A Question I Was Asked:

Can You Please Explain Philippians 3:2-4?

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Can you please explain Philippians 3:2-4? I can make no sense of it

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, let us look at this:

2. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh - 4. though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

The problem here is to take just a part of a chapter, or a train of thought, and expect to understand it without getting a fuller context, or being prepared to do just a little research. Paul the Apostle experienced huge persecution from the Jews who claimed to be the 'true circumcision.' These were substantially the Pharisees, also - it appears - there was a legalist faction among certain naive early Christians who were certainly pharasaically -influenced. These people had had much influence at various times even within the Jerusalem congregation. They believed that new and Gentile Christians had to observe the whole law before becoming Christians, but the truth is: these people were not even required to observe the Sabbath! Paul was saying, 'it is we who are the true circumcision - not these legalists!' (Paul also rails against these people in Galatians, the first chapter).

The Acts 15 conference at Jerusalem was called in order to sort out a genuine, unified Christian approach to this matter of how new Gentile converts should be handled. Let's look at it:

5. Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses." 6.The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7.After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8.God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11. No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." 12. The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13. When they finished, James spoke up. "Brothers," he said, "listen to me. 14. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: 16. "'After this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17. that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things' - 18. things known from long ago. [possibly a reference to the laws of Noah] 19. "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath. (Acts 15:5-21).

In the interest of space I conclude there but it is essential to read the entirety of Acts 15, including this part:

23. With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. 24. We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul - 26. men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29. You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. (Acts 15:23-29).

So in this manner the early church were determined to cut out the growing 'circumcision lobby,' which was pure legalism (although it continued to cause Paul and Barnabas some problems for years after that).

So new Gentile converts were not expected to become Jews - in a legal sense - before becoming Christians; here is the bottom line on this. True, we become spiritual Jews and are thus engrafted into the '144,000,' but not in any ritualistic manner. Gentile converts were not even expected to 'keep' the seventh day Sabbath but - quite soon - started to assemble on the First Day (Sunday). Why is it that SDA people and Armstrongists never read these clear words?

Robin A. Brace. September 30th, 2019.