RE: Phil 2:5-11

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Sat Mar 08 1997 - 18:02:20 EST

Carl kindly sent me several postings of a previous
discussion of Phil 2:5-11, and I would like to give some
comments on these very difficult verses.


MORPHH. The meaning is clear: `form, outward appearance`;
what must be discussed is the reference.

hARPAGMOS. Because the word occurs just once we cannot find
contemporary evidence; the best we can do is to look at the
meaning of the verb hARPAZW, occurring 14 times in the NT.
Its meaning is connected with force, such as `steal, drag
away, snatch`. Since nouns ending in -MOS use to be verbal
nouns indicating the activity of the verb, the preliminary
conclusion must be that hARPAGMOS means `stealing` or

Several Bible translations use hARPAGMOS in the same passive
sense as hARPAGMA, `what is sized`,`plunder`,`booty`, but as
far as I can see there is no evidence for this meaning
before the time of Paul. Those words which are used much may
take on new meanings but hARPAGMOS is little used. The fact
that hARPAGMA occurs in the LXX shows that Paul could have
choosen this word. The meaning `a piece of good fortune` is
found in pre-Christian times but such a meaning seems to be
completely foreign to the context.

Carl wrote 6,13.95
<the verb involved seems normally to involve seizure by
<force. Thats why I find it difficult thus far to
<have it refer to something which Christ is supposed already
<to possess. How can he even contemplate taking by force
<what he already has? It seems to me some word other than
<hARPAGMOS ought to express that notion of holding on to a
<treasure that one possesses. This is, in fact, the more
<serious of my problems with the Greek.
As far as I can see there is absolutely no LEXICAL evidence
that can be marshaled against these words of yours.


First an example of what we should not do: If you were to
translate a book written in 1930 into Norwegian and you
found the phrase `the great war`, would you translate it
with the N. equivalent for `the first world war`? That would
be an anachronism; before the second world war, noone would
talk of `the first`. So let us not anticipate the creeds of
Sirmium or Chalcedon, but use the context of Philippians and
the NT.

Carl wrote 6.mar.1997:
<What does MORFH QEOU mean? Some say it is the "essential
<nature of being to whom MORFH belongs," and for this reason
<they assert that God & Christ exist separately but in the
<same divine form: Christ's essential nature in a
<pre-incarnate existence is the same as that of God. But the
<problem is not solved by understanding MORFH thus: why,
<if MORFH means "essential nature" in 2:6, does it not mean
<the same thing two verses later, when we read that Christ
<assumed the MORFH DOULOU? Is there an "essential nature" of
a slave?"
These words are really to the point. MORFH DOULOU most
likely is an epexegetical genitive and refer to a human
body,thus being generic. In the same way MORFH QEOU must
refer to a divine body. (Even Christians are promised QEIAS
KOINWNOI FUSEWS, 2 Pet 1:4). No wonder that the Son of God
has a body similar to that of God. (Remember that we use
human words to describe heavenly realities, so `body` must
not be pressed!)

The purpose of v 5-11 is to point to Jesus as an example of
humility, and Carl,here I cannot follow your suggestion from
1995, that all the points of the verses may refer to the
life of Jesus while on earth. The phrase `he emptied
himself, taking the form of a slave` (v 7) seems to refer to
the same event as described in John 1:14. So hARPAGMOS must
refer to something he did not consider before he came to
earth. But what? As we have seen, there is no evidence of a
passive/stative meaning of hARPAGMOS, so we should try to
account for an active meaning.

Everything in v 6 is ambiguous, so there are several ways to
translate it without violating the grammar. With an active
meaning of hARPAGMOS, however, the possibilities are

Your view, Carl:
<that TO EINAI ISA QEWi is the direct object of hEGHSATO and
<that hARPAGMON is the predicate accusative. I'd translate
<(into English): "did not deem being-on-a-par-with-God a
is a nice suggestion. both using the best lexical evidence
and, and being syntactically good.

I suggest, however, that hARPAGMON is the direct object of
hEGESATO, and that TO is anaforic, refering to hARPAGMON
(Blass/Debrunner 399). From this point of view TO EINAI
ISA QEWi is an apposition to hARPAGMON, and the translation
will be: `did not consider a snatching,to be equal to God`.
This translation represent a break with Chalcedon, because
it implies two individuals, one who is supreme and the other
who does not want to usurp the position of the supreme one.

I have two reasons:
Firstly there is bias on my part (in Websters sense), the
way I view the total NT witness about Jesus. Particularly do
I see a conceptual parallel between MORFH QEOU in Phil 2:6
and John 1:18 where Jesus is portrayed as QEOS with
qualification, i.e. MONOGENHS QEOS.

Secondly do I build on the two verbs of 2:9. The verb
XARIZOMAI means `to give something to someone as an act of
grace`. As the Norwegian professor of theology, J. Jervell
has pointed out, is it extremely difficult with the use of
this verb to view the one graciously giving and the one
receiving as equals, because It is the supreme who shows
grace to the one who is subordinated. The case is almost
similar with hYPERUPSOW (=raise someone to the liftiest
height). It is God who raised Jesus to this position.

Sometimes I wonder if there are several emperors with new
clothes. Without the straitjacket of creeds which even
contain contradictions of terms, the situation, at least in
my eyes is very simple. The eternal, supreme God has a Son,
the onlybegotten. He was humble, and it would never occur to
him ( as it did to the devil) to try to usurp the position
of his Father. Instead he left his heavenly home and became
flesh, in order to save mankind. Because of this, God showed
him grace, and gave him the highest position in the
universe. Truly an example to follow!


Rolf Furuli
Pd.D candidate in Semitic languages
University of Oslo.

P.S. I know that these views will stir up emotions, and I
had rather preferred to discuss only language and
grammar.But regarding these verses this is impossible. I
welcome all kinds of counterarguments, and look forward to a
balanced discussion.

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