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'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 group of interpretations are put
forward by those who do not believe that 'sudden death is sudden glory', but
who believe 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 passage.
Philippians 1:21 -26
To me (emoi) to live.
Live In flesh.
Not made known.
c Paul's desire.
Abide in flesh.
With you all.
By me (emoi) my presence.
Glorying in Christ.