Exegesis of Philippians 2:5-11 (Verse 7)

Philippians 2:7

The apostle goes on to explain the nature of true and absolute humility when he qualifies Jesus’ “form” and forfeited “equality” in verse 7 when he states; “but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (NASB). The word “emptied” (κενόω > kenow) in verse 7 speaks of a “divestiture of position or prestige”[1] and has been the cause of much debate among scholars.[2] However, the interpretation taken in this essay sees Paul’s figurative use of κενόω (kenow) as a veiling, but retention of the Divine glory and attributes of the eternal Son. Meaning, it is not affirmed, as some do, that the Divine Son “gave up” any essential attributes that are associated with YHWH. God is immutable (Ps. 102:25-27 – c.f. Heb. 1:10-12), and hence, cannot change in His being. Rather, Jesus willingly “veiled” His glory and did not, in most instances (Matt. 9:4, Lk. 9:29), exercise the rightful use of His Divine attributes. Next, it must be noted that it is the Logos, via the pronoun ἑαυτὸν (eauton, “himself”), who is performing the act of “emptying.”[3] Meaning, the Son, under no coercion, willingly performed the humble act of κενόω (kenow) in verse 7; thus fitting into the apostle’s context and message.

Moreover, the final clause of verse 6 and the first clause of verse 7 have an amazing interrelationship that must be noted; “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied Himself” (Phil. 2:6b – 2:7a, NASB, emphasis added). The two clauses, interlinked by the conjunction “but” (ἀλλά > alla), explain the order of incarnation. The Son, in the form of God, did not regard His equality temporally prior[4] to the “Kenosis” and as a result, two “states” of the nature of Christ are presented to the reader in the text. The first is the pre-incarnate, Divine, second member of the Triune Godhead, with all the rights and privileges of YHWH (Phil. 2:6b). The second “state of being” presented by the apostle is that of the “emptied,” but still Divine Son, who “became flesh” (Jn. 1:14) to forever become the God-man (Phil. 2:7a).

Further explaining the “emptying” of the Son, the apostle goes on to proclaim that the κενόω (kenow) took place not by a subtraction of Divine attributes, but rather, by the addition of human μορφῇ (morphe). This self emptying of Christ is explained by the use of two participles, λαβών (labwn, “to take”)[5] and γενόμενος (genomenos, “to be born, to become”).[6] Jesus is said to have taken “the form of a servant,” which is than qualified by “being born in the likeness of men.” Hence, the self emptying consisted of the addition of the human nature, where the eternal Son, already possessing the morphe of God, takes on human morphe at the point of the incarnation. Wayne Grudem states on this issue; “We must first realize that no recognized teacher in the first  1,800 years of church history, including those who were native speakers of Greek, thought that ‘emptied Himself’ in Phil. 2:7 meant that the Son of God gave up some of His divine attributes . . . the text does describe what Jesus did in this ‘emptying’; he did not do it by giving up any of his attributes, but rather by taking ‘the form of a servant’, that is, by coming to live as a man.”[7]

As previously noted, according to verses 6-7, Jesus is the possessor of two “forms.” Meaning, if Jesus is truly man,[8] as many would agree, then, He is truly God. To take any other understanding of the uses of μορφῇ (morphe) in verses 6-7 would be equivocation. Hence, the reader is being told that Jesus is both God and man, possessing two natures via His kenow and incarnation.

[1] BDAG, 539. The quotation goes on to state; “Of Christ, who gave up the appearance of his divinity and took on the form of a slave.”

[2] Alternative views of Jesus’ “emptying” will not be dealt with in this essay. For a full treatment of the different views of the Kenosis, see: Alva. J. McClain. “The Doctrine of the Kenosis in Philippians 2:5-8.” TMS/9/1 (Spring 1998) 85-96.

[3] “The point is that Christ was more concerned about rescuing sinful human beings than holding on to his heavenly glory.”  Greenlee, Phil. 2:6.

[4] It is noted that the Son was not bound by time-space limitations in eternity past while He held equality with God in verse 6. However, Paul explains Christ’s “consideration” and “emptying” in the aorist; hence the use of “temporally prior.”

[5] BDAG, 538. The citation goes on to read, “μορφὴν δούλου λ. put on the form of a slave Phil 2:7.”

[6] Ibid, 196.

[7] Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 550.

[8] It is understood that the μορφῇ of verse 7 is specifically regarding Jesus’ taking the humble position as the servant of God. However, the points of verse 7 cannot be isolated apart from one another. It is the apostle’s intent to relay to the reader that Jesus’ μορφῇ is that of human nature, with the position of servitude being governed by the act of incarnation itself; hence the qualifier; “being born in the likeness of men.”