That I May Attain To Whose Resurrection? Philippians 3:11 -- By: John H. Niemelä

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 25:49 (Autumn 2012)
Article: That I May Attain To Whose Resurrection? Philippians 3:11
Author: John H. Niemelä


That I May Attain To Whose Resurrection?
Philippians 3:11

John H. Niemelä

Professor

Rocky Mountain Bible College and Seminary

Denver, CO

I. Introduction

Philippians 3:10-11 reads, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” At first glance, these words may seem to suggest that Paul worried he might not be resurrected (in the first resurrection). One could ask, “Did Paul worry that, if he did not strive sufficiently, he would go to the lake of fire?” There are three possible answers to this question (view 2 being common among Reformed interpreters):

  1. Yes, Paul feared ending in the lake of fire.
  2. Although Paul knew that it is impossible for him or for any Christian to end up in the lake of fire, in deep humility, he worked diligently, so that he might escape it.
  3. No, Paul knew that it would be impossible for him to end up in the lake of fire.

Twenty-eight years have passed since 1984, but double-speak is alive and well in Christendom. Those advocating views 1 and 2 fundamentally misunderstand that eternal life is a gift that neither requires works to receive nor to keep. Let us consider the three answers given to the initial question.

II. Paul Feared Ending Up In The Lake Of Fire

Helmut Koester spoke of “the element of uncertainty concerning one’s own participation in the resurrection (ei pōs) [if somehow].”1

Morna Hooker broadens the use of I from Paul to Christians in general (not to the Philippians in particular). Writing from an Arminian standpoint, she suggests that, “…it is necessary to go on ‘being conformed’ to Christ’s obedience and death if they [Christians] are to attain the resurrection.”

The introductory “if somehow” in v. 11 seems to introduce an element of doubt, but Paul can hardly be dubious about whether those who are in Christ [at the time of death] will share his resurrection. The phrase is intended, rather, to remind the Philippians that Christians have not yet arrived at their final destination. Christ’s resurrection has already occurred, but their [Christians’] own lies in the future, and it is necessary to go on “being conformed” to Christ’s obedience and death if they [Christians] are to attain the resurrection. The fact that their [Christians’] right...

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