by Joseph E. Kirk

IN STUDYING THE ENGLISH BIBLE on the subject of the state of the dead, one is often perplexed by the contradictions which are found. For example, there are those passages which state: “The dead know not anything (Eccl. 9:5) ; “There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol whither thou goest” (Eccl. 9:10 R.V.); “Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (Psa. 13:3); “The . . . dead lived not until” [resurrection] (Rev. 20:4-6, 11-15 R.V.).

On the other hand there are passages which seem to indicate an intermediate state between death and resurrection during which the dead still live. One such passage reads as follows:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (22) But if to live in the flesh,--if this shall bring fruit from my work, then what I shall choose I know not. (23) But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better: (24) yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake (Phil. 1:21-24 R.V.).

What is the Apostle referring to in the words “to depart and be with Christ”? The answer depends on whether he said, “I am in a strait betwixt the two” or “I am being pressed OUT OF the two.” The “two” things being,--to live in the flesh, or to die.

If he said, “I am in a strait BETWIXT the two,” then to depart and be with Christ could refer to death. But if he said, “I am being pressed OUT OF the two” then to depart and be with Christ must refer to a third thing. Something which is not one of the two. Something desirable because “it is very far better than either of the two. What could this be? The answer is, the return of Jesus Christ. That this is what Paul is referring to is proven by the following: (1) The context; (2) An accurate translation of the Greek; (3) The direct statements of the Scriptures as to when and how believers get to be with Christ; (4) The direct statements of the Scriptures as to where believers go when they die.


“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Gain to whom? This statement is part of one that is very definitely speaking about gain to Christ. Gain to Christ in Paul’s BODY by life, and gain to Christ in Paul’s BODY BY DEATH. The complete statement is:

According to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing shall I be put to shame, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also CHRIST shall be MAGNIFIED IN MY BODY, whether by life, OR BY DEAITH. FOR to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:20,21 R.V.).

Notice the close connection between “Christ magnified in my body by death” and “to die is gain.” The Greek brings this out very forcefully.

megalunyhsetai Cristov en tw swmati mou
Shall-be-magnified Christ in the body of-me
eite dia zwmv eite dia yanatou Emoi gar
whether thru life whether thru death. To-me for
to zhn Cristov kai to apoyavein kerdov
the to-live Christ and the to-die gain.

The presence of the articles in “the to live” and “the to die” points back to the words “life” and “death” in the preceding verse. It is as though he were to say, the life of which I have spoken is Christ, and the death of which I have spoken is gain to Him. Paul is speaking definitely of his own life and death not of Christians in general.

But someone will ask, “How would it be gain to Christ for Paul to die?” Again the context is most enlightening:

Now I would have you know, brethren, that the things which happened unto *me have fallen out rather unto the PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL; so that MY BONDS became manifest in Christ throughout the whole praetorian guard, and to all the rest; and that most of the Brethren in the Lord, BEING CONFIDENT THROUGH MY BONDS, ARE MORE ABUNDANTLY BOLD TO SPEAK THE WORD OF GOD WITHOUT FEAR (Phil. 1:12-14 R.V.).

If Paul’s faith in Christ, evidenced by his willingness to be imprisoned for Him, gave the brethren confidence and magnified Christ by making them more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear, how much more would Paul’s death for Christ confirm the genuineness of his faith and embolden them. There is not one word in the entire context that suggests gain to Paul in dying. Everything is speaking about gain to Christ. Those who cannot see how Christ would gain in Paul’s death, must explain how Christ could be magnified in Paul’s BODY through death.


The Greek with a literal interlinear is as follows:

sunecomai de ek twn thn epiyumian
I-am-pressed yet out of the two, the desire
ecwn eiv to analusai kai sun cristw
having unto the return and with Christ
einai pollw gar mallon kreisson
to-be, much for rather better

An accurate translation is as follows:

Yet I am being pressed out of the two, having the desire unto the return and together with Christ to be, for it rather is much better (Phil, 1:23).

Three corrections of importance have .been made:

1.  “I am being pressed” instead of “I am in a strait,”
2.  “Out of the two” instead of “betwixt the two.”
3.  “Desire unto the return” instead of “desire to depart.”

Let us consider each one carefully.

(1). The words, “I am in a strait,” are translated from the Greek verb sunechomai which is the present middle form of the verb sunecho. Sunecho means “to hold together,” “to press” and is translated as follows:

Luke 8: 45   The multitudes throng thee (“press” in R.V.)
Acts 7: 57   They cried out . . . and stopped their ears.
Acts 18: 5   Paul was pressed in spirit.
2 Cor. 5: 14   The love of Christ constraineth us.
Luke 12: 50   How am I straitened (Same as in Phil. 1:23).

Since the present middle form is used in Phil. 1:23 it should be translated, “I am being pressed.” This preserves the grammar of the Greek, and agrees with the preposition ek “out of” which follows.

(2). The word “betwixt” is a mistranslation of ek which occurs hundreds of times in the Greek Scriptures. This is the only place in which it has been translated “betwixt.” The Lexicons and Concordances are in complete agreement that ek means “out of” or “from” and that it denotes motion from a place. It is the exact opposite of eis “into.” In the Authorized Version it has been translated “out of” 131 times, “from” 182 times, “of” 402 times. A few examples are:

Mat. 1: 3   Judas begat Phhares and Zara of Thamar.
Mat. 1: 16   Of whom was born Jesus.
Mat. 2: 15   out of Egypt have I called my son.
Mat. 12: 34   Out of the abundance of the heart.
Mat. 3: 17   Lo a voice from heaven.
Rom. 6: 4   Christ was raised up from the dead.

(3) . The word translated “depart” is unalusai, the aorist infinitive of analuo, from. ana “back again” and luo "to loose.” As a verbal noun[1] it is better translated “return.” This verb occurs only once again in the New Testament and there it is translated "return."

And be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord, when he shall return from the marriage feast; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may straightway open unto him (Luke 12:36 R. V.).

There are two very strong reasons why Paul would not speak of death as a departure to be with Christ. First, because the Scriptures plainly teach that the only way believers get to be with the Lord is by His coming for them:

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and THE DEAD IN CHRIST SHALL RISE first; then WE THAT ARE ALIVE, that are left, shall TOGETHER WITH THEM be caught up in the clouds, TO MEET THE LORD in the air: AND SO shall we EVER BE WITH THE LORD. Wherefore COMFORT one another WITH THESE WORDS (1 Thes. 4:16-18 R.V.).

And again,

In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (How did He get there, by dying? or by resurrection and ascension?) And if I go and prepare a place for you, I WILL COME AGAIN AND REGEIVE YOU UNTO MYSELF: THAT WHERE I AM, THERE YE MAY BE ALSO (John 14:2,3 A.V.).

The second reason Paul would not speak of death as a departure to be with Christ is: The Scriptures plainly teach that the dead are in their graves until resurrection.

Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which ALL THAT ARE IN THE TOMBS shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28,29 R.V.). See also Dan. 12:2; John 11:17; 12:17; Acts 2:29; 5:5-10; 8:2; 1 Cor. 15:4,35, etc. Notice when reading the Scriptures how the person is always represented as being where the body is. Death, burial and resurrection are of the person, not just of some part of the person.

To sum up then: Paul expresses his earnest expectation and hope that he shall be put to shame in nothing but that with all boldness Christ shall be magnified in his body “whether through life or through death.” Then he is pressed out of the two by the thought of the return of Christ. If Christ should return it would not be necessary for him to die. Neither would it be necessary for him to continue in the flesh for the sake of the Philippian believers, for they too would be caught away (Phil. 1:6; 3:20,21). Philippians 1:23 is a parenthetical digression or an aside. Verse 24 picks up where verse 22 left off.

Notwithstanding the traditional teaching that death is a departure to be with Christ, believers prefer to remain here, and cling to this life as long as possible. Instinct refuses to accept error no matter how attractive it is made to the flesh.  Paul, like every true believer, longed not for death, but for the return of Christ.

[1] Four times in Phil. 1:21123 we have a verb in the infinitive with an article. A. T. Robertson says, “The infinitive is always a substantive and like other substantives may or may not use the article according to the circumstances. What the article does do with the infinitive is to make clear that it is definite.”

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