Saturday, March 10, 2012

Another Response to Philippians 2:6-7 Questions

Some years ago, this question came my way:

The second question is in reference to Philippians 2:6-8. You seem to follow the standard approach of the kenosis happening in eternity past or at least at the time of Jesus' birth. Is there anything in the text itself which requires the emptying of Jesus to be then? There is only one time specific reference in the whole passage, as I see it, and that is the reference to Jesus' death. Is it not possible for the emptying to have taken place in the Garden of Gethsemane or even on the cross (stake)?

My response:

I personally think that it is possible Paul could have been referring to the Christ Event [Jesus becoming human] or to the death of Jesus when he spoke of the Messiah emptying himself. But I do not find that interpretation [i.e. the death of Jesus representing his emptying] as compelling for the following reasons.

(1) Phil 2:5-11 seems to be modeled after Isa 52 & 53,
where we read about the preexistent Messiah (the
Suffering Servant of YHWH) who humbles himself and is
subsequently exalted. See L. Gregory Bloomquist's
excellent and detailed treatment of Phil 2:5-11 in The Function of Suffering in Philippians (Sheffield:
Shefiield Academic Press, 1993), pp. 160-168.

(2) EN MORFH QEOU appears to be a dative of indirect
object that describes "an exalted heavenly figure very
close to God," but not one who possesses absolute
divinity (Osiek, Carolyn. Philippians, Philemon. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000). See page 60.
Furthermore, "This interpretation is enhanced by the
rest of verse 6: he did not consider it a hARPAGMOS,
something to be seized or exploited, to be ISA QEWi,
equal or of equal status to God" (Osiek 60). The
semantic value of MORFH in relation to QEOU may also
strengthen the connection with preexistence. [That is,
the term probably means "external appearance" or "shape."
I.e. the Son appears to reflect the divine glory in his pre-existence.]

(3) EN MORFH DOULOU seems to be contrasted with EN
MORFH DOULOU. EN MORFH DOULOU appears to juxtapose
Christ's earthly mode of being with his heavenly
heavenly manner of existence.

(4) Phil 2:5-11 also appears to bear some resemblance
to Col 1:15-16 and Heb 1 & 2 as well as Jn 1:1-18,
which also speak to Christ's pre-existence and his
katabasis as well as his subsequent anabasis.
Moreover, the katabasis/anabasis themes in Second
Temple Judaism normally involve a heavenly figure
becoming human (e.g., the Son of Man).

But, I will concede that the text could be read in the
way that you suggest. I just do not think that is a
likely reading when one considers all of the relevant
exegetical factors, however.

Best regards,

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