Exegesis of Philippians 2:5-11 (Verses 8-9)

Philippians 2:8

Verse 8 begins with a reiteration of Paul’s previous statement about the incarnation; “Being found in appearance as a man” (Phil. 2:8a, NASB, emphasis added).[9]  Paul, a faithful Jew, seemingly uses a form of parallelism to stress the essential point of Jesus’ “self addition” of humanity; thus qualifying further his use of morphe of verses 6-7. The apostle then reiterates his teaching topic of humility in the remainder of the verse; “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8b-c, NASB). The eternal Son, the second member of the Trinity, who eternally existed in the “form of God,” willingly took on/added human form to become the obedient “Suffering Servant” (Isa. 53), to die a human death; even a cross death. Note the words of F.F. Bruce concerning the significance of the “cross death” that Jesus willing undertook; “Death on a cross was, in Cicero’s words, ‘the most cruel and abominable form of punishment’. . . the very word ‘cross,’ he said, ‘should be foreign not only to the body of a Roman citizen, but to his thoughts, his eyes, his ears.’”[10]

Philippians 2:9

Having now explained the act of humility that the Logos undertook, the apostle shifts his thought from humiliation to exaltation when he states in verse 9; “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (NASB). The conjunction διό (dio) translated “For this reason” by the NASB and “Therefore” by the ESV and Lexham grammatically summarizes all of the previous points (“did not count equality” v. 6, “emptied himself” v. 7, “taking” v. 7, “being born” v. 7, “becoming obedient to the point of death” v. 8) of Christ’s self humiliation.[11] Greenlee limits the use of διό (dio) to verse 8 when he proclaims, “It indicates the consequence (the reward) of Christ’s actions mentioned in 2:8,”[12] but, this narrow view does not seem to take into account the whole of Paul’s argument throughout the discourse. Rather, the Son’s “consideration,” “emptying,” “taking” and “death” seem to be in view in regards to His subsequent exaltation. Thus, the Son’s act of self humiliation resulted in two acts by the Father; (1) “highly exalted” (ὑπερυψόω > huperupsow) and (2) “bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (χαρίζομαι > charizomai). Here, the question could be raised; “How can the Son, who eternally existed in the ‘form’ of God, who held equality with God be exalted higher than His position of the second person of the Trinity?” The answer to this question is found in Paul’s previous discussion on Christ’s Divine μορφῇ (morphe), humility, emptying, incarnation and humiliation. Jesus is raised back to His previous and rightful position of glory and exhalation that He held pre-incarnation.[13] However, it is now the God-man who is seated in the position of glorification. Charles Hodge explains;

This divine person, clothed in man’s nature, humbled Himself even unto death, even to the death of the cross. Therefore He (not God, or the divine nature in Christ, but the Theanthropos), is exalted above every name that is named, “that at the name of Jesus (i.e., the name of the Theanthropos, as it is He as a divine person clothed in the nature of man, who is the object of worship), every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” This is an exhaustive amplification. It includes the whole rational creation, from the highest archangel to the weakest saint; all, all that have life acknowledge Christ to be what God alone can be, their supreme and absolute Lord.[14]

     Hodge’s use of “divine person” and “Theanthropos” are very revealing. As previously stated, it is the entirety of the Son who is now glorified. It is the “God-man” who is now beside the “right hand” of the Father, reigning in glory. Jesus is and forever will be, “the Word” made flesh and rightfully exalted as the second person of the Trinity. Famed Greek scholar A.T. Robertson concurs with the presented argument when he states of the exalted God-man; “He had not lost ‘the form of God,’ but He had ‘emptied himself’ of the majesty and dignity in His Pre-incarnate state. This He received again and sat in transcendent glory at the right hand of God on high . . . Paul does not here say in what the ‘superior’ dignity consists which Christ did not have before His Incarnation. I agree with Ellicott that it is His Humanity which was permanently added to His Divinity. He is the Son of man now as well as the Son of God which He was before.”[15]

Next, 2:9b, a subordinate clause of 2:9a proclaims that the Son is given “the name which is above every name.”  This clause has been no small source of controversy within the circles of scholarship and is highly debated. Is the name given to Jesus the “Tetragrammaton,” that being the name of YHWH? Could it be the human name which the Son already possessed, Jesus? Or, could “the name” be a combination of these two ideas? It is the third of these possibilities[16] that the author supports in this essay, for a number of reasons. The name give to Jesus is the “Tetragrammaton,” which is proclaimed with the utterance of the name of the God-man, Jesus. First, it is impossible to be granted a name higher than that of YHWH, the Divine name of God. Yet, verse 10, which adds context to the issue at hand, proclaims; “so that at the name of Jesus,” seemingly indicating that it is the name of “Jesus” that is “given” in 2:9b. Moreover, Jesus is not given “a name” according to verse 9. Rather, He is given “τὸ ὄνομα” (“to onoma”) or “the name,” which seems to correspond with the Divine name of YHWH.[17] Paul’s argument is clear when the whole of the “Carmen Christi” is considered. Jesus, having been in eternity past, in the μορφῇ (morphe) of θεός (theos) and equal to θεός (theos), willing surrendered that equality and emptied Himself. The result of this “emptying” was that of the God-man, who willing took the form of a servant to die in obedience for the sins of God’s people. He is than restored to His previous position of glory, which was rightly His as the second member of the Trinity, but now as the incarnate Christ. Hence, it is the one man Jesus, with both natures, human and Divine, that is exalted. Therefore, to proclaim the name of Jesus is to proclaim the name of YHWH; a point further indicated by Paul’s citation of Isaiah 45:23, in Philippians 2:10.


[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.”

[9] “in appearance,” σχήματι, “’appearance’ . . .  ‘outward appearance’ [BAGD],  ‘likeness’ [TEV] . . . This word relates to external appearance . . . In this context this word combines with μορφή ‘form’ and ὁμοίωμα ‘likeness’ to emphasize Christ’s full identity with mankind. Greenlee, Phil. 2:8.

[10] Bruce, Locations 1940-1941.

[11] An appropriate paraphrase would be; “Because of all of this, God has highly exalted Him. . .”

 [12] Greenlee, Phil. 2:9.

[13] C.f. Matt. 28:18, John 17:5, Acts 2:34-35.

[14] Hodge, 514.

[15] Archibald T. Robertson,  Paul’s Joy in Christ; Studies in Philippians, (New York, Chicago. Fleming H. Revell Company), Locations 1628-1632.

[16] There are other positions posited regarding this issue, but, will not be dealt with for the sake of brevity. J.H. Greenlee sets forth the possible orthodox positions; “It is ‘Lord’ [Blm, EBC, EGT, GNC, HNTC, Lt, MNTC, NIC, Pl, TH, TNTC, WBC]. Christ already had the name ‘Jesus’ during his incarnation [EBC]. It is equal to God, the highest possible title and authority [EBC, EGT, GNC, HNTC, MNTC, NIC, TNTC, WBC], the equivalent of Yahweh [GNC, Mou, Pl]. It involves not merely a title but also full authority [HNTC, WBC]. 2.The name is ‘Jesus’, which God has made to be the most exalted and glorious of all names [Alf, El, My(D), WEC] with full divine power and lordship combined [El, My(D)]. 3. It is ‘Jesus Christ’, combining the human and the Messianic names [ICC]. 4. It is ‘Jesus Christ the Lord’ with the full implications of each of the components [WC]. 5. It does not refer to a specific name but to rank and dignity [LT].” Greenlee, Phil. 2:9.

[17] J.H. Greenlee states in support of this premises; “The definite article with this noun indicates that it is a name which is known and honored.”  Greenlee, Phil. 2:9.

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