Mr. Otis Q. Sellers of "The Word of Truth" has recently published a pamphlet on "The Interpretation of Philippians 3:20," being No.1 of The Interpretation Series.
In it he has honestly admitted a number of errors made in connection with the grammar of that verse. He is now concentrating largely on the Greek term politeuma, which has been variously translated as conversation, seat of government, enfranchisement, home, homeland, commonwealth, citizenship, state, country, etc.
He now says this word "has to do with acquired character. By character is meant the aggregate of qualities or the individuality impressed by birth, education, habit, practice, etc." So he now gives a paraphrase or expanded translation of Phil. 3:20-21 as follows:
"For the acquired and developed character (disposition or
prevailing spirit) which is ours (the one we have asked you to
imitate) is existing (it is inherent, it has existed all along) among
celestials; and it is out of this character (that is, an expression
of it) that we assiduously and patiently wait it out for a Savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our
humiliation, to conform it to the body of His glory."
To the word ouranois (dative plural of the Greek word for heaven) he now gives the meaning "celestial beings." But what is the point in bringing in these celestials at all? The expanded translation requires to be expounded. Verses 18 and 19 refer to those whose minds are set on earthly things. Verse 20, however, must mean that our minds are set on heavenly things. Paul says "For our (emphatic) politeuma in heavens is-existing-all-along. . . ." the word for marking a complete change from vv. 18 and 19. Had the word "celestials" or "celestial beings" already come into the context, it might have been reasonable in v. 20. But the true contrast with earth in v. 19 must surely be the word heavens in v. 20. Paul asserts a great contrast between earthly people and heavenly people. Just let us tryout the Greek word ouranoi (heavens) as if it meant celestials elsewhere. Acts 7:56: "Lo, I am beholding the celestial beings opened up." 2. Peter 3:5 : "there were celestial beings of old, and an earth cohering out of water and through water." This sounds rather incoherent. Plainly the verse refers to heavens and earth. Yet verses 11 and 12 sound even worse, if we render v. 12 "because of which the celestial beings, being on fire, will be dissolved." True, v. 11 does mention something akin to acquired and developed character, in holy behaviour and d~voutt;ess. Then v. 13 gives a Divine Promise of new celestial beings, along. with a new earth.
In other words, who is to say when or whether we are to translate the Greek word ouranoi celestials or celestial beings, and when we are to translate it as heavens? What proof can Mr. Sellers give for making this word mean celestial beings? Until we get proof, we can proceed no farther. I am sure no other translator has ever been so bold as to make the word mean celestial beings.
The people of Philippi were always very proud of their Roman citizenship, and that is why Paul told the Philippian Ecclesia that their true Homeland was "in heavens." I suggest that here the last two words might be rendered "in heavenly parts," or "in heavenly places," just as some versions render the plural of the Greek word for "east" or "orient," (anatolE) as "eastern parts."
Yet Mr. Sellers avers that "To inject into this passage (Acts 23:1) any ideas of 'citizen' or 'citizenship' is not right since the ideas of 'citizenship' were Greek and Roman, not Jewish." But just why Mr. Sellers did not look at Acts 22:28 (only three verses back) I cannot understand, as there the captain says of his Roman citizenship, "I acquired this citizenship with a vast sum." Now Paul claimed that he was born with that citizenship. But Paul could hardly have been born with his acquired or developed character. And that being so, why should not Paul sometimes refer to the celestial citizenship of the saints?
Regarding the Greek word politeuma Mr. Sellers says he insists that taking it apart will help us to understand it. The root polis means city. Adding the letters eu to the stem polit- makes the word mean "the doing or practice of that which is indicated by the root." But of course this is true of all Greek verbs of action. Then the addition of the suffix ma denotes the result or effect produced.
He then quotes from Moulton and Milligan's "Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, illustrated from the Papyri, etc." to shew that Moffatt's rendering at Phil. 3:20, "we are a colony of heaven" can hardly be correct. This is true, but I would fain have seen him quote the meaning given in the same Vocabulary for politeia and politeuma, viz.: citizenship; and citizenship or franchise, community, commonwealth. One example quoted states that the Phrygians had set up a politeuma, that is, a community. In one Christian letter of the 4th century A.D. they shew the Greek text of "for we believe in thy citizenship in heaven." Deissmann is quoted as citing Gregory of Nyssa, as saying "to be pressing on toward, the celestial citizenship."
Text, are also in the Apocrypha at least four examples of these two words, while in Clement of Rome's first epistle to the Corinthians there are at least six examples, all meaning to live as the citizen of a state or city.
Moulton and Howard, in volume 2 of "A Grammar of New Testament Greek," at page 399, give to the verb politeuomai the meaning of "to act as a citizen, live one's public life."
Now Modern Greek dictionaries give these same meanings to the above Greek terms, so the idea of citizenship of some kind has always been true.
Ellicott on Phil. 1:27 (which I would thus render: "Only, worthily of the gospel of the Christ go on being citizens. . .") says examples of similar exhortations are not wanting. Such are, Eph. 4:1, "I am entreating you, then, I, the prisoner in the Lord, worthily to walk of the calling wherewith you were called." Col. 1:10: "to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit." He also quotes 1. Thess. 2:12, "walking worthily of God." Ellicott says the verb meaning "lead your life of (Christian) citizenship" has been studiedly used instead of the more common 'walking,' to give force to the idea of fellow-citizenship,—not specially and peculiarly with Christ, but with one another in Him,—joint membership in a heavenly politeuma.
One of the most recent Greek-English Lexicons of the New Testament, by Arndt and Gingrich (1956), gives to politeuma the meaning commonwealth, state, etc., and to the verb, to have one's citizenship or home.
Now Phil. 3:20 shews with perfect clarity to those who examine the Greek carefully, that our citizenship or homeland is or has been existing all along in heavens. Were we not chosen in Christ long, long ago? Our entire community must have been chosen then.
But just how can we claim that our "acquired character H has been existing so long? And how can we be awaitmg, or assiduously waiting, a Saviour out of our acquired character?
One feels very sorry for Mr. Sellers getting into such difficulties, but we must have the truth.
What then can be the real meaning of apekdechomai? This is the term which Mr. Sellers says means "assiduously and patiently wait it out for," as in Phil. 3:20. The simple verb dechomai is rendered in the King James version twice as accept, five times as take, and 52 times as receive. One would therefore assume that the longer verb would contain the idea of receiving also. What would "from-out-receive" signify? Would it not mean to be ready to receive someone or something out of and from somewhere? I shall therefore render its occurrences as Rotherham does, by "ardently awaiting."
Rom. 8:19: "For the eager outlook of the Creation is ardently awaiting the revealing of the sons of God." A waiting it from God.
Rom. 8:23: "even we ourselves within our own selves are sighing, ardently waiting for adoption." Awaiting it from God.
Rom. 8:25: "but if, what we do not behold, we are hoping for—through endurance are we ardently awaiting (it)." Awaiting it from God.
1. Cor. 1:7: "so that ye are not coming behind in any one gift-of-favour—ardently waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ," Awaiting it from heaven.
Gal. 5:5: "for we, in spirit, by faith, for a hope of righteousness are ardently waiting," Awaiting it from God.
Phil. 3:20: "For our commonwealth in (the) heavens takes its beginning, out of which a Saviour also are we ardently awaiting." Awaiting it whence? Out of our own commonwealth or Homeland, from God.
Heb. 9:28: "thus, the Christ also,—having once for all been offered, for the bearing up of sins of many,—a second time, apart from sin, will appear, to those who for him are ardently waiting, unto salvation."
Whence will He appear a second time?
Mr. Sellers is quite right to say the verb apekdechomai is not the ordinary word for "wait," as it is a composite word that says much more. Quite a good deal more, I would say. He adds, "Rotherham has tried to express its meaning by translating it 'ardently await.'" But we must observe that Rotherham has already said, "out of which a Saviour. . ." So that the full sense would be: "our commonwealth. . . . out of which. . . . we are ardently awaiting a Saviour out from it." This is clearer proof than ever that He shall come for us out of that Glorious Homeland of ours.
Mr. Sellers also says it is not his intention to prove or disprove anything concerning Phil. 3:20, as he has been convinced from the very start that no matter how you translate it, this verse has nothing to do with the question of our future home being in heaven or upon the earth.
Then he continues: "It seems strange indeed that men having been driven from every other passage that has been used to teach our future hpme will be heaven, now shut themselves up in Philippians 3:20 and summon all who disagree to an unconditional surrender. This I decline to do as I know this passage teaches nothing in regard to our future home."
I am not aware that God's Ecclesia has been completely driven to this single passage, and that any believers have shut themselves up therein. Nor do I know of anyone who has called for an unconditional surrender. But I do know that Mr. Sellers in certain matters of Greek grammar has surrendered unconditionally, and I am glad he has thus far been very honest. And now that Acts 22:25-28 has cruelly shattered Mr. Sellers' strong convictions concermng the Greek term politeuma and its verb, it is within the bounds of possibility that there may be another unconditional surrender, and that would make us all very sorry for him.
Now we learn from Eph. 1:20-23 that concerning Christ, God was "rousing Him out from among dead ones, and seating Him at His right-hand in the heavenlies, over-above all principality and authority and power and lordship, and every name that is being named, not only in this age, but also in the future one; and He made subject all things under His feet, and gives Him—Head over all to the Ecclesia, which indeed, is His Body, the fulness of Him who all things in all is for Himself filling up."
It would be difficult for anyone to deny that God was in the heavenlies, with Christ at His right hand.
But Eph. 2:5-6 informs us that God "makes us alive conjointly with the Christ. . . . and conjointly rouses us up, and conjointly seats us in the heavenlies, in Christ Jesus."
It would be difficult to deny that we are, prophetically and proleptically, inhabitants of these heavenlies. For why does Paul also write in Col. 3:1, "If then, you were jointly roused with the Christ, the things above go on seeking, where the Christ is—at the right-hand of God sitting." We are not to keep in the mind earthly matters, but things above, because we died (to our earthly life) and our life is hid together with the Christ in God. And whenever the Christ should be manifested—our Life—then we also shall be manifested together with Him in glory.
In those passages, it must be admitted that it is very difficult to believe that they point to a future and new life on Earth. Indeed, should the next age be the Millennium, it might be a very difficult time for Gentiles, as Israel will be the ruling Nation, and Gentiles will have to take their orders and obey. The Law will go forth from Jerusalem.
Hebrews 11:16 seems to imply that God may already have made ready a celestial City for the Hebrews. Rev. 21:2 shews it as descending out of the heaven or sky from God, the former heaven or sky having passed away.
Why then should there not also be a celestial City and Homeland for the Body of Christ, the Church of God? It might even be in existence now.
It may be, however, that Mr. Sellers has a firm conviction that a place in the New Jerusalem awaits him. Just what is the meaning of the expression "in Christ Jesus," quoted above from Eph. 2:5-6? In Acts 17:27 Paul informed the Athenians that God "is not far from each one of us." Then in the next verse, "For in Him we live and move and are." What is here the meaning of "in Him" ? Is it not that we, being not far from God (even though we realize it not), "in union with Him live and move and are"? There is a union between us and God so long as we are alive. And when we are raised from the dead, this union will be fully realized in a manner we cannot at present attain. It is only "in Christ" that we can get to know God at all; "in union with Christ."
Thus we might understand Eph. 2:6 as saying that God "conjointly seats us in the heavenlies, in union with Christ Jesus."
All, or almost all the occurrences of the expression "in Christ Jesus" mean in union with Him, and they should be studied carefully. We are not within Christ, or inside Him. But in union with Him personally we must be.
Wm. H. Guillemard, D.D., in "Hebraisms in the Greek Testament," says of the Greek expression "in (the) Lord" (en KuriO), "This phrase, so frequently employed by Paul, but only once, in same sense, by any N.T. writer (Rev. 14:13),. is most difficult to explain, or account for, or adequately interpret." So he suggests it may mean "in the presence of," "in the sight of," as equivalent to the Hebrew letter Beth (in). Now this Hebrew word or letter is said to signify sometimes accompaniment, like the word with, or along with, as at Isaiah 8:16, "with my disciples," that is, having them present, being in union with them.
Thus Paul's common expression, "in the Lord," or "in Christ Jesus," might be a Hebraism, meaning "in union with."
Finally, let me say that Paul never once declares that the Body of Christ, the Church of God, will in the future inhabit the Earth or the New Jerusalem. If we are to be there, it is most remarkable that he never says so.
A.T. Last updated 18.10.2005