An Exegesis of Philippians 2:6-11

Jason Dulle

The purpose of this section of the book of Philippians was not to expound the logistics of the incarnation, but it was to serve as an example to the church at Philippi of true humility, so that they would not strive with one another, but look to the needs of one another (Philippians 2:1-4).

The structure of verses 6-11 is as follows: verses 6-8 speak of Christís activity; verses 9-11 speak of Godís activity. Godís activity is in response to Christís.

There is a general literary pattern found in this passage. It is one of humiliation, then exaltation; loss, then compensation; descent, then ascension.

There are many interpretive issues in this short little passage. The primary debate is over a two-stage, or three-stage Christology. The former presents Adoptionistic Christology (born an ordinary manóexaltation), while the latter presents an Incarnational Christology (was Godóincarnated as a manóexalted). This is an issue of Christís ontological (pertaining to the nature and essential properties of existence) deity.

Those who see an Adoptionistic Christology being presented here see the passage as a parallel between Adam and Christ. Christ was merely a man like Adam. Whereas Adam tried to seize equality with God, Christ did not consider this seizing of equality to be right, and thus emptied Himself of his aspirations to be like God. Instead, He took on Himself the form of a servant, dedicating His life to obedience to God, even to the point of death. For this reason God has exalted him. Adam tried exalting himself, so was abased.. Christ willingly abased Himself, not trying to seize equality with God, and therefore was exalted.

This argument is based primarily from the Greek phrase en morfh|/| qeou/. It is argued that this is a reference to Genesis 2, when man was made in the image of God. The LXX, when translating the Hebrew of Genesis 2 uses the Greek word eikw/n, not morfh, although in the LXX these words are often used interchangeably.

One of the reasons for rejecting this idea is that the LXX not only uses a different noun, but even uses a different preposition, kata, for its translation. It is fairly evident that Paul is not alluding to Genesis 2, and that he is not drawing this phrase from the LXX of Genesis 2.

If an Adam/Christ parallel was intended in Philippians 2, it would seem that Paul would indicate such in the context. Instead, Adamís name is never mentioned, and no illusion is made to Genesis 2. If anything at all, the OT referent to the kenosis passage is the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah 43-54.

That this passage cannot be teaching a two-stage Christology is evident from the phrase en morphe theou huparchon. Huparchon is a present active particle, indicating that Christ was existing in the form of God before He submitted to His humiliation. He was already in the form of God. This is clear evidence for His ontological deity.

The phrase "thought it not robbery" comes from the Greek ouc a`rpagmon h`ghsato, The word a`rpagmon occurs only here in the NT. Outside of Biblical Greek, it is still rare, but has the basic meaning of "robbery" or "take advantage of." The latter fits the context better here. The point is that has to do with Christ, who was already existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be taken advantage of.

Instead of continuing to exist in the form of God, Christ "made himself of no reputation." The Greek word behind this phrase is kenow. This word has two different senses. Used in a metaphorical sense, it means "of no reputation" or "nothing." Used in a metaphysical sense it means "to empty." The NT usage, and Paulís usage in particular, favors the metaphorical sense, although the metaphysical sense is used in the LXX of things being literally emptied out (like a jar or chest). Though either sense could be used here, the metaphorical sense is probably to be preferred because Paul is using the incarnation of Christ for an example of humiliation. The idea would be that "Christ made Himself nothing." This would fit well with Paulís mention of the "empty pride" that the Philippians were asserting just a few verses earlier.

The question arises, then, as to what Christ emptied Himself of, or in what way He made Himself nothing? Some have suggested that He emptied Himself of the "form of God." This cannot be so from a logical basis, nor a grammatical basis. Grammatically, en morfh|/| qeou/ is a prepositional phrase modifying the relative pronoun o`j (who) which begins verse six. Logically speaking, how could Jesus empty Himself of His deity, and still be God?

The answer to the question of what Jesus emptied Himself from is to be found in the modal participial phrases following the kenosis phrase, which says that Jesus took on Himself the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of a man. These participles describe the manner in which Christ emptied Himself. He emptied Himself by adding to His existence as Deity, an existence of humanity. Whereas He was existing in the morfh of God, now He has taken on Himself the morfh of a servant. Being found in the fashion of a man, Christ humbled Himself to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

As a result of this willing humiliation on Christís part, going from glory to the form of a servant, God highly exalted Him, giving Him a name that is above every other name. Grammatically the name above every other name could be "Jesus" or "Lord." Both views have much to commend them, but that the latter is probably the name in view is due to the fact that Paul, a Jew, would not have considered the name Jesus to be above all names, considering it was a common name in his day. YHWH, the name of God, was said by the Greeks as kurioj (Lord). Although this word could be used for someone out of respect, not implying deity, the context makes it apparent that kurioj here is being used to designate YHWH. When this is compounded by the literary point that Paul was making, it becomes even more clear that kurioj is the name above all names. Paul, in giving an example of the humiliation that the Philippians should demonstrate showed the ultimate humiliation that God underwent in the incarnation. God came in the form of a servant (douloj). This is the lowest position a human being can occupy. In stark contrast to this is one who is called 'Lord.' A servant is never a lord. The two are as different as night and day. These two diametrically opposed positions are used by Paul to show the extent to which God will exalt someone who will first humble themselves. Christ took the ultimate humiliation as a douloj, but was then exalted to the place of kurioj over all. The one who was a servant will now be called 'Lord' by every human tongue. The one in the form of God, takes on the form of a servant, suffers death by the cross, and then is exalted, being called Lord.

The literary point of this passage is that even as Christ, who did not need to humble Himself, did humble Himself, and as a result was exalted, likewise the Philippian believers should humble themselves so that they too might be exalted.

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