Philippians 3: "persecutor of the church"

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rgprice
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Philippians 3: "persecutor of the church"

Post by rgprice »

As I've discussed in prior threads, "church" is an anachronistic translation of ekklēsia: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=7988&start=40

So what exactly is Paul talking about in Philippians 3?

If anyone else thinks he is confident in the flesh, I have more reason: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the assembly; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

For the Greek: https://biblehub.com/interlinear/philippians/3.htm

Is the standard translation of Philippians 3:4-6 correct? Here Paul is listing off all of his credentials as a Jew under the law. He's saying that he meets all the criteria of traditional Judaism, but goes on to say that he views faith in Jesus as more important than all of those things.

But, being "a persecutor of the assembly" doesn't fit here. What is that supposed to mean? Even if we take ekklēsia to refer specifically to Jesus worshipers, it does not fit with any of the other criteria he's listed out. "According to zeal, persecuting the assembly?"

As I've noted, ekklēsia could just as easily have referred to Jewish worshipers, there is nothing that inherently identifies ekklēsia as distinctly separate from traditional Jewish bodies.

Is "persecute" really the right translation for διώκων here? The word diókó can apparently have both positive and negative connotations: https://biblehub.com/greek/1377.htm

Can this not instead be read, "as to zeal, a devout follower of the assembly", or "as to zeal, I am eager for the assembly" ? Or is that impossible?

I'll break this down more.

Look at what Paul is listing out here:

1) circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews;
2) as to the Law, a Pharisee;
3) as to zeal, a persecutor of the church;
4) as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

Items 1, 2, and 4 are all positive credentials in accordance with established Jewish traditions/values. #1) I am circumcised of the tribe of Benjamin. #2) I'm a Pharisee #4) I am a follower of the Law. But what about #3? One of these things is not like the others. #3 has nothing to do with Jewish traditions.

But, if instead we read:

1) circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews;
2) as to the Law, a Pharisee;
3) as to zeal, a devout follower of the assembly;
4) as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

Now this all fits. I am circumcised, I'm a Pharisee, I'm a devout participant in the assembly, and I follow the law.

This is a list of qualifications that show he meets the traditional criteria of being considered a devout Jew. "Persecuting the church" has nothing to do with this.
Last edited by rgprice on Wed Jul 21, 2021 5:00 am, edited 3 times in total.
ABuddhist
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Re: Philippians 3: "persecutor of the church"

Post by ABuddhist »

I cannot read Greek, but reading the English text that you quote, I interpret the reference to "as to zeal, a persecutor of the assembly" as fully consistent with Paul's broader purpose within this passage - if assembly be interpreted as referring to a cult about Christ. The passage means that Paul was such a zealous Jew that he persecuted what he understood to be a heretical/false form of Judaism.

Of course, this reasoning does not mean that the reference needs to be authentic - it could be an interpolation. I would be especially curious about learning whether Jews during Paul's lifetime would have persecuted other sects of Jews - especially if the potential persecutors were Pharisees.
rgprice
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Re: Philippians 3: "persecutor of the church"

Post by rgprice »

Some additional follow-up to this.

There are 45 occurrences of diókó in the NT: https://biblehub.com/greek/strongs_1377.htm

Outside of the Pauline letters, it is often used to mean "persecute". However, within the Pauline letters, it is often used in the opposite way.

Romans 9:30 V-PPA-NNP
GRK: τὰ μὴ διώκοντα δικαιοσύνην κατέλαβεν
NAS: That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness,

Romans 9:31 V-PPA-NMS
GRK: Ἰσραὴλ δὲ διώκων νόμον δικαιοσύνης
NAS: but Israel, pursuing a law

Romans 12:13 V-PPA-NMP
GRK: τὴν φιλοξενίαν διώκοντες
NAS: of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Romans 14:19 V-PSA-1P
GRK: τῆς εἰρήνης διώκωμεν καὶ τὰ
NAS: So then we pursue the things which make for peace

1 Corinthians 14:1 V-PMA-2P
GRK: Διώκετε τὴν ἀγάπην
NAS: Pursue love, yet

1 Thessalonians 5:15 V-PMA-2P
GRK: τὸ ἀγαθὸν διώκετε καὶ εἰς
NAS: but always seek after that which is good

Yet the most relevant example comes from Philippians 3 itself:

Philippians 3:6 V-PPA-NMS
GRK: κατὰ ζῆλος διώκων τὴν ἐκκλησίαν
NAS: as to zeal, a persecutor of the church;

Philippians 3:12 V-PIA-1S
GRK: ἤδη τετελείωμαι διώκω δὲ εἰ
NAS: become perfect, but I press on so

Philippians 3:14 V-PIA-1S
GRK: κατὰ σκοπὸν διώκω εἰς τὸ
NAS: I press on toward the goal

So in Philippians 3, Paul clearly uses the word diókó in a positive sense at least twice. Yet, the first instance is translated negatively. Instead we may read:

If anyone else thinks he is confident in the flesh, I have more reason: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, an (διώκων) earnest follower of the assembly; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

7 But whatever things were gain to me, these things I have counted as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 if somehow I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already grasped it all or have already become perfect, but (διώκω) I follow after, if I may also take hold of that for which I was even taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 (διώκω) I pursue the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

rgprice
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Re: Philippians 3: "persecutor of the church"

Post by rgprice »

If what I'm saying about this translation is correct, then I can understand why the misinterpretation was made. It has tremendous implications for the understand of ekklēsia, because this would be the passage that unifies the ekklēsia.

Here Paul refers to the ekklēsia, which early orthodox Christians such as Irenaeus took to explicitly mean Jesus worshipers. If one assumes that ekklēsia means "Jesus worshipers" or "church", then in listing out his qualifications as a Jew, Paul could only mean that he would be considered a devout Jew because he persecuted the "church" which stood in opposition to traditional Judaism.

But, if one understands ekklēsia not to refer explicitly to Jesus followers, but rather to Jewish worshipers, then it must be that Paul uses the term διώκων positively, not negatively. Thus Paul would not have been "persecuting" the assembly, rather he would have been "pursuing" (striving for) the assembly.

This then indicates that Paul's designation of his followers as members of the ekklēsia was not meant as a way to separate them from Judaism, but rather as a means of inclusion to indicate that his followers were Jews -- they were members of the broader assembly of Jews.
Ken Olson
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Re: Philippians 3: "persecutor of the church"

Post by Ken Olson »

rgprice wrote: Wed Jul 21, 2021 5:44 am If what I'm saying about this translation is correct, then I can understand why the misinterpretation was made. It has tremendous implications for the understand of ekklēsia, because this would be the passage that unifies the ekklēsia.

Here Paul refers to the ekklēsia, which early orthodox Christians such as Irenaeus took to explicitly mean Jesus worshipers. If one assumes that ekklēsia means "Jesus worshipers" or "church", then in listing out his qualifications as a Jew, Paul could only mean that he would be considered a devout Jew because he persecuted the "church" which stood in opposition to traditional Judaism.

But, if one understands ekklēsia not to refer explicitly to Jesus followers, but rather to Jewish worshipers, then it must be that Paul uses the term διώκων positively, not negatively. Thus Paul would not have been "persecuting" the assembly, rather he would have been "pursuing" (striving for) the assembly.

This then indicates that Paul's designation of his followers as members of the ekklēsia was not meant as a way to separate them from Judaism, but rather as a means of inclusion to indicate that his followers were Jews -- they were members of the broader assembly of Jews.
But is it correct? Why should we think so? Do you have any clear cases where Paul uses ekklēsia to mean particularly the assembly of Jews (only)? Or does the word either mean exclusively Jesus followers or at least include Jesus followers in every instance he uses it?

And how to do you deal with the other passages where Paul writes of having persecuted the church?
1 Cor. 15.8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
Gal. 1.13 You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.
You have proposed a different way to read Phillipians 3.6. But how is your proposed reading better (better supported by evidence) than the traditional reading? Is there some problem with the traditional interpretation that your reading solves?

I think these are the kinds of questions you'd have to address for your reading to be taken seriously. At the moment it appears what you are saying is that your alternative reading is not impossible. That's a long way from establishing it as the most plausible available reading of the text.

Best,

Ken
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Irish1975
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Re: Philippians 3: "persecutor of the church"

Post by Irish1975 »

Let’s keep an eye on the etymology, or connotation, of ekklēsia. It is the “calling out,” a sort of group that is called to separate itself (from the city? the cosmos? the damned? Israel? the present generation?).

It is not clear what the exact relationship would be between ekklesia and κλητὸς, “one who is called.” κλητὸς (klētos) is an adjective that Paul uses to introduce himself in Rom 1:1 and 1 Cor 1:1. Paul is the klētos apostolos.

There is also mention of the κλητοί in Matthew and Revelation.
rgprice
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Re: Philippians 3: "persecutor of the church"

Post by rgprice »

@Ken
And how to do you deal with the other passages where Paul writes of having persecuted the church?
I think 1 Cor 15:9 is certainly part of a larger anti-Marcionite interpolation. As for Gal 1:13, I'm still trying to figure that one out.
You have proposed a different way to read Philippians 3.6. But how is your proposed reading better (better supported by evidence) than the traditional reading? Is there some problem with the traditional interpretation that your reading solves?
For one, the whole thing makes more sense, and it makes more sense of the lines that follow.

7 But whatever things were gain to me, these things I have counted as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith

Read that in reference to the two possible readings:

1) circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews;
2) as to the Law, a Pharisee;
3) as to zeal, a persecutor of the church;
4) as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

vs

1) circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews;
2) as to the Law, a Pharisee;
3) as to zeal, a devout follower of the assembly;
4) as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.

Is having been a "persecutor of the church" something that would generally be seen a positive by traditional Jews, but as a "loss because of Christ"? I mean of course "persecuting the church" would be negative in light of being a follower of Christ, that goes without saying. Paul is listing off things that could be mistaken as signs of righteousness, but which he in fact now disregards.

The thing that could be mistaken as a sign of righteousness is not "persecution of the church", rather it is being a devout follower of the assembly. Traditional Jews would say, "Ahh, he is circumcised, he is a Pharisee, he devoutly participates in the assembly, he is right by the Law. He is a righteous Jews!" But Paul says, that despite these apparent signs that he is righteous, he considers all of those things meaningless, because none of those things are based on faith. Those are earthly symbols of righteousness, which Paul no longer finds satisfying. Persecuting "Christians" doesn't fit in this list.

I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ

Again, Paul is explaining why things that may be perceived even by Christ followers as good he now disregards. How could any Christ follower think that "persecuting the church" would be good? Everything in Paul's list has to be turned on its head. "I'm circumcised but it doesn't matter, I'm a Pharisee but it doesn't matter, I regularly attended the assembly but it doesn't matter, I am not a violator of the Law but it doesn't matter."

How would "persecuting the church" be "mere rubbish"? Its not "mere rubbish", i.e. something that doesn't matter, it would be antithetical. If Paul had listed "persecuting the church" here he would need not merely to disregard it as important, he would need to apologize for it, which he does not do.

Also note how his use of διώκω builds upon itself throughout the passages:

6 as to zeal, (διώκων) I pursued the assembly;


12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already been perfected, but (διώκω) I am pursuing that I may also take hold of that for which I was even taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 (διώκω) I pursue the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

So Paul is saying that he previously pursued devotion to the assembly, the earthly body of Jews, but he is now pursuing Christ through faith. This ties all of the thoughts together and contrasts his earlier pursuits with his new pursuits. That doesn't happen if before he was talking about persecuting. Then there is no comparison and contrast.
rgprice
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Re: Philippians 3: "persecutor of the church"

Post by rgprice »

Interestingly, Tertullian makes no mention of Paul's statement regarding persecuting/pursuing. https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/03125.htm
But those things which he had once accounted gain, and which he enumerates in the preceding verse — trust in the flesh, the sign of circumcision, his origin as an Hebrew of the Hebrews, his descent from the tribe of Benjamin, his dignity in the honours of the Pharisee — he now reckons to be only loss to himself; [Philippians 3:7] (in other words,) it was not the God of the Jews, but their stupid obduracy, which he repudiates. These are also the things which he counts but dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ [Philippians 3:8] (but by no means for the rejection of God the Creator); while he has not his own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through Him, i.e. Christ, the righteousness which is of God. [Philippians 3:9] Then, say you, according to this distinction the law did not proceed from the God of Christ.
I'm not sure what to make of this. Tertullian comments on three out of the four enumerations in the list, but makes no mention of what is now the third item. Is there a reason he would have glossed over it? Does this imply its a later interpolation that may in-fact mean "persecute"? It seems odd that it would be interpolated into the middle of the list instead of at the end. Whatever the case, Tertullian's commentary also highlights that the things Paul enumerates are things that would traditionally be seen positively, but which Paul now disregards. "Persecuting the church" does not fit into such a list.
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Re: Philippians 3: "διώκω of the Assembly"

Post by billd89 »

https://lsj.gr/wiki/διώκω

Agreed, the sense of the verb I'm reading is impelling, urging or pursuing (positively) - like a dog drives sheep.
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Re: Philippians 3: "persecutor of the church"

Post by neilgodfrey »

rgprice wrote: Wed Jul 21, 2021 8:30 am Is having been a "persecutor of the church" something that would generally be seen a positive by traditional Jews, but as a "loss because of Christ"? I mean of course "persecuting the church" would be negative in light of being a follower of Christ, that goes without saying. Paul is listing off things that could be mistaken as signs of righteousness, but which he in fact now disregards.

The thing that could be mistaken as a sign of righteousness is not "persecution of the church", rather it is being a devout follower of the assembly. Traditional Jews would say, "Ahh, he is circumcised, he is a Pharisee, he devoutly participates in the assembly, he is right by the Law. He is a righteous Jews!" But Paul says, that despite these apparent signs that he is righteous, he considers all of those things meaningless, because none of those things are based on faith. Those are earthly symbols of righteousness, which Paul no longer finds satisfying. Persecuting "Christians" doesn't fit in this list.
Am I correct in thinking that the problem you present arises from attempting to reconcile our historical knowledge of Judaism and Pharisaism of the mid first centurty with what we read in Paul's letters?

If so, why do we think it is necessary to set Paul in the context of mid first century Judaism? Is not our rationale for making that contextualization drawn either from the internal evidence of Paul's letters and claims from multiple generations after that time? The internal evidence is problematic for two reasons: without independent confirmation traceable to the time we cannot take the internal claims at face value (letters could be written for many reasons in various voices and personas); and we have evidence that the internal organs were manipulated in the doctrinal wars of the second century.

Is it possible that what we read in Paul's letters is a late Christian parody or demonization of Judaism -- so righteous, super righteous, to the point of persecuting the "assembly"/church. Compare the gospels' hyper-righteous Pharisees persecuting Jesus for his righteousness, out of jealousy over his popularity.

True confession: I am currently studying Dubourg's idea of midrashic origins of the NT literature so fresh in my mind is his view that the Paul of our NT is drawn from King Saul: among a list of career (and midrashic) matches is Saul's pursuing/persecution of David.

Other Jews drew different midrashic interpretations and arrived at competing teachings: e.g. not all christs were named Jesus; and presumably not all Paul's were based on Saul, etc. Marcion's Paul was not the Saul-based Paul in our canon any more than his Jesus was our canon's OT-based Jesus.

I'm not going to fight to the death for these ideas. They are all somewhat ethereal at the moment. Just sharing another perspective.
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