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Philippians 3:12 NASB

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”

‭‭ What is Paul trying to lay hold of? He doesn’t seem to define it explicitly.

7 Answers 7

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Paul is trying to "lay hold" of complete knowledge of Christ. The previous verses make it a bit clearer:

knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them mere rubbish, so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; if somehow I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

He refers to "knowing Christ" and "gaining Christ" as well as "knowing Him and the power of His resurrection." So it is safe to assume that Paul is speaking of full knowledge of Christ. Christ laid hold of Paul in order to form a mutual relationship with him, to know Paul and eventually be known fully by him. This is the same hope he expresses in 1 Corinthians 13:12

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known.

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  • Good answer and i suggest our answers are the same because one must be conformed to the image of Christ to know Christ. i.e. to know Christ is to be conformed to his image.
    – Perry Webb
    Nov 26, 2022 at 15:24
  • Very helpful answer, thank you!’ Agree with Perry that your answers very similar and equally true, but am giving the green check mark to this one because I especially appreciated the 1 Cor cross reference and pointing out how Paul refers to knowing Christ just before! Nov 30, 2022 at 18:31
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Probably refers to the image of Christ as in Roman 8:29:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (ESV)

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor. 15:49, ESV)

ἢ ἤδη τετελείωμαι ([I] am already perfect) means finished or complete. The perfect tense gives the sense of finished.

τελειόω ... 1. complete, bring to an end, finish, accomplish ... 2. bring to an end, bring to its goal or to accomplishment ... -- Arndt, W., Gingrich, F. W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (1979). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature : a translation and adaption of the fourth revised and augmented edition of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schrift en des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur (p. 809). University of Chicago Press.

Romans 8:28 pictures being conformed to the image of Christ in v29 as a continued process in this life.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

In Romans 12:1-2 Paul wrote that our transformation is something for us to pursue.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)

Note also:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2, ESV)

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Paul makes a passing reference to verse 12's "that" again in verse 13:

Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, [bold mine]

But he does define it in verse 14:

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul continues speaking about the need to live the Christian way of life in order to attain the heavenly reward. He specifically mentions this in verse 20: "For our citizenship is in heaven".

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There are several matters here: translation and context, plus the resurrection.

Translation

The Greek of Phil 3:12 is invariably "interpreted" to some extent by almost all translations. It literally reads:

Not that already I have obtained [it] or already have been perfected, but I am pursuing, if also I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.

Note that [it] or some equivalent is often supplied such as, "all this", "these things", "it all", etc. Regardless, Paull appears to be directly refering to what he just discussed in the previous three verses, namely -

Context

The previous few verses defines explicitly what Paul is describing:

9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to Him in His death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Thus, Paul is discussing the following items that he has not yet attained:

  • I want to know Christ [presumably face to face]
  • the power of His resurrection [Paul had not been resurrected yet]
  • the fellowship of His sufferings [Paul had suffered but that was not yet complete]
  • being conformed to Him in His death [Paul had not yet died in Christ because he was still alive]
  • the resurrection from the dead [Paul had not been resurrected from the dead]
  • (V12) made perfect [Paul had not been made perfect at that point, which occurs when he would receive his resurrection and heavenly body as per 1 Cor 15:39-50.]

Resurrection

The Bible often distinguishes between two resurrections: one of the righteous and one for the unrighteous. Rev 20:5, 6, John 5:28, 29, Dan 12:2, Acts 24:15, Heb 11:35.

Since this includes everyone, (except those still alive when Jesus returns) that Paul's expressed desire to "attain to the resurrection" is presumably his desire to attain to the resurrection of the righteous!

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  • "the righteousness from God on the basis of faith" even more specifically. +1 Nov 27, 2022 at 23:10
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What was Paul talking about? Take hold of what?

NIV Philip 3:

10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Paul emphasized the resurrection.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this,

The phrase "all this" is not in the Greek. Not that I have already obtained what?

Obtained the power of Christ's resurrection.

or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of

to take hold of
καταλάβω (katalabō)
Verb - Aorist Subjunctive Active - 1st Person Singular
Strong's 2638: From kata and lambano; to take eagerly, i.e. Seize, possess, etc.

that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

took hold of me.
κατελήμφθην (katelēmphthēn)
Verb - Aorist Indicative Passive - 1st Person Singular
Strong's 2638: From kata and lambano; to take eagerly, i.e. Seize, possess, etc.

Paul was taken hold of or seized by the Lord at conversion by the resurrected Jesus.

Now Paul wished (subjunctive) to take hold of the goal of this conversion, i.e., the power of Jesus' resurrection.

13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.

yet to have laid hold [of it].
κατειληφέναι (kateilēphenai)
Verb - Perfect Infinitive Active
Strong's 2638: From kata and lambano; to take eagerly, i.e. Seize, possess, etc.

He had not fully taken hold of the power of Jesus' resurrection.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

The ultimate goal is to receive the resurrected body.

Three times Paul used G2638 in 3 different conjugations. Paul really wanted to take hold of the power of Jesus' resurrection. It enabled him to suffer for Christ. Paul pressed on to take hold of the power of Jesus' resurrection for which Christ Jesus took hold of Paul. We are to do the same: taking hold of the power of Jesus' resurrection to enable us to go through life.

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Not that he has already achieved it, nor that he is already perfect; but I continue, if I can grasp that for which I was also apprehended by the Messiah. Philippians 3:12 BTX

Paulo makes a game with the verb tenses of καταλάβω and κατελήμφθην from Phil. 3:12 in relation to Phil's verbs ἐζημιώθην and κερδήσω. Phil.3:8.

In fact, Paul has been captured by Christ and now he wants to completely lay hold of Christ.

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It refers to everything he runs for, the goal that is resurrection from the dead, eternal life as mentioned in the preceding clause v11 "if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead". As Meyer explains:

ἤδη ἔλαβον] that I have already grasped it. The object is not named by Paul, but left to be understood of itself from the context. The latter represents a prize-runner, who at the goal of the σταδιοδρομία grasps the βραβεῖον (Php 3:14). This βραβεῖον typifies the bliss of the Messiah’s kingdom (comp. 1Co 9:24; 2Ti 4:7-8), which therefore, and that as βραβεῖον, is here to be conceived as the object, the attainment of which is denied to have already taken place. And accordingly, ἔλαβον is to be explained of the having attained in ideal anticipation, in which the individual is as sure and certain of the future attainment of the βραβεῖον, as if it were already an accomplished fact. What therefore Paul here denies of himself is the same imagination with which he reproaches the Corinthians in 1Co 4:8 (see in loc). The reference to the βραβεῖον (so Chrysostom, Oecumenius, Theophylact, Erasmus, Bengel, Heinrichs, Rilliet, and others) is not proleptic;[164] on the contrary, it is suggested by the idea of the race just introduced in Php 3:12, and is prepared for by the preceding καταντήσω εἰς τὴν ἐξανάστασιν τ. νεκρ., in which the Messianic ΣΩΤΗΡΊΑ makes its appearance, and the grasping of the ΒΡΑΒΕῖΟΝ is realized; hence it is so accordant with the context that all other references are excluded. Accordingly, we must neither supply metam generally (Beza, comp. Ewald); nor τὴν ἀνάστασιν (Rheinwald); nor ΤῸΝ ΧΡΙΣΤΌΝ (Theodoret; comp. Weiss); nor moral perfection (Hoelemann, following Ambrosiaster and others); nor the right of resurrection (Grotius); nor even “the knowledge of Christ which appropriates, imitates, and strives to follow Him” (de Wette; comp. Ambrosiaster, Calvin, Vatablus, van Hengel, Wiesinger); nor yet the καταντᾶν of Php 3:11 (Matthies).

There is an additional verb justified is a variant found in 3rd century P46 and some other mss. It is highly likely to be the original, as argued by some scholars. Ryan Kristopher Giffin writes in his article Paul Not Yet Justified? The Text of Philippians 3:12 in P46 in TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism 25 (2020),

Reumann accepts the reading as authentic and translates the verse as follows: “I do not say that I have already had success, or that I have already been justified or am already perfected; but I run in pursuit if I also may successfully take hold, the way I was successfully taken hold of by Christ Jesus.”11 [....] The phrase η ηδη δεδικαιωμαι in Phil 3:12 in P46 is in full harmony with this second sense of Paul’s meaning of δικαιοσύνη as final justification at the last judgment. Furthermore, it is wholly coherent within its immediate context in Philippians. In Phil 3:8–9 Paul declares that he considers all to be loss and rubbish in order that he may gain Christ and be “found in him.” Holloway rightly recognizes the phrase “found in him” (εὑρεθῶ ἐν αὐτῷ, 3:9) as introducing “a new theme of eschatological salvation based on how one is ‘found’ at the last judgment,” with the remainder of 3:9 constituting a development of this theme.46 In 3:10–11 Paul continues this theme with a short list of things he desires. The list culminates with a reference to “the resurrection from the dead” (τὴν ἐξανάστασιν τὴν ἐκ νεκρῶν, 3:11).47 Paul has not already obtained this, nor has he been perfected, but he presses on toward the goal of experiencing these eschatological hopes. As a reference to final justification at the last judgment, the justification clause fits well within this larger theme of eschatological salvation.

It can be argued that the Philippians letter to written to a laid-back, lenient church which believed that faith is the goal, and were overconfident and careless about their responsibility in religion (OSAS?). Paul explains that faith is just the beginning in the religion of the Jews, and we ought to work out our own salvation. It is possible that this church was facing the early forms of false grace or Marcionian heresy of faith alone, lawlessness, the stronger degree of which, James, Peter and John wrote extensively against (cf 2Peter 3:15-16).

Finding cross-reference in other books would not help in exegesis as the immediate context and the whole epistle is quite clear about the exhortation to be perfect as the whole scripture commands and to keep striving to the goal.

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