Philippians 2:5-9

By Juan Baixeras

 

This verse has been used to try and prove the Trinity and the preexistence of Christ. The argument is that according to the verse, Jesus did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. The second argument is that Jesus being God, emptied himself of his divinity when he came as Jesus. We will look at both of these claims and in the process we will give you what I believe to be the correct interpretation of this verse.

Let me start by saying that this verse is probably the most written about verse in the Bible. It has been the topic of many a Bible scholar, and certain interpretations of this verse have caused quite a commotion.

Before starting let me state the best way to understand these verses. This hymn is best understood within the framework of Adam Christology (James Dunn, Christology in the Making pg. 114-115). Though the hymn is obviously about Christ, it defines him against the background of Adamís failure. The hymn presupposes Adamís fateful choice, his desire to "be like God," (Gen. 3:5), his failure, and his downfall. Jesus is the second Adam. Where the first Adam failed, the second Adam is victorious. Where the first Adam sought his own interests, the second Adam remained obedient to the point of death.

This Adam Christology is a feature of Paulís writings (Rom.5:12 Ė 21, 1Cor. 15: 20 Ė 28) and of early Christianity. For example, the temptation stories in Mathew and Luke have in their background the temptation of Adam in Genesis. Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam. Adamís ancestry is listed as the "son of God." It is interesting that Lukeís genealogy of Jesus, ending with Adam, is immediately followed with the temptation story. For the early church, the significance of Jesus was understood, at least in part, in light of the downfall of Adam. (Scott A. Deane, MATS, Philippians 2:6-11, Radical Reformation Vol.7 No.1, 1997)

As in any exegesis of any verse, one must always interpret it in the context in which it was written. So at this time please open your Bible and read from verse 1 Ė 12. First we are going to cover the context and then the point of this hymn, and then we will do a line by line exegesis.

Letís review the context first. In verse 1-2 Paul is telling the Philippians to be of the same mind, to show the same love. In verse 3 he tells them not to do anything out of selfishness or vainglory, but to be humble. He tells them to regard OTHERS as more important than themselves. To consider otherís interests as more important than their own. All this is happening during a time of persecution.

Then in verses 5-8 he uses the life of Christ as an example of what he is speaking about. He tells them to have the same attitude as Christ.

The point of the hymn in this context is that suffering, humility, and obedience to God for the faith leads ultimately to exaltation.

Now that we have covered the context in verses 1-5, we are ready for the first controversy in verse 6. There are two different interpretations. The first is from the KJV, it states:

"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God."

The majority of Bibles including the NAB, NASB, NRSV, NIV, and The Amplified Bible, just to name a few, interpret it as:

"Who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped."

First let us get an understanding of the phrase "Who being in the form of God." The key being the word "form."

The word form (morphe) and image (eikon) are interchangeable. R.P. Martin ("Morphe in Philippians 2:6," Expository Times, Vol. 70, no.6, March 1959, 183-184) states:

"That morphe and eikon are equivalent terms that are used interchangeably in the LXX."

James Dunn states in Christology in the Making pg.115:

"It has long been recognized that morphe and eikon are near synonyms."

An understanding of image will help us in the understanding of form. Let us look at their definitions. According to Strongís Greek Dictionary it means:

Form (morphe) Ė nature. Comes from the base of the word meros that means to have an allotment, a division or share, piece, portion.

Image (eikon) Ė likeness, or figuratively a representation.

Being in the form or image of something means that it is not the original. If I have something that is in the form or image of a lion, then it is not really a lion. If it was, I would not have to say that it was in the form or image of a lion, I would just say that it is a lion.

Man was made in the image of God. God made man as a representation of himself. Someone he could share a piece of himself (having the spirit of God in us) with.

Gen.1:27 Ė "God created man in his image."

1 Cor. 11:7 "Because he (man) is the image and glory of God."

These verses do not mean that because we are the image of God that we are God. It means that God made us with his attributes. We have the ability to think (do his will) and to love like God.

These next two verses do not mean that Jesus is God in the same way that the verses above do not mean that man is God. They mean that Jesus is the image of God because as Godís anointed he does the will of God and loved us (as God does) enough to die for us. Jesus and Godís purpose are one and the same. Our purpose should be the same as Christís. This is what Paul is telling the Philippians in verse 5, to have the same attitude (the image) as Christ.

2 Cor. 4:4 Ė "Christ who is the image of God."

Colossians 1:1 Ė "He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God."

When we are reborn or renewed we then bear the image of Christ and of God (because they are one in purpose) because we put away the old self and put on the new self which now does the will of God.

Colossians 3:10 says it clearly:

"Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator."

This next verse is also a good example. The disobedient are said to have a form of godliness. It doesnít mean that they are God, in this verse it means that they pretend to be like God (righteous), but in reality are not.

2 Tim. 3:5 Ė "Having a form (the disobedient) of godliness but denying its power."

The KJV basically says that Jesus did not think anything wrong of being considered equal with God. This is contrary to the Adam Christology that is being applied and in total contradiction to the context of this chapter which is humility, selflessness, to be a slave of, not to be equal with, especially with God.

Now letís see how this understanding of the word "form" fits in this passage. Let us look at both verses again.

"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God."

"Who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped."

Let us review the context of this chapter. It is about being humble. It is about putting others ahead of oneself. Of making others more important than oneself like Christ did. Christ put Godís interests (Godís will) and ours ahead of himself just like we should put otherís interests ahead of our own.

The KJV interpretation of verse 6 goes completely contrary to that idea. It does not convey humility, it states the opposite, grandeur. It says that although Jesus was like, or represented God, that he did not think that there was anything wrong in being considered equal to God. It is basically hypocritical.

The other Bible interpretations are in line with the context of the chapter. Their sense is determined by their role within Adam Christology.

The conclusion to these verses is that Jesus is the second Adam created in the image of God as Adam was. As Adam, Jesus is in esteemed position, they are both called "son of God." Like Adam, Jesus was faced with a choice: seek his own interests or Godís; obey or rebel.

Adamís temptation was that he wanted to be like God (Gen. 3:5). Adam sought to grasp (the NRSV has grasp as, "something to be exploited") equality with God. But Jesus in contrast to Adamís selfish choice did not seek to usurp Godís authority but instead took the position of a slave to God and obeyed him to the point of death.

Now on to verse 7-9. It says:

"Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him."

Let me start with the phrase "he emptied himself." Many people use this verse in defense of the Trinity when confronted with questions such as

"If Jesus is omniscient then how come he does not know the day of his return?

Their answer is that Jesus doesnít know that because he emptied himself of His divinity when he came as Jesus.

This idea has an actual name. It is called the Kenotic Doctrine. Before going on, let me show you the Creed of the Council of Chalcedon, which is the definition of Jesus which all good Trinitarians adhere to, Catholic and Protestant.

 

DEFINITION OF THE COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON (451 AD)

Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, bearer; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the fathers has handed down to us.

The Kenotic Doctrine claims that Jesus emptied himself of his deity. Well, you can simply read in the Chalcedon Creed that it defines Jesusí nature as fully God and fully man at all times, without division, without separation. You cannot say that you believe in the Trinity and use this excuse. If you subscribe to the Kenotic Doctrine, then you have already rejected the Trinity. You cannot be both.

In 1951, in celebration of the 1500th birthday of the Chalcedon Creed, Pope Pius the 12th wrote the following on the Kenotic Doctrine:

 

Encyclical of Pope Pius the 12th on the Council of Chalcedon September 8, 1951

(paragraph 29).

 

There is another enemy of the faith of Chalcedon, widely diffused outside the fold of the Catholic religion. This is an opinion for which a rashly and falsely understood sentence of St. Paulís Epistle to the Philippians (2:7), supplies a basis and a shape. This is called the kenotic doctrine, and according to it, they imagine that the divinity was taken away from the Word in Christ. It is a wicked invention, equally to be condemned with the Docetism opposed to it. It reduces the whole mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption to empty the bloodless imaginations.

So what does he emptied himself mean? It means that Jesus being in an esteemed position (The Messiah, the king of Israel, Jn 1:41 & 49) emptied himself of all the rights, power and privilege that were his and instead humbled himself like a slave to the will of God.

The Amplified Bible states Verse 7 as:

"But stripped (emptied) himself of all privilege and rightful dignity so as to assume the guise of a servant."

Remember, Jesus was and is the Messiah, the right hand of God. And as Godís right hand he is anointed with incredible power. But he chose not to use this power but instead yielded to the will of God to the point of death. An example that comes to mind is when Jesus is about to be arrested. It states:

Matthew 26:53 Ė "Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?"

He could have summoned them, but he didnít. He could have used his esteemed position to call for angels to protect him, but he chose to empty himself of his right and privilege in obedience to God. Now let us look at the remaining verses.

2:7: "Coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance."

People have really gone overboard with this verse. They will say that since in the previous verse God emptied himself of his divinity, that then he appeared as a human, Jesus.

How this fits in a context of living a life of humility and obedience is beyond me. It just doesnít.

The NAB which is a Catholic Bible that believes in the preexistence of Christ has this to say about verse 7:

2:7: "It is also possible to interpret so as to exclude any reference to preexistence and to take vv 6-8 as parallel stanzas about Jesusí human state."

Letís first review what the word translated as "likeness" (eidos) means. Its literal translation is "fashion." Letís see what Vineís Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words has to say about this word and its usage in this verse.

Fashion (eidos) Ė "In general the state and relations of a human being, so that in the entire mode of his appearance he made himself known and was recognized as a man."

In the simplest of terms, this definition states that Jesus was just like us. Paul speaks of the same thing in Hebrew 2:17 - 18, it states:

"Therefore, he had to be made like his brethren in all things, that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propiations for the sins of the people. For since he himself was tempted in that which he has suffered, he is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted."

All verse 7 is saying is that Jesus refused to use his esteemed position for his own interests, instead, even though he was human like the rest of us, he resisted the temptation to follow his own desires and chose to follow the will of God, to obey God to his death.

This fits in with Paulís Adam Ė Jesus comparison. The first Adam was tempted and failed. The second Adam was tempted and was victorious.

"Just like sin and death entered the world though a man named Adam, eternal life was also brought to us through another man named Jesus (paraphrasing Romans 5:12 Ė 21).

Now we end our exegesis with verse 9. Paul is using Jesus as an example of how to live. Jesus was tempted and he suffered, but he obeyed even when it cost him his life. Because of his obedience God has greatly exalted him. This is the message that Paul is conveying to the Philippians. Be like Christ, follow his example. He was human just like us, which means that it is humanly possible for us to live a life of obedience to God if we set our minds to it. And just like he has been rewarded, so will you. You too will be exalted ( resurrected).

This chapter along with the episode of the temptation of Christ in the gospels makes no sense if Jesus is a Godman. It makes no sense for Paul to urge on the Philippians to imitate Christ if Christ is a Godman. How can they, they are not Godmen.

The temptation of Christ and Philippians 2 both give us encouragement that sin can be overcome even in this age if we follow Godís will instead of our own as Jesus did. Jesus although he was the Messiah was human just like us, and he proved to the world that it is possible to follow the will of God if we choose to. And if we do, then we too will be exalted by God.

Conclusion: Philippians 2: 5-9 has nothing to do with Christ being God or his preexistence. Those interpretations are the work of people with preconceived ideas trying to find any verse in the Bible to substantiate their claims.

In reality these verses are very simple. They are very practical verses written to the Philippians on how they are to conduct themselves in this world. How are we to conduct ourselves? Not by imitating Adam who lost everything by his attempted grab for power (his own desires), but by imitating Christ who through his humility and obedience to God (Godís will) gained it all.

God bless you.

 

BACK

 

 

1