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Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV):

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

How do non-trinitarians (and those who deny the divinity of Jesus in general) interpret this passage?

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  • @Kris - what about NRSV? – Spirit Realm Investigator Feb 14 at 2:36
  • I think that’s a good edit. – Kris Feb 14 at 2:39
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    There are at LEAST three different kinds of "non-trinitarians", namely, Unitarians 9including modalists); Arians (including full Arians and semi-Arians) and Binitarians. Binitarians would interpret Phil 2:5-8 exactly the same way as Trinitarians. So, from whom do you seek an answer? – Dottard Feb 14 at 4:18
  • @Dottard - good point. Maybe a non-trinitarian "overview" answer would be great? – Spirit Realm Investigator Feb 14 at 4:26
  • In the usual use of the term, "non-trinitarians," i.e. those who do not accept the Nicene Trinity of Persons, do not necessarily deny the divinity of Jesus. To name two presently-existing groups, both Oneness Pentecostals and Swedenborgians accept the divinity of Jesus while rejecting the Trinity of Persons. The question as asked therefore tends to exclude the views of these two groups. – Lee Woofenden Feb 24 at 7:55
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There are many possibilities here. As @Dottard notes, 'non-trinitarian' encompasses a large number of views. IMO it is very difficult to maintain a position that Jesus isn't divine ("those who deny the divinity of Jesus in general") while also taking the Gospels seriously - the question rather is whether Jesus is God properly speaking or divine in some significant and unique sense. So it's important to phrase the question correctly, and eliding this difference is creating a 'false dichotomy' of God or (typical) human.

@User47952 makes lots of good points, but my basic approach with this text would be to note the dog that doesn't bark.

If St. Paul thought Jesus was God, why wouldn't he straightforwardly say so? Why would we be straining at passages that talk about how Jesus was 'in the form of God'? Why not just say 'Jesus is God'? Why wouldn't St. Paul say 'God the Son' instead of 'Son of God' (as in Romans 1:4), or something similar?

One answer from a non-trinitarian perspective is straightforward - Jesus is a divine being - privileged as an intermediary and given authority from God, seated at the 'right hand' (such as Matthew 26:64) of God - but not God. Because he is a divine being, he is in some sense equal to God, but the emphasis is put on some sense, and this is exactly why we don't see outright claims that Jesus = God in the New Testament.

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  • "[...] and this is exactly why we don't see outright claims that Jesus = God in the New Testament" - but v6 says "equality with God", and John 1:1 also says "[...] and the Word was God". – Spirit Realm Investigator Feb 16 at 18:48
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator Equality in what sense? If Jesus were God full stop, in what sense could he be 'exploiting' that? It doesn't make sense. – One God the Father Feb 16 at 18:50
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    A good question, which I already asked: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/55612/… – Spirit Realm Investigator Feb 16 at 18:53
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator John 1:1 is slightly different, and a non-trinitarian must either 1. say 'the Word was God' is an incorrect interpretation, or 2. hold that Jesus isn't actually the Word. My view is 1., and is in line with Moffatt's translation of John 1:1. There, the translation is "The Logos existed in the very beginning, the Logos was with God, the Logos was divine." bibliatodo.com/en/the-bible/james-moffatt-new-testament/john-1 This has the advantage of making sense (how can you be with someone and also be that someone, as the typical translation has it)? – One God the Father Feb 16 at 18:54
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator I should add that the phrase 'equality with God' implies difference, not sameness. If Paul had said 'equality with the Father', one could plausibly argue that the Father and the Son = God. But the phrase itself suggests there's Jesus, and then there's God, and then there's equality in some sense. – One God the Father Feb 16 at 19:45
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Any understanding must be true to two things,

  1. The text in focus
  2. All other scripture must be accommodated and not comprised or ignored.

Any interpretation must maintain these two standards.

While many translations have attempted to decipher this verse in isolation, we must include other texts before we draw any conclusions.

Jesus is holy, without sin, and the full expression of the Father. It is this reality that enables the ‘nature of God’ NIV. We must not assume what ‘nature’ means.

Possibilities might include,

  1. being the same as God in life force and immortality - being spirit.
  2. having the same pure and holy intention - (being uncorrupted by sin)

We know Jesus was not immortal (Rom 6:9, 1 Pet 3:18), we also know he was not spirit - as a man on earth, or after ascension. There is no mention of Jesus prior to the gospels, so we must not make stuff up to suit our own purposes. Certainly he was prophesied - but not as God coming in the form of a man. He would be a descendant of Abraham and David, a seed of the woman Gen3.

We know he was holy - being born that way, so Jesus has a divine nature like God. This of itself does not make him God. It will not make us God either when we also share this nature.

you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Pet 1:4

throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception... 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Eph 4:22-4

Jesus already had this nature that we will also be granted. So having the nature of God in this context does not make Jesus God.

  • Jesus did not have a human nature with sin - he had a Godly nature, without sin.

The Greek word for this 'nature' is morphē, often rendered as 'form'. The same principles apply whatever word we use. But morphē has some other uses that help to clarify the intention.

Luke 24:13-33 is the story about Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Jesus, 'appeared in a different form (morphe)' to these two men so that they did not recognize him.

Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them as they walked along in the country. Mk 16:12

But their eyes were kept from recognizing Him Luke 24:16

Obviously Jesus internal nature was not any different - so his outer form was changed, rendering him some incognito.

So far nothing at all points to Jesus being God, but having the same nature, the same form of living by grace, love, wisdom and other Godly attributes. So 'form' may express an outward appearance, (as Is 44:13, 2 Tim. 3:5 shows) or/and an internal nature that represents something/someone else. Human nature represents the 'world' and holy nature represents God.

If Jesus were God in this instance, why would he 'grasp' at being equal? He already would be 'equal' in every sense. Either he is God or he is not.

There are no verses anywhere telling us Jesus is God. Paul has the capacity to express God's wisdom and truth in all his extensive writings - none of them express this simple 'truth' that Jesus the man is really God all along.

He uses the terms 'form' and 'image' which essentially mean he is not God - but a very good likeness to God. Can God be an image of Himself?

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation Col 1:15.

For explanation of what 'firstborn means - it does not mean Jesus was the first creature made, but it does place Jesus within creation - not pre-existing his birth.

https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/28350/in-colossians-115-what-does-firstborn-of-every-creature-mean/50685?r=SearchResults&s=2|31.8507#50685

There is only One God, the Father - as Jesus and many others pointed out at various times. That has been a very consistent revelation from Gen to Revelations.

Paul also expressed that Jesus was made like his brothers in every way. Heb 2:17 Either he was - or he wasn't. He is not like us if he is God. If he is God - he is certainly NOT like us.

What did Jesus empty himself of?

If as some suggest he was God in the flesh (which is quite non-sensical) how could God empty Himself of being God? How could He empty Himself of immortality, of a righteousness that prohibits Him being tempted?

Jesus emptied himself of the privileges of being without sin, of being the 'son of God' of being righteous and holy and Godly in every respect. This was a prerequisite of becoming a true slave, a servant without guile or pretence unto death - even on a cross! The concept of an eternal Jesus ever-living with the Father from before ever makes a mockery of his earthly life and sacrifice - setting it aside as a mere charade and John 3:16 a lie. Jesus was mortal, he could be tempted, could and did die. God did indeed give His only son!

During the days of Jesus’ earthly life, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. Heb 5:7

If we must pursue a two-natured Jesus to somehow make him God and man - somehow immortal and mortal, somehow able to be tempted and not tempted, somehow able to sin and not sin, somehow able to create everything that is and become heir to everything too, then we invent a mystery that scripture never expresses.

While it might be fun to entertain lots of possibilities regarding bits of scripture, we cannot ignore the plain and solid teaching that clearly defines a solitary God as Father. There is also plenty of evidence for His special son, the human Jesus.

The simple truth revealed is that Jesus, the logos become flesh was born a man ~4BC by Mary and the Spirit, lived to reveal the Father and by suffering and obedience became the perfect offering for all sin. All men, by God's grace, may enter into true life by accepting Jesus' sacrifice on behalf of us.

We don't really need to interpret this verse, we just need to read it along with the rest of God's inspired writings and the truth, God willing, will be apparent.

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It's a fundamental truth that those who seek to be first will be last, or who attempt to exalt themselves will flounder...

Do not exalt yourself in the presence of the king, and do not stand in the place of great men Prov 25:6

Jesus took the low place and allowed God to exalt him at the proper time. Jesus, the son of God, holy and pure, knew who he was and had the challenge of living as one of us - not claiming special privileges but submitting to his Father and God until the work was finished. This attitude is what Paul is saying should be in all of us.

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus Phil 2:3-5

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  • He took upon himself the Morphe of a servant 2:7. Does this mean that he wasn't a man either? Also, did the Logos (who was with God and who was God) stop being God when made flesh? – Mike Borden Feb 14 at 13:21
  • @All You may disagree with this, you may think it is poorly argued, but please keep your comments respectful. If you can't point out a specific thing you think is a problem, don't say anything at all. – curiousdannii Feb 14 at 13:43
  • @user47952 - if I understood correctly, the crux of your argument is that Jesus was like God, but not equal to God, correct? If so, I'm curious to know how you understand the expression "equality with God". Here is a question about it on hermeneutics.se in case you might be interested: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/55612/… – Spirit Realm Investigator Feb 14 at 14:06
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator Another important word in the verse is the word that the NRSV translated as "exploited" namely the Greek word "har·pag·mosʹ". Perhaps you could ask a question about it. The root word meaning is "snatch" or "seize", so some would see that "equality with God" is something that Jesus did not possess and which he would never dare to try to seize for himself. But rather, Jesus' disciples should imitate his example of humility, and not try to elevate themselves to become equal with God, even though they possess some of God's divine qualities. – 4castle Feb 14 at 17:05
  • @4castle - but what about "emptied Himself"? hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/20240/… – Spirit Realm Investigator Feb 16 at 15:39

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