The Messiah’s Preexistence and Divinity in Philippians 2:5-11

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Author: David Wilber

Does the Bible teach that Yeshua the Messiah is divine? Philippians 2:5-11 is a central text that speaks to this question. In this passage, Paul teaches that the Messiah existed as a divine figure prior to his human conception, bears the name YHWH, and is rightfully given the reverence and allegiance that belongs to YHWH alone.

In this article, we will examine Philippians 2:5-11 in depth to establish each of these points. We will also address the arguments of those who say this text refers only to Yeshua’s humanity and says nothing about his preexistence or divinity.

Be Humble: The Context of Philippians 2:5-11

The Bible repeatedly stresses that believers are to be humble. In fact, the Scriptures declare that God gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud—that is, God opposes those who are not humble (Proverbs 3:34; 1 Peter 5:5; James 4:6). So, if we don’t want God to oppose us, we must be humble!

But why do the Scriptures put so much focus on this virtue? One reason is that humility is a necessary ingredient to having unity among believers. That is Paul’s point in his epistle to the Philippians. Paul encourages his readers to be united in striving side by side for the gospel (Philippians 1:27; 2:1-2), which requires humility and self-sacrifice:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
—Philippians 2:3-4

According to Paul, being humble means treating other people as more important than ourselves. It means sacrificing our own priorities and ambitions to serve others.

In light of Paul’s exhortation for believers to consider other people as more important, the objection might be raised, “But aren’t we all humans and therefore equal? It isn’t fair that I should have to treat another human as more important than myself!”

Anticipating this objection, Paul goes on to give the greatest example of someone who did precisely what he is instructing his readers to do. Paul points to the Messiah, who treated his “equal” as more important than himself. The Messiah, the “Word,” who was with God in the beginning and is God (cf. John 1:1, 14), willfully became human and humbled himself to serve the Father’s interests. Paul says that we are to have this same “mind” or attitude (Philippians 2:5). That is, Yeshua serves as our example of why we are to consider our equals as more important than ourselves and to look to their interests.

Here is how Paul describes the Messiah’s example of humility:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus [Messiah Yeshua], who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
—Philippians 2:5-8

There is much to unpack in this passage. For instance, what does it mean that Messiah was in the “form” (morphe) of God? And what does it mean that the Messiah did not count equality with God as “a thing to be grasped” (harpagmos)? Let’s first consider this idea of Yeshua being in the form of God.

“The Form of God”

In Greek, the word for “form” is morphe, which generally refers to visible appearance.[1] We can see this basic sense of the term in Mark 16:12 where the resurrected Messiah visibly appeared “in another form (morphe)” to two of his disciples.

So, how do we understand Yeshua as being in the morphe, or visible appearance, of God? Many scholars have argued that we should understand this term against the backdrop of biblical and extrabiblical descriptions of the visible manifestations of God’s glory (e.g., Ezekiel 1:28; Isaiah 6:1-3).[2] For example, Ezekiel speaks of the heavens opening and seeing the “appearance” of a man seated on a throne, and refers to this figure as “the glory of YHWH” (Ezekiel 1:26-28). In 1 Enoch 14:20, the author identifies the figure seated on the heavenly throne as the “Great Glory.” For a Jew like Paul, then, the Messiah being in “the form of God” is to say that the Messiah had an appearance of divine glory before taking upon himself the “form of a servant.”

Early Greek texts that associate divine glory with morphe confirm this connection between the “glory of YHWH” and “form of God.”[3] For example, in his account of Moses’ encounter with the burning bush, Philo uses the term morphe to describe the visible manifestation of God’s presence in the burning bush, which he calls a “very beautiful form [morphe]…a most Godlike image…which any one might have imagined to be the image of the living God” (Philo, Life of Moses 1.66). Philo settles on calling this glorious form that Moses saw “an angel.” Nevertheless, for Philo, this visible form could easily be thought of as the glorious appearance of God himself. Additionally, Justin Martyr directly links God’s glory with his morphe: “God…having ineffable glory and form” (Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 9). In light of these connections, Joseph Hellerman concludes:

Given (a) that μορφή means most basically “visible appearance,” and (b) that God’s visible appearance is so widely framed in terms of his glory, it would seem self-evident that μορφῇ θεοῦ, or “visible appearance of God,” in Phil 2:6 ought to be taken to refer, in some sense, to the glory of God.[4]

Culturally, Yeshua being in the morphe (visible appearance) of God is significant to Paul’s argument in Philippians. In ancient Roman culture, one’s visible appearance was closely associated with one’s social status. For instance, Roman senators wore a special badge on their togas called the latus clavus. An ancient inscription from Philippi describes how the emperor exalted someone to the senatorial order by stating that he had received the honor of the latus clavus. Slaves also wore a type of cap called a pillius that signified their slave status in society.[5] So then, for Paul and his original readers, the “form of God” would convey the idea that Yeshua had a glorious appearance and divine status in heaven. As Peter O’Brien writes, “The picture of the preexistent Christ clothed in the garments of divine majesty and spendour could be said to make adequate sense of the phrase.”[6]

The rest of the passage confirms that Paul’s use of morphe here is connected to this idea of status. Paul will go on to say that Yeshua took on the “form” (morphe) of a servant, which is further defined as “being born in the likeness of men.” In other words, Yeshua surrendered his high status in heaven and took upon himself the lowly status of a human being on earth to serve the Father’s interests. This is perhaps analogous to a powerful senator in Rome willfully relinquishing his higher legal status and taking upon himself the lowly status of a slave, exchanging his latus clavus for a pillius. In the next chapter of Philippians, Paul points to himself as another example of this same principle. He was regarded as a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” a Pharisee. Yet, he says he counted his high status in society as “filth” and chose instead to become a servant and share in Messiah’s sufferings (Philippians 3:4-11).

One can easily see how this illustration fits well with Paul’s instruction to his readers. Paul says to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit” (Philippians 2:3). In other words, stop caring so much about your own status and priorities, and instead treat others as more important than yourself and consider their interests (Philippians 2:3-4). After all, Yeshua was in the “form of God.” He had the highest and most glorious status that one could have. And yet, Yeshua surrendered his high position in heaven to take upon himself the appearance and status of a slave.

Before we move on, there is one more point worth mentioning about the term morphe in connection with the concept of a divine figure becoming a man. Paul’s description of Messiah existing in the “form of God” and taking on the “form of a slave” by being born in the likeness of men bears a striking resemblance to the god Dionysus’ speech in Euripides’ Bacchae. In his speech, Dionysus states that he has “exchanged his divine form [morphe] for a mortal one” and that he has “taken on mortal form [morphe] and changed [his] appearance to that of a man” (Euripides, Bacchae 4-5).[7] Notice that both Paul and Euripides use the term morphe to describe this concept of exchanging “form.”

Paul’s readers in Philippi, a city where Dionysus worship was prevalent in the mid-first century, would have been familiar with Euripides’ Bacchae due to its widespread popularity and importance in Greek education.[8] Thus, it seems reasonable to expect that Paul’s readers would have recognized the similarities between Paul’s description of the Messiah’s incarnation and Dionysus’ transformation into human form. As he does elsewhere (e.g., Acts 17:28), Paul is using material that would have been familiar to his Greek audience to explain the truth about a hard concept. He uses this unique vocabulary that we find in the Bacchae to help his readers grasp the idea of Yeshua being a divine figure who takes on the form of a man. As Eliezer Gonzalez writes, “This is only natural, in the sense that although Paul’s concepts are fundamentally Jewish, he is writing to an audience in a Gentile city and context.”[9] Of course, the analogy to Dionysus is not perfect. In contrast to Dionysus, Yeshua does not merely take on the appearance of a man; he actually becomes a man. Nevertheless, Paul’s allusion to Dionysus serves to help his Greek readers understand the reality of the divine, preexistent Messiah being born in the likeness of men.

In summary, Yeshua being in the form of God prior to taking on the form of a servant indicates his preexistence and divinity. The Bible and extrabiblical Jewish literature associate God’s visible appearance, his “form” (morphe), with his glory. Passages from Greek literature substantiate this association by using the term morphe in connection with divine glory. Culturally, visible appearance was also connected to social status in ancient Roman society, indicating Messiah’s high position in heaven before he took on the lowly status of a slave by being born on earth. Additionally, Paul’s characterization of the Messiah exchanging his “form of God” for the “form of a servant” has intertextual echoes with Euripides’ Bacchae, which uses the same term morphe to describe a divine figure taking on the form of a man. This popular play was known to Paul’s readers, and it is reasonable to expect that Paul might borrow vocabulary from this material to explain to his audience how Yeshua could preexist as a divine figure before becoming a man. Thus, to say that Yeshua existed in the form of God is to say that Yeshua had a glorious appearance and divine status in heaven prior to becoming human. 

“A Thing to be Grasped”

How should we understand Paul’s statement that Yeshua “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [harpagmos]”? In Greek, the word translated as “a thing to be grasped” is harpagmos, which means “robbery.” As an abstract noun, harpagmos can also have the sense of something valuable worth grasping.[10]

Some suggest that Paul’s use of harpagmos here means Yeshua lacked equality with God and refused to grasp at it. However, it is more likely that Yeshua already had equality with God and did not count it as something to be “grasped,” that is, held onto. For instance, the phrase has the definite article (literally “the being equal with God”). In Greek, the definite article often “points back to something previously mentioned.”[11] Thus, here, the article points back to “form of God.” The parallelism in verses 6-7 confirm this reading. In verse 6, the phrase “equality with God” immediately follows “form of God.” Similarly, in verse 7, the phrase “human likeness” follows “form of a slave.” The phrase “human likeness” in verse 7 serves to interpret the preceding phrase “form of a slave.” Therefore, it can be inferred that the phrase “equality with God” in verse 6 is intended to interpret “form of God.” These grammatical features indicate that “equality with God” is roughly equivalent to “form of God,” which would entail that “equality of God” was something the Messiah already possessed.[12]

Additionally, the entire expression is likely idiomatic. When Paul writes that the Messiah “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” he probably means to say that the Messiah did not consider his equality with God something to exploit or use for his own advantage. Grammatically, this expression is known as an object-complement construction.[13] Elsewhere in Greek literature, when the word harpagmos or its synonym is used as part of this grammatical construction where the verb is something like “consider” or regard”—exactly like what we have in Philippians 2:6—it is always meant idiomatically in the sense of an advantage to exploit (Eusebius, Commentary on Luke 6; Heliodorus, Aethiopica VIII.7; VII.11; VII.20; Isidore of Pelusium, Epistola 4.22). For example, consider this passage from Heliodorus:

A young man so handsome and in his prime thrusts away a young woman of similar qualities who yearns for him, and does not regard the matter as harpagma
—Heliodorus, Aethiopica VII.20[14]

Here, the handsome young man rejects the advances of a beautiful woman. The person speaking in this passage is astonished that this man does not regard the matter as harpagma—that is, that the man refuses to exploit this situation or use it to his advantage. Based on this and other examples of this construction in Greek literature, Roy Hoover explains that Philippians 2:6 is best translated as “he did not regard being equal with God as something to use for his own advantage.” As Hoover writes:

[I]n every instance which I have examined this idiomatic expression refers to something already present and at one’s disposal. The question in such instances is not whether or not one possesses something, but whether or not one chooses to exploit something.[15]

Thus, according to this idiomatic reading, Yeshua was in the form of God and had equality with God, and yet he refused to use this divine status as something for his own advantage. Instead, Paul says that Yeshua “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). What does Paul mean when he says the Messiah emptied himself? As Paul Holloway points out, the verb “emptied himself” refers back to the noun “empty conceit” in verse 3, just as “humbled himself” (2:8) refers back to “humility” (2:3) and “becoming obedient” (2:8) foreshadows “obeyed” (2:12). In light of these language choices, Holloway observes, “Paul chose the expression to produce a meaningful wordplay: rather than displaying “empty conceit” Christ “emptied himself.”[16] The point is that, rather than use his equality with God for his own advantage, the Messiah set aside his glorious appearance and status in heaven and took upon himself the appearance and status of a slave on earth. Yeshua did not literally become a “slave” in the Roman social order. Rather, as Michael Bird and Nijay Gupta explain:

It appears that Paul was trying to communicate here that the great distance that Christ moved from high glory to lowly mortal existence is like a king becoming a slave. This is a word-picture representing Christ’s deep humility and absolute concern for obedience to God and love of others.[17]

Indeed, Yeshua relinquishing his glorious heavenly status to be born on earth as a man is like a king becoming a slave. Yeshua surrendered all privileges and status associated with having equality with God in order to serve the Father’s interests on earth. Paul says that Yeshua did this by “being born in the likeness of men” (cf. Galatians 4:4; Romans 1:3). In other words, the way that Yeshua emptied himself and took on the appearance and status of a slave was by becoming a man and serving the Father’s interests on earth.

The fact that Yeshua already had “equality with God” and chose not to use it for his own advantage fits the pattern in Philippians. For instance, in Philippians 3:4-11, Paul also talks about his own high status as a Pharisee and a “Hebrew of Hebrews.” Like Yeshua, Paul chose not to use this high status that he already possessed to his own advantage. Paul was not grasping at a status he did not already have; he chose not to exploit what he had.

Before we move on, the word “likeness” should not be thought to imply that Yeshua was not actually human. Paul uses this precise language intentionally to attempt to express the paradoxical notion that, while Yeshua was fully human, he did not stop being divine. Paul uses this same word in Romans 8:3 to say that Yeshua came “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” This expression does not mean that Yeshua did not actually have flesh. In Romans, Paul’s point is that Yeshua was similar to sinful humans but also different. The difference is that Yeshua’s “sinful flesh,” unlike ours, was unsuccessful in causing him to sin—hence he came in the “likeness” of sinful flesh. Similarly, although Yeshua was fully human, he was also divine—hence he was born in the “likeness” of men.

The Unitarian Objection to Messiah’s Preexistence Addressed

Before we continue to verses 9-11, there is an alternative interpretation of this passage worth addressing. Unitarians do not believe that the Messiah existed prior to being conceived in his mother’s womb. Thus, they have to provide a different reading of Philippians 2:6-8 to avoid that conclusion. However, as we will see, the unitarian interpretation of this passage lacks textual support and is frankly contrived.

Unitarians take Messiah being “in the form of God” as another way of saying that he was in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Like Adam, Yeshua was a mere human made in God’s image. But unlike Adam, who tried to seize equality with God by eating from the tree of knowledge (Genesis 3:5, 22), the Messiah did not grasp at equality with God. In other words, according to unitarians, being in the “form of God” refers to Yeshua’s humanity. Yeshua’s humble refusal to try to seize equality with God during his earthly life was rewarded with exaltation.

There are several problems with this proposal. First, this view assumes that the phrase “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” means that Yeshua lacked equality with God and refused to grasp at it. However, as we have seen, the grammar and parallelisms in the text show that “equality with God” interprets “form of God,” which indicates that “equality of God” was something the Messiah already had by virtue of him existing in the form of God. Moreover, we have seen that the entire expression is likely idiomatic and means “did not consider his equality with God something to use for his own advantage.”

Second, this interpretation has no linguistic basis in the text. Greek literature never uses the term morphe for humanity being in God’s “image.” Instead, the word used for this concept in the Septuagint and New Testament is always eikon (LXX: Genesis 1:26, 27; 9:6; NT: 1 Cor 11:7; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15; 3:10). So, although one might argue for an allusion to the image of God in theory, there is simply nothing explicit in the text itself that suggests such a connection. If Paul meant to describe the image of God, why wouldn’t he use the word that he always uses elsewhere for this concept? Why use a completely different word that is never used by him or anyone else for this concept, and that nobody would have recognized as having any connection whatsoever to the Genesis narrative?[18]

Third, this interpretation just seems forced. For instance, Genesis says that Adam and Eve became “like” God (specifically in regard to knowing good and evil), not “equal” to God (Genesis 3:5, 22). Moreover, the Septuagint uses a completely different word to describe this. The Septuagint uses hos, “like,” while Paul uses isos, “equality.” According to Gordon Fee, to make the analogy with Adam work, the language and grammar of Philippians 2 “must be stretched nearly beyond recognition.”[19]

Fourth, the unitarian interpretation makes this passage awkward and nonsensical. If Paul wanted to communicate that Yeshua was always and only a mere human, why would he describe this idea in such a confusing way? Why would he contrast “being born in the likeness of men” with “being in the form of God” if these statements mean the same thing? Wouldn’t this essentially be like saying that the Messiah, who was already human, became a human? Indeed, as Markus Bockmuehl puts it, “this reading leads to logical contradictions and destroys the deliberate syntactical and theological contrast between verses 6 and 7.”[20] Moreover, the text states that the Messiah exists in the “form of God” and then takes upon himself the “form of a servant.” By “taking” the form of a servant the Messiah acquired something he did not previously possess when he was in the form of God, meaning that there was a point in time prior to the Messiah “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” The unitarian interpretation, which rules out the possibility of Messiah’s preexistence, breaks the natural progression of the text.

For these and other reasons, we can reasonably dismiss the idea that “form of God” in Philippians 2:6 means being in God’s image (i.e., being human). Yeshua existed in the glorious form of God and had equality with God before being born as a human.

The Messiah is YHWH

What happened after Yeshua’s humble obedience to the point of death? He was exalted:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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 the Father.
—Philippians 2:9-11 

Here, Paul says that the Messiah’s humility and obedience to the cross have resulted in him being “highly exalted”—that is, exalted to the highest place.[21] All mankind bows before him and confesses that he is Lord. Since Yeshua already existed in the “form of God” and had “equality with God” prior to his incarnation, we should see this exaltation as God restoring Yeshua to the glorious appearance and status he previously had before becoming human. The difference is that now all creation fully acknowledges Yeshua’s divine position. As Tim Hegg writes, “It is not as though Yeshua is given an exaltation higher than He had in His preexistent state, but that in His post-resurrection exaltation He is now seen for Who He truly is and always has been—the One Who reigns above all.”[22]

Paul also states that the resurrected Messiah has been given “the name that is above every name.” What is this “name”? Some have suggested that it is simply Yeshua (“Jesus”), the name by which he was known during his time on earth. That understanding seems natural considering the next verse, which reads, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” However, one problem with this view is that the Messiah was already known by the name Yeshua before his crucifixion and exaltation, whereas this new name was not given to Yeshua until after his death. As Bert-Jan Lietaert Peerbolte points out, “The aorist ἐχαρίσατο [that is, “given”] points at a specific moment at which the bestowal of the name took place, and that moment must have either coincided with or immediately followed upon Jesus’ death.”[23] More likely, then, the phrase “in the name of Jesus” should be understood as “the name that now belongs to Jesus.”[24]

So, then, what is this name above every name? According to the context, the name to which Paul refers must be “Lord,” as we read in verse 11: “and every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” But what is so special about the name “Lord”? The name “Lord” is special in this context because “Lord,” kyrios, stands for YHWH. When the New Testament authors quote passages from the Old Testament that reference YHWH, they consistently use kyrios, “Lord,” in place of the divine name. The New Testament authors followed the same practice we see in the Septuagint, which uses kyrios in place of YHWH around 6,000 times.[25]

Thus, by way of the Greek kyrios standing in place for the Divine Name, the exalted Messiah is given the name YHWH. From a Jewish perspective, YHWH is indeed the “name that is above every name.” But how do we know that “Lord” in verse 11 stands for YHWH? One reason is that Paul’s language in this verse is directly taken from a passage in Isaiah about YHWH:

By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.”
—Isaiah 45:23

According to Peerbolte, “The translation of these words in the LXX is remarkably equal to the phrase we find in Philippians.”[26] However, there is one important difference: in Isaiah 45:23, the speaker is YHWH (Isaiah 45:18). He says, “to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” In Philippians 2:10-11, however, these words are applied to Yeshua. Paul replaces the “to me” of Isaiah 45:23, which refers to YHWH, with “in the name of Jesus.” So, every knee shall bow to Yeshua, and every tongue will confess that Yeshua is YHWH. Now, the fact that Yeshua is given the name YHWH upon his exaltation does not imply that he was not “divine” prior to this point in time—verse 6 is clear that Yeshua existed in divine glory and had equality with God before his incarnation. Rather, the giving of this new name, as seen elsewhere in the Bible (e.g., Genesis 17:5; 32:28), signifies a new phase or shift in the course of one’s life.[27] Yeshua has now reached the stage where he will be universally recognized as having all authority.

The significance of Yeshua’s identification as YHWH cannot be overstated. As Richard Bauckham writes:

In Jewish monotheism the unique name of God, YHWH, names his unique identity. It is exclusive to the one God in a way that the sometimes ambiguous word “god” is not. Hence the bearing of this divine name by the exalted Jesus signifies unequivocally his inclusion in the unique divine identity, recognition of which is precisely what worship in the Jewish monotheistic tradition expresses.[28]

In Philippians 2:11, Yeshua is not only identified as YHWH, but also is the recipient of the worship and allegiance that Isaiah emphatically states belong to YHWH alone. Paul states that all who are “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” will bow to Yeshua and confess that he is YHWH. The universal worship of Yeshua is a common theme expressed by the earliest Christians. In Revelation 5:13-14, John echoes Paul by declaring that “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea” will worship the one “who sits on the throne” and “the Lamb.” Polycarp, a disciple of John, likewise writes:

Believing in the One who raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and gave him glory and a throne at his right hand; to whom are subject all things heavenly and earthly; whom all that breathes worships; who is coming as the judge of the living and the dead”
—Polycarp, Phil. 2.1, emphasis added[29]

Significantly, the worship and allegiance given to Yeshua in his exaltation does not detract from the glory of the Father. On the contrary, bowing before Yeshua and confessing him to be YHWH is done “to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). When we honor the Son, we are honoring the Father (cf. John 5:22-23). The fact that the Scriptures depict the Messiah being worshiped and glorified alongside the Father demonstrates that the earliest Christians did not see any conflict between monotheism, which they affirmed (e.g., Romans 3:30; Galatians 3:20; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; James 2:19), and their confession that Yeshua is YHWH. Elsewhere in the New Testament, worshiping anyone other than the God of Israel is strictly forbidden (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). The only way to resolve this tension is if the earliest Christians saw Yeshua as being included in “the unique identity of the one God.”[30] The Father and the Son are both the one God YHWH.


Paul admonishes believers to be humble and to count others as more important than themselves. Paul points to the Messiah as the perfect example of what that looks like. Yeshua existed in the glorious form of God and had equality with God in heaven prior to becoming human. The Messiah did not count his equality with God as something to use for his own advantage, but set aside his glorious appearance and status and took upon himself the appearance and status of a slave. He did this by being born as a human. As a human, Yeshua humbled himself and obeyed the Father even to the point of death on the cross. Because of his humility and obedience, the Messiah is highly exalted, given the name YHWH, and receives the universal worship and allegiance that belong to YHWH alone. Thus, Philippians 2:5-11 affirms the Messiah’s preexistence and divinity.

[1] BDAG 4th ed., “μορφή,” 584.

[2] See Joseph H. Hellerman, “ΜΟΡΦΗ ΘΕΟΥ as a Signifier of Social Status in Philippians 2:6,” JETS 52/4 (December 2009): 779-797.

[3] See Jarl Fossum, “Jewish-Christian Christology and Jewish Mysticism,” Vigiliae Christianae 37 (1983): 260-287.

[4] Hellerman, 794

[5] Ibid., 793.

[6] Peter O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 209.

[7] Quoted in Eliezer Gonzalez, “Paul’s Use of Metamorphosis in Its Graeco-Roman and Jewish Contexts,” DavarLogos XIII, 1 (2014): 57-76.

[8] See Michael Cover, “The Death of Tragedy: The Form of God in Paul’s Carmen Christi and Euripides’ Bacchae,” Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 111, No. 1 (January 2018): 66-89.

[9] Gonzalez, 73.

[10] BDAG 4th ed., “ἁρπαγμός, 116.

[11] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Word Biblical Themes: Philippians (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987).

[12] This is my summary of the argument put forward by Paul A. Holloway in Philippians (Hermeneia: Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017), 120.

[13] The object-complement of the sentence, which in this case is the word translated as “a thing to be grasped” (harpagmos), affirms or complements the direct object of the clause, which in this case are the words translated as “equality with God”: did not count (= verb) equality with God (= direct object) a thing to be grasped (= object-complement). See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 182. I am grateful to Chris Date for articulating this point in his debate with Dale Tuggy, which is where I first heard about it.

[14] Quoted in Roy W. Hoover, “The Harpagmos Enigma: A Philological Solution,” Harvard Theological Review 64 (1971), 105.

[15] Hoover, 118.

[16] Holloway, 123.

[17] Michael F. Bird & Nijay K. Gupta, Philippians (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 79.

[18] See Gordon Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peadbody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007), 379: “[T]he fact remains that there is not a single verbal connection of any kind between this passage and the Septuagint of Gen 1-3. The alleged semantic overlap between these two words [that is, between morphe, ‘form,’ and eikon, ‘image’] is in fact a piece of scholarly mythology based on untenable semantics.”

[19] Ibid., 392.

[20] M. Bockmuehl, “The Form of God (Phil. 2:6): Variations on a Theme of Jewish Mysticism,” Journal of Theological Studies, NC, Vol. 48 (April 1997), 9.

[21] Fee, 396.

[22] Tim Hegg, A Commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (Tacoma, WA: TorahResource, 2021), 104.

[23] Bert-Jan Lietaert Peerbolte, “The Name above all Names (Philippians 2:9),” The Revelation of the Name YHWH to Moses: Perspectives from Judaism, the Pagan Graeco-Roman World, and Early Christianity (Boston, Brill, 2006), 201.

[24] Fee, 396.

[25] See κύριος in Mounce’s Expository Dictionary.

[26] Peerbolte, 203.

[27] Ben Witherington III, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 153.

[28] Richard J. Bauckham, “The Worship of Jesus in Philippians 2:9-11,” Where Christology Began: Essays on Philippians 2 (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1998), 132.

[29] Quoted in Ibid.

[30] See Ibid., 137: “Unless Jesus is included in the unique divine identity, worship of Jesus by the whole creation would subvert Jewish monotheism. It would not be ‘to the glory of God the Father’ but quite the opposite…They [that is, the early Jewish Christians] preserved Jewish monotheism by including Jesus in the unique identity of the one God as Jewish monotheism understood this. Participating in God’s unique sovereignty over all things and bearing the unique divine name, the exalted Jesus belongs to the unique divine identity, which is precisely what monotheistic worship recognizes. The worship of Jesus thus expresses the eschatological monotheism of the Jewish tradition in the Christological form which Christian understanding of the exaltation of Jesus gave it.”

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About David Wilber

David is first and foremost a passionate follower of Yeshua the Messiah. He is also a writer, speaker, and teacher.

David’s heart is to minister to God’s people by helping them rediscover the validity and blessing of God’s Torah and help prepare them to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15)…

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