1.5 "Being in the form of God" (Phil. 2)
“Jesus...being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped at, to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:5-11).
These verses are taken to mean that Jesus was God, but at his birth he became a man. If this is true, then every point made in Studies 7 and 8 must be explained away too. It is submitted that one verse cannot be allowed to contradict the general tenor of Bible teaching. It is significant that this is almost the only passage which can be brought forward to explain away the ‘missing link’ in trinitarian reasoning - how Jesus transferred himself from being God in Heaven to being a baby in Mary’s womb. The following analysis seeks to demonstrate what this passage really means.
1. There are a number of almost incidental phrases within this passage which flatly contradict the trinitarian idea.
a) “God also has highly exalted” Jesus “and given him a name” (v.9) shows that Jesus did not exalt himself - God did it. It follows that he was not in a state of being exalted before God did this to him, at his resurrection.
b) The whole process of Christ’s humbling of himself and subsequent exaltation by God was to be “to the glory of God the Father” (v.11). God the Father is not, therefore, co-equal with the Son.
2. The context of this passage must be carefully considered. Paul does not just start talking about Jesus ‘out of the blue’. He refers to the mind of Jesus in Phil. 2:5. Back in Phil. 1:27 Paul starts to speak of the importance of our state of mind. This is developed in the early verses of chapter 2: “Being of one accord, of one mind...in lowliness of mind...look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus...” (Phil. 2:2-5). Paul is therefore speaking of the importance of having a mind like that of Jesus, which is devoted to the humble service of others. The verses which follow are therefore commenting upon the humility of mind which Jesus demonstrated, rather than speaking of any change of nature.
3. Jesus was “in the form of God”. We have shown in Study 8.3 that Jesus was of human nature, and therefore this cannot refer to Christ having a Divine nature. The N.I.V. translation of this passage goes seriously wrong here. In passing, it has to be noted that some modern translations designed for ‘easy reading’, tend to gloss over the precise meaning of the Greek text, and tend to give a paraphrase rather than a translation in certain passages. Phil.2:5-8 is a classic example of this. However, this is not to decry their use in other ways.
That “form” (Greek ‘morphe’) cannot refer to essential nature is proved by Phil. 2:7 speaking of Christ taking on “the form of a servant”. He had the form of God, but he took on the form of a servant. The essential nature of a servant is no different to that of any other man. In harmony with the context, we can safely interpret this as meaning that although Jesus was perfect, he had a totally God-like mind, yet he was willing to take on the demeanour of a servant. Some verses later Paul encourages us to become “conformable unto (Christ’s) death” (Phil. 3:10). We are to share the ‘morphe’, the form of Christ which he showed in his death. This cannot mean that we are to share the nature which he had then, because we have human nature already. We do not have to change ourselves to have human nature, but we need to change our way of thinking, so that we can have the ‘morphe’ or mental image which Christ had in his death.
The Greek word ‘morphe’ means an image, impress or resemblance. Human beings are spoken of as having “a form (‘morphe’) of Godliness” (2 Tim. 3:5). Gal. 4:19 speaks of “Christ (being) formed in” believers. Because he had a perfect character, a perfectly God-like way of thinking, Jesus was “in the form of God”. Because of this, Jesus did not consider equality with God “something to be grasped at”. This totally disproves the theory that Jesus was God. According to the N.I.V. translation, Jesus did not for a moment entertain the idea of being equal with God; he knew that he was subject to God, and not co-equal with Him.
4. Christ “made himself of no reputation”, or “emptied himself” (R.V.), alluding to the prophecy of his crucifixion in Is. 53:12: “He poured out his soul unto death”. He “took upon himself the form (demeanour) of a servant” by his servant-like attitude to his followers (Jn. 13:14), demonstrated supremely by his death on the cross (Mt. 20:28). Is. 52:14 prophesied concerning Christ’s sufferings that on the cross “his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men”. This progressive humbling of himself “unto death, even the death of the cross” was something which occurred during his life and death, not at his birth. We have shown the context of this passage to relate to the mind of Jesus, the humility of which is being held up to us as an example to copy. These verses must therefore speak of Jesus’ life on earth, in our human nature, and how he humbled himself, despite having a mind totally in tune with God, to consider our needs.
5. If Christ was God in nature and then left that behind and took human nature, as trinitarians attempt to interpret this passage, then Jesus was not “very God” while on earth; yet trinitarians believe that he was. This all demonstrates the contradictions which are created by subscribing to a man-made definition such as the trinity.
6. Finally, a point concerning the phrase “being in the form of God”. The Greek word translated “being” does not mean ‘being originally, from eternity’. Acts 7:55 speaks of Stephen “being full of the Holy Spirit”. He was full of the Holy Spirit then and had been for some time before; but he had not always been full of it. Other examples will be found in Lk. 16:23; Acts 2:30; Gal. 2:14. Christ “being in the form of God” therefore just means that he was in God’s form (mentally); it does not imply that he was in that form from the beginning of time.