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

  • From temple to meat market in ancient Pompeii
    A very quick journey from the temple of Jupiter in Pompeii to the meat market. This helps us to understand 1 Corinthians 8-10 and probably also Romans 14.
  • TogetherThe formation of gentile Christ-believing identity vis-à-vis Israel in Ephesians and Barnabas
    Article in the journal Biblica et Patristica Thoruniensia. Keywords: Ephesians; Barnabas; Israel; replacement theology; collective memory; ethnic identity
  • Where they burn books…
    A reflection on “Bibliothek", the memorial to the Nazi book-burning of 10 May 1933 in Berlin. Could we ever end up in a similar situation?
  • Reformation sights in Oxford UK
    Some sights in Oxford UK, that are especially significant for Reformation history and the deaths of the Oxford Martyrs Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer.
  • Lift Your EyesLift Your Eyes: Introducing Ephesians
    The central message of Ephesians is that the God of the universe has an amazing plan, which is being put into effect through the preaching of the gospel.
  • Luke 5:1-32 SermonWho is Jesus for?
    Who are the right kind of people according to Jesus? Is Jesus just for one kind of person in our world: Christians versus everyone else? Is Jesus for you?
  • TogetherThe formation of gentile Christ-believing identity vis-à-vis Israel in Ephesians and Barnabas
    Article in the journal Biblica et Patristica Thoruniensia. Keywords: Ephesians; Barnabas; Israel; replacement theology; collective memory; ethnic identity
  • Is God Green? By Lionel WindsorIs God Green?
    A short book about what the Bible says about the environment: why the world is in a mess, where it's headed, and what to do about it in the here and now.
  • Donald RobinsonVale Donald Robinson
    From SydneyAnglicans: One of the towering figures of Anglicanism in the 20th century and former Archbishop of Sydney Bishop Donald Robinson, has died at the age of 95. … The first to pay
  • Interview with Sydney Anglicans about the War on Waste
    I was interviewed by SydneyAnglicans.net about the TV series War on Waste: "Our cause should be the gospel, and that gospel will reshape everything"

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor