Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hawthorne and Philippians 2:6-7

There is an interesting discussion of Philippians 2:6ff in Gerald Hawthorne's Philippians commentary; he believes that it is erroneous to translate ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων as a concessive participial phrase (Hawthrone, Philippians, 85).

Hawthorne elects to render the phrase causatively: "precisely because he was in the form of God he reckoned equality with God not as a matter of getting but of giving."

Of course this view seems to presuppose that Jesus is ontologically equal to God and that ἁρπαγμὸν refers to an act of giving as opposed to getting (snatching). So while Hawthorne's proposal is innovative, to say the least, I am not convinced for a number of grammatical reasons.

Firstly, construing ὑπάρχων concessively is more in keeping with the context. If we translate the participial phrase concessively, it illuminates the second part of Phil. 2:6, which reads ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ (Moises Silva, Philippians, 123).

Secondly, within the immediate context of Phil. 2:6a, the humility of Christ is truly emphasized if we construe the participial phrase in a concessive manner. As a matter of fact, Richard A Young also renders this part of the verse concessively:

"Although he existed in the very nature of God" (Young, Intermediate New Testament Greek, 156).

While I agree with Young's rendering of the participial phrase to an extent (since he renders the verse in a concessive manner), I take exception to his translation "the very nature of God" for lexical semantic and theological reasons.

It does not seem that Phil. 2:6 wants to make the claim that Jesus was "equal to God" or bore God's nature. There is an alternate explanation for τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ. Granted, some exegetes want to interpret the Greek article in τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ anaphorically, thus they would have the article refer back to ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων. Yet, grammarian Daniel B. Wallace writes:

"[N. T.] Wright argues that the article is anaphoric, referring back to μορφῇ θεοῦ. As attractive as this view may be theologically, it has a weak basis grammatically. The infinitive is the object and the anarthrous term, ἁρπαγμός, is the complement. The most natural reason for the article with the infinitive is simply to mark it out as the object."


Additionally, P. M. Casey notes:

"On a strict definition of 'incarnation,' Philippians 2:6-11 does not qualify because Jesus was not fully divine, in the view of the original author" (From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God [Cambridge, UK and Louisville, KY: James Clarke and Westminster/John Knox, 1991], 112-114).

While the NIV translates Phil. 2:6, "Who being in very nature God," Carolyn Osiek believes that this rendering is not wholly faithful to the Greek text. Contra the NIV, she does not think 2:6 teaches the absolute Deity of Christ (See Osiek 2000:60ff).


Anonymous said...

Nice post, Edgar. While I previously wavered between Hoover's view and Wallace's view, I've come to think that Wallace is not only correct, but almost certainly correct, thanks to Denny Burk's DTS thesis on Philippians 2, entitled "The Meaning of HARPAGMOS at Philippians 2:6"

A few brief quotes by Burk's thesis reveal the power of the argument:

"There are many non-anaphoric examples of the articular infinitive in the accusative case as well–indeed, many more than in the nominative case. In fact, it is difficult to construe an anaphoric reference for the majority of the accusative examples of this construction." (ibid, p. 47)

"…the grammatical context of the sentence requires the presence of the article in this particular infinitive phrase. If the article were not present in Philippians 2:6, the sentence would make little if any grammatical sense…the article is required in this context as a grammatical function marker to distinguish the accusative object from the accusative compliment." (ibid, p. 50)


"In such reversed order situations where neither of the accusatives is a proper name or pronoun, the presence of the article is syntactically required in order to indicate which accusative is functioning as the object. Such is the case at Philippians 2:6." (ibid, p. 52).

So, at Philippians 2:6, Paul HAD to include the article to indicate which accusative is functioning as the object.


Anonymous said...

Just for the sake of argument, let's say that the NIV is correct in construing an ontological use of MORPHE at Philippians 2:6. Wouldn't the logical flow of the account then suggest (or necessitate?) that said "equality" is what the preexistent Son gave up by "emptying" himself?

It might be possible to avoid such a conclusion, but I'm not sure how if one takes an ontological reading. Thus, the NIV may actually undermine the very doctrine they seek to uphold with such a paraphrase, because God can't cease to be divine, whereas one of the created ELOHIM plausibly can.


Edgar Foster said...


I can think of 1 strategy that Trinitarians might use. They could argue that the Son did not empty himself of anything--he just emptied *himself*. Silva has an interesting discussion on this expression.

Anonymous said...


"I can think of 1 strategy that Trinitarians might use. They could argue that the Son did not empty himself of anything--he just emptied *himself*. Silva has an interesting discussion on this expression."

Yes, Trinitarians, like the rest of us, can be quite inventive in defending their view. But as Silva pointed out in a totally unrelated discussion (about Scriptural infallibility), sometimes the answers given to defend a preferred view can savor of in-authenticity (to paraphrase).


Edgar Foster said...

Hi Kaz,

I guess we usually feel compelled to give some kind of response. Yet not just any old reply will do, although that hasn't deterred some. :)

One can find examples in my "Christology" book that indicate how at least a few Trinitarians have tried to wrestle with the issues we're discussing:

"The self-emptying permitted the addition of humanity and did not involve in any way the subtraction of deity or the use of the attributes of deity. There was a change of form but not of content of the Divine Being . . . He added humanity. And this in order to be able to die" (Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, 262-263).

I critique Ryrie in the book, but another writer who takes a similar line of attack is Rob Bowman. I've personally replied to his comments on Phil 2:6 in a public forum. Nonetheless, I imagine he still believes that the kenosis of Christ did not involve a literal self-emptying.

Anonymous said...


I think I remember the dialogue, a little. It seems pretty clear - to me at least - that if one accepts a preexistence reading of Philippians 2, and opts to infer "nature" from MORPHE, then the emptying had to involve giving up the divine nature. This is suggested by the flow of the narrative, IMO, and demanded by the result (sacrificial death).


Edgar Foster said...


For some reason, I couldn not find the old dialogue between Bowman and me. However, I did find these notes that might shed light on how Bowman and others reason about the kenosis:

Moises Silva tends to construe hARPAGMON passively, yet he sees a
notional contrast between Phil 2:6 and vs. 7. See pp. 117-118
of his commentary on Philippians. On the other hand, Gerald Hawthorne thinks hUPARXWN is causative: "precisely BECAUSE he was in the form of God he
reckoned ewuality with God . . . KTL."

He believes that a contrast is set out clearly in Phil 2:7: "Not this . . . but this!" Hawthorne interprets Christ's kenosis as an act of putting oneself at the total disposal of others. He argues that it is unnecessary to supply a genitive of content
from the surrounding verses to explain Christ's self-emptying. In other words, no need to say that Christ emptied himself of God's form, glory, etc. He just emptied himself or performed a selfless act.