Friday, September 18, 2015

Philippians 1:23ff: "I am torn between the two" (NIV, 2011)

συνέχομαι δὲ ἐκ τῶν δύο, τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχων εἰς τὸ ἀναλῦσαι καὶ σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι, πολλῷ γὰρ μᾶλλον κρεῖσσον (Philippians 1:23)

"I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far" (NIV 2011)

"I am torn between these two things, for I do desire the releasing and the being with Christ, which is, to be sure, far better" (NWT 2013).

συνέχομαι δὲ ἐκ τῶν δύο demonstrates the inner struggle that Paul was having as he wrote these inspired words to the Philippians. Moisés Silva observes:

"The spontaneity of Paul's writing (that bubbling forth out of the heart that Wilamowitz spoke of) sometimes find expression in anacolutha and disjointed clauses" (Silva, "Philippians," page 81).

Of course, this statement does not mean that Paul's writing is technically ungrammatical since anacoluthon is a common rhetorical device in Biblical and Classical literature. The emotional wording and the anacolutha present in 1:21-24 are not lines of evidence against the authenticity of Philippians, but rather they show: "the apostle is not making an objective, detached theological statement" (Silva 81).

On the other hand, as Gerald Hawthorne demonstrates in his commentary, Paul lays out two options in Philippians 1:21 (Ἐμοὶ γὰρ τὸ ζῇν Χριστὸς καὶ τὸ ἀποθανεῖν κέρδος) "in a perfectly balanced construction obscured by punctuation and by most, if not all, translations" (Hawthorne, "Philippians," 48). Hawthorne then sets out the apostle's desires as follows:

depart and to be with Christ

which is a far better thing [for me]

having the desire to and

remain alive in this body

which is a more urgent need for you

In other words, Paul equally desires both living and dying (or being with Christ); he cannot decide which option to choose. The context thus lends support to the rendering of Philippians 1:22 as "Now if I am to live on in the flesh, this is a fruitage of my work; yet what I would choose, I do not make known" (NWT) or maybe "but if to live in flesh [is my lot], this is for me worth the while: and what I shall choose I cannot tell" (Darby).

Hawthorne concludes: "there is no good reason to translate [γνωρίζω in Phil. 1:22 as] 'I do (not) know' " (47). But to be fair, this view does not lead him to suggest a third possibility in 1:23 besides life or death (i.e., being with Christ).

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