Understanding Philippians 2
Understanding Philippians 2

Understanding Philippians 2


The theme of Philippians 2 is “having the mind of Christ.” (Phil 2:5). In verses 6-11, the testimony of Jesus Christ is provided as the principal example of the humility and obedience we should have. Also emphasized, is the reward that Jesus received from selfless service and obedience (Phil 2:8-11). However, Phil 2:6-7 has been traditionally used as a proof text for advocates of the doctrine of incarnation. This is because verses 6-7 are typically translated with a traditional bias that prejudices the reader into reading incarnation into the passage. However, this passage does not teach that Jesus was God and then became a man. Let’s start by looking at the popular ESV version. 

Philippians 2:1-18 (ESV)

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 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, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

What is the issue?


The translation in the ESV above gives a powerful indication of how profound this passage is in emphasizing the message of humility and obedience; having the same mind that Christ had. The issue is that embedded within this passage is a traditional twisting of scripture to forward the doctrine of the incarnation. The principal issue is Phil 2:6-7 which is deceptively translated to infer Jesus first was in the form of God and then became a man. This is not at all what the Greek says.

This passage is recognized by bible scholars as a poem that probably parallels Isaiah 53 pertaining to the suffering servant. It is not intended to be a theological treatise. The context is having the mind of Jesus, the human Messiah. The subject is not about a change in Jesus’s essence or nature. Nor is it referring to a time before Jesus was a man. 

If the intent of Phil 2:6 is to indicate Jesus is God, why not say “Who, being God” rather than “who being in the form of God”? — It is not necessary to say God is in the form of God because he is God. Phil 1:2 makes a distinction between Jesus and God. Best practices for Biblical hermeneutics disqualify Jesus from being identified as God in Phil 2:6. 

Outlining what is wrong with the ESV

The ESV translation of Phil 2:6-7 is provided below, and issues are outlined with respect to the emphasized portions of the verses. 

Philippians 2:6-8 (ESV)

 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, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Issue #1: “Though he was in the form of God”

The Greek verb hyparcho is translated as “he was” here. The Greek verb is in the present active voice (not the aorist) meaning “he is” or “he has” rather than “he was”. That is, Jesus is now in form of God – Not that he was in the form of God before he was made in the likeness of man. The first part of Phil 2:6 refers to the present circumstances of now being in the form of God having been exalted and being given a name above every name (Phil 2:9-11). Some translations render this as “being in the form of God” which is more correct than “he was”

The word “though” is not in the Greek text and is an interpretive interpolation. An interpolation is a new or spurious matter inserted into the text. In this case, it is used to bias the reader to give the impression that the statement is to be contrasted with what comes after in verse 6 “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Adding the word “though” to “he was” is a biased interpretive decision that goes beyond what the actual text conveys.

Issue #2, “by taking the form of a servant”

There is no word “by” in Greek. This is added by the translators to imply that Jesus made the decision to become a man. “By” in this case is another interpretive interpolation (new or spurious matter inserted into the text). 

Issue #3, “born in the likeness of men”

The Greek word translated ‘born’ is γενόμενος (ginomai) means to be, become, happen; to come into existence, be born. The general meaning is to come into existence without any reference to any kind of preexistence. 

Issue #4, “in human form”

The Greek word translated “form” here is what something is rather than what something appears to be. That is, Jesus is a man in composition and not just in appearance. The ESV translates both the Greek words morphe and schema as “form” but these Greek words have a different meanings. Schema pertains more to what something is including the functional aspect of something (BDAG) rather than the outward appearance (morphe). The English translation conflates morphe “form” (what something appears to be outwardly appearance) with scheme “form” (what something is in its composition). Rendering these two words ‘form’ in English obscures the difference. To maintain the distinction that is in Greek it would be more accurate to translate morphe as “display” or “appearance” and schema as “fashion” or “composition” (ontology). That is, Jesus is in the display of God but was brought into existence in the composition of a man.  

Literal Translation

Below is the literal rendering of Philippians 2:5-11 based on the interlinear table (Interlinear). It closely matches the word order of the Greek. This translation, constant with the Greek meaning, does not suggest incarnation. It should also be evident that each statement within the passage makes perfect sense considering the context as a whole.

Philippians 2:5-11 Literal Translation

5 This thinking in you

that also in anointed, in Jesus,

6 who in form of God he subsists,

not seizure,

he ruled himself

being equal to God,

7 rather himself he emptied,

form of servile he received,

in likeness of men he was caused-to-be,

and in fashion

 he was found as a man.

8 He humbled himself

having become obedient until death

even on a cross. 

9 Therefore also the God himself he exalted

and bestowed to him

the name the beyond every name

10 that at the name of Jesus,

every knee would bow,

of heaven and of earth and of under the earth,

11 and every tongue would confess

that Lord Jesus anointed

for glory of God, of Father.

Justification of words used

“in Christ”

The Greek word Χριστῷ  (Christo) in the dative voice meaning the anointed one. The anointed one is the Greek term for the human Messiah (See John 1:41). The anointed one is the man (Son of Man) that God has appointed to judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). 

“He subsists”

The word here ὑπάρχων (hyparchōn) can also be understood as to be and also to be in possession. That is, Jesus has the appearance/repute of God.  Having the repute of God is not saying the same thing as being in very nature God.  The following are verses illustrating the verb hyparchō refers to possessing as attested by Acts 3:6 “I have (hyparchō) no silver and gold” and 2 Pet 1:8 “For if these qualities are yours (hyparchō).” Correspondingly, the noun hyparchonta refers to possessions (See Matt 24:47, Matt 25:14, Luke 11:21, Luke 12:33, Luke 12:44, Luke 14:33, Luke 16:1, Luke 19:8, 1 Cor 13:3 and Heb 10:34)

Again, the participle hyparchōn is a present active participle. A present active participle could be used to refer to something in the past if the main verb is past tense, referring to a past event. However, participles are not necessarily contemporaneous with the main verb. The context clearly demonstrates that Jesus is now been given the expression of God because he first took the expression of a servant and humbly obeyed his God unto death.

Assuming Jesus is God in an ontological sense, as Trinitarians believe, it makes no sense whatsoever that Paul would ever need to tell us God the Son didn’t regard plunder to be equal to God. Rather, if being or having the form/appearance of God refers to the exalted and glorified Jesus, everything Paul says makes complete sense. It also fits perfectly with Paul’s concluding words in verses 9 to 11 where he explains that God highly exalted Jesus due to his humble obedience. That is, Jesus, who is now in the form of God, did not regard this equality with God as something to plunder for himself.


The Greek word used μορφῇ (morphē ) means form, outward appearance, shape. “Expression,” meaning something that manifests, embodies, or symbolizes something else (Merriam Webster) fits this definition well. “Form” is a less appropriate choice because the distinction between what something is and what something appears to be is lost. Rather, morphe carries the notion of position and status, as in Tobit 1:13 of LXX (“status”). The comparison with the morphe of a servant” (v.7) enables us to understand morphe as used in the context of the passage is more like status, position, or rank. In British English, “form” is used interchangeably with “rank” as a person can be spoken of as in being in good “form” or “shape.”

From secular writings, we learn that the Greeks used morphē to describe when the gods changed their appearance. Kittel (TDNT) points out that in pagan mythology, the gods change their forms (morphē), especially noting Aphrodite, Demeter, and Dionysus as three who did. This is clearly a change of appearance, not nature. Josephus, a contemporary of the Apostles, used morphē to describe the shape of statues (Bauer’s Lexicon).

Other uses of morphē in the Bible support the position that morphē refers to outward appearance. The Gospel of Mark briefly references the well-known story in Luke 24:13-33 about Jesus appearing to the two men on the road to Emmaus. Mark tells us that Jesus appeared “in a different form (morphē)” to these two men so that they did not recognize him (Mark 16:12). Although that section of Mark was likely not original, it indicates that the people of the time used the word morphē to refer to a person’s outward appearance. It is clear that Jesus did not have a different “essential nature” when he appeared to the two disciples, he simply had a different outward appearance. The Jews translating the Septuagint used morphē several times, always referring to the outward appearance.

Morphē does not refer to the essential nature of Christ, as some translations try to make it out to be. If the point of the verse is to say that Jesus is God, then why not just say that? This verse does not say, “Jesus, being God,” but rather, “being in the form of God.” It is in the same sense that Jesus was the morphe of a servant; the activity or function of the title. Accordingly, morphe is not a classification of what someone is in an ontological sense (in their intrinsic being). 

“Not seizure”

The Greek word ἁρπαγμὸν (harpagmon) is a violent seizure of property, robbery; something to which one can claim or assert title by gripping or grasping; something claimed. That is, possessing the expression of God, is not something Jesus unjustly appropriated for himself. We see in verse 9 that it is God himself who exalted Jesus the Messiah.

After saying that Christ was in the form of God, Philippians 2:6 goes on to say that Christ “considered being equal with God, not something to be grasped.” Translated that way, the phrase is a powerful argument against the Trinity. If Jesus were God, then it would make no sense to say that he did not “grasp” equality with God because no one grasps at equality with himself. It only makes sense if he is not equal to God to begin with.

“He ruled himself”

The Greek word ἡγήσατο (hēgeomato) means to be in a supervisory capacity, lead, guide; to engage in an intellectual process, think, consider, regard. The Greek is in the aorist middle voice indicating past tense and that he is both the subject and object of the verb “he asserted himself.”


The Greek word ἴσα (isa) means equal, the same; in agreement. The meaning of proxy (1) is the agency, function, or office of a deputy who acts as a substitute for another and (2) authority or  power to act for another and (3) a person authorized to act for another (Merriam Webster online). In light of the context of the passage “proxy” is a fitting word selection.

“Himself he emptied”

The Greek word ἐκένωσεν (kenoō) means to empty, deprive; (pass.) to be hollow, emptied, of no value. This is conveying the idea of depriving yourself of esteem (in the sense of expecting recognition and being highly valued others). This is constant with Isaiah.

“Form of a servant he received”

The same Greek word morphe is used here as is used with respect to Jesus’ now being in the morphe of God in verse 6. It is clear from the context of these contrasting morphes that morphe pertains to outward appearance, expression, role, or status rather than essential nature or ontology. The implication is that being in the morphe of God is not being God in an ontological sense but possessing the expression or role of God (by virtue of the divine power and authority he has been given).

Accepting the morphe of a servant does not mean he was God and became man. Rather, as a man, he accepted his mission of being a servant and giving himself as an offering for all. There is no implication of preexistence in this passage, only that being brought into a state of conscious existence, he was a man who submitted himself to God’s will as a servant of God. The passage teaches us to have the same mind. 

“In likeness of man he was caused-to-be”

For many people, coming to be in the likeness of men automatically means he was not previously in the likeness of men, that is, he was not a man. In the Trinitarian mind, everything is about substance because that is the doctrine he wants to see in this verse. However, it is a function that Paul is talking about. The Greek word genomenos is also used in the next breath when he says Jesus “became” obedient to death. Becoming in the likeness of men isn’t a way to tell us a non-human being became a human being. It is a way of telling us that Jesus conducted himself as a humble human being rather than an exalted divine being. He took the form of a servant, and the words “in the likeness of humans” clarify to us what is meant by his taking the form of a servant.

“In fashion”

The Greek word σχήματι (schēmati) is the generally recognized state or form of something; the functional aspect of something, according to the most highly esteemed BDAG lexicon. Composition is defined as the manner in which something is composed; general makeup (Merriam Webster) closely conveys this meaning.   

“He was found”

The Greek word  εὑρεθεὶς (heuritheis) is in the passive voice meaning “to be found.”  To “be recognized” conveys the meaning: to acknowledge or take notice of in some definite way (Merriam Webster).

“Name above every name” 

The Greek word translated is ὄνομα (onoma) meaning name; title; reputation. in this context it refers to authority as Jesus is identified as Lord Messiah.

The contrast with Adam

Jesus did not grasp at an exalted position wrongly, as did Adam. The error of Adam was reversed in Jesus. Dr. Colin Brown at Fuller Seminary observed that Phil. 2 is not about pre-existence and post-existence, but about the contrast between Christ and Adam. Adam the man originally made in the image of God vainly sought to be like God. But Jesus did the opposite, being obedient to death – even on a cross. (Ernst Lohmeyer’s Kyrious Jesus Revisited) See also Dr. James Dunn, Christology in the Making. Notable scholar F.F. Bruce also expressed that he did not think that Paul believed in a preexisting Son (The One God, the Father, One Man Messiah Translation, 2nd Edition, p. 480, Anthony Buzzard, Restoration fellowship)

Quotes from Trinitarian Bible Scholars

James Dunn (Methodist NT Scholar) p115. Christology in the Making

“Moreover it can readily be seen that the outline of thought in the Philippian hymn fully matches the two-stage Christology evident elsewhere in first generation Christianity. – free acceptance of man’s lot followed out to death, and exaltation to the status of Lord over all.” 

J A T Robinson (Anglican NT Scholar), p166 “The Human Face of God”

The picture is not of a celestial figure lowering himself to become a man, to be exalted still higher than he was before. Rather, it is that the entire fullness of God was enabled…to find embodiment in one who was completely one of us as any other descendant of Abraham.” 

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor (Catholic NT Scholar)

“Inevitably, those who begin their exegesis of this hymn with the assumption that it concerns a pre-existent divine being tend towards a docetic (gnostic) interpretation of these lines.”

James P. Mackey (Catholic Theologian). p52 ” The Christian Experience of God as Trinity”

“The fact that in the context of the hymn in the actual epistle, there is no mention at all of this anonymous divine figure who becomes man…”

Karl-Josef Kuschel (German Theologian) p250 “Born Before All Time”

“From this fact that the Jewish rather than Hellenistic syncretism may be the key to understanding the Philippians hymn, present day exegetes have drawn the radically opposite conclusion that the Philippians hymn does not speak of the pre-existence of Christ at all.”

Anton Vogtle (German Catholic NT Scholar) Freiburg exegete

No pre-existence of Christ before the world with an independent significance can be recognized even in Phil. 2.” 

Klaus Berger (German Catholic NT Scholar) Heidelberg exegete

“Philippians 2:6 is primarily concerned with making statements about high status and by no means necessarily concerned with pre-existence.” 

Bas van Iersel (Dutch NT Scholar) p45. ‘Son of God in the New Testament’

But of pre-existence and equality of being with God we cannot discover any trace in Paul’s letters” 

Better English Translations of Phil 2:6-7

Here is a sampling of some of the better English translations that are less prejudicial in basing the reader. They are translated more literally but yet with a bias to imply incarnation. In some cases, shown in italics, words are not translated accurately.

Literal Standard Version (LSV): who, being in the form of God, thought [it] not something to be seized to be equal to God, but emptied Himself, having taken the form of a servant, having been made in the likeness of men,

Berean Study Bible (BSB): Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness.

English Revised Version (ERV): who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men;

Tyndale Bible of 1526: Which beynge in the shape of god and thought it not robbery to be equall with god. Neverthelesse he made him silfe of no reputacion and toke on him the shape of a servaunte and became lyke vnto men

Coverdale Bible of 1535: which beyinge in the shappe of God, thought it not robbery to be equall with God, but made him selfe of no reputacion, and toke vpon him the shappe of a seruaunt, became like another man,

Bishops’ Bible of 1568 Who beyng in the fourme of God, thought it not robbery to be equall with God. But made hym selfe of no reputation, takyng on him the fourme of a seruaut, and made in the lykenesse of men, 

Geneva Bible of 1587: Who being in ye forme of God, thought it no robberie to be equall with God: But he made himself of no reputation, & tooke on him ye forme of a seruant, & was made like vnto men, and was founde in shape as a man.

King James Bible of 1611 (KJV): Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

Young’s Literal  Translation of 1898 (YLT): who, being in the form of God, thought [it] not robbery to be equal to God, but did empty himself, the form of a servant having taken, in the likeness of men having been made,

American Standard Version of 1901 (ASV): who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men;

Lamsa Bible (Peshitta): Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation and took upon himself the form of a servant, and was in the likeness of men:

Erroneous presumptions and misconceptions

Here is a list of common erroneous presumptions and inferences regarding Phil 2:5-7

  1. The word “was” in reference to the mind of Christ biases the reader to suppose Paul is talking about a past time frame where Jesus had a certain mindset and into supposing that Christ had this mindset before he became human.
  2. Presuming that Paul is talking about a pre-incarnate Son who “was” in the “form of God.”
  3.  Presuming that the term “form of God” means “God” and falling to see that it makes no sense to refer God as being in the form of God. It only makes sense to refer to someone else as being in the image of God or the form of God. 
  4.  Presuming that Jesus emptied himself of some of his divine prerogatives or his positional glory in heaven.
  5. Presuming that not regard it to be a plunder to be equal to God is that Jesus had no problem being equal with God. In context, this makes no sense whatsoever since Paul’s point is to show the Philippians how to humble themselves and serve as Jesus served his God.
  6. Taking Paul’s words to say that in verse 6, Jesus did not regard “clinging to” equality with God. However, that would mean the incarnate Jesus was not equal to God, which they deny.
  7. Taking verse 6 to mean that Jesus did not exploit, or take advantage of his equality with God. However, if Jesus already had a harpagmos where then are the words in verse 6 which refer to exploiting it?  harpagmos hardly means exploitation. It refers to something snatched/seized for one’s self, like plunder.
  8. Presuming that “taking the form of a servant” means “adding a human nature” to himself. The words “becoming in the likeness of men,” or “coming to be in the likeness of men” qualify the expression “taking the form of a servant.” In context, the likeness of men is contrasted with the form of God. The Greek word here is saying that Jesus came into his existence in the likeness of humans.

Worse English Translations of Phil 2:6-7

Here is a sampling of some of the worst English translations that are highly prejudicial in basing the reader to not just imply incarnation but to assume it. The misleading content which deviates from the literal meaning of the text is in italics. 

New International Version (NIV)Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

New Living Translation (NLT): Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges ; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form,

The Message Bible (MSG):  He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!

New American Standard Bible 2020 (NASB 2020): who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men

New American Standard Bible 1995 (NASB 95): 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 form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men

Contemporary English Version (CVE): Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God. Instead he gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us.

NET Bible (NET): who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.

Revised Standard Version (RSV): who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

New Revised  Standard Version (NRSV): who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,

English Standard Version (ESV): who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Christian Standard Bible (CSB): who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human,

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB): who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. 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,

The Ambiguous Punctuation of Philippians 2:7-8b

Philippians 2:6-8 is perhaps the most contested passage in the New Testament. It has significant Christological implications and also a high level of syntactical ambiguity that presents a conundrum for interpretation.  

Robert Calhoun noted in his paper on Christological Punctuation, A note on Phil 2:3, the syntactical ambiguity in the construal of three successive participial phrases in verse 7b-d. A punctuation variant in Phil 2:7 noted in the critical text of the 25th edition of the Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Grace (NA-25, 1964) was deleted in the 26th (NA-26, 1981), as well as the 27th and 28th editions. The deleted note says that Tischendorf puts a comma after ὡς ἄνθρωπος instead of a colon after γενόμενος. In fact, a closer inspection of modern printed editions of the Green NT reveals seven punctuation schemes of Philippians 2:7-8a, six of these devised prior to Lohmeyer’s study in 1928. More recently, Joachim Jeremias’ rendition of the poetic structure in 1963 has gained scholarly acceptance. The various renderings that are permitted by this ambiguity have significant consequences for the passage’s Christological implications. 

Let’s look at the Jeremias rendering that opens a path to explain the Christology in Neo-Aramaic terms, as Charles Talbert has done in his paper, The Problem of Pre-Existence in Philippians 2:6–11 (JBL 86 (1967) 141–153). Jeremias proposes three strophes of four lines each, and he punctuates the end of the first strophe (6a–7b) with a period as follows.


Philippians 2:7-8b, Greek, Jeremias punctuation 

ἀλλ’ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών· 

ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν κτλ.

Philippians 2:7-8b, English, Jeremias punctuation

but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant. 

Being born in the likeness of men, and being found in human form, he humbled himself.

Charles Talbert noted how dramatically this can impact interpretation. By accepting Jeremias’ placement of a period after 7b, he presses the case that what is not being described are successive stages in a chronological narration, but rather the two strobes of 6a-7b and 7c-8b are parallel. Christ emptied himself by taking the form of a slave by becoming obedient to the point of death, not by setting aside a celestial form and adopting a terrestrial one as those who read incarnation into the passage assume. Rather the passage exhibits a Christology that can be explained in neo-adamic terms. That is, the Adam Christology that Unitarians affirm. 

Several other scholars adopt or adapted this punctuation. Including Jeremias, these include:

  • J. Jeremias, “Zur Gedankenführung in den paulinischen Briefen,” in Studia Paulina in honorem Johannis de Zwaan septuagenarii (ed. J.N. Sevenster and W.C. van Unnik; Haarlem: Bohn, 1953) 146–155, 154; idem, “Zu Phil ii 7: ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν,” NovT 6 (1963) 182–188, 186.
  • L. Cerfaux, Christ in the Theology of St. Paul (New York: Herder & Herder, 1959) 382– 383;
  • J.M. Robinson, A New Quest of the Historical Jesus (SBT 1/25; London: SCM, 1959) 50–51
  • C.-H. Hunzinger, “Zur Struktur der Christus-Hymnen in Phil 2 und 1. Petr 3,” in Der Ruf Jesu und die Antwort der Gemeinde: Exegetische Untersuchungen Joachim Jeremias zum 70. Geburtstag gewidmet von seinen Schülern (ed. E. Lohse, C. Burchard and B. Schaller; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970) 142–156;
  • O. Hofius, Der Christushymnus Philippier 2,6–11: Untersuchungen zu Gestalt und Aussage eines urchristlichen Psalms (WUNT 2/17; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1976), 4–12
  • U.B. Müller, “Der Christushymnus Phil 2 6–11,” ZNW 79 (1988) 17–44, 19–20; idem, Der Brief des Paulus an die Philipper (THKNT 11/1; Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1993) 89
  • J. Reumann, Philippians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 33B; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008) 333, 369–372

Calhoun noted in consideration of this passage is one of the contested, “with practically every word the subject of its own history of scholarly dispute, minor decisions regarding punctuation can have significant interpretive ramifications.” Calhoun makes the following conclusion:

“The punctuation of Phil 2:7 in critical editions of the NT steers interpreters toward certain Christological channels and away from others. Editors of future editions ought to restore or revise the punctuation variant from NA-25, in order to warn readers not to overlook the syntactical conundrum presented by the participial phrases in 7b–d, and to encourage consideration of the exegetical implications of whichever solution is chosen.” (Robert Calhoun, Christological Punctuation, A note on Phil 2:3, Novum Testamentum 61 (2019) 409–422)


Most English translations of Philippians Chapter 2, specifically Philippians 2:6-7, exhibit a translational bias to imply preexistence and incarnation. However, careful analysis shows that this passage does not teach incarnation but rather refutes it and Trinitarian theology. What is said in no uncertain terms is that Jesus was exalted and given the authority he has because of his obedience until death on a cross.  Rather than describing incarnation, this passage confirms the Unitarian understanding of God.

This careful review demonstrates that Philippians 2 is not teaching incarnation at all. It is clear that Jesuis was not in possession of the form/expression of God, to begin with. It is by virtue of the obedience of the man Jesus Christ that he has now been given power and authority and has been made Lord Messiah. This is consistent with the proclamation of Acts 2:36 “Let all the house of Israel, therefore, know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ (Messiah), this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Considering the text can be interpreted in a way in which no incarnation is implied, it is ironic that this passage serves as a proof text to many Christians who hold to a view of incarnation.

Supplemental Material



PDF Download: http://focusonthekingdom.org/Taking.pdf


Obedience and Humility of the Second Adam:
Philippians 2:6-11 


PDF Download: https://focusonthekingdom.org/Obedience%20and%20Humility%20of%20the%20Second%20Adam.pdf


Philippians 2:6-8