Pauline Christology – Philippians 2

I will be reviewing sections of this book that are of particular interest to me.  I will say this, Gordon Fee is a remarkable writer, theologian, and obviously an expert with the Greek language.  I think that this book has wide appeal for both the professional theologian as well as ministerial theologians, or as we are sometimes referred to as “Armchair Theologians”, either way it is not beyond the comprehension of a serious student/person.

I hate to admit this, but I had heard of Gordon Fee before but never read any of his books.  It was not until hanging out at Nick’s blog that I became very curious about him.  So I purchased this book just a few weeks ago.  I had done some prior research on Gordon Fee and also came to find out that he is a Pentecostal.  May not make a difference for many of you, but for me it is really exiting since I am also pentecostal.

Gordon Fee has produced a magnificent piece of work and is truly a treat for me.  We (pentecostal) don’t have the reputation of being able to write such works, so I commend him for what he has accomplished not only in this book, but in the many, many other works that he has produced.

He does deal with the Greek language very much, and to my surprise I was actually reading Greek, until a particular word stumped me, I then had one of those blond moments “OMG I have been reading Greek with out knowing it”.  I had studied for a long time on my own and had stopped, but apparently it paid off.  However, I picked up my ESV English-Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament, and I was ready to continue.

This isn’t really a book review as much as it is how this chapter help me gain a better understanding of Christ’s humanity.  Or how it help confirm some recent conclusions that I had made through some personal studies.

Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study

By Gordon D. Fee

Product Details

  • Amazon Sales Rank: #147519 in Books
  • Published on: 2007-03
  • Original language: English
  • Number of items: 1
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • 707 pages
Christology in Philippians – Chapter 9
When I first bought this book I was highly interested in what he had to say regarding these verses.  The reason is because I have been taking a hard look at the humanity of Christ.  Believe it or not, I have often struggle with the divine union of deity and humanity.  You know the typical questions “can he really be tempted if he is God?  Did He really know what it’s like to be human?”  “Was it really possible for him to sin, even though the bible says that God cannot sin?“I started to take a fresh look at what this means and work really hard to have a better understanding.  Let me put this in perspective.  For years I read the NKJV and this is how it translates these verses:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
This is how I had these verses memorized.  The parts that I never really could understand is what was meant by “...did not consider it robbery to be equal with God…”  What was he stealing?  Or is it trying to tell me that he retained his divinity, but that was not stealing?  The other part of this translation that I did not understand is vs 7 “…made himself of no reputation…”  Again, I am lost.  I know I’m dumb, and slow and most of you clearly saw what I was missing.
Last semester I had to teach on the Doctrine of God and had to come to a much better understanding of these verse and what they mean.  Today I am reading various translations (much more open minded person), and I thought that TNIV and HCSB gave the best translations for these verses:
TNIV: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
HCSB: 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. 7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.  And when He had come as a man in His external form
Clearly these translations clean up much of my misunderstandings.  Here is my summary or conclusion that I made.
Jesus had existed in the form of God, and his very nature was God.  He did not take advantage of his divinity to assist in his humanity.
Now that makes sense, right?  He can be tempted just like us – duh.  But do you find my conclusions correct?  That is where Gordon Fee really help me to be sure on my conclusions.  At least I think it helps to support my view.
Gordon Fee regarding Philippians 2
What the earliest followers of Christ had come to believe, of course, on the basis of his resurrection and ascension, was that the one whom they had known as truly human had himself known prior existence in the “form” of God – not meaning that he was “like God but really not” but that he was characterized by what was essential to being God.  It is this understanding that (correctly) lies behind the TNIV’s “in very nature God”.  And it is this singular reality, lying in the emphatic first position as this phrase does, that gives potency to what follows and therefore to the whole. pg 379
He continues… But in this case, Paul fronts the predicate noun and thereby puts his first emphasis on what equality with God did not consist of: Christ’s being a grasping opportunist. pg 380
Which is sort of the impression that NKJV left me with.  Here is where he really brought further clarity to my understanding.
Thus, Christ did not consider “equality with God to consist of “grasping” or being “selfish”; rather, he rejected this popular view of kingly power by “pouring himself out” for the sake of others. pg 382 …Paul insists, the true God-likeness that is found in Christ’s mind-set has revealed God to be self-giving rather than self-serving, loving rather than exploiting. pg 383 … this is the way Christ emptied himself and humbled himself: by “becoming human” and by “becoming obedient.” … The question, then, is not what Christ emptied himself of, but how else Paul could possibly have expressed the divine mystery of God incarnate except by this kind of powerful imagery. pg 384
He writes a great summary of these few passages which are worth quoting here:
In sum: This first sentence, the earliest of its kind in the NT. makes the two points that are crucial to NT Christology: (a) Christ was both in the “form” of God and equal with God, and therefore personally preexistent, when he chose to “empty himself” by taking the “form” of a slave: (b) he took the “form” of a slave by coming to be in the “likeness” of human beings.  Thus, in Christ Jesus, God has thus shown his true nature; this is what it means for to be “equal with God”: to pour himself out for the sake of others, and to do so by taking the role of a slave.  Hereby Christ not only reveals the character of God but from the perspective of the present context also reveals what it means for us to be created in God’s image, to bear his likeness and have his “mind-set”.  It means taking the role of the slave for the sake of others, the contours of which are what the next clause will spell out.
And there you have it.  What do you think?  Help me, am I close, correct, way off?

14 thoughts on “Pauline Christology – Philippians 2

  1. “Hereby Christ not only reveals the character of God but from the perspective of the present context also reveals what it means for us to be created in God’s image, to bear his likeness and have his “mind-set”. It means taking the role of the slave for the sake of others, the contours of which are what the next clause will spell out.”

    I love the way Fee stated this. Great plug for that book though, sounds interesting. Gordon should give you some cash for that plug because I think I might purchase this book. Ohh and I had no idea the Gordon Fee was a pentacostal, thats exciting.

  2. I had a similar revelation but not with as much detail as you have with the help of Fee.

    As far as NKJV’s “robbery”, I always read the NIV’s version “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,” which I never understood either. Then when I switched to NRSV and read “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” all of a sudden it made sense. I love that rendering. I’m glad TNIV changed this even if grasped is what the Greek says.

    Thanks for providing these quotes and your comments. Great stuff.

  3. Hey Jeff, it is amazing how these modern translations are helping our understanding. But it doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of help from someone like Gordon Fee.

    He is also part of the NT translation team for the TNIV.

  4. avalentino says:

    “[Christ] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.”

    The Greek word translated “equality” (isos) describes things exactly equal in size, quantity, quality, character, and number. We use this same concept in our language today, especially in the area of Sciences. One word typically used in our science classrooms is “isomer.”

    Now before I was interested in the Bible, I loved science, not the “scientific worldview”, but rather the interest in finding out what causes “actions, reactions, elements, etc.” So we learn in science class that Isomers are chemical molecules that vary according to structure from each other, but are identical according to atomic elements and weights.

    You say, “great, what does that mean” or “who invited this guy, and can he speak normal?” Well let me explain my point.

    Basically (I’m sure I’m about to break a scientific law here) there are two objects that are the same materials but look different. They have the same everything, thoughts, love, attitude, etc. but the way they look is different. After this, we can settle on the fact that that their (God Father, God Jesus) forms are different while their essential character is the same. You can look up these other terms that have the same concept. Isomorph (equal form), isometric (equal measures), and isosceles triangle (a triangle with two sides of equal measure), are all English terms descriptive of equality.

    So, Christ is equal to God, existed in the form of God, and is God. This is why the Pharisees tried to kill him many times, John 10:30-31 is a great example of this.

    With all that said I would also like to say that I don’t think I fully understand it all, I get the concept, but truly understanding the fully man fully God issue is deep.


  5. TC, I know how you feel. It’s the only chapter that I have read so far, and for now I will put it down as I am reading a few other books that I do want to finish.

    With a book this size and complex I just figure that I will read portions at a time.

  6. Scott says:

    Technically it should be the form of *a* god, to match the form of *a* slave in the next verse.

    Morphe = outward form or appearance. Paul is saying that although Christ had the outward appearance of a god, he took on the outward appearance of a slave.

    “Harpagmos” cannot mean “something to be used for one’s own advantage” or “something to be clung to.” Every time this word occurs in Pre-NT literature it means the act of violently snatching something. Plutarch uses the word to describe rapists snatching/abducting female virgins. Harpagmos is a noun derived from a verb meaning “to snatch” or to “seize.” The two translations that you cited completely mistranslate this word.

    A better translation would be: “let this disposition be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, although he possessed a god’s form, did not regard equality with God as something to snatch.”

    • Hi Scott, thanks for taking the time to reply. This topic is over 5 years old. But if I recall, harpazo does literally mean to snatch or seize. But he is using the noun harpagmos as you stated, which is only found in Phil 2:6. But even then the most likely meaning for both is something to be seized.

      We can say that Christ refused to seize for himself his being equal with God, which he has every right to, but instead chose not to take advantage of his divinity, but instead chose to empty himself.

      The NIV and HCSB captures the meaning of the Greek, even though it’s not translated literally (i.e. word for word). That is what a good translation should do, capture the meaning while being as literal as possible. At least in my opinion that’s the better way. But I don’t want to get into philosophies of bible translations.

      If I recall I think Fee has exceptions with using “a god’s form”, but I would have to double check. If you have Fee’s commentary on Philippians you can double check.

      The NASB translates it:
      “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the for of a bond-servant, and bein made in the likeness of men.”

      Fee translates it like this:
      Being in the ‘form’ of God as he was, Christ did not consider a matter of seizing upon to his own advantage, this being equal with God we have just noted, but he emptied himself.

      Again in my studies of biblical interpretation we are after meaning, not just translating word for word.

      BTW: I’m not a Greek scholar at all, at this point I’m just an amateur but next semester I should be taking my first official NT Greek class.

      I do appreciate any further dialog or contributions you may have, but I may not have the time to respond.

      • Scott says:

        I suppose I disagree on you with translation Philosophy.

        One problem I have with any translation I have that implies that Christ already had equality with God is that such a viewpoint does not do sufficient justice to the force of “hyper-exalted” in verse 10. How can you hyper-exalt a being that already is in the highest state of exaltation, namely, equality with God? And how can you be equal with God before you have the name that is above every other name?

        Also, it is important to note that right before the Carmen Christi, Paul gives three commands:

        1) Do not seek after selfish ambition
        2) Do not pursue empty glory
        3) Humbly view others as superior to yourselves

        The three stages of the Carmen Christi correspond to this:
        1) Jesus declined the selfish ambition of snatching at equality with God
        2) Jesus empties himself of his glory
        3) Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.

        Any point of view that says that Jesus already had equality with God destroys the first part of this parrelism.

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