When the entirety of the Pauline Corpus is considered, perhaps the pinnacle of Paul’s theological thought in relation to the nature of the divine Son is found in his Epistle to the Philippians. In chapter two of the Epistle, the apostle engages in a theological testimonial of the Son via his use of what has become known as the Carmen Christi, or, “The Christ Hymn,” where in verses 6-11, the apostle describes the eternal nature of the divine Son, to include His incarnation, humiliation and vindication. It is the latter of these divine trusts that this essay will focus on, seeking to explain Paul’s usage of the Carmen Christi in the proclamation of Christ’s full divinity as God incarnate; the eternal second member of the Triune Godhead and YHWH Himself.

With these concepts in mind, along with the exegetical richness of the Carmen Christi in view, there is doubtless theological nourishment to be gleaned from the study of this most vital God inspired text. Hence, the objective of this effort is multifold. First, it will be demonstrated via a general evaluation of the context that Paul has in view the divine Son, pre-incarnate, who existed in both the form of God and who held isa or equality with God, Himself being very God. Next, after an evaluation of the context, this project will focus on Phil 2:9-11, demonstrating that Paul is attributing the divine name of YHWH to the Son. This will be demonstrated by, (1) an exegetical evaluation of the grammar of verses 9-11, (2) Paul’s use of Isa 45:23 and (3) Paul’s use of κύριος (kurios > Lord)  and its Septuagintal meaning in relation to Isa 45:23.


     Moises Silva notes that the letter to the Philippians “was certainly written by Paul of Tarsus to a Christian church in the city of Philippi, province of Macedonia,”[1] further stating that this church “had been founded by Paul himself in the early 50’s of the first century (Acts 16).”[2] Silva places the penning of this Epistle in “the late 50’s or early 60’s,”[3] with F.F. Bruce providing the more narrow date of the “early A.D. 60,”[4] and Kostenberger placing the authoring of this Epistle “around 59.”[5]

The main theme of the the text is one which deals with Christian unity and encouragement, where the apostle “wants to encourage the Philippians to live out their lives as citizens of a heavenly colony, as evidenced by a growing commitment to service to God and to one another.”[6] Unity and humility are the top concepts on Paul’s agenda in this letter and because of this, he exhorts the Philippians throughout the discourse to have “one mind” (1:27), the “same mind” (2:2) and “humility of mind” (2:3). This emphasis on humility becomes a main teaching point by the apostle in the early portions of chapter 2, as will be demonstrated below.

As noted in the Introduction of this essay, the text of Philippians 2:6-11, better known as the Carmen Christi is of special interest. Cast in rhythmical prose, “Like many other early Christian hymns,”[7] this ancient hymn is a “recital of the saving work of God in Christ, in self-humiliation followed by exaltation.”[8] Paul’s use of this hymn runs parallel with his previous exhortation, namely, that the church at Philippi should have humility in mind and spirit. Paul grounds his exhortation in the example of the Son, who willingly forfeited His position of exhalation and divine privilege for the sake of the others. Hence, the Christians in Philippi, following the example of the eternal Son, should do the same regarding their earthly privileges, as noted the text in verse 5 of chapter 2.


     The understanding of the entirety of the Carmen Christi is most vital to a proper understanding of the subject thesis, hence, a brief evaluation of verses 6-8 is in order. In the initial portions of the text, the apostle introduces vital concepts via the eternality, equality and divesture of the divine Son. Hence, the apostle introduces vital concepts that are pertinent to the overall understanding of his argumentation in this chapter; which is nothing less than a proclamation about the objective nature of the Son as YHWH.


Philippians 2:6

The apostle begins this section by proclaiming in the first clause that the Son existed “in the form of God” (Phil 2:6a. LEB). The apostle initially references the Sons existence via the use of the word ὑπάρχων (huparchwn),[9] a word which proves to be vital to the overall understanding of the remainder of the Carmen Christi. As present active participle, ὑπάρχων (huparchwn) is defined by the BDAG as being “in a state or circumstance.”[10] James R. White speaks to the significance of this word when he states, “The first phrase of verse 6 sets the tone for the theological discussion to follow. Paul says that Christ was ‘existing’ (huparchon) in the ‘form of God’. . . The participle is . . . ‘timeless’ in that it does not point to any moment when Jesus ‘started’ to exist . . . Christ has always been in the form of God.”[11]

Paul’s use of the timeless huparchon in verse 6 is interconnected with his use of the word “form” (μορφὴν > morphe) in the remainder of the first clause, where it is stated that the Son “existed in the form of God.” The Greek word μορφὴν (morphe), which generally means “form, outward appearance, shape”[12] according to the BDAG, in this context carries with it a much more focused meaning of “substance” or “nature” (oὐσία  > ousia), as noted by Dennis W. Jowers when he proclaims;

The interpretation of μορφῇ in Phil 2:6–7 as equivalent, in meaning or at least in reference, to oὐσία commands widespread allegiance among evangelical scholars as well. F. F. Bruce, for instance, follows Lightfoot in holding that “the noun morphe ‘implies not the external accidents but the essential attributes.’” Leon Morris, likewise, believes that, by describing Christ as ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ, Paul unambiguously ascribes deity to him. “It is not easy,” writes Morris, “to see ‘being in the form of God’ as meaning anything less.”

I. H. Marshall, similarly, affirms that in Phil 2:6–7 “there is described the way in which a being who had the nature of God renounced the privileges of that state and took on the form of a human servant of God.” David J. MacLeod contends that μορφῇ in Phil 2:6–7 “refers to nature or essence.” In the view of Gerald Hawthorne, verse 6a indicates that “Christ was God, possessed of the very nature of God.” Gordon Fee identifies the phrases ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ and ἴσα θεῷ as “among the strongest expressions of Christ’s deity in the NT”; and Richard Melick declares that “the NIV correctly translates ‘in the form of God’ as ‘in very nature God.’”[13]

As noted by Jowers and by the evaluation of many scholars in the academy, morphe and its interconnection to ousia relays to the reader that Christ not simply held a form, but rather, He existed in the “form of God” (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ).  This understanding is coupled with the second clause, which speaks to the Sons equality with theos, as noted where the text reads that the Son “did not consider being equal with God something to be grasped” (Phil 2:6b, LEB). Here, the Greek word ἴσα (isa) is used to designate the Son’s eternal equality with theos (God), as noted in the BDAG when it defines this word as “being equivalent in number, size, quality, equal.”[14] James Montgomery Boice states the following regarding the apostle’s use of the word “equal” or ἴσα (isa), “Paul’s use of this word in reference to Jesus teaches that Jesus is equal to God.”[15] N.T Wright concurs with Boice’s assessment when he states that “The point of verse 6 is that Jesus was indeed already equal with God; somehow Paul is saying that Jesus already existed even before he became a human being (verse 7).”[16] With Boice and Wright’s words in mind, it is helpful to look to the NIV (2011), which translates this clause, “did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage,” capturing both the English meaning of the verse and Paul’s teaching lesson of humility in its Dynamic[17] rendering.

Philippians 2:7

    Having now explained the Son’s eternal existence, morphe (of theos) and equality with theos (God), the apostle continues his thought when he states that the Son “emptied” (κενόω > kenow)[18] Himself in verse 7 of the text. This verse is not to be misunderstood as Christ relinquishing any of His divine attributes, but rather, as a veiling of His attributes. Moreover, the kenow of verse 7 took place not by the subtraction of qualities, but rather, by the addition of humanity, as noted by the use of two participles, λαβών (labwn, “to take”)[19] and γενόμενος (genomenos, “to be born, to become”).[20] Hence, the “emptying” that took place was Jesus’ taking the morphe of a servant (μορφὴν δούλου λαβών > “taking [the] form [of a] servant”)[21] and “being born in the likeness of men.” Wayne Grudem explains, “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.”[22]

Philippians 2:8

Verse 8 reads, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8, ESV). Consistent with Paul’s theme, the Son here is said to have humbled Himself by (1) taking human form and by being (2) obedience to death; even a cross death. Bruce notes the significance of both points when he states via Cicero, “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.’”[23]

Thus, the obedience and death of the Son was the culmination of the humility of the Son, the one who existed both in the form of God and held equality with God (v. 6). The end of verse 8 ends the humility section of the Carmen Christi, with the context next shifting from humiliation to vindication and exaltation.



     Verses 9-11 of the Carmen Christi, which are the main focus of the thesis of this essay, read in the ESV as follows, “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” (Phil 2:9-11, ESV). Before proceeding, some general comments are in order to help set the stage for Paul’s remarkable proclamation of the Son as YHWH. First, verse 9 clearly associates the previous portions of the Carmen Christi with what is to follow in verses 9-11. This is first noted by the apostle’s use of the conjunction διό (dio) at the beginning of verse 9.  Translated “For this reason” by the NASB and “Therefore” by the ESV and LEB, διό (dio)  grammatically summarizes all of the previous points as found in verses 6-8 which were previously discussed (“equality” v. 6, “emptied” v. 7, “taking” v. 7, “being born” v. 7, “obedient even to the point of death on a cross” v. 8).

Next, it is proper to note that come verse 9, it is no longer the Son who is performing the actions of the text, but rather, God, who is qualified as the Father in verse 11. This is in stark contrast to verses 6-8, where the pronouns dictate that Jesus was the one who was self-giving and self-emptying. In short, it was the Son’s desire and willingness that brought about both His incarnation and his propitiatory sacrifice on the cross,[24] a selfless action which leads to the Father’s exaltation of the now incarnate God-man in the remainder of the Carmen Christi. This latter point serves as the foundation for the Son’s vindication and exaltation contextually, as seen beginning in verse 9.

Philippians 2:9

After announcing that God was highly exalting the Son for His previous acts of selfless humility, Paul proclaims in the latter portion of verse 9 that Jesus, in His now incarnate state and after his sufferings, was given “the name above every name.” The immediate context of such a statement offers some helpful suggestions as to what the apostle has as his reference point in such a statement. First, the author of Philippians, Paul, was a monotheistic Jew and also a Pharisee. Hence, he was well acquainted with the OT Scriptures and in this sense, would have known that “the name” above all names was that of the Tetragrammaton, or rather, the divine name of God, YHWH. Philip Ryken states the significance of this point when he states of the divine name, “Yahweh, sometimes called the tetragrammaton because in Hebrew it consists of four letters: YHWH. Literally, God’s name means “I am who I am,” or “I will be who I will be.” It speaks of God’s self-existence, self-sufficiency, and supreme sovereignty.[25]

Likewise, Peterson and Morgan rightly state regarding verse 9b that “the Father graciously bestows on him the name above all names, i.e., his own name—Lord—along with all that is entailed in that name.”[26] Finally, Bruce notes that that “the name” contextually must be in reference to the Tetragrammaton when he states, “The name is the ineffable name of the God of Israel, spelt with the consonants YHWH.”[27]

But how could the Son be given τὸ ὄνομα (to onoma) or “the name,” if He was indeed in the morphe of God and equal to God, as previously noted? The answer to this lies in the kenosis, incarnation and hypostatic union of the Son, where the Word became flesh (Jn 1:14) due to His perfect love and submission to the Father, even to the point of death. This rejection, which later leads to Jesus’ crucifixion, result in the exaltation of the Son as the Messiah of God, where the incarnate God-man (via His hypostatic union)[28] is vindicated and raised back to His previous position of glory and honor (c.f. Jn 17:5)  as the exalted second member of the Trinity. Hence, the Father attributes to the Son “the name” of YHWH and He is vindicated as being such, only now, He is both the morphe of God and the morphe of servant, being made as a man to redeem men.

On this same note, Paul, the faithful Jew, utilizes the terms “the name” in a manner that likewise points to the divine name of YHWH. This is realized on two levels. First, Jews had a prohibition against the use of the divine name, opting rather to utilize substitutes such as “G_D,” “Adonia” and “Elohim.” One of these substitutes was that of hashem (הַשֵּׁם) or “the name” in the Hebrew Scriptures. This is noted in Lev 24:11 where the text reads “and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed” (Lev 24:11, ESV). Here, “the Name” is substituted for the divine name of YHWH, as noted just one verse later where the Tetragrammaton is utilized. Moreover, the LXX rendering of this verse uses the terms τὸ ὄνομα (to onoma) in substitute of הַשֵּׁם in its translation, which is in exact parallel to Paul’s usage in his Greek NT text, as noted in the NA-28 with his use of the words το ονομα (to onoma > “the name”). Kostenberger notes the the implications that follow such bold terminology regarding the Son;

The Jews referred to God using substitutions for the divine name. Approved substitutions were called kinnuyim. The common substitutions were “Lord” (Adonai); “the Name” (Hb. Hashem); “the Separate name”; “God’s own name”; and “the name of four letters” (tetragrammaton). In Phil 2: 9 Paul used the kinnuyim “the name” (with the definite article in Greek) and further described this name as that “above every name.” Every Jew in Philippi who heard this phrase would automatically recognize these words as an allusion to the divine name. Paul identified this supreme divine name in the confession “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Since the Greek title “Lord” (kyrios) was the translation of the name “Yahweh” in the OT and since the description “name above every other name” is a clear example of kinnuyim, Paul explicitly identified Jesus as God who possesses the very name of God.[29]

With Kostenberger’s thoughts in mind, there is at least a three-fold avenue which leads to Jesus being referred to as YHWH in verse 9. First, Jesus is granted “the name above every name,” which is contextually and historically the name of YHWH and there is no ambiguity in this statement. Next, “the name” is demonstrated to be the divine name due to its positional nature, for no other name is higher, and (third) due to the LXX rendering of Lev 24:11, which corresponds with Phil 2:9 when the Greek terms are evaluated.

Philippians 2:10

In verse 10 of Philippians 2, the apostle supports his assertion of Jesus being the incarnate YHWH via a direct citation of the Isa 45:23 which reads, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return. ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’” (Isa 45:23, ESV). This OT verse is undoubtedly transferred to the Son in Phil 2:10, as noted above, and just one verse later in Isaiah (via v. 24, c.f. 25), the context demands that YHWH is the subject of the text via the use of the divine name.[30] Moreover, the apostle utilizes this direct citation in relationship to the words “so at the name of Jesus” (Phil 2:10a), thus interconnecting the incarnate name of the Son with His newly exalted position as the incarnate God-man via His hypostatic union. Thus, the name of “Jesus” is at least parallel to the divine name, although, it would be more accurate to proclaim that to profess the name of Jesus is to announce the name of YHWH.

Notice also that at the name of Jesus, “every knee shall bow.” Thus, “Jesus is the recipient of the homage” [31]  that is reserved for YHWH alone, as noted by the context of Isa 45:23 (and YHWH will not give His glory to another, Isa 48:11, c.f. Jn 17:5). White explains, “In context, this passage is specifically about Yahweh, the God of Israel . . . Yet Paul quotes from this passage and says that it is to Jesus that every knee shall bow . . . How can Paul say this? Does he believe in more than one God? Certainly not! But he realizes that both the Father and the Son are worthy of the name Yahweh.”[32] With this noted and in light of verse 9, there is little doubt as to the identity of the one who suffered on the cross in abject humility. He is YHWH the Son, the incarnate Christ who holds the morphe of God in full isa or equality.

Philippians 2:11

Verse 11 continues Paul’s thought from the previous verse, proclaiming further homage that shall be paid to the Son in the form of verbal reorganization of His deity (vindication) as well as a confession that Jesus Christ is Lord (exaltation). Interestingly, 2:11 is intimately connected to verse 9 in that it provides yet another avenue of description regarding Jesus’ position of deity as YHWH God. This comes via the profession by every tongue that Jesus Christ is κύριος (kurios > Lord). The significance of this term (kurios) in the Greek is found when the LXX is referenced in regards to the substitution of the divine. For example, in Isa 45:25, the Hebrew text utilizes the divine name YHWH as the subject of verse 23. However, in the LXX, the authors substituted the term kurios for the divine name, the very term utilized by Paul in Phil 2:11 as the proclamation of “every tongue.” With this in mind, it is safe to say that the apostle structured this verse to be all inclusive, exhausting nearly every term in the interrelated texts to explain to his audience that Jesus Christ is YHWH.[33]

Finally, regarding this verse, Wright states the following, “Here, then, is his point: the God who will not share his glory with anyone else has shared it—with Jesus. Jesus, therefore, must somehow be identified as one who from all eternity was ‘equal with God’. And his progression through incarnation to death must be seen, not as something which required him as it were to stop being God for a while, but as the perfect self-expression of the true God.”[34]


     When all things are considered, there is multi-fold testimony that the Son is in fact, YHWH God. First, in verse 9, the Son is given “the Name” (Heb. hashem, c.f. Lev 24:11) above all names, or, the Tetragrammaton. Next verse 10 utilizes a YHWH specific passage to transfer this point more clearly, as noted by the apostle’s use of Isa 45:23 (which cannot be removed from its context); all the while maintaining that the name of the Son, Jesus, is equal to YHWH and should be viewed in light of the divine name. Next, verse 11 states that all of those in creation will profess that Jesus Christ is kurios, as noted in the LXX’s substitution of this term in replacement of the divine name, YHWH.

With these points in mind, it is the opinion of the author that the thesis of this essay has been established, stating that Paul utilized both the divine name and associated passages in the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the divine God (God-man). Jesus Christ, the divine Son is YHWH incarnate, the second member of the Trinity, and Himself fully divine.

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] F.F. Bruce, Philippians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book Group, 2011). 603-605, Kindle.

[5] Andreas Köstenberger, Scott L. Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2009), 14263.

[6] ESV Study Bible, (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers/Crossway Books, 2008), 236323-236324).

[7] Bruce, Philippians, 1669.

[8] Ibid., 1670.

[9] The BDAG defines this word as follows; huparchwn, “to be,” or “to exist” BDAG, 1029.

[10] Ibid., 1029.

[11] James R. White. “The Pre-existence of Christ in Scripture, Patristics and Creed.” Alpha and Omega Ministries. (accessed Feb. 11, 2012).

[12] BDAG, 659.

[13] Dennis W. Jowers. “The Meaning of Morphe in Philippians 2:6-7.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 49, no. 4 (December 2006), 763.

[14] BDAG, 480.

[15] James M. Boice. Foundations of the Christian Faith. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1986, 269.  Krause states, “Boice’s comment is quite revealing when one considers the accusative noun, “grasped,” in relation to the “equality” (ἴσα) previously mentioned.  The “grasping” (ἁρπαγμὸν > harpagmon) according to the verse can mean “violent seizure or robbery”[15] as noted in the KJV, NKJV traditions,. However, is contextually inappropriate. Rather, ἁρπαγμὸν (harpagmon) in this context is most likely referring to “grasping” or “something claimed.”[15] If correct, the image being relayed to the reader is of the Son’s full equality (“being in the form of God”) and His willing forfeiture of that equality.” Jeffrey Krause, EXEGESIS OF PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11, written for Liberty University, March, 2012.

[16] N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004) 102.

[17] As in Dynamic Equivalence/translation, up and against the Formal Equivalence of the KJV, ESV, LEB and NASB.

[18] Louw-Nida defines this term as, “κενόω: to completely remove or eliminate elements of high status or rank by eliminating all privileges or prerogatives associated with such status or rank—‘to empty oneself, to divest oneself of position.’ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν ‘he emptied himself’ Php 2:7.” J. P Louw, E. A Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains . Vol. 1. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1996) np.

[19] BDAG, 538.

[20] Ibid., 196.

[21] If Jesus was truly in the morphe of a servant, which is qualified in v. 7 as “being born in the likeness of men,” then it follows that Jesus is truly God as noted in v. 6, being in the morphe of theos.

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

[23] Bruce, Philippians, 1940-1941.

[24] Robertson states the following on this point, “It is a voluntary humiliation on the part of Christ and for this reason Paul is pressing the example of Christ upon the Philippians, this supreme example of renunciation.: A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, (Nashville, TN: Holman Publishers, 2000), 11608-11609, Kindle.

[25] Philip G Ryken,. Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 86.

[26] Robert A., Peterson, Christopher W. Morgan, The Deity of Christ (Theology in Community), (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishers, 2011), 126.

[27] F.F. Bruce, The International Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 1445.

[28] David Mathis notes that the following regarding the Hypostatic Union, “Jesus has two complete natures—one fully human and one fully divine. What the doctrine of the hypostatic union teaches is that these two natures are united in one person in the God-man. Jesus is not two persons. He is one person. The hypostatic union is the joining of the divine and the human in the one person of Jesus. David. Mathis, “What is the Hypostatic Union?” Desiring God. 12 19, 07. (accessed 03 06, 13).

[29] Kostenberger, Cradle, Cross, Crown, 17626-17633.

[30] Isa 45:24 reads, “Only in the LORD (Heb. YHWH), it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him” (Isa 45:24, ESV: Hebrew supplement provided by the author).

[31] J.H. Greenlee, An Exegetical Summary of Philippians: Instutute of Linguistics, (Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics, Logos Bible, 1992) Phil 2:10.

[32] James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief, (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1998), 128.

[33] On this point, it is helpful to note that the “Bible” of the first century for the apostles was that of the Greek LXX. In noting this, the term “Lord” or kurios is more significant of a term than that of theos, due to the LXX’s handling of the divine name. By their use of kurios, who would the apostles have in view via the LXX tradition? It would undoubtedly be YHWH, the covenant God of Israel, if consistency persisted.

[34] Wright, Paul for Everyone, 103.


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—. “The Pre-existence of Christ in Scripture, Patristics and Creed.” Alpha and Omega Ministries. (accessed 12 05, 2012).

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