June 17, 2006

"He did not consider it robbery..."

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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Here is Peter O'Brien's translation:

"Precisely because he was in the form of God, he did not regard this divine equality as something to be used for his own advantage. Instead, he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and being born like other human beings..."

In other words, it displays the character of God that Jesus did this. I find this to be a highly plausible way to read this verse.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at June 22, 2006 10:15 PM

I get the impression that the intention of this passage is to disway any believers who come after Jesus, from thinking or having the expectation that they would become equal with God by their faithful service. Instead, as Christ was willing to humbly serve even to the point of becoming a man and experience death on a cross to fulfill God's purpose, he also was resigned to accepting however God the Father would reward him for his faithful service and that the truest reward is in the serving, the willingness to humble yourself to God's will, have him show it to you, and then being willing to follow through with it to the end without expectation of anything more than having been allowed to be a servant to THE PERFECT God. Remember, Jesus was sent to be the perfect example as well, always pointing out to us the way we should honor the Father and always pointing our attention TO the Father. mention of his divinity served as a quick reference and reminder so as not to be in question...i think the emphasis is supposed to be on the humble service even while knowing what God has promised and to be content to receive whatever that is. Jesus alone deserves to have that position to the right hand of the Father - we who follow would be blessed to sit at his feet and be able to just gaze up at him and the Father. So we should treat this text to mean as it is written, to not think that because of our special consideration as servants and saints that we should begin to conjure up ideas of what sort of honor to receive or to expect such high honors as to be equal with God as well but to focus on humbly surrendering your will and life to God's will and let Him determine how it all plays out in the end. He's already promised to allow you to enter his kingdom, let you in the door to Heaven, what more could you want?

Posted by: Robert Weidig at March 28, 2009 6:01 PM

Hey Kenny this may help also on Phil. 2:6-7

The word equel is [G2470] meaning : The idea of seeming similar in amount or kind.
The word form is [G3444] meaning same nature, allotment, or to share. The word robbery is [G727] meaning rapacious. To rape or plunder in greed.

In v6 the word "being in the form" is actually, who subsisting [G5225] in the form.
So in short it could read as follows:

[Jesus came into existence to be similar in kind and nature as God and did not consider it taking something or assuming something that was not already His.]

You can only rob what is not yours. If you beleive you own it you can't steal it.

You are correct in thinking that with the indwelling Holy Spirit we can do what Jeus did. People just dont beleive they can and thus can't.

You are only incorrect in downgrading the fact by saying it is a principle. It is in fact a spiritual law.

It takes true humility to just do the word and not think through spiritual pride that every thing Jesus died for is too lofty for us. It is not designed to make sense it is designed to make faith. Good Job!

Posted by: RV Windfield at March 18, 2010 4:36 PM

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