October 27: Philippians 2:10a

Philippians 2:10a

i%na e)n tw=| o)no/mati Ihsou=
“(so) that, in the name of Yeshua…”

This clauseindeed, the whole of vv. 10-11is subordinate to v. 9, and depends on the exaltation of Jesus by God (making him “high over [all]”, v. 9a, note) as being defined by “the name th(at is) over every name” (v. 9b, note), which God gives to him as a special favor. The “name th(at is) over every name”, given to Jesus, is clearly the same “name” (o&noma) referred to here. Strangely, many readers (and commentators) seem to understand the phrase in v. 9 in light of the expression here in v. 10, rather than the other way around. Moreover, in this regard, a casual (and careless) reading of the passage could lead one to think that “the name over every name” is simply the name Jesus (Yeshua). While Jesus/Yeshua, as a name, was certainly of great importance to early believers (cf. below), it almost certainly is not the focus or point of reference here. There are two ways one can understand the genitive relationship in the expression “the name of Yeshua” here:

    • an explicative genitive = “the name Yeshua”
    • a possessive genitive = “the name belonging to Yeshua”

The latter option is to be preferred as correct, if for no other reason than that the name is something given to Jesus (after his death and resurrection), implying that it was not something he already possessed (during his earthly life). What, then, is the “name th(at is) over every name”? A correct understanding requires that we pay close attention to the overall structure and context of hymn. In particular, I would make the following points:

    • The name relates specifically to the exaltation of Jesus (v. 9a)
    • The chiastic structure of the hymn, with its juxtaposition of “making low” vs. “making high”, indicates that the exaltation entails a return to the sort of (exalted) position Jesus held prior to his earthly life
    • Traditionally, in early Christian belief, the exaltation of Jesus is defined in terms of Jesus standing alongside (“at the right hand of”) God in heaven
    • Based on the description in v. 6, this would seem to imply that the exaltation involves the idea of his “being equal with God” (ei@nai i&sa qew=|)

All of this would imply that the name given to Jesus must be related to God’s own name. Bearing in mind the significance of names and naming in the ancient world (cf. the previous note), the “name” of God is no mere word or label, but represents and embodies the very nature and character of God Himself. There were two titles, applied to Jesus by early believers, which serve to express a belief in the divine status, or deity, of the exalted Jesus: (1) “Son of God”, and (2) “Lord”. In the earliest Christology, both titles were applied to Jesus primarily in terms of the resurrection, and, as it happens, by way of a distinctive interpretation of two Psalm passages (2:7ff and 110:1). This is clear enough from the early Gospel preaching (kerygma) recorded in the book of Acts (cf. 2:24-36; 13:30-33ff); the same basic kerygma surely underlies the formal usage of both passages in Heb 1:3b-13 and 5:5-10 as well.

However, given the more ambiguous nature of the title “Son of God”, which at an early stage was also applied to Jesus at the time of his baptism and earthly ministry (Mk 1:11 par; Lk 3:22 [v.l.]), it seems rather more likely that the title “Lord” (ku/rio$) is in view here in the hymn. There are several factors which would tend to confirm this; for one thing, it is the title that is actually applied to the exalted Jesus here in the hymn (v. 11, to be discussed). Also, the wording in Acts 2:36, reflecting the early kerygma, seems to be especially relevant; it states, somewhat uncomfortably (perhaps) for orthodox Christology, that “God made him (to be) Lord” (ku/rion au)to\ne)poi/hsen o( qeo/$) at the resurrection. Vv. 9-10 of the hymn seem to be expressing much the same idea.

The importance of this title, ku/rio$ (“Lord”), as applied to the exalted Jesus, lies in its traditional use as a substitution when reciting the name of God (i.e., hwhy/YHWH/Yahweh). In Hebrew, the word /oda* (yn~d)a&, “my Lord”, cf. my earlier article on this title) was used, with the corresponding ku/rio$ for Greek speakers. While Jesus’ followers may originally have called him “Lord” as a simple honorific (= “Master”, “Rabbi”), the title soon carried a deeper religious (and theological) meaning for believers, as they increasingly came to realize the special divine status (and nature) which Jesus possessed. Indeed, there are instances in the New Testament when one cannot be entirely certain if the title ku/rio$ refers to God the Father, Jesus, or both together; for most early Christians, it seems, the title could be used interchangeably.

The Gospel of John expresses this identification of Jesus (the Son) with the deity of God the Father in a slightly different manner (which may be unique to the Johannine tradition). First, we have the numerous “I am” (e)gw/ ei)mi) statements by Jesus in the Discourses, which, in their own way, connect Jesus with the name of God (YHWH, cf. Exod 3:14 and my earlier article on the name). Second, there is the important theme, emphasized primarily in the great Prayer-Discourse of chapter 17, of Jesus (the Son) manifesting the name of the Father to his followers (believers)cf. verses 6ff, 11-12ff, 26. The name also serves to define the special relationship between Son and Father at various points throughout the Discourses (5:43; 10:25; 12:13, 28; and note also the emphasis on Jesus‘ name [“my name”] in the Last Discourse).

Thus, for the reasons outlined above, I would tend to agree with those commentators (e.g., O’Brien, pp. 237-40) who identify the “name” given to Jesus as God’s own name, represented by the divine title (in Greek) ku/rio$, “Lord”. This interpretation follows (and is supported by) the line of early Christian tradition that associates the title specifically with the resurrection of Jesus and his exaltation to the “right hand” of God (cf. Acts 2:36 and the discussion above).  To call Jesus “Lord” in this sense recognizes that he holds a divine position and status alongside of God the Father (i.e., equal with God, v. 6). It is a ruling position, in which Jesus rules “over all” which means that the “name” given to him is likewise high over all other names and titles, being the name/title of God Himself.

It remains now to consider the expression in the context of the full prepositional phrase: “in [e)n] the name of Yeshua”. Typically, in the New Testament (and early Christian tradition), the phrase “in the name of Jesus” is understood two ways:

The use of phrase here in the hymn is related to, but not exactly the same as, this traditional usage. There is the common theme of Jesus as an intermediary, through whom believers are able to worship and relate to God the Father in a new (and more direct) way. The idea of Jesus as a divine representative of God Himself is fundamental to early Christian belief, and is reflected here in the hymn as well. Similarly, our trust in Jesus is ultimately based on his special divine status as the Anointed One of God, His Son, who can be recognized as the very Lord Himself. Our salvation (from the Judgment), and with it the promise of eternal life, is rooted in the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus; when we “call on the name of Jesus” (= trusting in Jesus’ name), we participate in the symbolic imagery that runs through vv. 9-11 of the hymn. In particular, our salvation (through trust in Jesus) allows us to pass through the scene of Judgment alluded to in the climactic lines of verses 10-11. This will be discussed further in the next note.

References marked “O’Brien” above, and throughout this set of notes, are to Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC] (Eerdmans: 1991).

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