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).

October 20: Philippians 2:7b

Philippians 2:7b

Our analysis on the first phrase of verse 7 (cf. the previous note on 7a), a)lla\ e(auto\n e)ke/nwsen (“but he emptied himself”), can be summarized with the following two points:

    • The adversative particle a)lla/ (“but”), and the main point of contrast, relates primarily to the phrase a(rpagmo\n h)gh/sato (cf. the discussion below)
    • The figurative use of the verb keno/w (“[make] empty”), in common with the other 5 NT occurrences of the verb (all by Paul), is applied here to a person (Jesus); it should be understood in the sense of make him(self) to be of no significance or importance.

The following phrases in the verse are subordinate and explanatory, beginning with v. 7b:

morfh\n dou/lou labw/n
“taking (the) form of a slave”

That is to say, this phrase explains what it means that Jesus “emptied himself”, and indicates what this “emptying” entailed. Our analysis again will look at each word in detail.

morfh\n (“form, shape”)—the noun morfh/ in the accusative (object of the following participle labw/n). The same noun was used in verse 6a, and the expression morfh\ dou/lou (“form of a slave”) is clearly intended as parallel with morfh\ qeou/ (“form of God”). The noun was discussed in detail in the prior note (on v. 6a). The two instances of the noun here in vv. 6-7 are the only occurrences in the New Testament (apart from the ‘long ending’ of Mark [16:12]), and it is equally rare in the LXX (occurring just 8 times). A related verbal noun mo/rfwsi$ is also rare (Rom 2:20; 2 Tim 3:5), along with the verb morfo/w (only in Gal 4:19); neither word is used in the LXX. The fundamental meaning of the morf– word-group is that of the (external) form or shape of something—often specifically of human beings or animals, but it could apply to any object or feature of the visible world. It is important to keep in mind that the emphasis is on the visible form or appearance of something.

doulou/ (“of a slave”)—The noun dou=lo$ refers to a slave; related is the corresponding feminine noun dou/lh (for a female slave), the more abstract noun doulai/a (“slavery”), adjective dou=lo$ (“enslaved, [act]ing as a slave”), and verb douleu/w (“be a slave”). It is a common noun, occurring 126 times in the New Testament, including frequently in the Pauline letters. Paul sometimes uses it in reference to people who are actually slaves (in Greco-Roman society), but just as often it is used figuratively or metaphorically, either in a negative (e.g., human beings enslaved to the power of sin) or positive sense (e.g., believers bound in service to God). Of particular importance is the idiom of believers (esp. ministers of the Gospel) as “slaves” (dou=loi) of God and Christ (Rom 1:1; Phil 1:1, etc).

How should the word be understood here? We must bear in mind, first, that the expression “form of a slave” is set as a contrastive parallel with “form of God” in v. 6, with “slave” (dou=lo$) forming a precise contrast to God. As a contrast, this can be taken two ways:

    • By “slave” is meant primarily a human being, in contrast with God
    • The term signifies a lowly status and position, contrasted with the exalted status/position of God (in heaven)

If the former were intended, we would perhaps expect the parallel to be with “form of a man” (morfh\ a)nqrw/pou), rather than “form of a slave”. The noun a&nqrwpo$ does occur in the final two phrases of v. 7 (to be discuseed), making it clear that we are dealing with a human slave; however, this does not change the fact that the wording carefully avoids making a precise contrast between deity (God) and humanity (man) per se. The further terminology (in vv. 8ff), of “making low” and “making high,” strongly suggests that the point of the contrast here is one of status and position. God in heaven has the highest, most exalted position, while a human slave has one of the lowest.

Given the early Christian usage of the noun dou=lo$ to refer to believers (esp. ministers) as “slaves” of God and Christ (cf. above), is it possible that the term is meant to indicate Jesus’ position as a slave (or servant) of God? Some commentators have thought so, even suggesting that the Isaian “Servant of the Lord” motif is in view, by way of the “Servant Songs” of (Deutero-) Isaiah (esp. 52:13-53:12). There is no doubt that Jesus, as the Anointed One (Messiah), in his earthly life and ministry, and all the more in his sacrificial death, was seen by early Christians as fulfilling these Isaian Servant Songs (Acts 8:30-35, etc). Moreover, there does seem to be a certain similarity of theme between, for example, Isa 52:13-53:12 and our hymn. However, an emphasis on Jesus as the “slave of God” here, in my view, defeats the force of the contrastive parallel. The point is that Jesus went from the highest position to the lowest, which is symbolized by the motif of a human slave, a person with limited rights and freedoms, dependent entirely on the power and control of one’s human master(s), which could (at times) be harsh and cruel.

labw/n (“taking”)—an aorist active participle of the common verb lamba/nw (“take, receive”). It is clearly epexegetical to the main aorist verb e)ke/nwsen (“he emptied”); the only real interpretive question is whether the participle should be understood as a consequence of Jesus’ “emptying”, or characteristic of it. In other words, does his “taking the form of a slave” describe the emptying, or is it the result of a prior action? I believe the participles of v. 7 are best understood as descriptive—i.e., what Jesus’ “emptying” of himself entailed. It was an action, not of seizing/holding to an exalted heavenly/divine status (v. 6), but of taking on a lower and humbling status instead. This will be discussed further in the next note.

This may be an appropriate time to consider again the three lines of interpretation I put forth for understanding the term a(rpagmo/$ (“seizing, [something] seized”) in v. 6b (cf. the earlier note):

    • Though Jesus had an exalted position alongside God, he was not equal to God in all respects; he might have been inclined to seek this greater status, this equality, but he chose not to grasp after it. Some commentators see here a contrastive parallel between Jesus and Adam, who was tempted by the promise of becoming just like God.
    • Jesus did possess this equality with God, but not as something which one grasps hold of in an ambitious way, or to protect one’s position; he was willing to let go any attachment to his divine status for the sake of his redemptive mission on earth.
    • The exalted position of Jesus alongside God, by which he shares equal rule with the Father, is not characterized by a grasping after power, such as ambitious human rulers do; rather, it is characterized by a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of those over whom one rules.

The analysis above suggests that the second view is closest to what is being expressed in the hymn—viz., a willingness by Jesus to give up his exalted divine position (equal to God) and take on the low position of human “slave”. At the same time, the contrast between God and “slave” suggests the natural contrast between the slave and a lord or master (i.e. ruler). This, indeed, would frame the contrast even more sharply: ruler with God in heaven vs. lowly slave among human beings on earth. Thus, I believe, there is also an implicit emphasis in the hymn on Jesus’ willingness to abandon his ruling position for the sake of his redemptive mission on earth. The idea, common to many strands of developed orthodox Christology, that Jesus became a human slave while still maintaining his ruling position in heaven, is foreign to the hymn and should not be read into it. Indeed, I would assert that such a Christological interpretation, while legitimate in its attempt to balance the full weight of the theological implications brought about by the New Testament witness, actually contradicts (and defeats) the thematic structure and thought of the hymn itself. This will be discussed further in the upcoming notes.

October 19: Philippians 2:7a

Philippians 2:7-8

Verses 7-8 follow and are subordinate to v. 6, discussed in the previous notes (on 6a and 6b). There are any number of ways to outline these; my arrangement below illustrates some of the linguistic and conceptual parallels:

a)lla\ e(auto\n e)ke/nwsen  (but 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)

kai\ sxh/mati eu(reqei\$ w($ a&nqrwpo$ (and being found [in] shape/appearance as a man)

e)tapei/nwsen e(auto\n (he lowered himself)

geno/meno$ u(ph/koo$ me/xri qana/tou (becoming obedient [lit. hearing/listening] until death)

qana/tou de\ staurou= (—but a death of [i.e. on] [the] stake!)

Each of these clauses and phrases is important for an interpretation of vv. 6-8 (and of the hymn as a whole). It is thus worth devoting an individual note to a careful examination of each of them, and thereby establishing a sound exegesis for the lines of the hymn, taken together. Attention must be paid to both the vocabulary and syntax. We begin with the first phrase of verse 7.

Philippians 2:7a

a)lla\ e(autw\n e)ke/nwsen
“but he emptied himself”

a)lla/ (“but”)—the connection of the adversative particle is a major question: does it tie back to ei@nai i&sa qew=| or to a(rpagmo\n h(ghsato? If the former, then it signifies that Christ forsook equality with God (in some sense); if the latter, that he forsook any desire to seize it (or hold it) through force. The latter phrase provides the more immediate syntactical connection, and point of contrast; on the meaning of that difficult phrase in context, cf. the three lines of interpretation mentioned at the close of the previous note (and to be discussed further).

e(autw/n (“himself”)—this reflexive personal pronoun, referring to Jesus Christ (v. 5), is the predicate, providing the object of the verb that follows. That is, it declares what was “emptied” (by Jesus)—he emptied himself!

e)ke/nwsen (“emptied”)—an aorist active form of the verb keno/w (“[make] empty, empty out”), one of a sequence of aorist verb forms that govern the hymn and guide the syntax of the passage:

    • e)ke/nwsen (“he [Jesus] emptied [himself]”)—his ‘departure’ from heaven and birth/incarnation as a human being
    • e)tapei/nwsen (“he lowered [himself]”)—his suffering and death
    • u(peru/ywsen (“[God] lifted [him] high”)—Jesus’ resurrection and ascension/exaltation
    • e)xari/sato (“[God himself] showed favor [to him]”)—”with the name over every name”, as Lord and (Son of) God in heaven

The verb keno/w can refer to a concrete physical/material emptying, or, in a more figurative and metaphorical sense, to removing/nullifying the significance of something. The four other occurrences in the New Testament, all by Paul in his letters, use the verb in the latter (figurative) sense:

    • Rom 4:14—Paul’s argument in chapter 4 (repeating that of Galatians 3) makes the claim that, if the promise to Abraham is fulfilled through observance of the Torah, then the significance of trust (pi/sti$) in Christ is “made empty”
    • 1 Cor 1:17—Similarly, to rely on ordinary human wisdom and eloquence in preaching (the Gospel), risks “emptying” the central message of the sacrificial death (the cross) of Christ of its meaning and power
    • 1 Cor 9:15; 2 Cor 9:3—In these two passages, the verb is used in connection with the “boast” of Paul (and other Christian ministers), by which he refers to the practical effect of his faithfulness in proclaiming the Gospel—believers coming to trust in Jesus, the establishment of local congregations, their growth in faith, etc. The negative behavior and attitude of some believers (and churches) can effectively “empty” that boast of its meaning and validity.

But what does it mean for a person to “empty himself“? Based on the Pauline usage of the verb, utilizing a figurative sense of keno/w, it would have to mean something like making oneself to be of no significance or importance. Use of the verb this way, of a person, is quite rare; rather more common is the idea of something a person possesses being taken away. And, indeed, many commentators would interpret the phrase here in something like that latter sense—i.e., Jesus gave up (gave away) his divine attributes, or his divine status/position.

To speak of Jesus’ divine “nature” or “attributes” is out of place here in the hymn of Phil 2:6-11. It is understandable, of course, why commentators would feel impelled to read the passage in terms of a later, more developed, Christology; however, this should be avoided, if one wishes to gain a proper understanding of the passage in its original (first century) context. This important point will be discussed further as we proceed through vv. 7-8 (and the remainder of the hymn).

Which is not to say that there is no relationship between Phil 2:6-11 and the orthodox Christology held (and debated) by subsequent generations. Indeed, the passage has been key to Christological discussion and debate, much of it quite fascinating and provocative. An entire Kenotic theology developed, based largely upon this passage, framed by the conceptual matrix of vv. 6-8. The word kenosis, a transliteration of the Greek noun ke/nwsi$ (“emptying”, related to the verb keno/w), came to be used as a technical term for the idea that, in the incarnation, Jesus “emptied” himself, in a metaphysical sense, of the divine attributes which he possessed (as the Son of God) in his eternal existence alongside God the Father. Such “emptying” would explain many aspects of the New Testament portrait of Jesus, though not without resulting in a number of other difficulties that have to be considered.

However, I would maintain that all of this is quite foreign to our passage here. Neither the hymn, nor the way Paul uses it in his letter, indicates any attempt to make a definitive statement regarding the divine or human “nature” of Jesus Christ. The early Christology of the first century A.D. had a very different orientation, working from a different set of theological premises. We can gain a better sense of this through a careful study of each word and phrase, read in light of the theology expressed by Paul in his letters, and of the New Testament witness as a whole. In particular, we must pay close attention to the Christology that prevailed in the period prior to c. 60 A.D. (the time when Philippians was likely written).

The next phrase in verse 7 will be examined in the next daily note.

October 14: Philippians 2:6b

Philippians 2:6b

The first clause of verse 6, the opening line of the hymn, was discussed in the previous note; it reads as follows:

o^$ e)n morfh=| qeou= u(pa/rxwn
“who, in beginning under in (the) form of God”

The translation above is extremely literal; however, a more precise rendering which properly captures the full sense of the line is difficult (cf. the detailed exegesis in the prior note). The morfh/ (“[visible] shape, form”), as applied to God, is perhaps best understood in terms of the kind of visible “splendor” (do/ca) manifest when human beings, traditionally, behold God in a vision or theophany. As a visual mark, or designation, it serves to set the divine apart and distinct from human beings. The present participle u(pa/rxwn indicates that Jesus exists in that condition, an exalted status and position alongside God in heaven—and he possessed that same position even prior to his earthly life (and resurrection). A more nuanced (interpretive) translation might be:

“who, being present (there) in the visible (glory) of God…”

This first clause, as weighty as it might be, actually serves to set the stage for the second line, the Greek of which reads:

ou)x a(rpagmo\n h(gh/sato to\ ei@nai i&sa qew=|

I will again refrain from any initial translation, allowing it to be established through exegesis of each word and phrase. The clause begins with a negative particle (ou)[x]); this particle directly precedes the noun a(rpagmo/$, but actually governs the entire clause, negating it.

The key noun is a(rpagmo/$, which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament (nor in the Greek Old Testament [LXX]); the related noun a(rpagh/ occurs several times, along with the verb a(rpa/zw (14 times, 3 by Paul [2 Cor 12:2, 4; 1 Thess 4:17]). The noun a(rpagma/, close in meaning to a(rpagmo/$, while not used in the New Testament, occurs 18 times in the LXX. The fundamental meaning of the verb a(rpa/zw  is “seize, take by force”; the noun a(rpagmo$ can be used in an active (verbal) sense (“[act of] seizing”), or in a passive sense (“something seized”), which is similar in meaning to a(rpagma/, i.e. something that is “seized” —a prize gained in contest, plunder in battle, etc.

The verb that follows is h(ge/omai, a middle deponent verb related to a&gw, meaning “lead”, especially the sense of functioning as a leader, one who leads the way, etc. It can be used figuratively for leading something out before one’s mind—i.e., to think, consider, regard. The verb occurs 28 times in the New Testament, including 11 times in the Pauline letters; of the 9 (or 11) instances where Paul uses it, six are here in Philippians. It was used earlier in 2:3, in referring to how believers conduct themselves, giving attention and priority to the needs of others, rather than one’s own interests (cf. the recent note on 2:1-4). This provides the context for the hymn in vv. 6-11, and Paul’s use of h(ge/omai in v. 6 very much needs to be understood in light of v. 3—in terms of a way of thinking and acting.

How then shall we understand the expression a(rpagmo\n h(gh/sato taken together? Literally, it would mean “he led a seizing” or “he led himself to seizing”, which, in terms of our understanding of the verb as indicating a way of thinking and acting, would then seem to connote an inclination or tendency toward seizing something. The ‘something’ is represented by the cognate object phrase to\ ei@nai i&sa qew=|, a phrase which has proven most difficult to interpret. Literally, it means “the being equal to God” (or “…equal with God”), which we should perhaps gloss as “the (position/condition of) being equal to God”. From the standpoint of orthodox theology, “equal to God” is a loaded expression, but we must be careful not to read the developed Christology of later times into this first-century passage.

The modifying adjective/adverb i&so$, which can be used in a qualitative or quantitative sense, occurs just 8 times in the New Testament. It is not a Pauline term, as it only occurs here in all the letters. Let us briefly survey the other instances where it is used:

    • Mark 14:56, 59—in reference to the testimony of the ‘false’ witnesses during the Sanhedrin interrogation of Jesus, to the effect that the witnesses were not in agreement (i.e. their testimony differed, and was not the same).
    • Matthew 20:12—in Jesus’ parable, all the workers are given equal pay (i.e. the same amount, regardless of how long they worked)
    • Luke 6:34—likewise in this proverbial teaching, a more or less equal amount of money is involved
    • Acts 11:17—again the idea is of a gift that is essentially the same, regardless of who receives it
    • Revelation 21:16—the reference is to (precisely) equal distances

Of special interest is John 5:18, where, as part of the reaction to Jesus’ provocative saying (v. 17), and his healing miracle performed on the Sabbath, it is narrated that some of the people wished to kill him, both for his violation of the Sabbath, but even more importantly because

“…he counted God (as his) own Father, making himself equal [i&son] to God”

The episode itself, rather than abstract theological considerations, must define what i&so$ signifies here; the answer is twofold:

    • Jesus identified himself God’s Son, possessing a special relationship to God (YHWH) as his Father; so close are they that they say and do very much the same things.
    • Jesus claims to do the same kind of work as God the Father, which includes miracles that manifest the life-giving creative power of God

I would argue that the significance of i&so$ here in Philippians is comparable, but defined by way of the exaltation of Jesus, rather than the miracles performed during his earthly ministry. Through the resurrection, Jesus was raised to a position at God’s “right hand”, which entails a ruling position that is essentially equal to God’s own. He stands alongside God the Father, sharing the same exalted (divine) position and status. The pre-existence aspect of Phil 2:6ff attributes to Jesus the same sort of exalted position even prior to his earthly life. The motif of sonship is not prominent here in the hymn, unlike in the Gospel of John (where it is pervasive); however, in the early Christology, Jesus’ identity as the Son of God was very much tied to his exaltation. As this Christology further developed, the same sense of divine Sonship was recognized as part of his eternal pre-existence as well (Heb 1:2-3, etc).

Bringing the words of verse 6b together, we have:

a(rpagmo\n h(gh/sato to\ ei@nai i&sa qew=|

An attempt at a literal, glossed translation would be:

“he led himself (to regard) the being equal to God (as) seizing (something)”
or, reading a(rpagmo/$ in a passive, concrete sense:
“he led himself (to regard) the being equal to God (as something) to be seized”

The negative particle governing the clause (cf. above), of course, says that this is just what Jesus did not do. But exactly what did he not do? Here the views and opinions of commentators have differed considerably. It depends largely on the precise meaning of “seizing” (a(rpagmo/$, vb a(rpa/zw) in context. There are several possible lines of interpretation:

    • Though Jesus had an exalted position alongside God, he was not equal to God in all respects; he might have been inclined to seek this greater status, this equality, but he chose not to grasp after it. Some commentators see here a contrastive parallel between Jesus and Adam, who was tempted by the promise of becoming just like God.
    • Jesus did possess this equality with God, but not as something which one grasps hold of in an ambitious way, or to protect one’s position; he was willing to let go any attachment to his divine status for the sake of his redemptive mission on earth.
    • The exalted position of Jesus alongside God, by which he shares equal rule with the Father, is not characterized by a grasping after power, such as ambitious human rulers do; rather, it is characterized by a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of those over whom one rules.

Most other interpretations I have seen tend to reflect some variation on the three views given above. Before we can narrow down a more definite interpretation, it will be necessary first to examine the remainder of verses 7-8. In the next daily note, we will beginning grappling with arguably the most problematic and controversial lines of the hymn, in verse 7.

There have been a number of detailed modern studies on the meaning and background of the word a(rpagmo/$ (see above), among the most notable of which are:

        • R. W. Hoover, “The HARPAGMOS Enigma: A Philological Solution”, Harvard Theological Review [HTR] 64 (1971), pp. 95-119.
        • N. T. Wright, “a(rpagmo/$ and the Meaning of Philippians 2:5-11″, Journal of Theological Studies [JTS] 37 (1986), pp. 321-52.

For a good summary of the evidence, cf. Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary [NIGTC] (Eerdmans: 1991), pp. 211-16. Any reputable (critical) commentary will provide a bibliographic list of the relevant resources related to the passage.

October 13: Philippians 2:6a

Philippians 2:6a

o^$ e)n morfh=| qeou= u(pa/rxwn

The “Christ hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11 can be divided into two halves which mirror each other conceptually. This structure of the hymn will be discussed in more detail in the concluding note to this series; however, it is important at the outset to have at least the basic outline in mind. Verses 6-8 describe the lowering of Jesus from an exalted heavenly place alongside God the Father, while vv. 9-11 correspondingly describe the exaltation, the raising of him back to heaven. This may be framed as a chiastic outline—moving from divine/heavenly (pre-)existence, and back to an exalted status (as God/Lord) in heaven:

    • God sends his Son from him (i.e. from heaven)
      • to be born (lit. come to be) of a woman (Gal 4:4)
        • into the suffering/slavery of the human condition (v. 7a)
        • suffering/death on the cross (v. 8)
      • through the resurrection, Jesus is “born” (i.e. firstborn of the dead)
    • God exalts him to heaven, at his right hand, as Son of God (cf. Ps 2:7 / Acts 13:32-33) and Lord

This same sequence is indicated, in simpler form, by the four main aorist verbs that guide the syntax of the passage:

    • e)ke/nwsen (“he [Jesus] emptied [himself]”)—his ‘departure’ from heaven and birth/incarnation as a human being
    • e)tapei/nwsen (“he lowered [himself]”)—his suffering and death
    • u(peru/ywsen (“[God] lifted [him] high”)—Jesus’ resurrection and ascension/exaltation
    • e)xari/sato (“[God himself] showed favor [to him]”)—”with the name over every name”, as Lord and (Son of) God in heaven

This will be studied in detail as we proceed through the hymn.

The opening lines of the hymn, in verse 6, establish the position of Jesus in heaven. This is usually taken as evidence of a pre-existence Christology, and correctly so; indeed, it would appear to be the earliest example of such a Christology in the New Testament (c. 60 A.D., or somewhat earlier). In the prior period (c. 35-60 A.D.), an exaltation Christology dominated Christian thought, whereby the deity of Jesus—his nature and status as the Son of God—was located almost exclusively in the resurrection, and his exaltation to heaven to reside at the “right hand of God”. Needless to say, Phil 2:6-11 attests both aspects of first-century Christology, with a pre-existence dimension (vv. 6-8) added to the (earlier) exaltation-aspect.

There are two clauses in verse 6, the first of which will be examined in today’s note. I have left it untranslated (above), so that its meaning (which has been much disputed) can be established through careful exegesis.

The initial clause begins with a relative pronoun (o%$, “which, who”), referring back to Jesus Christ (e)n Xristw=| Ihsou=) in v. 5 (cf. the prior note). There are number of hymn-like early Christological statements in the New Testament, where the lines are similarly governed by an initial relative pronoun (Col 1:15; 1 Tim 3:16; Heb 1:3). In context, the pronoun provides a transition between verse 5 and the hymn proper: “…in (the) Anointed Yeshua, who [o%$]…”. The remainder of the clause is considerably more difficult; the central phrase follows:

e)n morfh=| qeou=
“in (the) morfh/ of God”

The interpretive crux involves the precise meaning of the word morfh/, which occurs only here in the New Testament (apart from once in the ‘long ending’ of Mark [16:12]); it is also relatively rare in the Greek Old Testament (LXX), occurring just 8 times (Judg 8:18; Job 4:16; Isa 44:13; Dan 3:19; Tobit 1:13; Wisdom 18:1). A related verbal noun mo/rfwsi$ is similarly rare (Rom 2:20; 2 Tim 3:5), along with the verb morfo/w (only in Gal 4:19); neither word is used in the LXX. The fundamental meaning of the morf– word-group is that of the (external) form or shape of something—often specifically of human beings or animals, but it could apply to any object or feature of the visible world.

Given the connotation of morfh/ as referring to something visible, one should perhaps understand the expression morfh\ qeou= in traditional terms—of the divine/heavenly “splendor” that surrounds God when He appears in a vision (or theophany) to human beings. In other words, it is a visible mark which sets a divine/heavenly being apart, distinct from a human being. If we are to apply this to Jesus, it would mean that he is to be considered as something more than an ordinary human being. Early Christians would have affirmed this unquestionably of Jesus following the resurrection, with his exaltation to heaven; however, as noted above, vv. 6ff here attests to some form of pre-existence Christology as well—that Jesus had a comparable exalted status even prior to his life on earth.

The term “exalted” well captures the connotation of morfh/ as it is used here, and there can be little doubt that the early exaltation-Christology informs the imagery in vv. 6ff. The key image of this Christology is of Jesus standing in heaven “at the right hand of God”; that expression, or allusions to it, are frequent in the New Testament, and attest clearly to its central position in the earliest Christology (cf. Mk 12:36 par [citing Ps 110:1]; 14:62 par; [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). Thus, it was well accepted that, after the resurrection, Jesus held an exalted position of supreme glory and honor alongside God Himself in heaven. The developing pre-existence Christology attributed a comparable divine position for Jesus in heaven, even prior to his earthly life.

Equally important for an understanding of the word morfh/ here in verse 6 is its parallel usage in verse 7, where the expression morfh\ dou/lou (“form of a slave“) is precisely parallel with morfh\ qeou= (“form of God“). If a position alongside God in heaven represents the highest, most exalted point, the position of a human slave represents the lowest point. This will be discussed further in the note on verse 7.

The final word of the clause in v. 6a is the (present active) participle u(pa/rxwn. The verb u(pa/rxw is quite difficult to translate in English; literally it means “begin under”, in the sense of beginning at a certain place or point. It came to be used in the more general sense of “be present, exist”, sometimes with the nuance of being in a particular state or condition or set of circumstances. It can also be used of something which belongs to a person, being “under” his/her control. This relatively wide range of meaning makes an interpretation of its use here, in relation to the phrase “in the morfh/ of God”, rather difficult.

It is helpful to consider how Paul uses the verb u(pa/rxw elsewhere in his letters; the most obvious example is in 1 Cor 11:7, where it is used in connection with the do/ca qeou= (“honor/splendor of God”), which, as noted above, is roughly comparable to morfh\ qeou= (“[visible] form of God”). In that verse, the same verbal form (present active participle) refers to the circumstances whereby someone is marked as possessing a certain (exalted) status or position. Here in Philippians, the verb is used again at 3:20, where it refers to the exalted position that awaits for believers in heaven; right now, at this moment, such a place exists in heaven, belonging to the heavenly realm, but we are yet to enter into it.

With this line of interpretation in mind, let us now turn to a translation of v. 6a; an extreme literal rendering would be:

“who, beginning under in (the) form of God”

We must remember that morfh/ refers to a visible shape or appearance, and that morfh\ qeou= is best understood in terms of a visual designation that sets God (or the divine) apart from human beings—i.e., the divine “splendor” (do/ca) manifest in traditional heavenly visions or theophanies. By using the verb u(pa/rxw (as a present active participle), the phrase emphatically affirms that Jesus exists (and existed) under just such circumstances, in an exalted position alongside God in heaven. Though not stated specifically in this verse, the context (of the hymn) indicates that Jesus held this position prior to his life on earth (which means prior to his death and resurrection).

Many commentators and theologians would seek to read a more expansive Christology into the hymn here in vv. 6-7, drawing upon later, developed Christological notions regarding Jesus’ divine nature and attributes, his precise relationship to the Father (from an orthodox, trinitarian standpoint), etc. However interesting such speculation may be, and important in its own right, it goes far beyond the thought of the hymn—and, indeed, of Paul’s own thought (for the most part) all throughout his letters. The tensions between orthodox Christology and the language and imagery used in the hymn becomes even more pronounced in verse 7, as we shall see. It is vital that we keep close to the actual wording and syntax of the text, avoiding the temptation to read wider theological concerns into the passage. Indeed, we can see the importance of this disciplined approach as we turn to the second clause of v. 6, which we shall do in the next daily note.

October 12: Philippians 2:5

This series of daily notes, to run through October and into November, will focus on the “Christ hymns” in the New Testament—that is to say, the early Christian hymn-like confessions or creedal statement preserved in the Scriptures. The two most notable of these are found in Philippians 2:6-11 and Colossians 1:15-20. We will begin with the famous Christ-hymn in Philippians.

The origin and authorship of Phil 2:6-11 have been much debated by New Testament scholars; this will be discussed in more detail in a concluding note on the passage as a whole. The main argument against Pauline authorship is based on vocabulary—the presence of a number of rare words and expressions which are not found elsewhere in Paul’s letters, or are used in a somewhat different way. As an example, we may note in particular certain key words which occur only in Phil 2:6-11, and nowhere else in the New Testament:

    • morfh/ (“shape, form”, vv. 6-7)—elsewhere it occurs only in the ‘long ending’ of the Gospel of Mark (16:12); it is also rare in the LXX (8 occurrences). Other representatives of the morf– word-group do occur numerous times in the NT (including the Pauline letters).
    • a(rpagmo/$ (“seizing, something seized”, v. 6)
    • u(peruyo/w (“be high over”, v.9)—simple u(yo/w (“be high”) occurs 20 times in the NT, but only once in Paul’s letters (2 Cor 11:7)
    • kataxqo/nio$ (“under the ground”, v. 10)

Such arguments on authorship, based on vocabulary, are far from decisive, especially when dealing with a relatively small data set for comparison. However, they are significant enough that they must be taken seriously. Three main views on the authorship of Phil 2:6-11 are held by commentators:

    • It is a pre-Pauline hymn which Paul has adapted for use within his letter to the Philippians
    • It is a Pauline composition which utilizes traditional language and terminology
    • It is an original Pauline composition throughout, written as he composed the letter

Probably the first view is the one most commonly held by critical commentators today. However one judges the matter, it is of the utmost importance that the “Christ hymn” be studied within the context of its place in the letter. Because of its compelling Christological content, there has been a tendency to read the hymn out of context, as though it were intended as some kind of definitive Christological statement. The best starting point in this regard is to study carefully the wording Paul uses in verse 5, which introduces the hymn. For a brief study of the prior verses 1-4, cf. the recent article in the Monday Notes on Prayer series.

Philippians 2:5

“You must have this mind-set in you, which (was) also in (the) Anointed Yeshua…”

The key word in this introductory statement is the verb frone/w, which is derived from the noun frh/n (pl. fre/ne$), a term itself of uncertain derivation, but used to refer to a person’s inner organs. As such, the noun frh/n came to be used in a figurative sense for the mind—the thought, feelings, and emotions—of a person. The related verb frone/w fundamentally meant “use the mind, think”, but could also be used in the developed sense of “be of a certain mind (or attitude)”, “have a mind-set”, etc. In the New Testament, this verb is virtually a Pauline term, as 23 of the 26 occurrences are in the Pauline letters—most notably 9 times in Romans, and 10 times here in Philippians (also 1:7; 2:2 [twice]; 3:15 [twice], 19; 4:2, 10 [twice]). The occurrences in 1:7 and 2:2 should be used to establish its meaning and significance here in v. 5.

In 1:7, Paul uses the verb to affirm his common bond with the Philippian believers. Even when he is in prison away from them, he still thinks of them, holding them firmly in his mind; this is parallel to the idiom of “holding” them “in (his) heart“. This reflects the unity of believers in Christ—a central theme of the letter. As I discuss in the aforementioned Notes on Prayer study, Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian believers is framed in terms of a prayer-request made to God (1:9ff). His prayer for the Philippians corresponds with their prayers for him (vv. 19ff)—in both instances, the prayers by believers are focused on the needs of others. Such an approach demonstrates the ideal of unity, whereby believers support each other through an attitude of humility and self-sacrifice.

Though this unity of believers occurs fundamentally through the Spirit, the goal is that it should be realized (and demonstrated) in practical terms within the local community, or congregation, as well. Paul understood the challenge of this for local congregations, and so takes great pains to encourage and exhort the Philippian congregations to work toward the goal, with a unity of mind and purpose. This is the emphasis in 2:1-4, as the strong exhortation in vv. 1-2 makes clear; note in particular how the goal is phrased in verse 2:

“…that you should have the s(ame) mind, holding the s(ame) love, like souls (united) together, having one mind.”

Paul uses the verb frone/w twice in this verse, giving special emphasis to a unity of mind and attitude, that believers should share a common way of thinking. And what is this common way of thinking? It involves a willingness to put the needs of others above one’s own self-interest (vv. 3-4). It is this attitude of self-denial and self-sacrifice which Paul has in view in verse 5—an attitude which follows the example of Jesus himself. The force of the imperative fronei=te (“you must have the mind[set]”) is comparative: this (tou=to) mind-set that you should have is that which (o%) Jesus Christ had. The comparison is established by the relative clause: “…which (was) also in (the) Anointed Yeshua” (o^ kai\ e)n Xristw=|  )Ihsou=). The emphatic conjunctive particle kai/ (“and” = “also”) could also be rendered in context here as “even” – “which was even in the Anointed Yeshua” (i.e., within Jesus himself). Since believers are united with Jesus Christ (through the Spirit), it is natural that we would have the same mindset and way of thinking. However, this does not happen automatically; it requires a willingness, a receptivity, on our part, to be guided by the Spirit to live and act in a Christ-like manner. This the reason for Paul’s forceful and carefully argued exhortatory instruction, and helps us understand why he turns to the “Christ hymn” in vv. 6-11 to illustrate his argument.

In the next daily note, we will begin our study of the hymn as it begins in verse 6a.

September 24: Deuteronomy 32:43

Deuteronomy 32:43

The final lines in verse 42 bring the great “Song of Moses” to a close. The stanza functions as a refrain, serving as the climax to the entire poem; in particular, it builds upon the preceding couplets in verses 36-42 (discussed in the previous note) with their theme of YHWH’s judgment on humankind for its wickedness and idolatry (that is, worship of deities other than YHWH). The judgment is universal and applies to all people—the surrounding nations as well as His own people Israel. In verse 41 YHWH (figuratively) swears an oath that he will bring judgment against all those who are hostile to Him; and this promise of fulfillment, with the sword He has pointed (and holds firmly), is expressed graphically in verse 42:

“I will make my arrows drunk from blood,
and my sword, it will eat up (the) flesh—
from (the) blood of (those) pierced and taken captive,
and from (the) hairy head(s) of (the) hostile (one)s!”

The precise meaning of the last line is uncertain, but, in parallel with the prior line, it would seem to refer to the decapitation of enemy warriors (and/or their chieftains). In any case, it is a rather gory scene, doubtless a bit disturbing to our modern Christian sensibilities. However, what is important to remember is that the judgment described throughout the poem refers primarily to military attack—that is, God makes use of human armies to bring judgment on other peoples. Thus, as part of the realization of such judgment, it would not be at all uncommon to find evidence of bloody bodies pierced with the sword, along with actual heads cut off; such would have been typical of warfare in the ancient world.

When we turn to verse 43, we suddenly encounter a major textual difficulty. This is another example where the Masoretic text appears to be corrupt, in this instance due, it would seem, to a portion of the verse having dropped out. Here is the MT as it has come down to us (in translation):

“Cry out, O nations, (to) His people!
For he will take vengeance (for) the blood of His servants
and return vengeance to (the one)s hostile to Him,
and will wipe away [i.e. cleanse] His people’s land.”

Commentators have noticed the lack of poetic parallelism in the first lines, quite in contrast to the style and technique used consistently throughout the poem, and raising the possibility that the MT is incomplete. The bicolon parallelism is largely missing from v. 43, which, in the Masoretic Text, consists of 2 bicola (4 lines). Yet there is parallelism overlapping in the second and third cola, suggesting that there are perhaps two lines missing (just prior and after):

Make a shout (then), (you) nations, (for) His people,
{missing line?}
For He will take vengeance (for) the blood of His servants,
and return vengeance to (the one)s hostile to Him.
{missing line?}
and will wipe away [i.e. cleanse] His people’s land!”

Indeed, the Greek version is more complete, and, in part, this has been confirmed by the Qumran manuscript 4QDeutq, where v. 43 reads as follows (note the differences in italics):

“O heavens, cry out [i.e. rejoice] with Him!
Bow (down) to Him, all Mighty Ones [i.e. gods]!
For he will take vengeance (for) the blood of His sons,
and return vengeance to (the one)s hostile to Him,
He will treat those who reject Him (as they deserve),
and will wipe away [i.e. cleanse] His people’s land.”

The text of verse 43 in this Qumran MS has three bicola (6 lines), which much more accurately preserve the three-beat bicolon (3:3) strophic structure and parallelism characteristic of the rest of the poem. The Septuagint Greek is more expansive, which could indicate its secondary character. The first lines, in particular, appear to conflate (combine) the text from 4QDeutq and MT:

“Be of good mind [i.e. rejoice], O heavens, with Him,
and kiss toward [i.e. worship] Him, all (you) sons of God!
Be of good mind [i.e. rejoice], O nations, with His people,
and let all the Messengers of God strengthen themselves in Him!

Based on the evidence from the Septuagint, it is possible that the original text read “sons of the Mightiest” (<yh!ýa$ yn@B=, b®nê °E_lœhîm) rather than “Mighty Ones” (<yh!ýa$, °§lœhîm). The reading of the Septuagint for the first bicolon actually appears to be a conflation of two variant Hebrew versions, one corresponding to a text like 4QDeutq, and the other a precursor of the MT—resulting in four lines.

It is easy to see how the word <yh!ýa$ (°§lœhîm “gods”, LXX “sons of God”), along with the line containing it, might have dropped out or been omitted during the process of transmission. It could have been misunderstood as supporting polytheism in some way (i.e. the existence of other deities), even if here the plural <yh!ýa$ (°§lœhîm lit. “mighty ones”, in the sense of “divine beings”) is referring to heavenly beings (Messengers/Angels of YHWH) and not pagan deities as such. The LXX wording (“sons of God”) more accurately reflects the typical Hebrew usage in the Old Testament (see Psalm 29:1, etc; but note Psalm 97:7). In favor of the Septuagint reading is the close association of the nations and the deities (or Angels), such as we saw in what is likely the original reading of verse 8 (cf. the earlier note on this verse). Yet the Qumran text strikes me as being more precise and favorable to the ancient poetic (and religious) outlook. The call to the heavens also serves as a fitting conclusion, functioning as a parallel to the opening words of the poem (v. 1, “Give ear, O heavens…”).

Clearly, in the Qumran MS, divine/heavenly beings are being addressed. In the MT, and the second part of the conflate Septuagint text, it is the nations, who ‘belong’ to those divine beings, who are being addressed. In terms of the overall message of the poem, both aspects go hand in hand. However, if we adopt the text of 4QDeutq, with its emphasis on the relationship of YHWH to the other ‘deities’ (an aspect that is mitigated in the MT), then the coda of verse 43 actually functions effectively as a kind of summary of the entire poem:

    • Bicolon 1: Address to the heavens and divine/heavenly beings
      • Parallel to the opening address (vv. 1-3) and first section(s) of the poem, which establish the contrast between YHWH and the deities of the other nations (vv. 4-9ff)
    • Bicolon 2: Promise to pay back the suffering inflicted upon Israel (by other peoples) during the time of judgment
      • Parallel to the central sections focusing on Israel’s violation of the covenant, judgment upon them, and subsequent restoration (vv. 15-25ff)
    • Bicolon 3: The declaration of universal judgment on those who reject YHWH, with a promise of restoration/vindication for Israel
      • Parallel to the closing sections of the poem (vv. 26-42, esp. verses 36-42)


Finally, it is worth noting the relationship of the poem to the narration that follows in verses 44-47ff. It picks up the Deuteronomic narrative from where it left off (at the end of chapter 31), continuing with the same line of thought. The purpose (and importance) of the poem is re-stated, setting it in context with the book of Deuteronomy as a whole. The “all these words” and “this Instruction” refer to everything recorded in the book of Deuteronomy—all of Moses’ discourses to the people, together with the poem of chapter 32—all of which is aimed at exhorting the people to be loyal to the covenant with YHWH, adhering to the terms of the covenant, outlined in the Instruction (tôrâ, Torah):

“…You should charge your sons [i.e. children] to watch [i.e. take care] to do all the words [i.e. everything as it is stated] in this Instruction.”

According to the ancient Near Eastern religious-cultural mindset, abiding by the terms of the covenant was of the utmost importance (for more on this, cf. the current articles on the Covenant in the series “The People of God”). Violation of them was thought to result (potentially) in terrible consequences, including death and destruction, suffering and disease, etc—the judgment of God (or the divine powers) released upon those who break the agreement. This is expressed most clearly in the vivid and graphic language of the poem (see above), but also in the closing words of the narrative here:

“For (indeed) it is not an empty word for you—it (is) your (very) life! and by this word you will lengthen (your) days upon the land which you are crossing over the Yarden {Jordan} there to possess.”

That is to say, if the people of Israel (and their descendants) will adhere faithfully to the Instruction, the terms of the covenant, then they will live long and secure in their Promised Land.

September 23: Deuteronomy 32:36-42

Deuteronomy 32:36-42

These verses continue the themes from the previous sections, blending together two aspects of YHWH’s judgment against the wickedness and idolatry of humankind: (1) His judgment against His people Israel (vv. 19-25, discussed in a prior note), and (2) the judgment against the other Nations (vv. 32-35, cf. the previous note). Both sides of the judgment are combined here. The basis, or reason for the judgment, in each instance, is given in vv. 15-18 and 26-31, respectively.

Wickedness is defined primarily in terms of idolatry—which, according the religious/theological standpoint of Deuteronomy, simply means acknowledgement and worship of any deity other than YHWH. While not stated expressly, the basic premise is that these other deities (<yh!ýa$, “mighty [one]s”) have no real existence; certainly, they do not have the power which the true Creator God (El-Yahweh) possesses. A mocking polemic against polytheism is very much present throughout the Song, though it has not yet reached the sharp level it would in the subsequent Prophetic tradition.

Verse 36

Indeed, YHWH will make judgment (for) His people,
and obtain relief Himself over His servants.

This initial couplet provides the joining point for the two aspects of the judgment noted above. It plays on a dual-sense for both verbs /yD! (“judge, make/bring judgment”) and <j^n`. The latter verb has a semantic range that is difficult to capture in English; the basic meaning is something like “find relief”, in a more literal sense being roughly comparable to the English idiom “take a deep breath”. It is often used in a transferred, figurative sense, for the resolution of a point of conflict or tension; here the judicial aspect is prominent—e.g., of a plaintiff receiving relief or satisfaction for a wrong or crime committed against him. Both verbs can be understood here in terms of YHWH’s judgment against Israel, for their blatant violations of the covenant (vv. 15-25), but also of judgment on behalf of Israel—i.e., against the other nations. Both aspects are woven through the following lines.

Verses 37-38

For He shall see, when (their) hand goes away,
and (they are at) an end, closed up and abandoned;
and He shall say, “Where (are) their ‘Mighty (One)s’,
(the) ‘Rock’ in (who)m they sought protection,
(the ones) who ‘ate’ (the) fat of their slaughterings,
(who) ‘drank’ (the) wine of their (offering)s poured out?
May they stand up and help you (now)!
Let (them) be a covering [i.e. protection] over you!”

God does bring judgment against His people; but then, when they have been defeated and are helpless, having endured the proper punishment, He finally moves to act again on their behalf. The way this judgment is framed here implies that Israel has effectively become just like the other nations, trusting in other deities rather than YHWH. They meet with a comparable fate for such ‘idolatry’; only at the brink of destruction will they come to realize their folly. This is expressed in terms of a taunt by YHWH, condemning (and mocking) His people for trusting in other deities. This taunt in verse 37ff is part of the announcement of judgment on the nations that shapes the remaining lines:

He [i.e. YHWH] will say, “Where are their ‘Mighty Ones’,
the ‘Rock’ in whom they sought protection …?”

This expresses again the principle that the deities worshiped by the nations are not “Mighty” (la@ °E~l, i.e. God) in the same sense that YHWH is. The distinction between them and YHWH is made all the more clear by use of the divine title rWx (“Rock”), which was used specifically to identify YHWH as Israel’s God (emphasizing the special covenant-bond between them) in vv. 4, 15, 18.

Verse 39

Even more pointed is the declaration in verse 39:

“See then that I—I am He
and there are no ‘Mighty Ones’ with me!
I cause death, and I give life,
I smashed, and I will heal—
and there is no one snatching from my hand!”

While it would be a mistake to read this as a statement of absolute monotheism, it does point in that direction. Certainly it reflects the principle expressed in the first command of the Decalogue, which is central to Israelite monotheism (Exod 20:2-3; Deut 5:6-7). It is never quite stated in Deuteronomy that the deities of the surrounding nations do not exist, only that they are not comparable to YHWH and do not have anything like the same power or nature (Deut 3:24, etc). God’s ultimate judgment on the surrounding nations is essentially a condemnation of their deities, and a demonstration of their weakness compared to YHWH. Indeed, it is clear from the second bicolon (and concluding colon) in verse 39 that only YHWH truly has the power to give life and take it away (i.e. through the disasters to come in time of Judgment):

(For) I bring death and give life,
I smashed (them) and I will heal

Verses 40-41

“For I lift my hand to (the) heavens,
and I say: ‘(As) I live, (in)to (the) distant (future),
if I should point my flashing sword,
and my hand take firm hold in judgment,
I will return vengeance for the (one)s hostile (to) me,
and for the (one)s hating me I will complete (it in turn)!'”

A final thought in the poem—a warning to all people—is that YHWH’s judgment is universal, it applies both to the nations and also to His own people Israel when they violate the covenant (v. 41b, see also v. 43 below). This announcement is framed as a formal/solemn vow or oath, using the traditional convention of raising one’s hand and uttering a binding oath formula (“As I live…”, “By my life…”). It emphasizes that YHWH will bring judgment against those who are hostile (rx^) to Him and who “hate” Him (vb an~v*). The idea of hostility/hatred toward God is simply another way of referring to the acknowledgement/worship of deities other than YHWH; but it also implies a connection between ‘idolatry’ and other sorts of wickedness and violence (cp. Paul’s discussion in Romans 1:18-32).

The vengeance-language in verse 41a echoes that used earlier in v. 35a (cf. the previous note). I discussed the use of the verb <l^v* there, translating it in the fundamental sense of “make whole”; here I have shifted the translation slightly, to capture the sense of reciprocal punishment, with the idea that the hostility directed toward YHWH will be turned back upon the wicked. I render the verb above as “(make) complete”, that is, to complete the hostility of the wicked by bringing upon them the proper punishment that is due.

This idea of reciprocity is important, and is central, indeed, to the ancient covenant idea—punishment is made according to the nature and mode of the crime, the violation being “paid back” in kind. The closing bicola of verse 42 offer a final, graphic expression of the divine Judgment. I will discuss v. 42, along with the concluding lines of the Song (verse 43), in the next daily note.

September 22: Deuteronomy 32:32-35

Deuteronomy 32:32-35

This stanza, or section, of the Song of Moses (Deut 32) represents an early precursor of the “Day of YHWH” theme that would become so prominent in the judgment- and nation-oracles of the Prophets. The “Day of YHWH” refers to a time when God (YHWH) will bring judgment on a particular nation or people. Originally, the concept was not eschatological, but eventually it came to have that orientation—as a time, at the end of the current Age, when God would judge all the nations together. Here, this early form of the idea simply signifies, in a general sense, a divine punishment that will soon befall the various nations, for their wickedness and idolatry. If the poem earlier referred to YHWH’s judgment against His people Israel, it is affirmed now that the other peoples will also be judged, and even more severely. Even for those nations whom God made use of to punish Israel, they will be judged and punished in turn.

Many of the motifs in this section came to be traditional Judgment-motifs which would be used subsequently in prophetic oracles, and in developed eschatological/apocalyptic writings such as the book of Revelation (cf. below).

The stanza of vv. 32-35 is perhaps the clearest and most consistent poetically in the entire poem. It consists of 6 couplets (12 lines), which, with only slight variation, have a 3-beat (3+3) bicolon format throughout. Thematically, the stanza can be divided rather neatly into two parts, of 3 couplets each.

Verses 32-33 (couplets 1-3)

“Indeed, their vine (is) from (the) vine of Sodom,
and from (the cultivated) fields of ‘Amorah;
their grapes (are) grapes of (deadly) poison,
clusters of (fierce) bitterness for them;
(the) hot (venom) of serpents (is) their wine,
and (the) cruel poison of twisting (snake)s!”

The primary motif in these couplets is the grape-vine (and wine) as a symbol of judgment. The visual similarity of dark-red grape juice to blood made it an obvious figure for death and destruction—whether or not literal bloodshed was involved (Prov 4:17, etc). It came to be used as a traditional symbol for God’s judgment against humankind—cf. Psalm 75:9 [8]; Isa 51:17; Jer 25:15-16; Lam 4:21; Ezek 23:31-34. The harvest itself similarly came to serve as a figure for the Judgment that will occur at the end of the current Age (Matt 3:12 par; 13:36-43, etc), and the grape-harvest was an especially appropriate metaphor in this regard, evoking the image of flowing blood and a blood-stained ground (Joel 3:13). Related is the motif of the drinking-cup (a cup of wine) which could symbolize a person’s fate or destiny (Isa 65:11), especially if it involved suffering or death (Mk 10:38-39; 14:23f, 36 pars, and note the Old Testament passages cited above). The book of Revelation makes extensive (and memorable) use of all this imagery—14:8, 10, 17-20; 16:19; 17:1ff; 18:6ff.

The tradition of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) was a very specific type-pattern for God’s judgment on the nations, as well as symbolic of human wickedness in general (cf. Amos 4:11; Isa 3:9; 13:19; Jer 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Lam 4:6; Ezek 16:46ff; Zeph 2:9). The reference in Isa 1:9-10 occurs in a context similar to that of the poem here (cf. also Deut 29:23). Subsequently in Jewish and early Christian tradition, Sodom and Gomorrah continued as type-pattern for the end-time Judgment (Matt 10:15 par; 11:23-24; Luke 17:29; 2 Pet 2:6; Jude 7; Rev 11:8); however, it must be noted again that, here in the poem, the focus is not eschatological.

The specific figure of poisonous wine indicates an especially harsh or painful punishment. Three different terms are used to describe this:

    • v[a]or (rôš), which would seem to refer to a particular kind of poisonous plant, and thus to the idea of “poison” generally. It is used twice, in lines 3 and 6 respectively.
    • hr*r)m= (m®rœrâ), line 4, meaning “bitterness” —i.e., the bitter taste that is characteristic of poison.
    • hm*j@ (µ¢mâ), line 5, which literally means “heat”, but in such a context indicates the burning affect of poison; the venom of a poisonous snake is specifically in mind.
Verses 34-35 (couplets 4-6)

“Is it not stored away with me,
sealed among my stored (treasure)s?
Vengeance for me and making whole,
at (the) time their foot slips (away)!
For (indeed) (the) day of affliction (is) close,
and what (is) prepared for them rushes (near)!”

If the first three couplets of this stanza describe God’s punishment on the nations under the figure of wine, the idea in the last three couplets is of the wine (that is, the judgment) ultimately being poured out. The specific image of pouring is only implied here; in other passages this is made more explicit (cf. the prophetic oracles cited above, also Rev 14:10; 16:1ff). However, we clearly have the idea that the wine (of judgment) is stored away for use (where it will be ‘poured’ out on the nations), in the treasure-rooms of YHWH’s palace. On the important motif of the opening of something stamped with a seal (here indicated by the verb <t^j*), see the visions in Revelation 5:1-8:5. The eschatological aspect of this motif is derived largely from Daniel 12:4.

The precise meaning of the verb pair <L@v!w+ <q*n` in v. 35a is difficult to capture and render in English. The root <qn fundamentally means “avenge, take revenge”, that is, for an injustice that has occurred. By doing so, a person essentially makes the situation right again; this latter aspect is indicated by the verb <l^v*, for which the basic meaning is something like “make whole“. While this sort of vengeance-concept is generally foreign to our Christian sensibilities, it is very much part of the thought-world of the ancient Near East, and occurs quite frequently in the Old Testament. The fundamental idea here is that the divine judgment (punishment) brings recompense and correction to the wickedness exhibited by humankind.

The time when this judgment on a particular nation will occur is signified by the moment when their “foot slips”. This idiom refers to the experience of calamity and misfortune, following a period of strength (that is, when their feet were set firm/secure on the ground). Such misfortune (indicated by the use of the noun dya@ in the final couplet) is to be attributed to the sovereign will and action of God. The judgment comes suddenly (and unexpectedly), being, in fact, closer to the wicked/foolish nation than was ever realized (it was something already “prepared” [dyt!u*] for them). The parallelism of the final couplet captures this wonderfully, by combining the idea of the judgment being near (adj. borq*) and of rushing (i.e., hurrying, vb vWj) toward the people.