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Bible Q

Does Philippians 2:5-11 mean that Jesus had the nature of God?

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 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 by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is passages is taken as support for the doctrine of the Trinity or the pre-existence of Christ, often due to misleading translations. Actually when examined, this passage does not support the doctrine of the Trinity at all.


1 Form, Greek morphe

Firstly, let it be noted that Paul says that Jesus was ‘in the form of God’. This phrase is unlikely to mean that Jesus had the nature of God.

The Greek word morphe (‘form’ [NKJV]) does not mean ‘very nature’ as NIV misleadingly translates it; morphe refers to external appearance, not essence or substance. An example is when Mark uses this word to refer to one of the resurrection appearances, saying ‘he appeared in another form [morphe]’ (Mark 16:12) – this does not mean Jesus changed his ‘very nature’, it means his appearance was different to they did not recognise him (cf. Luke 24:16). Another famous example from Jewish Hellenistic literature is the form, morphe, of a child resembling the mother in 1 Maccabees 15:4.

In what manner might I express the emotions of parents who love their children? We impress upon the character of a small child a wondrous likeness both of mind and of form. Especially is this true of mothers, who because of their birthpangs have a deeper sympathy toward their offspring than do the fathers. (1 Maccabees 15:4)

What Paul is saying is that Jesus was ‘in the image of God’; to take this is to mean that Jesus was God is simply unsustainable. In fact by saying Jesus was ‘in the image of God’, Paul is actually distinguishing Jesus from God. To be clear, when certain versions translate the beginning of verse six with phrases such as ‘though he was God’ (NLT) and ‘Christ was truly God’ (CEV) they are deliberately changing the meaning of the text to support their own ideology.

2. Not to be grasped at

Secondly, the phrase ‘did not consider it robbery to be equal with God’ is notoriously difficult to translate. The word here translated ‘a thing to be grasped’ (hapargmon) is used nowhere else in the New Testament and is used rarely in other Greek literature. The word has something to do with grasping, the question is does this refer to grasping to retain something or grasping to get hold of something new; the first option would imply that Jesus was already equal with God, the second option would imply the opposite. There are two reasons for supposing the second option is the correct one. First, as we have seen, Paul says that Jesus was ‘in the image of God’ – this would imply that Jesus was not equal with God but something that represented or emulated God. Second, in verse nine Paul says that God exalted Jesus and gave him ‘the name which is above every name’ – if Jesus was equal with God then he would already have this name and, presumably, could exalt himself.


Bearing these two facts in mind, we find that in this passage, far from teaching about the pre-existence of Jesus, Paul is making the comparison between the first and the last Adam. Consider, who else in scripture is said to be ‘in the image of God’? The first human beings (Gen 1:26-7). And with what were the first man and woman tempted with? Equality with God (Gen 3:5). So Paul draws the parallels between how Adam and Jesus dealt with the same temptation. Jesus, though he was made in the image of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped at but instead humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death on the cross.





Entry for morphe in LSJ

μορφ-ή , ,

A.form, shape, twice in Hom. (not in Hes.), σοὶ δ᾽ ἔπι μὲν μορφὴ ἐπέων thou hast comeliness of words, Od.11.367 (cf. Eust. ad loc.); so prob. ἄλλος μὲν . . εἶδος ἀκιδνότερος πέλει ἀνήρἀλλὰ θεὸς μορφὴν ἔπεσι στέφει God adds a crown of shapeliness to his words, Od.8.170: freq. later, “μορφὰς δύο ὀνομάζειν” Parm.8.53; “μορφὴν ἀλλάξαντα” Emp.137.1; “μορφὰν βραχύς” Pi.I.4(3).53μορφῆς μέτρα shape and size, E.Alc.1063: periphr., “μορφῆς φύσις” A.Supp.496μορφῆς σχῆματύπωμαE.Ion992Ph.162; “τὴν αὐτὴν τοῦ σχήματος μορφήν” Arist.PA640b34; “καὶ Γαῖαπολλῶν ὀνομάτων μμία” A.Pr.212ὀνειράτων ἀλίγκιοι μορφαῖσιν ib.449; “νυκτέρων φαντασμάτων ἔχουσι μορφάς” Id.Fr.312; “προὔπεμψεν ἀντὶ φιλτάτης μσποδόν” S.El.1159; of plants, Thphr.HP1.1.12 (pl.); esp. with ref. to beauty of form, “ὑπέρφατον μορφᾷ” Pi.O.9.65οἷς ποτιστάξῃ χάρις εὐκλέα μ. ib.6.76, cf. IG42 (1).121.119 (Epid., iv B. C.), LXX To.1.13Vett.Val.1.6, etc.; “σῶμα μορφῆς ἐμῆς” OGI383.41 (Commagene, i B. C.); μορφῆς εἰκόνας ib.27χαρακτῆρα μορφῆς ἐμῆς ib.60.
2. generally, form, fashion, appearanceA.Pr.78S.Tr.699El.199 (lyr.); outward form, opp. “εἶδοςἑκατέρω τῶ εἴδεος πολλαὶ μ.” Philol.5; “ἀλλάττοντα τὸ αὑτοῦ εἶδος εἰς πολλὰς μορφάς” Pl.R.380d; “μθεῶν” X.Mem.4.3.13, cf. Ep.Phil.2.6Dam.Pr.304; “ἡρώων εἴδεα καὶ μορφάς” A.R.4.1193κατά τε μορφὰς καὶ φωνάς gesticulations and cries, D.H.14.9τὴν μμελάγχρουςτῇ μμελίχροας, in complexionPtol.Tetr.143144.
3. kind, sortE. Ion 3821068 (lyr.), Pl.R.397c, etc. (Possibly cogn. with Lat. forma for morg[uglide]hmā, with f by dissimilation, cf. μύρμηξ.)



One Reply to “Does Philippians 2:5-11 mean that Jesus had the nature of God?”

  1. KJV,

    Yes “form of God” on its own would mean our acclaimed image of God……..but though we have God’s image……thinking of equating with God is off grid,But here the very idea of even mentioning (it wasn’t even supposed to be there if it meant what you say), suggests something else. Read slowly…..full sentence….you will get it.

    “Grasped”….there are so many meanings on that word…I wonder what theory you used to get those two……my Oxford dictionary has this “a person’s power or capacity to attain something,” With this very definition,the next sentence makes more sense. Jesus had the very nature of God….but He never wanted to use that in His own capacity to attain what He wanted,,,use to His own advantage…..He didn’t want to rob his way out….though He could.

    The nice thing to notice is though He has His dad’s nature….He has never tried to use it to His advantage….whether His Dad gave Him that nature or capabilities…thus none of our business…but the fact is that wont change.You should be teaching on how low Jesus has always thought of Himself before His Father,though He can do what His Father does John 5:19 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.” He takes everything from His Dad…forgiving sins,loving.own authority to heal,raise the dead etc.Notice how He stresses it….No man or angel has ever made such a claim…in the bible so to speak.

    Jesus came so we could have a chance to know the Father……..its very nice to see Jesus never tried to take God the Father’s place…despite His capabilities…that will have been seeking honour from men which He never wanted John 5:41 :”I receive not honour from men”

    The Bible can mean all you want…..but if could read it right….dont remove anything….dont put anything….you will get it.

    Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and [from] the Lord Jesus Christ……imagine I had put your name or Gabriel’s or Eliaja’s name at the end of that prayer…wouldnt that be blasphemy? And ooh…that was Philippians 1:2