Worshiping Christ as God
Pliny the Younger, a Gentile governor of the Bithynia, in his correspondence with the emperor Trajan written around 106 AD included a report concerning his proceedings against Christians. Pliny mentioned that he tried to force Christians to “curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do,” and then went on to describe some of their actions and practices:
“They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god (carmenque Christo quasi deo dicere secum invicem), and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.”
There are certain scholars who believe that the NT documents contain such hymns. For instance, many scholars believe that the following is an example of a pre-Pauline hymn (with specific Pauline additions) that the Church sung in worship to Christ as their exalted Lord and God:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God (hos en morphe theou hyperchon), did not consider equality with God (to einai isa theou) something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (morphen doulou), being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8 NIV
Needless to say, this specific text has stirred much discussion and controversy concerning its precise meaning and composition. This can be partially seen from the way some of the versions translate this particular passage. Note for instance the following translation, one that amplifies what the translator(s) assumed to be the meaning of the inspired Greek reference:
“Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:] Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained, But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being. And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!" The Amplified Bible
Christian apologist Dr. James R. White proposes the following translation:
"You must have the same mindset among yourselves that was in Christ Jesus, Who, although He eternally existed in the very form of God, did not consider that equality He had with God the Father something to be held on to at all costs, but instead He made Himself nothing, by taking on the very form of a slave, by being made in human likeness. And having entered into human existence, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death one dies on a cross! Because of this, God the Father exalted Him to the highest place, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the mention of the exalted name of Jesus everyone who is in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, bows the knee, and every tongue confesses: ‘Jesus Christ is Lord!’ All to the glory of God the Father!”
Moreover, not all scholars are convinced that this is a hymn at all or that it is pre-Pauline in origin. There are some NT scholars who are of the opinion that this hymn – if it can even be called such – was actually composed by Paul himself.
Whatever the case maybe this would have no impact on the point of our discussion since it is irrelevant to our topic whether this is a hymn or not, or whether it is a pre-Pauline composition which Paul used or one which he personally composed for his letter to the Philippians. What really matters is what this specific passage has to say concerning the nature, function and status of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is to these points that we now turn our attention.
Jesus is He who exists in the very nature of God
The text begins with an affirmation that the Lord Jesus initially was en morphe theou hyperchon (“in the form/nature of God existing”) and that he then emptied himself by taking on morphen doulou (“form/nature of a slave”) by being born as a man.
It is clear that this passage is an explicit and emphatic witness to Jesus’ prehuman existence, and not only to his preexistence but to his having existed as God in heaven before he became man. After all, no one disputes the fact that to exist in the form of a servant is to be a servant, is to have the very nature of a servant. In a similar manner, to exist in God’s form is to have the very nature of God, is to exist as God.
To put this in simpler terms, if one denies that Christ was truly God one must also deny that he was truly a servant. There is simply no way around this point.
The late Bible expositor William Barclay explains how this hymn is a rather explicit witness to the full Deity of the Lord Jesus:
“… It is not doubtful that Paul thought of Jesus Christ in terms of God. He says of Jesus that he was in the form of God. (Phil. 2:6). He then goes on to say that Jesus was found in human form (Phil. 2:8, RSV), where the AV renders that he was found in fashion as a man. The RSV somewhat misleadingly translates two Greek words by the English word form, whereas the AV correctly distinguishes between them. In the first instance the word is morphe, which means the unchanging and unchangeable essential nature of a thing; the second word is schema, which means the changing and altering external form of a person or a thing. For instance, a man has always the unchanging morphe of manhood; that is what he essentially is; but he will have different schemata, different outward forms, in babyhood, childhood, youth, maturity and old age. A tulip, a rose, a chrysanthemum, a marigold, a daffodil, a delphinium all have the same morphe, the same essential nature, for they are all flowers; but they have very different outward schemata, outward forms. Paul says that Jesus was in the morphe of God; that is to say, the essential nature of Jesus is the same as the essential nature of God; but he says that Jesus was found in the schema of a man; that is to say, he temporarily took the form of manhood upon him. The NEB renders the Greek well here. In translating the word morphe it renders the passage: ‘The divine nature was his from the first.’ In translating the word schema it says that he was ‘revealed in human shape.’ This passage leaves us in no doubt that Paul believed that the nature of Jesus is the nature of God.” (Barclay, Jesus As They Saw Him [Eerdmans Publishing Company; Grand Rapids MI, rpt. 1998], pp. 27-28; bold emphasis ours)
Gordon D. Fee explains why morphe (“form”) communicates Paul’s point much better than any other Greek word such as physis (“nature” – cf. Galatians 4:8):
“… His [Paul] urgency is to say something about Christ’s ‘mindset,’ first as God and second as man. But in the transition from Christ’s ‘being God’ to his ‘becoming human,’ Paul expresses by way of metaphor the essential quality of humanity: he ‘took’ on the ‘form of a slave.’ Morphe was precisely the right word for this dual usage, to characterize both the reality (his being God) and the metaphor (his taking on the role of a slave), since it denotes ‘form’ or ‘shape’ not in terms of the external features by which something is recognized, but of those characteristics and qualities that are essential to it. Hence it means that which truly characterizes a given reality.” (Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – Paul’s Letter to the Philippians [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI 1995], p. 204; underline emphasis ours)
49. So M-M, 417 (citing Kennedy), “a form which truly and full expresses the being which underlies it” (cf. Martin; O’Brien)… (Ibid.)
In speaking of the word “likeness” which Paul uses in 2:8, Fee notes:
“… The word is used primarily because of Paul’s belief (in common with the rest of the early church) that in becoming human Christ did not thereby cease to be divine. This word allows for the ambiguity, emphasizing that he is similar to our humanity in some respects and dissimilar in others. The similarity lies with his full humanity; in his incarnation he was ‘like’ in the sense of ‘the same as.’ The dissimilarity, which in Rom 8:3 had to do with his being sinless while in the ‘likeness’ of sinful flesh, in this case has to do with his never ceasing to be ‘equal with God.’ Thus he came in the ‘likeness’ of human beings, because on the one hand he has fully identified with us, and because on the other hand in becoming human he was not ‘human’ only. He was God living out a truly human life, all of which is safeguarded by this expression. Even so, one should not miss that this phrase is also part of the contrast. Christ ‘made himself of no reputation’ in becoming human – whether we humans like that or not.” (Ibid., pp. 213-214)
We will have more to say concerning Jesus retaining his Divine nature during the Incarnation a little later.
Jesus as the visible appearance and glory of God
It should be further noted that inherent in the word morphe is the notion of appearance or a visible form that points to or expresses the nature of a person or thing.
The Greek word morphe can mean ‘form’ as in one’s external appearance, one which often reveals the underlying nature. In other words, if one has the form of a man, has a human appearance, then chances are that the person in question is likely a human being by nature.(1)
Thus, the idea here is that the visible form or appearance that Jesus had in his preincarnate state perfectly expressed his true, essential nature which indicated to the inhabitants of heaven that he exists as God and not as one of them. In other words, the prehuman Jesus was clothed in the Divine glory and majesty which revealed his essential and absolute Deity to the heavenly court.
In the words of the late great NT Greek grammarian and scholar A.T. Robertson wrote:
Rather, "existing," present active participle of huparcho. In the form of God (en morphe theou). Morph means the essential attributes as shown in the form. In his preincarnate state Christ possessed the attributes of God and so appeared to those in heaven who saw him. Here is a clear statement by Paul of the deity of Christ. (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament; underline emphasis ours)
According to another commentator the word morphe,
“… refers to that ‘which truly and fully expresses the being which underlies it.’ The phrase en morphe theou is best interpreted against the background of the glory of God, that shining light in which according to the OT and intertestamental literature, God was pictured [see above]. The expression does not refer simply to external appearance but pictures the preexistent Christ as clothed in the garments of divine majesty and splendour. He was in the form of God, sharing God’s glory. en morphe theou thus corresponds with John 17:5 (‘the glory I had with you before the world began’) and reminds one of Heb. 1:3 (‘the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’).” (Gerald F. Hawthorne, 6. In the Form of God and Equal with God (Philippians 2:6), in Where Christology Began – Essays on Philippians 2, Ralph P. Martin & Brian J. Dodd editors [Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky 1998], p. 101)
“The fact that the idea of ‘appearance or visible form’ lies at the heart of the meaning of morphe has caused earlier scholars to interpret ‘the form of God’ in which Christ Jesus existed in terms of the ‘glory’ (doxa) of God, that radiating brilliance of God by which the writers of the Old Testament and intertestamental literature often describes him and his presence. This understanding of morphe still informs scholars today. S.E. Fowl, for example, infers both from the fact that the visible form of God is expressed in terms of God’s glory in the LXX, and also from the fact that Paul on several occasions uses this same word as the visible manifestation of God’s majesty, that it is only proper to understand morphe theou as a reference to God’s glory, his radiance and splendor in which/by which his majesty is made visible. ‘By locating Christ in this glory, it conveys the majesty and splendor of his pre-incarnate state,’ and corresponds to John 17:5. But Fowl is cautious and is careful to note that this understanding morphe in terms of doxa is not because the idea of ‘glory’ is inherent in the word ‘form’ itself, but is derived from the larger context of that which describes the visible presence of God. It is used here to reflect Christ’s exalted position; it is not intended as a dogmatic statement about Christ’s nature [sic] but it is used to say something about Christ’s status.” (Ibid., p. 99; underline emphasis ours)
A different contributor to this same volume states:
“… Others note that ‘form’ is also a way of expressing ‘glory’ (doxa). Stephen E. Fowl observes: ‘In the LXX the visible form of God is often described in terms of God’s doxa, God’s glory and splendor, by which the majesty of God is made manifest to humanity…. It seems most adequate, then, to take the morphe of God as reference to glory, radiance and splendor by which God’s majesty is made visible. By locating Christ in this glory, it conveys the majesty and splendor of his preincarnate state.’ …
“… morphe connotes visible appearance, the shape or form in which someone or something appears… Use of morphe would be compatible with a vision or an epiphany in heaven (cf. Pseudo-Clementine Homily 17.7), but it would be equally compatible with the visible form or expression of God on earth. Thus, en morphe theou could very well allude to one whose earthly life was a manifestation of God.
“… I see Philippians 2:6 as a repudiation of charges against Jesus, and vv. 7-8 as a Christian counterinterpretation. Jesus did not seek to exploit his status and authority to be ‘like God’ in the manner to which Adam succumbed and to which Satan sought to induce him. Nor was he guilty of the charges leveled against him. As the visible manifestation of God, he sacrificed himself in obedience which led to the cross.” (Colin Brown, Ernst Lohmeyer’s Kyrios Jesus, Where Christology Began, pp. 26, 27, 28; underline emphasis ours)
The following Biblical expositor writes that,
“Two parallel statements show the exemplary nature of Jesus’ thoughts. The first is “being in very nature God,” which is compared to the second, “equality with God.” The former is normally translated by the English word “form,” which is true to the literal meaning of the Greek morphe. Commentators have debated hotly the meaning of the word “form.” Basically, the word means “form, outward appearance, shape”; but since it occurs only in 2:6 and 2:7 in the New Testament, the context must determine its precise meaning. Clearly, the “form of God” and the “form of a servant” must mean the same thing. Some take that to mean that the visible appearance of God is not a factor because he is invisible, and therefore the text calls for a nuance of the word. This meaning should not be dismissed too quickly, however. The hymn called the readers to consider the preexistent state of Jesus, when he was in the form of God. Physical eyes cannot see spiritual realities, only spiritual eyes can. Given the context, it would not be uncommon to use the term to state that he actually “appeared as God” to those who could see him. Nothing in the context requires that human eyes see the form. Similarly, the “very nature of a servant” does not require that human eyes be able to see that form, although with spiritually enlightened eyes one sees it. The question is whether he had that form. Surely the actions described of him here are appropriate to the servant role, and they appear in his death on the cross. The word “form” means an outward appearance consistent with what is true. The form perfectly expresses the inner reality. (The New American Commentary – An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture [Broadman Press, Nashville, TN 1991], Richard R. Melick, Jr., Volume 32, Philippians–Colossians–Philemon, p. 101; underline emphasis ours)
There is evidence from the OT which supports that Yahweh’s glory can and does often refer to the visible form that he assumes when he reveals himself to his servants. According to the Hebrew Scriptures the cloud which Yahweh descended in was the visible manifestation of his glory to his people:
“So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, ‘At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your murmurings against the LORD. For what are we, that you murmur against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the LORD gives you in the evening flesh to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the LORD has heard your murmurings which you murmur against him -- what are we? Your murmurings are not against us but against the LORD.’ And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, `Come near before the LORD, for he has heard your murmurings.”’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.” Exodus 16:6-10
Moreover, when Moses asked to see Yahweh’s glory Yahweh took this to be a request to see his “Face,” or the full visible manifestation of his glory, something which Yahweh said was not possible:
“Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name “The LORD.” And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my Face, for man shall not see ME and live.’ And the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my Back, but my Face shall not be seen.’” Exodus 33:18-23
Instead of seeing Yahweh’s “Face” Moses would be privileged to see his “Back,” or a fuller display of his visible glory, yet one that was short of beholding all of Yahweh’s splendor and majesty.
What is interesting about this is that the inspired author of the Pentateuch equates this visible appearance or display of Yahweh’s glory with Yahweh’s form!
“Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman; and they said, ‘Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?’ And the LORD heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the LORD said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, ‘Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.’ And the three of them came out. And the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the door of the tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forward. And he said, ‘Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses; he is entrusted with all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in dark speech; and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?’” Numbers 12:1-8
Hence, by seeing Yahweh’s “Back” Moses was actually seeing Yahweh’s form, which even the translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek interpreted to mean seeing Yahweh’s glory:
“I will speak to him mouth to mouth apparently, and not in dark speeches; and he has seen the glory of the Lord (ten doxan kyriou); and why were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” Numbers 12:8 LXX
Moses wasn’t the only person privileged to see the visible display of Yahweh’s glory. Other prophets saw Yahweh’s form such Isaiah:
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’ And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, "Here am I! Send me.’” Isaiah 6:1-10
“And above the expanse over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.’ And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord GOD.” And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house. But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.’ And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.” Ezekiel 1:26-28, 2:1-10
In light of the foregoing it is apparent that Yahweh’s form refers to the visible display or majesty of Yahweh which reveals the reality of his nature to those beholding it. In other words, the visible display or appearance of God’s form indicates to those beholding him that he is fully Divine in nature.
This is the very form which Jesus had in his prehuman heavenly existence, one which indicated to those beholding him in heaven that he is a fully Divine Person and not a creature like them.
In fact, Jesus is even said to be the very glory of God and his image:
“In their case the God of this age has blinded the minds of the disbelievers, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:4-6
“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by a Son, whom He has appointed Heir of all things, through whom also He made the ages/worlds; who being the brightness/radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His substance, and upholding all things by the word of His power…” Hebrews 1:1-3a
Amazingly, according to the gospel of John the prophet Isaiah actually saw Jesus’ glory in his vision of Yahweh as recorded in Isaiah 6:
“But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke: ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?’ Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, Lest they should see with their eyes, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.’ These things Isaiah said when he saw His [Christ’s] glory and spoke of Him. Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Then Jesus cried out and said, ‘He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me.’” John 12:37-45
What the fourth Evangelist is saying here is that when Isaiah saw Yahweh in his glory he was actually looking upon the preincarnate Christ! Thus, if you asked Isaiah whose glory did he behold in Isaiah 6 his answer would be Yahweh’s. Yet if you asked John whose glory did Isaiah see in his vision his reply would be Jesus’!
This further supports the view that existing in God’s form is another way of saying that Jesus had the very visible appearance of God in heaven and that he shared in the Divine splendor and majesty which indicated to the heavenly inhabitants that he is fully God in essence.
And this is the very form or glory which he set aside by veiling it in order to assume the form of a servant, one which hid the fact that he was fully God in essence.(2)
Moreover, the NT identifies Jesus with Isaiah’s suffering Servant and often alludes to or echoes the language of the Isaianic Servant texts to describe Jesus’ role and mission (cf. Matthew 12:15-21, 20:28, 26:28; Mark 10:45, 14:24; Luke 22:37; Acts 2:33-36, 3:13-15, 5:30-31, 8:29-35; 1 Peter 1:18-19, 2:21-25).
According to one of these passages the Servant’s form, his visible appearance, masked the fact that he was God’s Agent of salvation who would subsequently be exalted to reign on God’s throne:
“Behold, my Servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. As many were astonished at him -- his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men -- so shall he startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they shall see, and that which they have not heard they shall understand. Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the Arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the Righteous One, my Servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Isaiah 52:13-15, 53:1-12
Isaiah uses this very same language of exaltation and lifting up to describe Yahweh’s enthronement and status over all creation, thereby indicating that the Servant shares in Yahweh’s Divine rule over all things (cf. Isaiah 6:1-5; 2:11-17; 33:5; 57:15; Psalm 113:5-6). Hence, the Servant’s form and appearance hid or obscured the fact that he was actually God’s appointed Ruler sent to bring justice and salvation to the nations.
In light of the above, one should understand Jesus’ request to the Father in John,
“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I HAD with You before the world was.” John 17:5
To mean that Christ was asking to be restored to his former heavenly status and position where he would no longer need to veil or cover his Divine majesty. In heaven Christ’s Divine glory and splendor would be in full display before all of its inhabitants, even though his Divine radiance would now shine through his resurrected and glorified physical body.
Jesus as the Father's Equal
With the foregoing in view, it seems reasonably certain that Paul believed that Christ already possessed equality with God the Father by existing in the same form as God. In fact, since Jesus is the “exact copy/imprint/representation of God’s nature/substance/being” (cf. Heb. 1:3) he must be equal to the Father in his heavenly appearance and glory.
In other words, since to exist in the form of God is to bear the very nature and glory of God Jesus must therefore be equal with God the Father in essence. As the following writer puts it:
“The definite article to of to einai confirms that this second expression is closely connected with the first, for the function of the definite article here is designated to point back to something previously mentioned. Therefore one should expect that to einai isa theoi (“the being equal with God”) would refer epexegetically [explanatory] to the en morphe theou huparchon (“existing in the form of God”) that preceded it. This means then that “the being equal with God” is precisely another way of saying “in the form of God.” Or better still, whatever meaning one might put forth as a possible meaning for the expression morphe theou can only be properly understood in terms of isa theo, and vice versa — to einai isa theoi can only be properly understood in terms of morphe theou.” (Hawthorne, “In the Form of God and Equal with God,” Where Christology Began, p. 104)
Noted NT scholar Richard Bauckham proposes the following explanation:
“… (4) On the difficult translation issue of the meaning of verse 6b, I think the best linguistic argument now suggests the translation: ‘he did not think equality with God something to be used for his own advantage’. In other words, the issue is not whether Christ gains equality or whether he retains it, as in some translations. He has equality with God and there is no question of losing it; the issue is his attitude to it. (5) The ‘form of God’ (v. 6) and the ‘form of a servant’ (v. 7), which are clearly intended to be contrasted, refer to forms of appearance: the splendour of the divine glory in heaven contrasted with the human form on earth.
“These preliminary points about the exegetical decisions I make result in the following exegesis of verses 6-11. The pre-existent Christ, being equal with God, shared the divine glory in heaven. But he did not consider equality with God something he should use for his own advantage. He did not understand his equality with God as a matter of being served by others, but as something he could express in service, obedience, self-renunciation and self-humiliation for others. Therefore, he renounced the outward splendour of the heavenly court for the life of a human being on earth, one who lived his obedience to God in self-humiliation even to the point of the peculiarly shameful death by crucifixion, the death of a slave… (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel – God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity [William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI/ Cambridge, U.K. 2008], 1. God Crucified, pp. 41-42; underline emphasis ours)
To summarize what these scholars are saying, specifically Bauckham, Jesus did not seize being God’s equal but rather chose not to exploit such equality or use it to his own advantage. He instead chose to use such equality to accomplish God’s plan of redemption by dying on the cross for the salvation of God’s people.(3)
Jesus is the eternal Creator and not a creature
The other important point which further supports the view that Jesus existed as God, and not as a creature, is the assertion that Christ only became a servant when he chose to become a man at the Incarnation. According to the testimony of the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures both spiritual creatures and human beings are servants by nature, having been created to serve God. In fact, all throughout the Scriptures Christians are described as servants of God and Christ:
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greeting.” James 1:1
“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.” Revelation 1:1-2
“And to the angel of the church in Thyati'ra write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jez'ebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.’” Revelation 2:18-20
“There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve him… And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place. And behold, I am coming soon.’ Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” Revelation 22:3, 6-7
As the Lord Jesus himself personally told his followers:
“Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” Luke 17:7-10
As far as angels are concerned the inspired author of Hebrews says the following concerning them,
“In speaking of the angels he says, ‘He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.’ … Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:7, 14
And here is what the ministering angel told John:
“Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.’ For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:10
“I John am he who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.’” Revelation 22:8-9
Thus, both angels and humans are servants by nature since they are created to serve and glorify the living God.(4)
However, since Jesus only became a servant when he chose to be born as a man he cannot be a heavenly creature of God since if he were then he would have already existed in a servant’s form while in heaven. The fact that he only became a servant by his own personal choice when he decided to take the nature of a man proves that he is uncreated and therefore must be the eternal God (yet not the Father or the Holy Spirit)!
An addition, not a subtraction
It is vitally important to note that – contrary to the assertions of some – Paul is not saying that Jesus emptied himself of his Divine nature or of any specific Divine attributes. Christ’s emptying consisted of his setting aside his heavenly status and privileges, and of veiling his Divine form or glory.
In one of his other inspired writings the blessed Apostle taught that Jesus continued to remain fully God on earth after he became a man:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of/over all creation; for IN HIM all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created THROUGH HIM and FOR HIM. He IS before all things, and IN HIM all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the Firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fulness (pleroma) was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.” Colossians 1:15-23
In this particular passage (which some actually believe is another hymn that the Apostle adopted) Paul states that the fulness of God was dwelling in Christ in the Incarnation, especially during the time when Christ was reconciling all things to God by his death on the cross. Some versions correctly translate this to mean that Christ continued to have the whole fullness of God’s nature during this time:
“God was pleased to have his whole nature living in Christ.” Colossians 1:19 New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)
“For it has pleased [the Father] that all the divine fullness (the sum total of the divine perfection, powers, and attributes) should dwell in Him permanently.” Amplified
“For it pleased the Father that in him the divine nature in all its fulness should dwell,” Twentieth Century New Testament
“For it was by God's own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God.” Good News Translation
“It was in him that the full nature of God chose to live, and through him God planned to reconcile in his own person, as it were, everything on earth and everything in Heaven by virtue of the sacrifice of the cross.” Colossians 1:19-20 J. B. Phillip’s New Testament
The late noted Bible commentator Adam Clarke explained that,
As the words, the Father are not in the text, some have translated the verse thus: For in him it seemed right that all fulness should dwell; that is, that the majesty, power, and goodness of God should be manifested in and by Christ Jesus, and thus by him the Father reconciles all things to himself. The πληρωμα, or fulness, must refer here to the Divine nature dwelling in the man Christ Jesus. (The Adam Clarke Commentary; underline emphasis ours)
Another Bible expositor writes,
“… The term [pleroma] may express simply ‘totality.’ As modified in 2:9, the term means ‘the full measure of deity,’ and 1:19 must bear the same meaning. Therefore, it expresses that Jesus was completely God. Everything that God is, Jesus is… Here Paul stated that the Godhead determined that the human Jesus would be God, sharing all the properties, characteristics, and prerogatives of God himself. Of course, the movement in the incarnation was that God took flesh, not that a human was elevated to deity. The statement actually means that God was pleased to take human form in Jesus. He was no less than God, and he continues to be fully divine (‘dwell’ is present tense stressing an ongoing reality).
“Another factor to consider in this statement is that Paul attributed everything to the Father. The context stresses the work of God the Father on behalf of Christians. The motif continues here. There is perfect harmony in the plan of salvation, for God the Father initiated the deliverance of his people (1:12-14), and God the Father delighted in the fact that Jesus was fully and completely God (1:19)…” (Richard R. Melick, Jr., The New American Commentary, Philippians–Colossians–Philemon, pp. 224-225; comments within brackets and bold and underline emphasis ours)
Interestingly, Paul not only believed that God’s nature was fully indwelling Christ during his time on earth – and therefore never ceased to be God – he went on to write that Jesus continues to embody the entire fullness of the Deity after his resurrection:
“For in him the whole/entire/all the fulness (pan to pleroma) of Deity is dwelling bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Colossians 2:9-10
In light of the foregoing it seems rather certain that Paul was not teaching that Jesus emptied himself of his Divine nature since that is something which he could not do in light of the fact that his Divine essence is immutable and incapable of suffering change (cf. Heb. 1:10-12, 13:8). Rather, Paul is indicating that Christ “emptied himself” by giving up his heavenly status and by veiling his glorious appearance as God in order to take on a slave’s form or appearance instead.
Jesus is the Sovereign Lord of all creation
We are then told that in response to Jesus’ willing act of self-humiliation the Father exalted Christ to the highest position of authority there is, and conferred on him the Name which is above all names so that every creature worships Jesus as Lord. The worship that Jesus receives is said to be to the glory of God the Father, i.e. the Father is glorified in union with his Son so that all must worship the Father in relation to and through Christ the Lord.
What makes this all the more amazing is that Paul (or the composer[s] of the hymn) has (have) taken a fiercely monotheistic text, which speaks of the worship that Yahweh will receive in acknowledgement of his being the only God and Savior, and applied that to Christ!
“For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob's descendants, “Seek me in vain.” I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right. Gather together and come; assemble, you fugitives from the nations. Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save. Declare what is to be, present it— let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, “In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. But in the LORD all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.’” Isaiah 45:18-25
The application of this text to the worship that will be given to the exalted Christ supports the view that the Name that Jesus received is the Name Yahweh, so that Lord (Kyrios) here functions as a NT synonym or surrogate for this exclusive Name of God.
Thus, in this specific context to confess Jesus is Lord is to confess that he is Yahweh God (but not the Father or the Holy Spirit).
However, we need to be careful as to not assume that the passage is saying that Jesus only became Yahweh at his exaltation, since Yahweh is the Name of the one true eternal God and therefore refers to the unchanging God. It is not something that one becomes but something that one already is.
What we are to therefore understand here is that Jesus only began exercising his authority as Yahweh after his exaltation, i.e. the Name he receives here is in respect to the Divine authority that he had set aside while on earth due to his position and status as a slave. Christ only started to function in his role as sovereign Lord after he was exalted to share in his Father’s rule over all creation.
This leads us to our next point.
There is none like Yahweh, and none exalted like him – Except Jesus!
Accord to the inspired prophetic witness there is no creature, whether heavenly or earthly, that is like Yahweh:
“There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” 1 Samuel 2:2
“For this reason You are great, O Lord GOD; for there is none like You, and there is no God besides You, according to all that we have heard with our ears.” 2 Samuel 7:22
“The heavens will praise Your wonders, O LORD; Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the skies is comparable to the LORD? Who among the sons of the mighty is like the LORD, A God greatly feared in the council of the holy ones, And awesome above all those who are around Him? O LORD God of hosts, who is like You, O mighty LORD? Your faithfulness also surrounds You.” Psalm 89:5-8
Moreover, there is not a single creature that is highly exalted like Yahweh and who is permitted to sit on Yahweh’ heavenly throne:
“The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” Psalm 113:4-6
“that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.” Psalm 83:18
Nor is there a creature who receives the very same worship which Yahweh receives:
“There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, Nor are there any works like Yours. All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, And they shall glorify Your name. For You are great and do wondrous deeds; You alone are God.” Psalm 86:8-10
“All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; Worship him, all you gods… For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.” Psalm 97:7, 9
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Begone, Satan! for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”’” Matthew 4:10 – cf. Luke 4:8; Revelation 19:10, 22:8-9
And yet Jesus is exactly like Yahweh since he shares the very nature and visible form or glory of Yahweh, being the exact imprint or representation of God’s eternal substance. Jesus is also highly exalted like Yahweh and even sits on Yahweh’s very own heavenly throne as the sovereign Lord of the entire creation. Jesus further justifies people in the same way that Yahweh does. As if all of this wasn’t astonishing enough Jesus even receives the exact same kind of worship that Yahweh receives!
Thus, since Jesus is
- Highly exalted exactly like Yahweh and sits on the throne in heaven.
- Exists in the very nature of God and is the exact copy of God’s eternal, uncreated Being.
- Shares the same visible form and glory of Yahweh.
- Justifies and saves in the same way that Yahweh does.
- And also receives the very worship due to Yahweh.
Jesus must therefore be Yahweh God Almighty (yet not the Father or the Holy Spirit)! There is simply no way around this fact, no way of escaping this logic (except for denying the veracity and inspiration of the Holy Bible, specifically the NT documents).
Philippians 2 – An explicit witness to the absolute Deity of the Lord Jesus
With the foregoing in view here is how we believe the passage from Philippians should be translated:
"You must have the same mindset among yourselves that was in Christ Jesus, Who, although existing in the nature of God and therefore having the same visible form and glory of God, did not consider the equality He had with God [the Father] in glory something to be held on to at all costs or to be exploited; He instead emptied Himself by veiling his Divine glory and setting aside his heavenly status so as to take on the very appearance and position of a slave by being made in human likeness. And having entered into human existence, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death one dies on a cross. Because of this act of humbleness, God [the Father] highly exalted Him to the highest place there is, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name – that being the Divine name of Yahweh – so that at the name of Jesus everyone who is in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, bows the knee in worship, and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Yahweh to the glory of God the Father!”
In order to more fully appreciate this Christological confession it has to be kept in mind that Paul’s letter to the Philippians was composed about twenty-five years after the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. That means that within twenty-five years the very first generation of Christians were already worshiping and confessing Jesus as their risen Lord and God! NT scholar Martin Hengel brings out the signficance of this point more clearly,
“At the feast of the Passover in the year 30, in Jerusalem, a Galilean Jew was nailed to the cross for claiming to be Messiah. About twenty-five years later, the former Pharisee Paul quotes a hymn about this crucified man in a letter which he writes to one of the communities of the messianic sect which he has founded in the Roman colony of Philippi... The discrepancy between the shameful death of a Jewish state criminal and the confession that depicts this executed man as a preexistent divine figure who becomes man and humbles himself to a slave’s death is, as far as I can see, without analogy in the ancient world. It also illuminates the riddle of the origin of the christology of the early church. Paul founded the community in Philippi in about the year 49, and in the letter which he wrote to the believers there about six or seven years later he will have presented the same Christ as in the preaching which brought the community into being. This means that the ‘apotheosis of the crucified Jesus’must already have taken place in the forties, and one is tempted to say that more happened in this period of less than two decades than in the whole of the next seven centuries, up to the time when the doctrine of the early church was completed. Indeed, one might even ask whether the formation of doctrine in the early church was essentially more than a consistent development and completion of what had already been unfolded in the primal event of the first two decades, but in the language and thought-forms of Greek, which was its necessary setting.” (Hengel, The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish Hellenistic Religion [Wipf & Stock Publishers, Eugene, Oregon 1976], I. The Problem, pp. 1-2; underline emphasis ours)
Amen! Come risen Lord Jesus, come! We bow in worship to you and confess by your grace that you are Yahweh God the Son, knowing that our worship and confession of you delights and honors God the Father since he is glorified in union with you, whenever and wherever you are loved, worshiped and adored! Amen.
(1) Of course, we must be careful not to press the point and assume that the term morphe or “form” always denotes the inner, abiding nature of a person or thing since there are cases where spiritual beings took on human form even to the point of eating (Genesis 19:1-3; Hebrews 13:1-2). It is obvious that the form of these non-physical entities did not correspond to their true natures since these beings clearly were not humans. Thus, context will be essential in determining whether one’s form corresponds to the inner reality or nature of that person or thing.
Now in the case of the prehuman Christ it is said that he actually “became flesh” (John 1:14). Hence, unlike the angels who merely took on human appearance in both the Old and New Testaments (Acts 1:10), the Word was actually conceived in a human womb (Luke 1:31), born as a child (Luke 2:7), and grew up and “found himself” as a man (Philippians 2:7). This was an actual form that he truly took on by becoming a true flesh and blood human being, thereby setting aside the equality/likeness he had with God so as to take on the status and position of a servant.
(2) The reason why we say that Jesus didn’t relinquish his Divine form or glory in the sense that he no longer possessed it, but rather in the sense that he temporarily veiled or covered it over by the human form that he assumed, is because of his transfiguration. There, Jesus displayed his Divine majesty and splendor to some of his followers:
“‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.’ And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli'jah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Eli'jah.’ He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead.’” Matthew 16:28, 17:1-9
According to the explanation of one specific NT writing this event revealed or unveiled Jesus’ heavenly majesty, the glory he possesses by virtue of being the Divine Son of Man and reigning Son of God:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” 2 Peter 1:16-18
(3) There are some Trinitarian scholars who actually believe that Paul taught or embraced the view that Christ, even in his prehuman existence, was functionally subordinate to the Father and therefore not his equal in that respect. One such scholar is the renowned Greek NT textual critic and professor Dr. Daniel B. Wallace:
5 If I may, I would like to add a personal observation. Much of the feminist viewpoint in the evangelical church today is based on a simplistic view of the Trinity, rampant among evangelicals (largely because, I suspect, in the church’s reaction to the rise of the cults of the last century, part of its theological convictions were suppressed). Evangelicals strongly affirm the ontological equality of Son with Father. Yet it is difficult to find doctrinal statements—either in churches or in seminaries—in which the Son is said to be functionally subordinate to the Father. Yet John 14:28; Phil 2:6-11; 1 Cor 11:3; 15:28 all plainly teach the eternal subordination of the Son (John 14 and 1 Cor 11 speak of his present subordination; Phil 2 speaks of his subordination in eternity past; and 1 Cor 15 speaks of his subordination in eternity future). Since these same books strongly affirm the ontological equality of Son with Father, the subordination in view must be functional. (Wallace, What is the Head Covering in 1 Cor 11:2-16 and Does it Apply to Us Today?; bold and underline emphasis ours)
In his Greek grammar Dr. Wallace stated the following concerning the use of the participle hyparchon,
“There are two interpretive problems in Phil 2:6-7 relevant to the treatment of this participle. First, of course, is the grammatical problem of whether this is concessive or causal. Second is the lexical problem of whether harpagmon in v. 6 means robbery or a thing to be grasped. The grammatical and lexical inform one another and cannot be treated separately. Thus, if hyparchon is causal, harpagmon means robbery (‘who, because he existed in God’s form, did not consider equality with God as robbery’); if hyparchon is concessive, then harpagmon means a thing to be grasped (‘who, although he existed in God’s form, did not consider equality with God as a thing to be grasped’). As attractive as the first alternative is theologically, it is not satisfactory. Ultimately, this verse cannot be interpreted in isolation, but must be seen in light of the positive statement in v. 7 – ‘but he emptied himself’ (the participle hyparchon equally depends on both hegesato and ekenosen). Only the concessive idea for the participle and a thing to be grasped translation for harpagmon fit well with v. 7.” (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Study of the New Testament with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes [Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI 1996], pp. 634-635)
Wallace then adds a lengthy footnote which further explains his view,
“Perhaps the largest issue of this text is the meaning of harpagmon. Is it something to be grasped for or something to be retained? If the former, the idea would be that although Christ existed in God’s form, he did not attempt to become equal with God. If the latter, the meaning would be that although Christ existed in God’s form, he did not feel compelled to maintain his equality with God. Both views naturally fit with a concessive participle, though the relation of to einai isa theo to the morphe theou hangs in the balance.
“Appeal has been made to the article with the infinitive, as though it were anaphoric (so N. T. Wright, ‘harpagmos and the Meaning of Philippians 2:5-11,’ JTS, NS 37  344). If so, then the ‘form of God’ means the same thing as ‘equality with God’ and harpagmon is something to be retained. But, as we have argued elsewhere (see the chapters on the accusative and infinitive), the article more probably is used to indicate the object in an object-complement construction. The connection with the ‘form of God’ is thus left open in light of the predominate usage of harpagmon as something to be grasped for. I am inclined to see a difference between morphe theou and to einai isa theo. This does not deny an affirmation of the deity of Christ in this text, just that such a notion is found in to einai isa theo. morphe theou carries that weight by itself (inter alia, there is the contextual argument: If one denies that Christ was truly God, one must also deny that he was truly a servant [note morphen doulou in v. 7]). What, then, is the meaning of the infinitive phrase? It seems to suggest hierarchy, not ontology.
“Putting the interpretation of all the elements together yields the following. Although Christ was truly God (morphe theou), two things resulted: (1) he did not attempt to ‘outrank’ the Father, as it were (cf. John 14:28 for a similar thought: ‘The Father is greater than I am’); (2) instead, he submitted himself to the Father’s will, even to the point of death on a cross. It was thus not Christ’s deity that compelled his incarnation and passion, but his obedience.” (Ibid., fn. 56, p. 635)
Dr. Wallace thus understands equality here not in the sense of the heavenly glory Jesus had with the Father, or to his nature or essence, e.g. the Son has never been nor will he ever be equal with God in nature, but rather to the Son’s authority and rank in relation to the Father. Wallace’s exegesis implies that Christ didn’t simply give up his honor and status that he had in heaven as the Son of God and Heir of creation, but also refused to become something that he wasn’t, namely, to become equal with God the Father in rank and authority.
Wallace’s position is that Jesus is fully God in nature and therefore equal with the Father in essence, majesty, glory and honor. Yet because Jesus is God’s Son he is in some sense subject to the Father in authority and position. Jesus’ subordination is functional and hierarchical, not ontological.
This is a legitimate way of understanding the passage, one which doesn’t override the clear testimony of the text itself to Christ eternally preexisting en morphe theou, i.e. in the very nature and form of God.
For a thorough defense of the historic Christian orthodox view of Jesus’ eternal subordination to the Father in function, without this impinging on his essential coequality and absolute Deity, we recommend this article.
We specifically recommend reading sections 1.3 and 10.2-4 since they provide an in-depth look at the Biblical basis for the Son’s subjection to the Father even before the Incarnation while still being fully and eternally God.
(4) There is one specific Angel who is an exception in that he is not a creature but rather happens to be God assuming the role of a Messenger (which is the literal meaning and translation of the Hebrew and Greek words for angel). We are speaking of the OT Angel of Yahweh/God who is often depicted as being both distinct from and identical with Yahweh God Almighty (cf. Genesis 16:71-14; 31:10-13; 48:15-16; Exodus 3:1-4; 23:20-23; Numbers 22:21-22, 31-32, 35; Judges 2:1-15; 6:11-23; 13:3-24; Isaiah 63:9; Zechariah 3:1-7). There is additional evidence to suggest that this particular Messenger happens to be prehuman appearances of the Lord Jesus Christ. For more on this topic we recommend the following articles: