John Calvin Complete Commentary - Philippians 3:5 - 3:5

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John Calvin Complete Commentary - Philippians 3:5 - 3:5


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

5.Circumcised on the eighth day It is literally— “ circumcision of the eighth day.” There is no difference, however, in the sense, for the meaning is, that he was circumcised in the proper manner, and according to the appointment of the law (173). Now this customary circumcision was reckoned of superior value; and, besides, it was a token of the race to which he belonged; on which he touches immediately afterwards. For the case was not the same as to foreigners, for after they had become proselytes they were circumcised in youth, or when grown up to manhood, and sometimes even in old age. He says, accordingly, that he is of the race of Israel He names the tribe (174), — not, in my opinion, on the ground that the tribe of Benjamin had a superiorityof excellence above others, but for shewing more fully that he belonged to the race of Israel, as it was the custom that every one was numbered according to his particular tribe. With the same view he adds still farther, that he is an Hebrew of the Hebrews For this name was the most ancient, as being that by which Abraham himself is designated by Moses. (Gen_14:13.) (175) The sum, therefore, is this — that Paul was descended from the seed of Jacob from the most ancient date, so that he could reckon up grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and could even go still farther back.

According to the law, a Pharisee Having spoken of the nobility of his descent, he now proceeds to speak of special endowments of persons, as they are called. It is very generally known, that the sect of the Pharisees was celebrated above the others for the renown in which it was held for sanctity and for doctrine. He states, that he belonged to that sect. The common opinion is, that the Pharisees were so called from a term signifying separation (176) ; but I approve rather of what I learned at one time from Capito, a man of sacred memory (177), that it was because they boasted that they were endowed with the gift of interpreting Scripture, for פרש (parash,) among the Hebrews, conveys the idea of interpretation. (178) While others declared themselves to be literals (179) they preferred to be regarded as Pharisees (180) as being in possession of the interpretations of the ancients. And assuredly it is manifest that, under the pretext of antiquity, they corrupted the whole of Scripture by their inventions; but as they, at the same time, retained some sound interpretations, handed down by the ancients, they were held in the highest esteem.

But what is meant by the clause, according to the law? For unquestionably nothing is more opposed to the law of God than sects, for in it is communicated the truth of God, which is the bond of unity. Besides this, Josephus tells us in the 13th book of his Antiquities, that all the sects took their rise during the high priesthood of Jonathan. Paul employs the term law, not in its strict sense, to denote the doctrine of religion, however much corrupted it was at that time, as Christianity is at this day in the Papacy. As, however, there were many that were in the rank of teachers, who were less skillful, and exercised (181) he makes mention also of his zeal. It was, indeed, a very heinous sin on the part of Paul to persecute the Church, but as he had to dispute with unprincipled persons, who, by mixing up Christ with Moses, pretended zeal for the law, he mentions, on the other hand, that he was so keen a zealot of the law, that on that ground he persecuted the Church



(173) “Circoncis deuement et selon l’ et les obseruations de la loy;” — “ duly and according to the appointment and the observances of the law.”

(174) “Il note la tribu et le chef de la lignee de laquelle il estoit descendu;” — “ names the tribe and the head of the line from which he was descended.”

(175) See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 2, p. 357, 358.

(176) “Que les Pharisiens ont este ainsi nommez, pource qu’ estoyent separez d’ les autres, comme estans saincts;” — “ the Pharisees were so called, because they were separated from others, as being holy.”

(177) See Calvin On the Corinthians, vol. 2, p. 82.

(178) The reader will find the etymology of the term Pharisees, discussed at considerable length in the Harmony, vol. 1, p. 281, n. 4. — Ed.

(179) The meaning is, that in interpreting Scripture, they did not go beyond the bare letter.— Ed.

(180) See Harmony, vol. 1, pp. 281, 282, and vol. 3, p. 74.

(181) “Exercez en l’;” — “ in Scripture.”