How a Professor of Religion (and you and I) Can Miss the Mark in Biblical Interpretation!

Phil. 3:10. That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
11. If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
12. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

A few years ago I was attending the chapel service of a well known seminary. One of the faculty members was speaking that morning and his text was Philippians 3:10 and following. I sat there in amazement as this learned man interpreted that passage in a way that supported his view of the perseverance of the saints. Simply put it was that Paul was striving to obtain a glorious resurrection. His perseverance in knowing Christ and fellowshipping with Him in His sufferings and becoming conformable to His death was so that he, Paul, might attain a glorious resurrection from the dead with Christ.

I was amazed because the passage will NOT bear that interpretation on its very surface. Here is what I mean. If Paul is speaking of a glorious resurrection after this present life he would not have followed his statement up with “Not as though I had already attained, either were already made perfect, but I follow after, if I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus (v12).”

Following the professor’s interpretation the passage would have to be understood as something like this… “Not as though I had already died and have now been resurrected, either were already glorified, but I follow after Christ so that I can share in the resurrection of Christ.” Is Paul actually informing these Philippians that he has not yet died physically? Isn’t that obvious? And is Paul telling this church that he has not yet attained his resurrection body? Again, is that not obvious? Isn’t it baffling how blind “we” can be when “we”are trying to defend a pet doctrine or teaching? (I put “we” in quotes because I am acknowledging that “we “all do this at times.)

Paul is not speaking about bodily resurrection here at all, as the context clearly shows. He is talking about an intimate knowledge of Christ as the Resurrected One, and Christ as the Sufferer, and Christ as the Dying One (v10). He is talking about living in his daily life the resurrection power of Christ (v11). He is disavowing that he achieved perfection in this experience ,(v12) but he declares he is pursuing that perfection as he pursues Christ (v 12b).

Again, the context is compelling. “13. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

If Paul is talking about a bodily resurrection it is really strange that he would feel compelled to inform his readers that he had not yet attained it. But if Paul is talking about his progress in appropriating the power of a resurrected life as he lives his personal life in Christ, then it all makes sense.

The good man giving the lecture had pristine motives I am sure. His goal was to inspire his audience to live holy lives in order to attain a glorious resurrection. The problem is that an exposition of the passage, taking the context in consideration, would have accomplished the same thing and would have had the added advantage of greatly encouraging the hearers. If Paul is saying that we must persevere in a certain lifestyle in order to attain a glorious resurrection with Christ, (that is, finally be saved) then I and everyone I know is doomed. (The perseverance of the saints is an honest pursuit of Christ by faith which will no doubt result in a certain kind of lifestyle, but no lifestyle merits a glorious resurrection and if you think it does you have missed grace altogether.) But if, as I think to be the case, Paul is saying that there is a victory that results in experiencing Christ’s resurrection life now…in this life, then I have hope. Especially since Paul himself affirms that he has not yet attained all that is to be had in Christ.

If Paul is saying that he has a goal to experience the benefits of Christ’s resurrection to the fullest, in his earthly life, and that it is possible to do so, and that he is not yet there, but he is pressing on toward that goal, then I too can experience that same victory and I too can press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Here is what I took away from that chapel service.

1. I don’t ever want get so entrenched in a particular view or pet doctrine that I see it everywhere in the Bible, whether it is there or not.

2. I don’t need to question someone else’s motives when I catch them in this slip. I am very susceptible to the same mistake.

3. The old saying “Context is king” is true. Especially in Scripture interpretation.

And as an aside, if Paul the Apostle experienced walking in the Resurrected Christ as a daily pressing toward the mark, so that he might attain a more perfect walk with God, then the whole idea that there is one experience that finally makes me perfectly holy now, in my daily life, is patently false. Paul’s words are intended to encourage us to press on in the battle with the blessed assurance that we are not what we can be. He is encouraging us to know Christ more and more in His resurrection, in His suffering and His dying, and to keep that as our daily goal until we do breath our last breaths here. Someday we will rise with all the saints in that last day. When that happens we shall finally and forever be like Him for we shall see Him as He is (1John 3:2)! Hallelujah, what a great encouragement to pursuing Christ now.

But until then; Until that day of full resurrection: “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect (mature), be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you (Philippians 3:15).