Philippians 3:20 "For our CONVERSATION is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ."
The word "conversation" in this verse if often criticized by those who do not believe the King James Bible is the inerrant word of God. In fact, the people I have heard criticize this verse do not believe ANY Bible or any text is the inerrant, complete and preserved words of God.
Lately I have run into two people at the Baptist Board who criticized this verse as it stands in the King James Bible. One of them writes: "Archaic words may not be wrong. The word "conversation" for example is an archaic word that although today means "speech," then it meant "behaviour," or "manner of life." But we come to a problem in Philippians 3:20. For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Is our speech in Heaven? No. Is our behaviour, our way of life in Heaven? No. Then what is in Heaven? What is meant by "conversation" that the KJV so poorly translated here, and for all intent and purposes were in error."
Aside from the bad grammar of this Bible critic who assumes to know more than the 54 or more learned men whom God used to put together the undisputed masterpiece of the English language, this same man thinks the word ekklesia should never be translated as "church", even though the NKJV, NASB, ESV, RSV, NIV, Holman CSB all do so, just like the King James Bible.
He also thinks the word baptizo should be translated as immerse and not as baptize. "Immersion" is being submerged into water, - glug, glug, glug; whereas baptism is going under the water and coming back up again - a picture of our identification with the crucified and risen Christ. Almost every Bible version I know of translates the word as "baptize" and not "immerse". This guy needs to write his own bible version. That is the only one he will ever be happy with.
The other man who criticises the word "conversation" had this to say when I asked him these simple questions.
Question #1 Do you personally believe there is any Bible or any single Hebrew and/or Greek text that is now the complete, inerrant, inspired words of God? Or do you believe there is any text in any language that is now the inerrant, complete words of God. If so, what is it called?
Answer - "No, I do not. I believe that each manuscript or fragment is reliant upon others for support, but we will never have anything conclusive until we see God in Glory (1Corinthians 13:12). To believe that any human or group of humans could perfectly preserve the original text, as well as the true intention of the text, is to elevate these men to the status of God. (Job 42:3)
Question #2 Do you believe that all Hebrew texts have been corrupted or miscopied in some places, as in Judges 14:15 for example? I have many other examples I could site, but this one will suffice for my present purposes.
Answer #2 "I believe that they all contain errors of various sorts, but they do not neccessarily occur in the same places. We are left with examining "majorities" of "agreements."
It is obvious that neither one of these Bible critics has any inspired, inerrant, tangible Holy Bible he believes is the pure words of God, but they are quite eager to point out what they think are errors in the King James Bible.
Now to address the issue of the word "conversation" as used by the King James translators.
First of all, the King James Bible is not the only one to translate this word as "conversation" in Philippians 3:20. So do Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535, the Great Bible 1540, Matthew's Bible (John Rogers) 1549, the Bishops' Bible 1568, Douay Rheims Version 1582, the Geneva Bible 1587, the Beza New Testament 1599, the Bill Bible 1671, Whiston's Primitive New Testament 1745, John Wesley's 1755 translation, the Worsley Version 1770, the Clarke N.T. 1795, Thomas Haweis N.T. 1795, Webster's 1833 translation, the Hussey N.T. 1845, the Hewett N.T. 1850, The Commonly Received Version 1851, The Word of Yah 1993, God's First Truth 1999, The Evidence Bible 2003, the Bond Slave Version 2009, and The Work of God's Children Illustrated Bible 2011 - "our CONVERSATION is in heaven."
The Great Bible 1540 - "
The Geneva Bible 1587 - "But our conuersation is in heauen, from whence also we looke for the Sauiour, euen the Lord Iesus Christ"
Webster's 1833 - "For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ"
Other versions have translated this word in a variety of ways.
Wycliffe 1395 - "our LIVING is in heaven"
Third Millennium Bible - "For our ABIDING is in Heaven..."
Moffatt N.T. 1913 - "we are A COLONY of heaven"
NKJV, Holman, NRSV, NASB, NIV - "For our CITIZENSHIP is in heaven..."
Revised Standard Version 1952 "But our COMMONWEALTH is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ"
Bible in Basic English 1960 - "But our COUNTRY is in heaven..."
Darby - "But our COMMONWEALTH HAS ITS EXISTENCE in the heavens..."
Weymouth - "We, however, ARE FREE CITIZENS of Heaven..."
Sawyer N.T. - "but our KINGDOM is in heaven"
New Century Version - "But our HOMELAND is in heaven..."
Lamsa's 1933 translation of the Syriac Peshitta - "But our LABOURS are in heavenly things.."
James Murdock's 1852 translation of the Syriac - "But our CONCERN is in heaven..."
Spanish Reina Valera 1909, and the 1999 Las Sagradas Escrituras - "Mas nuestra VIVIENDA es en los cielos". The word "vivienda" means "living quarters".
John Wesley comments: "Our conversation - The Greek word is of a very extenslve meaning: our citizenship, our thoughts, our affections, are already in heaven."
Matthew Henry notes: " For our conversation is in heaven. Observe, Good Christians, even while they are here on earth, have their CONVERSATION in heaven. Their citizenship is there, politeuma. As if he had said, We stand related to that world, and are citizens of the New Jerusalem. This world is not our home, but that is. There our greatest privileges and concerns lie. And, because our citizenship is there, our CONVERSATION is there; being related to that world, we keep up a correspondence with it. THE LIFE OF A CHRISTIAN IS IN HEAVEN, where his head is, and his home is, and where he hopes to be shortly; he sets his affections upon things above; and where his heart is there will his CONVERSATION be."
I have capitalized certain words above to show that Matthew Henry still uses the word "conversation" to bring out both senses of this word. One meaning is "citizenship" and the other is "manner of life". The Christian's very life and home are in heaven.
Other modern commentators also bring out the two meanings of this word. I will again capitalize several words to highlight the meaning as found in the King James Bible.
Mr. Cook refers to both meanings of the word, one being our citizenship and the other being our lifestyle or manner of living.
Ron Cook, in The Christian Lifestyle, says of this passage: "A verse that sheds more light on this is Philippians 3:20: "For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:" It is not as it was, where our CONVERSATION in times past were in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and we were by nature the children of wrath, even as others (Eph. 2:3). As Christians there has been a radical change in position for we now function as citizens of heaven and OUR PERFORMANCE AND MANNER OF LIFE is from a heavenly perspective and not an worldly one... This is emphatic; we are to have such a LIFESTYLE that allows us to patiently await the return of Christ. Our affections have been changed; our corrupt nature has been change to a glorious nature; we have been translated from this world to reside in heavenly places. The union that we have in Christ has placed us in a new position, a legal position. This new position requires A NEW LIFESTYLE. If we are to reside in "heavenly places" we must be a stranger to the old lifestyle and a pilgrim in this world. We must reject that which rendered pleasure in this world and seek after the high calling of God. Our dreams, aspirations, and goals are now defined from a spiritual standpoint and not a self-seeking, self-gratifying, self-fulfilling worldly view."
John Gill aptly wrote, "the city whereof we are freemen is heaven, and WE BEHAVE OURSELVES here below, as citizens of the city above;" Although we have not yet obtained to that heavenly city, our mind, heart, desire, is be on that which we most long for. And what is it that the Christian is longing for? We seek, we desire, we await, to be with Christ. Contrast the difference of the desires of the world’s LIFESTYLE with the desires of the Christian. One is a selfish pleasure seeking carnality while the other is a desire to be complete in Christ. Such completeness can only be realized in its fullness when we reside with Christ upon our departure from this world. Yet, we are TO CONDUCT OURSELVES in such a manner and we are TO LIVE AS THOUGH WE ARE ALREADY THERE.. Our desires are not worldly but heavenly."
The meaning of the word in both English and Greek.
Webster's 1828 Dictionary
1. General course of manners; behavior; deportment; especially as it respects morals.
Let your conversation be as becometh the gospel. Philippians 1:27.
Be ye holy in all manner of conversation. 1 Peter 1:15.
2. A keeping company; familiar intercourse; intimate fellowship or association; commerce in social life. Knowledge of men and manners is best acquired by conversation with the best company.
3. Intimate and familiar acquaintance; as a conversation with books, or other object.
4. Familiar discourse; general intercourse of sentiments; chat; unrestrained talk; opposed to a formal conference.
Websters modern dictionary con·ver·sa·tion
Etymology: Middle English conversacioun, from Middle French conversation, from Latin conversation-, conversatio, from conversari to associate with, frequentative of convertere to turn around
1 obsolete: conduct, behavior
2 oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas : an instance of such exchange: talk.
The Greek word
As John Wesley noted, the Greek word has a variety of meanings. According to Wigram's Englishman's Greek Concordance of the New Testament, the word used in Philippians 3:20 is politeuma. It is found only one time and it comes from the verb politeuomai which is used twice in the New Testament. The verb is used in Acts 23:1 "I HAVE LIVED in all good conscience before God until this day."
The second instance is in Philippians 1:27 where we see the same English word as found in the King James Bible. "Only LET YOUR CONVERSATION BE as it becometh the gospel of Christ.". Here most modern versions translate this as "live your life" - Holman; "conduct yourselves" - NASB, NIV; "let your conduct be" - NKJV; "let your manner of life be" - ESV.
The purely secular Diury's Modern Greek Dictionary shows that the verb, from which this noun is taken, still means today "to act" or "to conduct onself".
Many older Bible versions read the same as the King James Bible with "Let your conversation be...". These include Tyndale, Coverdale, the Great Bible, Matthew's Bible, the Bishops' Bible, and the Geneva Bibles.
There are differing opinions among scholars as to what this Greek word, both the verb and the noun, means. According to Kittel's nine volume Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Volume VI page 526, the verb as used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament means "to walk" rather than "to be a citizen", and the author says the noun politeia does not mean civil rights, constitution or state, but rather it is "the pious order of life".
On page 534 he discusses the use of the verb politeuomai in the New Testament as found in Acts 23:1 and Philippians 1:27. He says: "In both cases it is used with no political implications" but it describes "a walk which is shaped by religion." These definitions would agree more with the sense of the King James Bible reading.
Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon lists several meanings for the Greek words used. Among them are: 1. to be a citizen or a freeman; 2. to take part in government, 3. to deal with others in private affairs, and 4. to behave - then it references Philippians 1:27 as an example of this use. The last two meanings would be the sense found in the KJB.
Thayer's Greek-English lexicon also lists several meanings, including: 1. to be a citizen, 2. to behave as a citizen, 3. to conduct oneself as pledged to some law of life. The last two definitions also fit the KJB meaning.
Finally Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich also list the same various meanings of the verb and noun, one of which is "to live", to "conduct oneself", "to live one's life".
If we follow the context of Philippians 3 we see that the apostle Paul is exhorting the Christians regarding their practical, everday walk with the Lord. "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample...."For our conversation (our manner of life, our walk, our behaviour) is in heaven; from whence we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body..."
Actually it is the King James Bible that brings out the better of the two meanings rather than the newer versions that limit the context merely to the place of our "citizenship". We can be citizens of heaven but live like the world in which we find ourselves. Most of us do this too much now. The King James rendering follows the context of the passage; reminds us that our true life, behaviour and affections are in heaven, and exhorts us to live accordingly.
We find the same positional truth expressed in such verses as Colossians 3:1-4 "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory."
Ephesians 1:4-6 also tell us that we are now seated in heaven with Christ - "But God who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us...hath quickened us together with Christ...And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
Our life is hid with God in Christ. We are seated in the heavenly places, and our life or "conversation" - to use an older and now archaic word - is in heaven. The apostle exhorts us to live now as we will be living then. This is the truth presented in the King James Holy Bible.
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