No Confidence In The Flesh: The Meaning and Function of Philippians 3:2–21 -- By: David A. deSilva

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 15:1 (Spring 1994)
Article: No Confidence In The Flesh: The Meaning and Function of Philippians 3:2–21
Author: David A. deSilva


No Confidence In The Flesh:
The Meaning and Function of Philippians 3:2–21

David A. deSilva *

Philippians 3:2–21 is a passage reminiscent of the polemic of Galatians and 2 Corinthians. Like the latter, however, the interpretation of the passage is made difficult by scholarly disagreement about the literary context of the passage (questions with regard to the literary integrity of Philippians) and about the identity of the opponents which Paul has in view, if any. This second arena of debate is closely linked with the first. If the letter as it stands is a unity, we may be tempted to draw together the various passages throughout the letter which refer to opponents or antagonists and form a composite picture from them. If we determine that Phil 3:2–21 belongs to another piece of correspondence, we have no literary context within which to work and from which to fill in the details of the situation. These areas are hotly debated, and one’s position will inform one’s exegetical conclusions. It is therefore improbable that the meaning and function of Phil 3:2–21 can be meaningfully discussed without reopening the investigation of the literary integrity and the presence of opponents in Philippi.

I. The Integrity of the Letter

Some scholars separate 4:10–20 from the rest of the letter as part of an originally independent letter of thanks and 3:1b–4:1 (or 4:3) as part of a letter directly concerned with an incursion of rival missionaries.1 While the redactor’s method is often unexplained, these scholars find the transition at 3:2 sufficiently abrupt to require an interpolation hypothesis;2 the postponement of giving

* David A. deSilva is a Ph.D. candidate at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

thanks for a gift until the end of the letter is also deemed inexplicable.

Against these scholars stands a large body of evidence which suggests that the letter was originally sent as it now stands, and that each part of the letter needs therefore to be interpreted within the context of the whole. Most generally, one may note the occurrence of a few words which appear throughout every part of the letter and thus appear to hint at the main theme and purpose of the letter. I refer to the frequent use of nouns ...

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