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Paul gives us a glimpse into his own thoughts and internal debate as he awaits possible death in jail in Philippians 1:20-23

He initially presents us with two seemingly clear options:

  1. Live and labor for Christ
  2. Honor Christ with his death.

However, his last statement seems abrupt and unclear:

20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life[1] or by death[2].

21 For to me to live is Christ[1], and to die is gain[2].

22 If I am to live in the flesh[1], that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which[1 or 2?] I shall choose I cannot tell.

23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

Is this one of the two possibilities given earlier, or is this a third scenario? What is far better than which?

I am looking for an answer rooted in text if possible.

2

The Greek text of Phil. 1:23 states,

συνέχομαι γὰρ ἐκ τῶν δύο τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχων εἰς τὸ ἀναλῦσαι καὶ σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι πολλῷ μᾶλλον κρεῖσσον TR, 1550

The phrase in question is «τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχων εἰς τὸ ἀναλῦσαι καὶ σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι πολλῷ μᾶλλον κρεῖσσον». It appears that the article τὸ modifies the entire phrase «ἀναλῦσαι καὶ σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι», wherein the infinitives ἀναλῦσαι and εἶναι may be interpreted as English gerunds. Thus, "the departing" (τὸ ἀναλῦσαι) and "the being with Christ" ([τὸ] σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι) are concurrent.

According to Joseph Henry Thayer, the verb ἀναλύω can possess the meaning of dying, i.e. departing life.1

Thayer, p. 40, ἀναλύω

BDAG also concurs. It notes,

BDAG, p. 47, ἀναλύω

Likewise, LSJ notes,3

enter image description here

In addition, the apostle Paul elsewhere uses the related noun ἀνάλυσις ("departure") in a context clearly describing his impending death. In 2 Tim. 4:6, it is written,

For I am now being offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.

Ἐγὼ γὰρ ἤδη σπένδομαι καὶ ὁ καιρὸς τῆς ἐμῆς ἀναλύσεώς ἐφέστηκεν TR, 1550

Regarding your question:

Is this one of the two possibilities given earlier, or is this a third scenario? What is far better than which?

Having died, that is, dying and thereafter departing and being with Christ, is far better than living, the apostle Paul admits, but he recognizes that living is more necessary to Christ because the apostle Paul can save more souls by preaching the gospel while alive. There are only two options the apostle Paul considers:

  1. "continue living" or "to continue to live" (τὸ ζῆν) (present infinitive)
  2. "dying" or "to die" (τὸ ἀποθανεῖν) (aorist infinitive), what he also describes as "departing and being with Christ" (τὸ ἀναλῦσαι καὶ σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι)

References

Arndt, William; Bauer, Walter; Danker, Frederick William. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000.

Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; et al. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1940.

Thayer, Joseph Henry. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Rev. ed. New York: American Book, 1889.

Footnotes

1 p. 40

2 p. 47

3 p. 112

| improve this answer | |
  • @Joshua: I plan on revising to clarify soon. Just been kinda' busy with my website. – user862 May 6 '16 at 18:54
  • Hah the irony. I'll be honest...its a good answer. It just feels like I'm reading a lexicon and by the time I get to the end I'm just thinking "wait so...what is he saying Paul is saying?" BUT the new edit definitely improved that. I'm still trying to find the sources I know I've read before that presents the "3rd hypothetical" theory. I wanted to write an answer summarizing that view. – Joshua May 9 '16 at 3:49
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In the Epistle to the Philippians, the most intensely personal of the 'prison epistles', Paul discusses the possibility of his own death and expresses gratitude for the thoughts and concerns of the Philippians. In Philippians 1:19 Paul says the deliverance from his present predicament will surely come about from their prayers and the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Paul does not fear death, but seems to be comforting his readers if they fear the worst.

In verses 20-25, Paul considers the possibility of execution:

  • In verse 20, Paul's hope - and his expectation - is of release.
  • In verse 21, Paul says that either outcome is good - to live [is] Christ and to die gain.
  • In verses 23-24, he is uncertain whether it is better to depart this life and be with Christ, an outcome that is good for him, or to stay and be of service to the Philippians.
  • In verse 25, Paul repeats his confidence that he will be released.

So Paul is saying he is torn between two alternatives over which he probably has no control - an early death and going to heaven, or release from prison and being able to continue helping the Philippians. Paul is telling his readers that it is far better from his own point of view for him to die (because he goes to heaven), but he also has a sense of duty and is prepared to sacrifice his own benefit for the benefit of the Philippians. Anxious that his work among the Philippians will not be forgotten if he does die, he has exhorted the Philippians (verse 1:6) to continue the good work until the coming of Jesus.

| improve this answer | |
  • What logical sense does it make to say one is hard pressed between the two, but on the next sentence day your desire is for an option that is far better? Why is he hard pressed between the two if the far better option is one of the original two? – Joshua Jul 31 '16 at 23:11
  • Hi @Joshua I would not over-emphasise the 'hard' part of 'hard-pressed. Here the most common translation is 'torn between' (see answer)/in a dilemma between'/'I cannot decide between' (International Standard Version, God's Word). William Mounce defines συνέχω as (among other things) confine, hem in, hem in, urge, etc, as well as pressed or hard-pressed. Others say occupy, constrain. Let us say: Paul is occupied or constrained by the choice that must be made. – Dick Harfield Aug 1 '16 at 1:10
  • Changing the wording changes nothing. It still makes no logical sense to in one breath say you have a dilemma/torn/can't choose between the two and in the next breath say one is far better. He doesn't seem to be torn when it comes to this final option. Wouldn't it makes sense then that it is far better than both previous options? – Joshua Aug 1 '16 at 1:37
  • I agree that Paul is telling his readers that it is far better from his own point of view for him to die (because he goes to heaven), but he also has a sense of duty and is prepared to sacrifice his own benefit for the benefit of the Philippians. IMHO one can be torn between personal happiness and duty. – Dick Harfield Aug 1 '16 at 1:52
  • That is the best rational I've heard. Thank you. If you can draw that out of the text in your answer I'd at least +1. – Joshua Aug 1 '16 at 3:24

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