What was Paul’s intent for the word “dog” in Philippians 3:2?

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Throughout this class I have made an effort to not just read over words and assume their meanings. Through a closer reading I have come to a better understanding of several symbols in the New Testament. Philippians 3:2 took me by surprise. It states, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision;(biblehub.com). My concern with this passage is why are dogs ranked among evil workers? I, for one, love dogs! They are adorable, loyal animals. I believe we even refer to them as “man’s best friend.” So why does Paul put dogs at the same status of evil workers and the false circumcision? Was there a Jewish tradition against dogs? Was Paul influenced by some anti-dog belief of the cultures around him?

For some Jews, particularly the non-Orthodox Jews, there was a belief that gave the term “dog” a negative connotation. According to Rabbi Louis Jacobs, “In the Kabbalah the dog is the symbol of the demonic powers.” and he even goes as far as to state that, “influenced by the Kabbalah, Hasidic Jews never keep dogs as pets.” (MyJewishLearning.com) The dog’s comparison with demonic powers would make sense for its use in Philippians 3:2. With this comparison, Paul may have been warning against sinful people and their influence over them.

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A second possible reason for the significance of this term is that, ” the term “dog” was used by the Jew to describe a Gentile.” (revelation-today.com) Why were the gentiles deemed “dogs”? One explanation according to Biblemeanings.info is that, “the nations outside the church who were in falsities from evil, were called dogs” and were ” accounted most vile”. Was Paul warning Christians to stay away from gentiles? Considering that many of the first century Christians weren’t Jewish, I doubt that was Paul’s intent.  As previously stated by Biblemeanings.info the Jews called those outside their faith “dogs”. Paul may have been trying warn Christians against those outside of their belief that may try to influence them away from their faith, including Jews.

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One commentator speculates that, “The Jews, who have here the same appellative which they formerly gave to the Gentiles: because the Gentiles were not included in the covenant, they called them Dogs; and themselves, the children of the Most High. Now, they are cast out of the covenant and the Gentiles taken in; therefore they are the dogs, and the Gentiles the children.” (Clarkes Commentary) This commentary sheds an interesting light on this topic. My question now is why would Paul refer to the Jews with such a seemingly derogatory name? Clarkes Commentary goes on to answer this question as well. This commentary theorizes that “dog” was renamed in that same verse by saying “evil workers” which according to this author refers to, “Judaizing teachers, who endeavored to pervert the Gospel.”  (Clarkes Commentary) Paul could have been warning the Christians at Philippi against the Jews trying to sway them from their newly found Christian beliefs and back to the traditions of the Old Covenant.

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The final theory is derived from Barnes’ Notes on Philippians 3:2 that states, “Dogs in the east are mostly without masters.” (Barnes Notes) From a religious perspective, a person without a “master” could refer to someone who does not serve or worship God or even a god.One ancient group focused on nature rather that the spiritual enlightenment found in the teachings of the Christian God. This school of thought was referred to as cynicism. The origin of the cynic name is the Greek word “kunikos” which means “dog-like”.(http://www.iep.utm.edu) This theory is very different from any of the ideas previously stated. This hypothesis focuses on a group of people whose name literally means “dog” and not a group merely being referred to as such. There were cynics in Rome and Paul could have written to the church at Philippi warning them against their teachings. Wikipedia.org states that, “Some historians have noted the similarities between the life and teachings of Jesus and those of the Cynics.” These similarities in doctrine could pose a threat to the early Christian church because it would have been easy to adopt a new belief system if it was already close to the one you had.

Through my research I found several differing opinions of Paul’s intention with the term “dog” in Philippians 3:2. There is, however, common ground in all of these theories. Each one can be interpreted as a warning against false doctrine. I have come to the conclusion that this warning was Paul’s intent. The question I’m left with now is, “which doctrine is being warned against?”

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