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“We are the circumcision” (Philippians 3:3) is a reference to Jewish preachers (i.e. Paul and Timothy), not to all Christians

In my book, I argue for a vocational reading of Philippians 3:3:
Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul's Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans

The third-person plural pronoun “we” is often assumed to be a reference to Paul along with all of his Philippian addressees. If this were the case, Phil 3:3 would be an example of Paul using the term περιτομή in order to ascribe Jewish identity directly to Christ-believing Gentiles. Yet, despite the popularity of this interpretation, it is not the best way to understand the third-person plural pronoun here. It should, rather, be understood as a reference to Paul and Timothy, as Jewish teachers of Gentiles. Paul is using the term περιτομή in order to claim a status for himself and Timothy as true (Jewish) teachers of Gentiles (cf. Col 4:11), in direct opposition to rival Jewish teachers, whom he has just labelled κατατομή (Phil 3:2). (p. 53)

I demonstrate that this vocational interpretation:

  1. fits with the particular terms Paul chooses to describe the activities of the “circumcision” in Phil 3:3
  2. fits into the general pattern of Paul’s self-references in the letter as a whole
  3. helps us to make sense of Paul’s subsequent discussion.

The details of the argument and further references may be found in chapter 3 of the book. The chapter is available from the publisher in electronic format:

Windsor, Lionel J. Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul’s Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans. BZNW 205. Berlin / Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2014.

Published inPaulPhilippians

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

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