- - - - - If Paul meant to identify Jesus as God, why would he say “Who, BEING IN THE FORM OF God, thought it not robbery…”? Why not simply say “Who, BEING God, thought it not robbery…”?
The Bible never says that God is “in the form of God” because He simply IS God.
To say that an entity is “in the form of” something means that it is NOT that something. To say that Jesus was “in the form of” God means that he was NOT God.
- - - - - We can say that someone is equal with God insofar as they have one or more attributes in common with God. However, we can not say “God is equal with God”- because “equal with” is a term used to compare two or more entities with one another, not to compare a single entity with itself.
A single entity cannot be equal with itself (drum roll please…) because it is itself.
So one reason why Jesus being “in the form of”God cannot mean that he is God is that the sentence elsewhere speaks of Jesus being “equal with” God.
To say that Jesus was equal WITH God is to say that Jesus was NOT God - but rather, a separate person being compared TO God. -
- - - - - Paul Proclaimed A Distinction Between God And Jesus.
A fundamental law of Biblical Hermeneutics (the science of the interpretation and explanation of Scriptures) is that no verse of the Bible will contradict other verses dealing with the same subject.
If Paul makes a clear distinction between Jesus and God elsewhere in Philippians, then he cannot be saying that Jesus is God in Phil.2:6,7.
This is exactly the case:
- - Phil.1:2 - “Grace from God AND FROM Jesus”. Here Paul clearly distinguishes between God and Jesus.
- - 2:9 - “God hath exalted him, and given him a name”. This characterizes Jesus as distinct and separate from the one (“God”) who exalted and named him. The idea of God performing such actions upon Himself is not only never found in the Bible, it is also simply ludicrous. Of the 95 times “exalt” appears in the (KJV etc.) Bible, it is never used in such a context; nor is it ever said that God gave Himself another name. He says that His name shall be “Jehovah” (transliterated: LORD) “for ever” and “to all generations” - Ex.3:15.
- - 2:11 - “God the Father”. This means that God IS the Father (aligning with Jesus’s statement that the Father alone [“monos”] is God - Jn.17:3, and Paul’s statement that the one God is the Father - 1Cor.8:6).
- - 4:7 - “God THROUGH Jesus”. Paul yet again presents God and Jesus as two distinctly separate persons.
- - 4:19 - “God BY Jesus”. Ditto.
- - 4:20 - “God our Father”. An even clearer identification of God as (and only as) the Father.
In light of these statements by Paul, it would make no sense that he- without explanation - would suddenly change his point of view and make a statement in which Jesus is characterized AS God.
Let’s consider some of the specific arguments by which Trinitarianism attempts to prove its “understanding” of the passage.
- - - “Form” (“Morphe”) - - -
Probably the most compelling aspect of the Trinitarian argument centers on the words:
- “Who being in the form (‘morphe’) of God… took upon him the form (‘morphe’) of a servant”(Phil.2:6,7).
Trinitarianism wishes us believe that morphe here describes Jesus’s essential nature - meaning that he actually was God. But it goes without saying that God has the essential nature of God, so why would Paul need to make that point?
Trinitarianism insists that “morphe” refers to the character, nature, or essence; that “form” means “identity”- in other words, that for Jesus to be in the form of God means that he isGod:
- “The phrase "form of God" is one that naturally conveys the idea that he was God” - Barnes' Notes on the Bible
- “Properly the nature or essence… as actually subsisting in the individual” - Vine’s Lexicon
- “There can be no doubt that in classical Greek, morphe describes the actual specific character which makes each being what it is” - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
- In Mk.16:12 Morphe Means “Outward Appearance”
The only other use of “morphe” in the New Testament bespeaks the outward appearance, not the inner identity.
The Gospel of Mark refers to Luke 24:13-33, in which the resurrected Jesus appears to two men on the road to Emmaus. Mark tells us that Jesus appeared “in a different form (morphe)” to these men so that they did not recognize him (Mk.16:12). This was not a different identity (he was still the Son of God), but a different outward appearance - it was not that he was different, it was that he looked different.
Note how several English versions - even though written by Trinitarians - render “morphe” in this verse:
- “He was revealed to them completely changed in APPEARANCE [morphe]" - NAB.
- “They didn't recognize him at first because he had changed his APPEARANCE [morphe]." - LB.
- “He appeared in a different GUISE [morphe]" - NEB.
- “He appeared in another SHAPE [morphe]" - Douay.
- “He did not LOOK LIKE he had looked [morphe] before to these two people" - NLV.
- “Jesus did not LOOK the same" - ETRV.
In all of these translations, “morphe” refers to Jesus’s external appearance, not his essential identity.
“Morphosin”, derived from “morphe” and also rendered “form”,is similarly used to describe the outward appearance:
- “Having a form (“morphosin”) of godliness, but denying the power thereof” - 2Tim.3:5.
This speaks of persons who are not godly but have the outward appearance of godliness. Here, again, “form” refers to the way they look, not the way they are.
- The Actual Definition Of “Morphe” Is “External Appearance”
- - -“Taking the DISGUISE [morphe] of a slave" - Phil. 2:7, Living Bible.) - - -
Despite erroneous definitions presented by trinity-biased commentaries and lexicons such as those cited above, the actual definition of “morphe” is “outward appearance; shape”:
- Bauer's Greek Lexicon (BDAG) has under “morphe”: “OUTWARD APPEARANCE, SHAPE”.
- The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Vol.1, p.705, 1986) defines “morphe” as: “’FORM’ in the sense of OUTWARD APPEARANCE”.
- The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (edited by Gerhard Kittel) defines “morphe” as: “FORM, EXTERNAL APPEARANCE”(adding that in pagan mythology, the gods change their “forms” [morphe] - a change of appearance, not nature).
- Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament(p.418) defines “morphe” as: “The FORM by which a person or thing strikes the vision; THE EXTERNAL APPEARANCE”, adding that the Greeks said that children reflect the appearance (morphe) of their parents. (Thayer also notes that some scholars try to make “morphe” refer to that which is intrinsic and essential, in contrast to that which is outward, but says, “the distinction is rejected by many”).
- Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance Greek Dictionary defines “morphe” (G#3444) as: “SHAPE”- deriving from a word meaning “a division or share”; and adds that it only refers to one’s nature in a “figurative” (“Representing by a figure or resemblance: emblematic” - Merriam-Webster.com) sense.
Let’s be clear - “Morphe” refers to something’s EXTERNAL APPEARANCE (what it LOOKS LIKE), not its intrinsic nature or identity.
- “God” Versus “Like God”
Because “in the form of” means “having the external appearance or likeness of”, note how the following English translations render Phil.2:6:
- “Christ himself was LIKE GOD” - EXB, ICB, NCV
- “He was in every way LIKE GOD” - WE
- “He was LIKE GOD in every way” - ERV
- “He had EQUAL STATUS WITH GOD” - MSG
- “God” Versus “A God”
the word translated “God” is not “ho theos” (which in stand-alone form designates Jehovah), but simply “theos” - which, without the definite article (“ho”), is also applied to others besides God (as Jesus pointed out when saying “He called them ‘gods’ [a form of ‘theos’] to whom the word of God came”- Jn.10:35. (a reference to Old Testament judges).
In Phil.2:7 the word translated “servant” (“doulou”) also does not have the definite article. In this instance, the indefinite article “a” is added (there being no indefinite article in the Greek language) because English language translators understand that it is implied .
If it were understood from other Scripture that Jesus is not God, then by this same standard Vs.6 could be translated: “Who, being in the form of ‘a’ god” [meaning “a divine being”], because it would be “implied” in this statement as well. (See also Acts 12:22 and 28:6, where men thought to be gods are said to be “theos” without the definite article - translated therein “A god”).
- “But if ‘form of a servant’ means ‘servant’, then ‘form of God’ must mean ‘God’ ”.
Trinitarianism argues that since the phrase “in the form (morphe) of a servant” literally identifies the incarnate Jesus as a servant, the corresponding phrase “in the form (morphe) of God” must also be understood to literally identify the pre-incarnate Jesus as God.
This argument is flawed in two respects:
- The passage does not "literally identify" Jesus as a servant, it says that he took upon himself the "morphe" ("outward appearance") of a servant.
Consider the following:
- - - “The Lord Jesus was not literally a servant… the ‘form of a servant’… means to APPEAR AS [“To have an outward aspect; to seem” - Webster] a servant… he was made LIKE a servant” - Barnes' Notes on the Bible
- - - “Christ’s assumption of the ‘form’ of a servant does not imply that the innermost basis of His personality was changed”- Expositor's Greek Testament
- Since “form” refers to the outward appearance, both of these phrases must be understood as describing the way Jesus looked, not who he was. In heaven, he looked like God. On earth, he looked like a servant.
“Morphe of a servant” means “an external appearance like that of a servant”. Correspondingly, “morphe of God” means “an external appearance like that of God”.
- - “Equal With God” - Phil.2:6 - -
Trinitarianism insists that “equal with God” means God:
- “... (Jesus is) as God himself is, and therefore God, for there is no one in all parts equal to God but God himself” - Geneva Study Bible
-“The Son of God in his pre-existent being… resisted the temptation to be equal with God (Phil. 2:6).... and after his work on earth… when raised to the right hand of God .... he is STILL not made equal to God… but remains subordinate to Him"- The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, p.80, vol.2.
- The Definition Of "Equal"
The Greek word translated "equal" here is "ison". According to the trinitarian interpretation, “equal with God” means “God” - but this is not how “ison” is defined:
- "(Ison) indicates… an EXTERNAL… LIKENESS” - The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, v2, p497
- “Isos [#G2470] prob. from 1492 [‘eido’] through the idea of seeming; SIMILAR [often translated 'LIKE'] [often translated 'LIKE']" - Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.
So, to say that Jesus is "equal (ison) with God" is to say that he bears an EXTERNAL LIKENESS to God, that he is SIMILAR to God - not that he IS God.
- N.T. Usages Of “Isos” As Meaning “Similar”
In Mt.20:1-15 Jesus tells a parable of workers who complain that those who started later than they had been paid the same wage. They say “These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal (‘isos’- from which 'ison' is derived) unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day”. Here “equal” means “like” or “similar” - not “one and the same”.
In Lk.20:36 Jesus says that saved and resurrected humans in heaven will be “equal (‘isos’) unto the angels”. This does not mean that they will be angels, but that they will be similar toangels.
- - - “In Mt 20:12, `made them equal' means `put them upon the same footing,'. In Lk 20:36 the context restricts the equality to a particular relation." - The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, vol.2, p.968
When something is described as being equal (isos/ison) with something else, it nonetheless remains distinct from and different than that something else. The one is merely like or similar to the other. Again: to be "equal with” (just as with being “in the form of”) really means that they are NOT the same person or thing at all.
- - - “Thought It Not Robbery…” - - -
The orthodox translation of Phil.2:6 reads: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God”.
- The Trinitarian Mis-interpretation
Trinitarianism interprets this as meaning that since Jesus wasGod, he did not consider it to be robbery to retain his equality with God:
- “Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God” - CEV
- “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to” - NLT
- “Though he was of a divine nature… he did not seek to retain his equality with God” - Barnes’ Notes
Non-trinitarianism sees this as a misconstruction of meaning. It holds that the words mean that Jesus (who has never been equal with God in any sense of the word) didn’t even consider trying to seize or snatch equality from God [as Satan did in saying “I will be LIKE the most High”- Is.14:14].
In support of this, consider the following translations:
- “He did not think that by force he should try to BECOME equal with God" - TEV, GNB
- “He did not think to SNATCH AT equality with God" - NEB
- “He did not count equality… a thing to be GRASPED” - RSV
- The Greek Word Translated “Robbery”
The word translated “robbery” here is “harpagmos” (Strong’s G#725).
- Strong's Exhaustive Concordance tells us that harpagmos means "plunder” - from “harpazo”(St.Gk.#726), which means: "to seize ... catch away, pluck, take (by force)".
- “Harpagmós - to seize” - HELPS Word-studies, Helps Ministries Inc.
- “Harpagmos; the act of seizing" - New American Standard Concordance of the Bible
- “Harpagmos” Means “Snatch” Or “Seize”, Not “Retain”
“Harpagmos” does not intend to convey the idea that Jesus did not seek to retain equality with God, but rather that he did not seek to snatch equality from God.
- “We cannot find any passage where [harpazo] or any of its derivatives [including harpagmos] has the sense of `retaining in possession’. It seems invariably to mean `seize', `snatch violently'. It is not permissible to glide from the true sense into one which is totally different" - The Expositor's Greek Testament, Vol.III, pp.436, 437
- W. E. Vine acknowledges that harpagmos is "akin to harpazo, to seize, carry off by force." - An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p.887
- The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (V3, P604) tells us that the majority of Bible scholars "have taken harpagmos to mean a thing plundered or seized”,explaining that: “Verse 6 states what Christ might have done, i.e. seized equality with God; verse 7 states what he chose to do, i.e. give himself”.
The true definition of “harpagmos” establishes that Phil.2:6 is telling us that Jesus gave no thought to seizing an equality with God which he did not possess.
- - SUMMARY - -
We have seen that:
Trinitarianism claims that Phil.2:6,7 means to say that Jesus is God, and that therefore he did not consider it an act of robbery to be equal with Him. Non-Trinitarianism disagrees, asserting that the passage means that while Jesus looked like God. he was not God; and that he never contemplated seizing from God an equality which he did not possess.
“In the form of God” means “resembling God”, not “being God”.
To be “equal with God” means by definition to “have attributes in common with God”, not to “be God”.
Elsewhere in the book of Philippians, Paul asserts a distinction between God and Jesus.
The accurate definition of “morphe” (“form”) is “outward appearance”, not “inner nature”.
The accurate definition of “ison” (“equal”) is “similar or “like”, not “identical”.
The accurate definition of “harpagmos” (rendered “robbery”) is “snatch or seize”, not “retain in possession”.
- - CONCLUSION - -
Trinitarianism has gone to great lengths to make a passage which clearly demonstrates that Jesus is not God appear to say just the opposite. Now that we are aware of the definitions and Biblical usages of the words of Phil.2:6,7, we are equipped to understand what it really means: “Jesus looked like God, yet never presumed to seize equality from Him. Instead, he emptied himself and took on the appearance of a servant”. THIS was the mental state which Paul exhorted us to imitate; the example of humility which Paul sought for us to follow.
Originally published here https://jesusnotyhwh.blogspot.com/2017/06/exalted.html on Jesus, not YHWH blog: https://jesusnotyhwh.blogspot.com/p/the-sinless-christ.html
For more on Philippians 2, see https://formofgod.com - Analysis on Philippians 2