In the New King James Version, Philippians 2:6 says that Jesus, "being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God." Because of having seen the NIV translation, which says that he "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped," and because of the relations of the clauses in my English translations, I always thought that the idea here was that Jesus, even though he was "in the form of God" did not try to take advantage of his inherent equality with the father, but instead took on a subordinate role while on earth and "made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross." (NKJV) This interpretation is more explicit in the HCSB: "who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death - even to death on a cross."
Today I was reading the commentary notes in Spiros Zodhiates' Hebrew-Greek Keyword Study Bible and his note on Philippians 2:6-8 gives a different interpretation. He explains, "Jesus did not regard it as an act of injustice to the Father for Him to exert His miraculous powers demonstrating His deity on proper occasions as deemed by Himself." Now, I don't particularly like this interpretation theologically, because I think that if Jesus exercised divine power while on earth then he didn't live a truly human life, and it is critically important to the Christian understanding of salvation that Jesus lived a fully human life. Instead, I tend to attribute Christ's miracles to the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and to argue that a Christian indwelt by the Holy Spirit can, at least in principle, do miracles in precisely the same way (cf. John 14:12). This seems to have been part of Satan's temptation of Christ in the wilderness: Christ was encouraged to exert omnipotent power while on earth, which would have undermined the true humanity of his life (Matt. 4:3). Nevertheless, the question is not what theology I am comfortable with, but what does the text actually say.
The difficulty seems to be with the participle uparchon ("being" in the NKJV or, better, "existing," as the HCSB has it) and its relation to the other clauses of this sentence (my Greek text has vv. 5-7 as a single sentence, but I think that v. 8 should probably be included as the same sentence in the Greek as well). My intro Greek professor always taught us that Greek participles could be related to the main clause of their sentence in any of 8 ways, to be remembered by the mnemonic "The Mild-Mannered Crack Pot Constantly Called California" (he was quite insistent that this was the most important thing we would ever learn about Greek grammar). This stands for: time, manner, means, cause, purpose, condition, concession, or general circumstance. His point was that 'general circumstance,' which is generally what the English participle (which is how the NKJV and HCSB both render this word) does, with the Greek participle this is a last resort interpretation. Ordinarily, one of the other relations is intended. In this case, the translations I am looking at all make the participle look concessive to me: "who, although he existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something he should take for himself; instead, he emptied himself..." etc., while Zodhiates takes it as causal: "because he existed in the form of God, he did not consider [claiming] to be equal with God to be seizing something unjustly." Zodhiates' interpretation has to deal with the alla ("but") in the next clause, which expresses a contrast. However, Greek alla is not quite identical to English "but." It can be used, according to LSJ, "to oppose whole sentences." That is, rather than contrasting "he did not consider equality with God as something he should take for himself" with "he emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave," it may contrast larger syntactic units, so that the passage could be translated (a bit loosely), "even though, since he existed in the form of God, he did not think he would be seizing something unjustly by claiming equality with God, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave." The whole first part, including "since he existed in the form of God" is then contrasted with Christ's decision to humble himself, which he does even though he has every right to claim equality with God. It should be noted that this interpretation of the Greek needn't support the theological conclusion of Zodhiates with which I am uncomfortable, namely that Jesus exercised his own omnipotent power while on earth, since, even on this interpretation, it is more natural to read the text as contrasting Jesus' pre-incarnate glory with his emptying of himself, which began when he "took on the form of a slave, becoming like human beings."
It seems, then, that the text can bear either of these interpretations. I think these are the only two real possibilities for this participle. Does anyone see any other ways of taking this? Do any translations take the Zodhiates interpretation, or do they all take either the concession track or leave it ambiguous?Posted by Kenny at June 17, 2006 10:34 PM
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