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.

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