WHAT IS A CHRISTIANS RESPONSIBILITY
TO THE CIVIL GOVERNMENT?
Roger D. Campbell
Do you suppose there is a civil government anywhere in the
world that has the exact structural arrangement and policies that
the Roman Empire had in the days of Jesus and the first-century
disciples? There may be some aspects of present-day governments
that resemble those of the ancient Roman Empire that was in power
in the Middle East when the New Testament was written, but the
odds are extremely high that no modern-day arrangement is a
one-hundred-per-cent carbon copy of the Roman setup.
If that be the case, why should a child of God living
in the 21st century even be concerned about what the New
Testament teaches about Christians responsibility to their
civil government? The specifics may not be exactly the same, but
the New Testament principles still apply because they are a part
of the teaching of the Christ that endures and lives forever (1
Peter 1:23-25), being in force until the end of the age/world
What does the New Testament teach about my obligation
to the government under which I live? This general instruction is
found in Titus 3:1: Put them in mind to be subject to
principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to
every good work. That statement, coupled with more
extensive teaching recorded in 1 Peter 2:13-17 and Romans 13:1-7,
as well as other New Testament principles, leads us to make the
following conclusions about our responsibility to the civil
1) A Christian is to obey civil authorities.
First, the message of Titus 3:1 is, ...obey
magistrates. Second, the opening instruction of Romans 13:1
is, Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.
Third, Christians are further charged, Submit yourselves to
every ordinance of man (1 Peter 2:13). The context of this
last passage clearly shows that the expression ordinance of
man is not a reference to some man-made religious
regulation, but rather to the decree of civil authorities,
the king and governors are noted (1 Peter
2:13,14). When the Holy Spirits instruction is to
obey, be subject to, and submit to
the laws of the land, that is a pretty plain message, would you
2) A Christian is to obey the civil government
for the Lords sake (1 Peter 2:13). Because
the powers that be are ordained of God (Rom. 13:1),
resisting such authorities is equal to resisting Gods
ordained authority and arrangement (13:2). Obeying civil
authorities is part of obeying the Lord, For so is the will
of God (1 Peter 2:15).
3) A Christian is to obey every aspect of civil
law. Going back to 1 Peter 2:13, we read, Submit
yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lords
sake.... Every ordinance would include what the
civil authorities decree about building codes, littering
highways, tax obligations, the size of passport photos, how far a
church building must sit away from a street/road, and you name
it. We may be tempted to label certain laws as
unreasonable, ridiculous, or even
insane, but the law is the law. If I have the right to
disregard a law that I count as inconvenient, excessively costly,
etc., then why would another person not have the right to
disregard a different law? What is it that ensues when people
decide to use their own gut feelings to determine with which
government ordinances they will comply, and which they will
disregard? The word is chaos or lawlessness.
4) A Christian is to obey civil authorities at all
levels. Peters Spirit-guided instruction to submit to
civil ordinances was, ...whether it be to the king, as
supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for
the punishment of evil doers... (1 Peter 2:13,14). Kings,
governors, and delegated authority are mentioned, indicating that
all branches and levels of civil government fall under the
category of the powers that be to whom we are to submit
ourselves. In our country that would include national, state,
district, county, and city laws.
5) A Christian is to obey civil authorities,
regardless of the type of government under which he lives.
This principle is tough for some to accept willingly, but it is
true. In the U.S., we are blessed to live in a republic in which
we are privileged to vote and elect government officials who are
supposed to represent us and our best interests. Those to whom
the apostles wrote inspired messages in the first century about
obeying governmental powers were not living in a republic or
anything akin to such. They lived in a day when kings, often
ruthless, self-serving men, reigned. Still, the message of God
was to submit to them. If the U.S. or some other nation should
some day, either by choice or by force, adopt a form of
government that has little or no concern for the common people,
Gods charge to obey magistrates would still be in
6) While Christians are obligated to obey civil
authorities, if there are governmental regulations that are not
in harmony with Gods law, Christians must choose to obey
what God says. Because Gods people are to act as
obedient children at all times (1 Peter 1:14), if mans
laws are at odds with the teaching of the Bible, Gods
children are to obey the Bible. Yes, in every situation, we
ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Remember, we
are not at liberty to not submit to a government law simply
because we do not like it. A saints decision to not submit
to a civil law must be based on a thus saith the Lord
and not on his own personal likes or preferences.
These half-dozen principles we have noted are not based
on culture. Rather, they are biblical truths that apply in every
society in every generation.
120 Will Lewis Dr. SE
Cleveland, TN 37323
Table of Contents
JONAH AND NINEVEH
Garland M. Robinson
God is love (1 John 4:8). His compassion and mercy is
abundant (Psalm 100:5; 103:17; Matt. 14:14). Luke 19:10 says,
For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which
As the people of God, we are to exhibit the same
compassion and loving kindness toward all. ...Be ye all
of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren,
be pitiful, be courteous (1 Peter 3:8). But
whoso hath this worlds good, and seeth his brother have
need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how
dwelleth the love of God in him (1 John 3:17; cf. Jude
Because of Gods great love, His plan from the
beginning has been to save mankind from their sins. ...He
hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we
should be holy and without blame before him in love
(Eph. 1:4; cf. 1 Peter 1:20).
Though the Old Testament Scriptures deal predominately
with Gods watchful care over the Israelites and then later
the Jews, He also cared for the Gentiles. He cared for people and
nations before the children of Jacob (Israel) were born. When
Adam and Eve sinned, God promised redemption (Gen. 3:15; cf. Rom.
5:14-18). God gave instruction to Cain and Abel regarding
righteous worship (Gen. 4:3-8; cf. Rom. 10:17). Enoch walked with
God (Gen. 5:22). Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Gen.
6:8). Abraham became the father of the faithful but was not an
Israelite (Rom. 4:1,12,16; James 2:21). Melchizedek was a priest
of the most high God (Gen. 14:18). Jethro, the father-in-law of
Moses, was the priest of Midian (Exodus 3:1; 18:1).
When the Israelites were passing through Moab, Balak,
the king of the Moabites, summoned Balaam, a prophet from
far-away Mesopotamia, to come and curse Israel (Num. 22). When
Balaam inquired of God about it, he was forbidden to curse them.
He expressed a very noble statement when he responded to the
summons by saying, ...If Balak would give me his house
full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the
LORD my God, to do less or more (Num. 22:18; cf. 1
Peter 4:11). What a shame it was when he rebelled and rejected
Gods Word (Num. 22:34). His name has become synonymous with
covetousness and rebellion (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:11; Rev. 2:14).
God called upon several Israelite prophets to prophesy
regarding Gentile nations. Prophets such as Amos, Obadiah and
Nahum foretold events among the Gentiles. Because of Gods
great love, He called upon Jonah to preach to the people of
Nineveh to get them to repent.
The origin of Nineveh goes as far back as Genesis
10:6-12. It was undoubtedly one of the oldest cities in the world
in Jonahs time. It is mentioned in the records of Hammurabi
(1792-1750 B.C.). It is also mentioned in Babylonian records that
extend back to the 21st century B.C.
Nineveh was a royal residence of kings and served as
the capital of Assyria during the reign of Sargon II (722-705
B.C.). It was especially loved by Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) who
made it the chief city of his empire (2 Kings 19:36). He
constructed massive walls around it and built the oldest known
aqueduct in history that brought water into the city from 35
Regarding the people of Nineveh, God said
...their wickedness is come up before me (Jonah
1:2). More than a hundred years later we read similar words
revealed through Nahum who wrote that it was a bloody city full
of lies and robbery (Nahum 3:1-7).
The people of Nineveh had transgressed Gods law
for far too long. The time of their impending doom was near as
God was ready to destroy the entire city. However, one more
chance would be given for them to repent, turn themselves around
and reverence Jehovah. Jonah was the man chosen to deliver the
message. Now the word of the LORD came unto
Jonah...saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry
against it; for their wickedness is come up before me
Even with Jonahs attempt to escape the Lords
command, God made good come from it. The mariners aboard the ship
saw the great power and majesty of God and gave Him praise and
honor. Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We
beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this
mans life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O
LORD, hast done as it pleased thee. So they took up Jonah, and
cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging.
Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a
sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows (Jonah
God rules in the kingdoms of men (Daniel 4:17,25,32;
5:21; cf. Jonah 1:17). He is able to use events in this world to
work His eternal purpose (cf. Rom. 8:28). What men intend for
evil, God can use for good (Gen. 50:20). The many persecutions
and atrocities that befell the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 11:22-28) was
used by God to spread the Gospel into places it would not have
otherwise gone as quickly. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi
concerning this very thing: But I would ye should
understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have
fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel. So that my
bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other
places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by
my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without
fear (Phil. 1:12-14).
Jonahs words to the people of Nineveh were very
sharp and distinct. Though his motive was not right, he cried
aloud and did not spare. And Jonah began to enter into
the city a days journey, and he cried, and said, Yet
forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown (Jonah
3:4). The power of the word of God brought about conviction and
repentance in the hearts of his hearers (cf. Rom. 1:16).
Theres no indication Jonahs reluctance to
preach as God directed (the first time he was given the order)
was due to fear on his part. He didnt fear the people, nor
the job! It was rather due to the fact that Jonah did not wish
the people of Nineveh to repent and be spared of Gods wrath.
When the people repented in sack cloth and ashes, Jonah said,
...was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country?
Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a
gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness,
and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O LORD, take, I
beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die
than to live (Jonah 4:2-3).
How tragic! How could it possibly be that any of
Gods people would not want those who are lost to be saved?
But, none the less, that was Jonahs disgrace. He thought
more for his own comfort and a gourd that shaded his head than
the 120,000 who could not discern their right hand from their
left (Jonah 4:8-11). Shame, shame on Jonah! May we never travel
that same road. God does not desire that any perish. He wants all
to come to the knowledge of the truth and repent (2 Peter 3:9; 1
John the Baptist had a stern and reproving message
similar to Jonahs. Matthew records: ...when he saw many
of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said
unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee
from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for
repentance (Matt. 3:7-8). His message regarding the
adultery of Herod and Herodias was plain, for John said
unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her (Matt.
14:3-4). When Salome, the daughter of Herodias, finished her
lascivious performance (dancing) before Herod, he was so excited
that he promised to give her anything she would ask. Her wicked
mother had already conspired to ask for the head of John to be
brought to her on a platter. Though Herod was sorry he had made
such a rash vow, he yielded to their devious plans. Oh, what
wicked devices men can weave when they depart from the living God
and refuse to be restored in repentance!
Our Lords preaching was like Jonahs. He
preached the truth and did not hold back. Then began he
to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done,
because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto
thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you,
had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long
ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more
tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for
you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be
brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been
done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained
until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more
tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for
thee (Matt. 11:20-24).
What Jonah preached was the command of God. He was only
doing what God had ordered to be done. Arise, go to
Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it
(Jonah 1:1-2). He was told a second time, Arise, go unto
Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching
that I bid thee (Jonah 3:2). This was Gods
order and Jonah was not about to escape it though he tried
desperately to do so. His preaching was not his own words. It was
the word of God!
The apostle Paul made clear to those in the church at
Corinth and for all who would read his inspired words that the
things he taught were the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37;
cf. 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:2). He had the gift of prophecy and used it
to impart the divine will of God (1 Cor. 13:2). We are not
inspired like Jonah and Paul, but when we preach the inspired
word, our preaching is powerful and sharper than a twoedged sword
(2 Tim. 4:2; Heb. 4:12).
When Jonah repented of running away, God was merciful
to him and gave him a second chance (Jonah 2:1-10). When he
preached the whole city of Nineveh would be overthrown by the
mighty hand of Jehovah, ...the people of Nineveh believed
God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the
greatest of them even to the least of them (3:5). This
shows beyond a doubt that God ...is longsuffering to
us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should
come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
God was well aware of the ruthlessness of Nineveh. He
knew of their idolatry, adultery, drunkenness and pride. He was
witness to their witchcraft, robbery, lying and whoredoms.
None-the-less, He was willing to forgive if they would repent and
turn to Him. And, thats exactly what they did. And
God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and
God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto
them; and he did it not (Jonah 3:10).
Oh, how we all should work and pray that the wicked
will repent and turn to God before its too late! Our loving
and merciful Father will abundantly pardon and the angels will
rejoice (Luke 15:7,10). Let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the
LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he
will abundantly pardon (Isa. 55:7).
Table of Contents
TAKING THE WORD OF GOD TO ISLAM #4
CONFLICTS IN DOCTRINE BETWEEN THE KORAN AND THE BIBLE
II. The Godhead (Triune Nature) and His Divine
Koran: Denies the Godhead (5:72-74), and
describes Allah as one who does not love those who reject faith
(30:44-45; 3:32; 40:35).
Bible: Defends the Godhead (Matt. 3:16-17; 1
John 5:7; Col. 2:9) and describes Jehovah as loving everyone,
even while they are/were in sin (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 8:38-39; 1
Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2, 4:19). He does not forgive until
they repent, but He loves them just the same.
III. Relationships of Muslims with Others
Koran: Allows for a man to have up to four wives if
he can afford them (4:3, 24-25; 23:6; 30:21). The only exception
was Mohammed who could have more wives than any other man
Bible: Though God may not have immediately punished
polygamy under the Old Law, this was never His desired system
(Deut. 17:17; Matt. 19:3-5; 1 Cor. 7:2; 1 Tim. 3:2,12; 5:9). God
has never allowed a prophet or teacher to live differently than
what he has preached and/or to exalt himself above the law (2
Thess. 2:4; 1 Cor. 4:6; Rom. 2:21).
Koran: A Muslim man can divorce for any reason
(2:226-232; 33:4,49; 58:2-4). Realistically, a Muslim could have
an unlimited amount of wives, all with the approval of God.
CANDIDATES FOR AND CONDUCT IN MARRIAGE
Bible: God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and only
approves of remarriage for the innocent party if the divorce was
for fornication (Matt. 5:32; 19:5-9) or death (1 Cor. 7:39).
Koran: If there are no women available, men were
allowed to marry young girls (4:25) as Mohammed did. Husbands are
allowed to beat their wives (4:34).
Bible: The husband is to give honor to the wife
because she is weaker than him (1 Peter 3:7). He is to love her
as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25).
Koran: Muslims should fight back against those who
fight them (2:190) because persecution is worse than slaughter
(2:191,217). Allah is described as loving those who fight for him
(61:4), which is why on occasion his followers are told to bear
weapons while praying (4:102).
CONFLICTS IN DOCTRINE BETWEEN ISLAMIC HADITH AND THE BIBLE
Bible: Christ taught His disciples they were
not to fight back when provoked (Matt. 5:38-41; 26:52;
John 18:36), but should instead return good for evil (Matt.
5:43-44; John 15:20, 1 Thess. 5:15). Inspired apostles of Jesus
Christ indicate the government (Rom. 13:1-4), not we ourselves
(12:19), is to be the distributor of punishment for evildoers;
hence, we should not leave our sphere of authority to take away
the realm of authority from the government (1 Peter 2:13-14).
Persecution for Christians should be expected (John 15:20), not
feared (Matt. 10:28); and endured (Rom. 12:14; 1 Cor. 4:12-13),
not resisted. Jehovah does not approve of (He in fact hates)
those who are quick to shed blood (Prov. 6:16-19).
III. Relationships of Muslims with Others
CREATION OF MAN
a. Are considered to have less intelligence than men
b. Will be the majority of those in hell (1:301,
c. Will represent such a large number in hell because
they are disobedient to husbands (1:28).
d. Can only travel with her husband or another man who
she cannot marry (4:250).
2. Other requirements and beliefs
a. Are commanded to bathe on Fridays (3:833).
b. Are taught dogs are unclean and not even angels can
enter a house where there is a dog or even pictures of a dog or
other living creature (4:448).
c. Believe pets can alert man to the presence of either
an angel or the devil (4:522).
Bible: The Bible teaches women are of great
value to God (Exodus 10:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:15; 1 Cor. 16:19; Rom.
16:6; Acts 16:13-14). Galatians 3:28 declares there is no longer
male or female for we are one in Christ
Jesus. Though men and women have been given different
roles in areas such as the family or the church (Gen.
3:16; 1 Tim. 2:11-12), their souls have not been given different
values to God. Jesus does not specify what shall a
man give in exchange for a male soul? because all
souls are equally valuable to God. While a life of
disobedience to a husband can result in eternal punishment (Eph.
5:22,24), so can a life of mistreating a wife (1 Peter 3:7).
Holding the traditions of man above the commandments of God make
a religion and its worship vain (Matt. 15:8-9).
Koran: Speaks of two days of creation (41:9),
followed by supplying hills and mountains for four days (41:11),
followed by two days for the creation of the seven heavens
(41:12), for a total of eight days of creation. While in other
places it describes six days of creation (32:4). Man was created
from blood (96:2), sperm (16:4), dust (3:59), mud (7:12), sticky
clay (37:11), water (25:54), and nothing (52:35). Allah also
created man weak and imperfect (4:28).
Bible: God created the world in six days and
rested on the seventh (Gen. 2:2). He created man of the dust of
the ground (Gen. 2:7) and woman of his rib (Gen. 2:21-22). God
created man wholly good (Gen. 1:31).
Koran: Tells angels to worship man (15:26-35; 2:34;
7:11-12; 17:61; 18:51).
Bible: Man is not to be worshiped (Acts 14:13-15;
Matt. 4:10). Man was made a little lower than the angels (Psa.
Koran: There are seven heavens (2:29;
23:86-87; 17:44), one of which is called paradise
(76:11-22; 55:46-78). All of these are described in physical
terms: a garden (76:12), bearing fruits of every kind (55:52), no
heat nor cold (76:13), with silver and crystal goblets (76:15),
with wine to drink (76:17), with many youthful servants (6:19),
and sleeping on soft carpets (55:54). For men, there will be
access to women with wide and lovely eyes (44:54), virgins who no
man nor devil has touched (55:56), and they will be mens
companions (55:72) who God Himself will wed them to
(44:54). Muslims achieve heaven by doing more good than bad
Bible: There are three heavens (Gen.
1:20; 15:5; Matt. 5:16; 2 Cor. 12:2), the third of
which (the abode of God) is not earned by good works but is a
gift made possible through Jesus Christ (John 10:27-28; Rom.
6:23). It is not a carnal place where carnal activities continue
such as those carried out in marriage (Matt. 22:30).
Koran: Hell is described as a place of physical
punishment, not spiritual torment. The unfaithful will be dragged
into fire upon their faces (54:48), dragged by their hair
(70:16), with their faces blackened (39:60), subjected to hooked
rods of iron (22:21), neither die nor live (87:12-13), drink and
have boiling water poured on them (18:30), then be forced to
drink extremely cold water (38:57-59), and eat bitter, thorny
fruit (88:2-7). Malik is the primary angel in charge of
hell, where he will be in charge of tormenting its inhabitants
(43:74,77). The Koran refers to hell, doom, or fiery punishment
in 92 of its 114 chapters (80%).
Bible: In the New Testament, hell
(gehenna) is mentioned a total of 12 times. Hell is a
spiritual death or punishment because it is an eternal separation
from God (Matt. 25:41; 2 Peter 2:4; Rev. 20:10). It is a place of
everlasting punishment (Matt. 25:46) that is compared to a fire
that will never be quenched (Mark 9:43-48), or a lake that burns
with fire and brimstone (Rev. 20:14-15). It is where all sinners
go (those on the left hand, the goats, the wicked; Matt.
25:30-46; Rev. 21:8).
Part 4 of 4
11914 State Hwy 30
College Station, TX 77845
[CORRECTION: In the first installment of this series
(page 67 of the September 2011 issue), I mentioned that Saddam
Hussein was a member of the Shiite party. A reader wrote me
and pointed out that Saddam Hussein was not a Shiite. I
looked up various sources, and this appears to be the more common
stance. He was politically of the Baath party, but seemed to
show more allegiance to, or at least sympathy for, the Sunni sect
than he did the Shiite sect. My apologies for that mistake.
You know youve got a great readership when people are
testing to make sure the information is accurate (cf. Acts
Table of Contents
For Deeper Study...
BEWARE OF THE DOGS
Philippians 3:2 states, Beware of dogs, beware of
evil workers, beware of the concision. The apostle
employs a trio of imperatives all translated beware
from the same word and grammatical form. Its repetition at the
beginning of successive clauses is a rhetorical device known as
anaphora. It means a bringing back or repeating over
again. Scripture abounds with this usage. It adds weight to many
of its solemn statements and arguments by directing attention to
them (Bullinger, 199). Thus, the rapidity of thought in quick
succession is designed for effect on the reader (Robertson,
1100). Paul uses it here to underscore the significance and
perhaps urgency of what God wants his people to know and do. Not
once, not twice, but three times in one verse God calls upon us
Beware translates a term which literally means to
see with the eye. In this context, however, the meaning
extends to embrace the connotation watch out or notice
carefully in the sense of paying attention or being on guard
against dangers; with the implication of preparedness in order to
respond appropriately should the need arise (BDAG, 179;
Louw/Nida, 333). Jesus uses the term in this sense when he warns:
Take heed that no man lead you astray (Matt.
24:4, ASV). Paul employs the same when encouraging saints to be
vigilant concerning the potential dangers of apostasy:
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed
lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12). Then in a context where the
apostle warns of being led astray through error dispensed by
false prophets: Take heed lest there shall be any one
that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and vain deceit,
after the tradition of man, after the rudiments of the world, and
not after Christ (Col. 2:8). Not only should one take
heed to what they hear (Mark 4:24) but even how
they hear it (Luke 8:18)! The term highlights that responsibility
of the redeemed to exercise watchfulness as it pertains to their
spiritual welfare. More specifically, Gods people must be
alert to the dangers of false teachers and sensitive to those
doctrines which are not in compliance with biblical truth.
New Testament students have long recognized that the
verb occupies an important place in the Greek language.
The flexibility and range of verbal usage in Greek commends
itself to a more in-depth analysis in order to bring out nuances
not ordinarily conveyed by translation. This is especially true
with regard to what are traditionally called tense and
mood. The choice of a particular verb, along with its
specific verbal aspect (expressed in the verb tense-form),
resides with the language user. It is from this perspective that
any grammatical analysis of the verb must begin in order to fully
appreciate what the speaker/writer wants to articulate (Porter,
20-21). Such interpretive efforts which attempt to unpack the
full significance of the verbal usage pay great exegetical
dividends. Thus, two observations are in order.
First, Paul places all three verbs in the
imperative mood. Whereas the imperative has a variety of
uses in the New Testament (request, greetings, permission, etc.),
the most common usage expresses a command. For this reason when
grammarians cite categories of usage they usually list first the
imperative of command (Brooks/Winbery, 127). Thus,
normally the imperative addresses the volition. It appeals to the
human will when used to direct or demand the action of another;
it imposes ones will upon another. The idea of authority or
right to command is implied in the usage (Wallace, 446, 485).
Contextual considerations make it obvious that this is why the
apostle employs the imperative here. He issues an inspired
directive in an attempt to bring about a desired action. He
commands the redeemed: Beware!... Beware!... Beware!
The imperative communicates the divine command to be
watchful toward those who seek to lead Gods people astray
doctrinally. One linguist calls it an imperative of
warning (Young, 145). With the use of the imperative, God
(through the apostle) imposes his will upon the church. God
commands the saints to be on the look out
for false teachers and their heretical views which pervert the
Gospel. This is what the force of the imperative entails from the
original language. For one to fail in this regard through the
shirking of that obligation or complacency of disposition, equals
flagrant disobedience to the divine will. The consequences of
failure are tragic. It couldnt be any clearer.
Second, Paul places all three verbs in the present
tense even though other options were available. This choice of
tense is significant because it relates the kind of action
the apostle wants to portray with the verb. One of the most
important, but most misunderstood, concepts concerning the Greek
verb is that time is not the primary significance of what
is related by Greek tense, and this is especially true in the
non-indicative moods such as the imperative. This may initially
seem confusing since in English, tense conveys the
time of action related by the verb. But in Greek it is
different. The basic genius of the Greek verb is not its ability
to indicate when the action of the verb occurs but rather
the type of action the writer wishes to portray. This is
called aspect and it simply relates the way in which the
writer perceives the verbal action to unfold (Mounce, 126;
Porter, 20). The relevance here is that by Paul using the
imperative on the present tense stem he commands an ongoing
process or continuous action which has the force: I command
you to continuously beware!
In light of the historical context, this grammatical
structure may carry the force to both begin and
continue a watch of vigilance which stresses both the
inception and progress of the action commanded. (Grammarians call
this the ingressive/progressive imperative). Or, the
emphasis may be to simply continue something the
Philippians were already in the process of doing. (This is called
the customary imperative). In other words, Paul may be
issuing a command for action that may or may not have already
been implemented (Wallace, 721). The original recipients of the
epistle would have known precisely what Paul was communicating
when they read the command in their first century setting. The
application for twenty-first century churches of Christ seems
obvious: If we are not already doing what inspiration here
instructs, then we had better get started; and, if we are already
practicing that vigilance which this divine directive demands,
then we must constantly remain diligent in the task!
What cannot be over emphasized is that the present
imperative carries with it a built-in action that demands a
progressive and ongoing response to the divine decree. It must be
appreciated by Christians today that the command to beware
is not something that can be obeyed with a one time or even
sporadic occurrence. It must become our habitual and continuous
practice. Because of the structured differences in Greek and
English it is often impossible to transfer this continuous aspect
in translation without resulting in stilted English. Therefore it
is necessary for the preacher to articulate this gem of truth to
his present day audience (Wuest, 39). One may view with certainty
that the divine mandate calls for a habitual and constant
watchfulness on our part. There will never be a time this side of
eternity wherein the Christian may surmise it is permissible to
be lax in the art of vigilance in looking out for false teachers.
Our spiritual welfare depends on it.
Paul commands Christians to continuously be on alert for
brotherhood agitators whom he describes with three epithets:
the dogs, the evil workers, the concision. That the
definite article precedes each of these three expressions points
to the identity of a well-known class of first-century heretics
(Vincent, 443; Lightfoot, 143). Further, just as all three
clauses begin with the thrice-repeated verb beware,
each of the verbs three direct objects begins with a
k sound in Greek. This repetition of sound is by
literary design, and not incidental (OBrien, 347). Through
the figure of speech known as alliteration the
apostles word choice is intended to stimulate the attention
of his reading audience (Bullinger, 171). Of course, this
acoustic effect is virtually impossible to preserve in English
translation. But Pauls rhetoric may be illustrated, in part,
with a rendering which imitates the sounds of the original:
Beware of the curs! Beware of the cut-throats! Beware of the
concision! (Thielman, 360).
By his use of the term dogs, the apostle refers
not to the four-legged, canine kind. Rather, he employs a
derogatory term in which he spares no imagery to stigmatize his
heretical opponents, the false brethren of his day
(Gal. 2:4). Dont miss the fact that in ancient times a dog
was viewed differently than our present day concept of a
pampered, domesticated pooch. The metaphor is soaked in the
backdrop of ancient society where dogs were detested as low-life
scavengers by Jew and Gentile alike (Fee, 295). The figure when
applied to humans equals a classic insult. Thus, enemies of the
righteous are tagged as worthless dogs (Psa. 22:16).
Israels apostate leaders are dumb dogs (Isa
56:10). Jesus counsels not to waste spiritual energy on
despicable dogs, i.e., spiritual ingrates (Matt. 7:6).
The false teacher, once knowing the truth, but later an apostate
to the divine will, is the dog who has returned to his
own puke (2 Peter 2:20-22). These dogs are going to hell.
God said so (Rev. 22:15). Its not a pretty picture. Sin
Within the clause the evil workers,
the adjective evil is in the first attributive
position. This pertains to where the adjective is placed in
relation to the noun in Greek syntax. The significance of this
syntactical construction is that the adjective receives greater
emphasis than the noun (Robertson, 776). This means that Paul is
not so much concerned with emphasizing these heretics as
workers as he is in stressing that they are
evil workers. In another place, the apostle
styles this same factious clique as deceitful
workers who, though in league with Satan, sought to
masquerade as loyalists to Christ (2 Cor. 11:13-15). The
immediate context serves as a commentary on why the apostle
describes these as evil doers: they are the
enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is perdition, whose god
is the belly, and whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly
things (Phil. 3:18-19). Many suppose that as long as
religious people are involved in spiritual works that
their efforts should be considered good by society. Not
so. There are those who profess that they know God, but by
their works they deny him (Titus 1:16).
With mention of the concision, modern readers
receive a clear clue as to the identity of the dogs and
evil workers whom Paul references. The Judaizers
conglomerated certain aspects of the Law of Moses with the Gospel
of Christ. They then sought to bind their new-fangled doctrine on
Gentile converts. Specifically, they insisted circumcision was
indispensable to salvation (Acts 15:1). But this perverted the
Gospel resulting in apostasy for those who embraced it (Gal.
1:6-7; 5:4). This serves as the background for Paul sarcastically
dubbing these troublemakers the concision, a term
meaning mutilation þ an exaggerated allusion to
circumcision (BDAG, 528; Louw/Nida, 225). This expression leads
directly to the contrast in Pauls next statement: for
we are the circumcision (v.3). Under the New
Testament, those genuinely called the circumcision are
the spiritual descendants of Abraham, faithful members of
the Lords church (Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 3:26-29; cf. Col. 2:11,
the circumcision of Christ). By contrasting the
concision (katatome) with the circumcision
(peritome) the apostle employs wordplay called
paronomasia. This is where an author uses similar words in
close proximity; words that are not the same but which resemble
one another in look and sound (Bullinger, 306). Thus, to those
Judaizers who prided themselves as the circumcision,
Paul characterizes as the mutilation party who had reduced
that ancient sign of the old covenant to a mere laceration of the
flesh devoid of any spiritual significance (Nicoll, 3:449). The
apostles parody was like a well-placed dagger to the heart
of his opponents!
My translation of the verse attempts to reflect some of
the grammatical nuances discussed in this article: I command
you to continuously beware of the dogs! I command you to
continuously beware of the wicked workers! I command you to
continuously beware of the mutilation clique!
1) Tragically, we live in a day and time when far too many
brethren seem to have forfeited any sense of responsibility for
the command to remain alert to the potential dangers of false
teachers. For many, such is nothing more than a forgotten relic
of our ancient past. Churches of Christ today must learn not to
be insensitive to this God-given obligation. Any failure in this
regard equals rebellion to the divine will. Brethren must
forever be on the lookout for false teachers who
jeopardize the spiritual welfare of the redeemed. God repeatedly
says so. Learn to be vigilant for the Cause of Christ in this
2) Squeamish brethren who deem themselves among the
politically correct of a polite society may find their
sensitivities repulsed at Pauls polemical passion and choice
of colorful language to describe the brotherhood troublemakers of
his day. No sympathy, however, should be extended to these modern
day soft-shells whose cultured veneer of sophistication will not
allow them with bloodied sword to fight the good fight of
the faith (1 Tim. 6:12). God considers these naive brethren
odious to the Cause of Christ for their breach of loyalty. At the
venture of offending God, learn not to pacify these traitorous
Brooks, James A. and Carlton L. Winbery. 1979. Syntax of
New Testament Greek. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Bullinger, E.W. 1968. Figures of Speech Used in the
Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
Danker, F.W., et. al. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon
of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.
Chicago: University of Chicago. (Cited as BDAG).
Fee, Gordon D. 1995. Pauls Letter to the
Philippians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Lightfoot, J.B. 1953 repr. St. Pauls Epistle to
the Philippians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida. 1988. Greek-English
Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. New
York: United Bible Societies.
Mounce, William D. 2003. Basics of Biblical
Greek. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Nicoll, W. Robertson. 1988
repr. The Expositors Greek Testament. Grand Rapids:
OBrien, Peter T. 1991. The Epistle to the
Philippians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Porter, Stanley E. 1992. Idioms of the Greek New
Testament. London: Sheffield Academic Press. Robertson,
A.T. 1934. A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light
of Historical Research. Nashville: Broadman Press.
Thielman, Frank. 2002. Philippians. Zondervan
Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Grand Rapids:
Wallace, Daniel B. 1996. Greek Grammar Beyond the
Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Vincent, Marvin R. n.d. Word Studies in the New
Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
Wuest, Kenneth S. 1946. The Practical Use of the
Greek New Testament. Chicago: Moody Press.
Young, Richard A. 1994. Intermediate New Testament
Greek: A Linguistic and Exegetical Approach. Nashville:
Broadman & Holman Publishers.
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Ruby York, a very dear friend, sister in Christ and
long time supporter of Seek The Old Paths passed away on
Dec. 3, 2011. She was a very good Bible student and sound in the
faith. She was always ready unto every good work. Her attitude
was, what can I do, where can I help. In recent years,
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gone on to her reward as multitudes have before her. We look
forward to that day when the redeemed of the ages will meet in
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