“Hold Fast” Versus “Hold Out” In Philippians 2:16 -- By: Vern Sheridan Poythress

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 64:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: “Hold Fast” Versus “Hold Out” In Philippians 2:16
Author: Vern Sheridan Poythress


“Hold Fast” Versus “Hold Out” In Philippians 2:16

Vern Sheridan Poythress*

[*Vern S. Poythress is professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.]

What does the verb ἐπέχω mean in Phil 2:16? Does it mean “hold fast” or “hold out”? The decision makes a difference. Are the Philippians instructed to hold fast to the word of life, as a source of life and instruction for themselves, or are they being told to hold out the word of life to others, as an aspect of their evangelistic responsibility? Commentators are divided on the question, because either meaning appears to fit the context reasonably well.

I. An overview of ἐπέχω

The key verb ἐπέχω can be used in a range of ways. When used with a temporal expression (the accusative of extent), it can mean “stop, stay,”1 as in Acts 19:22: “And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself [Paul] stayed [ἐπέσχεν] in Asia for a while” (RSV).With a dative object, it means “hold toward, aim at,”2 in the sense of fixing attention on, as in Acts 3:5: “And he fixed his attention [ἐπέῖχεν] upon them, expecting to receive something from them” (RSV). BDAG indicates that with an accusative object ἐπέχω means “hold fast”:3 “wailing seized [ἐπεῖχε] the whole camp and the city” (Plutarch, Otho 17.6). Since in Phil 2:16 ἐπέχω has the accusative object “word of life” (λόγον ζωῆς), Bauer’s lexicon classifies Phil 2:16 in this category, and assigns the meaning “hold fast.”4 This conclusion seems reasonable.

But is “hold out” also a possibility? BDAG does not list “hold out” as a possible meaning of ἐπέχω. But the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek lexicon not only lists the meaning “hold out,” but assigns this meaning to Phil 2:16.5 The English translations are divided: RSV, NASB text, NKJV, New Berkeley Version, NIV margin, NRSV, NAB, New English Trans...

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