October 25: Philippians 2:9a

Philippians 2:9-11

Before proceeding to a study of the second half of Christ hymn (vv. 9-11), it is worth considering here the lines of the first half (vv. 6-8) taken together (in translation):

“who, beginning under in (the) form of God,
did not lead (out for) seizing the being equal with God,
but (instead) he emptied himself,
taking (the) form of a slave,
coming to be in (the) likeness of men;
and, being found in bearing as a man,
he lowered himself,
coming to be (one) hearing under to the point of death,
even (the point) of death at (the) stake.”

Even the visual structure of this translation illustrates, I think, the symmetry of the first half of the hymn, structured thematically around the pointed contrast between the exalted position of Jesus in heaven and the lowly position he took as a human being on earth:

    • Exalted position (v. 6): “in the form [i.e. visible splendor] of God”
      even to the point of being equal with God

      • He emptied himself
        • taking the form of a slave
          • coming to be in the likeness of men
        • being found in bearing as a man
      • He lowered himself
    • Lowly position (v. 8): submitting to human authority
      even to the point of death on the cross (as a criminal slave)

The kenosis itself is described in the central, inner chiasm of v. 7. The poetry (as such), for all its irregularity and tension, captures this powerful dynamic quite admirably.

Verses 6-8, as a whole, describe the “emptying” (kenosis) of Jesusfrom his divine/heavenly position to that of a human slave put to death (by crucifixion). Verses 9-11 depict a reversal of this process: the exaltation of Jesus, from his lowly human condition, back to his position alongside God the Father in heaven. In traditional theological terminology, these two aspects are commonly referred to as the two “states” of Christhumiliation (vv. 6-8) and exaltation (vv. 9-11).

Philippians 2:9a

Dio\ kai\ o( qeo\$ au)to\n u(peru/ywsen
“And therefore, God made him high over (all)”

We can divide this opening clause into three components:

    • dio\ kai/ (“and therefore”)
    • o( qeo\$ au)to/n (“God | him”)
    • u(peru/ywsen (“made high over”)

The middle of these is the simplest, but also the most significant, as it emphasizes the special relationship between Jesus (“him”) and God the Father. It was God who exalted Jesus, raising him from the dead (Acts 2:32; 3:15, 26; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, etc), which, in and of itself, testifies to the reality of the kenosis. Jesus did not raise himself, he depended on the power of God to bring him to life again from the dead. For Paul’s statements to this effect in his letters, note especially Rom 4:24f; 6:4; 8:11; 1 Cor 6:14; 15:15ff; 2 Cor 4:14; Col 2:12; cf. also Eph 1:20. Even so, the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus also demonstrates his special position as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God. We as believers, united with Christ (through the Spirit), share in this position, but Jesus (the Son) holds it first.

God (o( qeo/$) is the subject of the clause, and Jesus (“him”) is the predicate, object of the verb u(peruyo/w (cf. below). In the word order of the syntax here, the subject noun and object pronoun happen to be joined together at the centeran appropriate illustration, grammatically, of the union between Father and Son.

Let us now consider the first and third of the three components of v. 9a.

dio\ kai/ (“and therefore”)The coordinating (inferential) conjunction dio/ is a combination of the preposition dia/ (“through”) and the neuter relative pronoun o% “through which”, i.e. “for which (reason)”, “because of which”. In other words, it indicates that what came before (i.e. stated in vv. 6-8), provides the reason, or basis, for what follows (in vv. 9-11).

The force of the added conjunction kai/ (“and”) here is more difficult to render precisely. It can be understood in the sense of “also”, i.e., “therefore God also made him high over“, either in the sense of completion (made low, then also made high), or reciprocation (because he made himself low, so also God raised him high). One might also simply treat it in the normal sense of a conjunctive particlehere a double-conjunction, for emphasis: “And so (for this reason)…”.

u(peru/ywsen (“he made high over”)The compound verb u(peruyo/w literally means “be high” (u(yo/w) “over” (u(per); in the active, transitive sense, it means “make (a person) high over (someone or something)”. The verb is frequent in the LXX (110 times), but occurs only here in the New Testament. The simple verb u(yo/w is used 20 times in the New Testament (an important part of the theological vocabulary in the Gospel of John), but only once by Paul (2 Cor 11:7). In terms of Pauline vocabulary, it may be worth noting Paul’s fondness for u(per– compounds; 20 of the 28 NT occurrences of such compounds are in Paul’s letters (O’Brien, p. 235).

Of particular importance is the juxtaposition of the verb u(yo/w (“make high”) with tapeino/w (“make low”), used by Jesus in his famous saying (Matt 23:12; Lk 14:11; 18:14), and elsewhere in his teaching (Matt 11:23; cf. also the Lukan reference in Lk 1:52). This is the very same contrast made here in the hymn, only the use of the compound verb u(peruyo/w (instead of u(yo/w) heightens the contrast, making it more extreme. By “making himself low”, Jesus was not only “made high” by God as a reward, in recompense, but was made high over all others. The significance of this will be made clear as we proceed with our examination of vv. 9b-11; however, we can initially point out two possible ways this might be understood: (a) in terms of the highest point, or (b) in terms of extent (i.e. a position extending out over a territory, etc).

While both of these aspects are valid in context, it would seem that the latter is primarily in view, understanding Jesus’ exalted position as a position of rule, alongside God on His throne. In this regard, the imagery in v. 9 must be understood in light of the early Christian tradition, whereby Jesus, following the resurrection, was exalted to a position “at the right hand” of God in heaven. This is reflective of the earliest Christologyan exaltation Christologyduring the period c. 35-60 A.D. The point will addressed further in the next daily note. In any case, the verb u(peruyo/w should be translated in terms of the exalted Jesus’ position of rule over all creation, over all people; thus, my translation above fills out the phrase, glossing it generally as “And therefore God made him high over (all)”.

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