More from St. Paul

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Just one more gleaning from this noonday repast. I rejoice in the word God has set forth for us and I particularly love this "epistle of joy" even when there is something like the passage that follows. We need both instruction and caution.

Philippians 3: 18-19

18   (For many walk, of whom I have told you often and now tell you even with weeping, as the enemies of the cross of Christ.
19   Their end is destruction, their God is their belly, and their glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

Remember these for whom we must pray especially--those caught up in the net of lies that constitutes life in our society. They do not know the truth and could not find the truth if we were to guide them right to it and push them into its embrace. The illusions of this world are too deep, too dark, too entangling. As Jesus said of one exorcism--"This kind comes out only with much prayer and fasting."

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Dear Steven,

As usual, your exegesis is provocative. NT Wright, Bishop of Durham, writes about this third chapter*:

"Paul's main concern here, I suggest, is not to warn the Philippians against Judaism or an anti-Pauline Jewish-Christian mission. We have, after all, no hard evidence that this danger threatened the churches in Greece as it had those in Asia. His concern is to warn them against the Caesar-cult, and the entire panoply of pagan empire; but his method of warning them, and of encouraging them to take a stand for the counter-empire of Jesus, is given for the most part in code. He tells them his own story, the story of how he had abandoned his status and privileges in order to find the true status and privilege of one in Christ, and encourages them to imitate him. Read this way, the chapter gains both in coherence and in subtlety."

According to Bishop Wright, Paul says that "God has redefined Israel through certain climactic and revelatory, in other words, apocalyptic, events, and all forms of Judaism that do not recognise this and conform are at best out of date and at worst dangerous compromises and parodies." Thus -

"The central point is now to argue: as I, Paul, have rethought my Jewish allegiance in the light of the crucified and risen Jesus, so you should rethink your Roman allegiance in the same light. The transitional passage, vv. 12-16, turns the self-description of vv. 4-11 into an example and exhortation, with the key transition coming in verses 15-16. Eschatology is indeed the key here, but not in the way it is sometimes imagined: just as Paul's covenant pilgrimage, his following of the Messiah through suffering and death to resurrection, is not yet complete, nor is the pilgrimage of the Philippians ... The important point to get straight, before the final appeal of the chapter, in which, as in the eschaton itself, the veil is suddenly drawn aside, is that the Philippians, like Paul, must find their whole identity in the crucified and risen Messiah and nowhere else.

"The final appeal, in verses 17-21, is then to be understood as follows. It is, to begin with, primarily a warning against sheer paganism. The fact that verses 18 and 19 can be read as a coded warning against some types of Judaism may well be deliberate, but I do not think it is the main thing which Paul is aiming at. Rather, he is building up to saying: do not go along with the Caesar-cult that is currently sweeping the Eastern Mediterranean. You have one Lord and Saviour, and he will vindicate and glorify you, if you hold firm to him, just as the Father vindicated and glorified him after he had obeyed."

So, just like you wrote, "The illusions of this world are too deep, too dark, too entangling," both in first century Greece and twenty-first century America.



Dear Neil,

Thank you so much for your profound and interesting comment. I would like to make one small correction. With no false modesty or humility, I must say that I wouldn't dare call these little notes any sort of exegesis. That requires a different, more profound understanding and grasp of certain truths that I have available to me. They are merely comments noting the thoughts or ideas that occur to me in the course of careful, but certainly not profoundly informed reading. So by the grace of the Holy Spirit, I occasionally stumble upon a crumb of truth verified elsewhere. For that I am grateful. And I am especially grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to explain this. I wouldn't want anyone passing by to think that anything I had to say about the Bible was at all definitive. These are merely the reflections of a literate but not highly trained layman--they don't plumb the depths of scripture nor do they scale the heights of understanding. Rather they offer, for what they are worth, a humble understanding of some of the most beautiful words ever committed to paper.

Thanks again for your comment, and for the truly profound thought that informs it.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on May 18, 2004 11:56 AM.

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