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Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh: (Philippians 3:2)
In this verse, Paul three times uses the word (βλέπω blepō) beware, which means to see and in turn is used to warn and challenge a person to take heed to something. This is a literary device called an anaphora in which a word is repeated to create weight and particular emphasis to what is being said.
There is discussion as to whether Paul is speaking of the Jews of his day or Judaizers in this section. When considering Paul’s other writings, it would appear that he is referring to Judaizers and not Jews here. In this opening comment, Paul is very harsh, and this comes as almost a jolt in the middle of this letter.
“Beware of the dogs” is not about household pets. The concept that the Jews hated dogs is not totally accurate. They used them for watching over their homes and guarding their flocks. Then, as now, there were packs of hungry, wild dogs wandering about, and they were designated as unclean in the Jewish dietary law. So, why does Paul use this epitaph when speaking of the Judaizers?
Paul may be referring to Isaiah 56:10 (HCSB), “Israel’s watchmen are blind, all of them, they know nothing; all of them are mute dogs, they cannot bark; they dream, lie down, and love to sleep.” Isaiah was warning the people against the false prophets who were telling the people that everything was fine when they should have been warning of the impending disaster. Because of this false message, the northern kingdom had already gone into captivity, and now the southern kingdom was facing the same fate. God called them “mute dogs” because they would not speak up or sound the warning.
Paul is apparently calling the Judaizers false teachers who trusted in their own attainments rather than God’s grace. They perverted the gospel by substituting something other than the blood of Jesus for salvation. As the Message translation of the Bible puts it, “Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite.”
Next, Paul says, “beware of the evil workers.” In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, the apostle Paul warns the Corinthian believers against the false teachers who were out to lead them astray. He wrote, “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no great thing if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their destiny will be according to their works.” These are those who claim to be teachers of the gospel, but in truth they are “deceitful” or as he says to the Philippians – evil. They appear to serve God, but, in reality, they are servants of Satan. Paul seems unusually harsh, but as he had stated in verse 1, this is for their safety.
Finally, he says, “beware of those who mutilate the flesh.” This is a very harsh and critical comment that Paul is using to contrast truth from error. He finishes his contrast in the first phrase of the following verse.
More in-depth Insights
Beware of dogs. Dogs to the Israelites were ceremonially unclean. In the Ancient East, there were few dogs held as pets. They simply wandered through the streets and fed upon an animal’s entrails and internal organs used as food, and even upon dead human bodies. Although some had dogs as pets, there were “beware of dogs” signs even in Rome. And while those in the West today might call someone held in contempt a dog; it was a much stronger expression in the first century C.E. The Greek term (κύων kuōn) had the sense of a person who is without shame, has no respect for another person, malicious, aggressive, discontented, and combative, and is evidently how Paul meant it here. Paul was both a natural and a spiritual Jew, making a distinction between the natural Jews who simply had been circumcised and the Jews who possessed genuine circumcision. These were the Jews who were circumcised on the inside, whether they were natural descendants of Israel or were of any other nation. Undoubtedly, the reference here is to Judaizers teaching fleshly circumcision, which was causing spiritual injury to others. Thus, Paul’s strong language is now tougher toward these argumentative ones, who sought to cause trouble, who were dissatisfied, and wanted nothing more than to create discord. Paul was aware of the contention, division, danger coming from their influence on the Christians. Using the term dog here, the apostle meant to express strong disapproval these ones’ character for their advocating the superiority of fleshly circumcision. This was a serious warning to the Philippians against these Judaizers, who were both Jewish and non-Jewish Christians, who viewed the Mosaic Law as still binding on all Christians.
Beware of evil workers. This reference is to the same Judaizers above that were just characterized as dogs, which is a characterization that is considered ceremonially unclean by the Jews. These are Jewish teachers, who taught that the Mosaic Law’s ceremonial aspects were still obligatory to all who are seeking a relationship with God; Paul regards the teachings as evil doctrines by evil workers. It is also a class distinction to view the Jews as superior and more favored by God than the non-Jews. These Judaizers taught that only those compliant with the Mosaic Law are justified before God, that is, have a righteous standing in the eyes of God. In this way, they are setting aside the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of salvation by the great Redeemer.
Beware of those who mutilate the flesh. Once more, Paul is doubtless, referring to these Jewish teachers. It seems that the Judaizing false teachers had made great progress among the Philippians, just as they had among the Galatians. The Judaized mixture of law and grace is another kind of gospel, a different gospel, wherein these Jewish teachers were declaring that one’s obedience to the law is the good news that leads to salvation. Paul was rebuking Christians in the congregations and indeed the brothers leading them for allowing themselves to be misled by an aspect of Judaizers among them, Jews who were looking to make their own righteousness by way of the Mosaic replacing the righteousness due to faith delivered by the new covenant.
The Greek word (κατατομή katatomē) rendered mutilate, “to mutilate by severe cutting (occurring in Php 3:2 as an exaggerated reference to περιτομή ‘circumcision,’ 53.51)—‘to mutilate, mutilation.’ βλέπετε τὴν κατατομήν ‘beware of the mutilation’ Php 3:2. It is possible that κατατομή in Php 3:2 means ‘those who practice mutilation’ (as hyperbole for circumcision) in the same way that περιτομή in some contexts means ‘those who circumcise.’” Now, we should pause and expound on what Paul was not saying. He was not talking with any contempt toward circumcision that the Israelite nation carried out before the coming of Jesus Christ. (cf. Acts 16:3) Paul was shaken with intense disbelief at the Galatians. Clearly, also the Jewish teachers in Philippi, astonished almost beyond his comprehension that these Jewish Christians, who had been delivered from bondage to the Mosaic Law, would, in fact, return to such a prison of legalism, being enslaved, dependent on the Law rather than on personal faith. The Judaizer’s combination of law and grace another, a different gospel; thus Paul exclaimed to the Galatians that by mixing the law with the gospel, this was and is a misrepresentation of the truth. The entire provision for salvation is an act of God’s kindness, a gift that is not deserved. There is no way that any imperfect human can acquire salvation on his own, no matter how many works or how honorable his works are. Salvation is a gift from God given to those who have faith in the sin-atoning sacrifice of God’s Son.
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 E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1968). Pages 198, 205.
 Paul had a great concern for his Jewish brethren (consider Romans 9:1 ff). He constantly was struggling against the teaching of the Judaizers in his ministry. “Judaizers” refers to Jewish Christians who sought to induce Gentiles to observe Jewish religious customs: to “Judaize.” Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary Online http://www.biblestudytools.com/ dictionaries/ bakers-evangelical-dictionary/judaizers.html. Judaizers would emphasize the need of circumcision for salvation, thus placing a work as the basis for a person’s salvation instead of the acceptance of the finished work of Christ.
 William Smith, Smith’s Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1948). William Smith, Smith’s Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1948). Page 147.
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 224.