Friday, January 4, 2013

Understanding Paul’s Words at Philippians chapter 2, verses 6 and 7

There is a long standing difference of (very strong) viewpoint on that passage. Those adhering to the trinity teaching prefer the essence of the wording found in the King James Bible (vs.6): “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God…” Those not adhering to the trinity doctrine (predominantly Jehovah’s Witnesses), use a rendering such as this one:  (New World Translation): “who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God”

But what was the point that Paul was making? Was the context of that passage in his letter arguing the identity of the Christ? No, it wasn't.  If you read the context, especially verses 1 through 11, you will notice that Paul was using Jesus as an object lesson, a model of how a Christian should think and live. In verse 3, Paul says that we should not be egotistical or contentious. In verse 5, Paul tells us that we should have the same mental attitude of humility that Jesus had. He then says that not only did Jesus demonstrate humility in leaving heaven and coming to earth, but then he lived a humble human life (not a religious or political leader or rich man). Finally to top it off, he died an ignominious death, being falsely labeled as a fake and slanderer of God.

Wrapping it up in verses 9 through 11, Paul says that because of Jesus’ willing humility, God not only brought him back to life but then raised him to a position that was elevated above every other human to have ever lived or will ever live. Note the underlined (from the King James Version) in the text below:
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

So now, would it make sense, after considering the context, that Paul, even in passing, was teaching that Jesus was or is himself also God? No, it wouldn't.  To say that would mean that Jesus glorified and praised himself, directly opposite to what Paul was trying to teach his readers. Paul made it undeniably clear that Jesus was and is “Lord,” not to his own glory, but the Father’s (to God’s) glory.

Ok, so the point Paul was making was that we need to follow Christ’s model of humility. But what about verse 6? First lets consider verses 6 and 7 according to the King James version. Then we’ll look at other, more accurate, recently translated works used by those who believe in the trinity. Verses 6,7: Who, “being in the form of God, thought it not robbery 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:”

So first the KJV says that Jesus “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” but then, instead of just allowing the supposed equality, he “made himself of no reputation, took upon him the form of a servant.” Does that make sense to you? First of all, the odd wording of “thought it not robbery to be equal” is confusing enough. But then, instead of accepting his equality, he humbles himself. Of course, even the terms “equal” and “equality” immediately imply that there is more than one person involved. If Jesus IS God, then Paul’s argument is further nullified. What do I mean? Consider: If we re-write that passage in modern English, according to the trinity beliefs, it would read: “Jesus didn't think it was any big deal being equal to himself, but decided to be less than himself.”

So what of the more modern translations? One of the favorites of current church-goers is the NIV (New International Version).  Below, along with the Amplified version, are those renderings:

NIV: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

AMP: Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained,

Note these observations:
 Both translations separate Jesus (in his pre-human existence) from God as two distinct individuals. One individual has no choice but to be equal to himself. If Jesus were God, how could he possibly make himself lesser than what he himself is? And once he made himself lesser, he would still be equal to himself, right?

 The NIV says that Jesus was “in very nature God.” And the Amplified, a very-well researched translation, says that Jesus was in the “form of God.” It is interesting that Jehovah’s Witnesses, believe that. Jesus was indeed in the “form” of God. John, quoting Jesus’ own words, at John chapter 4, verse 24 says that “God is a spirit.” Indeed, Jesus, prior coming to earth was “a spirit.” So are the angels. That shouldn't be any huge revelation to Bible readers. And that is the only point Paul was making. Jesus took on a lesser life-form by becoming human. (Hebrews 2:7) But afterwards, the benefit of his loyalty (not to himself but to God, his Father), came with the benefit of being raised even above the angels. (Hebrews 1:6)

Quite simply, then, what Paul wrote was that we should be humble and even accept humiliating circumstances and assignments for the sake of glorifying our Heavenly Father. We do this because we are followers of Jesus Christ who set the pattern and model for us to follow. (1 Peter 2:21)

Additional Notes
Another phrase the Amplified makes is that Christ is "essentially one with God." Again, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that but probably not in the sense that you do. They believe it in the same sense that Jesus used the word at John 17:21 which reads: "in order that they [Jesus' followers] may all be one, just as you, Father, are in union with me and I am in union with you, that they also may be in union with us" Yes, the "union," is a unity of mindset and purpose, otherwise we would need to understand Jesus' words from John 17 to mean that all believers would also become "God" in very being. (See 1 Corinthians 1:10)

In contrast to Jesus' humble example, who can you think of that was also "in God's form" (a spirit being) that was not at all humble but was arrogantly, rebelliously interested in becoming a worshiped deity himself? Yes, Satan the devil.

Philippians 2 Revisited

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