Examining the Unitarian Interpretation of Philippians 2:5-11 in the Light of Proper Exegesis and the Greek Language

The Deity of Christ is an essential part of the Gospel. The NT is filled with verses that clearly show His Deity. One of the more well-known sets of passages, one that has received an enormous scholarly attention is Philippians 2, specifically,verses 5-11.

For more context verses 3-11 read:
 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 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. (ESV)

The meaning of the text is plain,it teaches the believers, through Carmen Christi,a hymn they all knew too well, to be humble in dealing with one another, regard one another, greater than oneself, as Christ Jesus did also, who truly was God, in his love for humanity came into flesh and died for our sins, showing the greatest example of humility. Dr. Wallace puts it beautifully:

“If he who was in the “form of God” could humble himself, what right do believers have to refrain from doing the same thing? Further, after Christ “emptied himself” (by adding humanity, 2:6-8) God exalted him (2:9-11). The implication, if this is part of Paul’s argument, is that God will exalt believers who also humble themselves. (Of course, believers’ exaltation cannot compare to Christ’s since, in part, believers’ humiliation does not compare to Christ’s.)”

Paul ingeniously uses a song they all knew, to put his point about humility across.

Then how do our Unitarian friends interpret these passages?

Going to biblicalunitarian.com, a well known unitarian apologetics website, we are going to take a look at their interpretation.

They state: “The Philippian Church was doing well and was supportive of Paul, but they had problems as well. There was “selfish ambition” (1:15; 2:3) and “vain conceit” (2:3), arguing and lack of consideration for others (2:4 and 14) and a need for humility, purity and blamelessness (2:3 and 15). So, Paul wrote an exhortation to the believers that, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (2:5). He then went on to show how Christ did not grasp at equality with God, but was completely humble, and as a result God “highly exalted him.” The example of Jesus Christ is a powerful one. We do not need to make sure people notice us or know who we are. We should simply serve in obedience and humility, assured that God will one day reward us for our deeds.”

About the phrase “form of God” they argue that it is simply outward appearance and interpret harpagmos as grasping for equality.

We are going to examine their interpretation, point out the obvious flaws and prove decisively that this text teaches the Deity of Christ.
Firstly, I can’t help but notice the misuse of what humbleness actually is. You see, humbleness is not refraining from seeking something, in this case equality with God, humbleness is lowering oneself from the position he already has. They regard Christ’s, in their words “not grasping at equality with God” an act of humility. I would like to ask my unitarian friends here if not being blasphemous is regarded as humbleness in the eyes of Yahweh, for that is what they are implying. Seeking equality with God is blasphemy. Refraining from doing so, as they suppose Christ did, is not, so then, is this the greatest act of humility? Not seeking to commit blasphemy? Absolutely not. This is just one of the problems their position runs into.

In Greek, the word for humility is tapeinophrosune. What is interesting about it is its clear implication. Anyone who knows Greek knows that the word for one who is lowly is tapeinos. It is clear where the word originated from. Humbling is an act of lowering oneself, NOT refraining from seeking something that is not his.

Our unitarian friends would try to go through all sorts of loops to imply that morphe Theou, the form of God the verse says Christ is in, is something else than what it actually is, the true nature of being deity.

Many propositions have been put forth, from going back to the image of God in Genesis 1:26, to, what our “BiblicalUnitarian” friends imply, that it refers just to outer form.

This as any eisegetical nonsense our unitarian friends propose, is countered by clear exegesis of the text, but before we go there, let’s just examine these 2 claims on their face value.

Firstly, I would like to ask our unitarian friends, that if this refers to the outer form, why exactly did Paul not use the word homoiomati, which he uses in verse 7, to show that Christ has been made in the likeness of man,word used for outward appearance of things? Furthermore, I must ask my unitarian friends, what exactly do they mean that he had an outward appearance of God? Isaiah 53:2, a Messianic verse states about the Messiah-
“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him”
Is this the “outward appearance” of God that they are talking about?

As for the first proposition, that this refers back to Genesis 1:26, it is incredibly easy to shoot down. Paul, as the entire early Church, was a user of the LXX, in the LXX the word eikon is used for image, that is where the English word icon comes from. It would be rather strange for Paul to use morphe instead of eikon if he was referring back to Genesis 1:26.

But the strongest refutation of these amateurish claims are the verses themselves and their contrast, as Dr. Wallace puts it, Paul here, rather clearly, is creating a contrast, a parallel. That parallel is formed between the phrases ‘he was in the form of God’ and ‘taking on the form of a servant’. In both verses the word morphe is used. So then,as this is a clear parallel of forms of Christ and as Christ was truly in the form of a servant and regarded himself as such, not simply in some form of an appearance (cf. Mark 10.45; Matt 20.27; 26.39) then him being in the form of God is him truly being God. There is no escaping this parallel.

In regards to Harpagmos,  perhaps the most argued over word of Philippians 2, Dr. White destroys the unitarian proposition by stating:

“To Grasp or to Hold?

Non-orthodox interpreters focus heavily on the next phrase up for consideration, that being the singular Greek term harpagmos. Literally, it means “something to grasp after,” and this is its most natural translation. Taken in this way the term would indicate that Christ did not grasp after equality with God, and those interpreters who wish to avoid the deity of Christ conclude that the passage is plainly indicating an inferiority on Christ’s part. However, there are many reasons to reject this position.

First, the hymn has already asserted the deity of Christ in the strongest terms. Proponents of this view have to adopt the most unusual understandings of what “form of God” means to avoid this problem. Second, the phrase can be understood just as well in the passive sense of “something to be held onto or grasped,” and as in every other instance of proper interpretation, the context is the key to meaning. Third, to take the phrase in the active sense is to destroy the entirety of the example Paul is pressing. If Christ was not equal with the Father, but was in some sense a subordinate created being, the illustration of humility involving the voluntary renunciation of rights so as to serve others is abrogated. There is no “humility” in an inferior creature not seeking after equality with God. Such is a matter of not committing the heinous sin of blasphemy, nothing more. If we take harpagmos in its active sense as these interpreters suggest, the text is stood on its head and its meaning is destroyed.”

Let us go a bit into Chronology of this text for a moment.

Clear Chronology presents a big problem for our unitarian friends.

The phrase “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” is clearly chronological since the word labon is used, thus by taking the form, he emptied himself. This creates a problem for the unitarians, because right after that phrase, the phrase “being born in the likeness of men” occurs. This is problematic because if Christ, emptied himself, and that emptying is described as taking a human form, then it must be concluded that Christ pre-existed his birth. This is then further then supported by his ability to hegesato, consider, pre-incarnation, as seen in verse 6. To avoid this obviously destructive chronology,our unitarian friends have supposed that the form of a servant, is not his human nature,rather something else,which they themselves care not to explain, thus joining the phrase “being born in the likeness of men” to the verse 8,and abruptly ending the verse 7 at the phrase “by taking the form of a servant” Not only is this unnatural and unnecessary,but it also creates a tautology in the verse 8 since phrases “being made in the likeness of men” and “being found in appearance as a man” are joined together. This is again, clearly refuted by the Greek language, as Peter O’Brien, one of the leading NT scholars puts it:

“The meaning of ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν (emptied himself) is defined more precisely in the two participial phrases that follow, namely μορφὴν δούλου λαβών (‘taking the form of a servant’) and ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος (‘being found in human form’). The first three lines of v. 7 (7a, 7b, and 7c) should be taken together. V. 7b and c are formed in a parallel fashion to explicate the main clause in v. 7a (ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν), since the two aorist participles λαβών and γενόμενος are coincident with the finite verb ἐκένωσεν and both are modal, describing the manner in which Christ ‘emptied himself’:
7a ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν
b μορφὴν δούλου λαβών
c ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος.”

Furthermore, the verses our unitarian friends repeatedly ignore and avoid like the plague are verses 9-11 where Christ is described as having a name (which in this case, as many times in the OT refers to authority) which is above every name, and being worshiped in the same manner Yahweh is prophecised to be.

Since God’s name alone is above every name, we must conclude that Christ is God.

Furthermore, these verses state that to Christ every knee will bow and Christ’s name every tongue shall confess.

“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.”

But this is pure blasphemy if Christ is not God, for in the book of Isaiah (45:21-23) it states: “Declare and set forth your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. 22″Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.”I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.”

Since Paul is using an OT verse where Yahweh himself declares that all will worship him, and applies it to Jesus, and having in mind that unitarians avoid it like a plague, I rest my case.

All Glory be to our Eternal and Almighty Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord.

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