Book Review: Reading Corinthians and Philippians within Judaism by Mark Nanos (Cascade: 2017)


This is the first of a series of book reviews for current books focused on Paul’s letter to the Philippians which is my current focus of academic studies and will be culminating soon in my first book, a Messianic Jewish Commentary on Philippians that will be available in early 2018.

Mark Nanos is one of the leading thinkers in what is now known as the “Paul within Judaism” perspective on the Apostle Paul and the interpretation of his life and letters. This new volume. Reading Corinthians and Philippians with Judaism is a collection of six papers on Paul and Judaism (4 from Corinthians and two from Philippians).

For this current review, I will focus on the section on Philippians, specifically two papers that look at Philippians 3:2-3a. The understanding of this verse in the context of “Paul within Judaism” is important as it can take this verse that has been used as a polemic against Jews and Judaism since the time of Chrysostom, to a new understanding that upholds Paul as a Torah faithful Jew that respected other Jews and Judaism.


beware of the dogs, those evildoers, the Mutilated! For it is we who are the Circumcised (Philippians 3:2–3a CJB)


Though the identity of these that Paul warns about is not specifically named, throughout history their identity has been unmasked as “Judaizers” (Jews seeking to force ritual circumcision on Gentiles), based on factors that include the belief that Paul was turning back on his Jewish opponents the epithet “dogs” that Jews used of Gentiles. The use of “Mutilated” is also key among most interpreters to Jews because of it being a reference to circumcision, which is now just mutilation in light of Christianity breaking from Jewish norms and Torah laws.

Nanos taking into that the larger factor of false teaching to be confronted in Philippi would come from pagan sources, including the Cynics (who were known as “dogs”) and other Greek and Roman deities worshipped, including the Emperor cult, allows for an interpretation that is positive to Jews and Judaism in that rather than calling the Philippians to reject Judaism, he calls them to accept their place as Gentiles within a Jewish movement, following the Jewish Messiah and therefore stand against the false options offered in their former life in the pagan world. This can be seen when Nanos wrote:

For non-Jews, that includes new tensions with their families and friends, neighbors, and the civic leaders who populate the cultural context in which they live and move, the social world in which they are identified, carry on relationships, and access goods. These forces present challenges to the Jewish ideals Paul upholds for how non-Jews turning to God through Jesus as Christ should now think and live, including how they should remain faithful and suffer as required by the marginalized state this creates for them (p. 147–148).

Nanos here brings a refreshing new way to understand the book of Philippians, especially chapter 3, as a polemic against pagan influences and an apologetic for living life as Gentiles within Judaism, in contrast to the standard interpretation that Paul is here offering a polemic against Jews and Judaism, even calling his fellow Jews, “dogs” and putting forward an apologetic for a Judaism-free form of Messianic faith.


In a future review, I will look at the first half of the book, looking at the letters to Corinth within Judaism.


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DISCLOSURE:  I received a free copy of the book for review from Wipf and Stock.