Philippians 2

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The Christ Hymn (5-11)

This is one of the most studied, debated, and discussed passages in the entire Bible. The exact Christology represented here featured heavily in the early Christian debates on the nature of Jesus. This passage is called the Christ Hymn, not because it rhymes, but because it has a rhythm when it is said (in the original language) and it uses a different vocabulary than the rest of the section (O'Brien 188).

Nearly everything about this passage is debated. It's not agreed on whether this came from another source or whether Paul wrote it, though there is a vague consensus that it was Pauline or pre-Pauline instead of being added afterwards (O'Brien 198). It's also uncertain what form it should be broken down into. Arriving at answers is even harder because it bears some Semitic elements and could be translated from Aramaic (Melick 99). Most translations break this passage into couplets or lines, but many translations disagree on how it should be broken down.

In the end, however, Paul either wrote or incorporated this hymn into his letter because it described what wanted to say in a beautiful way. Paul put his stamp of approval on this passage, and that makes it important to us.

Verse 5: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, (NRSV)

  • This is the apparent reason why Paul included this hymn, to demonstrate the type of mind that Jesus had in an effort to encourage us to be/do/think the same.
  • This verse also ties together the preceding verses with what follows. This is about service and being like-minded, like in verses two and three.
  • ”Mind” here is the word normally meaning “think” but has a meaning here of purpose, intent, to mean to do something (Liddell 872).
    • We are to have the same intentions, the same purpose, as Jesus.
    • This is also an imperative verb, a verb of command. Here, though, it is more of an exhortation. Paul is encouraging the Philippian Christians to be like this.
    • It is also an active verb, unlike how the KJV translates it. We think this, we change, we isn't changed for us.
  • More literally, this verse says “this purpose/thought in you which is also in Christ Jesus.”
  • Christ here is presented as the example we should all be following.

Verse 6: who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, (NRSV)

  • "Though" is an addition to the Greek. Something needs to be supplied, but it hinges on the theology of the translator.
    • "though" comes from the idea that being in the form of God would hinder Jesus from wanting to be anything else. That focuses on the power of God.
    • Another interpretation is that this is talking about the nature of God, and so a better translation might be "because" he was in the form of God. That the nature of God is like this, it is about service.
  • The Greek explicitly says that Jesus was ”existing” in the form of God.
    • This does not make the case for the eternal existence, but for the prior existence of the son in the form of God (Lightfoot 110).
    • Instead, this is being used as an intensive, saying he “really existed” (Melick 102).
  • The word used here for “form” in general terms means “outwards appearance,” but appears only here in this passage in the NT.
    • It is about an outward appearance that stays true to the inward. In this context, it means the expression of an inner reality (Melick 101).
    • Participation in the form, the external appearance, implied participation in the nature of that form, like the essence of a person, what really expresses what lies underneath something (O'Brien 207-210).
  • The term translated here as “exploited/grasped” is a complicated one.
    • Literally, the word means “to seize” or “to steal” (Kittel 1: 472). It technically refers to a piece of plunder, or the process of plundering (Lightfoot 111). Here, it has generally been taken to mean one of two things.
    • One, that it means “held onto” and implies that Jesus was God before, became a man, and returned to God.
    • Two, that the word means “grabbed at” and that this means Jesus did not try to become God, was a man, and because of that was made God.
    • The first option of course is the traditional orthodox position.
    • There are of course other options. The assumption is that this is a theological statement about Jesus' nature, but if this is taken as a statement about Jesus' nature instead, then we can accept an interpretation like “did not consider equality with God a prize he couldn't do without.” The point then becomes about Jesus not letting equality with God keep him from doing what is right.
  • ”Equality with God” is in parallel with “form of God.” They are not different concepts, but emphasize that the form of God was a reality of his being, and not a surface level thing.

Verse 7: but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, (NRSV)

  • The use of “but” or “other” places this verse in direct contrast to the preceding one.
  • ”Himself” indicates that Jesus was not emptied by anyone else, but did it on his own, by choice.
  • This is the same use of “form” as in the previous verse.
  • There is a large question about what Jesus emptied himself of.
    • One idea is that Jesus ceased to be God, but that is not what orthodox theology says.
    • Another option is that Jesus emptied himself of the “treasures/plunder” of being God, the perks if you will.
    • This verse is in contrast with the previous one, where the form of God is in contrast with the form of a servant, and equality with God becomes human likeness. This change is probably the emptying that is intended (Melick 103).
  • The word for slave also means “servant.”
    • The statement here is not that he was a slave to people, but that he went from being served to someone who serves.
    • Scholars are divided on whether becoming a servant is a precursor to becoming a human, or the same action repeated twice.

Verse 8: he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. (NRSV)

  • Following the sequence of events, this humbling came after becoming a human, indicating that not only was being a human an emptying, but he then became humble even for a human.
  • ”Even” emphasizes that death on a cross is not just a normal death, but an extraordinary one. It involved not just pain, but humiliation (Lightfoot 113).
  • No Roman citizen could be crucified according to Roman law, so this really was an embarrassment (Melick 105).

Verse 9: Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, (NRSV)

  • ”Highly exalted” is a superlative (Melick 105) comparing “highest” with “lowest” of the death of the cross.
  • Names were thought to represent the essence of a person, and definitely represents how others view someone, their “office, rank, and dignity,” and with regards to God means God's presence (Lightfoot 113).
  • ”Gave” is not a matter of payment, but a true gift (Nicoll 3:438). The implication is that Jesus did not do this to get a reward, and perhaps was not even certain he would regain his old position afterwards.
  • This is about giving him all that he discarded earlier, and getting the recognition he did not get on Earth.
  • There is no specific name given, but presumably it is “Lord” (verse 11), or perhaps simple a way of saying that Jesus' name was exalted.

Verse 10: so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (NRSV)

  • This is not about how knees will bow at the sound of Jesus' name, but in honor of Jesus (O'Brien 239). The name “Jesus” is not what is important, but what the person who holds that name means to people (Nicoll 439).
  • Bending the knee was a sign of homage, respect, and worship.
  • This verse is a purpose statement for why Jesus was exalted.
  • This verse is modeled on Isaiah 45:23, but modified to fit the son (Lightfoot 114).
  • Jesus is here being directly worshipped and equated with praise that is only given to God. That is a very high Christology for the New Testament.

Verse 11: and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NRSV)

  • ”Confess” is here about declaring openly or plainly, but also has connotations of worship (Lightfoot 115). There is no embarrassment or question about the worthiness of Jesus to be worshipped.
  • That “Christ” does not have an article shows that it had already become less a role and more a name (Nicoll 3:439).

Message Ideas/Scripts/Liturgy That Use This Chapter

Always on our Mind4-5Our minds should be on people and their needs, especially their eternal needs.PeopleAdultsGeneralMessage Idea
The Nature of God2-8Jesus emptied himself not in spite of being God, but because he was God.Sacrifice
GeneralGeneralMessage Idea
The Seven Demotions of Christ5-11We are to surrender our lives to the father's purposes, just like Christ.Humility
AdultsGeneralMessage Idea
The Way Up is Down1-11A community of believers is strong when we take on Jesus' humilityCommunity
GeneralGeneralMessage Idea