Phil 2:5-8 BOGV
5 Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
This passage is a key to Jesus’ divinity. Jesus is the very eternal God a single member of the Triune Godhead. It is a passage which has been disputed as verse six is rather vague in both the Greek (which is the same in the NU, Majority, and Textus Receptus: “ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων, οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἴναι ἴσα θεῷ,”). Paul, here, is not being vague, however. He is rather clearly stating Jesus innate deity.
The first thing to notice is in verse six Jesus in His preexistence was in the form of God. Now this God is one member of the Trinity, God the Father. Typically, in the Bible (and specifically the New Testament) the word God refers to God the Father. Jesus in His preexistence was in the form of God. It is important to see this verse as Jesus’ preexistence as He has not been incarnated. If we continue to read on we see Jesus has not yet been made in the likeness of men (the end of verse 7 and beginning of verse 8).
So, before Jesus existed on the Earth as a man He existed in the form of God (that is the Father), but – and this is a big stopping point – He didn’t consider equality with God as a thing to be grasped. This is where a little of the debate happens. “a thing to be grasped” is hard to interpret. There are two main ways this is interpreted:
1. Something Jesus did not have but was reaching for
– or –
2. Something Jesus did have but not holding on to
Well, this doesn’t really make the debate easier, it merely shows the two sides. Was Jesus God and wasn’t worried about holding onto His godhood? or, Was Jesus merely a man who didn’t consider it right to reach for godhood? If this text ended there or Paul changed the subject at this point we could debate each other round and round without really giving a statement other than what lines up with our own doctrines. Thankfully, however, Paul didn’t stop there! The sentence continues in verse seven and we are given the linchpin which opens the whole statement and it really only allows this statement to be interpreted one way: “but emptied himself” (Greek “ἀλλ’ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν”).
If we interpreted the previous phrase the first way above, then what did Jesus have to empty Himself of? How could Jesus possibly empty Himself? He is merely a man and equality with God is not something He is going to reach for anyway. However, if we interpret it the second way then emptying Himself makes sense. First, Jesus has something to empty Himself of. Second, He has the ability (or power if you will) to empty Himself. This is the key which the whole argument stands on. Both sides must reckon with.
This one little logical flow then can open our eyes in this passage to who Jesus is. We have part of the passage speaking on Jesus’ preexistence, another part speaking on his existence and in the middle a wonderful section which tells us what happened in the incarnation of God the Son.
Note: This is the first in a series around the Doctrine of the Trinity. You will be seeing more writings coming out over the next year. If you have any questions, concerns, or comments feel free to get in touch, via e-mail. Thank you!