Re: Php 2:6

From: John Albu (
Date: Tue Jul 09 1996 - 13:34:50 EDT

Regarding the meaning of harpagmos in Philippians 2:6, there are some
interesting remarks by Heinz Kruse S. J. in his article "Harpagmos (Ad
Phil 2, 6)," published in "Verbum Domini," Vol. 27, 1949, pp. 355-360. I
am quoting from pp. 355, 356, 358, in Latin and providing an English
translation. I would appreciate if improvements would be offered for this

John Albu

Latin text:

        Sensus communis et obvius vocis separatae harpagmos est "actio
avide arripiendi". Notandum est verbum harpazein nunquam significare
"avide _retinere_", et per se non includere rationem iniusttiae vel
violentiae ("rapina"), quam tamen speciali cum usu vel contextu assumere
potest. Harpagma e contra dicit "rem avide arreptam" vel etiam "praedam"
(ita saepe in LXX). Sed distinctio inter verba in -ma et in -mos, a
grammaticis tantopere inculcata, in lingua vulgari saepe neglegitur
(cf. baptismos, baptisma), et in uso idiomatico harpagmos et harpagma
omnibus concedentibus eodem fere sensu adhibentur everyone agreeing.

        Harpagmon (vel -ma) poieisthai ergo ad litteram nihil aliud
diceret, quam "actionem arripiendi ponere" vel simpliciter "arripere" =
harpazein (cf. poreian, mneian, katharismon poieisthai pro poreuesthai,
memnesthai, katharizein). Sed hoc in sensu deberet coniugi cum genitivo:
arripere aliquid = harpagmon tinos poieisthai . . . . Sic totum idioma
(harpagmos poieisthai ti) paulatim ad has significationes descendit:
"Aliquid bona occasionem putare, quam quisque statim arripit", aliquid
arripiendum vel usurpandum putare", "aliqua re utendum putare", "aliquid
preferendum putare", immo simpliciter "aliqua re uti", "aliquid
praeferre". Inspiciamus exempla, quibus res melius illustrari potest. . .

        Haec exempla videtur sufficiere ad probandam existentiam talis
idiomatis. Bene notandum est, in omnibus exemplis id, _quod_ "pro bona
occasione habetur", non antecedenter esse in possessione utentis, sed
aliunde offerri; aliis verbis: harpagmon hegeisthai non dicit "uti aliqua
re quam iam diu habui, qua tamen hucusque usus non sum", sed "uti aliqua
occasione fortuito vel aliunde mihi oblata". In omnibus etiam datur optio
et libertas, sive exercitii i. e. utendi occasione oblata vel non, sive
specificationis i. e. utendi h occasione vel alia.

English version:

        The common and obvious sense of the separate word harpagmos is
"the act of seizing avidly." It is to be noted that the verb harpazein
never signifies "_to retain_ avidly," and in itself does not include
the idea of injustice or violence ("rapine"), which, however, it can
assume with special use or context. Harpagma, on the contrary, means "a
thing avidly seized" or also "spoil" (thus often in LXX). However, the
distinction between words in -ma and in -mos, so frequently inculcated by
grammarians, often is neglected in common speech (cf. baptismos,
baptisma), and in idiomatic use harpagmos and harpagma, everyone agreeing,
are employed nearly in the same sense.

        Harpagmon (or -ma) poieisthai therefore literally means nothing
other than "to perform the action of seizing" or simply "to seize" =
harpazein (cf. poreian, mneian, katharismon poieisthai for poreuesthai,
memnesthai, katharizein). But in this sense it ought to be connected with
the genitive: to seize something = harpagmon tinos poieisthai . . . . Thus
the total idiom (harpagmos poieisthai ti) gradually descended toward these
significations: "To consider a good opportunity which someone seizes
immediately," "to consider something to be seized or usurped," "to
consider something to be used," "to consider something to be preferred";
nay, simply "to use something," to prefer something." Let us consider
examples, by which the matter could be better illustrated. . . .

        These examples seem sufficient for proving the existence of such
an idiom. It is to be well noted that in all these examples that _which_
"is held as opportune" is not antecedently in possession of the user but
is offered from elsewhere; in other words: harpagmon hegeisthai does not
mean "to use something which I already have for a long time, which
nevertheless up to now I have not used," but "to use some occasion
fortuitously or otherwise offered to me." In all these there is also given
option and liberty either of exercising, that is, of using the occasion
held forth or not, or of specification, that is, of using this occasion or

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