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Philippians 2:6 Updated American standard Version (UASV)
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.
The following verses (6-8) are a part of a figure of speech called a catabasis. It means a going down, from kata down, and basis a going. We see seven steps downward that Christ has taken to reveal the mind of Christ to us.
The first step downward was when He left the glory of Heaven and came to earth.
The “form of God” in the Greek comes from the word morphe, which speaks of the nature of a person. It is the same word used in verse 7, “form of a servant.” We see Paul affirming the pre-existence of Jesus as God, much as John did in the opening chapter of his gospel account. John declared, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1.
Jesus did not consider His privileged position and nature of being God something that He must grasp tightly. The Greek word, harpagmos, carries two meanings. The first is to seize or carry off with force. The second is a thing held as a prize. The first meaning would picture that Jesus had to win His position as God by using force – quite contrary to other passages of Scripture that recognize Him as the Second Person with His Father and the Holy Spirit. So, the logical understanding of Paul in this passage is that Jesus, being part of an Eternal relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, considered Himself equal with the other two members in nature, but did not see this as a future prize. He was willing to let go of this right in order to redeem mankind.
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Who, though he was in the form of God.
The Greek (ὑπάρχων huparchōn) rendered though he was means to be or exist in a state or condition; often of states that are enduring as opposed to temporary. The sense here is that of “existing,” as it is in the present active participle. On this Vine’s Complete Expository says, “primarily, ‘to make a beginning’ (hupo, ‘under,’ arche, ‘a beginning’), denotes ‘to be, to be in existence,’ involving an ‘existence’ or condition both previous to the circumstances mentioned and continuing after it. This is important in Phil. 2:6, concerning the deity of Christ. The phrase ‘being (existing) in the form (morphe, the essential and specific form and character) of God,’ carries with it the two facts of the antecedent Godhood of Christ, previous to His incarnation, and the continuance of His Godhood at and after the event of His Birth.”
In the form of God (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ en morphēi theou) means visual form, outward appearance, that is, the essential characteristics as found in the form. Before Christ came to earth, he had the characteristics of God. E. H Gifford writes: “morphe is therefore properly the nature or essence, not in the abstract, but as actually subsisting in the individual, and retained as long as the individual itself exists.… Thus in the passage before us morphe Theou is the Divine nature actually and inseparably subsisting in the Person of Christ.… For the interpretation of ‘the form of God’ it is sufficient to say that (1) it includes the whole nature and essence of Deity, and is inseparable from them, since they could have no actual existence without it; and (2) that it does not include in itself anything ‘accidental’ or separable, such as particular modes of manifestation, or conditions of glory and majesty, which may at one time be attached to the ‘form,’ at another separated from it.… The true meaning of morphe in the expression ‘form of God’ is confirmed by its recurrence in the corresponding phrase, ‘form of a servant.’ It is universally admitted that the two phrases are directly antithetical, and that ‘form’ must therefore have the same sense in both.”
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped
A thing to be grasped (ἁρπαγμον harpagmon), occurring only here in the Greek New Testament, means plunder, to be taken by violence or force. Further, it also occurs very rarely in secular Greek, and occurs nowhere in the Greek Septuagint (LXX) or the Apostolic Fathers. Here Paul means that Jesus counted equality with God as something he already had and was to be retained by force not something to be taken by violence or force. Harpagmon may have two meanings, (a) in the active sense, ‘the act of seizing, robbery,’ a meaning in accordance with a rule connected with its formation, (b) in the passive sense, “a thing held as a prize.” The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament says, “Since ἁρπαγμός may mean not only ‘to grasp something forcefully which one does not have’ … but also ‘to retain by force what one possesses,’ it is possible to translate Php 2:6 in two quite different ways. This second interpretation of ἁρπαγμός presumes the position of Jesus prior to the incarnation and hence his willingness to experience the kenosis or ‘emptying’ of his divine prerogatives.”
The to be equal with God. The Greek (το εἰναι ἰσα θεοι to einai isa theoi) means equal, same as, having the same quality, quantity, value, or measure as another. This phrase means having the same status or position, nature character. As some claim, this cannot be said that an angel, even the archangel could be equal with God. Albert Barnes writes, “The natural and obvious meaning of the language is, that there was an equality of nature and of rank with God, from which he humbled himself when he became a man. The meaning of the whole verse, according to the interpretation suggested above, is, that Christ, before he became a man, was invested with honor, majesty, and glory, such as was appropriate to God himself; that there was some manifestation or splendor in his existence and mode of being then, which showed that he was equal with God; that he did not consider that that honor, indicating equality with God, was to be retained at all events, and so as to do violence, as it were, to other interests, and to rob the universe of the glory of redemption; and that he was willing, therefore, to forget that, or lay it by for a time, in order that he might redeem the world. There were a glory and majesty which were appropriate to God, and which indicated equality with God—such as none but God could assume”
In 2:6 we find Jesus as the foremost example of humility. He had always been God. As God in heaven before descending to earth he was not contemplating his position in life, his equality as God a thing to be grasped but rather was willing to leave behind his position in heaven for a mere moment in time, to give his perfect human life for redeemable mankind.
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THE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES ARGUE
Philippians 2:5, 6:
KJ reads: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” (Dy has the same wording. JB reads: “he did not cling to his equality with God.”) However, in NW the latter portion of that passage reads: “who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure [Greek, har·pag·monʹ], namely, that he should be equal to God.” (RS, NE, TEV, NAB convey the same thought.)
Which thought agrees with the context? Verse 5 counsels Christians to imitate Christ in the matter here being discussed. Could they be urged to consider it “not robbery,” but their right, “to be equal with God”? Surely not! However, they can imitate one who “gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God.” (NW) (Compare Genesis 3:5.) Such a translation also agrees with Jesus Christ himself, who said: “The Father is greater than I.”—John 14:28.
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Expositor’s Greek Testament
Ver. 6. ὅς. The discussions as to whether this refers to the pre-existing or historical Christ seem scarcely relevant to Paul’s thought. For him his Lord’s career was one and undivided. To suggest that he did not conceive a pre-existence in heaven is to ignore the very foundations of his thinking. Probably he never speculated minutely on the nature of Christ’s pre-existent state, just as he refrains from doing so on the nature of the future life. He contents himself with general lines. The interpretation of the passage depends on the meaning assigned to (1) μορφή, (2) ἁρπαγμός, (3) τὸ εἶναι ἴσα Θεῷ.—In LXX μορφή denotes the form, appearance, look or likeness of some one, that by which those beholding him would judge him. See Job 4:16, Dan. 5:6 and three other places, Wisd. 18:1, 4 Macc. 15:4. Plainly, from the context of these passages, the word had come, in later Greek, to receive a vague, general meaning, far removed from the accurate, metaphysical content which belonged to it in writers like Plato and Aristotle. It seems, therefore, to us of little value, with Lft. and Gifford (op. cit.), to discuss the relation of μορφή to terms such as οὐσία, φύσις and εἶδος in their philosophical refinements. It is far more probable that Paul uses μορφ. here “in a loose, popular sense, as we use ‘nature’ ” (Guardian, Jan. 1 1896). He means, of course, in the strictest sense that the pre-existing Christ was Divine. For μ. always signifies a form which truly and fully expresses the being which underlies it. But in trying to reach a conception of the pre-existing nature of his Lord, he is content to think of Him as the εἰκὼν τοῦ Θεοῦ (Col. 1:15), as sharing in that δόξα (on the close relation of μ. and δόξα see Nestle, SK., 1893, pp. 173, 174) which is the manifestation of the Divine nature (cf. John 17:5, Heb. 1:3), as possessing, that is to say, the same kind of existence as God possesses, without indulging in speculations on the metaphysical relationship of the Son to the Father. So in 2 Cor. 8:9 (the closest parallel in thought to this) he describes the same condition by the words πλούσιος ὤν. And this reminds us of the point of emphasis, the unspeakable contrast between the heavenly and earthly states, the μ. Θεοῦ and the μ. δούλου. The Apostle’s mind is overpowered by the profound ethical meaning and value of the Humiliation.—ὑπάρχων. Probably = “being constitutionally” (Evans on 1 Cor. 11:7), “being by nature”. Cf. Liturgy of S. James (Hammond, Litt., p. 45, quoted by Giff.), παιδίον γέγονεν ὁ πρὸ αἰώνων ὑπάρχων Θεὸς ἡμῶν. At the same time, in later Greek, it is often a mere copula. Cf. Gildersleeve on Justin M., Apol., i., 2. This participle represents the imperfect as well as the present tense. So probably here.—ἁρπαγμόν. In the absence of relevant evidence for this word, its precise significance must largely be determined by the context. Accordingly it must be discussed in close connection with τὸ εἶν. ἴσα Θ. “Did not consider τὸ ε. ἰ. Θ. as an ἁρπαγμός.” What is the relation of τὸ ε. ἰ. Θ. to μορφή? The words mean “the being on an equality with God” (R.V.). It is surely needless to make any fine distinctions here, as Giff. does (op. cit., p. 242), between εἶναι ἴσος as = equality of nature and εἶναι ἴσα as pointing to “the state and circumstances which are separable from the essence and therefore variable or accidental,” or, with Lft., to say that ἴσος would refer to the person, while ἴσα has in view the attributes. As a matter of fact the adverb ἴσα (neuter plural) is used in the most general sense, without any metaphysical subtleties, e.g., Job. 11:12, ἄνθρωπος δὲ ἄλλως νήχεται λόγοις· βροτὸς δὲ γεννητὸς γυναικὸς ἴσα ὄνῳ ἐρημίτῃ; 30:19, ἥγησαι δέ με ἴσα πηλῷ, ἐν γῇ καὶ σποδῷ μου ἡ μερίς. cf. Thuc., iii., 14, ἴσα καὶ ἱκέται ἐσμέν; Soph., Oed. R., 1188, ὑμᾶς ἴσα καὶ τὸ μηδὲν ζώσας ἐναριθμῶ, and elsewhere. Thus no theological speculations can be based upon the word. Is τὸ ε. ἰ. Θ. equivalent to ἐν μ. Θ.? In spite of some Comm. there is absolutely nothing in the text to justify the supposition. Plainly μορφή has reference to nature; τὸ εἶναι ἴσα Θεῷ to a relation. In fact it is only a particular rendering of ἁρπαγμός which suggested their equivalence. A more important question is whether τὸ ε. ἰ. Θ. was possessed by Christ in virtue of His being ἐν μορ. Θεοῦ. This will depend on the sense of ἁρπαγμός. It is generally admitted now that ἁρπαγμός may be regarded as = ἅρπαγμα. (See esp. Zahn, Luthardt’s Zeitschr., 1885, pp. 244–249.) Cf. θεσμός, lit. = “the laying down,” “ordaining” of a thing, which comes to mean “the thing laid down,” the ordinance or statute; ἱλασμός, lit. = a propitiating, appeasing, but usually the propitiatory offering, that by which propitiation is made (see Hatz., Einl., p. 180). Myr., Hfm., Beet and others wish to keep the active meaning, and translate, “Did not consider the being on an equality with God as a means of robbing”. But it seems impossible to accept this sense when we have no hint of what is to be robbed. Lft., Hpt., Vinc. and others, regarding ἁρπαγμός as = ἅρπαγμα, translate, “Did not look upon His equality with God as a prize to be clutched”. That is to say, τὸ ε. ἰ. Θ. is something which He already possessed and resolved not to cling to. But will ἁρπαγμός admit of this meaning? We cannot find any passage where ἁρπάζω or any of its derivatives has the sense of “holding in possession,” “retaining”. It seems invariably to mean “seize,” “snatch violently”. Thus it is not permissible to glide from the true sense “grasp at” into one which is totally different, “hold fast”. Are we not obliged, then, to think of the ἁρπαγμός (= ἅρπαγμα) as something still future, a res rapienda? Cf. Catena on Mark 10:41 ff. (quoted by Zahn), Jesus’ answer to the sons of Zebedee, οὐκ ἐστὶν ἁρπαγμὸς ἡ τιμή, “the honour is not one to be snatched”. Observe how aptly this view fits the context. In ver. 10, which is the climax of the whole passage, we read that God gave Jesus Christ as a gift (ἐχαρίσατο) the name above every name, i.e., the name (including position, dignity and authority) of Κύριος, Lord, the name which represents the O.T. Jehovah. But this is the highest place Christ has reached. He has always (in Paul’s view) shared in the Divine nature (μ. Θεοῦ). But it is only as the result of His Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection and Exaltation that He appears to men as on an equality with God, that He is worshiped by them in the way in which Jehovah is worshiped. This position of Κύριος is the reward and crowning-point of the whole process of His voluntary Humiliation. It is the equivalent of that τελείωσις of which the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks. This perfection “He acquired as He successively seized the occasions which His vocation as author of salvation presented to Him, a process moving on the lines of His relations to mortal, sinful men” (Davidson, Hebrews, p. 208). Along the same lines He was raised to the dignity of Κύριος, which is a relation to mankind. (See on the relation of Christ as Κύριος to God, Somerville, op. cit., pp. 140–142.) This equality with God, therefore, consists in the κυριότης, the Lordship to which He has been exalted. “He did not regard the being on an equality with God as a thing to be seized, violently snatched.” Cf. Heliodor., Ethiop., vii., 20, οὐχ ἅρπαγμα οὐδὲ ἕρμαιον ἡγεῖται τὸ πρᾶγμα. He might have used the miraculous powers inherent in His Divine nature in such a way as to compel men, without further ado, to worship Him as God. Instead of that He was willing to attain this high dignity by the path of humiliation, suffering and death. Is not this interpretation strongly corroborated by the narrative of the Temptation? In that mysterious experience our Lord was tempted to reach τὸ εἶναι ἴσα Θεῷ in the way of ἁρπάζειν, forcing men out of sheer amazement to accept His claim and exalt Him as Lord. [Perhaps the curious negative expression οὐχ ἁρπαγμ. κ.τ.λ. has been suggested by a comparison with the first Adam who sought to reach “equality with God” by means of ἁρπάζειν.] It is to be noted that the increased glory which Paul and all the N.T. writers regard as pertaining to Christ after His Resurrection has only to do with His dignity, His “theocratic position,” not with His essential personality. (Cf. Ménégoz, Le Péché et la Rédemption, p. 164.) He has simply become ἐν δυνάμει, that which He already was substantially. Cf. Rom. 1:4, τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ Θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει, κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης, ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν. Also Luke 24:26.—ἀλλʼ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε. Instead of appearing among men in the Divine μορφή and thus compelling them to render Him the homage which was His due, He “emptied Himself” of that Divine μορφή and took the μ. of a bondservant. The Apostle does not specify that of which He emptied Himself, as the stress is laid upon the “emptying,” but with μορ. δούλου λαβών added to explain what ἐκένωσε means, we are bound to conclude that he has in view its antithesis, μ. Θεοῦ. (So also Myr., Hfm., Alf., Weiffenb., Hpt., Bruce, Gore, etc. Fairbairn, Christ in Mod. Theol., pp. 476–477, tries to show that Christ emptied Himself of the “physical attributes” of Deity while retaining the “ethical”. But does this lead us any nearer a solution of the mystery in the depths of the Son’s personality?) — H.A.A. Kennedy, “The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians,” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Commentary, vol. 3 (New York: George H. Doran Company, n.d.), 435–437.
Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics with Daniel B. Wallace
Phil 2:6 οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ
he did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped
This is an example of a direct object infinitive in an object-complement construction. Here the infinitive is the object and the anarthrous term ἁρπαγμόν is the complement, in keeping with the normal structural pattern of object-complement constructions.
Phil 2:6 ὅς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων
who, although he existed in the form of God
The translation of this participle as concessive is not entirely clear upon a casual reading of the text. The two options are either causal or concessive.
There are two interpretive problems in Phil 2:6–7 relevant to the treatment of this participle. First, of course, is the grammatical problem of whether this is concessive or causal. Second is the lexical problem of whether ἁρπαγμόν in v 6 means robbery or a thing to be grasped. The grammatical and the lexical inform one another and cannot be treated separately. Thus, if ὑπάρχων is causal, ἁρπαγμόν means robbery (“who, because he existed in God’s form, did not consider equality with God as robbery”); if ὑπάρχων is concessive, then ἁρπαγμόν means a thing to be grasped (“who, although he existed in God’s form, did not consider equality with God as a thing to be grasped”). As attractive as the first alternative might be theologically, it is not satisfactory. Ultimately, this verse cannot be interpreted in isolation, but must be seen in light of the positive statement in v 7—“but he emptied himself” (the participle ὑπάρχων equally depends on both ἡγήσατο and ἐκένωσεν). Only the concessive idea for the participle and a thing to be grasped translation for ἁρπαγμόν fit well with v 7.
Perhaps the largest issue of this text is the meaning of ἁρπαγμόν. Is it something to be grasped for or something to be retained? If the former, the idea would be that although Christ existed in God’s form, he did not attempt to become equal to God. If the latter, the meaning would be that although Christ existed in God’s form, he did not feel compelled to maintain his equality with God. Both views naturally fit with a concessive participle, though the relation of τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ to the μορφῇ θεοῦ hangs in the balance.
Appeal has been made to the article with the infinitive, as though it were anaphoric (so N. T. Wright, “ἁρπαγμός and the Meaning of Philippians 2:5–11,” JTS, NS 37 (1986) 344). If so, then “form of God” means the same thing as “equality with God” and ἁρπαγμόν is something to be retained. But, as we have argued elsewhere (see chapters on the accusative and infinitive), the article more probably is used to indicate the object in an object-complement construction. The connection with “form of God” is thus left open. In light of the predominant usage of ἁρπαγμόν as something to be grasped for, I am inclined to see a difference between μορφῇ θεοῦ and τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ. This does not deny an affirmation of the deity of Christ in this text, just that such a notion is found in τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ. μορφῇ θεοῦ carries that weight by itself (inter alia, there is the contextual argument: If one denies that Christ was truly God, one must also deny that he was truly a servant [note μορφὴν δούλου in v 7]). What, then, is the meaning of the infinitive phrase? It seems to suggest hierarchy, not ontology.
Putting the interpretation of all the elements together yields the following. Although Christ was truly God (μορφῇ θεοῦ), two things resulted: (1) he did not attempt to “outrank” the Father, as it were (cf. John 14:28 for a similar thought: “The Father is greater than I am”); (2) instead, he submitted himself to the Father’s will, even to the point of death on a cross. It was thus not Christ’s deity that compelled his incarnation and passion, but his obedience.
Phil 2:6 ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ
who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard the [state of] being equal to God [as] something to be grasped
This is a debatable example. Wright argues that the article is anaphoric, referring back to μορφῇ θεοῦ. As attractive as this view may be theologically, it has a weak basis grammatically. The infinitive is the object and the anarthrous term, ἁρπαγμός, is the complement. The most natural reason for the article with the infinitive is simply to mark it out as the object (see “Article as Function Marker” for discussion of this usage). Further, there is the possibility that μορφῇ θεοῦ refers to essence (thus, Christ’s deity), while τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ refers to function. If this is the meaning of the text, then the two are not synonymous: although Christ was true deity, he did not usurp the role of the Father.
Cf. also Matt 2:1, 7; John 1:4; 2:1, 2; Acts 9:4, 7; 2 Cor 5:1, 4; Rev 15:1, 6.
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 E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech used in the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1968). Pages 432-433
 Consider the following Scriptural passages on this topic: John 1:1, 14, 8:16, 18, 29, 58, 10:30, Romans 12:9-16; Gal, 4:4,5; Ephesians 4:3; Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 1: 1-3; 13:8; Titus 2:11.
 W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 217.
 Edwin Hamilton Gifford, “The Incarnation: A Study of Philippians 2:5–11,” pp. 16, 19, 39.
 W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 489.
 Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 583.
 Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), 171.
 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics – Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1996), 602.
 Daniel B. Wallace, IBID.
 Daniel B. Wallace, IBID, 220.
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