Does Paul expect his believers to be blameless?

In Phil. 3:3-6 we find one of the most revealing autobiographical accounts of Paul’s former manner of life in Judaism. In v. 6 he concludes his list of Jewish privileges, he states: “as to righteousness under the law: blameless” (beware the NIV adds the word ‘legalistic’ to the Greek). Paul then goes on to say that he has given all of these things up for the sake of knowing Christ and understanding the power of his resurrection in hope that he too might become a partaker in it.

It is this phrase ‘blameless’ which I want to discuss. Did Paul say that this attitude was one that he discarded upon his acceptance of Christ? I doubt so. Why, might you ask? Because earlier in the latter, in 2:15, Paul states that his desire is to see this very same blamelessness among his converts.

“so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world”

The same Gk. ἄμεμπτος is used in both places.

Do Christians read a passage like Phil. 2:15 and thing, “Oh, I will never be THAT good! That seems impossible, and therefore I will never try.” How do you read this passage, or the one found in Phil. 3:6?


3 thoughts on “Does Paul expect his believers to be blameless?

  1. Dustin, I just read through those verses after reading this and I’m sitting here staring at the computer without a single logical thing to say. That’s something I’m going to have to ponder for awhile.

    I’ve always saw it as Paul being blameless under the Old Testament laws. But he was living blamelessly under very legalistic principles. The Jewish leaders of the time saw him as blameless even though he was condoning the murders and persecution of the early church for crying out loud…

    I think Paul was saying he wants us to be blameless in the eyes of God, not blameless in the eyes of man.

    Just a thought.

  2. these are good thoughts, dustin. it would be interesting to see where paul’s vocabulary pops up in the LXX. i think of “righteous” and “blameless” in the OT as referring primarily to horizontal relationships with other people (like “just” and “righteous” in the OT), but if i remember correctly some folks are said to be blameless before God as well.

    anywho, the relevance is very high for philippians. i read it as though paul is drawing imagery and vocabulary from philippi’s military heritage (lots of veterans from the roman civil war) to call the church(es) to a united front for the gospel, holding forth the standard (i.e. gospel) as we charge those outside the church with the good news. if we’re to achieve a united front, the members must be “blameless” towards each other, which the two prominent women (as well as others) were failing to do.

    so, i’m glad you wrote about this, it makes me want to look into it more. i’m thinking initially that paul is calling for them to stop their quarreling and jockeying for position and instead be “blameless” towards each other for the sake of a united front for the gospel. one hole in the ranks and a front is compromised!

    good thoughts

    1. Thanks for the comment Mike,

      I’m still frustrated that many see Paul’s former manner of life in Judaism as one of legalistic self-righteousness, especially when the Jewish sources say very little to nothing of the sort. Good thoughts on the Philippian situation.

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