The Saving Righteousness of God at Philippi: Paul, Polycarp, and the Question of Dikaiosyne

At the center of the debate between adherents of the “old” Protestant perspective on Paul and the new perspective on Paul is the question of what constitutes “righteousness” in the Pauline corpus. Among the various passages that could be cited as central in this regard, one important passage is Phil 3:2-14. In fact, in the last essay found in The New Perspective on Paul, Dunn suggests that this passage is crucial in moving the discussion forward for “it provides the resources for rapprochement between the old and new perspectives,” for it holds “together what might otherwise be seen as disparate and even inconsistent elements of Paul’s theology” (469, 2008 edition). With this being said, it also raises two interconnected questions: how is one able to attain a right understanding of righteousness in this complex passage and how does this help address the current divide among Pauline scholars on this issue? In this paper I will attempt to answer these questions by asking them to one of the first “readers” of Paul on righteousness, namely, Polycarp of Smyrna, and that by means of his letter to the Philippians. At their request, Polycarp writes to the church at Philippi about the nature of “righteousness”, and as W.Schoedel and K.Berding have both suggested in different ways, Polycarp seeks to elucidate a properly Pauline understanding of righteousness. In my investigation of Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians, I will seek to demonstrate that Polycarp’s understanding of Pauline righteousness offers important guidance in regard to the nature of the saving righteousness of God, in particular, that Pauline righteousness should not be viewed in a competitive but complimentary relationship to both Matthean and Petrine soteriology.