Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (January-March 1998) 39-61.

          Copyright © 1998 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.



                  WERE THE OPPONENTS

                              AT PHILIPPI

                   NECESSARILY JEWISH?


                                        Herbert W. Bateman IV


Paul's allusion in Philippians to a group or groups of oppo-

nents has resulted in a myriad of suggestions. "One of the most

hotly debated issues in the contemporary study of Philippians is

that of the nature and identity of the opponents to whom Paul al-

ludes in his letter."1 Some suggest the opponents (or at least one

group of opponents) were Jews who went to Philippi in order to

"reconvert" Gentile Christians.2 Most writers, however, contend

they were Jewish Christian missionaries whose mission was to

influence Gentile Christians to adopt Jewish rituals.3 Yet should


Herbert W. Bateman IV is Associate Professor of New Testament Studies, Grace

College and Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana.


1 Peter T. O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1991), 26-27. Similar sentiments are expressed by Fee, who observed that "the sec-

ondary literature on this issue is second only to the huge output on 2:6-11" (Gordon

D. Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians, New International Commentary on the

New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995], 7).

2 Beare refers to them as "Jewish propagandists" (F. W. Beare, A Commentary on

the Epistle to the Philippians, Harper's New Testament Commentaries [New

York: Harper, 1959], 3-4, 100-102). Peter Richardson suggests they were Jews from

Thessalonica (Israel in the Apostolic Church [Cambridge: Cambridge University

Press, 1969], 111-17). The Jews in Acts, however, are generally depicted as perse-

cuting Christians, not reconverting or proselytizing them, especially in Thessa-

lonica (17:5-9; cf. 9:1-3). Yet this is not to deny Jewish "missionary" activity. The in-

crease of the Jewish population seems to argue that some form of proselytizing was

taking place (Salo W. Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews [New

York: Columbia University Press, 1952], 1:370-72). Also see A. F. J. Klijn, "Paul's

Opponents in Philippians iii," Novum Testamentum 7 (1965): 278-84; Ernst

Lohmeyer, Der Brief an die Philipper (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1974),

124-26, 153; and Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary

(Dallas, TX: Word, 1983), xliv-xlvii, 122-23.

3 Ellis refers to them as "a segment of the ritually strict Hebraioi in the Jerusa-

lem Church [who] with variations in nuance continued to post . . . a settled and

persistent ‘other’ gospel" (Earle E. Ellis, "Paul and His Opponents," in Christian-

ity, Judaism and Other Greco-Roman Cults, ed. Jacob Neusner [Leiden: Brill,

1975], 264-98, esp. 298; 280-81, 291-92, 298). Also see R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpreta-

tion of St. Paul's Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippi-

40 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1998


these opponents—who are typically called "Judaizers"—be lim-

ited to Jewish Christians or perhaps even non-Christian Jewish

"missionaries"? Is it possible that they were merely local Gen-

tiles who sympathized with and practiced Judaistic rituals?


                            THE PEOPLE OF PHILIPPI

Located about ten miles from the Aegean Sea on the eastern end of

the Via Egnatia, Philippi is identified as a Macedonian city

(Makedoni<aj po<lij, Acts 16:12). Philippi, however, was at one time

a Greek settlement known as Krenides (from krhnh<nde, "spring")

and under Thracian control.4 In his quest to strengthen Macedo-

nia's situation in the east, Philip II (Alexander the Great's father)

managed to seize control of the flourishing Greek gold-mining

town of Krenides. After he drove the Thracian ruler Ketriporis

from the city, Philip promptly repopulated Krenides with Mace-

donians, renamed the city Philippi, and incorporated the city into

his ever-growing Macedonian state in 356 B.C.5 Thus Philippi's

earliest history indicates that it was a Greek city-state, populated

by Greeks.6


ans (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961), 828–30; Jean-Francois Collange, L'epitre de

saint Paul aux Philippians, Commentaire du Nouveau Testament (Neuchatel:

Delachaux & Niestle, 1973), 28–30, 110; O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians; 33;

Moises Silva, Philippians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 3–5, 168–71; Mikael Tellbe, "The Sociological Factors

behind Philippians 3:1–11 and the Conflict at Philippi," Journal for the Study of

the New Testament 55 (1994): 97–121; and Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians, 9,


4 Krenides was founded as a result of Greece's expansion activities during the

sixth century B.C. Paros initially colonized Thasos, a large island in the north

Aegean Sea, which in turn secured gold and silver settlements on the mainland.

These mainland settlements, however, were not without struggles against the

warlike Thracians. Krenides was one such settlement (Strabo, Geography 7.34;

Diodorus, Bibliotheca Historica 16.3.7; Michael Grant and Rachel Kitzinger, eds.,

Greece and Rome, vol. 1 of Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean [New York:

Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988], 215; Oswyn Murray, Early Greece, 2d ed.

[Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993], 102–23, esp. 115–17).

5 Diodorus, Bibliotheca Historica 16.8.6–7. When Berisades, the Thracian ruler

of the Pangaion mining area, died, his children divided their father's kingdom

among themselves. Ketriporis received the Greek gold-mining town of Krenides.

However, a dispute arose between Ketriporis and the people of Krenides. Erring-

ton describes how "Philip executed his program of aid for Krenides with his usual

uncompromising persistence" (R. Malcolm Errington, A History of Macedonia

[Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990], 45–48; cf. Paul Collart,

Philippes, ville de Macedoine depuis ses origines jusqu' a la fin de l'epoque ro-

maine [Paris: de Boccord, 1937], 157-60).

6 Murray has suggested that Greeks may have intermarried with Thracians dur-

ing their early expansion activities on Thasos. After the colony was established,

however, the practice was discouraged or prohibited (Murray, Early Greece, 115).

If this is true, it may explain Thracian carvings of the so-called Thracian Horse-

Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?       41


            Although Philippi was part of the Macedonia state for nearly

190 years, Rome's aggressive activities in the east eventually

terminated Macedonia's autonomy. After the Battle of Pydna

(Third Macedonian War) in 168 B.C., Rome dismantled the

Macedonian state and eventually annexed Macedonia as a Ro-

man province in 148 B.C.7 With its gold mines exhausted,

Philippi's population declined to a small Greek settlement. How-

ever, because of circumstances in Rome, Philippi eventually rose

to a place of prominence as a Roman city. Octavian and Antony,

who desired to avenge the assassination of Julius Caesar (on

March 19, 44 B.C.), pursued and defeated Cassius and Brutus

(Julius Caesar's assassins) on the plains of Philippi in 42 B.C.8 As

a result of this victory, Octavian refounded Philippi as a military

colony, repopulated it with retired veterans, and named it Colonia

Victrix Philippensium. After his defeat of Antony at Actium in 31

B.C., Octavian further colonized Philippi with veterans, this time

discharged veterans from Antony's army, and renamed the city

Colonia Julia Philippensium. In 27 B.C. when Octavian was des-

ignated August, he once again lengthened Philippi's name—

Colonia Augusta Julia Philippensium. He also bestowed Roman

citizenship on the people of Philippi.9 Thus Octavian (Augustus)


man (a Horseman/Hero cult comparable to Asklepios, a Greco-Roman healing god)

on the acropolis—a hill near Philippi that served as an open-air shrine for pagan

cults. Abrahamsen suggests that Thrace "deeply influenced Philippi's religious

development" (Valerie Abrahamsen, "Christianity and the Rock Reliefs at

Philippi," Biblical Archaeologist 51 [March 1988]: 46-56). Perhaps this influence

began on Thasos and was transported to Krenides when Thasian Greeks expanded

to the mainland. Regardless of these archaeological findings, Philippi was a Greek-

speaking, Greek-populated, Greek-cultured city-state.

7 Errington, A History of Macedonia, 216-17; and Pliny, Natural History 4.10.39.

Although Macedonia functioned as an independent Greek state after the Second

Macedonian War, the Battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 B.C. led to Macedonia's becom-

ing a Roman province. Errington contends, "The external spheres of dominion and

influence that had turned Macedonia into a great power had been abolished, and

the Romans took care that they were never reestablished" (Errington, A History of

Macedonia, 204).

8 Plutarch, Lives 6.38.1-52.5; Cassius Dio, Roman History 47.42.1-49.4; and

Collart, Philippes, 191-219.

9 Julius Caesar and Octavian (Augustus) are credited with establishing most of

the military colonies for veterans and civilian settlers. Paul visited and estab-

lished churches in five such military colonies: Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-50),

Lystra (14:4-20), and Troas in Asia Minor (16:8-11; 20:6-12; 2 Tim. 4:13); Corinth in

Achaia (Acts 18:1-18); and Philippi in Macedonia (16:11-40). See A. N. Sherwin-

White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Grand Rapids:

Baker, 1963), 176-78. During New Testament times Roman citizenship outside of

Rome was rare. Even Caracalla's extended Roman citizenship in A.D. 212 was lim-

ited to male free (nonslave) people (Chris Scarre, Chronicles of the Roman Em-

perors: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial Rome [London:

Thames & Hudson, 19951, 136-46, esp. 146). For archaeological discussions see Col-

42      BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 1998


transformed the ancient Greek city-state Philippi into a Roman

municipality with significant rights and privileges granted only

to Roman citizens (i.e., it possessed lex Italicum). In essence

Philippi was a Greco-Roman city with clout.

            By the time Paul came to Philippi in A.D. 50/51 the city was

populated by both Greeks and Romans. In fact the few people

Scripture specifically mentions in connection with the Philippian

church had Greek (Lydia, Acts 16:14-15; Euodia and Syntyche,

Phil. 4:2) and Roman (Clement, Phil. 4:2) names. Although the

"frequent theme of Acts," might support Schwartz's claim that

"Paul's accusers in Philippi are Jewish not Gentile,"10 Acts

clearly indicates that no significant Jewish population existed in

Philippi. When Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke arrived at

Philippi, they went outside the city gate to the Gangites River,

where they expected to find a "place of prayer" (proseuxh<, Acts

16:13a).11 Traditionally ten men were needed to establish a syna-

gogue (Pirke Abot 3.7). Philippi's Jewish population, however,

seems to have been unique in that it consisted of women only;

Luke wrote that he and the others spoke "to the women who had as-

sembled" at the place of prayer (16:13b). Thus the Jewish popula-

tion at Philippi was not only scanty in number,12 but also it seems


lart, Philippes, 240–41; and Marcus N. Todd, "Notes on Two Published Inscrip-

tions," Annual of the British School at Athens 23 (1918–19): 94–97.

10 Schwartz believes the accusers in Acts 16:20–21 were Jewish. He cites three

reasons in support of this. (1) "Acts frequently shows born Jews, who are now

Christians, practicing and teaching non-Jewish practices (and beliefs)—and at

times attacked by Jews for doing so" (Acts 4:1–3; 5:17–18; 6:8–14; 7:52, 57–58; 8:1–4;

9:1–2, 23; 12:3; 13:6–8, 45, 50; 14:19; 17:5, 13; 18:6, 12; 19:9; 20:3; 21:11, 27; 22:22; 23:12–15,

30; 28:19). (2) "Conversion to Christianity was not forbidden by law until the mid-

second century, well after both the incident and the composition of Acts." (3) Paul

and Silas were charged with teaching Christianity, not Judaism (1 Thess. 2:2). Con-

sequently Schwartz suggests translating Acts 16:20–21 in the following manner:

"And they brought them to the magistrates, saying: ‘Although they are Jews

( ]Ioudai?oi u[pa<rxontej, concessive ptc), these men are upsetting our city for (kai<)

they are teaching practices which are unlawful for us (i.e., Jews) to accept or do, be-

ing Romans'" (Daniel R. Schwartz, "The Accusation and the Accusers at Philippi,"

Biblica 65 [1984]: 357–63). Although Schwartz's rendering of Acts 16:20–21 is gram-

matically possible, the historical and immediate context does not support his

translation. In addition Gentile insurrection against Paul in Philippi is not an iso-

lated event in Acts, as Schwartz suggests. Gentile insurrection occurred in Eph-

esus (16:23–34) and insulting Gentile reaction against Paul occurred in Athens

(17:18, 32).

11 Although "place of prayer" (proseuxh<) can mean a synagogue, Conzelmann con-

tends that "it is strange that the author then says ou$ e]nomi<zomen, ‘where we sup-

posed there was a place of prayer.' It is even stranger," he continues, "that only

women were there" (Hans Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles, Hermeneia

[Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987], 130).

12 "To the scanty numbers and feeble influence of the Jews," Lightfoot believes, "we

may perhaps in some degree ascribe the unswerving allegiance of this church to

     Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?       43


to have been composed exclusively of women. Hence no syna-

gogue or large population of Jews existed in Philippi.

            Before Paul's visit, Philippi was composed of Greek and

Roman Gentiles, with some Jewish women, and at least one

woman, Lydia, who was a God-fearer or "worshiper of God"

(sebome<nh to>n qeo<n, v. 14). Of course the lack of a Jewish syna-

gogue, the presence of a small Jewess population, or the mention

of only Gentile conversions in Acts 16 does not eliminate the pos-

sibility that Paul's opponents there were Jewish. Nevertheless it

helps to know that historical reconstructions are necessary to

support Jewish ethnicity of the opponents typically referred to as

Judaizers. Two reconstructions are noted.

            One reconstruction is that Jewish missionaries followed

Paul to either "reconvert" or to further convert Gentile Chris-

tians. However, the Jews in Acts are depicted as following Paul

not to reconvert or proselytize Christians but to persecute them

(14:19; 17:5-9; cf. 9:1-3). In addition Jewish Christian Judaizers,

whose supposed mission was to follow Paul and "further convert"

Gentile churches, seem to have limited their appearances to

Galatia, Corinth, and Philippi. Why? Why not Ephesus and

Colossae as well? Also lexical parallels frequently made with

Galatians and 2 Corinthians to support the Jewish Judaizer view-

point13 overlook the different tones and emphases that exist be-

tween Philippians, Galatians,14 and 2 Corinthians.15


the person of the Apostle and to the true principles of the Gospel" (J. B. Lightfoot,

St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians [London: Macmillan, 1913; reprint, Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1953], 53). Also see Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of

Luke-Acts: A Literary Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1990), 2:196, n. 4; and

F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, New International Commentary on the New Testa-

ment (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 331.

13 Several plausible arguments have been presented to connect Galatians and 2

Corinthians with Philippians in an attempt to identify Paul's opponents as Jewish.

See Ellis, "Paul and His Opponents," 264–98; Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians,

294–97; and O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 355–56.

14 According to Lea the teachings of the Jewish Judaizers in Galatia were viewed

as "a threat to the spiritual condition of his converts" (6:12) and "if legal obedience

were a method of salvation, the death of Jesus was unnecessary (Gal. 2:20–21 [sic] )"

(Thomas D. Lea, "Unscrambling the Judaizers: Who Were Paul's Opponents?"

Southwestern Journal of Theology 44 [1994]: 23–29). In Philippians, however, the

opposers were not a threat to the spiritual condition of the saints in Philippi nor

was their method of salvation based on obedience to the Law. It seems that despite

their motivation for preaching Christ, Paul rejoiced in that Christ was being

preached (Phil. 1:15–18); mentioning the opponents' eternal doom, Paul encouraged

the saints to maintain an unwavering and unified stance against them (1:27–28);

and Paul used them as an object lesson to encourage the community to avoid mixing

the ritualistic practices of Judaism with Christianity (3:2). Thus differences in

tone mitigate against identifying the opponents in Philippians with those in Gala-


44     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1998


            A second historical reconstruction speculates that Paul

merely addressed a potential problem. It is argued that Paul,

though absent at the time of his writing, prepared the Philippians

for a potential conflict with Jewish Christian Judaizers.16 Yet

Paul's letters usually, if not always, addressed real—not poten-

tialproblems that required immediate instruction or guidance.

Thus with these and similar reconstructions many writers con-

clude that the opponents in Philippi were mission-minded Jews—

whether propagandists, Christian, or Gnostic17—who followed

Paul and sought to supplant his message.

            A third historical reconstruction less frequently argued is

that the opponents were “Gentile Judaizers.”18 Perhaps a group of

professing Christians existed in Philippi who entertained Jewish

practices (e.g., circumcision), but they were Gentiles and hence

were local Gentile Judaizers. This suggestion raises several

questions. How could a Gentile be circumcised or observe Jewish


15 According to Garland, "the parallels between Phil. 3 and 2 Cor. 11 are by no

means precise." After noting the fact that Paul was not on the defensive in Philip-

pians and his apostleship was not in dispute as it was in 2 Corinthians, Garland

points out that "there is no hint of circumcision in 2 Corinthians; nor is there any

hint in Philippians that the church has fallen prey to intruders (see 2 Cor. 11:4) or

that they would even be received sympathetically" (David E. Garland, "The Compo-

sition and Unity of Philippians," Novum Testamentum 27 [1985]: 141-73, esp. 168, n.

94). In fact 2 Corinthians 10–13 is more of an apologetic against clear accusations.

Again differences in tone mitigate against identifying the opponents in Philippi

with those in Corinth.

16 Lightfoot suggests that Paul's flow of thought was "interrupted." "He is in-

formed," Lightfoot supposes, "of some fresh attempt of the Judaizers in the

metropolis to thwart and annoy him. What if they should interfere at Philippi as

they were doing at Rome, and tamper with the faith and loyalty of his converts?

With this thought weighing on his spirit he resumes his letter" (St. Paul's Epistle

to the Philippians, 69–70). Fee argues, "There is no suggestion in the text that they

(i.e. ‘[apparently] Jewish Christians’) are actually present in Philippi" (Fee,

Paul's Letter to the Philippians, 9, 293).

17 Koester describes them as Jewish Christian Gnostics who preached a message

of perfectionism that was part of a "radicalized spiritualistic eschatology" (Helmut

Koester, "The Purpose of the Polemic of a Pauline Fragment," New Testament Stud-

ies 8 [1962]: 317–32; cf. Ralph Martin, Philippians, New Century Bible Commentary

[Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982], 22-34, 124–26). Holladay agrees but refers to their

eschatology as an "over-realized eschatology" (Carl R. Holladay, "Paul's Opponents

in Philippians 3," Restoration Quarterly 12 [1969]: 77–90). Also see Joseph B.

Tyson, "Paul's Opponents at Philippi," Perspectives 3 (1976): 82-95. For a discus-

sion of the weaknesses of this view see O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 27-

29, and Chris L. Mearns, "The Identity of Paul's Opponents at Philippi," New Tes-

tament Studies (1987): 194–204.

18 Grayston argues that they were "a Gentile semi-gnostic group who had adopted

ritual circumcision in a manner which Paul regarded as outrageous and shameful"

(Kenneth Grayston, "The Opponents in Philippians 3," Expository Times 97 [March

1986]: 170-72).

     Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?      45


practices, and still be considered a Gentile? Antiquity reveals,

however, that circumcision is not the sine qua non for Gentile

conversion. Nor is the observance of Jewish rituals an indication

of one's proselytism. If this is true, then what in antiquity differ-

entiated a Jewish sympathizer or semi-Jew from a Jewish prose-



                          DEFINING JEWISHNESS

The pervasive influence of Judaism throughout the Mediter-

ranean during the first century cannot be ignored easily. On the

one hand Josephus lauded Judaism's influence in the Mediter-

ranean area. "The masses have long since shown a keen desire

to adopt our religious observances; and there is not one city,

Greek or barbarian, nor a single nation, to which our custom of

abstaining from work on the seventh day has not spread, and [in

which] many of our prohibitions in the matter of food are not ob-

served."19 On the other hand Seneca bemoaned Judaism's im-

pact. "Meanwhile the customs of this accursed race have gained

such influence that they are now received throughout all the

world. The vanquished have given laws to their victors."20 Bar-

clay points out that though they were a minority, the Jews were not

powerless.21 The Jewish people of antiquity worked the Roman

system efficaciously. Thus they practiced Judaism freely and

thereby influenced many Gentiles—"God-fearers" (Acts 13:16,

48–50; 14:1; 16:14; 17:4, 17) or Gentile Judaizers. This raises the

question of when a person of antiquity lost his Gentile identity

and became a Jew.

            As a result of his research about conversion and intermar-

riage in antiquity, Cohen points out that "a gentile who engaged

inJudaizing’ behavior may have been regarded as a Jew by gen-

tiles, but as a gentile by Jews. A gentile who was accepted as a

proselyte by one community may not have been so regarded by

another."22 Since no two Diaspora environments were alike, Co-


19 Josephus, Against Apion 2.38.282.

20 Menahem Stern, From Herodotus to Plutarch, vol. 1 of Greek and Latin Au-

thors on Jews and Judaism (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humani-

ties, 1976), 431.

21 John M. G. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to

Trajan (323 BCE to 117 CE) (Edinburgh: Clark, 1996), 276-81, 298-99, 318.

22 Shaye J. D. Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," Harvard The-

ological Review 82 (1989): 13-33. A similar but converse discussion occurs in John

M. G. Barclay's "Levels of Assimilation among Egyptian Jews" and "Levels of As-


46    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January–March 1998

hen's latter statements reveal the complexity of the issue. Never-

theless identifying behavior that defined Jewishness in antiquity

is relevant to Luke's description of "God-fearers" or "worshipers

of God"23 as well as those whom Paul described in Philippians.

            Cohen describes seven forms of "Judaizing" behavior by

which a Gentile became less a Gentile and more a Jew.24 Of the

seven, the last four are of particular interest for New Testament

studies. Cohen's fourth behavior is the practicing of some or

many of the rituals of the Jews.25 Gentiles who practiced fasting,


similation among Diaspora Jews outside Egypt," in Jews in the Mediterranean Di-

aspora, 103–24, 320-35. Barclay's object of study, however, is limited to the

Mediterranean Diaspora (i.e., Egypt, Cyrenaica, the province of Syria, the province

of Asia, and the city of Rome).

23 Luke used "worshipers of God" and "God-fearers" interchangeably. He de-

scribed a group of Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch as "the ones who fear God" (oi[

fobou<menoi to>n qeo<n, 13:16, 26) as well as "worshiping proselytes" (tw?n sebome<nwn

proshlu<twn, v. 43), and "worshiping women" (ta>j sebome<naj gunai?kaj, v. 50). While

some of the Gentile worshipers in Antioch rejected the gospel, a portion accepted it

(v. 50). In Thessalonica, however, all the "worshiping Greeks" (tw?n sebome<nwn

[Ellh<nwn, 17:4) seem to have accepted the gospel. Luke also named some individual

Gentiles as worshipers of God, including Lydia of Philippi (sebome<nh to>n qeo<n,

16:14) and Titius Justus of Corinth (sebome<nou to>n qeo<n, 18:7), as well as the Roman

centurion who was a "devout and God-fearing man" (eu]sebh>j kai> fobou<menoj to>n

qeo<n, 10:2) and a "righteous and God-fearing man" (a]nh>r di<kaioj kai> fobou<menoj

to>n qeo<n, v. 22). Some, however, question and even deny the existence of such peo-

ple. Based on the alleged lack of archaeological evidence for Diaspora Judaism,

MacLennan and Kraabel "strongly doubt that there ever was a large and broadly

based group of gentiles known as God-fearers" (Robert S. MacLennan and A.

Thomas Kraabel, "The God-Fearers—A Literary and Theological Invention," Bibli-

cal Archaeology Review 12 [September/October 1986]: 46–53). Archaeological finds

at Aphrodisia, however, seem to support the existence of God-fearers as does the

overwhelming evidence cited by Feldman from classical, Talmudic, and Christian

literature, from Philo to Josephus as well as from inscriptions and papyri. See

Robert F. Tannenbaum, "Jews and God-fearers in the Holy City of Aphrodite," Bib-

lical Archaeology Review 12 (September/October 1986): 55–57; Louis Feldman, "The

Omnipresence of the God–Fearers," Biblical Archaeology Review 12 (September/

October 1986): 58–69; and J. Andrew Overman, "The God-Fearers: Some Neglected

Features," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 32 (February 1988): 17–26.

24 Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 14. For a complementary

discussion see Shaye J. D. Cohen, " ‘Those Who Say They Are Jews and Are Not':

How Do You Know a Jew in Antiquity When You See One?" in Diasporas in Antiq-

uity, ed. S. J. D. Cohen and E. S. Frerichs (Atlanta: Scholars, 1993): 1-45.

25 The first three forms of behavior Cohen discussed are these: (1) admiring some

aspect of Judaism, such as imitating Jewish unanimity, liberal charities, en-

durance under persecution on behalf of the Law (Josephus, Against Apion

2.39.283); (2) acknowledging the power of the God of the Jews like Helidorus (2

Mace. 3:35–39), Alexander the Great (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 7.4–

5.329–39); (3) benefiting the Jews or being conspicuously friendly to Jews—pro-Jew-

ishlike Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:2–4), Petronius, the Syrian governor who refused

to follow Caligula's instruction to erect a statue in the temple (Philo, Legation to

Gaius 33.245). One might also add Augustus and Agrippa (Peter Richardson,

Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans [Columbia, SC: University of

       Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?       47


lighting of lamps, abstention from pork, refraining from work

on the Sabbath, attendance at synagogues and public ceremonies,

and eating kosher food were perceived by non-Jews as behaving

like a Jew.26 For example during the trial of VerresRome's

chief administrator of Sicily (73–71 B.C.) who was accused of ex-

tortion and whom Cicero defended—a public official named Cae-

cilius who had served with Verres was believed to be Judaizing

(i]oudai<zein). However, since verres is the Roman word for "pig,"

Cicero joked about the allegation by saying, "What has a Jew to do

with a Verres?"27 Although Cicero's pun may be apocryphal,

Plutarch conveyed the notion that if a Gentile observed customs of

a Jew, that person was a Judaizer. For the Jew, however, the prac-

tice of Jewish rituals merely served as an outward indication that

a Gentile was behaving like a Jew.

            The fifth "Judaizing" behavior by which a Gentile became

less a Gentile and more a Jew was the veneration of the God of the

Jews and the denial of pagan gods.28 More specifically, the

Gentile's religious ceremony was void of images and his worship

was limited to Israel's God. For instance, when the Persian king

(in the apocryphal Bel and the Dragon) allowed Daniel to destroy

Bel, Bel's temple, and the "great dragon which the Babylonians

revered," they charged the king with becoming a Jew: "The king

has become a Jew" ( ]Ioudai?oj ge<gonen o[ basileu<j).29 According to


South Carolina Press, 1996], 226–34). For further discussion and examples see Co-

hen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 15–20. These first three are not

as significant as the last four because they do not imply that the Gentile is

"becoming a Jew."

26 Cohen differentiates between those practices that bring a person into direct

contact with the Jewish community (i.e., attendance at synagogues and public cer-

emonies) and the other rituals that do not (Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Be-

coming a Jew," 20-21).

27 Stern, From Herodotus to Plutarch, 566. Compare Barclay's discussion in Jews

in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 287–91. A similar third-century example is evi-

dent in Dio Cassius. Mingled with his discussion of Pompey, Dio Cassius de-

scribed the country of Judea and the people who had been named Jews. "I do not

know how this title [ ]Iousdai?oi] came to be given them," he said, "but it applies also to

all the rest of mankind, although of alien race, who [are devoted to] their customs"

(Manahem Stern, From Tacitus to Simplicius, vol. 2 of Greek and Latin Authors on

Jews and Judaism [Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1980],


28 Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 21-24.

29 Bel and the Dragon, vv. 22, 26, 28; and the Septuagint of Daniel 14:22, 26, 28. Co-

hen also cites two other early examples. Second Maccabees 9:17 exemplifies Anti-

ochus Epiphanes' depiction of "being a Jew" as linked with proclaiming the power

of the God of the Jews, and Josephus depicted Izates as having venerated God be-

fore converting to Judaism and practicing Jewish laws (Josephus, The Antiquities

of the Jews 20.2.3––47). Izates' final step of conversion was circumcision.


48    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 1998


the allegation of his Gentile subjects, the king's anti-idol

behavior earned him the designation "Jew." In fact Philo argued

that "the proselyte is one who circumcises not his uncircumcision

but his desires and sensual pleasures and the other passions of the

soul.... But what is the mind of the proselyte if not alienation

from belief in many gods and familiarity with the one god and

father of all?"30 Taken in isolation, adherence to monotheism

seems to have been Philo's emphasis, not the observance of the

rituals of Jewish Law (such as circumcision). Although Philo

maintained that circumcision was important, turning from

idolatry was a significant step in behaving less like a Gentile

and more like a Jew.

            Early Jewish literature emphasizes that Abraham, the

archetype of one who turned from idols to worship one God, ven-

erated God apart from observance of Jewish rituals.31 Thus

Philo's monotheistic sentiment is reinforced. Barclay points out,

however, that monotheism "obscures the significance of cultic

practice in defining acceptable or unacceptable religion."32 What

concerned the majority of Jews in the Diaspora "was not nomen-

clature so much as the worship of beings other than the one, invis-

ible Deity."33 Despite the importance of worshiping Yahweh

alone, that in itself did not make a Gentile a Jew. Thus a Gentile

who denied idolatry and paid homage only to Yahweh was


Josephus, however, also presented another perspective concerning Izates' conver-

sion and circumcision (see note 30).

30 Philo, Questions and Answers on Exodus 2.2, as translated in Cohen, "Crossing

the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 21. Although "the presence or absence of the

foreskin was ... a wholly superficial phenomenon," Barclay points out that "Philo

knew that it counted for a lot more in the eyes of the Jewish community in Alexan-

dria than a [Jew's] profound knowledge of Greek philosophy (Migratione Abra-

hami 89-93)." Philo's concern, however, was a Jew's claim to Judaism based solely

on the absence of his foreskin (Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 91).

Nevertheless Josephus echoed a comment similar to Philo's when he recorded

Ananias telling King Izates that "the king could . . . worship God even without being

circumcised if indeed he had fully decided to be a devoted adherent of Judaism, for

it was this that counted more than circumcision" (Josephus, The Antiquities of the


31 Abraham was said to have destroyed his father's idols (Jubilees 12:1-12; Apoca-

lypse of Abraham 1:1-8:6; Philo, On the Virtues 39.212-18) and believed in the one

true God (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews; Philo, On the Virtues

39.219). Job is also described as one who destroyed his idols to worship the one true

God (Testament of Job 2:1-5:3). Cohen also identifies rabbinic sources that say

"anyone who denies idolatry is called a Jew" (b. Megilla 13a). Intertestamental and

rabbinic literature vigorously denounces idolatry (Wisdom of Solomon 14:8-15:18;

b Nedarim 25a). See Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 22, n. 24.

32 Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 429 (italics his).

33 Ibid. Also see Philo, Of the Decalogue 52-65.


     Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?       49


branded a Jew or Judaizer by Gentiles, but for Jews it merely in-

dicated that he was behaving less like a Gentile and more like a


            Joining the Jewish community without undergoing a reli-

gious conversion (i.e., "nominal conversion"), according to Co-

hen, was the sixth Judaizing behavior that indicated a Gentile

was becoming a Jew.34 Two sorts of nominal conversions seem to

have existed. One form of nominal conversion occurred in the

institution of slavery. When a Gentile male slave was acquired,

he was circumcised, and when emancipated, he or she attained

the status of a proselyte.35  Although the Jewish community might

not grant proselyte status to a slave until after manumission,

Gentiles were inclined to view any circumcised individual

(slave or free) as a Jew.

            The other form of nominal conversion occurred in the insti-

tution of marriage. For instance, Genesis 41:45 records that when

Pharaoh elevated Joseph to high office, Pharaoh gave Asenath,

daughter of the priest of On (LXX: Heliopolis), to be Joseph's wife.

That briefly mentioned marriage was "an invitation for an

imaginative literary exercise in which themes from Greek ro-

mance were combined with a detailed portrayal of Asenath's con-

version."36 Hence Joseph and Asenath was written (ca. 100 B.C.–

A.D. 100). Although Asenath's marriage to Joseph symbolized to

Egyptian Gentiles her incorporation into Judaism, the story re-

veals that during her betrothal period she was merely a nominal

convert, not a proselyte, until she turned from dead gods to the liv-

ing God (11:8; 12:5).37

            A man who desired to marry a Jewess generally needed first

to be circumcised. On the one hand Azizus, king of Emesa, was

circumcised so that he might marry Drusilla,38 and Polemo,

king of Cilicia, was circumcised so that he might marry Ber-

nice.39 On the other hand Herod the Great prevented a marriage


34 Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 24-26.

35 Ibid., 24. Later rabbinic literature seems to emphasize that a slave who per-

formed ritual ablution could acquire emancipation (b. Yebamot 46a).

Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 204.

37 Ibid., 204-16, esp. 213 and then 209.

38 Drusilla, the youngest of Herod Agrippa's daughters (Josephus, The Antiqui-

ties of the Jews;, was initially promised to Epiphanes by

Agrippa, but Epiphanes was unwilling to convert to Judaism. So Drusilla was given

in marriage to Azizus by her brother, Agrippa II (ibid., She is later

mentioned in Acts 24:24 as Felix's Jewish wife.

39 Ibid.,–46. Cohen points out, however, that the sincerity of these con-

versions can be gauged by subsequent events. For instance, when Bernice aban-


50   BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January–March 1998


from taking place between his sister Salome and Syllaeus be-

cause Syllaeus refused to be circumcised. Why? Richardson

points out that "Syllaeus's ambitions with respect to the Nabatean

throne conflicted seriously with identification as a Jew, so he re-

fused."40 Thus Gentiles equated circumcision in the case of mar-

riage with being a Jew. Jewish communities, however, consid-

ered a Gentile who was willingly circumcised as merely being

willing to separate himself from non-Jews and to integrate into

Jewish society, practice Jewish rituals, and be involved in the ex-

clusive worship of Yahweh. Although the act was a painfully sig-

nificant indication of one's openness to becoming a Jew, it

reflected a nominal commitment or nominal conversion.

            The seventh step to becoming a Jew, according to Cohen, was

conversion. Despite the diversity that existed between the various

Diaspora communities in the Mediterranean area, Cohen's final

"Judaizing" behavior of conversion involved all three of the pre-

vious forms: the practice of Jewish laws (category 4), exclusive

devotion to Yahweh (category 5), and integration into the Jewish

community (category 6).41 Regardless of what the non-Jewish

community concluded, the Jews realized that a Gentile who prac-

ticed any one category in isolation was not a proselyte.

            While gingerly identifying the behaviors that formed a cohe-

sive identity for all Jews of the Diaspora, Barclay lists four fea-

tures of the Jewish pattern of life that "marked off Diaspora Jews


doned Polemo, he abandoned Judaism (Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becom-

ing a Jew," 25). Exceptions to requiring male circumcision before marriage existed.

One biblical example may be Timothy's father who married the Jewess Eunice (Acts

16:1; 2 Tim. 1:5). Many children of Jews in the Diaspora who married Gentiles were

assimilated among their respective Gentile communities because Jewish parents

failed to raise their children as Jews (Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Dias-

pora, 107-8).

40 Richardson, Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans, 276; cf. 44. Ho-

race (A.D. 65–68) humorously referred to "the clipped Jews." Like Horace, Persius

(A.D. 34–62), Petronius (mid-first century A.D.), and Martial (end of the first cen-

tury A.D.) were poets who viewed circumcision as an indication of Jewishness. In

fact, any circumcised person of Rome was assumed to be a Jew and liable to pay the

Jewish tax as war reparations for the revolt of A.D. 66–70. Although circumcision

was a mark of Jewishness in the west, it was not in the east because portions of

Asia Minor, Syria, Arabia, and Egypt also practiced circumcision (Cohen, "’Those

Who Say They Are Jews and Are Not,’ " 12-22). For parallel discussion see Barclay,

Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 310-17.

41 Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 26–30. Although Cohen

never specifically identifies the fact that he is limiting his discussion to the

Mediterranean area, his examples do. As a result, Barclay's discussions closely

parallel Cohen's. However, Cohen discusses what it took for a Gentile to become a

Jew, whereas Barclay discusses what it took for a Jew to remain a Jew in the

Mediterranean Diaspora.


   Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?      51


from their neighbors and thus gave definition to Jewish iden-

tity."42 In reverse order they are (a) the practical distinctions that

defined their social identity such as the worship of Yahweh void of

idolatry, separatism at meals, male circumcision, Sabbath ob-

servance (Cohen's first two categories); (b) social and symbolic

resources on which Diaspora Jews consistently drew such com-

munity activities, links with the temple and homeland, the Law

and Moses, and Jewish Scripture; and (c) most significantly, the

ethnic bond, which is the core of Diaspora Judaism (Cohen's third

category).43 Barclay observes that "when non-Jews adopted Ju-

daism as proselytes, they underwent such a thorough resocializa-

tion as to acquire in effect a new ‘ethnicity’ in kinship and cus-

tom."44 Although Cohen and Barclay broach the discussion from

different perspectives, they basically agree. A fourth element, ac-

cording to Barclay, was the social and symbolic resources that

drew Diaspora Jews together. Thus if one accepts Cohen's and

Barclay's corresponding definitions of Jewishness in the

Mediterranean Diaspora, and if no significant Jewish population

existed in Philippi, what reliable evidence exists in Philippians

that the opponents Paul spoke of were ethnic Jews?



Most of Paul's references to the opponents in Philippians are

vague and nondescript. Thus their identity is concealed. Never-

theless those who opposed (tw?n a]ntikeime<nwn, 1:28) the saints in

Philippi may be referred to in four statements in Philippians

(1:15-17; 1:27-28; 3:2-3; and 3:18-21).



One implicit reference to the opponents occurs in Philippians

1:15-17. While informing the Philippians how the gospel was

spreading in Rome (assuming a Roman confinement), Paul

digressed to review the contrasting motivations of two groups of

preachers. He wrote, "Some people [tine<j] repeatedly preach


42 Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 428.

43 Ibid., 399-444.

44 Ibid., 408. Barclay considers ethnicity to refer to "a combination of kinship and

custom, reflecting both shared genealogy and common behavior" (ibid., 403). Tacitus

reflected a similar grouping of events. He said distinctive customs of the Jews in-

cluded eating separately, not being involved in mixed marriages, and circumcision.

Converts learned to despise the gods, shed their patristic loyalties, and treat their

parents, children, and siblings as of little account (Histories 5.5.1—2). For a full

quotation of Tacitus see Cohen, " ‘Those Who Say They Are Jews and Are Not,’ " 16-



52   BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January–March 1998


[khru<ssousin] Christ out of envy and in opposition to me, but others

are preaching Christ out of good will. Motivated by their love [e]c

a]ga<phj] for me, the latter [oi[ me<n] proclaim Christ because they

know [ei]do<tej] that God chose me to defend the gospel. Motivated

by self-interest [e]c e]riqei<aj], the former [oi[ de<] proclaim Christ

because they imagine [oi]o<menoi] it will cause me grief [qli?yin

e]gei<rein]" (author's paraphrase).45

            The contrasting motives of these two groups of preachers were

based on their relationship with Paul. Some in both Rome and

Philippi preached Christ because of their love for Paul. Since Paul

viewed the saints at Philippi as "partners" in serving and suffer-

ing for the gospel (1:5, 7; 3:10; 4:14),46 their motivation was obvi-

ously based on their love for him (1:3-7; 2:25; 4:14-18). Those

who preached Christ in an attempt to grieve Paul reflected the per-

sonal opposition he was facing in Rome—perhaps not unlike the

antagonism the church was facing in Philippi (1:27-28).  Never-

theless the identity of this group of anti-Pauline preachers is

rather nondescript. Nothing in 1:15-17 supports a reference to a

group of ethnic Jewish opponents.

            Yet regardless of the contrasting motivations of these

preachers, whether in Rome or Philippi, Paul was pleased that

Christ was being proclaimed (1:18).



While encouraging the Philippians to live Christ-honoring lives,

Paul hoped to hear of their stance against those who opposed them.

"Only live your lives [politeu<esqe] in a manner worthy of the

gospel of Christ; so that [i!na] whether I come and see you or I

remain absent, I may hear of your circumstances—that you are

unified in your stance [sth<kete e]n e[ni> pneu<mati] by struggling

together for the faith of the gospel, and by not being frightened in

any way by those who oppose you. Your confident and unified

stance [h!tij] is a sign to your opponents [au]toi?j] concerning their


45 For a detailed look at the antithetic parallelism see O'Brien, The Epistle to the

Philippians, 97-98.

46 Although koinwni<a can mean participation, impartation, or fellowship, in

Philippians 3:10 koinwni<a indicates common participation ,or sharing in suffering

(cf. common sharing in Plato, Republic 1.16.343d; 5.13.466c; Papiri Fiorentini 1.41.5;

1 Cor. 10:16–17). In Philippians 1:5, 7; and 4:14 koinwni<a, sugkoinwno<j, and sugkoin-

wne<w indicate a working participation or partnership for a specific goal--spread-

ing the gospel message (cf. business relationships in Plato, Republic 5.10.462b; Lev.

6:2 [LXX]; Sirach 42:3; and Amherst Papyri 2.92.18). Paul referred to Titus as "my

partner" (koinwno>j e]mo>j, 2 Cor. 8:23). For further discussion see Fredrich Hauck,

"koinwno<j ktl.," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel

and Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 3:804-9.

        Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?          53


inevitable torment and death [a]pwlei<aj], but for you they are a

sign of your salvation, which is from God" (author's paraphrase).

            Philippians 1:28 highlights that the church's confident and

unified stance was a sign, on the one hand, of salvation to the

saints, and, on the other hand, of everlasting torment and death

(a]pwlei<a, lit. "destruction")47 for those who opposed the believers

in Philippi. This reference, like the one in 1:15-17, is vague and

thus veils the identity of those whom Paul explicitly mentioned

here in 1:28 as "those who oppose" (tw?n a]ntikeime<nwn the saints at

Philippi. Nothing in 1:27–28 supports a reference to a group of

ethnic Jewish opponents. Although the sort of opposition is not

specified, perhaps the conflict concerned their preaching (1:15–

17). Whoever they were and whatever the conflict, they were not

saints, since they would experience everlasting torment.



A third contrast occurs in Philippians 3:2–3, in which Paul gave

an unmistakable and resolute charge to the church. "Continually

consider [ble<pete] those dogs, continually reflect on [ble<pete]

those evilworkers, continually give thought to [ble<pete] the muti-

lators of the flesh. For we are the true people of God [h[ peritomh<]

the ones who serve in God's Spirit [oi[ pneu<mati qeou? latreu<ontej],

and the ones who place their confidence [kauxw<menoi] in Christ Je-

sus and not in Jewish rituals [ou]k e]n sarki> pepoiqo<tej]” (author's

paraphrase). The threefold repetition of ble<pete in the present

tense signals perpetual action and also serves as a point of con-

vergence concerning those who opposed the saints at Philippi


47 The word a]pwlei<a ("destruction") is typically used of those who attempt to

thwart God's program (Judas, John 17:12; Antichrist, 2 Thess. 2:3) or distort God's

message (2 Pet. 2:3; 3:16). The destruction is an everlasting state of torment for un-

godly people (2 Pet. 3:7; cf. Matt. 7:13), the Beast, and people whose names are not

written in the Book of Life (Rev. 17:8, 11). Thus "destruction" seems to speak of an

everlasting state of torment and death for the unregenerate. Since those who op-

posed the church at Philippi were doomed to destruction, the ones referred to in

Philippians 1:28 and 3:19 were probably unregenerate. For other occurrences see

Albrect Oepke, "a]po<llumi, a]pw<leia,  ]Apollu<wn," in Theological Dictionary of the

New Testament, 1 (1964): 394-97.

48 After tracing the usage of ble<pete in the New Testament, apostolic fathers, and

the Septuagint, Kilpatrick concludes that when ble<pete is used with the accusative

it has the meaning "look at" or "consider" (Mark 4:24; 1 Cor. 1:26; 10:18; 2 Cor. 10:7;

Col. 4:17). "There is no example," argues Kilpatrick, "of ble<pein used with the ac-

cusative demonstrably with the meaning ‘beware of’" (G. D. Kilpatrick, "BLEPETE,

Philippians 3:2," in Memoriam Paul Kahle, ed. M. Black and G. Fohrer [Berlin:

Topelmann, 19681, 146-48). This rendering is of particular importance to Philippi-

ans 3:2 for two reasons. It supports, as Kilpatrick notes, a smooth connection be-

tween 3:1 and 3:2, and it supports the idea that whoever these individuals were, the

Philippians were to "consider" them continually.

54     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1998


(1:27-28).49 Thus Paul called on the Philippian saints to under-

stand their opponents and thereby to avoid mixing ritualistic

practices of Judaism (e.g., circumcision) with Christianity.

            The appellations "those dogs" (tou>j ku<naj), "those evildoers"

(tou>j kakou<j e]rga<taj), and "the mutilators" (th>n katatomh<n) are

ascribed to a group of people who apparently claimed to be God's

people but were not (cf. 1:15-17, 27-29). These negative appella-

tions contrast positive designations attributed to the saints in

Philippi, as seen in the following lines.50


"those dogs"                                       "the true people of God"

(tou>j ku<naj)                                    (h[mei?j . . . e]smen h[ peritomh<)


those evilworkers                           "the ones who serve in God's Spirit"

(tou>j kakou<j e]rga<taj)                (oi[ pneu<mati qeou? latreu<ontej)


the mutilators”                                 "the ones who place their confidence in

(th>n katatomh<n)                            Jesus Christ and not in Jewish rituals"

                                                            (kauxw<menoi e]n Xrist&?   ]Ihsou? kai> ou]k

                                                            e]n sarki> pepoiqo<tej).


            Once again Paul contrasted saints with those who opposed the

church at Philippi. This passage, however, is a little more de-

scriptive than the previous ones. The very ones who preached

Christ based on self-interest (e]c e]riqei<aj, 1:17) and who would

suffer eternal torment (a]pwlei<a, 1:28) seem to have practiced at

least one ritual (viz., circumcision) that is typical of a Judaizer.


49 Although it is beyond the scope of this article, the opponents explicitly men-

tioned in Philippians 1:27-29 and 3:2 and implicitly referred to in 1:15-17 were the

same group (cf. tou>j kakou<j e]rga<taj). A similar perspective is held by Garland,

"The Composition and Unity of Philippians," 172-40.

50 While addressing the unity of Philippians, Garland contends that the three in-

sults in 3:2 are chiastically balanced with the three statements about saints in 3:3.

The chiastic structure below reflects this writer's understanding of Garland's dis-


A. those dogs (tou>j ku<naj)

            B. those evilworkers (tou>j kakou<j e]rga<taj)

                        C. the mutilators (th>n katatomh<n)

                        C.' the true circumcision (h[ peritomh>)

            B.' the ones who serve (oi[ . . . latreu<ontej)

A.' the ones who boast . . . not in the flesh (oi[ . . . ou]k e]n sarki> pepoiqo<tej).

Although Garland makes a good case for "B" and "C," his explanation that

"confidence in the flesh" refers to obedience to food laws, works of the Law, and

circumcision does not fit with his previous discussion of dogs. The chiasm seems

forced (Garland, "The Composition and Unity of Philippians," 167-70). This is not

to deny the paronomasia between "the mutilators" (th>n katatomh<n) and "the true

circumcision" (h[ peritomh<); it merely questions the chiastic structure.

         Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?       55


Although generally assumed to be a series of reverse insults di-

rected at Jewish Judaizers, do the appellations in Philippians 3:2

necessarily specify Jewish ethnicity?

            The first appellation to consider is "those dogs" (tou>j ku<naj).

In his description of contemporary prophets, Isaiah verbally ma-

ligned Jewish prophets when he said they were "all mute dogs"

and "greedy dogs" (Isa. 56:10-11). David, likewise, called his

enemies "dogs" (Ps. 22:16, 20).51 First-century Jews used the term

to speak disparagingly of non-Jews (Matt. 7:6; 15:26). John de-

meaned those who practice sorcery, sexual immorality, murder,

idolatry, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood when he

referred to them as "dogs" (Rev. 22:15). Josephus opprobriously

said of Apion, the Alexandrian rhetorician, that he was gifted

with "the impudence of a dog."52 Ignatius, an early church father,

disdainfully referred to those who opposed the church in Ephesus

as "mad dogs who bit secretly, and you must be upon your guard

against them."53 To be compared with a dog is an insult whether it

is directed at a Jew, a Gentile, or a nonbeliever. In essence, by re-

ferring to them as dogs Paul discredited people who claimed to be

God's. Thus Paul's purpose was not to describe a group of people

but to insult them.

            The second appellation is "those evil workers" (tou>j kakou<j

e]rga<taj). Although some limit e]rga<taj to those who perform

works of the Law while others give e]rga<taj a dual meaning (i.e.,

workers of the Law and missionary workers),54 the best view is

that e]rga<taj refers to missionary workers. O'Brien points out that

e]rga<taj in the New Testament designates not only workers gen-

erally (Matt. 20:1-2, 8; Luke 13:27; Acts 19:25; James 5:4), but


51 Dogs are portrayed in the Old Testament as fierce animals that devour dead

bodies and lick spilt blood (1 Kings 21:19, 23-24; 22:37-38; Ps. 68:21-23; Jer. 15:3). In

Psalm 22:16 and 20, "dogs" is a figure that implicitly compares David's enemies to a

band of ravenous dogs that attack people—in this particular case, him. Similar

figurative usage occurs in 1 Samuel. When Goliath saw that David was only a boy,

the giant said, "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" (1 Sam. 17:43). Appar-

ently he viewed Israel's choice of David as belittling.

52 Josephus, Against Apion 2.7.85.

53 Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians 7.1. Michel points out that "dogs and swine

were often associated as unclean animals (2 Pt. 2:22; Hora., I, 2, 23ff.; bShab., 155b; P.

Oxy., V, 840, 33). They did not refer to distinct classes of men but to men of all

classes who set themselves in opposition to the Gospel" (Otto Michel, "ku<wn, kuna<r-

ion," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 [19651: 1101—4).

54 For the limited meaning see Silva, Philippians, 169; and perhaps Fee, Paul's

Letter to the Philippians, 295-96. For the dual meaning see Lenski, The Interpreta-

tion of St. Paul's Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippi-

ans, 829; Hawthorne, Philippians, 125; and perhaps Homer Kent, "Philippians," in

The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 11:138.


56     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January–March 1998


also Christian missionary workers (Matt. 9:37–38, 10:10; Luke

10:2, 7).55 "Paul styles them kakou<j," says O'Brien, "because of

their malicious intent."56 The point is that these people were pro-

fessing Christians on a mission to convert others. Their motiva-

tion for preaching Christ was self-oriented (1:15–17).57  Again the

phrase says nothing of their ethnic identity.

            The third appellation, "the mutilators" (th>n katatomh<n), is the

one designation that may describe ethnic Jews. However, is this

appellation from a Gentile perspective or from the perspective of a

Jew of the Diaspora? Although circumcision was important to Ju-

daism of the first century, it was not, as noted earlier, unique to

being a Jew. Though Gentiles may have considered it Judaistic

behavior, circumcision of itself did not make one a Jew. In addi-

tion, Barclay observes that "whenever it is commented on by non-

Jews, circumcision is derided, either as a peculiar ‘mutilation’

(on par with castration, according to Hadrian's later prescript)

or, perhaps, as a ‘barbarian’ rite properly abandoned by

civilized’ men."58 The point is that whoever practiced circumci-

sionwhether Ethiopians, Egyptians, Colchians, Syrians, Jews,

Gentile Judaizers,59 Jewish Christian Judaizers, Gentile Chris-

tian Judaizers, or Jewish Christians—the practice was derided as


            Also the verbal form of katatomh< in nonbiblical Greek is fre-

quently used in ironic or malicious observations. For instance,

an ironic-metaphorical usage occurs in a speech against Demos-

thenes when it was said that "he has hacked off [katate<tmhke] his

own filthy head a thousand times." "This ironic use may not be

without significance," according to Koester, "for an understand-

ing of katatomh< in Phil. 3:2."60 Paul may have been using


55 O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 355-56. Cf. Lohmeyer, Der Brief an die

Philipper, 125; Koester, "The Purpose of the Polemic of a Pauline Fragment," 320-21;

Collange, L'epitre de saint Paul aux Philippiens, 110; and Martin, Philippians,


56 O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 355–56.

57 Lightfoot makes a similar connection (St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians,


58 Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 438 (italics added).

59 The existence of Gentile Judaizers before and during the growth of the early

church is without question. However, since "a great number" (plh?qoj polu<) but not

all "God-fearers" or Gentile Judaizers accepted Christianity in Thessalonica (Acts

17:4), it is reasonable to postulate the same results in other cities Paul visited (cf.

Acts 14:5). Thus some "God-fearers" became Christians while others remained Gen-

tile Judaizers.

60 For other examples see Helmut Koester, "katatomh<," in Theological Dictionary

of the New Testament, 8 (1972): 109-11.


     Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?      57


katatomh< in an ironic play on words that might speak of either

Jewish or Gentile Judaizers. In fact it was Gentile Christians who

incorporated Judaistic practices with Christianity whom Ignatius

especially sought to combat.61 In his protest against professing

Gentile Christians who mixed Judaistic practices with

Christianity, Ignatius wrote, "But if anyone expounds Judaism to

you do not listen to him; for it is better to hear Christianity from a

man who is circumcised than Judaism from a man who is

uncircumcised."62 "For if we continue to live until now ac-

cording to Judaism we confess that we have not received grace."63

Thus some Gentiles obviously intermingled Christian and Ju-

daistic teachings. Apparently they were professing Gentile

Christians who were promoting Judaistic rituals.

            In his composite picture of Gentile Judaizers in Asia Minor,

Wilson concludes two things from the above passages. First, Ig-

natius' Letter to the Philadelphians states that "some (if not all) of

the Judaizers were Gentile in origin," and second, Ignatius' Let-

ter to the Magnesians suggests that the Judaizers were "Gentiles,

who formerly (and presently) lived like Jews and expounded Ju-

daism."64 Wilson's second conclusion is supported by Ignatius'

attempt to persuade professing Christian Gentiles to abstain from

practicing Judaistic rituals. Ignatius called on the church of

Magnesia to "put aside the evil leaven" (th>n kakh>n zu<mhn).65 Paul


61 Ignatius is important to this discussion because he was the second or third

bishop of Antioch in Syria (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.22). Although he

was condemned to death in Rome sometime during Trajan's reign (A.D. 98-117), he

wrote seven significant letters to combat Docetism and Gentiles who mixed Judais-

tic practices with Christianity. While on the way to Rome to face the beasts in the

amphitheater, Ignatius wrote seven letters. While in Smyrna he wrote to Ephesus,

Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome; while in Troas he wrote to the Philadelphian and

Smyrnean congregations as well as to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (Kirsopp Lake,

The Apostolic Fathers, Loeb Classical Library [Cambridge: Harvard University

Press, 1912], 1: 166-68).

62 Ignatius, Letter to the Philadelphians 6.1.

63 Ignatius, Letter to the Magnesians 8.1.

64 The underlying motif of Ignatius, according to Wilson, is threefold: (1) Judaiz-

ers were reproved for both expounding (i.e., belief, Letter to the Philadelphians 6-

8) and living (i.e., practices, Letter to the Magnesians 8—10) according to Judaism;

(2) Judaizers were part of the church rather than the synagogue community (Letter

to the Philadelphians 7.1; 11.1); and (3) Judaizers blurred the boundaries between

Judaism and Christianity and thus compromised the distinctive identity of the lat-

ter (Letter to the Philadelphians 8. 2; 9. 1-2; and Letter to the Magnesians 10.2).

See Stephen G. Wilson, "Gentile Judaizers," New Testament Studies 38 (1992): 605-

16. For other examples of Gentile Judaizers in the early church, see ibid., 610-15;

and Grayston, "The Opponents in Philippians 3," 171-72.

65 Ignatius, Letter to the Magnesians 10.1-3.


58    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January—March 1998


likewise referred to the practices of Judaism as leaven when he

spoke of Jewish Judaizers in Galatians 5:9. Both Ignatius and

Paul viewed the practices of the Judaizers as "evil" (kako<j). Paul

did so when he wrote against Jewish Christian Judaizers in

Galatia, and Ignatius did so when he wrote against Gentile Ju-

daizers in Asia Minor.

            Perhaps the reason Paul spoke so disparagingly of these peo-

ple (i.e., "the mutilators," th>n katatomh<n) is that circumcision

was being advocated by Gentiles.66 Could it also be that Paul em-

phasized his own personal Jewishness in Philippians 3:4-6 in

order to contrast those who purported to know about Judaism, who

preached about Judaism and Christianity, and who selectively

intermingled aspects of Judaism with Christianity? Of all people

Paul would know more about Judaism than a Gentile Judaizer.

That seems to be the point of Ignatius' comments in his Letter to

the Philadelphians 6.1. Perhaps the Philippians requested Poly-

carp to forward Ignatius' letters because they would have served

not only to reinforce Paul's teaching but also to provide further

guidance.67 Thus Philippians 3:2 does not necessarily support the

Jewish ethnicity of those who opposed the church in Philippi.



Although Philippians 3:18-21 includes echoes of Paul's previous

statements, here he expanded the contrast to include others. For

instance rather than speaking specifically of "some people"

(tine<j), and "those who oppose" (tw?n a]ntikeime<nwn), or charging

the Philippian saints to "consider continually" (ble<pete) their

ever-present opponents, Paul expanded the contrast to include oth-

ers ("many people," polloi<) who opposed the gospel message.

While encouraging the saints to follow Paul's pattern (tu<poj,

3:17), he explained (ga<r) that many people lead lives that are self-


            He wrote in verses 18-19, "For [ga<r] many people [polloi<, i.e.,

not just those who oppose you] . . . continually live lives

[peripatou?sin] that oppose [tou>j e]xqrou<j] the message of the gospel

[tou? staupou? tou? Xristou?]. Their destiny will be an everlasting

state of torment and death [a]pwlei<a], they are self-centered [o[ qeo>j

h[ koili<a], they are proud of their self-gratifying yet disgraceful


66 The katatomh<n is a hapax legomenon. Grayston contends that "nowhere else

does Paul describe the church as ‘the circumcision’, and nowhere else does he

speak disparagingly of circumcision" ("The Opponents in Philippians 3," 170).

67 "We send you," Polycarp wrote, "as you asked, the letters of Ignatius, which were

sent to us by him. . . . These are joined to this letter, and you will be able to benefit

greatly from them" (Letter to the Philippians 13.2).


        Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?           59


behavior [h[ do<ca e]n t^? ai]sxu<n^], and their thoughts are focused

on the present world [ta> e]pe<geia]" (author's paraphrase). Like the

previous statements, this description of opponents says nothing to

support a reference to ethnic Jewish opponents. The description,

perhaps, identifies the lifestyles of those whose unregenerate ac-

tions made them opposers ("enemies of the cross," tou>j e]xqrou<j

tou? staurou?).68 The depiction of these opponents as self-centered

("god is their belly," o[ qeo>j h[ koili<a), self-gratifying ("their

glory is in their shame," h[ do<ca e]n t^? ai]sxu<n^), and worldly

("who set their minds on earthly things," ta> e]pi<geia fronou?ntej)

clearly contrasts the self-denying, self-giving, self-sacrificing

attitude and life of Jesus (2:6–8) as well as the lifestyles of Timo-

thy (2:20–23), Epaphroditus (2:25–29), and Paul (3:7–16).

            The description of the eternal destiny of these unregenerates

("enemies of the cross," tou>j e]xqrou<j tou? staurou?) clearly con-

trasts with that of the saints in Philippi. The destiny of the many

opposers was like that of those who presently opposed the Philip-

pian saints—they would suffer an everlasting state of torment

and death (a]pwlei<a; cf. 1:28; 3:19). Paul explained in 3:20–21 that

the destiny of saints is heaven. "For (ga<r) our citizenship is in

heaven, from which also we eagerly await our Lord Jesus Christ,

who will change [metasxhmati<sei] our weak mortal bodies [sw?ma

th?j tapeinw<sewj h[mw?n] and make them like his own glorious body

by exercising the same power [kata th>n e]ne<rgeian tou? du<nasqai]

that enables him to rule over [u[pota<cai] all things" (author's paraphrase).


68 Because the phrase "the enemies of the cross" (tou>j e]xqrou<j tou? staurou?) is

unclear, the range of possibilities is large. Many suggest some group of ethnic

Jews—Jewish Christian Gnostic Judaizers (Koester, "The Purpose of the Polemic

of a Pauline Fragment," 328; Martin, Philippians, 143-44), Jewish Christian mis-

sionary Judaizers (Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Gala-

tians, to the Ephesians, and to the Philippians, 857-59; Silva, Philippians, 209-11),

or Jewish Judaizers (Hawthorne, Philippians, 163). Others suggest they were apos-

tate Christians as a result of persecution (Lohmeyer, Der Brief an die Philipper,

153) or professing Christians who denied the eschatological significance of the

cross (Collange, L'epitre de saint Paul aux Philippians, 118-19). It seems, however,

that contextually the phrase speaks directly of professing Christians like Gentile

Judaizers, Jewish Judaizers, and any group who were not prepared to live the self-

giving and self-sacrificing way of the cross (2:6-8). Their pattern of life reflected an

inner disposition (3:18) that was a self-centered and self-gratifying lifestyle of the

world (3:19; cf. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians, 155; Kent,

"Philippians," 147; O'Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, 453-54; and Fee, Paul's

Letter to the Philippians, 367-68). Though Paul may have been speaking of profess-

ing Christians, e]xqro<j also fits inimical Jews and Gentiles (Luke 19:27; Acts 13:10;

Rom. 5:10; 11:28; Col. 1:21; Alfred Plummer, A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to

the Philippians [London: Roxburghe, 1919], 82; Werner Foerster, "e]xqro<j, e@xqra," in

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 2 [1964]: 811—15). Thus by the nature

of the term, e]xqo<j might indirectly refer to any unregenerate person.

60    BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January–March 1998


            Whereas all opposers will experience destruction, all believ-

ers will experience deliverance. The comments in Philippians

3:20-21 seem to echo and build on Paul's statement in 1:28 about

the future salvation of the Philippians. Thus like the previous

passages Philippians 3:18-21 does not necessarily support the

Jewish ethnicity of those in Philippi who were opposing the

church. In fact Paul apparently broadened the discussion to speak

inclusively of the many who lived in opposition to God's message.



Nothing in the four contrastive statements in Philippians 1:15-

17; 1:27-28; 3:2-3; and 3:18-21 clearly supports a reference to a

group of ethnic Jewish opponents. Although traditional historical

reconstructions about the opposers in Philippi suggest that the Ju-

daizers were ethnic Jews, it would be a mistake to rule out a priori

the possibility that those who opposed the Christians at Philippi

were Gentile Judaizers who claimed to be Christians. The paucity

of evidence in Acts and Philippians obviously requires historical

speculation. The numerous conversions of Jews (Acts 2:36, 41;

9:3-19; 14:1; 17:1-12; 18:8; 19:5-10),69 Samaritans (8:14), God-

fearers (8:27, 38; 10:1-2, 44-48; 16:14-15; 17:4; 18:7), and Gentiles

(11:20-21; 13:7-8, 48; 14:1; 16:31-33; 17:1-12, 34 [?]; 18:8; 19:10, 18

[?]) is indisputable. In Philippi, however, one female "God-

fearer" and her family (16:14-15) as well as a Gentile jailer and

his family (16:31-33) were converted to Christianity.

            Since the city of Philippi was predominantly Gentile, other

Gentiles obviously joined the congregation (Phil. 4:2). Perhaps

some Gentiles, in their eagerness to understand this new faith,

misapplied Old Testament Scripture and thereby intermingled

the gospel message with rituals associated with Judaism (1:15-

17; 3:2). Their misguided understanding may have resulted in

zealous proclamations that disrupted the church (1:27-.28). They

were Gentiles whose behavior was like that of Jews but were not

actually Jews (3:2). They proclaimed Christ like Christian

missionaries but were not Christians (1:15-17; 3:2). They were

Gentile Judaizers.


69 It is not surprising that Jewish converts abandoned aspects of their ancestral

customs. Barclay points out that ethnic Jews who converted to Christianity were

socially integrated into non-Jewish society. They were assimilated into Gentile so-

ciety because of their association with Gentile converts and Paul's assimilational-

ist stance on several Jewish issues (Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora,

326, 381–95). Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians became a new community

(Eph. 2:14–18) of people who had exchanged one identity for another (Rom. 5:12–19)

and thereby developed a new identity (2 Cor. 5:17–21).


        Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?     61


            Since no explicit statement in Philippians identifies these

antagonists, it is difficult to know for sure who they were. On the

one hand Philippians 1:15–17; 1:27–28; 3:2–3; and 3:18–22 veil

the ethnicity of the opponents. On the other hand historical infor-

mation about Gentile Judaizers broadens the discussion enough to

say that those who opposed the church in Philippi may have been

local Gentile Judaizers (1:15–17; 1:28; 3:2). Paul's comments,

however, were applicable to Jews as well (polloi<, 3:18), especially

if Jewish Judaizers existed in Galatia, Corinth, and perhaps even

roamed the Roman Empire.

            Regardless of who these people were, the point is that the

church always has had and always will have opponents—those

who disrupt the church with their self-promoting message, those

who add to God's message, those whose end will be destruction.

Believers, while being mindful of such people, are to live in a

manner worthy of the gospel.




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