Exegesis of Philippians 2:5-11 (Historical Background and Verse 5)

As of this evening, I will be posting a seven part series on the text of Philippians 2:5-11, based on my recently completed essay on this subject in my Greek class . This wonderful section of Scripture, better known as the “Carmen Christi” (vs. 6-11), have been for years understood as a short, 6 verse summation of the eternal Son that describes His pre-existence, Divine nature, equality with God, Incarnation, humanity, humility and exaltation/vindication. Each post will deal with one specific verse, with today’s initial post addressing the historical background of the text and verse 5. I do hope that this proves helpful on some level and that this wonderful section of Scripture helps to further solidify your faith in our Triune God.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

     The Epistle to the Philippians, “was certainly written by Paul of Tarsus to a Christian church in the city of Philippi, province of Macedonia,”[1] states Moises Silva. The church in Philippi, according to Silva, “had been founded by Paul himself in the early 50’s of the first century (Acts 16).”[2] Silva gives a broad date of “the late 50’s or early 60’s”[3] regarding the penning of this prison Epistle. F.F. Bruce tentatively dates the Epistle “in early A.D. 60,”[4] depending on Paul’s location at the time of its penning, which was most likely Rome. Internal evidence suggests Rome as the location of authorship on account of Paul’s imprisonment, under the watchful eye of the “praetorian guard” (Phil. 1:13), and, the pending judgment of his trial, thus suggesting an imminent verdict (Phil. 1:12-30). Nevertheless, these internal evidences are by no means conclusive; hence, Silva’s broad suggestion seems most reasonable.

The theme of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is one of unity and humility. Paul, throughout the discourse suggests that the Philippians have “one mind” (1:27), the “same mind” (2:2) and “humility of mind regarding one another” (2:3).[5] As a result, the peace of God would guard the “hearts and minds” of the congregation “in Christ Jesus” (4:7).  Moreover, “Paul himself also wanted to encourage the Philippians in their faith”[6] and used his imprisonment as an exhortation to the Philippians to live an emboldened Christian life, all to the proliferation of the gospel.

Of special interest in this essay is the historical background of Philippians 2:6-11, better known as the “Carmen Christi.”[7] Cast in rhythmical prose, “Like many other early Christian hymns,”[8] the “Christ Hymn” consists “of a recital of the saving work of God in Christ, in self-humiliation followed by exaltation.”[9] In short, the “Carmen Christi” describes the finished work of the Lord Jesus and His forfeited position of glory in eternity past, for the redemption of a people in Himself, followed by vindication and exaltation by the Father due to His perfect obedience and humility.[10] Encompassed in the use of this ancient hymn is the teaching point of Paul that the church at Philippi should have humility in mind and spirit. Paul’s point throughout the discourse is in regards to the divine privileges that the Son forfeited willingly for the sake of others. Hence, the Christians in Philippi, following the example of the eternal Son, should do the same regarding their earthly privileges.

EXEGESIS AND COMMENTARY OF PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11

Block Diagram

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                      made himself nothing,

1)      taking the form of a servant,

2)      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,

1)  in heaven

2)  and on earth

3)  and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.[11]

Exegesis of Philippians 2:5-11

Philippians 2:5

In verse 5 of Philippians 2, the apostle begins his discourse regarding the nature of true humility when he states; “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (NASB). Here the apostle exhorts his readers to “Have this attitude” in themselves. Paul seemingly has in mind much more than outward actions in this statement. Rather, the apostle is relaying to the reader the inward disposition that should accompany ones salvific union to the Logos. The Greek word “attitude” (φρονεῖτε > phroneite) used in verse 5, literally, “to think,” carries with it a variety of meanings, but, contextually refers to one’s thought process on a certain matter. The BDAG states of this word; “to develop an attitude based on careful thought, be minded/disposed.”[12] So important was this idea to the apostle that he used this word an additional two times in chapter 3 regarding Christian perseverance.[13] Here, the apostle exhorts his readers to embrace the prize of “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14, NASB). Thus, Paul creates a running theme throughout the Epistle regarding one’s attitude.

The “attitude” that Paul desires for his readers is much more than a simple, cognitive recognition of brute facts. Rather, the context of the Epistle describes this “attitude” as coupled with an inward moving of one’s “spirit” towards Godly things. This point is noted with Paul’s repeated use of ψυχῇ (psuche, Phil. 1:27, 2:2, 2:3, 3:4, 3:19, 4:7) throughout the Epistle. This term carries a general meaning of “life” or “soul” and contextually bears the meaning of “feeling and emotions.”[14] Translated, “one mind” or “same mind” by the NASB, ESV, NET, NKJV and KJV, the text indicates that the apostle is exhorting his readers not only to have a cognitive understanding or “attitude” in 2:5, but also, they are to demonstrate a volitional, inward disposition towards Godly things as well. Hence, the “attitude” that Paul is exhorting for his readers in 2:5 addresses the entire Christian character, with the focus of this attitude as none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. In short, Paul is telling his readers in Philippi that they are to emulate the now exalted Son; a theme that runs throughout the New Testament.[15]


[1] Moises Silva, Philippians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2nd, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bruce, Locations 603-605.

[5] Being like-minded . . . being one in . . . purpose: Gk. hina to auto phronēte … the verb phronein . . . (which accounts for ten out of its twenty-three Pauline occurrences). It means “to think” in the sense of having a settled opinion or attitude, having one’s mind set in a particular way. Bruce, Locations 1621-1624.

[6] ESV Study Bible, (Good News Publishers, Crossway Books. Kindle Edition), Location 236335.

[7]Speaking of the origin of the “Carmen Christi,” F.F. Bruce states; “Whether it was Paul’s own composition or someone else’s, Paul incorporates it into his present argument in order to reinforce his plea for the cultivation of a humble spirit.” Bruce, Locations 1672-1673.

[8] Bruce, Location 1669.

[9] Ibid., 1670.

[10] In recognition that the text of Phil. 2:6-11 is most likely an ancient hymn of the infant church, it must be added that the author of this essay will proceed throughout this essay with the view that the text of 2:6-11 is of genuine Pauline authorship. The reason for this distinction is for the sole purpose of the grammatical content of the text itself, in relation to the author’s thesis. In short, it is not the intent of the author to attempt to confirm the historic origin of verses 6-11, but rather, to exegete their meaning in light of the absolute divinity of Christ.

[11] Unless otherwise noted; “Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org)

[12] W. Arndt, F.W. Danker, W. Bauer,  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd, (Chicago: IL, University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1066.  (Cited hereafter “BDAG”)

[13] “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.” Phil. 3:15, NASB.

[14] BDAG, 1099.

[15] C.f. Rom. 6:4, 8:4, Gal. 5:16, 25, Eph. 4:1, Col. 2:6, 1 Jn. 1:6, 2:6.

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