptic way, in terms of resurrection, but ontologically, as spiritual elevation.31 A dogmatic insistence on an apocalyptic world-view, and the futurity of resurrection from the dead, often attributed to Paul, would hardly be a meaningful response to such claims. Such interpretations transform the issue into an esoteric debate about the presence and future of salvation, when it is not clear what either party means by "salvation," or how they differ on this matter. Schmithals (71), for example, characterizes the salvation claimed by the opponents as the "unspeakable bliss, beyond which there is nothing more to achieve"; and Koester (322) refers here to their "possession of the qualities of salvation in their entirety, the arrival of heaven itself." But what do such generalities really mean?32

Furthermore, the views of such opponents are difficult to imagine. There is in fact no intrinsic connection between claims of spiritual fulfillment and the denial of suffering and death.33 Nor is it obvious what such a denial might mean. Persons who claim spiritual fulfillment might deny the significance of death as a fleshly reality, since the essential, spiritual self had already achieved transcendence. But they could hardly deny the fact of death, at least not for very long. And they might even welcome death, if this meant that the spiritual self finally achieved liberation from the fleshly body. In a similar way, such persons might regard suffering as an illusion that cannot affect the spiritual self, and therefore disdain suffering. They might regard the endurance of suffering as a mark of spiritual transcendence. And this might even be understood as "sharing the suffering of Christ." But they could not meaningfully deny experiences of suffering as such.

It is not even clear how suffering is conceived by such proposals. Does "sharing the suffering of Christ" refer to human suffering as such, or specifically to suffering for the sake of Christ? Interpreters are vague on this point.34 Koester (323) seems to refer to suffering intrinsic to historical existence in general. Lohmeyer (4) believes that the community is experiencing persecution and that at least their leaders face the possibility of martyrdom. According to Gnilka (267; cf. 261, n. 12), the reference is "naturally to suffering for the sake of the faith," but it is doubtful that the community is actually experiencing persecution, or at least persecution that might lead to martyrdom.35 In a second century setting, of course, persecution and martyrdom of believers could well be in view. For the nearest parallel to our passage is 1 Pet 4:13, where, facing the prospect of a "fiery ordeal," the faithful are assured that "sharing in the suffering of Christ" (koinŰnia tois tou Christou pathÍmasin) is a condition for participation in the "revelation of the glory" of Christ (hina kai en tÍ apokalupsei tÍs doxÍs autou charÍte; cf. 1 Pet 1:11; 5:1, 9-10). But the language in our passage is nebulous. And "sharing the suffering of Christ" could allude here to nothing more than tribulations of worldly existence as such,36  in which case both the suffering of Christ and the suffering of Paul have been universalized in significance.37

In any case, there is no reason to assume that the teachings in vv 10-16 are directed against opponents who claim spiritual transcendence. These teachings can be best understood better as exhortations for the faithful.38  The teleios terminology is salvation language of the community (contra Schmithals, 72; Koester, 324; Gnilka, 273).39  Some people in the community may have regarded themselves as teleioi (v 15). But there is no indication that these teachings represent a "refutation" of such views (contra Koester, 323; Collange, 135). It is not clear how the community might have understood such "fulfillment," or that they shared a common or clear understanding. In fact, the question addressed here is the meaning of "fulfillment." And the problem that raises this question is the experience of suffering. The purpose of these teachings is to reassure the faithful in their experience of suffering. To suffer, they are told, is to share the suffering of Christ. Those who endure suffering in this world achieve "fulfillment." Sharing the suffering of Christ assures the attainment of "resurrection from the dead" (v 11).

4. Righteousness from God

A primary problem in this passage is the relationship between the rejection of "righteousness based on law" in vv 4-9, which is usually assumed to be a characteristic Pauline polemic against Judaizing opponents, and the teachings in vv 10-21, which seem to leave this theme behind.40 We have seen, however, that the teachings in vv 4-9 are exceptional, and no longer have a characteristic Pauline meaning. Paul's rejection of "righteousness based on law" becomes paradigmatic for the renunciation of all things worldly. The question, therefore, is what is meant here by "righteousness from God based on faith" (v 9), and how is this related to the teachings concerning suffering and fulfillment in vv 10-16?

a) Verse 9 seems like a characteristic Pauline affirmation. Over against a "righteousness of my own based on law" (emÍn dikaiosunÍ hÍ ek nomou) stands the righteousness "through the faith of Christ" (dia pisteŰs Christou). Recent studies have proposed that the phrase dia pisteŰs Christou traditionally refers to the redemptive significance of Jesus' martyrological death on the cross.41 Presupposed is that those persons who "share the faith" of the righteous martyr share also in his vindication. David Seeley points out that for Paul this "mimetic pattern" is mythologized. Believers "re-enact" the death of Christ through the ritual of baptism, and are thereby set free from the power of Sin, transferred into the dominion of Christ, and established in righteousness.42 Such ideas may be presupposed here. In Phil 3, however, the opposition is not between Christ and Sin, as powers which determine worldly existence, but between Christ and worldly values as such (v 8). And the "re-enactment" of the "mimetic pattern" is something other than ritualistic. To obtain "righteousness from God" (v 9) the faithful must share the suffering of Christ in a quite literal way (vv 10-11).

Since I wrote this article, some years ago, I have come to believe that here as elsewhere in the Pauline writings (Rom 3:22, 26; Gal 2:16) the phrase pistis (IÍsus) Christou probably refers to nothing else than the Christian religion as such ("the religion of Christ"), over against Judaism, characterized by "works of law," or in this passage "righteousness based on law." This would certainly accord with the understanding of Christianity and Judaism in this passage, and also with the probable meaning here of the "knowledge of Christ Jesus" (see the following).

The "knowledge of Christ Jesus" referred to in v 8 (hÍ gnŰsis Christou IÍsou) and again in v 10 (tou gnŰnai auton) is certainly regarded as the mark of the Christian community. But it is not obvious that those who possess such knowledge have been "incorporated into the salvation event" (contra Bultmann, TWNT, 1, 710). This is also true for the knowledge of the "power of his resurrection" in v 10. It is doubtful that the reference here is to an "experience of life-giving power," which is qualified here by a focus on suffering with Christ and the futurity of resurrection (Collange, 131; also Bultmann, TWNT, 1, 710).43 In fact, the closest parallel to these ideas is found in 2 Peter, where "knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 1:8; 2:20), namely the "power and parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ," refers to the content of Christian faith "made known" by the apostles (2 Pet 2:16).44 And it is probable that in Phil 3 as well "knowledge of Christ" (v 8) and the "power of his resurrection" (v 10) refers simply to the content of Christian faith made known in the gospel, and that "participation in his suffering" refers to the consequent experience of believing community.45 This is similar to what is said in Phil 1:29: "It was given to you for the sake of Christ (huper Christou) not only to believe in him but also to suffer for his sake (huper autou)." In Phil 3:10-11, however, suffering "for the sake of Christ" is mythically interpreted as "sharing the suffering of Christ" and given a salvation significance of its own, "being conformed to his death, so that somehow I might attain the resurrection from the dead".

This clarifies the meaning of the qualification in v 12: "Not that I have already received (this) or have already achieved fulfillment."  That "resurrection from the dead" (v 11) would be referred to as something one "receives" is improbable, and it would be obvious in any case that resurrection "from the dead" had not yet been obtained. More probable is that the reference is to the "righteousness from God" (ek Theou dikaiosunÍ) referred to in v 9, conceived here as a reward received for a way of life "based on faith" (epi tÍ pistei), which is elaborated in vv 10-11 as sharing the suffering of Christ. This is now characterized as "fulfillment" (teleiotÍ). Koester rightly observes (322) that teleiotÍ and dikaiosunÍ are synonymous here. But there is no reason to assume this represents "terminology of the opponents." It is an association made by the writer.46 In contrast to what we find elsewhere in the Pauline writings, the ek Theou dikaiosunÍ is conceived here not as the power of God that as a gift of grace makes endurance in suffering possible (Rom 5:1; 2 Cor 4:7), but as the "fulfillment" (teleiotÍ) that one "pursues" (diŰkŰ) and possibly "obtains" (ei kai katalabŰ) through suffering.

The expression epi tÍ pistei ("based on faith") appears elsewhere only in Acts 3:16. Phil 3:9 is often appealed to as the key for understanding the dikaiosunÍ Theou as the righteousness that comes "from God" (ek Theou) as a gift of grace (cf. E. Kšsemann, Commentary on Romans, Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1980, 24ff). But what is the meaning here of epi tÍ pistei? Faith in what? Or whom? Elsewhere in the Pauline writings the dikaiosunÍ Theou, as God's power and gift, excludes the possibility that even faith can be conceived as a human achievement (see D. Doughty, "The Priority of Charis," NTS 19, 1973, 163-80). But the formulation tÍn ek Theou dikaiosunÍn epi tÍ pistei obscures this understanding. It may well be that for Paul the gift of righteousness, as God's power, is also "a challenge to responsibility" (Kšsemann, 28). In vv 10-14, however, the meaning of faith is elaborated as a way of life for which dikaiosunÍ ek Theou is the reward. Where Christian life is conceived in such a way, salvation is a human achievement, even if the righteousness one finally receives comes "from God."

b) Verses 13-14 take up again the motif of Paul as a example for the faithful: "I myself do not assume to have made it my own" (egŰ emauton ou logizomai kateilÍphenai...).47 Even Paul has not yet attained righteousness (v 13). Even for Paul, we are told, righteousness "lies ahead" (emprosthen), as a "goal" that must be "pursued" (kata skopon diŰkŰ), a "prize" (brabeion) that one receives at the end of the race (v 14).48 It is not clear that a salvation work of God lies behind all this. Bultmann explains (TWNT, 1, 710) that faith never "has its object as a possession, but looks to God's deed, on the one hand, and the future, on the other." But this reads a Pauline dialectic into the text. The meaning of having been "apprehended by Christ" (eph' hŰ kai katelÍphthÍn hupo Xhristou) in v 12 is obscure, and, in the same way as receiving "knowledge of Christ" (vv 8, 10), need refer to nothing more than the experience of becoming a Christian.49 The same is true for the parallel reference to the anŰ klÍsis Theou en ChristŰ IÍsou in v 14. Those who belong to Christ have been called by God to forget what lies behind and pursue fulfillment. But it is not obvious that the "upward call of God" constitutes an indicative of salvation.50

In fact, the perspective in Phil 3 is precisely what Bultmann (Theology, II, 161) identifies as deutero-Pauline. The past (confidence in the flesh) has been overcome; the possibility of future salvation (resurrection from the dead) lies ahead; and the present stands under the ethical imperative (the upward call of God). But in contrast to what Bultmann identifies as Paul's own thought, it cannot be said that here "future life is already a present reality in the very fulfilling of the imperative." Elsewhere in the Pauline writings, the "power of God" is made manifest in the affliction of the apostle (2 Cor 4:7-8). The experience of God's power in the midst of affliction is Paul's assurance of participation in the resurrection, "knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus" (2 Cor 4:14). In this passage, however, we have no such affirmations. There is only Paul's personal resolution (Ígoumai), which may be motivated by the "knowledge of Christ" mediated in the gospel, and by the "upward call of God in Christ Jesus," but is also motivated by the desire to attain the "resurrection of the dead" (v 11). And this is finally one's personal achievement, that may or may not be attained (ei pŰs katantÍsŰ).

5. Citizens of Heaven

The conclusion in vv 17-21 is introduced with a final appeal to "imitate" Paul (summimÍtai mou ginesthe), and to "pay attention" (skopeite) to those who "conduct themselves" (peripatountas) according to the apostolic example (kathŰs echete tupon hÍmas). As we previously observed, it is obviously assumed that there are persons who conduct themselves differently from Paul's example; but there is no reason to assume specific opponents are in view. The warning against "enemies of the cross" in v 18 and their characterization in v 19 would apply to all those who threaten the faith of the community. The sudden appearance of the plural (hÍmas), however, is remarkable. Exhortations of this kind substitute for an apostolic presence, particularly in a post-apostolic situation (cf. 2 Tim 3:10-14). The example of Paul and those like him stands in contrast to all those who set their minds on earthly things (v 19), and thus serves as a basis for distinguishing those who represent the true faith.

Fundamental in Phil 3:19-21 is the opposition between those who "set their minds on earthly things" (v 19) and the faithful, whose citizenship is "in heaven" (v 20). According to Schmithals (81), the condemnation of those who set their minds on earthly things "represents Paul's concluding moral judgment concerning the Gnostic immorality." But this makes little sense; and Schmithals himself observes that Gnostics would certainly have denied such a charge. In a similar way, Koester also asserts (328), "When Paul, therefore, calls the basis of the attitude of his opponents ta epigeia phronein, he is hurling at them the judgment that they are concerned with values which pass away, having neither divine origin nor eternal quality." Contrary to Koester, however, such convoluted interpretations in fact imply that Paul is simply "turning the attitude of his opponents into its opposite and then claiming the same qualities and possessions as his own." In reality, all this is easily understood as language of the community. The distinction between those who set their minds on "things on earth" and "we" who have "citizenship in heaven" reflects the self -understanding of the faithful themselves, who have received the "upward call of God" (v 14) and, following Paul's example, no longer place "confidence in the flesh" (v 3).

Koester (330) again perceives here a polemical opposition between "realized eschatology and an apocalyptic expectation." According to Koester, the fact that the politeuma is not here, but "in heaven" emphasizes that it is "still to come." But this again confuses ontological and historical categories. "Citizenship in heaven" (politeuma en ouranois) is conceived here as a present possession (huparchei).51 And this is the basis for the expectation of a Saviour from heaven.52 The affirmation "We have our citizenship in heaven" represents a final and decisive affirmation of faith. This is the nearest the writer comes in this passage to an indicative of salvation. The fundamental opposition is not between realized eschatology and apocalyptic expectation, but between earth and heaven, between those outside the community, who set their minds on "earthly things," and whose "fulfilment is destruction," and the community of believers, who have their citizenship "in heaven" and therefore expect a 'savior from heaven."53 Such ideas may be unlike what we find elsewhere in the Pauline writings, but this does not justify the conclusion that that they reflect the views of supposed opponents. These ideas represent a deutero-Pauline interpretation of the apostle's teaching.54

The affirmations in Phil 3:19-21 are essentially equivalent to those found in Colossians. Just as in Col 3:1-4 those who have been raised with Christ still look forward to the appearance of Christ, and to their own appearance with him "in glory," so also in Phil 3:19-21 those who have their "citizenship in heaven" look forward to the coming of a Savior from heaven, and their own transformation into his "body of glory." In Colossians the faithful are exhorted, therefore, to "set your minds on things that are above, not on things on earth." And in Phil 3 as well those who have received the "upward call of God" no longer set their minds on "earthly things." Exceptional in Phil 3, however, is the way in which salvation is now conceived as the work of Christ. It is not God, but Christ himself who will affect the transformation of the faithful into his "body of glory" (cf. Rom 8:11; 1 Cor 15:38, 52; 2 Cor 5:1-5). And in contrast to 1 Cor 15:27f., where God subjects all things to himself, that "God may be all things to everyone," in Phil 3:21 it is Christ who by his power subjects all things (ta panta) to himself.55 Nothing comparable is found elsewhere in the Pauline writings. The transition from theological thought to christological represents an later development.


There is no direct evidence in this passage for the presence of specific opponents. And the indirect evidence that supposedly reflects the presence of such opponents is better understood with different assumptions. Traditional interpretations are based on the assumption that this passage was written by Paul, and that the teachings must be addressed therefore to a particular community situation with real opponents. But such assumptions have no basis in the text. The warnings in v 2 and vv 18-19 are in fact quite general in form. And as the various interpretations of this passage show, such warnings can apply in some sense to any opponents. They represent polemical characterizations of persons outside the faithful community. Above all, however, they reflect the self-understanding of the faithful, who have received the upward call of God, whose true home is in heaven, and who therefore regard all things worldly as refuse and all those outside the community as immoral. Paul's own experience is presented as paradigmatic for this understanding. His previous life in Judaism is raised up as an outstanding example of placing "confidence in the flesh." And his legendary renunciation of "righteousness based on the law" is understood in a universal way as the rejection of "confidence in the flesh." Paul's experience thus becomes paradigmatic for the renunciation of all things worldly.

This material can only be understood as deutero-Pauline in character. The passage is dominated by deutero-Pauline motifs and conceptions, including the conception of the apostle himself, his Damascus experience, and his controversy with Judaism. The community defines itself over against Judaism. But Judaism is now simply regarded as representative of all those outside who place "confidence in the flesh" and set their minds on "earthly things." The characteristic themes of early Pauline theology have been entirely transformed. The fundamental antithesis between "works of law" and "justification by faith" is no longer present. "Righteousness from God" is no longer understood as the power of God that makes possible the life it requires, but as the "fulfillment" one achieves by sharing the "suffering of Christ." "Faith" is conceived not as trust in the power of God that makes endurance in suffering possible, but as the endurance of suffering for which "righteousness from God" is the reward. And above all, salvation is conceived here as finally a human achievement, that one may or may not attain. Perhaps most remarkable, however, is the transition here from theology to christology. The focus is on the power of Christ, the power of his resurrection and his heavenly power, by which he will not only fulfill his role as savior of the faithful, but will also subject all things to himself. The arguments in this passage have provided encouragement for the faithful throughout Christian history. But they are certainly not Paul's own.

Return to Home Page

Basic Works Referred to in Discussion

Beare, F.W. 
The Epistle to the Philippians (New York: Harper & Row, 1959).
Bornkamm, G. 
"Der Philipperbrief als paulinische Briefsammlung," in Neotestamentica et Patristica. Freundesgabe O. Cullmann (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1962), 192-202.
Collange, J-F. 
The Epistle of Saint Paul to the Philippians (London: Epworth, 1979).
Dibelius, M. 
An die Philipper (TŁbingen: J.C.B. Mohr, HNT 11, 21925).
Ellis, E.E. 
"Paul and his Opponents: Trends in Research," in Christianity, Judaism, and Other Graeco-Roman Cults. Festschrift M. Smith (Leiden: Brill, 1975) 264-298.
Friedrich, G. 
Der Brief an die Philipper, in Dei kleineren Briefe des Apostels Paulus (GŲttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, NTD 8, 1962), 92-129.
Gager, J. 
The Origins of Anti-Semitism (New York/Oxford: Oxford University, 1985).
Gnilka, J. 
"Die antipaulinischen Mission in Philippi," BZ 9 (1965) 258-276; R. Jewett, "Conflicting Movements in the Early Church as Reflected in Philippians," NovTest 12 (1970) 362-389.
Klijn, A.F.J. 
"Paul's Opponents in Philippians iii," NovTest 7 (1964), 278-284.
Koester, Helmut. 
"The Purpose of the Polemic of a Pauline Fragment (Philippians III)," NTS 8 (1961/62) 317-332.
LŁdemann, Gerd. 
Opposition to Paul in Jewish Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989).
Rathjen, B.D. 
"The Three Letters of Paul to the Philippians," NTS 6 (1960), 167-173.
Schmithals, Walter. 
"Die Irrlehrer des Philipperbriefes," in Paulus und die Gnostiker. Untersuchungen zu den kleinen Paulusbriefen (Hamburg: Herbert Reich, 1965), 47-88.
Siber, P. 
Mit Christus Leben (ZŁrich: Theologischer Verlag, 1971).

Return to Home Page


1Regarding the distinction between "direct" and "indirect" evidence, see K. Berger, "Die impliziten Gegner. Zur Methode des Erschliessens von 'Gegnern' in neutestamentlichen Texten," in Kirche. Festschrift G. Bornkamm (TŁbingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1980), 373-400; also V. Furnish, II Corinthians (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1984), 50-1.

2 Cf. W.G. Doty, Letters in Primitive Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1973), 27; J.C. Beker, Paul the Apostle (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980), 23-25; L.E. Keck, Paul and his Letters (Philadelphia, 1988), 19; H. Conzelmann, An Outline of the Theology of the New Testament (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), 164-5; K. Donfried, in The Romans Debate, K. Donfried, ed. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), xli-ii.

3 This is true even for interpretations that regard Phil 3 as a secondary interpolation. The Pauline authorship of this material is simply assumed, and so also the fact that the teachings here are addressed to specific opponents: cf. B.D. Rathjen, "The Three Letters of Paul to the Philippians," NTS 6 (1960), 167-173; G. Bornkamm, "Der Philipperbrief als paulinische Briefsammlung," in Neotestamentica et Patristica. Freundesgabe O. Cullmann (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1962), 192-202; Schmithals, 51f; Koester, 317; Siber, 99ff.

4 See also F. Wisse, "The Use of Early Christian Literature as Evidence for Inner Diversity and Conflict," in Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism, and Early Christianity, C. Hedrick and R. Hodgson, eds., Peabody, MA, 1986, 177-190: 184ff. Wisse's observation that early Christian polemic was basically ad hominem in character should be taken to apply to the New Testament writings as well. Even where such accusations are addressed to actual opponents in a concrete life situation, we cannot assume that they fairly and accurately represent the character and views of the opponents.

5 Also D. Georgi, Die Gegner des Paulus im 2. Korintherbrief [Neukirchen, WMANT 11, 1964], 49f; Furnish, II Corinthians, 494; H. Windisch, Der zweite Korintherbrief, GŲttingen [KEK 6, 1924, 341). That the phrase ergatai dolioi is used in 2 Cor 11:13 to characterize those regarded as false apostles in no way indicates that the word ergatai itself has a special missionary meaning, or that the reference here is to missionary opponents. The term ergatai basically refers to laborers in general. It can refer to craftsmen (Acts 19:25), laborers in a vineyard (Mt 20:1f), or workers at harvest time (Mt 9:37), and is applied by analogy to missionaries (Mt 9:38; cf. Jn 4:38), or to leaders of the Christian community (1 Tim 5:18; cf. Mt 10:10): see Rudolf Bultmann, The Second Letter to the Corinthians (Minneapolis, MN, 1985), 208. In Lk 13:27, on the other hand, the phrase ergatai adikias refers in general to those who are excluded from the kingdom of God (cf. Mt 7:23).

6 J. Gager observes that "throughout the first century, it would appear that circumcision came to be seen as a synonym for Judaism itself": The Origins of Anti-Semitism (New York/Oxford: Oxford University, 1985), 56: Klijn points out (280) that this is already the case in the Pauline writings (Rom 15:5; Gal 2:7-9; Eph 2:11).

7 Very relevant to the argument here is the fine essay by Stanley Stowers: "Friends and Enemies in the Politics of Heaven: Reading Theology in Philippians," in Pauline Theology, Vol. 1: Thessalonians, Philippians, Galatians, Philemon, ed., J. Bassler (Fortress: Phiadelphia, 1994], 105-121. With regard to Phil 3:2, Stowers makes the particularly interesting observation that this exhortation "does not warn of imminent dangers from judaizers or allude to current events but asks the readers to to reflect upon the negative example of judaizing missionaries. The Philippians may well have never seen judaizers, but in Paul's rhetoric of friendship/enmity and antithetical exhortation, the Philippians have indeed heard about them" (Ibid., 116). In fact, from a rhetorical perspective, it is not necessary that the intended readers of this letter had ever actually seen any of the people characterized as "dogs" and "workers of evil." It was sufficient to believe that the world outside the community was filled with such persons.

8 Nowhere else does Paul characterize his opponents as "enemies of the cross of Christ". In fact, apart from 1 Cor 1:17, the phrase "cross of Christ" appears elsewhere only in Gal 6:12, where the reference seems to be to the Christian faith as such, and is probably late material.

9 Schmithals appeals to Gal 5:25 as "the closest parallel to these verses," and observes that the teachings in Gal 5:16-24 "emphatically criticize the ethical conduct of the opponents." But concrete specifications like those Gal 5 are absent in Phil 3. Schmithals also observes (ibid, 78) that in Phil 3:19 it is said that the enemies of the cross are destined for "destruction" (apŰleia), and argues that they must be the same as the libertines in Corinth who regarded the "word of the cross" as "foolishness" and who, according to Paul, are "being destroyed" (apollumenoi) (1 Cor 1:18). The reference in 1 Cor 1:18, however, applies to Jews, who "demand signs," and to Greeks, who 'seek wisdom" (1:22). This has no obvious connection with libertinism.

10 Koester observes (325) that such accusations represent not "a direct and accurate description of the people Paul had in mind," but "a polemical description employing abusive language in the characterization of his opponents," and that therefore "we can only draw indirect conclusions." But Koester nevertheless assumes that Paul has specific opponents in mind here, and that "every single feature of the polemical designation of the enemies has its very distinct aim." How do we know this?

11 Cf. J. Behm, "koilia," TWNT, III (1938) 788: Contrary to Schmithals (79), it is not evident that the affirmation in 1 Cor 6:13 (ta brŰmata tÍ koilia) refers specifically to a libertine disdain for regulations governing food. Schmithals also refers to Rom 16:17-18 as a parallel ("Die Irrlehrer von RŲm 16:17-20," in Paulus und die Gnostiker, 159-174). But here also the accusation in v 18 that certain persons serve only "their own bellies" refers not specifically to Gnostic libertines, but to all those who create "dissensions and difficulties" in opposition to apostolic teaching (v 17). More important, however, from a methodological perspective, one cannot simply read particularities from other Pauline writings into Phil 3, where the absence of such particularity is an issue to be explained.

12Gnilka observes (275) that the purpose of the "bitter, irony filled antitheses" in v 19 "is to describe not the opponents, but their end."

13Contrary to Koester (320f), the decisive hÍmeis in v 3 refers not only to Paul and his fellow workers, but (as in v 20) to the community of the faithful: see Schmithals, 64; also Gnilka, 262; M. Dibelius, An die Philipper, 67; G. Friedrich, Der Brief an die Philipper, 116; J-F, Collange, The Epistle of Saint Paul to the Philippians, 125. According to Koester (321f), the phrase hoi pneumati Theou latreuontes in Phil 3:3 represents Paul's claim "to true apostleship in the spirit of God," and "this strong emphasis on the spiritually endowed apostleship may well imply a refutation of a similar claim among the opponents." In spite of Rom 1:9, however, the word latreuein simply means to perform religious service, and has no special missionary significance. No reference to the spirit appears elsewhere in this chapter. And it is doubtful that apostleship is even an issue, since there is no reference anywhere in this writing to apostleship, or even to Paul as an apostle.

14 Contrary to LŁdemann (Opposition to Paul in Jewish Christianity, 108), this is not implied by Gal 1:13 or 1 Cor 15:8.

15 See J.T. Sanders, The Jews in Luke-Acts (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 98-101. In Acts we are told that Paul believes "everything laid down by the law" and therefore has "a clear conscience toward God and toward men" (Acts 24:14-16). He has committed no sin at all "neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the Temple, nor against Caesar" (Acts 25:8). Nowhere do we find such claims in Paul's own writings.

16 Lohmeyer, 132, 136; Dibelius, 68; F. Lang, "skubalon," TWNT VII (1964) 446-448: 447.

17 J. SchŁtz, Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority (Cambridge: Cambridge University, SNTSMS 26, 1975), 133.

18 The term kerdos ("gain," "profit," "advantage") refers elsewhere to profits made in commerce (Matt 25:16; Mark 8:36; Jas 4:13). ZÍmia ("loss," "disadvantage") is the opposite: see Schlier, "kerdos ktl.," TWNT, III (1938) 671f; also Lohmeyer, Philipper, 132: The language implies the calculation of profit and loss. The verb zÍmioŰ ("to forfeit," 'suffer loss") has a similar implication.

19 E.P. Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 43, n. 132:

20 Contra Koester (322), in Phil 3 the question is in fact whether righteousness based on law or life in Christ is the "higher value."

21 See Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (New York: Harper & Row, 1951) I, 242.

22 Cf. Lohmeyer, 127: In the proverbial saying in Mark 8:36 "forfeiting one's life" (zÍmiŰthÍnai tÍn psuchÍn autou) is compared with the value of "gaining the whole world" (kerdÍsai ton kosmon holon). The term skubalon ("refuse") was a common way to refer to the transitory and worthless character of all human goods and achievements: see F. Lang, "skubalon," TWNT VII (1964), 446f. Since what precedes refers to social and religious advantages, Lohmeyer himself regards such language as "very imprecise and misleading". In fact, the language here (hatina Ín moi kerdÍ) is intentionally vague. The reference is to "confidence in the flesh" as such (v 4), for which Paul's own social and religious past (vv 5-6) is merely an example.

23 Cf. Lohmeyer, Philipper, 126: Schmithals also observes (65) that this affirmation seems to say "We Christians, not these Jews, are the true people of the circumcision." According to F.W. Beare (104), "the title which he (Paul) denies to Jews, he claims for the Christians." And Jewett comments (383) that "it is the Pauline church which stands in the place of Israel as the true "circumcision." G. LŁdemann observes that arguments against Jewish Christians would also apply to Jews (Opposition to Paul in Jewish Christianity, 271, n. 164). In this case, however, we would have to assume the reverse, namely, that arguments which reject Judaism as such are in fact aimed at specific Judaizing opponents. Without specific evidence, this is a difficult assumption.

24 Schmithals (66) perceives 2 Cor 11:18, 21f as an "exact parallel" with this passage, with "complete agreement" with regard to content; see also Koester, 321; Gnilka, 262; Collange, Philippians, 122; J.B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistle to the Philippians (London: Macmillan, 1927), 146:

25 See Gager, Anti Semitism, 117-33, 153-59:

26 Opposition, 117-99; citation from 199:

27 Lloyd Gaston points out that Christian polemic in the second century often identified various forms of false teaching as "Judaism" ("Judaism of the Uncircumcised in Ignatius and Related Writers," in Anti-Judaism in Early Christianity, Vol. 2, Separation and Polemic, S. Wilson, ed. [Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University, 1986], 33-44).

28 The statement "We are the true circumcision, who serve God in the Spirit... and place no confidence in the flesh." in v 3 is nothing less that a gnostic affirmation of faith. In Col 3:11, of course, baptism is conceived as a "circumcision made without hands," i.e., as a "putting off of the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ." A more revealing parallel, however, is found in the Gospel of Thomas, logion 53: "His disciples said to him, 'Is circumcision beneficial or not?' He said to them, 'If it were beneficial, their father would beget them already circumcised from their mother. Rather the true circumcision in spirit has become completely profitable.'"

29 Cf. Lohmeyer (Philipperbrief, 132): "The Jewish 'gain' recedes totally into the background. "Everything" or even "the whole world" becomes a loss. Christ and world stand over against one another: one must choose between them."

30 Other interpreters attribute such views to persons in the Philippian community itself: see Collange, Philippians, 131-135; Jewett, 373-376.

31 G. Sellin, "'Die Auferstehung ist schon Geschehen.' Zur Spiritualisierung apokalyptischer Terminologie im Neuen Testament," NovTest XXV, 3 (1983) 220-237: 221-227. Contrary to Koester (323), such claims cannot be understood simply as a "reinterpretation of all future apocalyptic expectations".

32 It is commonly assumed that references in the Pauline writings to resurrection from the dead as a future event (e.g., Rom 6:5; 1 Cor 15:22f.) have polemical significance. Though it should be obvious, it must be pointed out that resurrection "from the dead" can only be conceived and spoken of as a future event, and that here or elsewhere resurrection from the dead is portrayed in such a way does not necessarily indicate that such teachings are polemical. For Paul, the crucial issue is not whether salvation is present or future, but how the "qualities of salvation" associated with "fulfillment" differ from salvation understood to be grounded in the power of God (cf. 1 Cor 6:13f., 19f.): see D. Doughty, "The Presence and Future of Salvation in Corinth," ZNW 66 (1975) 61-90.

33 With regard to the conception of the resurrection as a present reality in The Treatise on the Resurrection (NHL 1.4), Klaus Koschorke observes that such affirmations do not simply bypass the problem of fleshly death: "The different kinds of existence before and after is in no way denied. But the bodily death, it is claimed, can bring no further real transformation" ("Paulus in dem Nagammadi Texten," ZThK (78 (1981), 177-205: 198).

34Most such interpretations are based on the view that Paul's "theology of the cross" conceive suffering as a necessary mark of Christian existence, perhaps even as a condition for salvation. According to Koester (323), Christian existence is "characterized" by 'sharing the suffering and death of Jesus Christ." And according to Gnilka (267), the faithful are those who 'self-sacrificingly commit themselves to the acceptance of suffering." That Paul regards his suffering for the sake of the gospel as a manifestation of the power of God (2 Cor 4:7), however, in no way means that suffering is something to be desired, let alone required, for Christians. That the faithful are able to rejoice in sufferings (Rom 5:4) in no way means that suffering is God's will. Suffering is the mark of a world under the dominion of sin (Rom 8:18), and contrary to God's will for humankind (Rom 8:21).

35 According to Siber, Paul refers here to suffering he has experienced in his work as an apostle (Mit Christus Leben, 113). But it is unclear what is meant when Siber says that Christian existence as such is "existence in suffering" (ibid., 115).

36 The obvious parallel in Rom 8:17bó "...provided we suffer with him (Christ) so that we may also be glorified with him."ó is also nebulous, and in vv 18-25 the "sufferings of the present time" seem to refer to human worldly existence as such.

37 Martinus de Boer, observes that in the deutero-Pauline tradition the apostle's suffering becomes "the basis for an edifying piety of suffering of which Paul is the model" ("Images of Paul in the Post-Apostolic Period," CBQ 42 (1980) 359-380: 369).

38 Even Schmithals (68) admits that verses 10-11 "are fully understandable without the assumption of a polemical intention." Bultmann observes that Paul makes use of Gnostic language in this passage, but assumes that this describes "the character of Christian existence in general" (TWNT I, 710). Most interpreters in fact understand these teachings in such a way.

39 LŁdemann rightly observes that the teleios motif appears elsewhere in the Pauline writings (Rom 12:2; 1 Cor 2:6; 13:10; 14:20; also Col 1:28; 4:12), and that there is no reason to assume its appearance here reflects language of opponents (Opposition, 106f.). In 1 Cor 2:6 at least some of the faithful are regarded as already teleioi.

40 Koester (322f) attempts to maintain the unity of the passage by arguing that the Jewish Christian opponents conceived "righteousness based on law" in terms of moral and spiritual "perfection." Other interpreters, however, distinguish between legalistic, Jewish Christians addressed in vv 2-9 and spiritual (or Gnostic) libertines in vv 16-21: see Beare, 133-4; Friedrich, 116, 120f; Lohmeyer, 152-4; Dibelius, 71. Jewett (376-387) makes a similar distinction, but seems to regard the teachings in vv 10-16 to be primarily directed to the Philippians themselves (ibid., 373-376). Schmithals largely dismisses the polemical significance of vv 2-9, and perceives the distinctive Gnostic proclamation of the Jewish Christian opponents first addressed in vv 10-21. LŁdemann denies that opponents are in view in vv 12-21 (Opposition, 106).

41 See G. Howard, "On the "Faith of Jesus Christ,"" HThR 60 (1967) 459-465; S. Williams, Jesus" Death as Saving Event. The Background and Origin of a Concept (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1975); L.T. Johnson, "Romans 3:21-26 and the Faith of Jesus," CBQ 44 (1982) 77-90; L. Keck, ""Jesus" in Romans," JBL 108 (1989) 443-460; and most recently D. Seeley, The Noble Death. Graeco-Roman Martyrology and Paul's Concept of Salvation (Sheffield: JSOT, 1990).

42 Seeley, Noble Death, 99-112:

43 According to Koester (325), the reference is to the future experience of such power in the resurrection from the dead, which the opponents falsely claim to have already experienced (also Schmithals, 69; Dibelius, 69; Gnilka, 266).

44 Bultmann observes that in 2 Peter and the Pastoral Epistles the term epignŰsis has become "almost a technical term" for the knowledge of God (and Christ) that ensues from conversion to Christian faith, and that in all such cases a theoretical moment is primary (TWNT 1, 706). However, the term gnŰsis can be used in a similar way (2 Pet 3:18; cf. 1 Tim 6:20). In the Pastorals (and probably in 2 Peter as well) the "full knowledge" (epignŰsis) mediated by the apostles stands over against the incomplete knowledge of the opponents (cf. 2 Tim 2:25; 3:7). This opposition is not present in Phil 3:

45 This would explain the apparent "reversal" of resurrection and suffering in v 10, which some interpreters regard as having a polemical purpose: Gnilka, 266; Dibelius, 69; Collange, 131; G. Barth, Der Brief an die Philipper, (Zurich: Theologischer, 1979), 61. That koinŰnian pathÍmatŰn autou, however, has a different, existential meaning than the "knowledge of Christ and the power of his resurrection" referred to in 10ab is indicated not only by the different form of this reference (where we might otherwise expect simply kai ta pathÍmata autou) but also by the interpretation that follows.

46 Both "righteousness from God" (v 9) and "resurrection from the dead" (v 11) are traditional motifs, now conceived here in terms of "fulfillment" (v 12) and bodily "transformation" (v 21).

47 Verses 12 and 13-14 are entirely parallel. Verses 13-14 simply elaborate what was said in v 12: But the elaboration in 13-14 is significant: the "fulfillment" that Paul "pursues" (v 12) is now characterized as a "prize" (brabeion) one receives upon reaching the "goal" (skopos).

48 Peter Stuhlmacher distinguishes between the conception of righteousness found here and the understanding of righteousness as "confirmation" or "self-justification" found in the Pastorals: Gerechtigkeit Gottes bei Paulus (GŲttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1965), 233-5. In fact, however, righteousness is conceived here in the same way as in the Pastorals, namely, as a goal to be "pursued" (diŰke dikaiosunÍn) (1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22) and as a prize that one receives. 2 Tim 4:6-8 presents a close parallel to the ideas found here: "I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that Day..." (RSV).

49 This motif appears nowhere else in the NT. The reference is to a specific event in the past, and the allusion may be to Paul's Damascus experience (cf. Dibelius, 70). But this experience is portrayed elsewhere as an intervention by God (Gal 1:15; 1 Cor 15:10). Only in Acts is Paul's Damascus experience conceived as an intervention by the heavenly Lord (Acts 9:4-6; 22:6-10; 26:12-18). In any case, while the reference may be to the "determining motivation" of the diŰkein (Lohmeyer, 144), it is not clear that this experience also makes such conduct possible.

50 Contrary to Schmidt ("kaleŰ ktl.," TWNT, 3, 488-539: 490), in the Pauline writings kalein is not a "terminus technicus for the salvation event." In Rom 8:30, Gal 1.6 and Gal 5:13 the salvation significance of being called by God is clarified by elaborations. The salvation significance of 1 Cor 1.9, where it is said that believers are called by God "into the fellowship of his Son," is ambiguous. Elsewhere in the Pauline writings persons are called to a vocation (Rom 1.1), or a way of life (1 Cor 7:17; Gal 5:8). And references to being called by God serve most often, therefore, as a basis for moral exhortation (1 Cor 7:15:17:20; Gal 5:13; 1 Thess 2:12; 4:7; 2 Thess 1.11; 2:13-15; Eph 4:1; 1 Tim 6:12; 1 Pet 2:20-21; 2 Pet 1.10). But in such texts it is not obvious that being called by God has indicative significance (see Bultmann, Theology, II, 160-1).

51 This is quite different, for example, from the apocalyptic perspective in 2 Pet 2:11, where "entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" is a future expectation. The reference to Jesus as "saviour" (sŰtÍr) appears only here in the Pauline writings. In Eph 5:23 Christ is referred to as the "saviour" of the body (the Church). And the Pastoral epistles refer both to "God our Savious" (1 Tim 1.1; 2:3; 4:10; Tit 1.3; 3:4) and to our "saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Tim 1:10; Tit 2:13; 3:6). References to Jesus as Saviour, however, appear most often in 2 Pet (1:1, 11; 2:20; 3:2, 18), and only here in the NT do we find the full designation, "Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 1:11; 2:20; 3:18). This is deutero-Pauline language (cf. Ign. Phld. 9:2).

52 Koester perceives the singular Pauline appearance of the term sŰtÍr in Phil 3:20 as evidence that Paul makes use here of an "apocalyptic tradition" in which "the title sŰtÍr had a strictly apocalyptic meaning," and appeeals to 1 Thess 1:10 as a parallel. In 1 Thess 1:10, however, Jesus is referred to not as "saviour" (sŰtÍr), but as "Son of God" (ho uios autou). All these texts have in common is the idea that Jesus comes from heaven as a bearer of salvation. According to Dibelius and Conzelmann, the context in Phil 3:19-20 is "clearly eschatological," since "in contrast to the ta epigeia phronountes, Christians are citizens of heaven" (Die Pastoralbriefe (TŁbingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 3rd ed. 1955] 74). This contrast, however, is not eschatological, but ontological.

53 H. Strathmann rightly observes that the concept of a politeuma en ouranois describes the "alienation" of the faithful with regard to the earthly sphere as such and their "membership in the heavenly kingdom of Christ" ("polis," TWNT 6 [1959] 516-35: 535).

54 Hyam Maccoby observes that we should distinguish between Jewish and Gnostic apocalyptic: "Jewish apocalypticism... relates to a messianic kingdom on earth, and not to a translation of the elect as divine or semi-divine beings to a higher spiritual realm... It was the Gnostics, and not the Jews, who aspired to escape from the human condition and become gods; and this is the kind of apocalypticism that Paul displays" (Paul and Hellenism [Philadelphia: Trinity, 1991], 148). Contrary to Maccoby (149), who regards Paul's teaching as fundamentally Gnostic, it cannot be said that "nowhere does Paul give any hope of a redeemed earth" (cf. Rom 8:2, although Rom 16b-25 may be an elaboration qualifying the "gnostic" teachings in 8:1-16a). But the teachings attributed to Paul in Phil 3:17ff are certainly characterized by "Gnostic apocalypticism."

55 This even goes beyond Phil 2:9 and Eph 1.20-2, where the subjection of all things to Christ is still conceived as the work of God.

Return to Home Page

Copyright © Institute for Higher Critical Studies, 1996

Darrell J. Doughty
Institute for Higher Critical Studies
Drew University, Madison, NJ, 07940