This paper was written for a class on Paul's prison epistles. As I recall, the assignment was to write a paper on a problem passage in the epistle.

NOTE: The footnotes are at the bottom of this document. One of these days, I'm going to figure out something better to do with them.


This passage illustrates humility at its greatest, that is, by the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the preceeding four verses, the Philippians were encouraged toward unity and humility. Now, to further encourage them toward humility, Paul shows how Jesus Christ humbled Himself.

This passage presents a few interpretive problems. The most well-known problem, and probably the greatest, is in verse 7 where it is said that Christ "emptied Himself." This has given rise to the so-called Kenosis theory, which states that Christ gave up His deity when He became man.

The passage breaks down into a simple two-point outline:

I.	The Humiliation of Jesus Christ (2:58)

II.	The Exaltation of Jesus Christ (2:9-11)


I. The Humiliation of Jesus Christ (2:5-8)

Verse 5

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." "This Mind" is a reference to verses 1-4. They are to have in mind the unity and, in particular, the humility there mentioned. Martin supports the translation of Grayston, "Think this way among yourselves, which also you think in Christ Jesus", and understands "in Christ Jesus" as a reference to their being in the church. In other words, they are to have this attitude because it is the only one becoming to one who is in the church of Christ.1 He objects to the supplied verb "to be" in the Authorized Version. But when a verb is not expressed in Greek, "to be" is the usual supplied verb, and this would seem most natural here. Also, the idea of this being in the mind of the Lord Himself best fits with the context, since it is the Lord's humility which Paul is about to discuss. So the view of Hendriksen2 and Lightfoot3 is preferred, as is the interpretation most easily given by the Authorized Version, that is, that what the Philippians were to have in their minds was that which was in the mind of Christ.

Verse 6

"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God." Huperchon could be translated "subsisting" here, and this makes the sentence a little clearer. Morphe, translated "form," refers here to "the inner, essential, and abiding nature of a person or thing," so that Jesus Christ is, by nature, God.4 The fact that He subsisted in the form of God is an indication not only of His pre-existence, but of the fact that before the incarnation He was of the same nature as God the Father. The question now is, "Did He become of a different nature when He became man?" This question will be considered below.

"Thought it not robbery to be equal with God" could also be translated in the passive voice, as in the ASV, "counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped." Either translation would be in keeping with proper Greek grainmer. The passive voice, however, seems better suited to the context.

Once it is settled that the passive voice is preferable, yet another controversy arises. The fact that Christ "counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped" indicates to some, such as Martin, that He did not exist in equality with the Father before His incarnation. He could have seized this equality, but chose instead to take on human form and go to the cross.5 He bases his interpretation on parallelism with the first Adam, who tried unsuccessfully to sieze equality with God--a parallellism which, if Paul had intended, he certainly did not indicate, as he did in Romans 5. Such an interpretation creates enormous problems when related to the doctrine of the Trinity. Lightfoot's view seems preferable, that is, that He did exist in equality with the Father, but did not regard this equality as something that must be clung to.6 He had it, but He let go of it in obedience to the Father.

Verse 7

"But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men." The first clause of this verse, in the Authorized Version, is not translated literally, but would certainly cause fewer problems then the literal translation. The first clause is, literally, "but emptied Himself." This is the basis of the Kenosis theory, which states that Christ emptied Himself of His deity when He became man. This author rejects this theory for the following reasons:
  1. Even in the flesh Christ claimed to be God (Luke 5:1826).
  2. Such a doctrine lacks other Scriptural confirmation.
  3. This Greek construction is found nowhere else in the New Testament. Such an important doctrine should not be based on such a rare construction.
  4. Had He emptied Himself of His deity, His death would have been that of a mere man, and could not have accomplished our redemption.

Of what, then, did He empty Himself? It must have been of the glory which He had when He existed in equality with the Father. This seems in keeping with Christ's prayer in John 17:5, "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." Also, the two clauses which follow seem to give a further description of this emptying, and while they do not explicitly state what this emptying was, it must be observed that in taking on the form of a servant and the likeness of men, One who had been equal with God would suffer the loss of glory.

Christ "took upon him the form of a servant." Morphe is again used for "form", but it probably does not carry the same strength as referring to Christ's "inner, essential, and abiding nature," as in verse 6. We must be careful not to press the words for "form" too far in this passage. The danger of doing so will be discussed later.

Note that "the form of a servant" was a form which Christ took upon Himself, not one in which He subsisted from eternity. He put Himself in submission to the Father, as His Servant. The participle labon would be better translated "taking" or "by taking," and indicates that this action was simultaneous with His emptying Himself. The participle genomenos is to be understood in the same way.

Christ Jesus was "made in the likeness of men." The word for "likeness" is homoioma, which does not have the strength of morphe as it was used in verse 6. This word could not refer to His inner, essential and abiding nature, since Paul uses the same word in Romans 8:3 when he says that Christ came "in the likeness of sinful flesh." It is safest to understand, with Bauer, that Paul's "use of our word is to bring out both that Jesus in His earthly career was similar to sinful men and yet not absolutely like them."7

So far we have seen, in verses 6 and 7, how Jesus humbled Himself in becoming a Man. He had existed in eternity past in the form of God, and as God's equal. But He gave up that equality and made Himself subservient to the Father, and in the will of the Father became a man.

Christ did not give up His deity when He became a man. A look at the gospels shows that He maintained all of the attributes of God. The question may then be asked, "How could Christ remain in the form of God, and yet not remain equal to God?" The answer is that His attributes remained those of Deity, and His Person remained that of Deity, but that He voluntarily submitted Himself to do the will of the Father.

Having seen, then, how Jesus humbled Himself in becoming a man, Paul goes on to show how Jesus humbled Himself as a man.

Verse 8

"And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Christ had humbled Himself by becoming a man, and once He had become a man, He humbled Himself even further. Schema, as homoioma, does not have the strength which morphe has in verse 6. It refers to the outward appearance, not to the inner, essential, and abiding nature. But we must be careful in pushing the difference between morphe and schema too far, for it must be remembered that while Christ is completely God, He is also completely human. It may be that Paul had not intended to make such distinctions in his writing, but used morphe, homoioma and schema as stylistic variations. Indeed, it has already been suggested that morphe in verse 7 does not have a meaning identical to its usage in verse 6. Bauer defines morphe simply as refering to the outward appearance, and we see it used in this way in Mark 16:12.

We are told that as a man, Christ humbled Himself. In particular, His humility was in that He was obedient (to the Father) in going to His death. And yet His death was not a normal death. He humbled Himself yet further in that He went to the most shameful form of death. It was reserved for the lowliest of criminals.

Therefore we have seen, in verses 5-8, the humble attitude of Christ in that He forsook equality with the Father to become man and to die the most shameful kind of death.

II. The Exaltation of Jesus Christ (2:9-11)

Having shown Christ's humiliation, Paul now goes on to describe His exaltation, which resulted from His humil- iation.

Verse 9

"Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given him a name which is above every name." "Wherefore" draws the connection between this passage and the one preceeding. Because of His voluntary humiliation, God has highly exalted Him. God has given to Christ the name (the article should probably be present, as in the ASV) which is above all others. The name should probably be understood here as a reference to a title or office.

Verse 10

"That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth" ("at" should probably be rendered "in," as in the ASV). This verse describes the exaltation given to Christ. The passage is eschatological in nature, based on Isaiah 45:24, although it is not a quotation of it. The threefold division of creation may refer, respectively, to (1) heavenly beings and departed saints, (2) all human beings on earth and (3) all the condemned in hell, both human and spirit.8 Or it may just be a way of expressing that all intelligent created beings will bow the knee.9

Verse 11

"And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Not only will every knee bow in the name of Jesus, but every tounge of every intelligent created being will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Thus, He who humbled Himself to the lowest point is now exalted to the loftiest heights, and He who was once mocked and scorned by His contemporaries is now bowed to, and all will confess that He is Lord.

The fact that this exaltation is "to the glory of God the Father" indicates that even in His state of exaltation Christ does not rival the throne of His Father.


Paul has thus illustrated the virtue of humiliation by the example of Jesus Christ, Who abandoned equality with God to be made a man, and further humbled himself as a man to die a most undignified death. And as a result of His humility, Christ has been raised to a position of greatness in which all intelligent beings will one day confess His sovereignty and greatness.


1Ralph Martin, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, p. 95.

2William Hendriksen, Exposition of Philippians, p. 103.

3J.B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians, p. 110.

4Hendriksen, p. 104.

5Martin, p. 97-98.

6Lightfoot, p. 111.

7Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 570.

8Hendriksen, p. 115.

9Lightfoot, p. 115.


Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Trans. by W.F. Arndt and F.W. Gingrich. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957.

Hendriksen, William. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Philippians. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1962.

Lightfoot, J.B. St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1953.

Martin, Ralph P. The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959.

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