THE GOD OF JESUS: PART SEVENTEEN
Philippians, Chapter Two
Philippians 2:5-8: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature (Greek morphe) God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing (Greek heauton ekenosen), taking the very nature (morphe) of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!
It is argued that in Paul saying Jesus is in very nature God, He was of the very essence of God and therefore was God. Some see in this passage the Son emptying Himself of being God in becoming Jesus and returning to being God at the time of His ascension. Several translations render the Greek heauton ekenosen as “emptied Himself.” For example, the Revised Standard Version translates it this way:
Philippians 2:6-7: who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, (Greek: heauton ekenosen ) taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Greek Lexicons show heauton ekenosen to mean “to empty or make empty.” If Jesus is God, He would be eternal, having neither beginning nor end. How could the Son, if God, empty himself of being God? How could He empty himself of being eternal? The Son could not have emptied himself of being God in order to become the man Jesus. Those who recognize this fact theorize the Son emptied Himself of the glory He eternally had with the Father but did not empty Himself of his deity. It is believed the Son did not give up His divine self but added human nature to His divine nature in becoming the human Jesus. Therefore, Jesus is seen as totally divine and totally human, the “God/man.” It is believed when Jesus died, his humanity died but His deity did not die as it isn’t possible for an eternally existing God to die. It is believed when Jesus was resurrected He was resurrected as the fully human and fully God Being He was believed to be before the crucifixion.
Here is the problem with this perspective. Scripture teaches the wages of sin is death. Jesus took our sin upon Himself and suffered the death penalty for us. Sin separates one from God. The account of the crucifixion reveals Christ, in taking our sin upon Himself, became separated from God. The Son of God died. He was literally dead for three days and three nights. Jesus plainly says He was dead (Revelation 1:18). Nowhere does Scripture teach the Son of God died only physically. Scripture identifies Jesus dying in totality as the sacrifice for sin.
While it may be possible for God to be both God and man at the same time, this concept appears to be an oxymoron. Since God is immortal and humans are mortal, these two states of being appear to be mutually exclusive. The Scriptures identify God the Father as the only one having intrinsic immortality. The Scriptures show God granting Jesus immorality by resurrecting Him from the dead.
The word translated “nature” or “form” in the passage under consideration is the Greek word morphe. This word appears only here in Philippians 2:5-8 and in Mark 16:12 where it is recorded Jesus appeared in a different form to two of His disciples after His resurrection. It should be noted, however, that Mark 16:9-20 does not appear in the earliest of the known Greek manuscripts.
Trinitarian discussion of Philippians 2:5-8 often defines morphe as describing the very essence or nature of Jesus. It is concluded that for Jesus to be in the morphe of God is to be of the same essence as God. Greek lexicons, however, show morphe to define outward appearance. It is used in the Greek literature of the first century to express outward appearance. In the Septuagint, morphe is used to show outward appearance. It occurs seven times in the Septuagint and in every case can be seen to mean outward appearance. Morphe does not speak to the internal makeup of a person but to ones outward appearance. A recent Greek to English translation of the Septuagint and New Testament Scriptures, the Apostolic Bible Polyglot, consistently translates morphe as “appearance.” For example, in Daniel’s account of King Belshazzar seeing the handwriting on the wall (Daniel, chapter five), this translation records his (Belshazzar’s) appearance (morphe) changed. Obviously his basic human make up did not change. The KJV translates Philippians 2:6-8 in the following manner:
Philippians 2:6-8: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery (Greek harpagee) to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Some interpret the phrase “being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation” as meaning Jesus had equality with God which He thought it not robbery to have. He was willing to give it all up to become a human sacrifice for sin. Greek lexicons show harpagee literally means to rob or steal and take by force. The KJV translates it as “robbery” but most translations use the word “grasp.” Jesus is seen as not grasping or wanting to take by force equality with God despite being in the form of God which Trinitarians interpret as being the same as being God.
This view is problematic because if Jesus being in the form of God means He is God, why would Paul speak in terms of Jesus not wanting to rob (to steal or take by force) or grasp at being God? This would be tantamount to Jesus seeking to be what He already was. Under Trinitarian thought, Jesus, as God in the flesh, would already have equality with God the Father and wanting or not wanting to have it would be irrelevant. You don’t grasp for something you already have.
It is sometimes argued that Paul is speaking in terms of the Son not seeking to retain His equal status with the Father and Spirit but was willing to give up such status to become the human Jesus. If this is the case, what did the Son of God give up in becoming the human Jesus while still remaining fully God? What did He empty Himself of? God is considered omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. Did the Son empty himself of any of these qualities? If these are all eternal qualities associated with being God, how could Jesus, as God, empty Himself of such qualities and still be God. If the Son did empty himself of these qualities, He wasn’t God in the flesh as claimed. It is these qualities that identify God as God. If Christ was fully God while being fully human He would have had these qualities while in the flesh.
The primary question is what does Paul mean when He writes of Jesus being in the form or appearance of God but taking on the form or appearance of a servant? As already discussed, the Greek morphe relates to outward appearance. English words such as endomorphic (a stocky person), ectomorphic (a slim person) and mesomorphic (a big boned, muscular person) are derived from this Greek word. These are all words that describe outward appearance and not the core elements of what makes a human a human.
Some have suggested that because Paul says Jesus was in the form (outward appearance) of God but took the form (outward appearance) of man, it was the outward appearance of God that the Son gave up to take on the outward appearance of the human Jesus. Therefore, Jesus was a human only in outward appearance while His essence remained divine. This was the position of the second century theologian/philosopher Marcion, a position called Docetism. This position is problematical because the Scriptures show the Son of God died and not that just an outward appearance of the Son of God died.
Throughout the NT it is implicitly and sometimes explicitly stated that Jesus came to reveal the Father. As we have already covered in this book, Jesus was a perfect manifestation of the logos of God. As such, Jesus was a perfect representation of the Spirit of the Father. There is no Scriptural reason to believe when Paul writes about Jesus being in appearance as God he is saying Jesus is God in essence and substance. Paul plainly wrote to the Corinthians that the Father was the one and only God. Paul is not telling the Philippians Jesus is God. Paul is saying what Jesus said. Jesus said He was in the Father and the Father was in him. In his teaching and in His demonstration of power, Jesus represented God. He did this because He had a full measure of God’s Spirit and God granted Him the wherewithal to be what He was and accomplish what He accomplished.
When Paul tells the Philippians Jesus was in appearance as God, he is talking about the human agent to whom the one and only true God had given extraordinary power and authority. This power and authority was given to Jesus to demonstrate He was indeed the promised Messiah who would become the sacrifice for the sins of humanity and reconcile humanity back to God. Jesus was in the appearance of God because He perfectly represented God in everything He did. Jesus knew He was the promised Messiah and that God had given Him supernatural power and authority as God’s agent. Jesus new He was the heir to David’s throne. Jesus could have at any time used His granted power to overthrow the Romans and become the king of Israel. When Jesus was being arrested and one of his companions drew his sword and was ready to fight, Jesus said:
Matthew 26:53-54: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
Jesus was apparently given the power of choice, free will and latitude to submit to the crucifixion or dramatically stop the whole process. While praying in the garden before His arrest, He petitioned His Father for a way out of the pending ordeal.
Matthew 26:39: Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."
These recorded events in the life of Jesus demonstrate Jesus had His own human will and the God given power to exercise his own will. What he did, however, was to totally submit His will and His granted power and authority to the will and purpose of God His Father. Jesus was willing to humble Himself by emptying Himself of the power He had been granted and totally submit to the will of His Father. It was the power and authority God gave Jesus as the human Messiah that Jesus emptied Himself of in going to the cross to become the sacrifice for sin. Jesus didn’t use His power to deliver Himself from the ordeal of the crucifixion. Instead, He laid it all aside and submitted Himself as a powerless human Being in the face of his Jewish accusers and the Roman authority.
2 Corinthians 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Paul instructed the Philippian Christians to have the same attitude of humility as Christ showed in not seeking power and authority over others but in humility serving others. If Jesus was a God/man as commonly believed, Paul could not have used Him as an example of giving up status in becoming a humble servant. As a God/man, Jesus would have retained his status of deity and would not have truly emptied Himself of anything. If the Son of God is eternal as is the Father, how can it be said the Son of God humbled Himself to the point of the cross (Philippians 2:8)? As an eternal Being, the Son could not die.
It is far more reasonable to see Paul writing about a purely human Son of God who was willing to lay aside the power and authority granted to Him and in humility submit to the will of the Father. In so doing, Jesus provided an example of how we should also in humility submit to one another and to God in obedience to His will.
Paul may have had in mind the comparison between the two Adams. The first Adam was made in the image of God and granted power and authority over creation. This Adam, rather than submitting himself to God in obedience to God’s command, sought to become like God by coming to know good and evil (Genesis 3:22). Jesus, who Paul refers to as the second Adam, was granted power and authority but did not seek to become like God but totally submitted to God’s will, even to death on the cross.
When Paul writes of Jesus being in the outward appearance of God he is talking about Jesus reflecting attributes of God that God had conferred upon Jesus so He could fulfill God’s will. During his ministry, Jesus made it very plain that seeing Him was the same as seeing the Father.
John 14:7-9: If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'?
Is Jesus revealing Himself here as being God by saying He is in the Father and the Father is in Him? Is Jesus saying that to see Him is to see God? Are we seeing here a mutual indwelling of Father and Son that equates with Father and Son being co-equal, co-eternal and con-substantial? Jesus tells Philip that seeing Him is seeing the Father. We know Scripture identifies the Father as God. Is Jesus telling Philip He also is God and by seeing Him One sees God because God is Father and Son? Remember, in John 17:3, Jesus says the Father is the one and only true God. Is Jesus telling Philip that He (Jesus) is also the one and only true God because He and the Father are one in essence? What about John 1:18?
John 1:18: No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known (NIV).
The NIV translates John 1:18 in such manner as to say the one and only God is Jesus. As discussed in Chapter One, Trinitarians argue that one can see the Father, the Son or the Spirit as the one and only God because the Father, Son and Spirit are seen as indwelling each other and therefore constitute the one and only God. Therefore, when Jesus is quoted as saying the Father is the one and only God (John 17:3), this is not seen as the Son or the Spirit being excluded from this designation. Is this what John is teaching in the passages under consideration? Is John revealing that whether you are speaking of the Father or the Son, you have the one and only God in view because the Father and Son indwell each other? Several other translations of John 1:18 translate this passage similar to that of the NIV.
No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him (ASV).
No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known (NET).
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known (English Standard Version - ESV).
Jesus said the Father is the one and only God (John 17:3). These translations of John 1:18 record John as saying Jesus is also the One and Only God and it is He who has made God known. These translations are apparently derived from a reading of Alexandrian Greek texts that predate the texts most commonly used when translating this passage. These Alexandrian texts have monogenes Theos where the word mono means only and genes means to be born or begotten or, as more recent scholarship has identified, genes means kind, type or unique. Theos means god. Older English versions use later Greek texts that read monogenes huios where huios is the Greek word for son. Typical of such translations are the following:
No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, (monogenes huios) which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him (KJV).
No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known (RSV).
Bosom is from the Greek kolpos which literally means “the front part of the body between the arms.” In Greek literature it is used both literally and figuratively. New Testament scholar Brian J Wright writes that the reference to being in the bosom of the Father is “an anthropomorphic metaphor for intimacy and fellowship” (page 248, Revisiting The Corruption Of The New Testament).
There has been much discussion in scholarly circles as to which Greek manuscripts reflect what John intended. Some argue that since the Alexandrian manuscripts are older, they better reflect what John said as they are closer to the time he wrote his Gospel. It’s to be noted that Theos instead of huios is found not only in ancient Alexandrian texts of the NT but in a variety of other Greek texts and early translations of the Greek into Syriac and Coptic. Huios, however, is found in a much wider number of Greek texts than is Theos, including some of the later Alexandrian texts. Huios is also found in the writings of early church fathers such as Irenaeus, Clement and Tertullian who were writing before the surviving Alexandrian manuscripts were produced. Some scholars believe scribes altered the text to read “Theos” in order to promote the belief Jesus was God against a first century teaching known as Adoptionism which taught Jesus was only a man born in the normal way and declared to be the Son of God sometime after His birth.
Some scholars see the Alexandrian renderings of this passage as spurious because these texts virtually say the One and Only God resides in the One and Only God which makes no sense. It is questioned that if the Son is the One and Only God then what does that make the Father? Jesus, Paul and John clearly taught the Father was the one and only God. Can there be two one and only God’s? It is also pointed out that the early Alexandrian and later Greek renderings of John 3:16, 18 and 1 John 4:9, all speak of Christ as the only unique Son (monogenes huios) of God which indicates this is how John understood the relationship of Christ to God and not that Christ was the one and only unique God (monogenes Theos).
In view of the foregoing, it appears John was saying no man has seen God at any time but Jesus, as the one and only uniquely begotten Son of God, has declared Him which is to say has revealed Him. It should be noted that in the passage under consideration, John speaks of Jesus revealing God and God is revealed as the Father. When John says no man has seen God at any time it is the same as saying no man has seen the Father at any time. John sees God as the Father. This is the way God is seen throughout the New Testament. If Jesus is God, as implied in the modern translations cited above, you would have to conclude John is seeing God as Father and Son and then you virtually have God revealing God in this passage or at minimum you have a distinction of God called the Son revealing a distinction of God called the Father.
It is instructive that John clearly states that no man has seen God at any time and He (Jesus), who is in fellowship with the Father, is revealing God, who Jesus consistently identifies as the Father. There is no hint here that Jesus is also God. If Jesus was also God, then it could rightly be said that people seeing Jesus were seeing God which would contradict what John said about no man seeing God.
The weight of internal Scriptural evidence points to John saying monogenes huios and not monogenes Theos. Translators choosing to use the Alexandrian texts have chosen to ignore the greater number of manuscripts that show monogenes huios and, more importantly, have chosen to ignore the weight of internal Scriptural evidence against monogenes Theos. In an apparent wish to accommodate Trinitarian theology, these translators have created a modern day orthodox corruption of Scripture. Now let’s look at the following passages.
John 10:30: I and the Father are one
John 14:10-11: Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
The fourth century theologian Athanasius largely based his Trinitarian theology on his exegesis of John 10:30 and 14:10-11. Athanasius interpreted Jesus as saying his whole Being was in the Being of the Father and the whole Being of the Father was in the whole Being of Himself, the Son.
A contemporary of Athanasius, Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, in reflecting on John 14:10, wrote: “Although these Beings do not dwell apart, they retain their separate existence and condition and can reciprocally contain one another, so that one permanently envelopes and is also permanently enveloped by the other whom he yet envelops.”
When Jesus speaks of He being in the Father and the Father being in Him, is He revealing to us that His Being is in the Father and the Father’s Being is in Him and, therefore, He and the Father are con-substantial (of the same essence)? Is Jesus talking about an indwelling of mutual substance of Being between He and the Father? Is Jesus telling us He and the Father are the one God?
I submit, on the basis of Jesus’ own words, that He is not speaking about reciprocal indwelling of Being when He speaks of He being in the Father and the Father being in Him. Jesus is not addressing substance of Being at all. Jesus is speaking of manifesting the Spirit of God which was reflected in the power and authority Jesus projected during His earthly ministry. Jesus being in the Father and the Father being in Jesus is not a statement of oneness of Being. As discussed in Chapter Seven, it is a statement of oneness of Spirit. This is made very evident in the prayer Jesus offered up to the Father on behalf of his followers shortly before His crucifixion.
John 17:20-23, 26: My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Verse 26: I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.
When Jesus said He and the Father are one (John 10:30), He was not alluding to they being one in Being. When Jesus told Philip He was in the Father and the Father was in Him (John 14:11), He was not teaching He and the Father are a co-equal, co-eternal and con-substantial Being. Jesus is using relational language in showing how He and the Father are of the same mind and spirit. In the passage cited above, Jesus uses the same terminology in speaking of our relationship with Him and the Father as He does in regard to his relationship with the Father. Jesus being in the Father, the Father being in Jesus, we being in the Father and the Father and Jesus being in us are all relational statements pointing to being of like mind and spirit and participating in mutual love. There are multiple dozens of statements in the NT that speak of our being one in spirit with the Father, Jesus and each other.
Trinitarian theology teaches God is a mutual indwelling of Father, Son and Spirit. Therefore, God is seen as one Being in three dimensions or distinctions. The Scriptures, however, show God to be a single and separate Being above all other Beings including the Being Jesus. The concept of mutual indwelling is a valid concept only as it pertains to how the one God who is the Father spiritually indwells the Son and the Son spiritually indwells the Father. This has to do with shared spiritual dynamics, not shared oneness of Being. We humans can share in those same spiritual dynamics through mutual indwelling involving the Father, the Son and us. By participating in mutual indwelling with the Father and the Son we become one with the Father and the Son and they become one with us. This doesn’t make us one in Being with the Father or the Son anymore than it makes the Father and Son one Being. We all remain separate entities united by the Spirit of the one God which proceeds from that one God through Jesus and into us.
There is one additional passage in Philippians chapter 2 that is often used as a “proof text” to show that Jesus is YHWH and is therefore the one God.
Philippians 2:9-11: Therefore God (Theos) exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God (Theos) the Father.
This statement by Paul appears to be a quote or paraphrase of a passage of Scripture found in Isaiah where YHWH is quoted as saying:
Isaiah 45:23: By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.
In Isaiah 45, YHWH is quoted in the first person as saying He is the one and only God. Most of this chapter is devoted to identifying YHWH as the one and only God. Because He is the one and only God, He says every knee will bow to Him and confess Him. YHWH is identified as Father some fifteen times in the OT. There is nothing in Isaiah 45, or anywhere else in the OT, to suggest YHWH is also the Son. Yet, because Paul is using YHWH’s statement about every knee bowing to Him and every tongue confessing to Him to describe an action connected to Jesus, it is believed Paul must be identifying Jesus as YHWH.
Paul writes that God (the Father) exalted Jesus to the highest place and that every knee should bow to Jesus and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord. Paul says all this is done to the glory of God the Father. Paul consistently identifies God (YHWH) as the Father in the NT. If Jesus is as much YHWH as the Father is YHWH, Paul is saying YHWH the Father exalted YHWH the Son to the glory of YHWH the Father.
This is problematic because if YHWH the Son is co-eternal, co-equal and con-substantial with YHWH the Father, how can it be said YHWH the Father is exalting him to the highest place. How could YHWH, the Father make the Son to be greater than He already was and always has been. The very language of this passage, and other passages like it, show YHWH the Father to be superior and greater than the Son which the Son readily admitted when He said the Father was greater than He. Therefore, Jesus is not YHWH but is the exalted Son of YHWH.
Paul shows God the Father rewarded Jesus for humbling himself and becoming obedient to the point of being crucified (verse 8). The highest place Jesus was exalted to is shown in other Scriptures as being the right hand of God. YHWH the Father does the exalting of Jesus which in itself shows the Father being over the Son in power and authority as has already been shown in a number of other Scriptures. Rather than the passage under consideration showing Jesus is YHWH, it shows instead how YHWH is superior to Jesus. Applying something to Jesus that YHWH said about himself is not a proof that Jesus is YHWH. Isaiah shows YHWH saying every knee will bow to him because He is the one and only God. Paul shows every knee will bow to Christ because the one and only God (YHWH) exalted Him to a position worthy of such worship and not because Christ is the one and only God.
Because of what Jesus accomplished as the Messiah, YHWH has exalted Him to His right hand. Therefore, YHWH has ordained that Jesus receives the level of respect and worship commensurate with whom the Father has elevated the Son to be. This includes every knee bowing to Christ and every tongue confessing Him as Lord. Jesus was anointed by His Father YHWH to be the Lord Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. Jesus is not YHWH. He is the anointed of YHWH. Paul writes that this is all done to the glory of God the Father (YHWH) who Paul consistently identifies as the one and only Most High God.