SEED & BREAD
INTERPRETATION OF PHILIPPIANS 1:6
The major problem in the interpretation of Phil. 1:6 is found in the
words, "will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." The word perform
means to do, to carry out. If anyone performs a process until a certain
time it means that he keeps on doing it up to that point. However, such
an idea completely reverses the meaning of the Greek word epiteleO,
making it to say the exact opposite of what the Holy Spirit intended.
This word means to bring through to an end, and it is not right for a
translator to cause the Apostle Paul to say in English what he did not
say in the Greek.
The Revisers (ERV and ARV) recognised this contradiction and sought to
more accurately render the word epiteleO by translating it "will perfect
it until the day of Jesus Christ," but in so doing they set up an
incongruous statement since the words "will perfect" (verb) are not
compatible with the word until (achris). One does not perfect a thing
until a certain time. I challenge anyone to construct a single sensible
sentence in which the words perfect (verb) and until are used together
unless they are cast in the negative.
In his King James II Version, Mr. Jay Green attempts to give a more
honest rendering of epiteleO by translating it, "will finish it until
the day of Jesus Christ." But this is a poor use of words as finish is
also incompatible with until. If I ask the contractor when my building
will be finished he may answer, "I will finish it next week." If so, he
has made himself plain. But if he answers, "I will finish it until next
week," his words will not make sense and I will demand a clearer answer.
In Phil. 1:6 we are face to face with the inexorable fact that the word
"until" (achris) does occur, and that its appearance here gives epiteleO
a somewhat special meaning not found in any other occurrence.
All the facts concerning epiteleO can be easily assembled by anyone who
will make the search. The root of this word, which is the real clue to
its meaning, is teleO. This is found 26 times in the New Testament where
it is translated finish 8 times, fulfil 7, accomplish 4, pay 2, perform,
expire, go over and make an end one time each. The student will note the
idea of finishing or ending in all these translations.
All the recognised authorities define the verb teleO by using such terms
as "to make an end" (Cremer); "to bring to a close" (Abbot Smith). In
fact the verb teleo and the noun telos, from which it is derived, so
obviously mean the exact opposite of continuing and continuance that it
is of no value to belabour this actuality. Just remember that when Jesus
Christ said, "It is finished" (Jn. 19:30), He used the word teleO.
In the word epiteleO we have teleO (finish) with the prefix epi (on)
before it. This prefix is used before so many other words that we can
tell from this usage that it is usually an accelerative contribution.
And of this we can be sure, a prefix or a suffix does not change the
meaning of the root. It may change its force or direction but never its
meaning. In epiteleO the prefix adds an emphatic note; just as in
epignosis, gnosis means knowledge and epignosis means exact and full
knowledge. Since teleO means to finish or to end, there is no possible
way that epiteleO can mean continuance. Yet this is what we have in most
translations of Phil. 1:6, and this leads me to borrow the words of
James (3:10) and say, "My brethren these things ought not so to be."
As to the actual meaning of epiteleO the authorities are practically
* Young: "to make an end of, complete." In his Critical Comments he
renders it "will end it fully."
* Bullinger: "to bring through to an end."
* Arndt and Gingrich: "end, bring to an end, finish."
* Abbot-Smith: "to complete, accomplish, execute, make an end."
* Thayer: "to bring to an end, accomplish, perfect, execute, complete."
* Liddell-Scott: "to complete, finish, accomplish."
* Bagstger's Analytical: "to bring to an end."
* Strong: "to fulfil completely; by implication, to terminate."
* Vine: "to bring through to an end."
In the telos family of words (that is words that contain this root)
there are twenty-six members. These words are found 249 times in the New
Testament. If an examination is made of every occurrence, it will be
found that there is no idea of continuance in any of them. They all
denote cessation, accomplishment, and bring to an end. This is to be
expected since this is what the root means.
An an example of this we might take the root cardi (Gk. kardi) which is
found in so many English words, and which everyone knows indicates the
heart. No prefixes or suffixes ever change its meaning, neither does any
other word with which it may be combined. Thus we have cardiogram,
electrocardiogram, cardiologic, cardiophobia, and cardiospasm. But no
matter what comes before it or follows it, it always means the heart.
What would the reader think if he came upon a doctor who twisted this
word around until it meant the liver? He would probably put him down as
an ignorant quack - which I also am inclined to do w hen I come upon
someone who claims to be a practitioner of the truth, but who takes a
Greek word that everyone knows means to end or to finish and twists it
around until it means continuance.
Since in this passage the word achris (until) regulates the exact
meaning of epiteleO, deliberate attempts have been made to alter the
obvious meaning of this term. This word means until, that is, up to a
declared limit, just as it does in the preceding passage (1:5).
When any matter, process, or work is brought to a full end until a
certain time, then it is most evident that is has been suspended, and
this is exactly what epiteleO signifies in this passage. In view of this
I would freely translate Phil. 1:6: "Having come to this settled and
firm persuasion concerning this very thing, namely that the One having
begun a good work in you will be suspending it until the day of Christ
Jesus." If any should prefer the wording "will be bringing it to a full
end" in place of "will be suspending it" he can have his choice. Both
statements are the same.
The future tense here has bothered some, and it has been used by others
to claim a continuing work of God. The future tense here is correct. At
Acts 28:28 a declaration was made that introduced a new dispensation,
but the old one had to be closed out. There was a transitional period of
several years that followed Paul's declaration.
The translation set forth above is true to the Greek and it is also true
to the truth. The statement has to do with that dispensation
(administration) of God that prevailed from the resurrection of Jesus
Christ until Paul's announcement in Acts 28:28, the thirty-three years
of the Acts period. Read its constitution in Mk. 16:15-20 and note how
many of these signs have been brought to a full end.
Consider the twelve apostles. These men were destined to sit upon twelve
thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt. 19:28). This is an
explicit promise from the lips of our Lord which if it is not fulfilled
to the letter then no o ther words of His are dependable. Others were
promised rule over ten cities or five cities. It is most evident that
from the moment that He called these to follow Him that they were in the
school of Jesus Christ, being trained for the service they wou ld
perform, a training that continued through the entire Acts period. And
yet not one of these men has reached this goal. That good work that God
began among them has been brought to a full end until the day of Jesus
According to one of the most important parables of the kingdom and God,
and yet the most ignored and neglected, the progress of the kingdom of
God was to be in five stages: 1, the blade; 2, the ear; 3, the full
grain in the ear; 4, the ripened grain; and, 5, the harvest, (Mk.
4:26-29). The first two stages of these are already history. In the 33
years of the Acts period the blade stage and the ear stage were manifest
realities. The kingdom was no longer proclaimed as coming; it was
already there, even if only in its pre liminary stages. And yet it never
advanced to the "full grain in the ear," when "Jesus shall reign
where'er the sun, does his successive journeys run." If we ask, "What
happened?" the answer is found in Phil. 1:6. That good work that God
began among them has been suspended until the day of Jesus Christ.
Consider the Apostle Paul, a man who possessed divine powers that were
so great that men are inclined to think that he never possessed them at
all. Read Rom. 15:17-19, and consider his miracles of hea ling in Acts
28:8,9. And yet after Acts 28:28 he was forced to confess that he had
left his helper and traveling companion, Trophimus, "at Miletum sick" (2
Tim. 4:20). This plain, honest statement is very near to the final
inspired word he ever wrote. The good work that God had been doing
through him was also suspended.
This explains more fully his apologetic note in Phil. 1:7, in which he
justifies what he has just said concerning them. Translators have not
yet been able to decide whether he said, "I have you in my heart," or
"Ye have me in your heart." Nevertheless we know what he meant. This
statement means far more in the Greek than it does in the English. We
have been prone here to make "the heart" the seat of affections, and
have Paul expressing either his love for them or their love for him. In
Greek thought the heart is the seat of the personality, standing for the
collective life of the person, which is influenced by everything that
affects the life. He is telling them that he is in the same boat they
are, or that they are in this together. See also Phil. 1:30.
However, let no one push this to an extreme and say that I believe that
everything that God was doing in the Acts period came to an end. This is
not true. In the Greek of Phil. 1:10 they were directed to be "testing
the things that carry through." And this we do.
Issue no. 004