Westminster Theological Journal 41.2 (Spring 1979) 247-68.

        Copyright © 1979 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.   

 

 

 

     PHILIPPIANS 2:5–11 IN RECENT STUDIES:

          SOME EXEGETICAL CONCLUSIONS*

 

 

                                        ROBERT B. STRIMPLE

 

            President Clowney, Trustees, Faculty Colleagues, Visiting

Guests, Fellow Students —

            One of the study projects I had in view in requesting relief

from certain deanly duties for at least a "semi" study leave

this semester was to catch up on what has been written regard-

ing the exegesis of this crucial but notoriously difficult chris-

tological passage since R. P. Martin summarized the literature

from 1900 through 1963 in his exhaustive study entitled Carmen

Christi.1  This reasearch was undertaken with a view to my

assigned classroom responsibilities, as we regularly devote much

attention to the interpretation of this passage in the required

course in the Doctrine of Christ; but when reminded of this

occasion I thought there might be some interest in my sharing

at least some of the results of this research.

            Titles are often a problem, I find. I inserted the reference

to "conclusions" to encourage you to anticipate that we would

not merely be surveying opposing views, but I would not want

to suggest more definitiveness in these conclusions than actually

exists. We must always remain open to new light being shed

on our understanding of the Scriptures, particularly of such a

thorny text. The title refers to verses 5–11 because the apostle's

christological statement extends through verse 11, but in this

hour our comments can reach only into verse 7.

            Now, to some this might seem a strange topic for one appoin-

ted to the department of Systematic Theology. As Professor

John Murray once wrote in his Westminster Theological Jour-

 

* An address delivered at Westminster Theological Seminary, April

24, 1979, at the inauguration of Dr. Strimple as Professor of Systematic

Theology.

1 R. P. Martin, Carmen Christi: Philippians ii.5-11 in Recent Inter-

pretation and in the Setting of Early Christian Worship (Cambridge:

University Press, 1967).

                                                247



248     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

nal articles defining systematic theology: "All other departments

of theological discipline contribute their findings to systematic

theology and it brings all the wealth of knowledge derived from

these disciplines to bear upon the more inclusive systematization

which it undertakes."2 And the picture some might naively and

incorrectly draw is of the systematic theologian sitting down like

a master jigsaw puzzler, taking what is handed him by the

exegetes, by the biblical theologians, by the historians of doctrine,

and saying: "Now boys let's see what it looks like when we put

it all together!" The problem, of course, is that so many of the

exegetical pieces "contributed" to the systematic theologian do

not fit together! Many must be discarded. And the systematizer

finds that he must begin by evaluating them and deciding which

really are a part of the big picture and make their contribution

to it. And that is why one who teaches systematic theology can-

not avoid the kind of study before us, no matter how inadequate

for it he might feel. He cannot assign the evaluative task and

the responsibility for it to someone else.

            Let me begin by reminding you of the wide acceptance of

the argument presented by Ernst Lohmeyer in 1928 to the

effect that the passage introduced by the relative pronoun o{j

("who") in verse 6 was a pre-Pauline hymn here employed by

the apostle.3 That conclusion is said to rest upon a recognition

of the relative pronoun as an appropriate formula for introduc-

ing a quotation (Comp. I Tim. 3:16, "great is the mystery of

godliness who . . ."); the rhythmic quality and exalted lan-

guage of the passage the number of hapax legomena and other

unusual, non-Pauline vocabulary, and the alleged absence of

Pauline ideas and the presence of non-Pauline ones.

            In his 1976 article, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor states that

Martin's earlier conviction that "the verdict which sees the hymn

as a separate composition inserted into the epistolary prose of

Paul's writing, commands an almost universal respect in these

 

2 John Murray, "Systematic Theology," The Westminster Theological

Journal, XXV (Nov., 1962 to May, 1963), 136.

3 Ernst Lohmeyer, Kyrios Jesus: Eine Untersuchung zu Phil. 2,5-11

(Heidelberg, 1928). C. H. Talbert states that "the first person to isolate

the passage and call it a hymn was Arthur S. Way in the first edition of

his translation of the epistles (1901)." "The Problem of Pre-Existence

in Phil. 2:6–11," Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXXVI (1967), 141–

142.

 



      SOME EXEGETICAL CONCLUSIONS                             249

 

clays," continues to be confirmed.4 This is not to say, however,

that defenders of Pauline authorship are no longer to be found.

Such scholars as Morna Hooker and L. Hammerich again call

attention to the verbal similarities (as well as ideal similarities)

between the alleged hymn and passages which precede and

which follow in the epistle, similarities earlier emphasized by

Cerfaux:5 h]gh<sato in verse 6 ("did not regard") and h]gou<menoi

in verse 3 ("regard one another") and in chapter 3; e]ke<nwsen

in verse 7 ("he emptied himself") and kenodoci<an in verse 3

("empty conceit"); e]tapei<nwsen in verse 8 ("he humbled him-

self") and tapeinofrosu<nh in verse 3 ("humility"); eu[reqei>j

in verse 8 ("being found") and eu[reqw? in 3:9 ("that I may be

found"); e]xari<sato in verse 9 ("gave him the name") and

e]xari<sqh in 1:29 ("it has been given to you"); ei]j do<can qeou?

patro<j in verse 11 ("unto the glory of God the Father") and

ei]j do<can...qeou? in 1:11 ("unto the glory of God") and espe-

cially the 6 verbal similarities found in 3:20, 21 — u[pa<rxei,

ku<rion, metasxhmati<sei, tapeinw<sewj, su<mmorfsh, do<chj— and

note the final words: "the power that He has even to subject

all things to Himself." J. M. Furness again defends the Pauline

authorship of Phil. 2:6–11 and calls attention to "the exalted,

lyrical style that emerges, under similar stress of emotion, else-

where in the apostle's writings — e.g. in I Cor. 13 and 15 ..."6

Howard Marshall notes that Martin made reference to such

arguments but suggests that Martin should have recognized

more adequately their force and should not have reached the

conclusion that Paul was not the author."'

            Now I recognize the truth of Andrew Bandstra's remark

that such a question as this, whether Paul wrote verses 6–11

 

4 Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, "Christological Anthropology in Phil.,

II, 6-11," Revue Biblique, 83 (1976), 25.

5 Morna D. Hooker, "Philippians 2:6-11," Jesus and Paulus: Fest-

schrift fur Werner Georg Kummel zum 70 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck &

Ruprecht, 1975), pp. 152-153. L. L. Hammerich, An Ancient Misunder-

standing (Phil. 2,6 ‘robbery’) (Kobenhavn: Munksgaard, 1966), pp. 28-

29. Lucien Cerfaux, Christ in the Theology of St. Paul, trans. by Geoffrey

Webb and Adrian Walker (New York: Herder and Herder, 1959), p.

376.

6 J. M. Furness, "Behind the Philippian Hymn," Expository Times,

LXXIX (1967-1968), 178.

7 J. Howard Marshall, "The Christ-Hymn in Philippians 2:5-11. A

Review Article," Tyndale Bulletin, 19 (1968), 106 and 121.

 



250                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

himself or employed an earlier hymn, is "of remote concern to

the minister but there is a related factor that emerges here

which I believe is very important in the interpretation of the

passage and needs to be emphasized. Basically I would take the

approach of those British scholars whom Martin describes as

inclined to grant the possibility of non-Pauline authorship "and

then pass on as though the verses were authentically Paul's."

There is no a priori theological reason for ruling out the possi-

bility, that Paul here made use of an earlier hymn to Christ. It

becomes clear, however, that opting for non-Pauline authorship

is not an innocuous decision when coupled with the insistence

that the passage therefore is to be interpreted altogether without

regard to how Paul used it in his argument or even how Paul

might have understood it.

            That insistence, so damaging to the interpretive process, is

made by Martin himself: "It is of the utmost importance to

isolate the meaning of the terms in the hymn from the use which

is made of them by Paul in the verses which precede and follow.

. . . Once this is done, it becomes increasingly difficult to fol-

low the ethical interpretation."10 (More on that specific applica-

tion in just a moment.) And later in Carmen Christi: "there is

the meaning of the passage in the context of Paul's letter; and

there is a meaning of the Christ-hymn on its own. . . . It is

conceivable that the two meanings may in no way coincide."11

Martin goes on in that final chapter to concentrate upon the

meaning of the hymn "on its own," but if that meaning does

not help us to understand the meaning in the canonical letter,

of what interest, other than merely historical interest, is it?

            In one of the most recent studies of the passage, Murphy-

O'Connor begins with the recognition of two possible levels of

meaning and then states his methodological principle: "I intend

to abstract entirely from the Pauline context . . . and to attempt

to interpret it as an independent composition."12 He then proves

to his satisfaction that nothing in the immediate context, the

hymn itself, demands the pre-existence or deity of Christ and

 

8 A. Bandstra, "'Adam' and ‘the Servant’ in Phil. 2:5-11," Calvin

Theological Journal, I (1966), 213.

9 Martin, p. 61.

10 Ibid., p. 215.

11 Ibid., p. 287.

12 Murphy-O'Connor, p. 26.

 



     SOME EXEGETICAL CONCLUSIONS                             251

 

reminds us that the general Pauline context cannot be appealed

to because Paul did not write the hymn. We begin to see some

of the implications of a hermeneutical method which cuts off

all appeal to parallel Pauline expressions or concepts. To be thus

cut off is not to find ourselves newly open to the understanding

of the passage but is to find ourselves at a hermeneutical dead-

end. Morna Hooker puts it so well in a 1975 study: "If the

passage is pre-Pauline, then we have no guide lines to help us

in understanding its meaning. Commentators may speculate

about the background — but we know very little about pre-

Pauline Christianity, and nothing at all about the context in

which the passage originated. It may therefore be more profit-

able to look first at the function of these verses in the present

context and to enquire about possible parallels within Paul's

own writings. For even if the material is non-Pauline, we may

expect Paul himself to have interpreted it and used it in a

Pauline manner."13

            (It should be added that in the current theological climate

even a willingness to grant Pauline authorship does not guarantee

an interest in contextual interpretation. John Harvey is a case

in point. ". . . we cannot tell, with exactitude what was in Paul's

mind when he wrote (or included) the Christ hymn in this letter.

Fundamentally, it is not of existential importance to us — for he

was writing for people whose thought-forms were very different

from our own. But what does matter, if we believe that the

Bible contains God's Word to us today, is how we interpret this

passage for ourselves."14)

            A related problem concerns the literary structure of the hymn

in its original form. To many this is the key that unlocks the

meaning. Hamerton-Kelly insists that "an understanding of the

hymn depends on the solution of two related problems, the

structure of 2:5-11, and its background in the history of reli-

gion."15 C. H. Talbert is an extreme example of the principle

that "a proper delineation of form leads to a correct interpreta-

tion of meaning."16 Finding two parallel strophes dividing after

 

13 Hooker, p. 152.

14 John Harvey, "A New Look at the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2: 6-

11," Expository Times, 76 (1965), 338.

15 R. G. Hamerton-Kelly, Pre-existence, Wisdom, and the Son of Man

(Cambridge: University Press, 1973), p. 156.

16 Talbert, p. 141.

 



252                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

labw?n in verse 7, Talbert argues that "parallel structure points

to parallel meanings," and therefore since the second strophe

unquestionably speaks of the human existence of Jesus, the

first strophe must also! Thus verses 6 and 7a are a statement

"not about the pre-existence of Jesus but about his earthly

life."17

            The problem is that few agree with Talbert's proposed struc-

ture, and those who do, disagree with his exegetical conclusion.

Indeed, the student who follows the history of proposed poetic

structures from Lohmeyer through Jeremias and Bultmann and

Martin and others is struck by the evidently subjective and

arbitrary nature of such an enterprise and becomes sceptical

about suggestions that correct understanding depends upon cor-

rect versification. Again Professor Hooker states the student's

conclusion very well. "The fact that different scholars produce

different poetic structures makes one slightly hesitant about the

value of this exercise. . . . One of the difficulties is that the

passage as we have it never really fits the patterns into which

the commentators try to push it; they therefore excise certain

lines as Pauline glosses."18 And again, the fact is that such

excisions are not helps to understanding the passage as Paul

understood it.

            If we may look now at verse 5, it comes as quite a surprise, I

think, to the Christian entering for the first time into the vast

literature dealing with the passage to note how much has been

written, and with what vigor, against the so-called "ethical

example" interpretation. Kasemann says that everyone from

the Reformers through Adolf Schlatter interpreted the passage

as a piece of ethical exhortation,19 and the unsuspecting reader

will not, I think, find it difficult to understand why the passage

has been interpreted that way. Whatever else may be given to

us here, there is certainly an exhortation to follow the example

of Christ! But ever since what has been referred to as Julius

Kogel's "daring and momentous" warning against an attitudinal

 

17 Ibid., p. 153.

18 Hooker, p. 157.

19 Ernst Kasemann, "A Critical Analysis of Phillippians 2:5-11,7 God

and Christ: Existence and Province, vol. 5 of Journal for Theology and

the Church, ed. by Robert W. Funk (New York: Harper & Row, 1968),

p. 47.

 



      SOME EXEGETICAL CONCLUSIONS                             253

 

ethic20 in 1908, scholars from Barth21 and Kasemann to R.P.

Martin and J. A. Sanders22 have been telling us that there is no

basis for such an interpretation. The following are the principle

arguments that have been put forward: 1) It is necessary to

insert some verb after the relative pronoun in verse 5 to fill out

the sense. While h@n ("was") is possible (NASB — "Have this

attitude in (or, better, among) yourselves which was also in

Christ Jesus"), it yields greater parallelism, symmetry, to insert

a second (fronei?te, this one an indicative following the impera-

tive: "Think this way among yourselves which you think in

Christ Jesus, i.e. as members of His Church."23 As Kasemann

puts it: "The Philippians are admonished to conduct themselves

toward one another as is fitting within the realm of Christ."24

2) The phrase e]n Xrist&?  ]Ihsou? is a technical theological term

in Paul. It does not refer here to the thoughts or attitude of

Christ but to the union of believers with Christ as members of

His body. Thus, says Kasemann, it points to salvation-event,

not example. 3) Only part of what Paul goes on to write could

be thought of as providing an example to believers of humility

and self-forgetfulness. Verses 9–11 become an irrelevant appen-

dix on the ethical example interpretation. 4) Martin insists that

"Paul only rarely uses the idea of the ethical example of Jesus

to enforce an exhortation."25

            It is encouraging to find in recent studies several attempts to

answer such arguments and allow us once again to see the pas-

sage as setting Christ before us as the example that is to guide

the Christian in his conduct toward others. The first require-

ment, as we have already mentioned, is to interpret the passage

in terms of its place in the flow of Paul's argument and not in

terms of our supposed ability to abstract it from its context in

the epistle. Then, with regard to the four arguments above

presented: 1) Both Moule and Marshall point out that the now

commonly accepted translation of verse 5 — "Have this attitude

 

20 Ibid., p. 53.

21 Karl Barth, Erklarung des Philipperbriefes (Zurich: Zollikon,

1928), pp. 53-62.

22 J. A. Sanders, "Dissenting Deities and Phil. 2:6-11," Journal of

Biblical Literature, LXXXVIII (1969), 280.

23 Martin, p. 71.

24 Kasemann, p. 84.

25 Martin, p. 72.

 



254                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

among yourselves that you have as members of Christ's body"

is tautological. It assumes that believers could adopt one attitude

in their mutual relations and another as incorporated into Christ.

This yields literally non-sense. It is often thought that this ren-

dering is in line with the New Testament pattern of commanding

believers to "become what they are," but that "contrast is not

between two spheres of existence (Kasemann) but between an

already given condition on the one hand, and the implementing

of it, on the other."26 There is good reason to continue to trans-

late the second part of verse 5: "which was also in Christ Jesus."

Only thus does the kai>, retain its force.

            2) This would mean that e]n Xrist&?  ]Ihsou? is not here a refer-

ence to our incorporation into Christ but a reference to Christ's

own thought or attitude. Hooker notes that we find here not

the usual Pauline expression, e]n Xrist&? but e]n Xrist&?  ]Ihsou?,

perhaps significant as a warning not to assume too quickly that

the phrase here is the Pauline "code word" for union with

Christ.27

            3) With regard to the argument that verses 9—11 do not fit

the ethical example interpretation, it is not difficult, I believe,

to see how those verses relate to Paul's appeal. In the closely

parallel text in II Corinthians 8:9 Paul employs what Hooker

refers to as the idea of interchange:28 "For you know the grace

of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for

your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might

become rich." The apostle in II Timothy 2:11 records the "trust-

worthy statement" that "if we died with Him, we shall also live

with Him; If we endure, we shall also reign with Him." Hooker

prefers to speak of "conformity" rather than "imitation," but

that conformity is to come to expression both in our walking

with Christ now and in our being exalted with Christ in that

Day.

            4) Even if Paul's appeal to the ethical example of Jesus

were so rare that it appears only in Philippians 2 and II Corin-

thians 8:9, it would still seem clear there. But the fact is that

it is not that rare. Think of Romans 15 ("Let each of us please

 

26 C. F. D. Moule, "Further Reflexions on Phil. 2:5-11," Apostolic

History and the Gospel, ed. by W. Ward Gasque and Ralph P. Martin

(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1970), p. 266.

27 Hooker, p. 154.

28 Ibid., p. 155.

 



      SOME EXEGETICAL CONCLUSIONS                             255

 

his neighbor for his good . . . for even Christ did not please

Himself; but as it is written . . ." and verse 5: "Now may

God . . . grant you to be of the same mind with one another

according to Christ Jesus") and I Corinthians 11:1 ("Be imita-

tors of me, just as I also am of Christ"). Ephesians 5:2; I

Thessalonians 1:6 — all refer to Christ's example of self-denial

and suffering. It has been argued that the use of the picture of

the Isaianic Servant points to the soteriological rather than the

ethical thrust of Philippians 2. But it should be noted that that

very picture of the Suffering Servant plays a significant part

in the ethical exhortation of the New Testament as well as in

its soteriology: Mark 10:44, 45 ("Whoever wishes to be first

among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did

not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom

for all."); I Peter 2:21–25 ("For you have been called for this

purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an exam-

ple for you to follow in His steps" —and then Isaiah is quo-

ted).29

            To say that Warfield was on target after all in entitling his

sermon on this passage, "Imitating the Incarnation,"30 is not

at all to reduce the gospel to following an example. Of course,

in Kasemann's terms, Christ "ist Urbild, nicht Vorbild," arche-

type not model.31 But we must avoid drawing a superficial anti-

thesis between Heilsgeschichte and ethics. Hooker writes: "What

in fact we have is a typically Pauline fusion of these two themes.

The behaviour which is required of those who are in Christ is

required of them — and possible for them—precisely because

they are in Christ, and this being in Christ depends on the sav-

ing acts proclaimed in the gospel. The Christian response is not

simply to join in the chorus of adoration and confess Jesus as

Lord — but to obey the one named as Lord, and to give glory

to God by being conformed to the image of his son."32 Hooker

puts her finger on the theological bias often at work here when

 

29 W. Zimmerli and J. Jeremias, The Servant of God (Naperville, Ill.:

Allenson, 1957), p. 98.

30 Benjamin B. Warfield, The Saviour of the World (New York: Hod-

der and Stoughton, n.d.), pp. 247—270; republished in The Person and

Work of Christ (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publish-

ing Company, 1950), pp. 563-575.

31 Kasemann, p. 74.

32 Hooker, p. 156.

 



256                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

she writes further: "It is only the dogma that the Jesus of His-

tory and the Christ of Faith belong in separate compartments

that leads to the belief that the appeal to a Christian character

appropriate to those who are in Christ is not linked to the pat-

tern as seen in Jesus himself."33

            "Have this attitude among yourselves which was also in Christ

Jesus, who, being in the form of God . . ." Traditionally at

Westminster, as elsewhere, Philippians 2:6ff. has been consid-

ered in systematics class at the point where a kenotic under-

standing of the Incarnation is being refuted. While there is some

evidence of renewed interest in kenotic christology,34 more

typical of contemporary theologians is J. A. T. Robinson's dis-

missal of kenotic theories as "fruitless expenditures of theolog-

ical ingenuity" because they assumed the pre-existence and the

deity of Christ.35 Whether a theologian is favorably disposed

toward kenotic speculation or not, there is little inclination today

to seek support for such a theory in the exegesis of Philippians

2.36 The approach to the interpretation of this passage which

is the gravest threat to orthodox christology at the present time

is that which refuses to recognize the presence here of any refer-

ence to such supernatural categories as pre-existence and the

incarnation of deity.

            Again, this might seem a most surprising development. In

his study R. P. Martin made brief reference to what he termed

the nineteenth century Lutheran "dogmatic" view which saw

the subject of verse 6 as the historical Christ, with the time of

the verbs located not in some pre-temporal existence but in the

course of his earthly life when he was faced with the decision

whether to seek his own exaltation or to obey the Father's will.37

 

33 Ibid., p. 154.

34 Hans Kung, Menschwerdung Gottes (Freiburg: Herder, c. 1970).

John MacQuarrie, "Kenoticism Re-considered," Theology, 77 (1974),

115—124; Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, trans. by R. A. Wilson

and John Bowden (New York: Harper and Row, 1974) ; Karl Rahner,

"On the Theology of the Incarnation," Theological Investigations, vol. IV

(Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1966), pp. 105-120.

35 J. A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God (Philadelphia: West-

minster Press, 1973), p. 208.

36 John G. Gibbs, "The Cosmic Scope of Redemption According to

Paul," Biblica, 56 (1975), 27.

37 Martin, p. 63.

 



   SOME EXEGETICAL CONCLUSIONS                             27

 

In 1964 Martin could dismiss such an interpretation as virtually

defunct,38 but today it is very much alive.

            John Harvey calls the "traditional exegesis" an "embarrass-

ment" to contemporary theologians who "are discarding the two-

nature theory of the Incarnation;"39 and therefore he proposes

that we understand verse 6 to be stating that, like Adam, Christ

was a man, made in the image of God, and thus the divine nature

was his from the first even as it is ours from the first. But unlike

Adam, and indeed all of us except Jesus, He did not seek equal-

ity with God, but rather gave up all concern for himself and so

knew that end which "simply carries on to its logical conclusion

what should happen to a life which is lived entirely for God and

other people — death on a cross."40 Such an interpretation may

seem singularly unconvincing, but N. K. Bakken, writing in

Interpretation, ask that Harvey's position be taken seriously.

Philippians 2:6 teaches that Christ "affirmed his creatureliness"

and "emptied himself of the aspiration to ‘be God’," thus becom-

ing "the man whom God intended, and to him and through him

man is again given dominion. . . .”41

            We have already referred to C. H. Talbert's argument that

because of the parallelism of stanzas 1 and 2, stanza 1 like

stanza 2 refers to the decision of the human Jesus "to be God's

servant rather than to repeat the tragedy of Adam and his

sons."42  We have also referred to Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's

lengthy recent article in Revue Biblique in which he argues that

nothing in the language of verse 6 demands the notions of pre-

existence or divinity, and that appeal to the wider context of

the Pauline epistles is invalid because Paul did not write the

Philippian hymn. Murphy-O'Connor, however, insists that the

reference to likeness to God refers to something unique to Jesus.

But since he also insists that "methodologically" a "'minimal

hypothesis" which will explain that uniqueness (one which will

not posit more than humanness of Jesus) must be preferred to

 

38 "That the hymn sets forth the Incarnation of Christ in His humilia-

tion and subsequent enthronement is universally agreed." Ibid., p. viii.

39 Harvey, pp. 337-338.

40 Ibid., p. 338.

41 Norman K. Bakken, "The New Humanity: Christ and the Modern

Age. A Study Centering in the Christ-hymn: Phil. 2:6-11," Interpretation,

XXII (1968), p. 76.

42 Talbert, p. 153.

 



258                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

a "maximal hypothesis," the hypothesis which he favors is that

it was Jesus' sinlessness which gave him the right to be treated

as if he were God, that is, the right "to enjoy the incorruptibility

in which Adam was created,"43 an incorruptibility he was willing

to forego in order to obey God's will even unto death; even

though he admits that the heart of that hypothesis, the sinless-

ness of Jesus, is never referred to in the hymn itself.

            D. W. B. Robinson also starts with the assumption that the

subject of Philippians 2:6 is the human Jesus, but then proposes

that the term a[rpagmo<j be understood as a reference to a rap-

ture in a literal, passive sense — a being snatched away, like

Elijah — so that what is being affirmed is that Jesus did not

think equality with God consisted in being caught up, in being

delivered from his adversaries by divine intervention, and so

Jesus did not yield to Satan's wilderness temptation to lift him

up nor to the Gethsemane temptation to seek rescue from the

hour for which he had come.44

            Despite the tour de force displayed in some of these sugges-

tions, one must agree with Reginald Fuller that "the attempts

which have been made to eliminate pre-existence entirely from

this passage . . . must be pronounced a failure."45 As Howard

Marshall notes: "It is impossible to make sense of numerous

phrases in verses 6–8 if they are understood solely against the

background of the earthly life of Jesus."46 Most importantly,

what would be the force of the aorist participle in 7c, geno<menoj,

"being made in the likeness of men," and what would be the

meaning of verse 8a, "being found in appearance as a man"?

Jack Sanders convincingly argues that "the presence of e]n

o[moiw<mati a]nqrw?pwn geno<menoj, in verse 7 . . . would seem

to indicate that this would have to be the first appearance of

. . . Anthropos in the hymn, or, in other words, that the

redeemer here first becomes Man."47

            The interpretation which begins with Christ in verse 6 as

 

43 Murphy-O'Connor, p. 49.

44 D. W. B. Robinson, "a[rpagmo<j: The Deliverance that Jesus

Refused?" Expository Times, LXXX (1968-1969), 253-254.

45 R. H. Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology

(London: Lutterworth Press, 1965), p. 235, note 9.

46 Marshall, p. 116.

47 Jack T. Sanders, The New Testament Christological Hymns (Cam-

bridge: University Press, 1971), p. 66.

 



       SOME EXEGETICAL CONCLUSIONS                 259

 

merely a man like other men simply cannot do justice to the

following description of his humiliation and subsequent exalta-

tion. As Hamerton-Kelly puts it: "The hymn demonstrates a

christological interest in affirming the protological preexistence

of Christ. This affirmation secures the divine nature of Christ

and provides a foil against which the significance of the humili-

ation of the Cross becomes fully evident."48 D. F. Hudson notes

that: "There is a clear pairing of ‘the divine nature,’ and ‘the

nature of a slave,’ and any fair exegesis of the passage which

tries to avoid the full force of the first cannot lay any weight

on the second. . . . Jesus was not merely the man who became

the Man for Others, but he was the God who became the Man

for Others."49

            But if we must do justice to the full force of e]n morf^? qeou?,

what is the full force of that expression? For years I tried, like

Warfield and Murray, to maintain the view of Lightfoot that

Paul here uses morfh< with the sense it had acquired in Greek

philosophy, particularly Aristotelian, and which Murray speaks

of as "existence form . . . the sum of those characterizing

qualities that make a thing the precise thing that it is."50 Light-

foot wrote: "though morfh< is not the same as fu<sij or ou]si<a,

yet the possession of the morfh<  involves participation in the

ou[si<a also for morfh<  implies not the external accidents but the

essential attributes.''51 But I have had to conclude that there is

really very little evidence to support the conclusion that Paul

uses morfh<  in such a philosophical sense here and that my deter-

mination to hold on to that interpretation was really rooted in

its attractiveness theologically. Kasemann has argued on the

 

48 Hamerton-Kelley, p. 168.

49 D. F. Hudson, "A Further Note on Phil. 2:6-11," Expository

Times, LXXVII (1965-1966), 29.

50 Studies in the Person and Work of Christ, mimeographed notes

taken by students in class lectures by John Murray, but not edited in any

way by Professor Murray (available in the Library, Westminster Theo-

logical Seminary), p. 36. Cf. Warfield, p. 254: ".. . the phraseology

which Paul here employs was the popular use of his day, though first

given vogue by the Aristotelian philosophy . . . this mode of speech

resolved everything into its matter and its form, — into the base material

out of which it is made, and that body of characterizing qualities which

constitute it what it is."

51 J. B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistle to the Philippians (Grand

Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1953—original edition 1913), p. 110.

 



260                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

basis not of a classical Greek background but of a Hellenistic

orientation for the meaning "mode of being" (Daseinsweise)

and against the notion of visible manifestation.52  F. W. Beare

and Howard Marshall adopt this translation, "mode of being,"

but both, I suspect, are influenced by their theological presup-

positions: Bultmannian in the case of Beare, orthodox in the

case of Marshall.53

            Most interpreters today seek a biblical background for the

expression, and this seems to be a more sound approach meth-

odologically. The difficulty, however, lies in the paucity of texts

in the LXX of the canonical Old Testament in which morfh<  

appears. There are only four, and morfh<  translates a different

Hebrew word in each text! In each instance, however, morfh<  

refers to, the visible form or appearance (the form of the son

of a king, Judges 8:18; "there was no form before my eyes,"

Job 4:16; an idol in the form of a man, Isaiah 44:13; the form

of Nebuchadnezzar's countenance was changed, Dan. 3:19). In

the disputed longer ending of Mark the risen Christ appears in

another form" (16:12). Since I believe the primary background

of the Philippian passage is the Servant Songs of Isaiah, and

these songs in a translation from the Hebrew different from

that of the LXX, I find it interesting that Aquila uses morfh<  

for rxt also in Isaiah 52:14: "So His appearance was marred

more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men;"

and again in 53:2: "He has no form or majesty that we should

look upon him."

            Therefore, I think, contrary to Murray, that meager though

the biblical evidence is, it is sufficient to make a prima facie case

for the reference being to a visible manifestation; but, in agree-

ment with Murray, I do not think the evidence is sufficient to

establish that morfh<, ei]kw<n, and do<ca are simply synonymous.

The argument that because morfh<  translates the Aramaic Mlc

in Daniel 3:19, it is synonymous with ei]kw<n (image) which

translates the Hebrew Mlc in Genesis 1:26 -- and therefore

Christ being in the form of God equals Adam (and all men)

 

52 Kasemann, p. 61. Kasemann emphasizes the preposition e]n and says

that e]n morfh< "designates the realm in which one stands and by which

one is determined, as in a field of force."

53 F. W. Beare, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians (New

York: Harper, 1959), pp. 79-81; Marshall, p. 126.

 



            SOME EXEGETICAL CONCLUSIONS                 261

 

being in the image of God — is just too facile. Behm in the

TDNT article on morfh<  recognizes that morfh<  and ei]kw<n cannot

be equated,54 but I believe it is also well to note that morfh<  and

do<ca are not synonyms. Murray's argument against the visible

manifestation interpretation of morfh<  — that no one would

substitute do<ca for morfh< in 7b55  ("the glory of a slave") —

misses the point that verse 6 refers to Christ's eternal So ja not

because [morfh< equals do<ca but because the morfh<< qeou? is do<ca.

            Therefore, I believe Calvin was quite correct in pointing us to

John 17:5 for the meaning of e]n morf^? qeou? — "and now, glorify

thou Me together with thyself, Father, with the glory which I

ever had with thee before the world was." Such a description of

the eternal Son as in the form of God, sharing God's glory,

reminds us of Hebrews 1:3 ("the radiance of His (God's)

glory and the exact representation of His nature") and of his

title, Logos. As Johannes Weiss wrote: "in the Pauline sense,

Christ was from the beginning no other than the Kabod, the

Doxa, of God himself, the glory and radiation of his being,

which appears almost as an independent hypostasis of God and

vet is connected intimately with God."56

            Herman Ridderbos writing his outline of Paul's theology at

the same time that Martin was producing Carmen Christi,57

greatly expands an idea that Martin presents as follows: "Adam

reflected the glory of the eternal Son of God who, from eternity,

is Himself the 'image' of the invisible and ineffable God. . . .

What Paul had learned at the feet of Gamaliel about the ‘glory

of the first Adam . . . he transferred to the last Adam as He

had revealed Himself, to him in a blaze of glory."58

            While this particular theory of why Paul here refers to Christ

as e]n morf^? qeou? raises no doctrinal difficulties — (Ridderbos is

insistent that although "Paul has denoted the divine glory of

 

54 J. Behm, " morfh<," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,

ed. by Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, vol. IV

(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1967), p. 752.

55 Lecture notes, p. 37.

56 Johannes Weiss, Earliest Christianity, ed. by F. C. Grant (New

York: Peter Smith, 1959), vol. II, p. 478.

57 Herman Ridderbos; Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. by

John Richard DeWitt (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1975).

Dutch edition, 1966.

58 Martin, p. 119.

 



262                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Christ both in his pre-existence and in his exaltation with a

qualification that also held for the first Adam," it is, "of course,

in another sense appropriate to the first Adam." "Paul is nowhere

engaged in limiting Christ's divine glory, whether in his pre-

existence or in his exaltation, with respect to that of God him-

self. For him Christ's being the Son of God is none other than

being God himself." And specifically, we must not be tempted

to "the conclusion drawn by some that Paul here represents

Christ as the man come from heaven.")59 — nevertheless, it may

be questioned whether Ridderbos does not overstate the evidence

when he speaks of the "interchangeableness of morphe and

eikon"60 and whether his interpretation of the whole passage in

terms of a sustained contrast with Adam is really warranted.

With an eye on those we have spoken of who would deny

Christ's deity and overlook the fact that, unlike Adam, he already

possessed equality with God, Ridderbos himself cautions that

"one must not over-draw the parallel."61 But the question is

whether the apostle means to draw the parallel at all here. T. F.

Glasson writing in New Testament Studies in 1975 concludes

that the Adam reference "seems forced at best." No such anti-

thesis with Genesis 3 appears in Philippians 2 because Genesis

3 does not say that "Adam desired equality with God in the

comprehensive sense of that expression." "The only kind of

godlikeness in question in Genesis 3:5 was obtained, according

to 3:22." Glasson cautions us, therefore, not to obtrude the

Adam/Christ parallel "into passages where it is not relevant."62

 

59 Ridderbos, pp. 72, 77, and 75.

60 Ibid., p. 74. The fact remains that Adam is nowhere in the LXX or

the New Testament referred to as morfh< qeou?. When Murphy-O'Connor

asks why the writer of Phil. 2:6 did not use ei]kw<n, and suggests that

morfh< was used to bring out the distinction between Christ and other

men (which he sees as the difference between being the image of God

in the sense of capacity, all men, and being the image of God in the

fullest and most authentic sense, Christ), he seems to destroy his con-

tention that ei]kw<n and morfh< are simply "interchangeable terms," pp.

41-42.

61 Ridderbos, p. 75.

62 T. Francis Glasson, "Two Notes on the Philippians Hymn (II.6—

11)," New Testament Studies, 21 (1974—1975), p. 138. Glasson is affirm-

ing his agreement with the opinion of Marvin R. Vincent, The Inter-

national Critical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and to

Philemon (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1911), p. 86. Compare

 



            SOME EXEGETICAL CONCLUSIONS                 263

 

            The increased popularity of the view that sees 6a as speaking

of a merely human Jesus has resulted in an increase in the popu-

larity of taking 6b in what has been called the res rapienda sense,

i.e. that it speaks of Christ refusing to consider equality with

God as something to be snatched at, and thus sets forth an

implied contrast with the first Adam who did aspire to equality

with God. The upsurge in the popularity of that interpretation

of 6b is most regrettable. 1) It rests upon an assumed contrast

with Adam which is questionable to say the least. 2) It assumes

a disjunction between being in the form of God and being equal

with God which is contrary to the natural force of the gram-

matical construction which so closely binds together these two

clauses which precede the real disjunction, which comes with the

a]lla> at the beginning of verse 7.63  3) And it ignores the evidence

of the use and meaning of a[rpagmo>n h[gei?sqai as an idiomatic

proverbial phrase, instead focusing upon the one word, a[rpagmo<j,

and its etymology and suggesting what it might possibly mean.

            This last error is one which continues to be made by exposi-

tors with surprising frequency in spite of what Martin described

as the "particularly full and interesting" evidence which Werner

Jaeger supplied back in 1915 for the popular, proverbial usage."

Jaeger called attention to certain double accusative constructions

(which Lightfoot had earlier noted65) in which a!rpagma66 as

well as e!rmaion (godsend), eu!rhma, (windfall), and eu]tu<xhma

(a piece of good luck), appear with such verbs as h[gei?sqai

(Phil. 2:6), poiei?sqai, and ti<qesdai with the meaning "to regard

something as a stroke of luck, a windfall, a piece of good for-

tune." Jaeger concluded that when used in such a construction

a!rpagma was a synonym of the other three nouns mentioned

 

Furness, p. 181: "The contrast between the arrogance and self-seeking

of Adam and the humility and self-emptying of Christ is very striking

so long as only the general tenor of Ge 3 and Ph 2:6ff. is considered, but

when detailed comparison of the two passages is attempted . . the

parallel is less convincing."

63 Glasson, p. 137; Murray, lecture notes, p. 53.  

64 Martin, p. 143 ; Werner Wilhelm Jaeger, "Fine stilgeschichtliche

Studie zum Philipperbrief," Hermes, L (1915), 537-553.

65 Lightfoot, p. 137.

66 Hoover confirms Jaeger's conclusion that arpagma and a[rpagmo<j

were used synonymously in the Hellenistic period." Roy W. Hoover,

"The Harpagmos Enigma: A Philological Solution," Harvard Theo-

logical Review, 64 (1971), 107. For a contrary opinion see Moule, p. 267.

 



264     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

above, and so he understood Philippians 2:6 to be saying that

Jesus Christ did not regard being in the divine form a windfall,

a fortuitous springboard to be used for self-aggrandizement.

            Jaeger's interpretation has been taken up by Kasemann, by

Martin, by Bauer in his lexicon, by Foerster in the TDNT, by

Ridderbos, and by several more recent writers. Few, however,

seem to have taken note yet of what I consider to be an impor-

tant Th.D. thesis presented to Harvard in 1968 by Roy W.

Hoover and summarized by him in a long article appearing in

the Harvard Theological Review for January, 1971 with the

title, "The Harpagmos Enigma: a Philological Solution."

Hoover accepts the main lines of Jaeger's argument and adds

to the evidence, but he concludes that the meaning conveyed by

a!rpagma in such constructions is related to the meanings con-

veyed by e!rmaion, eu!rhma, and eu]tu<xhma, "not because the nouns

are synonymous, but because a stroke of luck is ‘something to

seize upon.’ There is no connotation of fortuitousness in the

term a!rpagma." "Obviously," writes Hoover, "a person can

regard something other than a stroke of luck as something to

seize upon."67 Hoover suggests that we translate:  "he did not

regard being equal with God as something to take advantage of,"

or, more idiomatically, "as something to use for his own advan-

tage."68

            It is sometimes objected that such an interpretation is impos-

sible because it would imply that the pre-incarnate Son of God

in his divine state was tempted, tempted to use his divine estate

for self-aggrandizement, and God cannot be tempted.69 I think

it well in reply to call attention again to Paul's statement in the

closely parallel II Corinthians 8:9 regarding the grace of the

pre-incarnate Christ "that though he was rich, yet for your sake

he became poor." Philippians 2:6 refers to that same grace.

Here is where Ridderbos asks us not to "over-draw the parallel

(temptation of Adam — temptation of the pre-existent Christ)."

Ridderbos insists that Philippians 2:6 is "a matter of the

description of an ‘attitude’ not of a ‘decision’ in a temptation

situation . . ."70 And I would remind us that Paul speaks in

 

67 Hoover, p. 106.

66 Ibid., p. 118.

69 See Hammerich, p. 28.

70 Ridderbos, p. 75.

 



       SOME EXEGETICAL CONCLUSIONS                             265

 

verses 6–11 of the experiences of Christ as pre-Incarnate, Incar-

nate, and Exalted, but they are all experiences of the same Per-

son who manifests the same attitude of grace throughout.

            Our limited time now forces us to limit ourselves to a quick

consideration of the phrase with which verse 7 begins and which

has introduced the term kenosis into our theological vocabulary:

e[auto>n e]ke<nwsen. The suggestion first made by Warren in 1911

that the phrase might he a translation of Isaiah 53:12, Owp;na . . .

hrAf<h, "he poured out his soul (to death)" has continued to

attract support.71 The LXX rendering is "his soul was delivered

(paradi<dwmi) to death," but the suggestion is that this is the

text in Paul's mind, and he makes or uses a translation which

more literally renders the Hebrew.

            Jeremias, who has defended this interpretation of 7a in great

detail, noting the many "verbal echoes"72 of Isaiah 52:13ff. in

Philippians 2:6–11, most recently in an article in Novum Testa-

mentum,73 says that the phrase refers to the sacrifice of His

life.74  And H. Wheeler Robinson answers the objection that

this would mean that Paul speaks of the Cross before the In-

carnation, a reversal of the logical order, by saying that the

words following e]ke<nwsen are parenthetical, the aorists being

aorists of antecedent action ("having taken the form of a ser-

vant, having come in human likeness, having being found in

appearance as a man").75  F. E. Vokes has argued that only this

interpretation yields a sense which does not do violence to the

meaning of keno<w nor to the aorist participles which follow.76

He cites C. F. D. Moule who says that he has found "in the

New Testament no exception to the rule that an aorist participle

 

71 For a partial list of those adopting this interpretation consult Tal-

bert, p. 152, and Gibbs, p. 278.

72 Zimmerli and Jeremias, p. 97.

73 J. Jeremias, "Zu Phil. 2:7  [Eau to>n  ]Eke<nwsen," Novum Testa-

mentum, 6 (1963), 182-188.

74 J. Jeremias, "Zur Gedankenfuhrung in den paulinischen Briefen,"

Studia Paulina in honorem J. de Zwaan, ed. by J. W. Sevenster and

W. C. van Unnik (Haarlem: Erven F. Bohn, 1953), p. 154, n. 3.

75 H. Wheeler Robinson, The Cross of the Servant (London: SCM

Press, 1926), p. 104, n. 23.

76 F. E. Vokes, “’Arpagmo<j; in Philippians 2,5-11," Studia Evangelica,

vol. II, ed. by F. L. Cross (Berlin: Akademie, 1964), p. 675.

 



266     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

denotes an action prior to that of the main verb, with the possible

exception of two passages in Acts."77

            The Hebrew verb hrAfA found in Isaiah 53:12 means "to make

naked, to pour out, to empty." It is rendered by e]kkeno<w four

times in the LXX, in Genesis 24:20 (Rebekkah emptied her jar

into the trough), II Chronicles 24:11 (The officers emptied the

chest of its money), and twice in Psalm 136 (137 English) :7.

Often hrf seems to carry the idea of shame as well as emptiness,

and L. S. Thornton suggests that only keno<w carried the double

meaning in Greek, i.e. voluntary self-giving to the utmost limit

and the idea of shameful humiliation.78

            Certainly the general correspondence of the Philippian pas-

sage and the Isaianic Servant Songs seems clear. J. M. Furness

asserts that "no great quickness of mind is required to see" this

parallel. "There is . . . a startling similarity of theme and

treatment: a voluntary humiliation followed by exaltation by

God is found in both, and, more importantly, in both cases the

exaltation not only follows, but is a result of the humiliation.

In both the central figure is a ‘servant’ and to make the affinity

even more convincing, the Philippians passage closes with a

direct quotation of Isaiah 45:23."79

            There have been those who have denied such an Isaianic back-

ground to the Philippians passage, most importantly Kasemann,

Hooker,80 Moule,81 and Martin, but Marshall represents the

prevailing opinion that their opposing arguments are weak.82

The primary objection might seem to be that Paul uses dou?loj

for servant whereas the LXX uses pai?j. (dou?loj does appear in

the LXX in chapters 56–66 of Isaiah as well as in 48:20 and

49:3,5, and the verbal form appears in Isaiah 53:11, "to justify

the just one who serves many well.") Any appeal to the LXX,

however, loses much of its force once it is recognized that the

apostle is employing another translation of the Hebrew. Jeremias

 

77 Ibid. See C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek,

Second edition (Cambridge: University Press, 1959), p. 100.

78 L. S. Thornton, The Dominion of Christ. (London: Dacre Press,

1952) pp. 94ff.

79 Furness, p. 181.

80 Morna D. Hooker, Jesus and the Servant (London: S. P. C. K., 1959).

81 Moule, "Further Reflexions . . . ," p. 268.

82 Marshall, p. 111.

 



            SOME EXEGETICAL CONCLUSIONS                 267

 

insists that in the Synoptic Gospels, also, most of the allusions

to the Servant Songs call be shown to be based on ancient tradi-

tion independent of the LXX and closer to the Hebrew text.83

Aquila (at the beginning of the second century) always uses

dou?loj for Isaiah's Servant and his example was followed by his

successors, Theodotion and Symmachus. It has been suggested

that both Paul and Aquila may be recalling an older Greek ver-

sion.84 Another suggestion is that the phrase, pai?j qeou?, had come

so to indicate a position of dignity and honor that the term

dou?loj, "slave," would more effectively underscore the humilia-

tion of Christ and more eloquently contrast his exaltation as

ku<rioj (verse 11).

            Bornkamm objects that the phrases "his soul" and "unto

death" in Isaiah 53:12 could hardly have been left untranslated

if the apostle were indeed thinking of Isaiah's reference to

Christ's self-emptying;85 but, of course, they are not left

untranslated! The reflexive e[amto>n perfectly captures the force

of the Hebrew Owp;na and the : :unto death" appears as the climax

of the humiliation in verse 8.

            Martin insists that "it is strange that," if the author really had

the Servant of Isaiah in view, "he should have omitted just those

features in His humiliation which give to His sufferings their

eternal value, viz. His sin-bearing, vicarious work," "for us and

for our salvation."86 This does not seem nearly so strange, how-

ever, if we remember the thrust of Paul's argument here. It

seems quite in order that the apostle should speak of what

Christ's obedience meant "for Christ" — it meant humiliation,

self-emptying, death and then exaltation — since it is his example

which Paul wishes to place before the church Paul knows that

Christ's ministry was all "for us." It was certainly not a case of

Christ using the opportunity (a[rpagmo<j) for self-exaltation.

And Paul knows that we benefit from both the death and the

exaltation of Christ. But he does not have to spell all that out

here because he has a particular point to make. Martin can object

 

83 Zimmerli and Jeremias, p. 90.

84 Furness, p. 181.

85 Gunther Bornkamm, "Zum Verstandnis des Christus-Hymnus Phil.

2:6-11," Studies Zu Antike and Urchristentum (Munchen: Chr. Kaiser,

1959), p. 180.

86 Martin, pp. 212-213.

 



268                 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

as he does only because he refuses to interpret the passage in the

context of Paul's exhortation to the Philippians.

            That apostolic exhortation continues to be addressed to the

Church. It speaks to us with the authority of a divine command-

ment. In all things our lives are to be patterned after the example

of the one whom we confess to be Lord of all, to the glory of

God the Father.

 

 

Westminster Theological Seminary

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