Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. (KJV)

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (NIV)

Not that already I obtained (it) or already have been perfected I am pursuing also however if also I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Interlinear)

I am not sure what this verse is saying as a main point. Is it:

  1. Paul is pursuing perfection that he has not achieved, that Jesus laid hold of Paul to become as a task given?

  2. Paul is unsaved and is pursuing salvation perfection as not to fail and be a reprobate or castaway in other verses as stated by himself (to win the prize etc)?

  3. Paul is saved and is pursuing perfection like Jesus perfection in order to understand the perfection that Jesus laid hold of him for in some way?

  4. Paul is saved/not saved and is trying to understand the perfection of Jesus, to show us Jesus' perfection as the task he was potentially given by Jesus as an apostle to us as an example?

  5. other?

Added for association points in messages.

(6) Is it related to verses 1 Cor 9:27 and Timothy 5:12?

27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

12 Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith.

This is quite a confusing verse to me and can refer to being unsaved or saved, and other things, so what is it actually saying?

Added alteration for addressing others answers: Yes the blood of the lamb saves, but only by the gift of the Grace of God through Faith we are saved, meaning, the hearing of the word of God gives faith, so if a person stops hearing, do they have enough faith etc, and so the issue or question still remains with what Paul is saying here?

It does seem he is in process of something, either has not attained perfect salvation, or attained perfect understanding and so on... A few points seem to have answered so far below but still leave the area of osas or non osas, but may seem too much top ask on this question?

As some have said it seems to relate to some of his end goal of attaining a resurrection body, but how does anyone attain that except by dying, not an understanding? Seems a bit off unless I am obviously not seeing something?

  • welcome to the BHse. This is a excellent question in my opinion. Looking forward to more from you. In the meantime please take the tour to get your bearings. May 23 at 3:14
  • @Michael16 ... Isn't this just NIV trying to express " that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus" in easy to read English? May 23 at 3:37
  • Dan, I didnt notice that the word is in first person, hence Paul himself is the object which was held by Christ . #Related hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/79988/…
    – Michael16
    May 23 at 13:10

6 Answers 6


The reason Paul uses the language he does in Php 3:12 is that, when he wrote his letter to the Philippians, he had not yet been finally saved. Or, put another way, his salvation had not yet been completed.

The salvation at focus in the New Testament was to consist primarily of believers being delivered from the present evil age (Ga 1:4) and the wrath of God that was coming upon the world (Ac 17:30–31; 24:24–25; Ro 2:5–9; Re 3:10–11; 6:15–17; cf. Mt 3:7) to their eternal inheritance in heaven (Jn 14:1–6; He 11:8–16; 1 Pe 1:4). This salvation was to be accomplished at the Parousia (He 9:28),1 at which time the living disciples were to undergo a bodily change (1Co 15:50–53; Php 3:20–21) and be gathered to Christ along with those disciples who died prior to the Parousia (Mt 24:31; 1 Th 4:13–17; 2 Th 2:1).

Since the disciples’ salvation would not be completed until the Parousia, only those who endured in faith to that time, or the end of their earthly life, would be finally saved (cf. Mt 10:22; 24:13 par.; 2 Ti 4:6–8; Re 2:10). That this is also how Paul understood salvation is made evident in 1 Co 15:1–2:

1 Corinthians 15:1–2 (LEB)

Now I make known to you, brothers, the gospel which I proclaimed to you, which you have also received, in which you also stand, 2 by which you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the message I proclaimed to you, unless you believed to no purpose.

What is notable about this passage is that Paul portrays salvation as an ongoing process for the Corinthian believers rather than something they had already attained (v. 2; cf. Ro 8:24–25).2 Additionally, he makes it clear that, though they presently stood in the gospel (v. 1), their salvation was contingent on their holding fast to the message they received.

We can see Paul apply this same understanding of salvation to himself in Philippians 3. Paul’s goal was to attain to salvation via the resurrection from the dead, which was to occur at the Parousia (v. 11; cf. v. 20–21; 1 Co 15:51–52). However, he humbly acknowledged that he had not yet taken hold of it (v. 12) and that he would need to press forward in faith to obtain the prize he desired (v. 14; cf. v. 9).3 Notably, this is also the attitude that he encouraged the Philippians to have as they looked forward to their salvation at Christ’s coming (vv. 15–21).

1 The Parousia refers to the “second coming” or arrival of Christ at the eschaton.

2 According to Anthony Thiselton, “Commentators agree that the continuous present σῴζεσθε [“you are being saved”] is to be explicated: it denotes ‘what is being done for them [the believers] for the future.’” Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 1185.

3 The Bible teaches that at the eschaton, there were to be resurrections of both the righteous and the unrighteous. The unrighteous were to be raised to condemnation, while the righteous were to be raised to eternal life (Da 12:2; Jn 5:29). The resurrection that Paul was seeking after was, of course, the resurrection of the righteous, which could only be attained if one continued in faith until death (see He 11:13 regarding the saints of old who "died in faith"). Therefore, it wasn’t that Paul wanted to die, but rather that he wanted to remain faithful until his death so that he could be counted worthy of the resurrection of the righteous and take hold of eternal life (cf. 2 Co 5:4). Further evidence in favor of this interpretation can be found in 2 Ti 4:6–8, where Paul, knowing that he was about to die (v. 6), confidently asserted he would receive the crown of righteousness at Parousia (v. 8) because he had "kept the faith" to the end (v. 7).

  • this was my initial thought and I was worried that I had lost salvation because of the verse of backsliding until there was "no repentance". I backslid and don't feel the same fear and connection anymore.
    – daijo
    May 24 at 21:50
  • @daijo The Bible does consistently teach that it is possible to persist in willful sin to the point that repentance is no longer granted (1 Sa 2:22–25; Je 7:12–20; 11:11–14; He 6:4–8; 10:26–27). However, if you’ve turned back to the Father and are now doing the things that are pleasing in his sight, then you should be able to have confidence that he’s accepted you (1 Jn 3:20–22; cf. Ps 34:15).
    – AMRhone
    May 25 at 16:09
  • 1
    @AMRhone Welcome to the Stack Exchange. Would mind explaining these words of yours, "-2 The reason Paul uses the language he does in Php 3:12 is that, when he wrote his letter to the Philippians, he had not yet been saved. Or, put another way, his salvation had not yet been completed." I ask because the Apostle Paul was saved at Acts 9:1-17. And at vs17 Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit. I suggest that you read what I wrote in this thread regarding Philippians 3:12 and its context.
    – Mr. Bond
    May 25 at 17:51
  • 1
    Hi, @Mr.Bond Paul certainly came to faith in Ac 9:1–17, but he had not been finally saved at that time. As Andrew Lincoln (104) notes, “In Paul the verb σῴζειν [save] is normally found in the future tense and the noun σωτηρία [salvation] in a future context (e.g., Rom 5:9, 10; 10:9, 13; 13:11; 1 Cor 3:15; 5:5).” Additionally, in most of his other references to salvation, Paul portrays it as a present but ongoing process (1 Co 1:18; 15:2; 2 Co 2:15; Php 2:12). (Please see the three comments below for the rest of my response.)
    – AMRhone
    May 26 at 16:19
  • 1
    Even in Ro 8:23–25, where Paul uses sōzō in the past tense (v. 24), he makes it clear that the believers were “saved in hope” and that they were eagerly waiting for their salvation (i.e., the redemption of their body [v. 23]) with perseverance. Another aspect of Ro 8:23–25 is that the language Paul uses in the passage is notably similar to that used by him in Php 3:10–14. I believe this similarity in language provides additional support for my interpretation of the latter passage.
    – AMRhone
    May 26 at 16:20

Let us be very clear that we are saved by the blood of the Lamb:

Rev 1:5 - Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has released us from our sins by His blood,

The fact that sinner have been saved does not make them either sinless or perfect. Paul acknowledges this fact in the OP's text when he says:

Phil 3:12 - Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Paul takes this theme up in much greater detail in Rom 7.

  • yes i see the point except paul is in many places saying repeatedly to check ourselves if we are in the faith and that he seeks christ like a prize not to be a castaway or reprobate in other verse etc, so the point is not anwered.
    – daijo
    May 23 at 15:02
  • @daijo - you are confusing what modern theology calls justification and sanctification, the latter is growing into Christ and better imitating Him which is a never-ending process in this life - perfection only comes at Jesus' return.
    – Dottard
    May 23 at 21:30

The main point is your Option 5 - Other. This should become clear once the matter of whose righteousness Paul is writing about has been established. Context does that, as well as earlier verses in his epistle.

Starting at Paul's introduction to this letter, he expresses confidence that "...he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (1:6). He prays that his Christian readers "may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God" (1:10-11).

Notice that he has not mentioned perfection yet, and only does so the once, in chapter 3 verse 12, the verse in question. He does mention the need for Christians to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27). After extolling the humility and exaltation of Christ, he gives that as the reason for them to keep working out their salvation "with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (2:12-13). Some suppose that being fearful and trembling is in case salvation will be held back from them (should they not attain a standard of perfection, perhaps) but Paul says the reason is due to knowing that God is working in them! Who could not be in reverent awe at the realisation that God is working in you, to complete the work he has begun?

Then Paul makes the point that he has lost all things in order to "gain Christ, and to be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes through the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (3:8-9).

Now, having peeled back those layers, we have grasped his train of thought on this matter, and are ready to understand the next three verses, that end with the verse in question. Paul shows that he has his sights set on attaining to the resurrection from the dead. He knows he has not yet obtained that (for first he would have to die physically!) Only with receiving a perfect, resurrection body will he experience the prize - the crown of life. That will be the point of perfection. Meantime, he eagerly presses forward in the Christian life, towards the goal for which God has called him heavenward in Christ Jesus (verse 13). By the end of chapter 3 he confidently writes about their citizenship being in heaven, and Christ coming from there to transform their lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. This is all talk about the resurrection. That is the goal they are pressing forward to. Once transformed, they will be glorified and perfected in Christ.

But the righteousness he deals with in the epistle is the righteousness of God, which comes by faith (not by being perfect). The perfection he speaks of is that perfected resurrection body that will transform their lowly physical bodies.

There is absolutely nothing in the entire epistle that lends itself to the idea that Paul, and those Christians he was writing to were unsaved. There is no doubt about their standing in Christ, before God, as those who have been saved by God alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Only those who suppose salvation is being held out to them like a carrot on a stick, fear stumbling or tiring and so failing to get it. It is not about pursuing either perfection or salvation. The gift of salvation has been given and God will complete the good work he began.

The process Paul is going through is living life on Earth as a saved sinner who has been transformed by grace; what keeps him going, with joy and thanksgiving, is knowing that when he dies physically, he will then have a perfect resurrection body to live for eternity with his Saviour.

  • if this is so, for what reason does Paul state he runs a race to win a prize and not be a "castaway", translated reprobate in other areas? What is he castaway from if not salvation? Your point makes a lot of sense except this "castaway" thing?
    – daijo
    May 23 at 17:55
  • 1
    @daijo The crown of life is obtained after a faithful life. Paul knows it takes discipline and determination to live and die for Christ. Those who profess faith but who do not live for Christ will never die for him! Lots of people want the prize but won't discipline themselves to 'run the race with endurance' as must be done; other people and things can hinder Christians, Gal.5:7. None of this need lead to becoming reprobate, however. Flagging, growing discouraged, can happen but that does not mean the person has 'lost' salvation. Paul lived and died faithful to the end.
    – Anne
    May 24 at 12:33
  • but you are of the opinion one can lose salvation, from your wording this seems suggested?
    – daijo
    May 24 at 21:43
  • 1
    @daijo You have now asked a Q different to the one here. You've raised a vast topic, which this site is not for. The idea is to stick to one text to see what the Bible actually says about it. Personal opinions are rarely helpful, and personal experiences can be misleading. What does the text actually state? If that raises difficulties according to your understanding, then ask a new question about that eg"Does God grant salvation, then take it away?" That sort of thing. I believe not, but some people think they've been saved, fall away, then assume God took their salvation away. No, he didn't!
    – Anne
    May 25 at 13:21

I'm convinced that the Apostle Paul is describing the process of sanctification. The culmination of Paul's testimony in verse 14 contains a statement about the goal and the prize God placed before him.

To him Christ was both the goal and the prize. In a human contest the goal and the prize could not, at least normally, be the same. The Bible speaks often of the process of maturing through which God takes His followers. Obviously this does not happen automatically. Full maturity will not be attained until the resurrection.

Someone mentioned Philippians 3:12 and stated, "He/Paul is working out his salvation." No he is not, believers do not work out their salvation to get saved or to stay saved. Paul is addressing believers already and confronting them at Philippians 2:1-4 for being selfish and not putting others first. They were not of the same mind and only looking out for their personal interest.

Paul uses Jesus Christ as the perfect example who, (vs6) "although (or in spite of the fact that) He existed in the form of God took on another form of a man/bond-servant and humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross." In short, Jesus was a perfect example of selflessness.

The point of Philippians 2:12 is that Paul is telling the believers to work out the solution or deliverance of your problems. Why? Vs13, "For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and do His good pleasure. Vs14, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing."


The verse refers to attaining his (βραβεῖον) victory prize that is the resurrection from the dead, as explained in the preceding verse and by Meyer in his commentary. It refers to the future resurrection and glorification of the body, where we shall be like him (1John 3:2). The topic is about the resurrection, glorification and redemption of the body; that's the ultimate perfection, hope and goal of a believer. Rom 8:17,23; 2Tim 2:11.

There is an additional clause "already been justified" along with "perfected", in some early manuscripts like P46. The reason for not accepting this variant by the critical editions could be a doctrinal hesitancy, as the verse seems objectionable to some. However, the variant is being slowly being accepted among some scholars, it may soon find its way in our Bibles.

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.

  • so it has nothing to do with a task given by christ for him to be an example, as paul states to understand something? If ressurection is not yet perfectly attained, only in death is this done and seems to confuse a laymen like me. Please simplify / clarify ( the potential full justification vs part justification vs resurrection etc) thanks.
    – daijo
    May 23 at 15:23
  • It is often divided into 2 justifications, the initial one of faith justification and then the judgment justification, however I have avoided using that language because I dont find it reasonable. It's not about wanting to know and understand Christ. V10 points are already achieved by him, he only wants to continue to the end and attain the goal of completion. It's about his own resurrection from dead which has been the final hope of all Jews from the beginning. Current justification/righteousness is only the process. It's about admonishing Phil 3:15,Heb6.11. Thats how mature mind should be
    – Michael16
    May 23 at 17:27

Here, Paul admits he has not attained perfection, and in vs. 9 he even says that this includes not having yet achieved "the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith." This presents us with a conundrum, because Paul is generally thought to teach that faith in Christ's death and resurrection is sufficient to attain salvation through grace (Ephesians 2:8). In terms of context we should consider something from the letter's previous chapter:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (2:12-13)

This sheds light on what Paul means in chapter 3. He is "working out his salvation," admitting that he has not attained perfection. He adopts a humble attitude of "fear and trembling," even as he maintains his confidence that his faith in Christ's atoning death will see him through "in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." (v. 11)

These chapters present a powerful insight into Paul's soteriology as applied in his personal spiritual quest. In terms of the multiple choices given in the OP, perhaps number 4 comes the closest. My own formulation would be "Paul is on the path of salvation but admits he is not perfect yet, and therefore see his course as a work in progress."

  • @Da Dan Fefferman meaning paul sees himself not saved as of yet and that even he can lose salvation and be a "castaway" (reprobate) in his eyes? If he falls from faith etc?
    – daijo
    May 23 at 15:08
  • In this particular text he seems to see himself as involved in the process of salvation... but it's not an "all or nothing" situation. I know of no scripture in which he writes of becoming a castaway. Elsewhere he expresses confidence in his salvation. He says here that he is not perfect yet, but to say "not saved yet" would probably be going too far given what he says in other letters. May 24 at 5:28
  • @Da Dan Fefferman 1 Corinthians 9:27 says "castaway", and this also relates to my issue with understanding what verse Timothy 5:12 means in a similar way "damnation" after first faith in Jesus Christ to turn to a desire of a worldly thing / husband etc?
    – daijo
    May 24 at 21:31

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