What does the Apostle Paul mean by dogs in Philippians 3:2? by Jack Kettler
“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more.” (Philippians 3:2-4)
The Jews frequently called the Gentiles dogs, primarily due to their ceremonial uncleanness. Does Paul affirm or repudiate this classification?
Who are “the dogs” and “the concision” mentioned in the Philippians passage?
Two commentary entries will be consulted to answer these two questions.
First, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers:
“(2) Beware of (the) dogs. — In Revelation 22:15 “the dogs” excluded from the heavenly Jerusalem seem to be those who are impure. In that sense the Jews applied the word to the heathen, as our Lord, for a moment appearing to follow the Jewish usage, does to the Syro-Phœnician woman in Matthew 15:26. But here the context appropriates the word to the Judaising party, who claimed special purity, ceremonial and moral, and who probably were not characterised by peculiar impurity—such as, indeed, below (Philippians 3:17-21) would seem rather to attach to the Antinomian party, probably the extreme on the other side. Chrysostom’s hint that the Apostle means to retort the name upon them, as now by their own wilful apostasy occupying the place outside the spiritual Israel which once belonged to the despised Gentiles, is probably right. Yet perhaps there may be some allusion to the dogs, not as unclean, but as, especially in their half-wild state in the East, snarling and savage, driving off as interlopers all who approach what they consider their ground. Nothing could better describe the narrow Judaising spirit.”
“Of evil workers. — Comp. 2Corinthians 11:13, describing the Judaisers as “deceitful workers.” Here the idea is of their energy in work, but work for evil.”
“The concision. — By an ironical play upon words St. Paul declares his refusal to call the circumcision, on which the Judaisers prided themselves, by that time-honoured name; for “we,” he says, “are the true circumcision,” the true Israel of the new covenant. In Ephesians 2:11 (where see Note) he had denoted it as the “so-called circumcision in the flesh made by hands.” Here he speaks more strongly, and calls it a “concision,” a mere outward mutilation, no longer, as it had been, a “seal” of the covenant (Romans 4:11). There is a still more startling attack on the advocates of circumcision in Galatians 5:12 (where see Note).” (1)
Second, the Pulpit Commentary:
“Verse 2. – Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. The connection is, as given in ver. 3, Rejoice in the Lord, not in the flesh; have confidence in him, not in the ceremonies of the Jewish Law. Compare the same contrast in Galatians 6:13, 14. There is certainly something abrupt in the sudden introduction of this polemic against Judaizing, especially in writing to Philippi, where there were not many Jews. But there may have been circumstances, unknown to us, which made the warning necessary; or, as some think, the apostle may have written this under excitement caused by the violent opposition of the Jewish faction at Rome. Beware; literally, mark, observe them, to be on your guard against them. The dogs. The article must be retained in the translation. The Jews called the Gentiles “dogs” (comp. Matthew 15:26, 27; Revelation 22:15), i.e. unclean, mainly because of their disregard of the distinction between clean and unclean food. St. Paul retorts the epithet: they are the dogs, who have confidence in the flesh, not in spiritual religion. Evil workers; so, 2 Corinthians 11:13, where he calls them “deceitful workers.” The Judaizers were active enough, like the Pharisees who “compassed sea and land to make one proselyte;” but their activity sprang from bad motives – they were evil workers, though their work was sometimes overruled for good (comp. Philippians 1:15-18). The concision (κατατομή, cutting, mutilation); a contemptuous word for “circumcision” (περιτομή). Compare the Jewish contemptuous use of Isbosheth, man of shame, for Eshbaal, man of Baal, etc. Their circumcision is no better than a mutilation. Observe the paronomasia, the combination of like-sounding words, which is common in St. Paul’s Epistles. Winer gives many examples in sect. lxviii. Philippians 3:2” (2)
Vincent’s Word Studies also provides some salient insights:
Lit., look to. Compare Mark 4:24; Mark 8:15; Luke 21:8.”
“Rev., correctly, the dogs, referring to a well-known party – the Judaizers. These were nominally Christians who accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but as the Savior of Israel only. They insisted that Christ’s kingdom could be entered only through the gate of Judaism. Only circumcised converts were fully accepted by God. They appeared quite early in the history of the Church, and are those referred to in Acts 15:1. Paul was the object of their special hatred and abuse. They challenged his birth, his authority, and his motives. “‘Paul must be destroyed,’ was as truly their watchword as the cry for the destruction of Carthage had been of old to the Roman senator” (Stanley, “Sermons and Lectures on the Apostolic Age”). These are referred to in Philippians 1:16; and the whole passage in the present chapter, from Philippians 3:3 to Philippians 3:11, is worthy of study, being full of incidental hints lurking in single words, and not always apparent in our versions; hints which, while they illustrate the main point of the discussion, are also aimed at the assertions of the Judaizers. Dogs was a term of reproach among both Greeks and Jews. Homer uses it of both women and men, implying shamelessness in the one, and recklessness in the other. Thus Helen: “Brother-in-law of me, a mischief devising dog” (“Iliad,” vi., 344). Teucer of Hector: “I cannot hit this raging dog” (“Iliad,” viii., 298). Dr. Thomson says of the dogs in oriental towns: “They lie about the streets in such numbers as to render it difficult and often dangerous to pick one’s way over and amongst them – a lean, hungry, and sinister brood. They have no owners, but upon some principle known only to themselves, they combine into gangs, each of which assumes jurisdiction over a particular street; and they attack with the utmost ferocity all canine intruders into their territory. In those contests, and especially during the night, they keep up an incessant barking and howling, such as is rarely heard in any European city. The imprecations of David upon his enemies derive their significance, therefore, from this reference to one of the most odious of oriental annoyances” (“Land and Book,” Central palestine and Phoenicia, 593). See Psalm 59:6; Psalm 22:16. Being unclean animals, dogs were used to denote what was unholy or profane. So, Matthew 7:6; Revelation 22:15. The Israelites are forbidden in Deuteronomy to bring the price of a dog into the house of God for any vow: Deuteronomy 23:18. The Gentiles of the Christian era were denominated “dogs” by the Jews, see Matthew 15:26. Paul here retorts upon them their own epithet.”
Compare deceitful workers, 2 Corinthians 11:13.
“Only here in the New Testament. The kindred verb occurs in the Septuagint only, of mutilations forbidden by the Mosaic law. See Leviticus 21:5. The noun here is a play upon περιτομή circumcision. It means mutilation. Paul bitterly characterizes those who were not of the true circumcision (Romans 2:28, Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11; Ephesians 2:11) as merely mutilated. Compare Galatians 5:12, where he uses ἀποκόπτειν to cut off, of those who would impose circumcision upon the Christian converts: “I would they would cut themselves off who trouble you;” that is, not merely circumcise, but mutilate themselves like the priests of Cybele.” (3)
As seen from the above citations, Paul uses a play upon words by calling the Judaizers “dogs” and also calls them those who mutilate the flesh or the “concision.”
The Amplified Bible captures Paul’s nuances of language accurately:
“Look out for the [a]dogs [the Judaizers, the legalists], look out for the troublemakers, look out for the [b]false circumcision [those who claim circumcision is necessary for salvation]; for we [who are born-again have been reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, set apart for His purpose and] are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory and take pride and exult in Christ Jesus and place no confidence [in what we have or who we are] in the flesh— though I myself might have [some grounds for] confidence in the flesh [if I were pursuing salvation by works]. If anyone else thinks that he has reason to be confident in the flesh [that is, in his own efforts to achieve salvation], I have far more.” (Philippians 3:2-4)
“Philippians 3:2 Jews often used “dogs” as a derogatory term to refer to Gentiles, so Paul’s reference to his Jewish opponents in this verse is ironic. Most dogs were untamed scavengers and considered disgusting because they ate anything.”
“Philippians 3:2 Because circumcision was not necessary for salvation, the circumcision demanded by the Judaizers was nothing more than mutilation.”
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Philippians, Vol.8, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 80.
2. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Philippians, Vol. 20., (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 111.
3. Marvin R. Vincent, “Word Studies In The New Testament,” (Mclean, Virginia, Macdonald Publishing Company), p. 442-443.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. JackKettler .com