Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Highly exalted

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to exploit 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:6-11).

1. Apostate Dale Tuggy has a funny habit of citing this passage as if it's a prooftext for unitarianism. One problem is that he talks about God exalting Jesus, while ignoring the specific context.

2. This passage is thoroughly discussed in in standard commentaries by Fee, Silva, Hansen, Bockmuehl, and O'Brien. You can find the detailed exegetical arguments in support of what I'm about to say in their commentaries.

3. What does morphe theou mean?

a) Paul's expression is defined in part by the fact that morphe theou functions as a synonymous parallel to isa theou as well as antithetical parallel to morphen doulou. So in Paul's usage, the "form of God" is equivalent to equality with God. And it represents deity in contrast to humanity.

b) It denotes manifest divine nature. Not just deity, but a discernible expression of deity. That makes sense because Paul is talking about the Incarnation. 

c) It initially refers to a preincarnate state, which continues through the Incarnation, but stands in contrast to his assumption of a subservient condition. So this is a statement of the Son's eternal preexistence and deity. 

4. In this passage, Paul uses "God" as a synonym for the Father. Hence, equality with "God" is equivalent to equality with the Father. That's a powerful statement of Christ's intrinsic deity. 

5. The meaning of harpagmos is part of a two-word phrase. It's not the meaning of harpagmos in isolation, but the combination of the noun with a customary verb. Like idiomatic two-word phrases in sports and card games.

It means Jesus did not exploit or take advantage of his coequality with the Father for his own benefit. This is not a status which the Son declined to aspire to, but a status already in his possession and at his disposal. A preincarnate status. 

That's prior to his undertaking the role of a servant, being born, suffering death. So that's another statement of the Son's eternal preexistence and deity. 

6. To "empty" himself is figurative for temporarily divesting himself of his royal divine prerogatives. 

7. Paul uses terms connoting "form", "appearance", and "likeness", not in a gnostic sense, as if Jesus wasn't really human, but to maintain the distinction between his humanity and deity. He's like humans in being fully human but unlike humans in being fully divine. A body is empirical in a way that God is not. 

8. His subsequent exaltation is in part a resumption of his preexistent status as the Father's compeer. The plot typifies the classic comic curve, where the action comes full circle. The hero begins on top, then there's a downward motion where he goes on a quest or undergoes ordeal, then he's restored to his former position. Indeed, enhanced in some respect.

Phil 2:6-11 has the same v-shape plot. Initially, the Son is the Father's compeer, but he temporarily renounces his divine prerogatives by adopting the status of a human being, and even a convict, then having achieved his mission, he returns as the conquering hero. This trades on royal succession narratives, where the crown prince proves himself on the battlefield before ascending the throne or becoming coregent. 

9. The enthronement ceremony transfers to Jesus a statement which in the original setting singled out obeisance uniquely reserved for Yahweh (Isa 45:23). In context, he's even given the name of Yahweh. To accord those honors to a mere creature would be blasphemous. 


  1. Briefly, we know that morphe doesn't mean essential nature here, as in classical philosophies there is no such thing as the form/essence of slavehood. As often in LXX Greek, form throughout here means something like "condition." I agree with the Adam christology reading of this text, but I'm not going to make the case in this com box. See trinities podcast episodes 14-16.

    As I've thought about it more, I think that the overall context really favors this reading. Look at what Paul is doing - start of chapter. Did you and I ever have to lay aside our heavenly glory, to become incarnate, emptying ourself of divine powers or the exercise or manifestation thereof? Of course not. Really, it's all about Jesus's earthly obedience, in contrast to the first Adam - the model for our own earthly obedience. The whole passage is logically consistent with the basic idea of incarnation, but neither assumes nor implies it. The earthly obedience reading perfectly fits the point Paul is making. The catholic reading makes Jesus's case quite unlike ours.

    What this is a "prooftext" for is not unitarianism per se, but rather (1) that Jesus's current status as Lord is the reward from God of his perfect obedience, (2) Jesus should be worshiped, (3) and worshiping Jesus gives glory to God, so there is a direct object of worship in this case (Jesus) and an indirect and ultimate one (God). This is what Dr. Hurtado has discussed in many places - that the earliest justification for the worship of Jesus was simply that God requires it of us - as shown by his exaltation of Jesus.

    1. Even if the text has a subtext of Adam typology (discussed in the commentaries I cite), that's hardly an alternative to the deity of Christ, since even on that interpretation the Son is assuming and resuming the Adamic role, which is entirely consistent with a divine incarnation. The divine Son reprises that economic role, to succeed where Adam failed.

    2. Slavery as a state or condition. And while that's extrinsic to humanity, a divine state or condition is not extrinsic to divinity.

    3. Dale, you equivocate. Learn the distinction between:

      i) What's the nature of slavery?


      b) Is it natural to be enslaved?