Skip to content

“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

Recent blog posts

  • Ampelmann, BerlinTurn around and walk the other way (Ephesians 4:17–19)
    Darkness, futility, and desire: this is the way the world walks. Paul doesn’t write these things so that we can gloat or judge. He writes so we can repent, and live.
  • Photo by Kira auf der Heide on UnsplashPlaying your part (Ephesians 4:16)
    Paul’s vision for Christ’s body is unity in diversity. It’s not just flat uniformity, nor is it just diversity for the sake of diversity. It’s diversity for a common purpose.
  • Photo by Ben White on UnsplashThe truth in love: A key principle for church growth (Ephesians 4:14–15)
    Paul’s principle for the growth of Christ’s body isn’t about presentation or organisation. It’s more fundamental: “speaking the truth in love”.
  • Colosseum with cross-shaped cloudsChrist’s body: A brief history (Ephesians 4:11–13)
    Paul didn’t write Ephesians 4:11–13 to give us a detailed blueprint for how to organise our ministries. He wrote these verses to point us to God’s grace in Christ.
  • Cathedral CeilingChrist: Up there and down here (Ephesians 4:8–10)
    In these verses, Paul makes a big deal of Christ going up (to heaven) and down (to be with us by his Spirit). Why? to encourage believers as we face all the ups and downs of living for Christ.
  • Genesis 1:27 modified NIVMale and female: Equality and order in Genesis 1:27
    Genesis 1:27 is important in debates between egalitarians and complementarians. It clearly implies equality, yet also seems to suggest a certain order.
  • Gift among giftsGifted beyond measure (Ephesians 4:7)
    How should Christians think about our own individual ‘giftedness’? We need to see our own gifts in the light of God’s wonderful, superabundant grace.
  • Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, Roman ForumThe one and only God (Ephesians 4:4–6)
    In this part of Ephesians, the apostle Paul makes an unavoidably scandalous claim: The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the one and only God.
  • Finding praise in the right place (Romans 2:28–29)
    There is a very strong temptation to measure your ministry by looking at how much people are praising you. This passage teaches us where to look for praise.
  • This unity (Ephesians 4:2–3)
    In the classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the King of Swamp Castle issues an appeal for unity: “This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who!” It’s become a classic line used to poke fun at people who are trying to bring peace and unity without showing any understanding of the reality of the situation or the depth of hurt that’s been caused. While we might never end up being quite as absurd as Monty Python, Christians can sometimes talk about unity a little like this. That is, we can treat unity as some ideal state where everybody just gets on, no matter how deep our differences are and no matter what hurt has been caused. And yet—unity really matters. Christians are called to unity. Christian unity is anchored in the truth of the gospel.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor