"Having a desire to depart" (Phil. 1:21-23).
The passage of Scripture quoted above has been interpreted in a variety of ways,
the original being confessedly difficult to express. Most interpretations can be
placed under one of two heads. The one given by those whose orthodox views lead
them to this passage as a proof text to show that "we may infer that he had no
knowledge nor expectation of a middle state of insensibility between death and
the resurrection" (Dr. Macknight). In other words, that upon the death of the
believer he is at once taken to be "with Christ" apart from resurrection. The
other that the Scriptural term "sleep" aptly describes the state between death
and resurrection, and that there is no "hope" of being "with Christ" until the
resurrection takes place.
The crux of the controversy is the meaning of the word translated "depart", the
orthodox seeing in it the entry of Paul into the intermediate state, the other
interpreters the return of the Lord.
In this article we are going to approach the passage from neither standpoint. We
believe that such methods of interpretation are (unconsciously, no doubt)
biased. The second set of interpreters which look upon "depart" as meaning the
Second Coming of the Lord were inspired not so much by an independent
examination of the passage, but by an endeavour to prove the other school of
teaching to be wrong.
Words have been mistranslated, renderings have been adopted which under other
circumstances would have been very much questioned; and parallels have been
ignored. In ordinary reasoning all inferences which reach beyond their data are
purely hypothetical, and proceed on the assumption that new events will conform
to the conditions detected in our observations of past events. Even supposing
the universe as a whole to proceed unchanged, we do not really know the
universe as a whole. Students of Scripture will readily admit that what is
true of our limited knowledge of the works of God, is equally true of our
knowledge of the Word of God.
Let us come to Philippians 1:21-26, and seek out its meaning afresh. God is
responsible for what is written, and if we dare to turn His words to fit our
theories however Scriptural those theories may be, we call in question
the wisdom of His inspiration and shut the door upon the possibility of further
and fuller understanding. Let us first set out the structural disposition of the
A 21 To me (envoi) to live Christ
B 22,23 a
Live in flesh Fruit
b Paul's desire Not made known
c Paul's desire With Christ
B 24,25 a
Abide in flesh Needful
b Paul's confidence I know
c Paul's continuance With you all
A 26 By me (envoi) my presence Glorying in Christ.
A strong argument has been made out of the fact that we read that the Apostle in
one breath tells us that he did not know what to choose between life and
death, and yet that he had a strong desire for something which as far
better. Now if the Apostle did say this, then it seems reasonable to conclude
that he was pressed out of two by a third, namely, the return of the Lord, which
is admittedly so much better than either living or dying. Two fallacies are here
which demand exposure. The first is an error of reasoning, the second of
It is assumed that what Paul chose, and what Paul desired, would
be the same. If he had been an average selfish person, this reasoning might be
good, but the context clearly condemns this inference. The whole of the chapter
shows us a man who has risen above all selfish motives. His bonds have fallen
out to the furtherance of the gospel, he rejoices that Christ is preached, even
though some who preach Him seek to add to his sufferings. His magnificent, "what
then" is a rebuke to the narrow-minded inference that he would necessarily
choose what he most desired. To Paul, to live was summed up by the
one word, Christ, and to die by the one word-gain. "Christ shall be magnified in
my body, whether by life or by death". The context, therefore, together with the
statement, "For I have no one of equal soul (with myself), for all seek their
own" denies the inference. Christ (2:21) and His people (1:24) come first,
and even though Paul's desire may lead in one direction, there is every
probability that he would choose that which ran counter to his desire, if by so
doing he could the better serve the Lord, or bless His people.
The second fallacy is the wrong interpretation of a word. Much emphasis has been
laid upon the statement that Paul
says he did not know what to choose, and yet he did have a very
pronounced desire for something very far better.
Is this true? The A.V. and the R.V. seem to say it is, but the R.V. margin
exposes the error.
The word rendered here "I wot", or "I know", is gnorizo. Out of the
twenty-four occurrences of the word, Paul uses it eighteen times, and out of
that eighteen, eleven occur in the three Prison Epistles, Ephesians, Philippians
and Colossians. We will not quote all occurrences, but give the whole of the
references in these Epistles, the only other occurrence in Philippians being
Phil. 4:6. "Let your -requests be made known unto God".
Eph. 1:9. "Having made known unto us the mystery of His will".
Eph. 3:3. "By revelation He made known unto me the mystery".
Eph. 3:5. "Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of
Eph. 3:10 "Unto principalities . . might be made known through the
"Might be known by" (A.V.) of course means the same.
Eph. 6:19 "That I may open my mouth boldly to make known the
Eph. 6:21 "Tychicus . . . shall make known to you all things".
Col. 1:27. "To whom God would make known what is the riches".
Col. 4:7. "All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you".
Col. 4:9. "They shall make
known unto you all things".
The word is rendered, "to make known" sixteen times in A.V., "certify" once,
"declare" four times, "do to wit"
once, "give to understand" once, and
"wot" once. The last case is the passage in question; all others without
exception can have but one
meaning-"to make known, tell or declare". The fallacy that Paul did not know
to choose is therefore exposed by a
consideration not only of his own usage, but of the usage of the word in the
whole of the N.T. It is evident that
he did know what he would choose, otherwise, to say "I do not tell" would
the empty equivocation of a braggart,
who covered his ignorance by assuming knowledge. Under the word "wot"
in Dr. Bullinger's Critical Lexicon
and Concordance is written, "gnorizo, to make known; declare, reveal".
Following on the idea that Paul did not know what to choose, we are told that he
"was pressed out of the two,
by reason of a third". Here again we
must drop all theories, and take the facts of the Scripture as they stand.
The word, "I am in a strait", means
to press together, to hold, to constrain. The A.V. renders the word as follows,
"constrain" once, "keep in" once, "press" once, "stop" once, "throng" once, "man
that holdeth" 'once, "be in a strait"
once, "be straightened" once, "be
taken with " three times, "lie sick of" once. Again the concordance proves a
stubborn thing-quite impartial and unmoved by the most desirable of theories.
Dr. Bullinger's Critical Lexicon and Concordance
says of sunecho, "constrain, to hold
or keep together, confine, secure, hence constrain, hold fast". Let us
observe the usage:
Luke 22:63. "The men that held Jesus, mocked Him".
Luke 8:45. "The multitude throng Thee and press Thee".
Luke 19:43. "And keep thee in on every side".
Acts 7:57. "And stopped their ears".
2 Cor. 5:14. "For the love of Christ constraineth us" (i.e. shuts us in
to the one course indicated in verses 13 and 15)
Luke 12:50. "But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I
straitened till it be accomplished".
(Until the Lord was crucified and raised again from the dead, He was
"straitened", "confined". His ministry was
confined to Israel. He said, "Tell no
man until after the resurrection").
Every passage demands the plain meaning, "to hold fast", "to keep in", "to
Following the words, "I am in a strait," the AN. reads, "betwixt two". The word
"betwixt" is the rendering of the preposition ek. If "betwixt" does not accord
with the meaning of ek, to have rendered sunechomai ek, "to press out",
certainly conflicts with the constant meaning, "to keep in", "to throng", "to
hold fast". It is easy to demonstrate how false or meaningless the translation
"betwixt" may become in some passages that, however, does not settle the meaning
of Philippians 1:23; it only settles the meaning in a negative way for those
particular passages. John 3:25 says, "there arose a question between (ek)
some of John's disciples and the Jews". Now while this is the only passage where
ek is translated "between" in the A.V., and while it would be easy to
show how absurd is such a rendering as "the resurrection between the
dead" or to say how could we be "absent between the body?", yet that
would only prove that ek was capable of bearing more than one meaning,
and would by no means prove that "between" did not convey the sense of the
original of John 3:25.
The average reader who may have been led to think that "out of" is the only
unquestioned rendering of ek, may feel a trifle surprised to hear that, while in
the great majority of cases "out of" is the best rendering, that it also is
rendered "by means of" once, "through" twice, "with" twenty-five times, "by"
fifty-five times, "by reason of" three times, "because of" three times, or
eighty-nine times in all.
Take the rendering "with".
Matt. 27:7. "They bought with them the potter's field".
Mark 12:30. "Thou shaft love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and
with all thy soul, and with all thy
mind, and with all thy strength".
John 4:6. "Wearied with His journey".
John 12:3. "Filled with the odour".
Rev. 17:2-6. "Drunk with the wine . . . with the blood of the
It would be quite easy to insert "with" in some passages where it would be
absurd, but that would not prove the above passages to be wrongly translated.
Again, look at the passages where ek is rendered "by".
Matt. 12:33. "The tree is known by his fruit".
Matt. 12:37. "By thy words thou shah be justified".
Acts 19:25. "By this craft".
Rom. 2:27. "Uncircumcision which is by nature".
Titus 3:5. "Not by works of righteousness".
1 John 3:24. "By the Spirit".
Rev. 9:18. "By the fire . . . which issued out of their mouths".
(Here in Rev. 9:18 ek is rightly rendered "by"
and "out of" in the one verse.)
Revelation 8:13 renders ek, "by reason of". One could not very well
translate, "woe to the inhabiters of the earth out of the other voices," unless
we intended by "out of" origin, cause, or occasion. Again in Revelation 9:2 and
18:19 it is rendered, "by reason of".
To translate ek, "out of", in 2 Corinthians 1:11 would be manifestly
unscriptural, for the gift of the Apostle Paul was
"by means of", not "out of", many
persons. In Revelation 16:11 we read, "and blasphemed the God of heaven
of their pains and because of
their sores". "Out of" as meaning place would be untrue, "out of" as
meaning origin or cause would be true and better expressed in English by
"because of". To translate ek in Philippians 1:23, "out of" is only possible if
we mean origin or cause. To use "out of" as meaning place is contrary to
the meaning of the word rendered "press", which everywhere demands the idea, to
hold fast, to keep in, to constrain.
The A.V. rendering "betwixt" is perhaps a little free, but conveys the meaning
of the passage (Dr. Bullinger's Lexicon gives "literally, constrained by"),
whereas "out of", while literally and etymologically true, would be in reality
false. "By reason of" is the most suitable rendering. J. N. Darby's rendering,
"I am pressed by both," is true to the meaning, although rather free in the use
of the word ~'oth". Paul was held in some suspense "by reason of the two". He
was not pressed out of the two into some hypothetical "third"-that is an
invention. He immediately places before us "the two" and his double feelings can
be easily understood.
For I am held in constraint by reason of the two (here follows "the two", thus)
(1) "Having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is very far better,"
but (2) "to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you". Here he presents the
alternatives which were before him. Something "very far better" for himself is
contrasted with something "more necessary for others". "Departing" is balanced
by "remaining in the flesh". His "desire" to depart is outweighed by the
remaining "for you". The choice which he did not tell is fairly manifest. At
least, if we dispute the point as to whether he really did choose the harder
path, he certainly does tell us that he knew he would remain,
and seems to be joyful at the prospect of thus "spending and being spent".
We must now examine the word "depart". The original word is analuo, which
is thus defined in Dr. Bullinger's Critical Lexicon and Concordance:
"Analuo, To loosen again, set free; then to loosen, dissolve, or resolve,
as matter into its elements (hence, Eng. analysis); then, to unfasten as the
fastening of a ship, and thus prepare for departure (and with the force of ana,
back) to return".
Schrevelius's Lexicon thus defines the word:
"Analuo, To unloose, free, release, relax, untie, undo; dissolve,
destroy, abolish; solve, explain, analyse; weigh anchor, depart, die; return
from a feast".
As the word occurs in but two passages in the N.T., and is rendered once
"return" and once "depart", it will be seen that it would be just as logical to
say that the rendering of the first passage should conform to the second, as
vice versa. Philippians 1:23 renders analuo, "depart", Luke 12:36
"return". Those who advocate the teaching that analuo means "the return
of the Lord" in Philippians 1:23 turn to Luke 12:36 to support their argument.
It is not established beyond all controversy that "return" is the true meaning
of Luke 12:36. J.N.D. renders the passage, "whenever he may leave the wedding".
Rotherham gives the somewhat strange rendering, "he may break up out of the
marriage feast". This somewhat strange rendering will not be so strange to those
who are acquainted with the schoolboy's idea of "breaking up" for the holidays.
Here lies the secret of the various renderings. There is no doubt whatever that
analuo means exactly the same as our English word "analyse"-to
break up into its elements. The secondary meaning, "to return", is somewhat
parallel to the schoolboy's "break up". It came to have this meaning from the
way it was used for loosing the cables of ships, in order to sail from a port
(see Odyss. 9:178, 11:636, 12:145, 15:547).
Luke 12:36 speaks of the Coming of the Lord as something subsequent to
the "returning". It is perfectly true that they will not open the door when He
departs from the wedding, but when He arrives. Scripture clearly
differentiates between the "departing" or "returning" from the feast, and the
subsequent "coming" and "knocking". So far as light upon Philippians 1:23 is
concerned, Luke 12:36 gives no warrant for departing from the elementary meaning
of analuo. The references in the LXX are equally indecisive. Sometimes the
passage speaks of "returning" as Luke 12:36, once the pure meaning, "resolve
into its elements" as melting ice.
Let the reader pause for a moment and ask whether a word which primarily means
to "resolve a thing into its elements", and so return to its original state, is
a fitting word to use for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. In what
way will it be an "analysis"? In what way will it be "a return" in the sense of
analysis? Surely there must be indubitable evidence for such a rendering before
it can be accepted, and that evidence is not only not found, but is practically
denied by the context of Philippians 1:23 when truly presented, and by the
larger context of 2 Timothy to which we now return.
It would add considerable weight to our argument if we were to show the close
parallel that exists between Philippians and 2 Timothy, but two passages only
must suffice at present. (See PHILIPPIANS and 2 Timothy.)
In Philippians 1:23 we read that the Apostle desired analuo, and in
Philippians 2:17 that even should his ministry involve his being poured out as a
drink offering (spendomai) he would rejoice. In 2 Timothy 4:6 the Apostle
says, "I am already being poured out as a drink offering (spendomai) and the
season for my departure (analusis) has come near". Here he uses the
substantive instead of the verbal form, but the parallel is most evident. That
which he desired and was willing for in Philippians has come to pass in 2
Timothy four. There is no possible chance of missing the meaning of analusis.
"My analusis" must mean "my dissolution", my departure, my return.
Philippians 1:23 must be interpreted in the light of 2 Timothy 4:6. The only
return that analusis can indicate is death. This also is the meaning of
analuo in Philippians 1:23. If there is a difficulty in the linking
together of death and of being with Christ, without any explanatory clause to
bridge the intervening period, it is not the only one of its kind, and must not
influence our decision. 2 Corinthians 5:8 brings the two together without
feeling the necessity for a parenthetical explanation. If any should say, is it
possible that Paul would desire to die? They could also ask, is it possible for
him to be willing to be absent from the body? for although "and to be present
with the Lord" (or to be with Christ) immediately follows, Paul himself had
taught that it was not until raised from the dead that any could hope to be
"with the Lord".
In Philippians one the Apostle is speaking of his own feelings to those who knew
well his doctrine and hope. Under such circumstances he expressed himself in a
far different manner from the way he would if he were stating formal truth. To
have made a digression and explained his belief regarding the state of the dead
and any special feature of his own hope since the revelation of the Mystery,
while it would have been doctrinally true, would have been false to feeling. One
other mistaken view has helped to lend colour to the interpretation that Paul
desired the return of the Lord, the truth is, that Paul's hope at the time
could not be thus expressed. We believe that Paul, entertaining the hope
connected with the Mystery, was not looking for the Lord to return, but for
himself and fellow-members to be "made manifest with Him in glory" where
Christ sitteth on the right hand of God, "looking for that blessed hope, and the
manifesting of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus
The A.V. is certainly not inspired, neither is it perfect, and many times we
feel how much truth has been hidden or distorted, but we do feel that in this
particular case, with the one correction already suggested relative to the
words, "I wot not", that it is a good rendering. If the R.V. margin be noted, "I
do not make known", then all the rest can remain as giving at least the sense of
the original. "The pressing out of the two into a third"; the rendering of a
word which means return in the sense of the returning of a body to its elements
(the Scriptural idea of death) as though it could fitly be used of the return of
the Lord are figments, merely the zeal of those who, while holding the general
truth regarding the intermediate state, have intruded this into a passage which
does not require it.
There are several words which the Apostle uses when speaking of the Coming of
the Lord; there is parousia, meaning personal presence, epiphaneia,
a manifestation, apokalupsis, a revelation, but there is no passage where
the Lord is said to have an analysis, a "return". Had such an expression been
common, some excuse may have been found for reading it in Philippians 1:23,
whereas the reading itself is isolated and unsupported by any other Scripture.
Luke 19:12 is the only passage that can be brought forward, and this is of
itself enough to condemn the application of Philippians 1:23, for the context
speaks of going away to receive a kingdom and to return, whereas the Apostle's
hopes were not connected with the kingdom to which the Lord could return, but
with a position where the Lord then was and still is-at the right hand of God.
There is need for us all to pray that we may "know what is the hope of His
calling"; when we do we shall cease from speaking of the Lord's "return", for
the Church which is His Body, and think more of "things above" where we shall be
"manifested with Him in glory". The Second Coming is associated with the
THREE SPHERES OF BLESSING, which see.
We would call attention in closing to the structure of the passage already
given. Notice how "living in the flesh" is balanced by "abiding in the flesh",
the "fruit of my labour" being connected with need of the Philippians. Notice
Paul's desire "to be with Christ" and compare it with what he actually
experienced "to be with you all".
"For to me the living (is) Christ and the dying (is) gain. But if the living in
the flesh (is Christ) this to me is fruit of (my)
work, and what I shall choose I do not make known. But (i.e.instead of making
known) I am held in straint (colloquially
`I am in a fix', more refined as A.V. `I am~ a strait') by reasonof two (here
are `the two')."
(1) Having a strong desire to the return (dissolution, departure, death), and to
be with Christ, for it were far better, but
(2) The abiding in the flesh is more needful for you, and having this
confidence, I perceive that I shall abide and continue beside you all for your
progress and joy of faith".
The question as to what the Apostle really had before him which was "far better"
still remains a matter for earnest inquiry. We believe that we have been able to
show that it is directly connected with the out-resurrection and prize of
Philippians three. (See PRIZE, also ABSENT