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The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, (Philippians 2:6)

The following verses (6-8) are a part of a figure of speech called a catabasis.[1] It means a going down, from kata down, and basis a going. We see seven steps downward that Christ has taken to reveal the mind of Christ to us.

The first step downward was when He left the glory of Heaven and came to earth.

The “form of God” in the Greek comes from the word morphe, which speaks of the nature of a person. It is the same word used in verse 7, “form of a servant.” We see Paul affirming the pre-existence of Jesus as God, much as John did in the opening chapter of his gospel account. John declared, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1.

The P52 PROJECT THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS 4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS

Jesus did not consider His privileged position and nature of being God something that He must grasp tightly. The Greek word, harpagmos, carries two meanings. The first is to seize or carry off with force. The second is a thing held as a prize. The first meaning would picture that Jesus had to win His position as God by using force – quite contrary to other passages of Scripture that recognize Him as the Second Person with His Father and the Holy Spirit.[2] So, the logical understanding of Paul in this passage is that Jesus, being part of an Eternal relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit considered Himself equal with the other two members in nature, but did not see this as a future prize. He was willing to let go of this right in order to redeem mankind.

More in-depth Insights

Who, though he was in the form of God.

The Greek (ὑπάρχων huparchōn) rendered though he was means to be or exist in a state or condition; often of states that are enduring as opposed to temporary. The sense here is that of “existing,” as it is in the present active participle. On this Vine’s Complete Expository says, “primarily, ‘to make a beginning’ (hupo, ‘under,’ arche, ‘a beginning’), denotes ‘to be, to be in existence,’ involving an ‘existence’ or condition both previous to the circumstances mentioned and continuing after it. This is important in Phil. 2:6, concerning the deity of Christ. The phrase ‘being (existing) in the form (morphe, the essential and specific form and character) of God,’ carries with it the two facts of the antecedent Godhood of Christ, previous to His incarnation, and the continuance of His Godhood at and after the event of His Birth.”[3]

In the form of God (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ en morphēi theou) means visual form, outward appearance, that is, the essential characteristics as found in the form. Before Christ came to earth, he had the characteristics of God. E. H Gifford writes: “morphe is therefore properly the nature or essence, not in the abstract, but as actually subsisting in the individual, and retained as long as the individual itself exists.… Thus in the passage before us morphe Theou is the Divine nature actually and inseparably subsisting in the Person of Christ.… For the interpretation of ‘the form of God’ it is sufficient to say that (1) it includes the whole nature and essence of Deity, and is inseparable from them, since they could have no actual existence without it; and (2) that it does not include in itself anything ‘accidental’ or separable, such as particular modes of manifestation, or conditions of glory and majesty, which may at one time be attached to the ‘form,’ at another separated from it.… The true meaning of morphe in the expression ‘form of God’ is confirmed by its recurrence in the corresponding phrase, ‘form of a servant.’ It is universally admitted that the two phrases are directly antithetical, and that ‘form’ must therefore have the same sense in both.”[4]

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped

A thing to be grasped (ἁρπαγμον harpagmon), occurring only here in the Greek New Testament, means plunder, to be taken by violence or force. Further, it also occurs very rarely in secular Greek, and occurs nowhere in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) or the Apostolic Fathers. Here Paul means that Jesus counted equality with God as something he already had and was to be retained by force not something to be taken by violence or force. Harpagmon may have two meanings, (a) in the active sense, ‘the act of seizing, robbery,’ a meaning in accordance with a rule connected with its formation, (b) in the passive sense, “a thing held as a prize.”[5] The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament says, “Since ἁρπαγμός may mean not only ‘to grasp something forcefully which one does not have’ … but also ‘to retain by force what one possesses,’ it is possible to translate Php 2:6 in two quite different ways. This second interpretation of ἁρπαγμός presumes the position of Jesus prior to the incarnation and hence his willingness to experience the kenosis or ‘emptying’ of his divine prerogatives.”[6]

The to be equal with God. The Greek (το εἰναι ἰσα θεοι to einai isa theoi) means equal, same as, having the same quality, quantity, value, or measure as another. This phrase means having the same status or position, nature character. As some claim, this cannot be said that an angel, even the archangel could be equal with God. Albert Barnes writes, “The natural and obvious meaning of the language is, that there was an equality of nature and of rank with God, from which he humbled himself when he became a man. The meaning of the whole verse, according to the interpretation suggested above, is, that Christ, before he became a man, was invested with honor, majesty, and glory, such as was appropriate to God himself; that there was some manifestation or splendor in his existence and mode of being then, which showed that he was equal with God; that he did not consider that that honor, indicating equality with God, was to be retained at all events, and so as to do violence, as it were, to other interests, and to rob the universe of the glory of redemption; and that he was willing, therefore, to forget that, or lay it by for a time, in order that he might redeem the world. There were a glory and majesty which were appropriate to God, and which indicated equality with God—such as none but God could assume”[7]

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

In 2:6 we find Jesus as the foremost example of humility. He had always been God. As God in heaven before descending to earth he was not contemplating his position in life, his equality as God a thing to be grasped but rather was willing to leave behind his position in heaven for a mere moment in time, to give his perfect human life for redeemable mankind.

Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics with Daniel B. Wallace

Phil 2:6      οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τ εναι ἴσα θεῷ

he did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped

This is an example of a direct object infinitive in an object-complement construction. Here the infinitive is the object and the anarthrous term ἁρπαγμόν is the complement, in keeping with the normal structural pattern of object-complement constructions.[8]

Phil 2:6      ὅς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ πάρχων

who, although he existed in the form of God

The translation of this participle as concessive is not entirely clear upon a casual reading of the text. The two options are either causal or concessive.

There are two interpretive problems in Phil 2:6–7 relevant to the treatment of this participle. First, of course, is the grammatical problem of whether this is concessive or causal. Second is the lexical problem of whether ἁρπαγμόν in v 6 means robbery or a thing to be grasped. The grammatical and the lexical inform one another and cannot be treated separately. Thus, if ὑπάρχων is causal, ἁρπαγμόν means robbery (“who, because he existed in God’s form, did not consider equality with God as robbery”); if ὑπάρχων is concessive, then ἁρπαγμόν means a thing to be grasped (“who, although he existed in God’s form, did not consider equality with God as a thing to be grasped”). As attractive as the first alternative might be theologically, it is not satisfactory. Ultimately, this verse cannot be interpreted in isolation, but must be seen in light of the positive statement in v 7—“but he emptied himself” (the participle ὑπάρχων equally depends on both ἡγήσατο and ἐκένωσεν). Only the concessive idea for the participle and a thing to be grasped translation for ἁρπαγμόν fit well with v 7.

4th ed. MISREPRESENTING JESUS The Complete Guide to Bible Translation-2

Perhaps the largest issue of this text is the meaning of ἁρπαγμόν. Is it something to be grasped for or something to be retained? If the former, the idea would be that although Christ existed in God’s form, he did not attempt to become equal to God. If the latter, the meaning would be that although Christ existed in God’s form, he did not feel compelled to maintain his equality with God. Both views naturally fit with a concessive participle, though the relation of τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ to the μορφῇ θεοῦ hangs in the balance.

Appeal has been made to the article with the infinitive, as though it were anaphoric (so N. T. Wright, “ἁρπαγμός and the Meaning of Philippians 2:5–11,” JTS, NS 37 (1986) 344). If so, then “form of God” means the same thing as “equality with God” and ἁρπαγμόν is something to be retained. But, as we have argued elsewhere (see chapters on the accusative and infinitive), the article more probably is used to indicate the object in an object-complement construction. The connection with “form of God” is thus left open. In light of the predominant usage of ἁρπαγμόν as something to be grasped for, I am inclined to see a difference between μορφῇ θεοῦ and τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ. This does not deny an affirmation of the deity of Christ in this text, just that such a notion is found in τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ. μορφῇ θεοῦ carries that weight by itself (inter alia, there is the contextual argument: If one denies that Christ was truly God, one must also deny that he was truly a servant [note μορφὴν δούλου in v 7]). What, then, is the meaning of the infinitive phrase? It seems to suggest hierarchy, not ontology.

Putting the interpretation of all the elements together yields the following. Although Christ was truly God (μορφῇ θεοῦ), two things resulted: (1) he did not attempt to “outrank” the Father, as it were (cf. John 14:28 for a similar thought: “The Father is greater than I am”); (2) instead, he submitted himself to the Father’s will, even to the point of death on a cross. It was thus not Christ’s deity that compelled his incarnation and passion, but his obedience.[9]

Phil 2:6      ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ

who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard the [state of] being equal to God [as] something to be grasped

This is a debatable example. Wright argues that the article is anaphoric, referring back to μορφῇ θεοῦ. As attractive as this view may be theologically, it has a weak basis grammatically. The infinitive is the object and the anarthrous term, ἁρπαγμός, is the complement. The most natural reason for the article with the infinitive is simply to mark it out as the object (see “Article as Function Marker” for discussion of this usage). Further, there is the possibility that μορφῇ θεοῦ refers to essence (thus, Christ’s deity), while τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ refers to function. If this is the meaning of the text, then the two are not synonymous: although Christ was true deity, he did not usurp the role of the Father.

Cf. also Matt 2:1, 7; John 1:4; 2:1, 2; Acts 9:4, 7; 2 Cor 5:1, 4; Rev 15:1, 6.[10]

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[1] E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1968). Pages 432-433

[2]  Consider the following Scriptural passages on this topic: John 1:1, 14, 8:16, 18, 29, 58, 10:30, Romans 12:9-16; Gal, 4:4,5; Ephesians 4:3; Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1: 1-3; 13:8; Titus 2:11.

[3] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 217.

[4] Edwin Hamilton Gifford, “The Incarnation: A Study of Philippians 2:5–11,” pp. 16, 19, 39.

[5] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 489.

[6] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 583.

[7] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 171.

[8] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics – Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1996), 602.

[9] Daniel B. Wallace, IBID.

[10] Daniel B. Wallace, IBID, 220.

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