Bible Question:

Is the English translation of Philippians 2:12-13 incorrect? I have a questions concerning the wonderful article “Once Saved Always Saved. ” I once saw on the internet a statement that the phrase “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” in Philippians 2:12-13 is not correct in the Greek version. Instead it should read “work out your own salvation with fear and exaltation. ” The meaning isn't one of judgment but the opposite. Verse 13 would then read “for it is God who works in you both to will and do of his good pleasure. ” When you read the verses this way, it makes more sense. Have you heard of this before?

Bible Answer:

Philippians 2:12-13 is an amazing passage. It is about a Christian’s day-to-day life here on earth and not in eternity. The Apostle Paul wrote the passage to people who believe in, follow, and seek to be like Jesus Christ. It is written to Christians. How do we know this? The answer is found in Philippians 1:1 where we are told that the book was written “to the saints.” That is, the book was written to Christians. Christians are saints. The passage tells us that while we are seeking to please God in our lives, God is working in our lives too!

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (NASB) Philippians 2:12-13

Your question is about the phrase “”work out your salvation with fear and trembling” in verse 12. The Greek word that is translated as “fear” is PHOBOS. The Greek word means “a state of severe distress, aroused by intense concern for impending pain, danger, or evil, etc.” The Greek word translated as “trembling” is TROMOS. It means “to shake or tremble, often with the implication of fear and/or consternation – to tremble, trembling, to quiver, to shake.” The Greek word does not mean “exaltation.” Since TROMOS occurs five times in the New Testament (Mark 16:8; 1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:15; Eph. 6:5; Phil. 2:12) and each time it is translated as “fear” it is clear that the word does not mean “exaltation.” TROMOS means fear. That is, we should seek to be holy. We should seek to flee from sin in order to be like Jesus. Sometimes we flee sin because we want to avoid God’s discipline. The fear of God’s discipline causes trembling.

The passage also tells us that God is actually the One doing the work in our lives. He disciplines us when we sin just as a father disciplines (not punishmes) a son who is disobedient. God also convicts through His Word and by His Holy Spirit. Also, He is actively at work within us changing our attitudes and desires (Gal. 5:16-23; Eph. 5:17-6:3).


Every true Christian will want to live a holy life. That is the message of 1 John 3:9. The true Christian will want to be holy even as God is holy (1 Pet. 1:16). Some Christians are motivated to be holy because they fear God’s discipline. Hebrews 12:4-13 describes God’s active role in our lives to motivate us to live a holy life. God wants us to flee sin (1 Cor. 6:18; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). He wants us to be holy as He is holy.


Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Louw & Nida, United Bible Societies. 1989.

Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Danker & Bauer, University of Chicago Press. 1957

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