Jesus existed in the “form of God” (Phil. 2:6)

Prior to looking at the much debated passage of Phil. 2:6, it is essential to place the it within its proper context: verses 3-5.

Phil. 2:3-4 is one long sentence with some practical ethical commands:

a. do nothing selfish

b. consider one another as more important than yourself

c. don’t look out for your interests without also considering the interests of others

Phil. 2:5 commands the community to think this way among each other. This imperative is then linked with the example already set by Christ Jesus. It is absolutely crucial that the reader understand that what follows 2:5 is an exposition of how “Christ Jesus” demonstrated an attitude of selflessly considering others and their interests even over his own.

Philippians 2:6 – 

“This Christ Jesus, while existing (present participle) in the morphe of God, did not consider that manner of equality [arpagmos].”

Almost every one of these phrases is extremely controversial and debated.

a. Firstly, this is referring to the human historical Jesus, which was specifically designated as ‘Christ Jesus.’ The verb ‘to exist’ is in a present participle, which indicates that the focus was the life of Jesus (nothing to do with preexistence, despite how translations render it).

morphe is a technical term which shows up here in 2:6 and also in 2:7 (‘taking the morphe of a servant’). How might this term have been understood when Paul used it?

a. Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and the morphe of his countenance was changed (Dan. 3:19 LXX).

b. At the same time my reason returned to me, and I came to the honor of my kingdom; and my morphe returned to me (Dan. 4:33 Theod.).

c. Then the king’s countenance (morphe) changed (Dan. 5:6 Theod.).

d. And king Belshazzar was troubled, and his countenance (morphe) changed upon him, and his nobles were troubled with him. Then the queen came into the banquet house, and said, O king, live forever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, and let not thy countenance (morphe) be changed. (Dan. 5:9-10 Theod.)

e. Hitherto is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my thoughts greatly troubled me, and my countenance (morphe) was changed: but I kept the matter in my heart. (Dan. 7:28 Theod.)

morphe seems best understood as the outward inclination/mood which is expressed through functionality, emotion, and intent.

The equality with God within the Greek of 2:6 is linked with the definition of ‘morphe of God.’ Since morphe has to do with an outward functionality, this definition needs to permeate the manner in which the rest of 2:6 is understood. We noticed in Dan. 3:19 LXX, for example, that morphe was the Greek term used to express likeness of the face. The Aramaic word (צְלֵם) is the equivalent to Gen. 1:26-27, where Adam is to be made in the image (צֶ֫לֶם) of God. Since the position of the image of God was intended to make Adam the ruling steward over the created order, the function of rulership is bound together with the words image and morphe. If we follow this line of thinking, then Phil. 2:6 would refer to Christ Jesus as being in the form of God; i.e. functioning in the capacity of the king (which one would expect from Paul’s close use of “Christ Jesus” in 2:5). 

-Christ did not regard/consider being in the morphe of God as [arpagmos]. This Greek word is only used once in the entire Bible. This noun could have two meanings, based upon the context:

Option 1. the object grasped at, which one does not currently possess

Option 2. an object which one does indeed possess, but not utilized or exploited

I argue that option 2 is the most likely meaning in this context. It makes better sense to   understand that Christ was able and had the right to function as the image of God ruler, which the vocation of Messiah required. Instead of exploiting this for his own advantage, Jesus emptied himself into a servant. It also takes into account that Paul in ch.3 talks up his own privilege list and, in refusal to exploit them, gives them up for the sake of imitating Christ. He later in the chapter commands the Philippian audience to follow in his example by giving up their privileges as citizens for the sake of imitating Christ. Cf. also TDNT 1:473-474.

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