Notes on Prayer: Philippians 1:3-11

Philippians 1:3-11

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, his references to prayer follow the familiar pattern we have noted in his other letters (esp. 1 Thessalonians). The focus on prayer is a prominent element of the introduction (exordium) portion, in which Paul offers thanks to God for the believers whom he is addressing (here, in Philippi):

“I give thanks to my God for (His) good favor upon every remembrance of you, (at) every time and in every need [de/hsi$] of mine (expressed to God) over all of you, with joy making the need [de/hsi$] (known)…” (vv. 3-4)

Prayer is defined here (as it frequently is by Paul) in terms of making one’s need (de/hsi$) known to God. As Paul does this, he makes mention (bringing to mind/memory, mnei/a) of the believers in the congregations where he has worked as a missionary (such as in Philippi). Indeed, many of the requests he makes to God are “over” (peri/, i.e., on behalf of) these believers. This is an important point of emphasis that we have noted repeatedly in these studies—how the focus of one’s prayers ought to be for the needs of others, at least much (or more) than for our own needs.

Part of Paul’s focus in prayer, and which features prominently in the letter-introductions, is that the believers for whom he prays will continue to grow in faith and Christian virtue. Just as they responded to his initial preaching of the Gospel, so he asks that they will continue to respond:

“…upon your common-bond in the good message, from the first day until now, having been persuaded of this very (thing), that the (One hav)ing begun in you a good work will complete (it) until (the) day of (the) Anointed Yeshua” (vv. 5-6)

As is typically the case, Paul frames this faithfulness of believers in eschatological terms. Given the fact that first-century Christians almost universally evinced an imminent eschatology, this is hardly surprising. The “day of Christ Jesus” —that is, the day when he will return to earth to usher in the Judgment—was expected to come very soon, within the life-time of believers.

In the expression e)pi\ th=| koinwni/a|, the preposition e)pi/ (“upon, about”) should probably be understood in a causal sense (i.e., because of); in English idiom, we might say, “on the grounds of”. The noun koinwni/a is a fundamental word used to express the unity (common-bond, community) of believers (cf. Acts 2:42; 1 Jn 1:3ff), and is used with some frequency by Paul (13 of the 19 NT occurrences are in the undisputed Pauline letters). This “common bond” is defined in terms of the Gospel (“good message, good news”). As is often the case in the New Testament, the noun eu)agge/lion is used in a comprehensive sense, extending from believers’ initial response to the Gospel preaching until the present moment (“from the first day until now”).

The “common bond” between believers can also be viewed in the specific (local) context of the relationship between Paul and the Philippian congregations. In this regard, Paul gives thanks for the Philippians’ continued support for his missionary work; this support certainly includes their prayers for him (v. 19). We have discussed this aspect of Paul’s prayer-references in the previous studies.

It is Paul himself who is persuaded (vb pei/qw) of the fact that God is faithful and will complete the work begun among the Philippian believers. As believers, we also have to do our part, remaining committed to the Gospel (and the common-bond of unity), following the example of Jesus (2:5-6ff), and allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit (2:1ff).

Following the thanksgiving of vv. 3-6, Paul shifts to address the Philippian congregations directly in vv. 7-8:

“Even so it is right for me to have this mind-set over all of you, through my holding you in the heart—both in my bonds and in the account (I give) and (the) confirmation of the good message—all of you being my common partners of the favor (of God). For God (is) my witness, how I long after all of you with (the) inner organs [spla/gxna] of (the) Anointed Yeshua.”

Paul says that it is right (di/kaio$) and proper for him to hold this view regarding the Philippians, because they have already demonstrated their faith and commitment to the Gospel. Indeed, they continue to support Paul through the difficulties and travails of his mission-work, even to the point where he has been imprisoned (“in my bonds”). The noun sugkoinwno/$ (“common [partner] together”) is, of course, related to koinwni/a, and reflects a more active and direct manifestation of the “common bond” of Christian unity—in terms of participation and cooperation in the Christian mission. The bond of unity is also an emotional bond, as Paul describes how he “longs for” the Philippian believers, with a longing that reflects the very “inner organs” (spec. intestines, as the seat of emotion) of Christ himself. This longing is further manifest in Paul’s prayers for the Philippians:

“And this I speak out toward (God) [proseu/xomai]: that your love still more and more would abound, with (full) knowledge and all perception, unto your giving consideration (to) the (thing)s carrying through (as pleasing to God), (so) that you would be shining like the sun, and without striking (your foot) against (a stone), until (the) day of (the) Anointed” (vv. 9-10)

Paul essentially repeats his confident hope (and wish) from verse 6 (cf. above), regarding the Philippians being ‘made complete’ in anticipation of the return of Christ (“the day of [the] Anointed”). The Christian growth in virtue is understood in relation to the fundamental ethical principle of love (a)ga/ph), and it is  this ‘love principle’ (or ‘love command,’ cf. Rom 13:8-10, etc) that informs Paul’s ethical instruction and exhortation in the body of the letter (beginning at 2:1ff). If the love of Christians continues to grow and abound (vb perisseu/w), then all other important aspects of Christian life will follow. The ultimate goal of this growth is expressed through the rather colorful pair of adjectives: ei)likrinh/$ (“shining like the sun”) and a)pro/skopo$. The latter term literally means something like “without striking/dashing against,” which, as an idiom, relates to the idea of striking one’s foot against a stone (and thus falling); in simpler English, we would say “without stumbling”. The promise of being made complete in Christ is summarized more succinctly in verse 11 as “having been filled (with the) fruit of righteousness”. How often do make such a prayer—that our fellow believers would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness”?

This interrelationship between Paul and the Philippian congregations continues to be a key point of emphasis throughout the remainder of the exordium. Paul prays for the Philippians’ continued growth in the Gospel, while they are to pray for him in his continued mission-work of preaching the Gospel. The latter is the focus in vv. 19-26, while the former is emphasized in vv. 27-30. His prayer for the Philippians is expressed as an exhortation to them, marking a transition to the ethical instruction in chapters 2-4:

“Only as it comes up (to the level) of the good message of the Anointed, may you live as a citizen…” (v. 27)

The verb politeu/omai (lit. something like “live as a citizen”) refers, in a comprehensive sense, to a person’s daily life and conduct. The exhortation means that this does not happen automatically for believers—it requires commitment and attention on our behalf. The power to achieve this measure of growth, and to realize the ideal of unity, does, however, come from God (and His Spirit); if we are faithful, and allow God’s work to proceed in our hearts and lives, then we will be made complete. Indeed, Paul’s prayer is that the Philippians would be faithful in this regard; let us, too, make such prayer on behalf of our fellow believers, asking (together with Paul):

“…that you stand in one spirit, with a single soul striving together in the trust of the Gospel”


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.

Notes on Prayer: Philippians 2:1-4

Philippians 2:1-4

Paul frequently uses the language of prayer in the exhortatory sections of his letters, framing the exhortation to believers in terms of a wish or request which he would make to God. The customary verb for prayer in the New Testament is proseu/xomai, a compound middle deponent verb from eu&xw + the prefixed preposition pro/$ (“toward”). Fundamentally, in a religious context, it means “speak out toward (God)”. However, when referring to a specific request made to God, often the noun de/hsi$ is used, even as Paul does at a number of points in his letters—see especially here in Philippians (1:4, 19; 4:6). At 4:6 he uses proseuxh/, related to the aforementioned verb, together with de/hsi$; the former denotes the act of speaking to God, the latter the specific request(s) being made. In 1:9, Paul clearly states that he prays to God on behalf of the Philippian believers, with his specific request—the goal and purpose of his prayer—being:

“…that your love would go over (and above), more and more, in (deep) knowledge and all insight”

This love which is manifest in wisdom and understanding—the true knowledge of God—is characteristic of the believer who is complete; and it is Paul’s fervent wish that all believers would come to be complete in Christ (cf. verses 10-11). It is not just a question of the character and development of the individual believer, but also of believers in community, united together as the body of Christ. This is realized in the Spirit, but the goal is for such unity to be demonstrated within the local community—the congregation or local group(s) of believers—as well. Paul’s experience in founding and guiding congregations, however, had taught him all too well that it can be a most difficult (and at times painful) process to see this ideal of unity in the Spirit realized within the local congregation at a practical level. He very much has this challenge in mind as he begins his line of discussion in chapter 2.

Though prayer is not mentioned, as such, in 2:1-4, there can be no doubt that Paul’s exhortation here is fully in keeping with the prayer-request expressed in 1:9ff. He re-emphasizes his wish for unity among believers in 2:1-2:

“(So) then, if (there is) any calling alongside in (the) Anointed, if any impulse of love alongside, if (there is) any common bond of the Spirit, if any entrails (of compassion) and (feeling)s of mercy, you must make full my delight, (in) that you should be of the s(ame) mind, holding the s(ame) love, like souls (united) together, being of one mind…”

Paul understood that the sort of unity he desires for believers requires a willingness to sacrifice one’s own interests for the good of others. This kind of self-denial, an attitude of meekness and humility, is part of the active work of the Spirit in and among believers (the “fruit of the Spirit”, Gal 5:22-23ff), but it requires a receptivity on the part of the believer, a willingness to be guided and transformed by the Spirit of God and Christ (Gal 5:16, 25, etc). For this reason, Paul introduces in verse 3 the ideal of a unifying humility among believers in Christ:

“…(with) nothing (done) according to selfish work [e)riqei/a], and not according to (a desire for) empty esteem [kenodoci/a], but with a lowliness of mind [tapeinofrosu/nh] (you should) be (one)s leading (by) holding others over themselves”

The syntax of the last phrase, in particular, is difficult to render literally in English; but the goal clearly is for believers to conduct themselves in a manner that puts the interests of other believers (in the community) over their own. This point is elucidated in verse 4:

“…(with) each (person) not looking at the (thing)s of himself [i.e. his own things], but (instead) each (person should look at) the (thing)s of others.”

How often do we pray in this manner—for the needs of others rather than our own needs? It is, however, a fundamental principle of Christian prayer in the New Testament, as discussed in recent notes in this series. A prayer for the needs of others more properly reflects the Spirit of God at work in us (cf. the previous study on Rom 8:26-27), and we can be confident indeed that such a prayer, under the guidance of the Spirit, will be answered by God.

This brief study on Phil 2:1-4 is preparatory, in certain respects, to a series of daily notes I am now beginning on the famous “Christ hymn” of 2:6-11. I recommend that you follow along with these notes, as they will help to expound and illustrate the teaching and exhortation Paul gives here in vv. 1-4. Verse 5 is transitional in this regard, and this is where the series of critical and exegetical notes on the passage will begin.

Birth of the Son of God: Philippians 2:6-11

“God sent His Son”

An important aspect of the Birth of the Son of God (the theme of these Christmas season notes) is the idea of God (the Father) sending Jesus. For a key reference in early Christian preaching, see Acts 3:26 (v. 20 apparently being to Jesus’ future appearance). It also appears numerous times related to Jesus’ earthly ministry (in his own words, as preserved in Gospel tradition)—Mark 9:37 par; Matt 15:24; Luke 4:18 (citing Isa 61:1), 43; 10:16—often in the specific context of salvation (cf. Acts 13:26). In the sayings of Jesus, there is a (reciprocal) parallel to his sending of the disciples (Mark 9:37 par; Lk 10:16; John 13:20; 17:18ff; 20:21, also Matt 10:16; Lk 10:3; 22:35; Jn 4:38). In the Gospel of John, there are dozens of instances where Jesus refers to himself (or “the Son”) being sent by the Father (several of which have already been mentioned):

Jn 4:34; 5:23-24, 30, 36-37; 6:38-39, 44, 57; 7:16, 18, 28-29, 33; 8:16, 18, 26, 29, 42; 9:4; 10:36; 11:42; 12:42-45, 49; 13:16, 30; 14:24; 15:21; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25; 20:21

A number of these strongly suggest divine pre-existence of the Son (cf. Jn 1:1ff; 8:58), while others indicate, at the very least, being sent prior to his (human) birth.

Among the most important references to Jesus (as God’s Son) being sent are Galatians 4:4 and Romans 8:3, both of which have been discussed in detail in prior notes (cf. in Advent season and on “Paul’s view of the Law in Romans” [soon to be posted here]):

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…” (Gal 4:4)

o( qeo\$ to\n e(autou= ui(o\n pe/mya$ e)n o(moiw/mati sarko\$ a(marti/a$ kai\ peri\ a(marti/a$ kate/krinen th\n a(marti/an e)n th=| sarki/, i%na to\ dikai/wma tou= no/mou plhrwqh=| e)n h(mi=n
“…God, sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us” (Rom 8:3b-4a)

 There is a similar passage in John 3:16-17 and the parallel 1 John 4:9-10 (v. 14) which also emphasize Jesus’ sacrificial (and salvific) death—God sends his Son as Savior, through his death and resurrection. Indeed, according to at least one strand of early Gospel preaching (as preserved in the book of Acts), it is specifically through his resurrection (and exaltation) that Jesus was understood to be ‘born’ as Son of God (see esp. the use of Psalm 2:7 in Acts 13:32-33). These two aspects—his death and resurrection—provide the defining structure to the so-called “Christ hymn” of Philippians 2:6-11.

Philippians 2:6-11

This famous passage, which, according to the view of many scholars, is part of an earlier hymn that Paul makes use of in his letter, begins with Jesus’ divine status/position/nature in verse 6—”beginning under [i.e. being/subsisting] in the form of God [e)n morfh=| qeou=]”. It is not possible to examine this difficult phrase in detail, but it certainly indicates some manner of pre-existence. The second phrase of the verse is even more problematic (and controversial), but I interpret the basic idea to be that Jesus did not take the opportunity of seizing equality (lit. “did not lead seizure [for himself] to be equal”) to God—which can be understood several different ways (cf. my earlier note on this passage). More important in terms of Paul’s purpose is the fact that Jesus willingly “emptied [e)ke/nwsen] himself”—a kind of self-sacrifice, referred to in theology as kenosis (from Greek ke/no$, “empty”). This is connected to the doctrine of incarnation—the divine Christ/Son taking on human form, which, of course, cannot be separated from the reality of his (human) birth. Note the phrases which follow in vv. 7-8:

  • morfh\n dou/lou la/bwn “taking the form of a slave” (par. to “the form of God” in v. 6)
  • e)n o(moiw/mati a)nqrw/pwn geno/meno$coming to be in the likeness of men” (note the similar use of gi/nomai as in Jn 1:14; Gal 4:4; Rom 1:3, and of “likeness [o(moi/wma]” in Rom 8:3)
    kai\ sxh/mati eu(reqei\$ w($ a&nqrwpo$ “and being found having (the) shape/appearance as a man”
  • geno/meno$ u(ph/koo$ me/xri qana/toucoming to be obedient [lit. hearing under] until death…” (v. 8)

The clause “he lowered himself” (e)tapei/nwsen e(auto\n) beginning verse 8 is parallel to “he emptied himself” (e(auto\n e)ke/nwsen) at the start of verse 7. In traditional theological/christological language, this emptying/lowering is referred to as the humiliation of Christ—the first of two so-called “states of Christ”. It is followed by the second state—his exaltation—in vv. 9-11:

  • V. 9a: “God lifted/raised him high” (o( qeo\$ au)to\n u(peru/ywsen)
    —V. 9b: “and showed favor [e)xari/sato] to him (with) the name th(at is) over every name”
  • V. 10-11: this powerful compound clause depicts Jesus’ exalted status in heaven—as ruler/judge

There is a clear Christological chiasm expressed in these verses—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

Phil 2:9-11 shows the importance of Jesus’ name and titles—which, according to the ancient/traditional mindset, indicate and represent his essential identity. In this regard, the name and titles used in the Lukan Infancy narratives are especially significant:

  • Jesus/Yeshua ( )Ihsou=$)—v. 10; Luke 1:31; 2:21 (cf. Matt 1:21 for the traditional etymological association with salvation)
  • Lord (ku/rio$)—traditionally used to render YHWH, and almost certainly the “name” granted to Jesus in vv. 9-10; cf. Luke 1:43, 76; 2:11
  • Son of God (o( ui(o\$ qeou=)—Luke 1:32, 35; not used in Phil 2:6-11, but note the parallel to Gal 4:4; Rom 1:3-4 and the general context of vv. 6, 9
  • Anointed (xristo/$)—Luke 2:11 (also v. 26); note the traditional juxtaposition of “Anointed” and Jesus/Yeshua at the end of v. 5, right before vv. 6-11 (the relative pronoun o%$ [“who”] at the start of v. 6 refers specifically to “[the] Anointed Yeshua”)

Finally, it is worth noting the association of the expression “coming to be (born) of a woman” (Gal 4:4; cf. similar use of gi/nomai [“come to be”] in Rom 1:3; Jn 1:14 and here in Phil 2:7) in terms of the suffering of the human condition, including a specific connection with sin. This is a most sensitive point, to be discussed in upcoming notes. In Phil 2:6-11, this is referred to under the common Pauline motive of slavery (“taking the form of a slave“, v. 7). Consider the parallel (and at least partly synonymous) expressions:

  • “under the Law” (Gal 4:4)—”God sent forth his Son, coming to be… under the Law”
  • “in the likeness of flesh of sin” (Rom 8:3)—”…sending His own Son in the likeness of flesh of sin” (cf. also 2 Cor 5:21)

However we may interpret these difficult passages—i.e. in terms of the connection between Jesus’ incarnate human nature and sin—they must be understood primarily from the standpoint of Jesus’ sacrificial and atoning death. This is also the context of the occurrence of genna/w (“come to be born”, cognate with gi/nomai) in John 18:37, in his dialogue with Pilate prior to the crucifixion (cf. the recent discussion): “unto this have I come to be (born), and unto this have I come into the world.” Here, as in several other passages which we have looked at in these Christmas season notes, the birth and death of the Son of God come together—two sides of the same Gospel message.

The Birth of Jesus and the Christ Hymn of Phil 2:6-11

In a prior Christmas season article, I discussed the two passages in the Pauline Epistles (Rom 1:3-4, Gal 4:4-5) which refer in some way to the birth of Jesus. Today I will look very briefly at another passage dealing with what we would call the Incarnation of Christ: the so-called Christ-hymn in Philippians 2:6-11. If the birth of Jesus proper is hardly mentioned (outside of Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2) in the New Testament, there are a few more references to the idea of Christ’s incarnation—that is, of his becoming human, or of taking on human flesh.

The best-known and most prominent passage is the ‘prologue’ to the Gospel of John (Jn 1:1-18), itself a kind of ‘Christ-hymn’; see especially v. 14—”and the Word [lo/go$] became flesh and set up tent [i.e. dwelt] in/among us”. Note also Romans 8:3f: “for the Law (being) powerless, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in (the) likeness of sinful flesh, judged against sin in the flesh, that the justice of the Law might be (ful)filled in us”; and cf. 1 Tim 3:16; 1 Pet 4:1, etc.

Philippians 2:6-11 is generally called a hymn, and is often thought to be an earlier (non-Pauline) composition which Paul quotes here. Aspects of the vocabulary, style, and theology of these verses have been considered unusual enough in comparison with that of the (undisputed) Pauline Letters as a whole. However, if it is an earlier hymn, Paul has carefully adapted and integrated it, for many words and phrases and ideas are echoed already in vv. 1-5.

The Christ-hymn is actually extremely difficult to translate, especially the first half (vv. 6-8); but even in verse 5, there are difficulties—the syntax surrounding the verb (tou=to fronei=teo^), and the relation of e)n u(mi=n to e)n Xristw=|. The text as it stands would normally be rendered something like: “have this mind in [i.e. among] you which also/even (was) in Christ Jesus”. Occasionally it is understood with the sense of “have the (same) mind among your(selves) which (you have) in Christ Jesus”, but this seems contrary to thrust of the hymn the verse introduces.

I will be focusing specifically on verse 7, in the context of the vv. 6-8 (the first half of the hymn). However, as these verses are especially rife with difficulties, it is necessary to make a few exegetical notes here:

  • e)n morfh=| qeou= (“in [the] form of God”)—the precise meaning of this phrase is disputed, particularly in light of: (a) the phrase i&sa qew=| (“equal with God”), and (b) the parallel morfh/ dou/lou (“[the] form of a slave”) in v. 7. Conceptually, the “form” could imply: (i) the essential shape (i.e. the divine “nature”), (ii) the ‘visible’ appearance (i.e. the energy/power/glory of God). Probably the latter is more likely, to allow some distinction with i&sa qew=|.
  • u(pa/rxwn—the verb u(pa/rxw fundamentally means “begin to be (in/under etc)”, with the nuance of “being”, “existing”, “being present”, “belonging”, and so forth. A key question here is whether the emphasis is on divine existence (and pre-existence) as such or on existing in a particular condition. It is a subtle distinction, perhaps, but the latter is probably more accurate.
  • a(rpagmo\n h(gh/sato—this phrase, and its relation to what follows, has been hotly debated. The verb h(ge/omai literally means to “lead (out)”, sometimes in the sense of “bring (something) to mind”. The rare noun a(rpagmo/$ is a “seizing (by force)”. There have been four principal interpretations of this phrase, in connection with to\ ei@nai i&sa qew=|:
    • 1. “he did not consider it robbery to be equal to God”, that is, because he was, in fact, equal to God. This has been popular as an orthodox christological statement, but it seems quite foreign to the rest of the hymn. In particular, it generally disregards the adversative a)lla\ at the start of verse 7.
    • 2. “he did not consider being equal to God as something to be seized”—in other words, though he was in the “form” of God (i.e. divine), he would not attempt to be “equal” to God. This would seem to be the more natural sense of the words, and can be understood in a more (or less) orthodox sense as the case may be.
    • 3. “he did not think being equal to God was something to use for (his own) advantage”—this treats a(rpagmo\n h(gh/sato as a particular idiom implying opportunity/advantage, something like the English expression “seize the opportunity”. An interpretation along these lines is becoming more popular among commentators today. Like #1, it treats “in the form of God” as synonymous with “equal to God”
    • 4. Another popular modern interpretation holds that these verses have nothing to do with the deity or pre-existence of Christ, but rather reflect an Adam-Christ typology (as in Rom 5 and 1 Cor 15)—i.e., even though Jesus was in the image/form of God (like Adam) he did not wish to be like/equal to God Himself (unlike Adam), cf. Genesis 3. This, however, seems to read too much into the text; while there may echoes of such a motif in verse 6, it is harder to maintain throughout the hymn.
  • to\ ei@nai i&sa qew=| (“to be equal to/with God”)—as indicated above, much depends on whether this phrase is meant to be equivalent to “in the form of God”, or something quite distinct and separate from it. In any event, a parallelism is clearly intended (whether synonymous or contrasting):

e)n morfh=| qeou= u(pa/rxwn (‘being’ in [the] form of God)

ou)x a(rpagmo\n h(gh/sato (he did not bring ‘seizing’ [it to mind])

to\ ei@nai i&sa qew=| ([the] being equal to God)

Verses 7-8 follow and are subordinate to v. 6. 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!)

As in v. 6, there are several problematic words and phrases in verse 7:

  • 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 (by force), perhaps in the sense indicated above—of not using the divine nature for his own advantage.
  • e)ke/nwsen (“emptied”)—the force of the verb here has been debated for centuries, principally whether it is: (a) metaphysical, emptying himself of the divine nature/identity (in some sense), or (b) metaphorical, humbling himself by taking on the human condition. The parallel with verse 8 (“emptied”/”lowered”) would suggest the latter (b).
  • morfh\n dou/lou labw/n (“taking/receiving [the] form of a slave”)—the phrase is clearly meant to contrast with e)n morfh=| qeou= (“in [the] form of God”) in v. 6. I take the aorist (active) participle here as parallel with the aorist (passive) participle eu(reqei/$ (“being found”), and so “form of a slave” with “[in] shape/appearance as a man”.
  • e)n o(moiw/mati a)nqrw/pwn geno/meno$ (“coming to be in [the] likeness of men”)—this is the second of three participial phrases. To get a sense of the thought-structure of the verse, it may help to illustrate again how the three relate:

Taking/receiving [labw/n, aorist active particple] the form of a slave

Coming to be [geno/meno$, aorist middle participle] in the likeness of men

Being found [eu(reqei\$, aorist passive participle] in shape/appearance as a man

I have chosen the chiastic arrangment especially to draw attention to the middle phrase, as specifically related to the birth of Jesus—this coming-to-be (which can be understood as coming to be born) rightly stands between the active and passive: between the act of God’s own will (in Christ) and the helplessness of the human condition (into which Christ entered), we find the incarnate Lord being born, in our own likeness and at one with us!