October 25: Philippians 2:9a

Philippians 2:9-11

Before proceeding to a study of the second half of Christ hymn (vv. 9-11), it is worth considering here the lines of the first half (vv. 6-8) taken together (in translation):

“who, beginning under in (the) form of God,
did not lead (out for) seizing the being equal with God,
but (instead) he emptied himself,
taking (the) form of a slave,
coming to be in (the) likeness of men;
and, being found in bearing as a man,
he lowered himself,
coming to be (one) hearing under to the point of death,
even (the point) of death at (the) stake.”

Even the visual structure of this translation illustrates, I think, the symmetry of the first half of the hymn, structured thematically around the pointed contrast between the exalted position of Jesus in heaven and the lowly position he took as a human being on earth:

    • Exalted position (v. 6): “in the form [i.e. visible splendor] of God”
      even to the point of being equal with God

      • He emptied himself
        • taking the form of a slave
          • coming to be in the likeness of men
        • being found in bearing as a man
      • He lowered himself
    • Lowly position (v. 8): submitting to human authority
      even to the point of death on the cross (as a criminal slave)

The kenosis itself is described in the central, inner chiasm of v. 7. The poetry (as such), for all its irregularity and tension, captures this powerful dynamic quite admirably.

Verses 6-8, as a whole, describe the “emptying” (kenosis) of Jesusfrom his divine/heavenly position to that of a human slave put to death (by crucifixion). Verses 9-11 depict a reversal of this process: the exaltation of Jesus, from his lowly human condition, back to his position alongside God the Father in heaven. In traditional theological terminology, these two aspects are commonly referred to as the two “states” of Christhumiliation (vv. 6-8) and exaltation (vv. 9-11).

Philippians 2:9a

Dio\ kai\ o( qeo\$ au)to\n u(peru/ywsen
“And therefore, God made him high over (all)”

We can divide this opening clause into three components:

    • dio\ kai/ (“and therefore”)
    • o( qeo\$ au)to/n (“God | him”)
    • u(peru/ywsen (“made high over”)

The middle of these is the simplest, but also the most significant, as it emphasizes the special relationship between Jesus (“him”) and God the Father. It was God who exalted Jesus, raising him from the dead (Acts 2:32; 3:15, 26; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30, etc), which, in and of itself, testifies to the reality of the kenosis. Jesus did not raise himself, he depended on the power of God to bring him to life again from the dead. For Paul’s statements to this effect in his letters, note especially Rom 4:24f; 6:4; 8:11; 1 Cor 6:14; 15:15ff; 2 Cor 4:14; Col 2:12; cf. also Eph 1:20. Even so, the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus also demonstrates his special position as the Anointed One (Messiah) and Son of God. We as believers, united with Christ (through the Spirit), share in this position, but Jesus (the Son) holds it first.

God (o( qeo/$) is the subject of the clause, and Jesus (“him”) is the predicate, object of the verb u(peruyo/w (cf. below). In the word order of the syntax here, the subject noun and object pronoun happen to be joined together at the centeran appropriate illustration, grammatically, of the union between Father and Son.

Let us now consider the first and third of the three components of v. 9a.

dio\ kai/ (“and therefore”)The coordinating (inferential) conjunction dio/ is a combination of the preposition dia/ (“through”) and the neuter relative pronoun o% “through which”, i.e. “for which (reason)”, “because of which”. In other words, it indicates that what came before (i.e. stated in vv. 6-8), provides the reason, or basis, for what follows (in vv. 9-11).

The force of the added conjunction kai/ (“and”) here is more difficult to render precisely. It can be understood in the sense of “also”, i.e., “therefore God also made him high over“, either in the sense of completion (made low, then also made high), or reciprocation (because he made himself low, so also God raised him high). One might also simply treat it in the normal sense of a conjunctive particlehere a double-conjunction, for emphasis: “And so (for this reason)…”.

u(peru/ywsen (“he made high over”)The compound verb u(peruyo/w literally means “be high” (u(yo/w) “over” (u(per); in the active, transitive sense, it means “make (a person) high over (someone or something)”. The verb is frequent in the LXX (110 times), but occurs only here in the New Testament. The simple verb u(yo/w is used 20 times in the New Testament (an important part of the theological vocabulary in the Gospel of John), but only once by Paul (2 Cor 11:7). In terms of Pauline vocabulary, it may be worth noting Paul’s fondness for u(per– compounds; 20 of the 28 NT occurrences of such compounds are in Paul’s letters (O’Brien, p. 235).

Of particular importance is the juxtaposition of the verb u(yo/w (“make high”) with tapeino/w (“make low”), used by Jesus in his famous saying (Matt 23:12; Lk 14:11; 18:14), and elsewhere in his teaching (Matt 11:23; cf. also the Lukan reference in Lk 1:52). This is the very same contrast made here in the hymn, only the use of the compound verb u(peruyo/w (instead of u(yo/w) heightens the contrast, making it more extreme. By “making himself low”, Jesus was not only “made high” by God as a reward, in recompense, but was made high over all others. The significance of this will be made clear as we proceed with our examination of vv. 9b-11; however, we can initially point out two possible ways this might be understood: (a) in terms of the highest point, or (b) in terms of extent (i.e. a position extending out over a territory, etc).

While both of these aspects are valid in context, it would seem that the latter is primarily in view, understanding Jesus’ exalted position as a position of rule, alongside God on His throne. In this regard, the imagery in v. 9 must be understood in light of the early Christian tradition, whereby Jesus, following the resurrection, was exalted to a position “at the right hand” of God in heaven. This is reflective of the earliest Christologyan exaltation Christologyduring the period c. 35-60 A.D. The point will addressed further in the next daily note. In any case, the verb u(peruyo/w should be translated in terms of the exalted Jesus’ position of rule over all creation, over all people; thus, my translation above fills out the phrase, glossing it generally as “And therefore God made him high over (all)”.

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.