It has been brought to my attention that I neglected to include a section on Philippians 2:5-8, even though I referred to it in one of the articles. While I did not complete this article, I decided to leave it as is because I did not trust Kel’s Greek, and the parts of the article I didn’t respond to here are based on his understanding of the Greek and on his mistrust of all things Trinitarian.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. – RSV
This passage identifies Christ Jesus as God because verse 6 says that he “was in the form of God” and verse 7 says he took “the form of a servant.” We know that Jesus really was a servant (“the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” – Matt. 20:28; “Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen,” said of Jesus, Matt. 12:18). So if “the form of a servant” means that he really was a servant, then “the form of God” must mean that he really is God. If Paul had meant to say that Jesus really was a servant but was not really God, he probably would not have used the same term to connect “Jesus” and “servant” as he did to connect “Jesus” and “God.”
The Greek word morphe, or form, originally meant the way something appears to be, but later came to mean a thing’s essential attributes. That the latter meaning is intended is plain from the passages quoted above (Matt 12:18 and 20:28) which show that Jesus did not merely appear to be a servant, but really was one. Since this is the way Paul is using the word form it is logical to conclude this word has the same meaning when he says Jesus was in “the form of God.”
Three things occurred after Jesus was in the form of God; 1) Jesus not counting “equality with God a thing to be grasped,” 2) emptying himself, and 3) “taking the form of a servant.” It is not quite clear from the English translation above, but most scholars agree, that the grammar of the text implies that Jesus continued being in the form of God when he emptied himself and took the form of a servant. This conclusion can be logically backed up if we consider that God does not change, and so if Jesus was God before he emptied himself, he must have continued to be God afterwards as well. The idea that “being in the form of God” is something that occurred after Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a servant does not seem suggested in the text. Such an interpretation reverses what seems to be the obvious order in which things occurred in this passage.
The fact that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” is interpreted by Kel (though not in these exact words) as meaning that Jesus never thought about being equal to God, because he gave no consideration to such a thing. He also indicates that the equality with God that Jesus did not think about would have been “something which one snatches up or seizes upon to take for himself as one does a plunder or booty.”
My reaction to this is twofold. First, there is nothing in the word translated “grasped” that necessarily means plunder. The word means (according to Thayer’s second definition) “to deem anything a prize, – a thing to be seized upon or to be held fast, retained.” A thief can grasp at someone else’s money, or the rightful owner can grasp his own money when he sees the thief in the area. There is nothing in this word that tells us whether Jesus did or did not have equality with God.
Second, in normal language “not considering” something doesn’t mean that you didn’t think about it at all. It just means that you never seriously considered doing it, or weren’t tempted by the thought of it. The act (or rather, the non-act) of “giving no thought” to something tells us nothing about whether you have that something or not. Because of this, Kel’s implied argument that Jesus giving no thought or consideration to seizing equality with God means that Jesus is not God is a fallacious argument.
At one point Kel said,
“To be in the form of God is equality with God; to be in the form of a servant is to humbly subject one’s self to his God.”
Perhaps he didn’t mean this sentence the way I am taking it, since his whole point is that Jesus is not equal to God and is not God.
I agree that to be in the form of God is indeed equality with God. In fact, I say that to be in the form of God means to be God, just as to be in the form of a servant means to be a servant. Since Kel argees that Jesus WAS a servant, and that this is what is meant by being in the form of a servant, he is on weak grounds if he argues that being in the form of God does not mean being God.
Much of what Kel says in this article is based on his interpretation of the Greek text. However, I have become suspicious of his understanding of the Greek text even though he sounds erudite. ggg
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. NASB
The Greek Text
1. Verse 5
τουτο φρονειτε* εν υμιν ο και εν χριστω ιησου ος
Have this mind in you (pl.) which/that also in Christ Jesus who
* Variant manuscript readings.
Most translations add the word “was” to verse 5 to have it read, “which also was in Christ Jesus” or “which was also in Christ Jesus.” This makes the verse appear as if the Philippians were to have the same mindset as Christ had at some point in the past. However, the verb “was” is not there in the Greek text. Indeed, Young’s Literal Translations adds the word “is” rather than “was.” Some translations, such as the NASB, compound the problem by also translating the present participle hyparcho in the past tense.
The difficulty here is determining Paul’s true intention. Was he instructing the Philippians to have the same mindset Jesus once had at sometime in the past? Or, was he instructing the Philippians to have this mindset in themselves which mindset they are to also have as believers “in Christ.” This understanding is reflected by the ESV and RSV translations. The language is ambiguous enough that it could be taken either way by modern readers of the Greek text.
2. Verse 6
εν μορφη θεου υπαρχων ουχ αρπαγμον ηγησατο το ειναι ισα θεω
in form of deity being not a plunder did he regard the to be equal to deity
The Greek word harpagmos is a noun form of the verb harpazō, to snatch up, to seize up. The word is used to refer to a plunder, a booty, prize. It is something which one snatches up or seizes upon to take for himself as one does a plunder or booty. The verb “regard” is a negative. In verse 6, Paul is not telling us what Jesus did; he is telling us what Jesus did not do. Paul never tells us what Jesus regarded/considered; he tells us what Jesus did not consider/regard. Jesus did not regard/consider/deem/esteem a plunder. What is the plunder in question? The plunder is to be equal to God. He did not regard a plunder to be equal to God. This was something Jesus did not do and Paul is about to tell us what Jesus DID DO in contrast to what he DID NOT DO.
Note: This is important to clearly understand since many layperson Trinitarians imagine that Jesus was up in heaven deliberating (considering) between what he should do or not do and they suppose he DID consider doing what Paul mentions in verse 6 but didn’t do it. However, nothing like this is even mentioned here. The text does not suggest Jesus was thinking about two different choices as if he DID consider doing something which he ultimately didn’t do. However, we are told just the opposite; we are told what he did not consider doing. In other words, in verse 6 Paul is telling us that Jesus never entertained – he did not consider/regard). Put another way, unlike the deliberating Jesus of Trinitarian imagination, we are not being told what Jesus was thinking about (considering); we are being told what he did not think about.
Kel is trying to draw a meaning out of Paul’s words that they probably do not have. When we say someone “didn’t think” about something, that doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t aware of it. For example, if I say the vice president did not consider running for president, I don’t mean that he was unaware of the possibility of running or unable to run, I just mean that he did not intend to run. Kel is implying that since Jesus did not consider or regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or held on to, that means that Jesus was not equal to God and therefore was not even aware of such a thing. But nothing in Paul’s words mean that. As Kel said there is an ambiguity in Paul’s words. Paul’s words could easily mean that Jesus was indeed equal with God in rank and authority but did not consider holding on to that equality in order to avoid the humble state of being a man. They do not necessarily mean that the thought of being equal to God never entered Jesus’ mind, they could just as easily mean that he did not intend to use that equality to his advantage. For Kel to imply otherwise is to go way beyond anything in the actual text of verse 6.
The verbal expression containing the infinitive einai is marked by the Greek article to (“the”). Basically, this means that the verbal expression following the article is to be treated like a noun, the “something.” The “something” in question is a certain equality – to be equal to God, the state or condition of being equal with God.
This equality with God is anaphoric and refers back to the “form of God.”
3. Verse 7
αλλα εαυτον εκενωσεν μορφην δουλου λαβων εν ομοιωματι ανθρωπων γενομενος
rather himself he emptied form of a slave taking in likeness of humans becoming
Verse 6 tells us what Jesus did not do in contrast to verse 7 where we are told what Jesus did do. This contrast between what he didn’t do, and what he did do, is marked by the word “rather.” We are being told what Jesus rather did instead of considering a plunder to be equal to God. Jesus did not regard a harpagmos to be equal to God. He did something else. He emptied himself. The verb here may also be translated as “he made himself nothing” or “he nullified/voided himself.” In other words, Jesus denied himself just as he taught his disciples to do. The Philippians are to do the same.
This self emptying is further qualified by the words, “taking the form of a servant.” Rather than regarding a prize/plunder to be equal to God, Jesus did something else. He chose to assume the position of a servant and serve God. A plunder involves taking something for one’s self. To be in the form of God means to be noble and rule but to be in the form of a servant means to be humble and serve rather than rule. Serving involves giving not taking as one takes a plunder for himself.
Notice that Kel keeps choosing the word “plunder” to describe what Jesus did not do rather than the equally possible translation of “retain.” I presume this is because he wants to create the impression that the language of verse 6 states that Jesus was not equal with God (since plundering means taking something that is not yours) when the text says nothing of the sort.
4. Verse 7-8
και σχηματι ευρεθεις ως ανθρωπος εταπεινωσεν εαυτον γενομενος υπηκοος μεχρι θανατου
and configuration being found as a human he humbled himself becoming obedient until death
Finding himself to be a human being, Jesus had no thought of exalting himself or regarding a plunder to be equal to God. Rather, he humbled himself becoming obedient to death. Recognizing his humanity, Jesus humbled himself before his God serving his God doing God’s will even in the face of death on a cross.
who in the form of God being
he did not regard a plunder to be equal to God
rather, he emptied himself taking the form of a servant
and being found in the configuration of a human
he humbled himself becoming obedient until death, even death on a cross
wherefore, God highly exalted him
“Preconceived Notions and Scripture Twisting
The Trinitarian interpretation of this passage is generally accomplished by imagining certain preconceive ideas into the text. First, the word “was” in most translations leads the reader to suppose Paul is talking about a past time-frame where Jesus had a certain mindset.”
This is a false assertion because even in Kel’s theology Jesus had this mindset at a past time – namely, before he went to the cross. Sure, Trinitarians believe Jesus was in heaven with mindset even earlier — before becoming a man — but this is not determined by this text alone, other texts such as John 17:5 clearly place Jesus in heaven with the Father before the world was.
“Second, the Trinitarian imagines that Paul is talking about a pre-incarnate Son who was in the ‘form of God.’”
Again, other texts such as John 1:3, 17:5, and 1 Corinthians 10:9 clearly demonstrate the existence of the pre-incarnate Christ.
“Third, the Trinitarian imagines that the term “form of God” means “God” and fails to see that it makes no sense to refer God as being in the form of God. It only makes sense to refer to someone else as being in the image of God or the form of God. By definition, to be in the image of God, or the form of God, means you are not God but in the form of someone else who is God. If Paul really believed “Jesus is God” he would have said, ‘who being God did not regard….’”
Being in the form of God is not the same as being in the image of God. Kel’s reasoning that it ”makes no sense to refer to God as being in the form of God” would mean that it makes no sense to refer to a servant as being in the form of a servant. But as we have seen in my introduction to this article, being in the form of a servant IS being a servant. Otherwise, Jesus would not have been an actual servant, but Kel himself admits that he was.
A T Robertson says that “μορφῇ (translated form) means the essential attributes as shown in the form.” Thus, the form includes the attributes of God such as the glory, power, and position of God just as the form of a servant includes the attributes of a servant such as humility and obedience. “The form of” a servant therefore probably means the position and status of a servant and not just the mere fact that one is a servant. Similarly, when Paul said “the form of God” he probably had more in mind than simply being God; I think he meant the position and prerogatives of being God, which is something Christ had but did not cling to in order to avoid becoming a servant in the form of a man.
Also, how does Kel know what Paul would have said? The apostle Peter informs us that Paul writes about the wisdom that God gave him “the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
“Fourth, the Trinitarian imagines that Jesus emptied himself of something although he is not entirely sure of what. He usually imagines that Jesus emptied himself of some of his “divine perogatives or his positional glory in heaven or something to that effect.” The pre-incarnate Son does not empty himself of “the form of God” but empties himself of something else. And so the result is that the post-incarnate Son comes to be in the form of God and the form of a servant at the same time.”
As I argued above, the form of God includes being equal to God (which Jesus clearly remained when he became a man as per John 5:12) but also includes what Kel calls “divine perogatives or his positional glory in heaven or something to that effect.” That Jesus emptied himself of those is quite obvious if we recognize that he had them in the first place.
Fifth, the Trinitarian interpretation of the harpagmos which Jesus did not regard, and the equality with God, are left as confused and debated ideas among Trinitarians. Some want to suppose that these words mean Jesus did not regard it to be a plunder to be equal to God in the sense that Jesus had no problem being equal with God. In context, this makes no sense whatsoever since Paul’s point is to show the Philippians how to humble themselves and serve as Jesus served his God.
On the contrary, if Jesus had no problem being equal with God, then his humility is all the more evident in the fact that even though he was equal to God he became a servant. Kel’s claim that “in context, this makes no sense” is itself nonsense. It is not humility to recognize that you are a mere man and God is infinitely superior to you, it is just common sense. But it is humility to “value others above yourselves” when in reality you are equal to them (Philippians 2:3).
Others want to spin Paul’s words to say that verse 6 means that Jesus did not regard “clinging to” equality with God. However, that would mean the incarnate Jesus was not equal to God which they also deny. Rather they insist their incarnate Jesus was equal to God (see John 5:18).
Grammatically speaking “clinging to” equality with God is one of the possible meanings of the text. Kel tries to poison the well by asserting without proof that such an interpretation requires “spin.” Since Jesus started out having only a Divine nature, in order to assume a human nature he could not cling to having only a Divine nature. There is nothing illogical in that view.ggg