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Figures Friday

God bless you in the name of Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

The biggest danger to our liberty in Christ comes from both those who believe they have license to do anything and legalists who prescribe behavior in detail.  Those given to license recruit others to join them in their illicit activity and use addiction to pleasure to control others.  Legalists control with rules and regulations designed to breed condemnation and self-righteousness.  Both sides attack our liberty, our freedom in Christ.  Never let anyone beguile you of your freedom in Christ.

Philippians 3:2:  Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.

“Beware” in the Greek word, bleptō, one of the words meaning “to see.”  A more literal translation would be “watch out for,” or “look out for.”  In each of the three places in verse two “beware” is a present imperative.  That means it’s a command to continue to do something already started.  It’s continuous action; so, continue to beware don’t just beware once and then forget about it.  The warning is so emphatic because the danger is so great.

There is an element of being “proactive” to it.  Think of it like walking in a mine field.  If one of them goes off, it’s already too late.  Paul is telling them they are walking through a mine field.  We must watch every step; we must look carefully at every place we put our feet.  We do it ahead of time; we do it proactively.  We must continually be aware of the danger and beware as we walk.  It has the urgency of an APB (an All-Points Bulletin).  “Be on the look out for. . . !”  You can look at this as a big dose of preventative medicine.

The Holy Spirit marks out this verse by loading it with figures.  There are so many figures that it is difficult to retain them all in translation.  Each translation sort of picks and chooses which ones are retained.  We will see this as we read some different ones as they come up.  This makes verse two very poignant, very pungent.

The repetition of “beware of” at the beginning of each of these phrases is the figure of speech anaphora.  This triple play is a very big deal.  Of course, the emphasis is on the command “beware.”  The shortness of each phrase makes the anaphora even more powerful.  The fact that each of the words following “Beware!” begin with a “k” also adds to the intensity.  That’s not the proper figure alliteration which is the repetition of the same letter or syllable at the beginning of successive words.  However, when combined with anaphora as it is here this is the form it takes by necessity.

In the Aramaic the word “safe” and the word “beware” come from the same root.  That’s the figure of speech anadiplosis which is the repetition of the same word at end of one sentence and at the beginning of the next.  (Eg.  Genesis 1:1-2:  In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void. . .”  Ephesians 6:13-14:  “Take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth. . .”).  In the Aramaic it could read “. . .they caution you.  Be cautious. . . .”

The use of “dogs” is the figure hypocatastasis.  It’s the most poignant of the figures of comparison.  Don’t beware of people like dogs.  Don’t beware of people who are dogs.  Beware of dogs!  Do you see how the force of the figures increased as we went through them?  It refers to backbiters, vicious gossipers, those outside not allowed into the house.  Here it is used of the legalistic Judeans.  It was a term of distain used in Jewish culture of the Gentiles.  So, for Paul to turn it around and use it on them was deliberate and very powerful.

“The concision” is another figure; it is a play on words.  It’s a knock off of the word “circumcision.”  “Circumcision” is the Greek word “peritomē.”  “Concision” is the Greek word “katatomē.”  It literally means a cutting down into and was used of hacking or chopping up sacrificial meat.  It was also used in the LXX for the worshippers of Baal who cut themselves in I Kings 18:26.  It is a contemptuous word for circumcision (a hyperbole for circumcision) with the connotation of mutilation.  Then by metonymy for those who practice such mutilation.  Paul uses similar disparaging language in Galatians 5:12.

Galatians 5:12:  I would they were even cut off [apokoptō, cut themselves off] which trouble you.

A literal translation of this verse is:  “I wish those seditious agitators who want to circumcise you would emasculate themselves.”  “Cut off” here is a different word, but you get the idea of how Paul was so dead-set against these circumcision boys who always wanted to go around cutting everybody.  But here he takes it a step further.  He’s not referring here to just snipping off the end.  He wants them to cut back much further. . . take the whole thing off.  Later in Galatians 6:13 he says of these people that they desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.

Paul uses this very blunt language in Galatians because they were familiar with it and the religious bastardization of such ritual.  Galatia was near Phrygia where they worshipped Cybele.  It was the practice for priests and devout followers to mutilate themselves by castration.  It’s as if Paul is implying that if you go this way in which circumcision is the beginning, you might as well go all the way to castration like these heathen priests.

Galatians 5:12:  [NAS]  Would that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.

Galatians 5:12b:  [NEB]  They had better go the whole way and make eunuchs of themselves.

Galatians 5:12:  [Jerusalem Bible]  Tell those who are disturbing you I would like to see the knife slip.

Let’s not forget the context in which we find this verse.  We just finished reading about the excellent examples of Jesus, Timothy, and Epaphroditus, and they are juxtaposed with these three epithets:  dogs [kuon], evil workers [kakos ergatēs], and the concision [katatomē].  Paul commits to Timothy and Epaphroditus, his fellowlaborers, but he warns the Philippians to avoid contact with these evil laborers at all costs.

Just who are these people of whom Paul is speaking… these dogs… these evil workers… these mutilators of the flesh.  Paul is not speaking about three different groups of people.  These are not distinct epithets; they overlap.  In fact, they overlap so much that all three are referring to the same people.  This is similar to a hendiatris, where three things are said, but one thing is meant.  It could be translated:  “Beware of dogs, yes destructively evil-working, mutilating dogs.”  Calling someone who prides himself on good works an evil worker is like calling a surgeon a butcher or an opera singer a hog-caller

The Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) drops the anaphora and keeps the hendiatris:  “beware of the dogs, those evildoers, the Mutilated!”  The NIV retains both by substituting those for beware.  That causes one to lose the impact of the warning and shift it to the people we need to beware of:  “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.”  The New International Reader’s Version drops the anaphora, adds the hendiatris and tries to explain the play on words regarding the circumcision:  “Watch out for those dogs.  They do evil things.  When they circumcise, it is nothing more than a useless cutting of the body.”  The New Living Translation adds a historic comment to explain the reason for Paul’s disparaging comment:  “Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved.”  That’s exactly what was going on.  These circumcision boys were going around saying that in order to be saved they had to be circumcised.  This is what was addressed at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.

Acts 15:1-2:  And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.

Paul doesn’t have issues with the Jews in general.  He loves them.  His heart was so big for them that it got him into trouble by going to Jerusalem when he should not have.  He didn’t have a problem with circumcision either or with people wanting to continue to circumcise their sons.  I circumcised my son.  Not so he would get the blessing of the covenant or so that he could be saved later, but because of health reasons.  The people the Gentiles needed to be warned about and prepared to oppose were those who subverted fellowship saying that circumcision and other forms of legalistic practices in the flesh were necessary for salvation.