Response to Ehrman’s Interpretation of Phil. 2:6-11

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14 thoughts on “Response to Ehrman’s Interpretation of Phil. 2:6-11

  1. You are too eager to deny preexistence to Christ. However, Jesus’ existing (present tense) in the form of God, clearly indicates a base reality from which all else indicated in Philippians 2:6-11 flows.

    In verse 6, ἁρπαγμὸν in the present tense is followed by eleven aorist tense verbal forms. Four of these indicate action on the part of Christ (ἡγήσατο, ἐκένωσεν, λαβών, γενόμενος). One refers, in a general way, to the resulting condition of Jesus’ actions (εὑρεθεὶς); and in this condition, two other verbs indicate — further — action on his part (ἐταπείνωσεν, ἐχαρίσατο). Then God takes two actions (onγενόμενος, ὑπερύψωσεν), based on all that preceded. Finally, all that has been created will — eventually — respond as indicated by the verbs, κάμψῃ and ἐξομολογήσηται.

    Christ “existed” (an ongoing condition as indicated by the present tense verb) in the form of God. Then he made a decision and acted upon it, which led to further actions — all of which were specific actions as indicated by the aorist tense in each case.

    Among his actions, he assumed “the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men” (verse 7). He could hardly have done this unless he existed in a pre-human form.

    And concerning 1 Corinthians 15:47 and 48:

    It is obvious that Paul is writing concerning Adam’s origin and his nature (“The first man was from the earth and made of dust”). And it is just as obvious that he is speaking of Christ’s nature and origin (“The second man is from heaven”). It is — then — that he speaks of the very different forms of potential existence — and potential bodies — that await us: “Like the man made of dust, so are those who are made of dust; like the heavenly man, so are those who are heavenly.”

    The least you can do is grant that the above reasoning is acceptable. I think it is much more.

    1. In light of the ethical mandate given in 2:5 (“have this attitude in yourselves, which was also in Christ Jesus”), it seems unlikely that Paul would want his readers to try to think what it would feel like for God to become human, and to then use that as a model for humility. Much more likely is the early Christian surprise that, the messianic king had to suffer and die in obedience and service to God, which was to be their model for humility.

    2. Bobby, I’m not sure how the points you raised go against the non-preexistence interpretation (Except your claim that v. 7 implies pre-existence which it does not have to. Christ, despite being the Son of God the Messiah, choose to humbly accept the lot of fallen man, looking like an ordinary man). Also, αρπαγμον is a noun, not a present verb. The verb of the clause is in the aorist.

      I would paraphrase the poem thus: Messiah Jesus, who although being in the image of God – just as Adam was yet unlike Adam – did not strive for being like God but made himself nothing, by taking the form of a slave, by being made in likeness of the rest of mankind (rather than being like God). Having found himself in this position, he humbled himself still further, even unto the death on a cross. Now, for this very reason, God highly exalted him and gracefully gave him the Name above all other names, so that all creatures should bow at that the name which was giveen to Jesus; and that every tongue would confess the risen Lord to God the Father’s glory.

      Thus the plan meant for Adam has been completed (Ps 8) in Jesus, and in becoming like Jesus, we are restored to the true image of God, thus become a new mankind birthed by resurrection from the dead.

      Dustin, I personally would avoid the argument that the text can’t be speaking of God becoming human since how could an ordinary Christian emmulate that pattern. It is the principle (give up your rights for the sake of others) that Christians such follow, not the specific example given. The same could be argued against your (and my) position: how am I, a mere fallen son of Adam, supposed to reduplicate the humility of being God’s unqie Son, the King Messiah, yet giving it all away and going to the cross.

      By the way:
      I’m typing from my Ipad, one letter at a time so forgive me if my responses are delayed or non-existent. 🙂

      1. ἁρπαγμὸν is not a noun. It is a participle (a verbal adjective). In this context, it means “one who – is – in the form of God.” (I had not referred to “verbs,” strictly, but to “verbal forms,” a term I had chosen carefully in order to include any participles used in the passage.)

        Verse 7 then indicates that the one who is – continuously – in the form of God “took” (λαβών) – in an aorist, punctiliar action – “the form of a slave,” which Paul explains as “taking on the likeness of men.”

        Paul’s wording cannot mean, as you attempt to make it mean, that Christ took on the likeness of the “rest” of mankind. Instead Paul is clearly referring to the point at which Christ took on, in the broadest sense, the likeness of “mankind.”

        So Christ was in the form of God, before deliberately deciding and actually adopting the likeness of men.

        There is a simple chronological sequence in Philippians 2:6-11. It is easy to read and easy to follow. On the other hand, your paraphrase incorporates much that is not in the passage and is labored and misleading.

        The passage does not have anything to say about Adam, let alone all that you indicate. And this passage does not say that Christ was in the “image” (εἰκὼν) of God as in your paraphrase, but was in God’s “form” (μορφῇ). Nowhere – in any ancient document that I am aware of – is Adam ever declared to be in God’s “form.”

        So by usage, “the form of God” and “the image of God” cannot be treated as randomly inter-changeable equivalents.

      2. Αρπαγμον is a noun (singular accusative), it perhaps carries a verbal meaning but is still a noun. You are perhaps confusing the word with the participle υπαρχων? Even so, the time aspect of participles are not absolute as with verbs. The present state of existing is only in relation to the aorist verb ηγεομαι. He was currently existing in the form of God during his considering that equality with God would not be harpagmon.

        Μορφη refers to the outer visable form of something. It overlaps with εικων although they are not complete synonyms. In fact, morphe translates the Hebrew word tselem at times in LXX, the word normally used translated with eikon. The reason for why Paul may have used the expression form of God rather than image of God, probably has to do with the the phrase form of a slave. It would be odd to talk about the image of a slave.

        The purpose of my paraphrase was to make my position clear and to help in bringing out the Adam allusions. I am aware that I go beyond the text, it was not a translation. The allusions to Adam are well accepted by scholars, even among those who claim the text is referring to a preexistent being (a’la Wright).

        “So Christ was in the form of God, before deliberately deciding and actually adopting the likeness of men.” Agreed, but we understand the meaning of the words differently. In regards to chronology we are thinking the same. Simply disagree with my understanding of v7 is not much of argument.

        If I have time to get on my computer I might give a lengthier response and also to respond to youyr claims in regards to ego eimi.

    1. I’ve read Hurtado’s two big books on christology. I don’t follow Dunn’s interpretation in every detail, but he is almost certainly correct to state that Paul didn’t think that Jesus literally preexisted his birth.

      1. Hurtado argues that Paul refers to Christ’s pre-existence in Philippians 2. He successfully demonstrates that this is Paul’s meaning — but Hurtado just doesn’t think Paul is right, from a historical perspective.

  2. Nice video. More of these, please. 🙂

    Correct me if I am wrong but the time expressed by the participle υπαρχων is not absolute but in relation to the main verb ηγεομαι. In other words he was presently in the state of form of God when the ‘considering’ took place, which can be expressed using the past tense in English.

    Moreover, your understanding that Christ was continuely taking the form of a servant would best fit a present participle (λαμβανων) and not the aorist, no?

    1. The syntax is certainly difficult, especially since 2:5 is arguably a part of the sentence. I merely pointed to the present participle (which is not an aorist). I also desired to note that the word was not proeparchon (“preexisting”).

      From the perceptive of Paul, Jesus’ repeated “taking the form of a servant” occurred in the past, so the aorist participle was used there.

  3. Difficult syntax would be an understatement 🙂 I do not think the connection between 2:5 and 2:6 is that strong though. I see a certain mild disconnect with word ος which often introduces poetical material (1 Tim 3:15-16, Col 1:13-15).

    For the record, I did not claim that υπαρχον is an aorist, though this is my claim with regards to λαβων. 🙂

    1. Bobby..You mentioned L Hurtado believes Paul adhered to the idea of Jesus’ literal preexistence..however L Hurtado believed paul was not right from a historical perspective… can you please refer me to where Larry H articulates this?….

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