Justification by Faith: Galatians 2:15-21

This article represents a re-start of Reformation Fridays as a regular feature on this site. I introduced this feature some time ago, and the commemoration this weekend of the Festival of the Reformation (Oct. 31) seemed like a fitting moment to begin posting articles for it again. The purpose of the feature is to examine the Scriptural basis for a number of the key principles and tenets of the Protestant Reformation. It is intended at least as much as an opportunity for critical exegesis of the relevant Scripture passages, as it is an evaluation of Reformation beliefs. I begin with the doctrine of justification by faith (and the principle of sola fide), having initially posting studies on Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:6ff/Romans 4:3ff, with Paul’s treatment of the underlying Old Testament passages Hab 2:4 and Gen 15:6; and will continue the same subject here.

One of the main differences between the Pauline and Reformation views of “justification by faith” is that Paul was working from within a distinctive Jewish religious (and cultural) framework regarding the role of the Torah; thus, for him, the contrast between faith and “works” was oriented toward the binding obligation of Israelites and Jews to observe the regulations of the Torah, and how this relates to the religious identity of believers in Christ. The Reformers and early Protestants tended to understand “works” more broadly and generally, as any attempt by human beings to achieve (or regain) a right standing with God. This generalizing was a natural byproduct of the application of Paul’s teaching to the Reformers’ own situation in the early 16th century, responding to the wide range of binding traditions, legalism, and dependence upon ecclesiastical institutions, which, over the centuries, had come to be firmly established and widespread within the (Roman) Catholic Church.

While Paul would not necessarily have disagreed with this Protestant broadening of the doctrine (see esp. the Pauline teaching in Eph 2:8-9), his main concern was the relationship between Jewish tradition and the new religious identity of believers. For this reason, his use of the term e&rga (“works”) has a technical meaning, as a shorthand for “observing the regulations of the Torah”, with the implication that there is a binding obligation (i.e., requirement) to do so. Paul writes on this subject extensively in the letters to the Galatians and Romans; I have discussed the matter in considerable detail in the articles on “Paul’s View of the Law” (in the series “The Law and the New Testament”). Perhaps the best way to encapsulate this here in a short space is with a brief study on Galatians 2:15-21, which represents the beginning of his main line of argument in Galatians, and is thus his oldest surviving piece of writing on the subject.

Galatians 2:15-21

In the preceding verses 10-14, Paul is narrating an episode that occurred at Antioch, involving a conflict between he and Simon Peter. The conflict centered on the observance of the Torah purity laws and the traditional Jewish views regarding certain kinds of contact (eating and drinking, etc) with non-Jews (Gentiles). According to Paul, Peter backed away from eating with Gentiles publicly, when certain Jewish Christian representatives from Jerusalem (“some [people] from James”) arrived. While Peter may simply have done this out of polite respect for the Jewish Christian visitors, Paul viewed such separation as a fundamental violation of Christian principles. He states it this way:

“I saw that he [i.e. Peter] did not set (his) foot straight toward the truth of the good message [i.e. Gospel]”

By separating from Gentile believers when Jewish believers were present, the implication, according to Paul, was that, in order for the Gentile believers to maintain full fellowship with the Jewish believers, they would have to become Jewish, taking on the obligation to observe the Torah, including the dietary and purity laws, etc. This was a subtler form of the same issue involving circumcision—i.e., whether (Gentile) believers in Christ were obligated to be circumcised—which was at the heart of the conflict in Galatians. In both instances, it involves what Paul calls “making it necessary [vb a)nagka/zw] (for the) nations [i.e. Gentiles] to (live) as Jews” (v. 14).

It is not entirely clear how far the quotation of Paul’s words to Peter extends; in any case, vv. 15ff certainly continues the same line of argument. Verse 16 provides a lengthy statement of Paul’s teaching on ‘justification by faith’, along with the implications of this doctrine:

“seeing that a man is not made just/right out of works of (the) law, if not through trust of [i.e. in] Yeshua (the) Anointed, even we [i.e. who are Jews] trusted in (the) Anointed Yeshua, (so) that we might be made just/right out of trust of [i.e. in] (the) Anointed (One), and not out of works of (the) law, (for it is) that out of works of (the) law all flesh will not be made just/right [i.e. no person will be made right]”

Here, the “works” are specified as “works of (the) law” (e&rga no/mou), where the “law” (no/mo$) refers to the regulations, statutes, and precepts of the Torah. The verb dikaio/w, as previously noted, has the basic meaning “make right, make just”, sometimes in the judicial sense of “establish justice, declare (a person or situation to be) just”. The religious connotation of Paul’s use of the verb is of a person being in “right standing” with God.

Paul’s line of argument in vv. 15-18 is complex and clever, and can be a bit difficult to follow on a casual reading. He starts from the premise that Gentiles are “sinners” (v. 15), in the traditional religious (and cultural) sense that they are outside of the covenant between God and Israel, and thus do not observe the Torah. This is the basis for the religious-cultural division between Jews and non-Jews. The remainder of the line of argument can be paraphrased and interpreted as follows:

    • Believers in Christ are “made right” through their trust in Jesus (as the Anointed One), and not through fulfilling the terms of the covenant and observing the Torah (v. 16); Paul treats this as something all Christians (even Jewish Christians) would agree upon =>
      • Given that this is the case, to treat Gentile believers as though they were essentially still ‘sinners’, in the traditional religious-cultural sense (separate from Israel and the covenant), means that, in spite of being “made right” through trust in Christ, believers are still marked as “sinners”; Jewish believers who live in a similar manner, associating freely with Gentiles, would be “sinners” as well (v. 17) =>
        • This effectively would make Jesus Christ a “servant of sin”, which of course would be impossible, and is itself a horrifying thought (“may it n[ever] come to be [so]!”) =>
          • Moreover, Christ’s sacrifice dissolved (vb katalu/w) the Law (Torah) and the old covenant, and its binding force was removed for us, as believers, by trust in Jesus (v. 18a); thus, if we maintain or keep in place the requirement of observing the Torah, we re-create (“build again”) the religious-cultural distinction (of Gentiles, etc) as “sinners” =>
            • Such a person re-establishes sinfulness by keeping in force the idea of sin as transgression (“stepping over”) the Torah regulations (v. 18b), and so becomes a transgressor himself

This line of argument explains the consequences of the false premise that believers—and Gentile believers, in particular—are still required to obey/observe the Torah (“works”), whether it be the requirement of circumcision, the dietary laws, associating with people deemed ‘unclean’, or any other regulation. In verses 19-21, Paul proceeds to expound the true premise: that believers are freed from the binding force of the old covenant, and are “made right” with God through trust in Jesus. To illustrate this, Paul uses the motif of a person who dies, and is thus set free from any binding obligations during his earthly life. The illustration is given with more precision in Romans 7:1-6, but the same idea is clearly expressed here in Galatians as well. Through trust in Jesus, the believer participates in the death of Christ, and so dies with him. The person dies to the Law (Torah) and to the power of sin which the Law makes manifest (through its regulations); according to Paul’s unique understanding of the role of the Law in keeping humankind bound under sin’s power, the Law plays an active role in leading believers to salvation (3:22; Rom 5:20-21; 7:7-13). Thus, Paul can say, paradoxically, that he dies to the law through [dia/] the law, expressed vividly and strikingly by the image of the piercing nails of crucifixion (cp. Col 2:14). While we die to the law, we live in Christ, participating in his resurrection just as we participate in his death. And this life comes from the power of Christ himself (his Spirit, the Spirit of God) living in us. This inner power of the Spirit of Christ replaces the outward force of the Torah regulations (cf. 2 Cor 3).

Clearly, Paul used the term “works” (e&rga), both here and elsewhere in his letters, in a very distinctive sense, as a shorthand for the expression “works of the Law” (e&rga no/mou), by which he meant observing the regulations and requirements of the Torah [For more on the background of this expression, cf. the Qumran text 4QMMT]. However, there are other passages in the New Testament were “works” are understood in a somewhat different way, and these, too, have a bearing on the concept of “justification by faith”. The two most notable of these are James 2:14-26 and Ephesians 2:1-10 (esp. verses 8-9), and we will consider both passages in the next article.

For more detailed commentary on Gal 2:15-21, see my earlier note-set, along with the article in the series “The Law and the New Testament”.

October 29: Philippians 2:11 (conclusion)

Philippians 2:11 (conclusion)

ei)$ do/can qeou= patro/$
“…unto (the) honor of God (the) Father”

These closing words are perhaps the most neglected of the entire hymn. Given the tendency to focus on the Christological issues, involving the person of Christhis deity and humanity, and the relationship between the twoit is perhaps not surprising that this final phrase is treated by readers and commentators almost as an afterthought. However, the phrase represents the climax of the entire hymn, and declares the ultimate purpose of the exaltation of Jesusit is not to give honor to Jesus, but to God the Father. This is clear from the preposition (ei)$, “into, unto”) that governs the phrase. In its own way, this climactic phrase has at least as much Christological significance as the other, more-often discussed portions of the hymn. It raises the fundamental question of the relationship between Jesus and God the Father, which was perhaps the most important question addressed by the early Christology.

Let us consider again the overall scenario of verses 9-11 (the second half of the hymn). It describes the exaltation of Jesus following his deathhis resurrection and elevation to a position “at the right hand” of God in heaven. All of this is fully in accord with the earliest Gospel preaching (kerygma) and the earliest Christology (of the period c. 35-60 A.D.). Early Christian tradition also proclaimed the exalted Jesus’ divine status as “Lord” (ku/rio$), recognizing that he shared the same position of rule and authority in heaven as God Himself. From this exalted position, Jesus would soon come again to earth, as God’s heavenly representative, to usher in the end-time Judgment. This traditional Christology informs the overall scenario in vv. 9-11 of the hymn; what is especially unique is the way that the hymn portrays the Judgment-scene, depicting all created beings submitting to the authority and rule of the exalted Jesus. This submission involves both gesture (‘bending the knee’) and speech (confessing with the “tongue”), by which homage and worship is given to Jesus.

How is it, then, that this homage/worship given to the exalted Jesus is “unto the honor of God the Father”? There are a number of ways this may be understood; I highlight here four particular lines of interpretation:

    1. Christocentric—God is to be honored because he has honored Jesus; the honor given to Jesus reflects the character and nature of God.
    2. The “right hand” motif—The traditional idea of Jesus standing at the “right hand” of God implies that the exalted Jesus shares the ruling position with God on His throne in heaven. This means that any honor given to Jesus goes to God the Father as well, since the two share the same divine/heavenly position (and the title “Lord”, etc).
    3. Divine hierarchy—This may be summarized simply as: Jesus receives honor, and, in turn, gives it to God the Father.
    4. Eschatological/Messianic—According to eschatological tradition, Jesus the Anointed One (Messiah), serves as the heavenly/divine representative of God the Father in the end-time Judgment, which he oversees, functioning as Judge and Ruler. As God’s representative, the honor given to Jesus, in actuality, goes to God.

There is merit in each of these lines of interpretation; however, if we are to consider both the hymn itself, and the Pauline use of it (whether or not Paul composed it himself), options 2 and 3 would seem to be the most relevant. Paul gives us a clear and succinct example of the hierarchical view (#3) in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28: following his resurrection/exaltation, Jesus receives the Kingdom (its rule and authority), and then ultimately gives it over to God. This passages contains the same idea, found in the hymn, of “all things” submitting to Jesus’ authority, even wicked beings and those otherwise hostile to God. Given this parallelism of thought, it seems likely that Paul has a similar scenario in view here in vv. 9-11 of the hymn.

On the other hand, the joint-rule option (#2) is a better fit within the hymn overall. The emphasis is on the position that the exalted Jesus has alongside God, both in his existence prior to his earthly life (v. 6) and following the resurrection (vv. 10-11). Traditionally, this position of shared or joint rule was expressed through the motif of Jesus standing “at the right hand” of God in heaven. That motif is not present in the hymn, at least not directly. Instead, we find a more sophisticated (and poetic) description of the exalted Jesus sharing God’s place in the divine/heavenly realm. There are four expressions and idioms which serve this descriptiontwo of which relate to Jesus’ pre-existence (v. 6), and two which relate to his exaltation after his death and resurrection; there is a certain conceptual symmetry to these, which may be presented chiastically:

    • “the form [morfh/] of God” (6a)
      • “the being equal [ei@nai i&sa] with God” (6b)
      • “the name th(at is) over every name”, i.e., the name/title of God (“Lord, ku/rio$)
    • “the honor/splendor [do/ca] of God”

According to this line of interpretation, the expressions morfh\ qeou= (“form of God”) and do/ca qeou= (“honor/splendor of God”) are parallel. As I pointed out in the earlier note on verse 6a, the noun morfh/ denotes the visible form or appearance of something. Thus, here the expression “morfh/ of God” does not refer to the ‘nature’ of God as such, but to a visible distinction of the Divine, best understood in terms of the traditional splendor that surrounds God when He appears (in visions and theophanies) to human beings. The Greek noun do/ca properly designates how someone (or something) is regarded, particularly in terms of the honor and esteem in which that person (or thing) is held. In a religious and theological context, when applied to God, do/ca can connote that which makes the Divine worthy of honor and esteemi.e., the nature and character of God that is distinct and separate from other (created) beings. In this specialized sense, the noun is often translated as “splendor, glory”; the same applies to the corresponding Hebrew noun dobK*, which has a somewhat different fundamental meaning (“weight, worth, value”), closer to the word timh/ in Greek.

In any case, the phrase e)n morfh=| qeou= (“in [the] form of God”), as it is used in context, implies that Jesus shared the divine gloryi.e., he was in the same visible splendor which marks God as distinct and separate from all created beings (and thus worthy of their honor). The same applies to the situation after the resurrection. Jesus is exalted to a divine position where he shares the splendor and honor (do/ca) of God, even as he shares the same name (ku/rio$, “Lord”). As previously discussed, this “name” given to the exalted Jesus indicates an “equality” that Jesus shares the same position of rule and authority as God Himself, and is thus worthy of the same honor. The very thing that he was willing to give up (v. 6b) is given to Jesus following his death on the cross. This image of equality, of the joint rule of God the Father and Jesus, and the honor/worship that is given to them (equally), is a central feature of the visions in the book of Revelation, especially the throne-visions in chapters 4-5 (cf. also 6:16; 7:9-17; 12:5; 14:1-3; 22:1-5).

We should consider the possibility of a broader formal parallelism between the phrase “in (the) form of God” and “into (the) honor/splendor of God”, as between the two prepositions e)n (“en”) and ei)$ (“into, unto”). The first prepositional phrase refers to the situation at the beginning (vb u(pa/rxw), while the second has in view the end goal and purpose. It is surely no coincidence that the two prepositional phrases, following the initial relative pronoun, represent the first and last words of the hymn, respectively. They bracket the hymn precisely, and establish the theological boundary points. Does the final preposition ei)$ indicate simply a return to glory, to the situation that prevailed in the beginning, or does it imply something even greater? The careful, if ambiguous, way the phrase “being equal with God” is handled in v. 6b, compared with the climactic treatment of Jesus being given the “name that is over every name” (vv. 9-10), suggests that the final exaltation of Jesus transcends, in some way, his divine position the beginning; however, we can only speculate as to how this might best be explained (cp. 1 Cor 15:24-28).

The use of the expression “God (the) Father” here in verse 11 would seem to imply the status of the exalted Jesus as God’s Son, even though the specific title “Son of God” is not used in the hymn. Early Christians would have recognized a good deal of conceptual overlap between the idea of Jesus as “Lord” and as the “Son of God”. For Paul, the two titles appear to have been of equal importance, and there are more than a dozen passages in his letters where he refers to Jesus as God’s “Son”. For the most part, he follows the early Christology that understood this Sonship in terms of the resurrection/exaltation (cf. 1 Thess 1:10; Rom 1:3-4; 1 Cor 15:28); however, in several places (Gal 4:4; Rom 5:10; 8:3, 32), Paul seems to have a rudimentary pre-existence Christology in view, though he does not express the matter clearly. The references in Galatians and Romans were likely written only a few years (at most) before the Christ hymn of Philippians, and may reflect the same essential Christology.

The Sonship and eternal pre-existence of Jesus are much more prominent in the Gospel of John, both in the prologue and the Discourses, where Jesus frequently makes use of descent/ascent imagery to express the same kind of lowering/elevating juxtaposition we see here in the hymn. In the Last Discourse (13:31-16:33), he makes repeated mention of how he (the Son) is about to return to the Father; and, in the great Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17, he specifically states that he is returning to the same splendor/glory (do/ca) he held with the Father in his eternal pre-existence (v. 5). As in the Philippians hymn, the return to glory involves Jesus’ faithful completion of his mission on earth, his sacrificial death (vv. 1-4). In addition, we find the emphasis on Jesus’ special connection to the “name” of God (vv. 6ff, 12ff, 26). There is thus an important combination of themes in the Prayer-Discourse that are common to the Christ hymn.

In the next daily note, I will begin exploring Colossians 1:15-20, which is recognized as another ‘Christ hymn’, and one which may be said to represent an even more highly developed expression of Christology within the New Testament.

October 28: Philippians 2:10b-11

Philippians 2:10b-11

“…every knee shall bend
of (those) upon the heavens and upon the earth and below the ground
and every tongue shall give account as one,
that Yeshua (the) Anointed (is the) Lord,
unto (the) honor of God (the) Father.”

These lines complete the clause begun in v. 10a (cf. the previous note), “(so) that, in the name of Yeshua…”. The force of the preposition e)n (“in”) was discussion in the previous note. While the traditional usage of the phrase “in the name of Jesus” is certainly in view, it carries a special meaning and nuance here. While the idea of prayer and baptism “in Jesus’ name” was common among early Christians, worshiping God “in the name of Jesus” is more unusual. We are not dealing with the same sense of Jesus as an intermediary; rather, it would seem that the worship and homage (bending the knee) is being directed to Jesus. For this reason, it is perhaps better to gloss the translation as “in (honor of) the name of Jesus” (cf. O’Brien, pp. 239-40). The sense of “at the name of Jesus” is also possible, meaning that the presence of the divine Jesus (in his glory/splendor, cf. the earlier note on the expression “form of God”, v. 6a) causes all creatures to bow in recognition of his exalted position, as they would to God Himself.

The principal statement in vv. 10b-11a is a citation (or allusion) to Isaiah 45:23b. The hymn reads:

pa=n go/nu ka/myh|

kai\ pa=sa glw=ssa e)comologh/shtai
“every knee shall bend
and every tongue shall give account as one”

The text of the LXX is nearly identical, except that it has future indicative verb forms rather than the aorist subjunctive forms of the hymn. Both the LXX and NT are relatively accurate translations of the Hebrew, which I render literally as follows:

“For to me every knee will bend,
and every tongue will bind (itself) sevenfold”

Like most English translators, the LXX translator did not render literally the Hebrew idiom contained in the verb ub^v* (in the passive-reflexive Niphal stem), something like “bind (oneself) seven(fold)”, instead capturing the basic idea of a solemn oath or confession (the Greek verb e)comologe/w is an intensive form of o(mologe/w, “give account as one”, i.e., acknowledge, confess [together]).

A more important point, is that, in the original prophecy, God is speaking, and declares that every knee will bend to Him (“to me”, yl!). Thus, by applying these lines to Jesus in the hymn, it is clear that the exalted Jesus takes the place of God Himself, receiving the worship and acknowledgment that belongs to YHWH. This would seem to provide added confirmation to the view that the “name” given to Jesus (vv. 9b-10a) is God’s own name, represented by the divine title “Lord” (/oda*/ku/rio$); for more on this, cf. the discussion in the previous note.

The context of Isa 45:22-25 is significant for an understanding of its use here in the hymn. The basic orientation of the passage is eschatological, drawing upon the “day of YHWH” motif in the Prophetic tradition. In particular, we find the developed idea of the Day of YHWH as the time of (collective) Judgment for all the nations (v. 20). The primary basis of the Judgment is the recognition of YHWH as the Creator, the one true God (vv. 21b-22). The call goes out to Israel (and all the nations), to turn to YHWH, trusting in Him, before the moment of Judgment comes. Such trust will result in salvation (from the Judgment), with the promise that the people of God (Israel) will be deemed righteous by God, and thus be saved. All of these Prophetic (and eschatological) themes were picked up by early Christians, substituting trust in Jesus for the older idea of trust in YHWH. And this, indeed, is what we find here in the hymn as well; recognition of the divine status of the exalted Jesus (as Lord) is parallel to the traditional motif of “calling on the name of the Lord” (with Jesus as Lord), which leads to salvation (Acts 2:21; Rom 10:13f, citing Joel 2:32).

Another way that the Prophetic traditions in Isa 45:22-25 were adapted in the hymn has to do with the eschatological Judgment-scene depicted in vv. 10-11. The motif of the Judgment of the Nations has been enhanced and expanded to give it truly a universal scope. This is indicated first by the pronominal adjective pa=$ (“all”) denoting totality, wholeness, and completion. Here it is used to signify every being in the universe “every name” applied to the religious context of worshiping and acknowledging a deity. This religious aspect is two-fold: (a) gestures of homage (bending of “every knee”), and (b) acknowledgment in speech (“every tongue”). The universalistic focus is enhanced by the qualifying statement inserted between the lines of Isa 45:23: “…of (those) upon the heavens and upon the earth and below the ground”.

The three adjectives in this statemente)poura/nio$ (“upon [i.e. above] the heavens”), e)pi/geio$ (“upon the earth”), and kataxqw/nio$ (“beneath the ground”)reflect the basic tri-partate (three-part) cosmology widespread throughout the ancient world. The three parts are: (i) the hemispheric space above the earth, (ii) the flat disc/cylinder of the earth itself, and (iii) the space under the earth. The adjectives here are substantive plurals, referring to beings which inhabit each of these regions. The genitive form indicates that the knees and tongues, used to give worship, belong to these beingsimplying that they are personal beings possessing intelligence and will. It is common to define these three groups of beings as: heavenly beings (Angels, etc), living human beings, and the spirits of the dead (and/or evil spirit-beings bound under the earth). While this is doubtless correct, in a general sense, one be cautious in attempting to define the terms more precisely.

The main point in vv. 10-11 is that all of these created beings will give homage and worship to the exalted Jesus, bending the knee to him and acknowledging him as Lord (ku/rio$) with a spoken declaration. The verb e)comologe/w literally means “give out an account as one”, referring to something that people say together, in unison, and/or with common consent. It is possible that the scene here is of all beings making the declaration (“Yeshua the Anointed [is the] Lord”) together, in unison; more likely, however, it simply means that every being effectively says the same thing. The text allows for the possibility of a final universalism here, in a soteriological sense; that is to say, all beings ultimately come to trust in Jesus, recognizing him as Lord, and thus find salvation (cf. the context of Isa 45:22ff). A more probable scenario is that the wicked beings are forced to submit to the ruling authority of the exalted Jesus, rather contrary to their will (we may assume), as part of the Judgment that is brought against them.

The importance of the Judgment-scene, often missed by readers and commentators, in vv. 9-11 will be discussed in more detail in the next daily note, along with a specific discussion of the final phrase of the hymn: “…unto (the) honor of God (the) Father”.

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).


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).

October 26: Philippians 2:9b

Philippians 2:9b

The clause in v. 9b is subordinate to the main clause (9a), expounding and qualifying it; that is to say, it explains what is meant, primarily, to say that God “made (Jesus) high over (all)”. The two parts of the verse should be read as a poetic couplet, with synthetic parallelism:

“And therefore God made him high over (all),
and favored him (with) the name th(at is) over every name”

Before proceeding with an exegesis of v. 9b, I feel it is important to emphasize again the context established by the main clause of v. 9a (discussed in the previous note). In particular, let us give further consideration to the following two parts of the clause:

1. dio\ kai/This dual conjunction, governed by the inferential conjunction dio/ (“therefore”), provides the transition between vv. 6-8 and vv. 9-11. In the immediate context, it indicates the reason for God’s action in “making Jesus high over all”. As the syntax makes clear, God’s action is in response to Jesus “emptying himself” and “lowering himself”. In this regard, it is worth keeping in mind the way that the hymn as a whole is governed by four primary aorist verbs:

    • e)ke/nwsen [Jesus] “he emptied (himself)”
    • e)tapei/nwsen [Jesus] “he lowered (himself)”
    • u(peru/ywsen [God] “he made (him) high over (all)”
    • e)xari/sato [God] “he showed (him) favor”

Jesus’ willingness to give up his exalted position (with God in heaven), and to take on the lowest position (as a human slave), prompts God to “show him favor”, exalting him to the highest position. This paradoxthat lowering oneself leads to exaltationis fundamental to the New Testament message, rooted in Jesus’ own example and epitomized in his famous saying of Matt 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14. In particular, Jesus’ willingness to submit himself (like a slave) to human authority, leading to his suffering and death (in the manner of a criminal slave), results in his being given a position of rule over all humankind (and all creation).

2. u(peru/ywsen (“he showed favor”)The verb encapsulates the entirety of the earliest Christology (during the period c. 35-60 A.D.). As I have repeatedly noted, this was an exaltation Christology, meaning that Jesus’ divine status and identity as the Son of God was understood primarily (if not exclusively) through the resurrection. After being raised from the dead, Jesus was further exalted to a position “at the right hand” of God in heaven. This was a fundamental belief, widespread among the earliest believers, as the New Testament record makes clear (cf. Mk 12:36; 14:62 pars; [16:19]; Acts 2:25, 33-34; 5:31; 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Col 3:1; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22). The implication is that the  exalted Jesus now stands alongside God on His throne, and thus shares in that ruling position. The developing pre-existence Christology (reflected in the first half of the hymn) is essentially patterned after the exaltation portraitthat is to say, Jesus held a similar position, alongside God the Father in heaven, prior to his life and mission on earth.

Now, turning to the clause that follows in v. 9b:

kai\ e)xari/sato au)tw=| to\ o&noma to\ u(pe\r pa=n o&noma
“and He favored him (with) the name th(at is) over every name”

e)xari/sato (“he showed favor”)The two main aorist verbs in the second half of the hymn are treated as a pair: u(peru/ywsen kai\ e)xari/sato (“He made [him] high over [all] and favored [him]”). The two actions thus go hand-in-hand, and should be treated as two components (or aspects) of the same exaltation of Jesus by God the Father.

The middle deponent verb xari/zomai means “give a favor, show (someone a) favor”, and is rather frequent in the Pauline letters (16 of the 23 NT occurrences, including 2 in Ephesians). The usage is closely tied to Paul’s key theme of God showing “favor” (xa/ri$) to us through the work (his sacrificial death) of Jesus; indeed, the verb is almost always used in this context, and it is quite rare to see it applied to Jesus himself (i.e., God showing favor to him).

au)tw=| (“to him”)The unusual use of the verb xari/zomai (applied to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus), noted above, is significant, though its importance is easily glossed over by commentators eager to assert that Jesus maintained his exalted (heavenly) position even throughout his earthly life. The “emptying” (kenosis) of Jesus here in the hymn is stripped of its essential meaning if one attempts to force into the passage the Christological idea that Jesus maintained his exalted position all throughout his life as a human being. Because Jesus truly did empty and lower himself, it was necessary and fitting that God should raise him (back) to a position of glory. This was something that God did to him, through His own eternal power and glorythe exaltation to God’s right hand, even as He also raised him from the dead.

to\ o&noma to\ u(pe\r pa=n o&noma (“the name th(at is) over every name”)This phrase has proven to be rather problematic, and source of debate among commentators. It is the direct object of the verb xari/zomaithat is to say, it represents the special favor granted by God to Jesus. But just what is this “name th(at is) over every name”? In my view, readers of the passage (including many commentators) have been tripped up here by the corresponding expression “the name of Jesus” in v. 10. A careless reading might lead one to think that the “name of Jesus”, and thus also the “name over every name”, is simply the name Jesus (Yeshua). Almost certainly, this is not correct, though the importance of the point requires a more detailed discussion, which will be provided in the next note (on v. 10).

The phrase “the name th(at is) over [u(pe/r] every name” is clearly parallel with the idea of God making Jesus high over [u(per-] all (v. 9a). The parallelism of this wordplay is often lost (or ignored) in translation, but I have preserved it precisely in the literal translation  above. Indeed, the name is central to the exaltation itself, and serves to explain what it means for God to “make him high over (all)”. This will be discussed in the next note.

It is vital here that one recognize the significance of the name (o&noma), from the standpoint of ancient Near Eastern religious thought and cultural tradition. A person’s name was seen as embodying his/her essential nature and character; this means that, to know a person’s name, in this sense, is to know the person. This was equally true in a religious contextto know the name of a deity is to know the deity. For this reason, it is easy to see how namesespecially the names and titles of God—could come to possess a kind of magical quality. To invoke or “call” the name of God was the same as connecting, in a real way, with the personal power and presence of the Divine. For more on the subject, cf. the introduction to my earlier series “And you shall call his name…”.

Given this ancient understanding and use of the name, one can readily see how Jesus‘ name would take on special importance among early believers. In fact, there are three areas of early Christian belief which must be kept in view, in order to achieve a correct interpretation of vv. 9-10:

    • The importance of Jesus’ name for believers
    • The use of the (divine) title “Lord” (ku/rio$) applied to Jesus, and
    • The idea that Jesus has special access to God’s own name

Each of these will be discussed as we proceed with our study of verse 10.

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)”.

October 23: Philippians 2:8

Philippians 2:8

e)tapei/nwsen e(auto\n geno/meno$ u(ph/koo$ me/xri qana/tou
qana/tou de\ staurou=

“he lowered himself, coming to be (one who) hears under to the point of death, even (of) death at (the) stake.”

Following the interpretive difficulties of vv. 6-7, verse 8 is relatively straightforward by comparison. We must not read it in isolation, however, for it is closely bound, both conceptually and syntactically, with verse 7. This can be illustrated through the following chiastic outline (repeated here from a previous note):

    • e(auto\n e)ke/nwsen (“he emptied himself”)
      • morfh\n dou/lou labw\n (“taking [the] form of a slave”)
        • e)n o(moiw/mati a)nqrw/pwn geno/meno$
          (“coming to be in [the] likeness of men”)
      • sxh/mati eu(reqei/$ w($ a&nqrwpo$ (“being found in shape as a man”)
    • e)tapei/nwsen e(auto\n… (“he lowered himself…”)

e)tapei/nwsen e(auto/n—The phrase e)tapei/nwsen e(auto/n (“he lowered himself”) is clearly parallel with e(auto\n e)ke/nwsen (“he emptied himself”), and are similar in meaning, as well as having structural significance, being the first two (of the four) primary aorist verbs which govern the hymn. The verb tapeino/w means “make/bring low, lower”, sometimes in an ethical sense connoting humbleness and humility. That is how the verb tends to be used in Jesus’ teaching, in the context of a dualistic contrast with the verb u(yo/w (“make high”). Believers are to make themselves low, in meekness and humility, and through a willingness to sacrifice oneself in service to others (cf. the core saying par. in Matt 23:12; Lk 14:11; 18:14; also Matt 18:4, and note James 4:10). Paul’s uses the verb in a similar manner (2 Cor 11:7; 12:21; Phil 4:12).

While the same sort of context prevails in chapter 2 of Philippians (cf. the earlier note on 2:1-4), the specific use of tapeino/w here in the hymn has a deeper Christological meaning as well. It refers, not just to the example of Jesus’ humility and self-sacrifice, in a practical sense, but to its supreme manifestation in his becoming a human being (i.e., the incarnation). Jesus not only “emptied himself”,willing to give up his exalted position alongside God in heaven, and become a human being, he also “lowered himself” still further, going even beyond the lowly position of a human slave.

geno/meno$ (“coming to be”)—this same aorist participle (of the verb gi/nomai, “come to be, become”) was used in v. 7c, and, indeed, functions the same way in relation to the phrase “he lowered himself” as the participial phrases in v. 7 (in relation to “he emptied himself”). The remainder of v. 8 describes what it means for Jesus to “lower himself”, just as the phrases in v. 7 explain what his “emptying” entailed.

u(ph/koo$ (“hearing under”)—this predicate adjective, used here in a substantive manner (i.e. characterizing a person who is u(ph/koo$), should be considered in light of the parallelism with v. 7c:

    • “coming to be in (the) likeness of men” (e)n o(moiw/mati a)nqrw/pwn geno/meno$)
    • “coming to be (one who) hears under…” (geno/meno$ u(ph/koo$)

The phrase in v. 7c is also subordinate to that of v. 7b, and so “coming to be in the likeness of men” must be understood in relation to the idea of “taking the form of a slave“. This helps to explain the important aspect of Jesus’ humanity expressed in v. 8. A slave is one who “hears under” (i.e., following the commands, etc, of) the authority of a superior; God, of course, is the superior of all, but Jesus willingly submitted (like a slave) to human authorities as well, sinful and wicked though they may be. The adjective u(ph/koo$ is derived from the verb u(pakou/w (“hear under”), and generally refers to one who listens obediently, in submission, to a figure in authority. The sort of submission described here is elsewhere expressed vividly in the Gospel tradition—most notably, in the three Synoptic predictions by Jesus of his Passion (Mark 8:31; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), and in the Passion Narrative itself. The Jewish and Roman authorities equally play a central role in the suffering and death of Jesus. He submits to them, in meekness and humility, scarcely saying a word in his defense (in the Synoptic narrative, at least), effectively fulfilling the prophecy of Isa 53:7-8 (cf. Acts 8:28-35).

me/xri qana/tou (“to the point of death”)—The adverb me/xri (used as a preposition) indicates the point of termination for a time (or place), i.e. “up to the point of, until”. The common noun qana/to$ (“death”) is in the genitive case here, governed by the preposition me/xri. Jesus submitted to the wicked human authorities, no less than to God Himself, as part of his self-sacrificial, redemptive mission on earth. Such submission meant his death, which signifies a position even lower than that of a slave. A slave may possess only limited rights or freedom, but he/she can still live in some measure of comfort and security, under the authority of others. While for an oppressed slave, death can, at times, be seen as a kind of freedom, most slaves still value life, and would seek to avoid the threat of death.

qana/tou de\ staurou= (“even of death of [the] stake”)—This qualifying phrase shares the same governing preposition me/xri, i.e. “even to the point of death at the stake”. The conjunctive particle de/ (“but, and”) is used in a continuative (and emphatic) sense—i.e., even to death at the stake. Any death might be feared, but death by crucifixion in ancient times (and as practiced by the Romans) was especially horrific. It tended to be reserved for the worst criminals, and for members of the lower classes (slaves, etc) as a punishment for treason and other high crimes. Jesus’ death by crucifixion is well-established in the Gospel tradition, though depicted with relatively little detail in the narrative (even the gruesome scourging prior to hanging is barely mentioned). It was an especially painful and humiliating manner of death, and one which created tremendous obstacles for early Christians in their attempts to convince fellow Jews, especially, that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Paul fully understood the weight of this apparent contradiction (Gal 3:10-14, etc), and yet embraced the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion (“the cross”) as a central part of the Gospel message (1 Cor 1:17-18; Gal 5:11; 6:14; Col 1:20; 2:14).

The noun stauro/$ literally means “stake, post, pole”, set upright in the ground, and which could be used then for various forms of punishment, etc. It is usually translated “cross” in the New Testament and other early Christian writings; but, while “cross” captures the idea of crucifixion (with the cross-piece for supporting the arms of the victim), it is inaccurate as a translation of stauro/$.

In the next daily note, we will summarize the results of our study on vv. 6-8, before moving on to examine verse 9 and the second half of the hymn.

October 22: Philippians 2:7d

Philippians 2:7d

kai\ sxh/mati eu(reqei\$ w($ a&nqrwpo$
“and in sxh=ma being found as a man”

This is the third of the three participial phrases, containing aorist participles, subordinate to the main aorist verb in 7a (e)ke/nwsen, “he emptied [himself]”); each successive phrase serves to describe and explain what it means that Jesus “emptied himself”:

    • “taking [labw/n] (the) form [morfh/] of a slave” (7b, note)
    • “coming to be [geno/meno$] in (the) likeness [o(moi/wma] of men” (7c, note)
    • “being found [eu(reqei/$] in sxh=ma as a man” (7d)

The predicate (object) for each participial phrase involves a noun referring to the outward, visible appearance of something—morfh/, o(moi/wma, sxh=ma. The first two terms were discussed in the preceding notes; the latter (sxh=ma) will be studied today. Following the approach taking thus far in these notes, each word in the phrase will be considered in turn.

kai/ (“and”)—the force of the conjunction here serves to pivot between the third and fourth phrases, leading (syntactically) to the main clause of verse 8, and joining with it. In English punctuation, we would probably indicate this with a semicolon:

“but he emptied himself, taking (the) form of a slave, coming to be in (the) likeness of men; and, being found in sxh=ma as a man, he lowered himself…”

On the chiastic structure of this portion of the hymn, cf. my outline in the previous note.

sxh/mati—a dative form, equivalent to the prepositional phrase e)n sxh/mati (cp. e)n o(moiw/mati in v. 7c), i.e., “in sxh=ma.” I have left the noun untranslated above to avoid prejudicing the analysis; it also happens to be a word that is difficult to render with precision in English. The noun sxh=ma is ultimately derived from the verb e&xw (“hold”) and its irregular future form sxh/sw, and thus fundamentally refers to the way that something “holds (together)”, specifically, in its (outward) shape or appearance. A suitable English approximation to the noun might be “bearing”, though this still only captures a portion of the semantic range; it is variously translated as “form, shape, figure, fashion, constitution,” etc.

To gain a proper understanding of its meaning and significance here, we would naturally turn to occurrences of sxh=ma elsewhere in the New Testament; unfortunately, there is only one other occurrence (also by Paul, in 1 Cor 7:31, discussed below). It is equally rare in the LXX (just once, Isa 3:17), and thus occurs just 3 times in the entirety of the Greek Scriptures. It is more common in the contemporary Jewish authors Josephus and Philo of Alexandria, who each make varied use of the term in their writings. For Philo, it generally refers to the forms of things as they are perceived by the senses, and then understood by the intellect in their essential character.

Paul’s use of the term in 1 Cor 7:31 is of the utmost importance for our study, regardless of one’s view regarding the Pauline composition of the hymn itself. The word occurs toward the end of his long discussion on marriage (and marital relations) in chapter 7. An important point of emphasis, running through the discussion, is that, it is best if believers remain as they are currently; if already married, to stay married, even if joined with a non-believer; and, if single, to stay single, unless one is unable to do so safely (i.e. chastely). Paul offers several reasons for this, one of which is eschatological—the point he makes here in vv. 29-31, that all things in the present Age are “standing together” at this moment, and the current order of things (in this Age) is in the process of passing away. Here is the exact wording in verse 31:

“for the sxh=ma of this word-order [ko/smo$] leads (the way) along [i.e. passes along]”

The noun sxh=ma applies to the entire ‘order of things’ (world-order) in the present Age; in English idiom, we might say “the shape of things”, i.e., the way things are (and appear) right now. Most human beings live, act, and think in accordance with the way things seem to be in the world, valuing and responding to the outward appearance of things; only believers in Christ are aware of a deeper reality, the promise of a New Age, manifest now only through the presence and activity of the Spirit. Thus, we are to live according to the Spirit, and not according to the form and fashion of the current world-order.

If we now examine the use of sxh=ma in Phil 2:7, in light of the above analysis, we would have to posit two main points of significance:

    • In every aspect of his appearance—including how he lived and conducted himself—Jesus was a human being (a&nqrwpo$)
    • It also refers to a ‘mode of being’, living and acting in the world (of human beings), according to the standards and patterns of the current Age (i.e., eating, drinking, sleeping, working, socializing, etc)

In other words, if we were to see Jesus (objectively) during his life on earth, in his appearance and ordinary behavior, he would look more or less like any other human being. This is what is mean by the last expression w($ a&nqrwpo$ (“as a man”).

As mentioned in the previous note, this emphasis on the outward, visible appearance—reinforced by the trio of terms, morfh/, o(moi/wma, and sxh=ma—could easily be interpreted in a docetic sense. In other words, Jesus was not truly a human being, but only looked like one, merely appearing to be human. However, I see no evidence in the hymn, when judged in its mid-first century context, for anything like the Docetism of the 2nd-century; nor does the hymn serve as an apologetic against such a view of Jesus. How, then, should we understand these terms in context?

First, we must keep in mind the basic significance of the noun morfh/, used in the parallel, contrastive expressions “form of God” (v. 6a) and “form of a slave” (v. 7a). In the prior notes, I have argued that the main point of contrast is one of status and position—i.e., between the exalted position of God in heaven and the lowly position of human beings on earth. The morfh/ is the visible distinction between God and man—the traditional splendor (glory/honor) that surrounds God in visions and theophanies vs. the limitation, weakness, and suffering of the mortal condition. Jesus “took on” (vb lamba/nw) this mortal condition, with its weakness, when he united with humankind (“came to be”, vb gi/nomai), to the point of being born as a human child (implied in the hymn, cp. the use of gi/nomai in Gal 4:4; Rom 1:3). When other people saw him during his earthly life, he “was found” (vb eu(ri/skw, passive), i.e., he appeared, to be just like any other human being (“as a man”, w($ a&nqrwpo$).

Second, there is a definite progression in the lines of vv. 7-8 which needs to be recognized:

    • “he emptied himself” —willingness to give up his exalted (highest) position with God in heaven
    • “taking the form of a slave” —taking on the lowly (lowest) position of humankind on earth
    • “coming to be in the likeness of men” —union/participation with the human condition, implying an actual birth as a human being
    • “being found in form/shape/bearing as a man” —his earthly life, among other human beings
    • “he lowered himself” —suffering and death, and his willingness to endure it

The trio of terms ultimately serve, simply, to refer to Jesus’ earthly life (and death) as a human being.

Finally, these terms can also be seen as part of an early attempt to express what we might call the ‘mystery of the incarnation’. Jesus was a human being—just like all others (in appearance), but different from all others in his unique relationship to God the Father (and in his identity as Messiah and Son of God). This uniqueness was originally understood (almost entirely) in terms of the resurrection, through which Jesus was exalted to a position at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. Eventually, however, believers came to the recognition that Jesus must have held this position (as Son of God) even prior to his earthly life (i.e. the pre-existence Christology expressed in vv. 6ff of the hymn). At the time the hymn was composed, Christians were only just beginning to explore what this divine pre-existence meant in terms of Jesus’ earthly life. We cannot expect to find in the hymn a systematic and fully developed Christological statement that dealt with all of the implications of this belief. We can, though, glimpse a powerful Christology taking shape—in some ways, all the more vibrant and compelling for its expression within the limitations of this poetic and hymnic form.

October 21: Philippians 2:7c

Philippians 2:7c

The remaining two phrases of verse 7 build upon the second (discussed in the previous note, on v. 7b), further describing what it means to say that Jesus “emptied himself” (7a). All three descriptive phrases that follow are participial phrases, clarifying and explaining the aorist indicative e)ke/nwsen (“he emptied”). Correspondingly, they are aorist participles, a verbal form that is a bit difficult to translate exactly in English; however, the main point is that the participles are subordinate to the main aorist verb e)ke/nwsen:

    • e)ke/nwsen (“he emptied”)
      • labw/n (“taking…”, active)
      • geno/meno$ (“coming to be…”, middle)
      • eu(reqei/$ (“being found…”, passive)

It is possible that the shift from active to passive could itself be meant to illustrate the “emptying”, in grammatical terms. Such an illustrative structure is made more likely when we consider how the phrases in v. 7cd serve to pivot the syntax (and thought) of the hymn to the next aorist verb, in the main clause of verse 8 (e)tapei/nwsen, “he lowered”). This verbal expression (e)tapei/wsen e(auto/n, “he lowered himself”) forms a precise parallel with e(auto\n e)ke/nwsen in v. 7a. The parallelism is carefully constructed within the poetry of these lines, as the following chiastic outline demonstrates:

    • e(auto\n e)ke/nwsen (“he emptied himself”)
      • morfh\n dou/lou labw\n (“taking [the] form of a slave”)
        • e)n o(moiw/mati a)nqrw/pwn geno/meno$
          (“coming to be in [the] likeness of men”)
      • sxh/mati eu(reqei/$ w($ a&nqrwpo$ (“being found in shape as a man”)
    • e)tapei/nwsen e(auto\n… (“he lowered himself…”)

There is thus a beautiful symmetry in this portion of the hymn which is easily lost or obscured in translation.

In the previous note, I pointed out that the contrast being established was not between “God” and “man” per se, nor between the divine and human “nature” as such; rather, it is primarily a question of status and position—between the exalted position of God in heaven and the lowly status of a human slave. The contrasting expression is “form of a slave” (morfh\ dou/lou), not “form of a man” (morfh\ anqrw/pou). However, the word a&nqrwpo$ (“man, human [being]”) does feature in the last two phrases of the verse, making it clear that we are dealing with a human slave, and of Jesus’ status as a human being. We begin here with the phrase in 7c:

e)n o(moiw/mati a)nqrw/pwn geno/meno$
“coming to be in (the) likeness of men”

The key element, however, is not the noun a&nqrwpo$, but the prepositional expression e)n o(moiw/mati. The noun o(moi/wma is derived from the verb o(moio/w, “to be like (one), be the same”, i.e., “be (or make) similar, resemble”. It thus refers to the likeness or similarity of one thing (or person) to another. Much like the noun morfh/ (“[visible] form, shape”, vv. 6-7), o(moi/wma is rare in the New Testament, occurring just 6 times; four of the other five occurrences are also by Paul (in Romans, 1:23; 5:14; 6:5; 8:3), cf. also Rev 9:7. It is somewhat more common in the LXX (41 times, Exod 20:4; Deut 4:12, 15-16, et al). In Rom 1:23 and 5:14, as also in Rev 9:7, the word is clearly used in reference to the image of something, rather than of the thing itself. Based on this usage, the phrase here could be taken to mean that Jesus did not truly become a human being, but only resembled one. This will be discussed further below.

Romans 6:5 and 8:3 provide a closer contextual parallel to the use of o(moi/wma here in Phil 2:7. First, let us consider Rom 6:5:

“For if we have come to be [gego/namen] (one)s planted together in the likeness [tw=| o(moiw/mati] of his death, then also shall we be (in the likeness) of (his) standing up (out of the dead) [i.e. resurrection]”

We have here the same combination of the verb of becoming (gi/nomai) and the dative (prepositional) expression [e)n tw=|] o(moiw/mati. While the ‘death’ and ‘rising’ of believers is not exactly the same as Jesus’ own, we are united with it in such a way that, through the Spirit, we share in its very power and essential reality. Thus, in this instance, o(moi/wma signifies something more than a mere “image” or “likeness”. Romans 8:3 is even more to the point, as it refers to Jesus as a human being, just as here in the hymn:

“…God (did), sending his own Son in (the) likeness [e)n o(moiw/mati] of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh], and, about sin, brought down judgment on sin in the flesh”

The similar wording in Gal 4:4f makes clear that Paul understood God’s “sending” of Jesus to entail his birth as a human being. The verb gi/nomai (“come to be”) sometimes can mean specifically “come to be born,” though this is better expressed through the related verb genna/w; it has such a connotation in Gal 4:4, as also in Rom 1:3, referring to the real (physical/biological) birth of Jesus as a human being. Thus, it is very possible that a human birth is implied here in v. 7c as well, though, on the whole, a better parallel is found in Rom 6:5, where the motif is one of a transforming, participatory union, rather than coming to be born.

The use of the noun o(moi/wma in our phrase could easily be understood in a docetic sense—that Jesus did not truly become a human being, but only seemed to be one in appearance. Our interpretation might further point in that direction when we consider how Paul uses the term in Rom 8:3, where he seems to indicate that Jesus did not come to be a human being in every respect—that is, not in the sinfulness of humankind, its bondage under the power of sin (cp. 2 Cor 5:21). Jesus only resembled sinful human beings (in their sinfulness); by extension, could not the same usage apply in Phil 2:7—viz., that Jesus only resembled human beings?

From an orthodox Christological standpoint, such a view is referred to as Docetism. There is little evidence of docetic tendencies in the New Testament itself, and it is unlikely that a docetic view of Jesus’ humanity could have become widespread among believers until the end of the first century, after a pre-existence Christology had been developed and firmly established. The hymn in Phil 2:6-11 is an early example of pre-existence Christology (c. 60 A.D.), and was not intended to support the weight of later (orthodox) Christological concerns. It certainly is no witness to 2nd century docetic Christology, nor does it serve as an apologetic against such a view of Christ. We must read and study the hymn in its mid-1st century context.

How, then, are we to understand this pointed emphasis on outward, visible appearance, when it comes to Jesus’ humanity, with the use of terms such as morfh/ (“[visible] form, shape”), o(moi/wma (“likeness”) and sxh=ma (“bearing, shape, form, appearance”)? This will be examined further in the next daily note (on v. 7d).