The Christ event and life as a citizen

Philippians 2.5-11 is not a text about Christ as such, for the sake of Christ, but a text in which the thinking/the mindset of Christ is a model to be implemented among and in the members of the church at Philippi. If this, or a version of this hymn, was part of the early Christian worship it can be easily seen the development of thought and understanding in the first generation of Christians. Between the scenes in the Gospels and the sayings of Jesus, and a text like this about Christ there is a long way in terms of concepts, images, argument and relevance. The particularities of understanding and depiction have to receive full attention for offering a way forward in unpacking a mindset and its relevancy for others. This overall perspective of Christ's mindset/thinking has to be the main point of interpretation throughout the exposition.
The existence of him is described as 'being in a state, normally with the implication of a particular set of circumstances' (ὑπάρχω, LN 13.5); the particularities of this lexical choice are that the focus is not on 'possessing certain characteristics, whether inherent or transitory' (εἰμί, 'to be', LN 13.1), or 'to posses certain characteristics, with the implication of their having been acquired' (γίνομαι, LN 13.3; we will have that in 2:7), or 'to be in a state involving various aspects' (περίκειμαι, LN 13.6), or 'to be in a state which has not been anticipated (εὐρίσκομαι, LN 13.7). That state, or condition is marked with the help of εν which functions here as 'a marker of a state or condition' (LN 13.8). The state of him is μορφῇ θεοῦ. Μορφή can mean 'the nature or character of something, with emphasis upon both the internal and external form' (LN 58.2), or 'a visual form of something' (LN 58.15). The particularities of Paul's/early Christians's choice is seen when we understand it by comparison with other known terms from the same semantic domain; we do not have here 'the essential or basic nature of an entity' (ὑπόστασις, LN 58.1), or 'the form or nature of something, with special reference to its outer form or structure' (σχῆμα, LN 58.7), or 'the nature of something as the result of its natural development or condition' (φύσις, LN 58.8). We have the particularity of nature or character with emphasis on form. The phrase μορφῇ θεοῦ does not occur in LXX, and in all Greek literature, classical inscriptions, papyri, from 6th century BC to 1st century AD, occurs only here in Philippians 2:6. So, Paul is a pioneer in speaking like that. The closer we can get to the meaning of it is to see it in some kind of parallelism with the expression ἴσα θεῷ ('equal with God') from 2:6c. Paul does not say that him [preexisting Christ] is 'identical to' God (for that he should have used ὁ αὐτός, LN 58.31), or that he is 'of equal significance or value' (ἱσότιμος, LN 58.34), or that he 'has the same form as something else' (εἰκών, LN 58.35), but that he is 'equal in quality or characteristics' (ἴσος, LN 58.33). Being in the form of God he did not consider (ἡγέομαι, LN 31.1) ἁρπαγμός to be equal with God. I understand ἁρπαγμός as 'that which is to be held on to forcibly' (LN 57.236), and it refers to his status of being equal with God. Equality with God was not to be held on to forcibly. Phil. 2:6 speaks about the reasoning of the preexisting Christ in which he, being in the form of God, does not held on to forcibly to his equality with God. This is what he did not do; but he did something else.
He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming in the likeness of men. Paul does not say that he [preexisting Christ] was 'caused to be in a low status' (ταπεινόω, LN 87.62), or 'to have less status or rank' (ελαττόω, LN 87.68), or 'to decrease in status or rank' (ἐλαττόομαι, LN 87.69), or 'to have a low status involving dishonor and disrespect' (ἀτιμάζω, LN 87.74), but 'to completely remove or eliminate elements of high status or rank by eliminating all privileges or prerogatives associated with such status or rank' (κενόω, LN 87.70). The lexical choice made by Paul shows the radical character of the preexisting Christ's decision; he eliminated all privileges and prerogatives associated with his status of being equal with God. He become a slave, and a man. This 'complete removal of privileges' is not the same thing as 'taking the form of a slave.' These are successive actions. It is a movement at the other end of the spectrum: from 'being in the form of God' to 'taking the form of a slave,' from 'being equal with God' to 'becoming like a man.' The high status of divinity is let aside and the low status of a slave is embraced, but the movement does not stop here. He is now a slave that will 'become disgraced and humiliated' (ταπεινόω, LN 25.198). So, in relation to his high divine status we have ἐκένωσεν, but in relation to his status as a man we have ἐταπείνωσεν; in the first stage he removes his high prerogatives, in the second stage he becomes disgraced and humiliated. The coming down is now complete and this movement is in three stages: from 'being in the form of God,' or 'being equal with God' to 'taking the form of a slave,' or 'becoming like a man,' and to 'be put to shame,' to be 'obedient to death' on a cross. Every step of the way he is the subject of the action; it is not something imposed on him but done by him. The high status of divinity is not held by force, and the status of being man is characterized by obedience, even to death on a cross.
The way back is not described as a reverse of the main three steps of the coming down, but as receiving exceptional honor (ὑπερυψόω, LN 87.16). The coming down is for good in the sense that it proves a mindset. ἐκένωσεν, and ἐταπείνωσεν are followed by ὑπερύψωσεν. After obedience to death it follows honor. It is an honor in view of his high status. Because of what he did, God gave him exceptional honor. Christ is viewed by God as 'being exceptionally honored in view of high status.' God did not 'attribute high status to Christ by honoring' (τιμάω, δοξάζω, LN 87.8), or 'to show particular honor to Christ as the result of some type of victory' (στεφανόω, LN 87.13), or 'to show respect to Christ on the basis of his importance (μεγαλύω, 87.15). The honor given to Christ by God has in view his high status. This a reference which goes both ways: to the preexisting state, and to the post crucifixion state; he had a high status before incarnation and has a high status after the crucifixion. Resurrection as such is not mention, but it is described in terms of honoring. This honoring has in view the name received by Christ. This is a name above all names and before him every knee shall bow. We hear the echo from Isaiah 45.23 (LXX), one of the strongest monotheistic texts in Scripture. That echo is now in relation to the honored Christ. Now his high status is not viewed through the lenses of μορφῇ θεοῦ or ἴσα θεῷ, but through the view of the name above all names: κύριος, the Lord. Christ is seen as Lord, and God is seen as Father. Christ is the one 'who exercises supernatural authority over mankind' (κύριος, LN 12.9), and God is the 'one who combines aspects of supernatural authority and care for his people' (πατήρ, LN 12.12). When Christ the Lord is worshiped, God the Father is glorified.
For the Church in Philippi, Christ is the model to be followed. His mindset shows that high status is not incompatible with humility and obedience, neither humility and obedience with honor. This is ground breaking for a Roman colony with a Roman army veteran elite. The high status is something to be used for others, and because of that, honor and authority will be received. Honor and authority are gifts bestowed by God, and they go hand in hand with humility and obedience.
blog comments powered by Disqus