GIGO theory: Philippians 4:8-9

The first post is in the series is here. The most recent post in the series is here.

The last passage used as a standard prooftext of the GIGO doctrine is Philippians 4:8-9.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

The typical interpretation of verse 8 is to use it as a filter to determine the acceptability of any thought that crosses our minds. If a thought is true, honorable, etc, then let it stay. If it isn’t, eliminate it. That is a worthy goal, but it isn’t the best and fullest interpretation of these verses.

First, note that the verse begins with “finally”. This is the conclusion of the entire instructional section of the letter – after this, Paul moves on to wrap up some personal details and then concludes the epistle. The sense is, “after everything I’ve written, let me sum it all up with one closing exhortation …”

Second, some lists in Scripture are primarily meant to distinguish several categories from each other; other lists in Scripture are used to make the same point again and again in different terms, strengthening its impact. The list here – whatever is true, whatever is honorable, etc – seems to be the second type. Paul isn’t giving us eight different standards here; he is giving us one standard restated eight different ways to strengthen the meaning.

Third, the point of the whole list is to look for what is good. The emphasis of the list is that anything that is good should count. “Whatever … whatever … whatever … whatever … whatever … whatever … if there is any … if anything…”   I believe this passage is not talking about using verse 8 as a filter, passively, for the thoughts that happen to occur to us. Rather, he is telling us pursue what verse 8 talks about: we are to actively search for things that meet the criteria. I think he is saying, “Look for anything that is worth imitating, and ponder it.”

Fourth, consider how verse 8 relates to verse 9. If verse 8 means to actively search for what is good, verse 9 is a very logical follow-up. He says, “Look for what is good around you. And don’t forget to think about my example too. Follow it as much as possible.”

So here is how I propose we look at it. Paul started the book by praying that they would grow in loving discernment, so that they might approve the things that are excellent (Philippians 1:9-10; compare Romans 12:2). Then he gave them four chapters of excellent instructions to follow. Finally, he encouraged them not to stop there. “Look for anything you can find that is good,” he said, “including my own example. Ponder those things, and imitate them. As you do so, God will be with you to guide and bless you.”

How does this blend with the GIGO model? Unlike the last two passages we considered, this passage really is directed toward individual thoughts, not whole systems of belief. As such, it supports that aspect of the GIGO teaching that says we need to keep our conscious thoughts focused on what is godly. It differs from the GIGO model, however, in that it is not about protecting our thoughts by keeping out what is bad so much as filling our mind with what is good. The danger Paul has in mind is not that we would let in something we shouldn’t, but that we would overlook something we should have spent time thinking about.

So much for the most common passages used to teach the GIGO theory. I’m still considering where to go next in the series, but there is a lot more to say. I want to look at a couple of verses that directly counter certain aspects of the GIGO model; I’d like to look at a couple of other passages that I believe provide stronger support for the model than the ones usually used to support it; and I’d like to get more specific about what I suggest as an alternative.

Part 1    Part 2     Part 3     Part 4    Part 5    Part 6     Part 7    Part 8

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