Philippians 2 and the Person of Jesus Christ


In this passage from Philippians chapter 2, we have one of the clearest Accounts in the Bible, on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. We read of His absolute Deity from eternity past, “in the very nature of God”, and was coequal with the Father. Then we read, that at The Incarnation, when Jesus Christ was Conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, that He took on “the very nature of a servant [human]”, thereby giving up for a short time, His equality with the Father. Jesus Christ walked this earth as a Human Person, Who was fully God and fully human, without any sin, and became, “ὁ θεάνθρωπος”, which is, “The God-Man”. We read of Jesus Christ as being “Highly Exalted” by God the Father, and is Yahweh.


“Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the very nature of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient [even] unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of [things] in heaven and [things] on earth and [things] under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)


Verse 6 in the Greek is, “ος εν μορφη θεου υπαρχων”, literally, “Who in the very nature of God existing”. The participle “υπαρχων” is in the masculine singular, and present tense. The KJV, NKJV, etc, render it as “being”.


To when does this “υπαρχων” refer? Are we to accept the meaning as suggested by the margin reading of the 1881 Revised Version, “Gr. being originally”, which is what Dr Thayer says in his Greek lexicon. But, this is very much misleading, as it strongly suggests that, Jesus Christ “was in the nature of God before His Incarnation”, and “gave this up”, when He became Man. This is not what the Greek says here, nor, what the Apostle Paul is meaning. “υπαρχων”, does have the meaning of, “to be already in existence”. But, this is not all that it means, as it does also include “continuation”.


Acts 7:55, “But he, being (υπαρχων) full of the Holy Spirit”

Acts 14:8, “being (υπαρχων) a cripple from his mother's womb”

Galatians 2:14, “If thou, being (υπαρχων) a Jew”


In each of these examples, past and continued actions are meant.


How are we to understand the Greek “μορφὴ ϑεοῦ”, translated in many English Versions as “form”, and in the NIV, as “very nature”. Do we understand this word, as Professor Danker does, “μορφὴ ϑεοῦ signifies a divine air/demeanor Phil 2:6, in contrast to μορφὴ δουλοῦ slavish demeanor vs. 7” (The concise Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament, p.250). And, the much used Greek lexicon by Dr J H Thayer, “the form by which a person or thing strikes the vision; the external appearance”. Thayer was a Unitarian and rejected the Deity of Jesus Christ. “μορφη” is used 3 times in the New Testament, in Philippians 2:6 and 7 (form of a servant, KJV), and Mark 16:12. Then, we have other Greek works, that define “μορφη”, as “being in the nature of God” (Edward Robinson). And, “very nature” (Mounce, Expository Dictionary). So, which definition is the correct one? To the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, the former is what they would accept. To those who believe that Jesus is GOD, the latter is correct. Both, however, cannot be right.


I will show that the correct meaning of the word in the passage in Philippians 2, is found in the other use of it, in Mark 16:12. Here it reads that Jesus appeared, “εν ετερα μορφη”. Firstly, of the adjective, “ετερα”, which here means, “of another kind, different”. After His Resurrection, the Body of the Lord Jesus Christ was “essentially transformed”, as He could disappear (Luke 24:31). He could walk through closed doors (John 20:19). Though His “outward appearance” was exactly the same after the Resurrection. This is very clear from Jesus’ Road to Emmaus conversation with the two he walked with, in Luke 24. In verse 16, when Jesus had joined the two men, it says, “But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him”. And in verse 31, “And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight”. It is clear the God had here “prevented” these two from “recognizing” Jesus. This would not have been necessary, if Jesus’  “outward appearance”, had changed in any way. It is clear from this passage, which is the same time of Mark’s account, that “μορφη” means “essential”, and not “outward”. This is exactly what Paul means in Philippians.


Next we have, “οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο”, = “considered it not a thing to be grasped”.


In the original sense, “ἁρπαγμὸν”, has the meaning of “the act of seizing”, hence the reading of Versions like the KJV, etc. However, the noun can also be used in a passive sense, rather than active, with the meaning, “to be grasped”, or “held on to”. This phrase, “οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο”, must be taken with, “τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ”, which is translated, “to be equal with God”. “ἴσα” is in the neuter plural, and used as an adverb, with the meaning, “on equal terms, without advantage to either side”.


Thus far we have, “Jesus Christ, Who from eternity past, existing in the very nature as God, did not consider His being on equality with the Father, something to be held on to”. This is clearly seen from a couple of examples, as in Hebrews 2:7, 9, “You made Him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned Him with glory and honor…But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” “ἠλαττωμένον”, means to to make lower than, to be inferior to. Because Jesus, the eternal God, “became flesh”, and suffered on the cross. In this sense He was “lower”, than even the angels. This was only “for a little while”, for the duration of Jesus’ Incarnation, while on earth. Just before Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, He says to the Father: “And now You, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world existed”. It was the “Glory” that He from all eternity had with the Father, thus making Him COEQUAL, is what Jesus did not “hold on to”, when He became the God-Man.


We then have, “ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών”. literally, “but Himself emptied the very nature of a bond-servant having taken”. This “emptying” that Paul speaks of, is because Jesus Christ “took upon Himself”, the “very nature of a bond-servant”. The “emptying” has nothing to do with “μορφὴ ϑεοῦ”, which we have seen from, “υπαρχων”, is a continued existence. “ἐκένωσεν”, is from, “κενόω”, literally, “to empty”. The one Who does the “emptying”, is Jesus Christ “Himself”. What is “κενόω” used here for? There is a passage in the Greek writer, Herodotus, where he uses this verb, as “stripped” (see, LSJ, Greek lexicon). The meaning of “strip” here, as defined in Webster’s, “to divest of honors, privileges, or functions”. Clearly from this passage in Philippians 2, we read of Jesus Christ as “stripping Himself of the honor and privilege”, that He had with the Father from all eternity, by becoming the God-Man. As Weymouth’s New Testament rightly reads, “He stripped Himself of His glory”. God cannot cease to be God, and Jesus Christ, Who IS Almighty God, cannot for any time, not be God! “μορφὴν δούλου”, is in the same way “μορφὴ ϑεοῦ” is understood, as the “very nature” of a human, except sin. One Person, Jesus Christ, verse 5, Two “natures”, God and Man, at His Incarnation, verse 6-7.


Next, “εν ομοιωματι ανθρωπων γενομενος”, that is, “being born in the likeness of man”. What does Paul mean here, by “likeness”? This does not mean that the “human nature” of Jesus Christ, was unreal, and just a phantom, as some in the early Church taught. To understand what this means, we can look at another verse in Paul, Romans 8:3, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh”. Same Greek word, “ὁμοίωμα”, (to resemble). The “human nature” of Jesus Christ, is very real, but, it is without any sin, which is not true of any human being ever born. In Matthew 1:16, we read, “Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ”. The Greek is very important, “ἐξ ἧς”, literally, “out of HER”, feminine, singular, which shows that Mary was the biological “mother” of Jesus Christ, Who actually derived His “human nature” from her. This is also seen in Luke 1:35, “therefore also that Holy Child Who shall be born of thee (ἐκ σοῦ, singular, “out of you”) shall be called the Son of God”


In the Greek, Paul is very careful in how he writes. He says, “κατεκρινε την αμαρτιαν εν τη σαρκ”, “condemned sin in the flesh”. Had he written, “κατεκρινε την αμαρτιαν την εν τη σαρκ”, this would have made sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ. It is clear from both these passages taken together, what Paul does mean when he says, “in the likeness of man”.


And being found in fashion as a man”, Weymouth translates, “And being recognized as truly human”. “σχῆμα”, here translated as “fashion”, is more than just the “outward appearance”. It also is used for, “character, characteristic propetry”, that which makes a “real human”. When those who lived with Jesus looked at Him, they “saw” a real human being like themselves. But, in His One Person, He was the God-Man, 100% God and 100% Man, except for sin.


Then we have Jesus’ “submission” to God the Father, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”. This “obedience”, is “μέχρῐ”, “till the end of His life”, “as long as”. At which point in time, that “submission” to the Father was ended. This is what the passage in Hebrew 2 says, that it was for “a little while”, that Jesus was “made lower than the angels”, for the duration of His Incarnate Life on earth.


The next three verses are to be taken together, “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”


The Name Jesus was given to Mary by, the Father, through the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:31). His Name is Highly exalted above all other names. So Great is Jesus Christ, that He is to receive all the Praise, Worship and Adoration, that is for Almighty God Himself. The words that Paul uses here, for The Lord Jesus Christ, and from the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah:


Declare and present it. Yes, let them take counsel together. Who has shown this from ancient time? Who has declared it of old? Haven't I, Yahweh? There is no other God besides Me, a Just God and a Saviour; There is no one besides Me."Look to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and will not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath.” (45:21-23)


In this passage, Yahweh is the Speaker, Who says that He is The Saviour, and there is no other besides Him. In Luke 2:11, we read, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord”. In Titus 2:13 we read, “looking for the blessed hope and appearance of the glory of our Great God and Saviour Jesus Christ”. In John 4:42, Jesus Christ is called “The Saviour of the World”. The fact that Jesus Christ IS The Saviour of the world, as acknowledged by all, and that in Isaiah He is called Yahweh.


Further, the words in Isaiah are Spoken by Yahweh Himself, to Whom “every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath.”. The Apostle Paul has taken these words from this passage, and directly applied them to The Lord Jesus Christ, thereby identifying Jesus Christ as Yahweh. It would be blasphemy for Paul to have done this, if Jesus Christ Himself is not Almighty God.


Interestingly, the Jehovah’s Witnesses publication of the Emphatic Diaglott, which is a Greek-English New Testament, has for verse 10, “in order that in the NAME of Jesus Every Knee should bend, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those beneath”, a cross-reference to the passage in Isaiah 45:23! Clear evidence even in the JW’s publication, to the fact that Jesus Christ IS Yahweh.