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EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS - Chapter 2 - Verse 6

Verse 6. Who being in the form of God. There is scarcely any passage in the New Testament which has given rise to more discussion than this. The importance of the passage on the question of the Divinity of the Saviour will be perceived at once; and no small part of the point of the appeal by the apostle depends, as will be seen, in the fact that Paul regarded the Redeemer as equal with God. If he was truly Divine, then his consenting to become a man was the most remarkable of all possible acts of humiliation. The word rendered form morfh morphe, occurs only in three places in the New Testament, and in each place is rendered form, Mr 16:12; Php 2:6,7.

In Mark it is applied to the form which Jesus assumed after his resurrection, and in which he appeared to two of his disciples on his way to Emmaus. "After that he appeared in another form unto two of them." This "form" was so unlike his usual appearance, that they did not know him. The word properly means, form, shape, bodily shape, especially a beautiful form, beautiful bodily appearance. Passow. In Php 2:7, it is applied to the appearance of a servant— "and took upon him the form of a servant;" that is, he was in the condition of a servant— or of the lowest condition. The word form is often applied to the gods by the classic writers, denoting their aspect or appearance when they became visible to men. See Cic. de Nat. Deor. ii. 2; Ovid, Meta. i. 73; Silius xiii. 643; Xeno. Memora. ix; 2Eniad, iv. 556, and other places cited by Wetstein, in loc. Hesychius explains it by idea, eidov. The word occurs often in the Septuagint,

(1.) as the translation of the word

HEBREW

Ziv splendour, Da 4:33; 5:6,9,10; 7:28;

(2.) as the translation of the word

HEBREW.

Tabnith—structure, model, pattern—as in building, Isa 44:13;

(3.) as the translation of

HEBREW

temuna—appearance, form, shape, image, likeness, Job 4:16. See also the Book of Wisdom 18:1. The word can have here only one of two meanings, either

(1.) splendour, majesty, glory—referring to the honour which the Redeemer had, his power to work miracles, etc.; or

(2.) nature, or essence—meaning the same as fusiv, nature, or ousia, being. The first is the opinion adopted by Crellus, Grotius, and others, and substantially by Calvin. Calvin says, "The form of God here denotes majesty. For as a man is known from the appearance of his form, so the majesty which shines in God is his figure. Or, to use a more appropriate similitude, the form of a king consists of the external marks which indicate a king —as his sceptre, diadem, coat of mail, attendants, throne, and other insignia of royalty; the form of a consul is the toga, ivory chair, attending lictors, etc. Therefore Christ, before the foundation of the world, was in the form of God, because he had glory with the Father before the world was, Joh 17:5. For in the wisdom of God, before he put on our nature, there was nothing humble or abject, but there was magnificence worthy of God." —Comm. in loc. The second opinion is, that the word is equivalent to nature, or being; that is, that he was in the nature of God, or his mode of existence was that of God, or was Divine. This is the opinion adopted by Schleusner (Lex.;) Prof. Stuart (Letters to Dr. Channing, p. 40;) Doddridge, and by orthodox expositors in general, and seems to me to be the correct interpretation. In support of this interpretation, and in opposition to that which refers it to his power of working miracles, or his divine appearance when on earth, we may adduce the following considerations.

(1.) The "form" here referred to must have been something before he became a man, or before he took upon him the form of a servant. It was something from which he humble& himself by making "himself of no reputation;" by taking upon himself" the form of a servant;" and by being made "in the likeness of men." Of course, it must have been something which existed when he had not the likeness of men; that is, before he became incarnate, he must therefore have had an existence before he appeared on earth as a man, and in that previous state of existence there must have been something which rendered it proper to say that he was "in the form of God."

(2.) That it does not refer to any moral qualities, or to his power of working miracles on earth, is apparent from the fact that these were not laid aside. When did he divest himself of these in order that he might humble himself ? There was something which he possessed which made it proper to say of him that he was "in the form of God," which he laid aside when he appeared in the form of a servant, and in the likeness of men. But assuredly that could not have been his moral qualities, nor is there any conceivable sense in which it can be said that he divested himself of the power of working miracles in order that he might take upon himself the "form of a servant." All the miracles which he ever wrought were performed when he sustained the form of a servant, in his lowly and humble condition. These considerations make it certain that the apostle refers to a period before the incarnation. It may be added,

(3.) that the phrase "form of God" is one that naturally conveys the idea that he was God. When it is said that he was "in the form of a servant," the idea is, that he was actually in a humble and depressed condition, and not merely that he appeared to be. Still it may be asked, what was the "form" which he had before his incarnation? What is meant by his having been then "in the form of God?" To these questions perhaps no satisfactory answer can be given. He himself speaks (Joh 17:5) of "the glory which he had with the Father before the world was;" and the language naturally conveys the idea that there was then a manifestation of the Divine nature through him, which in some measure ceased when he became incarnate; that there was some visible splendour and majesty which was then laid aside. What manifestation of his glory God may make in the heavenly world of course we cannot now understand. Nothing forbids us, however, to suppose that there is some such visible manifestation; some splendour and magnificence of God in the view of the angelic beings such as becomes the Great Sovereign of the universe—for he "dwells in light which no man can approach unto," 1 Ti 6:16. That glory, visible manifestation, or splendour, indicating the nature of God, it is here said that the Lord Jesus possessed before his incarnation.

Thought it not robbery to be equal with God. This passage, also, has given occasion to much discussion. Prof. Stuart renders it, "did not regard his equality with God as an object of solicitous desire;" that is, that though he was of a Divine nature or condition, he did not eagerly seek to retain his equality with God, but took on him a humble condition —even that of a servant. Letters to Channing, pp. 88—92. That this is the correct rendering of the passage is apparent from the following considerations :—

(1.) It accords with the scope and design of the apostle's reasoning. His object is not to show, as our common translation would seem to imply, that he aspired to be equal with God, or that he did not regard it as an improper invasion of the prerogatives of God to be equal with him, but that he did not regard it, in the circumstances of the case, as an object to be greatly desired, or eagerly sought to retain his equality with God. Instead of retaining this by an earnest effort, or by a grasp which he was unwilling to relinquish, he chose to forego the dignity, and to assume the humble condition of a man.

(2.) It accords better with the Greek than the common version. The word rendered robbery arpagmov— is found nowhere else in the New Testament, though the verb from which it is derived frequently occurs, Mt 11:12; 13:19; Joh 6:15; 10:12,28,29; Ac 8:39; 23:10; 2 Co 12:2,4; 1 Th 4:17; Jude 1:23; Re 12:5.

The notion of violence, or seizing, or carrying away, enters into the meaning of the word in all these places. The word here used does not properly mean an act of robbery, but the thing robbed—the plunderdas Rauben, (Passow,) and hence something to be eagerly seized and appropriated. Schleusner. Comp. Storr, Opuscul. Acade. i. 322, 323. According to this, the meaning of the word here is, something to be seized and eagerly sought; and the sense is, that his being equal with God was not a thing to be anxiously retained. The phrase "thought it not," means "did not consider;" it was not judged to be a matter of such importance that it could not be dispensed with. The sense is, "he did not eagerly seize and tenaciously hold," as one does who seizes prey or spoil. So Rosenmuller, Schleusner, Bloomfield, Stuart, and others understand it.

To be equal with God. to einai isa yew. That is, the being equal with God he did not consider a thing to be tenaciously retained. The plural neuter form of the word equal in Greek isa used in accordance with a known rule of the language, thus stated by Buttman. "When an adjective as predicate is separated from its substantive, it often stands in the neuter where the substantive is a masculine or feminine, and in the singular where the substantive is in the plural. That which the predicate expresses is, in this case, considered in general as a thing." Gr. Gram., § 129, 6. The phrase "equal with God," or "equal with the gods," is of frequent occurrence in the Greek classics. See Wetstein, in loc. The very phrase here used occurs in the Odyssey, O.—-

ton nun isa yew iyakhsioi eisorowsi.

 

Comp. Joh 5:18. "Made himself equal with God." The phrase means one who sustains the same rank, dignity, nature. Now it could not be said of an angel that he was in any sense equal with God; much less could this be said of a mere man. The natural and obvious meaning of the language is, that there was an equality of nature and of rank with God, from which he humbled himself where he became a man. The meaning of the whole verse according to the interpretation suggested above, is, that Christ, before he became a man, was invested with honour, majesty, and glory, such as was appropriate to God himself; that there was some manifestation, or splendour in his existence and mode of being then, which showed that he was equal with God; that he did not consider that that honour, indicating equality with God, was to be retained at all events, and so as to do violence, as it were, to other interests, and to rob the universe of the glory of redemption; and that he was willing, therefore, to forget that, or lay it by for a time, in order that he might redeem the world. There were a glory and majesty which were appropriate to God, and which indicated equality with God—such as none but God could assume. For how could an angel have such glory, or such external splendour in heaven, as to make it proper to say that he was "equal with God?" With what glory could he be invested which would be such as became God only? The fair interpretation of this passage therefore is, that Christ, before his incarnation, was equal with God.

{b} "in the form of God" Joh 1:1,2; Col 1:15

{c} "equal with God" Joh 5:18

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